Tag Archives: research

Post-grad study for mature students : 15 tips


A while back, a friend and colleague who is about to start a PhD asked me if I had any advice. I said, don’t ask me, given that I had to interrupt for a year, and I’m living on borrowed time for my final draft even as I write this. But, he said, that’s exactly who he’d like to take advice from—a struggler. So, I started this list of things that I’m glad I did, wished I’d done earlier, and wished I hadn’t done as a birthday present. True to form, I missed the deadline, but I’m now publishing this for him, and for two former students of mine who asked me if I had any advice for them as they begin their part-time MAs as mature students.  The advice probably applies to young postgrads as well, except that I think balancing work and study, and the distractions and commitments of everyday life get harder as you get older. 

Here goes—and comments would be wonderful to help anyone else in the same boat. 

Five things I’m glad I did: 

  1. Used reference management software from day one, and  invested  time learning to use it well. I use Zotero (the standalone version), but you can compare others here. One of the best quick guides to Zotero in my view is this one from  the Old Bailey. The day that I discovered how to use the Library Look-up feature changed my life. I learned that from the IoE library pages. Zotero has too many cool features to mention. Put in the time early on learning to use it, and you’ll reap rewards ever after. 
  2. Decided who my heroes were  as writers and thinkers, and kept their work in mind as my inspiration. I hardly needed telling to do this, but it’s a good thing to remind yourself. My heroes were:  Howard Becker, Erving Goffman, Tia DeNora, Philip Tagg, Georgina Born, Lucy Green (who happens to be my supervisor, so I’m lucky). Very late, I discovered Jean Lave, Michael Billig, Leah Greenfield. I’d recommend Michael Billig’s Learn to Write Badly to anyone, whether they’re in the social sciences or not. 
  3. Turned off the internet to write/read. The internet, bad writing, social media, the phone, are all the enemies of any kind of work that you need to do as a researcher or writer. I think it’s Annie Dillard in The Writing Life who says that they pull you away, instead of drawing you in, and pulling away is exactly what distraction means. I used Freedom when it was free (and still have the free version installed). I’m sure there are other things available that don’t cost anything. But don’t trust yourself just to switch off the wifi. 
  4. Kept a research diary. Include all the bad stuff as well as the good. I keep mine in a local installation of WordPress on my computer, using MAMP. On depressing days when you get nothing done, you can at least write about how depressed you are. I wrote several days of entries when I tried to read Foucault. The fact that I still couldn’t cope with him several years later told me that it was a good thing I didn’t hitch my work to his particular wagon.
  5. Didn’t wait to write until I’d  done my research. “Memo writing”—ad hoc, on the fly, as-you-go writing about your research as you’re doing it— is a favoured feature of grounded theory approaches to research, and what the GT people say is correct: often, those memos end up being part of your final work. Howard Becker says in one of his excellent books on writing, that there’s nothing that says the stuff you write quickly is necessarily any worse than stuff you toiled over. E. H. Carr in What is History said something about not being able to read more than about three books before he had to start writing. It’s not a crime. 

Five things I wished I’d done earlier: 

  1. Used ONE application for all data. For a long time, I wavered between nVivo, MaxQDA, Scrivener, physical notebooks, bits of paper, Word documents, my blog, my private diary, putting things here and there. I’m clearer now: anything that is in any sense data —interviews, odd bits of information, articles, ad hoc conversations, notes written on the back of envelopes, notes on books and articles that I’ve read—goes into MaxQDA, loosely categorized, but finely separated (i.e. each event, book, topic, article, note or whatever has its own document). It’s not that I necessarily need MaxQDA to analyse it, but I need to know where all that stuff is. 
  2. Kept the equivalent of a commonplace book for everything else. Doing research makes you interested and ravenous for new things. You need to put them somewhere, and be able to find them one day. You can’t tell what might eventually go in your research after all. 
  3. Coded (i.e. categorized) my information more assiduously. I went to a lecture by music psychologist Andrea Halpern a couple of years back, who said in passing that if you don’t “code” stuff, you don’t memorize it. She said something like “it’s nice to colour sentences in with fluorescent markers, but don’t kid yourself that you’re doing anything useful. It’s just pretty. It doesn’t tell you anything about why you did it. To make it useful, you have to code it somehow.” People talk about “coding” as if it’s only something you do when you’ve got interview data. If you do it as you go with everything (like if you have a commonplace book, q.v. and you need to decide how to categorize something), it’s amazing what a difference it makes to your own comprehension of what you’re doing and reading. 
  4. Read challenging, well-written stuff first thing in the morning. Don’t take my word for it, try it and see. It’s like shutting the door and learning to hear again.  The advice came from either Dani Shapiro’s Still Writingor Annie DIllard’s The Writing Life, both of which I’d strongly recommend, alongside the practical but not so poetic The Psychology of Writing.  
  5. Sorted out details of punctuation. When I got my first article published, I had to finally commit to knowing whether the comma came inside the quotation marks or not, and a dozen other really annoying things. They’re like tripping over your shoelaces as you walk. You think early on “I’l deal with that later.” Knowing in advance means that you save yourself hours of editing later, and hours of daily annoyance now. 

