How to be self-disciplined in your individual doctoral research project?

There are different types of doctoral programmes offered by universities around the world. Three main types can be identified: structured, project-based and individual. Usually, in structured doctoral programmes, students take classes and after a certain stage they start developing a research project under supervision of two or more professors. In project-based doctoral programmes, students do not take classes and are part of a broader research project run by their professors and in parallel, they work on individual research in a related topic. In individual doctoral programmes, which is the most difficult one among the three types presented above, doctoral students do not take much classes or not at all and are not part of any research project. They solely work on their own research projects under professorial supervision. However, this type of doctoral programme is the most problematic one in terms of establishing strong self-discipline. Here below we discuss self-disciplin related difficulties that students/candidate enrolling in this type of doctoral programmes face.

Problem of establishing a daily-working plan

Usually, since you do not have classes or any other research-related commitments or short term deadlines, your days are largely at your discretion, which means, you are almost fully free to plan your daily schedule in a way you wish. This might look attractive in the beginning. Nevertheless, overtime the majority of students enrolling in individual doctoral programmes find it more and more difficult to make a daily plan and even if made, to stick to it. They lose the stability of their self-discipline. Sometimes they work more and crazily, sometimes they spend more leisure time. Once the right balance is lost, it is not easy to find it again. However, for the successful realization of your research project it is important to have strong consistency and match between your research plan and daily work plans. Some of the solutions that usually students come up with in such situations:

Working hard to compensate for the lost time is not always effective.

When the right balance is lost between study/research and other issues is lost in favor of the latter, students usually choose to work hard to compensate for the lost time. However, it usually works the opposite way. You can continue with a very strict schedule only for few days or weeks. Then, you will need again to give a long break to it. In this way, long breaks, long hard working period will follow each other. In this way, you can still manage to deliver work but it will constantly put you under psychological pressure that “you are ignored study/research and should make a strict schedule again”. Not to have such psychological pressure or stress, it is better to allocate a fair time to both study/research and other issues on daily basis. So, if you want to have a better self-discipline, it is not recommended to start it by working hard.

– Dedicating yourself almost fully to your studies or your research.

This is another mistake usually made by doctoral students. Almost fully dedicating yourself to your study and research is not always a good idea. You could be very productive but your ideational creativeness can go down. For creativeness you need to feed your brain with different things. The more diverse is your non-study/research activities, the more your brain will be creative. Weekend clubbing or drinking party or any other one type of extracurricular activity care is not enough for finding the necessary diversity in this sense.

 – You cannot be self-disciplined in your study or research project but not in other issues

To have a better self-discipline in your study or research work requires from your to be disciplined in all your other activities, including shopping, cooking, washing linens and clothes, relationship, doing exercise, etc. It is important that you plan also all your other activities. Your calendar should include all your life activities not only your study or research related one.

– Reading more and more continuously.

Of course, as doctoral student or candidate, you need to read a lot and you should it. However, do not expect that you will know better how to do it only with reading a lot. The more you read, the more complicated it becomes. You need to find the right balance between complexity and parsimony about which you can find in Political Analysis by Collin Hay. For this the following issues are important.
First, you have to constantly discuss your research with yourself first – call it brainstorming, your colleagues and of course, your supervisor. Look for conferences around where you can present your work-in-progress and receive feedback. In particular, it is important that you hear somebody outside your usual circle of colleagues in your institute. The more feedback you get, the better it is.
Secondly, you have to constantly do brainstorming. There are many ways of making your individual brainstorming effective. A good brainstorming comes with visualization. Visualize your ideas, put your thinking in visual presentation. This could be simply drawing charts or graphs on a paper with a pen or pencil or more complicated staff with the help of computer. Print your thinking and stick it to a wall in your room or office. Try to make a track record of your thinking process through visualization.
Thirdly, break the development of proposal into several stages. You will never be fully satisfied with your work at any stage (if you are, then there is a problem). However, you need to be able to complete a certain stage with a temporary draft and then continue with that. Never expect to deliver the final draft of research proposal in one go. You need to develop several proposals until you reach a point that satisfies you. It is very important that you do not start the journey without a very good research proposal. Actually, it is very significant part of your research journey. Do not rush to finish your research proposal and enter the data gathering or writing stage. Do not undermine the importance of having a clear plan for your research journey before your start it. A very well designed research proposal is half of the way. Clarify the details of your conceptual framework, methodology, data gather and data analysis strategies as much as you can at this stage. However, in the research stage, you will always need to go back and make some changes. Be brave to embrace this.

– Use the existing online platforms for planning your work.

You definitely need to use an online calendar where you put all your study/research and non-research activities. Link it to your phone and put reminders. Use a task list similarly. You can also find out many project management tools that you can use with small adjustments for your individual research project.

 Not everything goes as planned

Do not be frustrated if you cannot fully stick to your daily work plans. Not everything goes as planned. This is even better than being worse. Keep constantly, reviewing and revising your daily, weekly or monthly work plans. Make a weekly plan in the beginning of the week but also revise daily plans everyday, which should result in the revision of your monthly work plans. What is import is to keep planning and re-planning. Rigidity in planning is not always good. Working with a plan is not a habit that you can gain in a day, week or month. It always takes time to have this habit. Be patient until you make it a habit.

 – Have a part-time job or volunteering.

Working or volunteering for an organization is good for establishing self-discipline. Even if you receive a scholarship, look for other part time jobs (of course, if your scholarship and residence terms and conditions allow this) or volunteering. Volunteering is also good from a psychological aspect. Living in urban areas bring a lot of its own psychological stress. Helping others, saving environment or taking care of animals is good for keeping you psychologically healthy and strong.

– Do have several note pads.

Most of the time, doctoral students or candidates have one or two notepads where you write down almost everything from a shopping list to conference notes. It is important that you differentiate them and take your notes separately. Writing is accurateness. Accurately writing is more than that.Similarly, buy several folders to keep your documents, notes, papers separately instead of throwing them all in a drawer or cupboard.

Of course, the list of tips for being self-disciplined are never ending. These are just few of them. And, not of course, one size fits all. In the end of day, you need to find out your way of working it out.

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