Gearing Up for my PhD: Bumps in the road

Despite all good intentions of becoming a regular blogger, it has been a while since my first PhD post in August, which promised a follow up on all things pen and paper. Quite a lot has happened during the summer including a couple of bumps in the road, which I am navigating slowly but steadily over.

Bumps in the road (credit: uniquedesign52 via

So it turns out that note taking became a central theme of my summer as it came to light that this was a major concern for medical students. Over the last couple of years I had been championing the use of Adobe Reader DC for annotating their online resources, as it is free, a stable product, works on all devices / platforms and generally quite fab. However, this summer I supervised a student on a project primarily focusing on Digital Literacies within medical education, and one consistent theme that came out of her interviews with first and second year students was that becoming a digital note taker was not natural or easy. Each spoke of their experiences of trying to arrive at the approach that worked for them and of course these differed between each, reinforcing the need to continue to advocate different methods. So over the summer we worked in partnership to produce a whole new area on our medical Welcome Week website dedicated to helping new students be prepared before even arriving with us, Getting Ready. At the same time, we designed a workshop that would ensure that students would get information about several different ways of taking notes in a lecture, together with letting them have a go themselves to explore which would be the best fit for them. The first of these is taking place this week so fingers crossed (I have chocolates though, always have the chocolates…).

One of the quotations that really stood out for me, so much so that I put it at the top of the Devices page, shocked me despite knowing that there is no such thing as a digital nat… (you know what I mean).

“I wish I had known everything was so digital so that I didn’t waste paper and ink initially. I also bought a lot of stationery unnecessarily that I didn’t need at all. A good laptop is essential but don’t waste money on stationery.”
– third year medical student

Digital confidence stills seem far from the norm. This is something that we teased out further using the Jisc capabilities tool and we will write up in another space, but certainly gave me pause for thought with regards the supporting material I provide to both students and staff.

Working together with the student brought home to me yet again the importance of working in partnership, rather than isolation. As a postgraduate student in the world of educational technology, I love digitally annotating papers from within Dropbox but as everyone who knows me is well aware I also deeply love stationery and writing colourful notes in analogue. This is one of the spaces I have managed to carve out for myself in our new house; bright but cold and lacking in plug sockets.

My colourful learning space

One of the difficulties of the undergraduate medical curriculum in the early years is the shear amount of complex information delivered in traditional one hour blocks, in large lecture theatres, further compounded by the introduction of a lot of new terminology. This necessitates a very different approach than my independent reading of complex, theory heavy papers, largely undertaken on my own, at a distance. I’m looking forward to learning more about digital note taking at our workshops and critically applying it to my own situation. However, I will still advise students not to throw out any (beautiful) stationery as they may want to come back to it at revision time as this necessitates a whole other workshop.

My last thought on all things note books is that I am planning a new mini project to run through my PhD journey. Back in March this year Maren Deepwell, the chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), gave me a beautiful ALT green Moleskin note book and I was wondering how to put it to best use. At some point over the summer, I hit upon the perfect answer, a catalogue of inspirational entries from all those who inspire most. Not only will this give me a wonderful excuse to meet people from my online communities in person but it will be somewhere to turn to when things get tough and days a bit dark, to help push me on. So over the next few years, if you see me coming with my green book you will know what to expect, and heads up, to all who I will be seeing in Edinburgh in October you will be first up.

However, I do need a solution for all my virtual connections in spaces such as #clmooc, #ds106, #femedtech, #mscde and many more, all hugely inspiring but many geographically out of my reach. Thinking cap on.

Next stop: induction day and first supervisor meeting.

2 thoughts on “Gearing Up for my PhD: Bumps in the road

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  1. Just downloaded Adobe Reader from the cloud onto my iPad and linked it to my Dropbox. Now I can highlight text easily in papers I’m reading that has been a consistent struggle with various tools up to now – thanks for the tip Clare ?

    1. Good to know you found it useful Sandra, DC was a game changer, the version before was really clunky and I never recommended it. Another top tip is: long hold on an annotation on a mobile device and you can then edit or delete it…

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