Five things I wish I hadn’t done

  1. Taken on side work projects. Clear time in your schedule, and—having done it—don’t let anyone or anything in there. Vanity projects and things that are marginally related (but not useful) to your research are the worst. 
  2. Made incomplete notes. I’ve got dozens of instances in my notebooks and in files where I’ve quoted a large block of text, forgotten to say what page it was on, or in which book. At the time, because I was immersed in it, I thought I could never forget. You will. 
  3. Let other things slide. Daniel Levitin got me on to this one in The Organized MindThe temptation is to stop everything so that you can get your writing done. But all those other things (washing, tax returns, health checks, dentist, the garbage taking out etc.) need to be done. If you don’t do them, they add up in your mind as a mass of worrying distractions. It’s counter-productive to binge-write and let everything else go hang. 
  4. Started planning future projects. I’ve seen this referred to a lot: the temptation to start planning the next thing, while this one remains unfinished. You might as well do drugs. 
  5. Over-reflected. The downside to keeping a research diary is that I ended up sometimes writing more about thinking about writing than actually doing it. Treat writing like digging a road, or data entry. 


Importing documents and structure from Scrivener to MaxQDA


Here’s my triumph of the day: getting Scrivener to export about 400 separate documents into a single file that you can then import into MaxQDA with a code that will then separate them out again into individual documents in MaxQDA.  If you’re wondering why, it’s because the bulk of my data and a lot of memos and notes were entered in Scrivener, but I want to export it into MaxQDA to analyse it. Time taken? About 10 minutes to figure it out, 10 seconds to execute it.

To do such an import in MaxQDA, you need to prefix every title or separate section with #TEXT, so that the resulting document has #TEXTYourTitleHere before each section. When you import that document, MaxQDA creates a separate document at every point where it reads #TEXT, adding a title of its own if you haven’t specified one.

Here’s how I did it:

  1. In the Scrivener compile dialog, select the folder(s) that contain(s) the documents and subdocuments (if any) you want to send to MaxQDA.
  2. Use the “Custom” compile format, so that you can tweak the output
  3. In the compile dialog, select the formatting box, and make sure that the “title” box is checked against the level where the documents are that you want to see as separate documents in MaxQDA. When you click on the different levels, the corresponding documents in the binder are highlighted, so you can see exactly which level you need.  ( I found that the titles of the subdocuments I wanted to include (level 2+) weren’t included in the compile by default, so I had to manually check the box) scrivener-formatting
  4. Click on the “Section Layout” button underneath the levels
  5. In the dialog box that appears (Title Prefix and Suffix) Add the word #TEXT – ensuring that you don’t put a space after the word #TEXT prefix
  6. Now run the compile
  7. You will now have one big file that contains all your Scrivener subdocuments, with #TEXT appended to each title.
  8. Now import the compile file into  MaxQDA using the “Import structured document (Preprocessor)” option. importMax
  9. Sit back and watch all your Scrivener document structure replicate itself in MaxQDA.

Musicology, ballet teaching and time signature


A proud day for me, my first proper article published in Empirical Musicology Review. “How Down is a Downbeat? Feeling Meter and Gravity in Music and Dance?” came out of a single teaching session, when about 12 years of trying to teach about meter and time signature finally imploded in a discussion with students. For people who wonder why I’m doing a PhD, and what I’m writing about, this will give you an idea – not of the subject, but of the problem.

What I’m really chuffed about is that both Arnie Cox and Robert Hatten agreed to write commentaries on the article (see Arnie Cox’s here, and Robert Hatten’s here).

It would be nice to think that perhaps this might open up a conversation about the musical components of dance teaching courses, but I somehow doubt it will – and for as long as that’s the case, I guess dance teachers will keep saying “By the way, I don’t do time signatures,” and be perfectly justified in doing so, in my view.

I’m still hopelessly behind with the 52 cards, which is annoying me, but I’ve not given up yet.

The schottische and the chotis, and other dances


It’s years ago since a Spanish friend and dancing colleague told me that there was a connection between Schottische and a Spanish dance called chotis, and I’ve been meaning to look it up properly ever since. I’ve now come across this fabulous page:  Kicking It Up: ‘Asi se baila el chotis’ (this is how you dance the chotis) which traces several international links between the Schottische and its counterparts in other countries. The page is  part of a project called Modern Moves: Kinetic Transnationalism and Afro-Diasporic Rhythm Cultures, a “five-year =research project (June 2013 – May 2018), funded by a European Research Council Advanced Grant, and located at the Department of English, King’s College London.”

I’m thrilled by this, but also slightly dismayed that yet again, when you want to know something that has really bugged you about dance and music, more often than not, it seems to be done by people outside conventional music or dance studies, as if those disciplines are in fact too disciplined to generate the right kind of questions and research methods. The site looks fantastic, and I’m looking forward to exploring more.

Here’s a nice sample of one of the clips – music: Feira de Mangaio by Sivuca

Answers on a postcard – from Brahms


On Monday I interviewed an expert on Hungarian fiddle playing, so I just loved this article on the Henle Verlag website about Michael Struck’s re-decoding of a postcard from Brahms that had already been (wrongly) decoded once in a book over a 100 years ago. Superficially, this looks like nerdy Urtext stuff, until you read the detail and watch the video of what the re-interpretation of those tiny markings in the Brahms score mean in practice. 

New choreomusicology article


Music, dance and the total art work: choreomusicology in theory and practice is an article just out by Paul Mason in Research in Dance Education that pretty much sums up where we are now in that field.  I’m feeling especially smug, because I’d actually read it by the time that Paul had posted a comment on my blog drawing attention to it. Looking at his biog makes me feel ashamed at my miserable attempts at interdisciplinarity. Anthropology, neuroscience, dance, music, and writing in three languages – now that’s impressive.

Polonaise and mazurka: the ultimate internet resource page


This is probably the most wonderful site I’ve ever come across in the very specialised world of music for dance: a page of links to the the content of Polish Dances, the complete written works of Raymond Cwieka. Hundreds and hundreds of pages of detailed research on the mazurka and polonaise.  I can pretty much promise you that you will never, ever find another resource so large and comprehensive and informative on the topic.

The route by which I found it is interesting. I don’t know how long it’s been up there, but I’m shocked at myself for not having discovered it before, considering that I spend a lot of my life researching this subject.  I found it because I was trying to find a the original German version of Paul Nettl’s The Story of Dance Music, given that the translation is poor in parts. I searched for <“the story of dance music” german title>, and one of the links that appeared was Cwieka’s book on the polonaise (all 410 pages of it) linked to by Jason Chuang. There’s a moral here: if you want to find good resources on the net, it helps if you put in another good source as your search term, because a well-researched page will have references. If you don’t know about a subject, then it stands to reason that you’re not going to know the kinds of terms that will bring up the best sources. References are a good place to start.

The generosity of Cwieka is overwhelming. It’s all up there for you and me to read and enjoy and learn from. I’m oscillating between joy and despair, though – it’s such a great resource, but it just shows that  I don’t know shit about the polonaise really, and I know just how many hundreds of pages I am away from being well-informed.

Update, January 2017

Further to all this, here’s a nice comment left by Raymond Cwieka on my site: 


Go to the internet; type-in “Raymond Cwieka – Academia.edu”.


Go to the internet; type-in “Raymond Cwieka| Papers – Academia.edu”.


(to open www.academia.edu, you may need an account with
them/have a google/facebook account)

r. cwieka