Category Archives: phd process

The power of diaries

Theresa Amabile and Steven Kramer recent book, “The Progress Principle”, has attracted significant interest in the blogosphere of late. These authors have carried out research into daily experience at work, and concluded that small wins (progress) are the key to engagement, creativity and positive experience. If you are interested in what Amabile and Kramer have to say, I would encourage you to read any number of blogs or articles on the subject (here, here and here to name but a few) because I won’t discuss it here.

My interest in the book is in their methods. These authors have collected, over decades, 12,000 daily diary entries from workers in a number organisations about their experience at work. The richness of this data, which includes both quantitative and qualitative questions, is vast. Turn to the appendix of their book and you will see a summary of just some of the themes which they have managed to pull out of the data. The blog connected to the book has a couple of examples too: http://www.progressprinciple.com/blog.

I think this method (commonly known as diary research or experience sampling) has an enormous amount to offer to organisational researchers (and, indeed researchers from any domain who are interested in human experience). Diaries can be completed in hard copy or electronically and normally only take a couple of minutes to complete. They can be completed at “random” intervals when prompted (signal sampling), when specific events occur (event sampling) or at pre-defined times, e.g. at the end of the working day (interval sampling). They can be quantitative or qualitative or are often a combination of the two.

Diaries offer the possibility of understanding individuals’ ongoing experience of their world, in “real time” and in “real life” (not in a lab) and, importantly, take a “people focused” approach to research – putting personal experience at the heart. Although there are plenty of examples of diary studies in organisational research (I’d be happy to share my list for anyone who is interested!) they are still relatively under-utilised.

There are some challenges with diary studies – diaries take time (both for researcher and subjects) and therefore money and they involve more effort in keeping subjects participating over the diary period, it is also an additional challenge to design a diary which is short enough to be completed in a couple of minutes whilst still gathering enough data. BUT, the pay off has to be worth is surely, for researchers interested in human behaviour in any kind of context.

I am in the process of designing a diary study for my research – looking at the experience of motivation at work on a daily basis. I’ll report back on my experience in future.

I’ll leave you with probably best known, and in my opinion the finest, example of experience sampling (and the man who coined the phrase) in the work of Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s. He has spent his career trying to understand Flow experience. His TED talk is a fascinating introduction to his work:

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End of year two…

I have now reached the official end of my second (part-time) year of study towards my PhD and, inspired partly by my end of year PhD report and by @ianrobsons’ blog post, I thought I might make a few comments on my progress.

All in all I think this has been a really successful year. My key successes are:

  • I have planned, administered and am starting to analyse data from my first survey. I got a good number of responses and the design process felt thorough
  • I have presented my research at two international conferences, and had some really valuable feedback and made some great contacts as a result
  • I’ve started on my thesis structure – a very satisfying task to see how it might all look on paper, even if that is likely to change before I submit

I also wanted to reflect on the challenges that I’m facing:

  • Research on reward/pay is a huge field and I still don’t feel as though I have a proper grip on it
  • I am analysing my survey data using Structural Equation Modelling – a very complicated analysis technique that is easy to get wrong – so I have a lot of work to do to build my knowledge of it
  • I have to plan the second and third phases of my data collection, which will include a diary study – I’m on quite a tight timescale and have a lot to do!
  • I am covering a lot in my research, so I need to make sure that I keep a clear thread throughout the thesis and not lose my focus!

I have found the blogosphere and twitter invaluable resources so far in my PhD but have been struggling for time to keep up with them of late! I hope this year to get out there a bit more…

I would encourage any PhD students reading this to do the same – I’ve found this a useful activity and I hope in a year’s time my challenges will become successes! If anyone has any comments, particularly about my “challenges”, they would be very welcome.

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My PhD…in plain English

Inspired by @lizith on #phdchat, who has written a blog post describing her research in plain English, I thought I would give it a go myself. I would really value your thoughts, comments and questions…

If someone enjoys their work, does it because they care about what they’re doing, and works hard because it is personally important to them, is this the same as someone who works hard because they want to achieve a target and get their bonus at the end of the month. Would these people behave the same? There is a significant amount of experimental research which indicates that the first person will be more engaged in their work, feel more positive about it and have better overall satisfaction but the reality is that many organisations don’t understand the impact that pay and bonuses has on staff.

I am examining how different methods of rewarding people at work, in a number of different organisations, impact on how they behave and feel about their work. I’m interested in how people asses the value of their pay, how this then meets some of their fundamental needs, and how this impacts on the way that they are motivated.

I am using surveys to explore people’s general attitudes about pay & feedback, their motivation and the way they think about and behave toward their work. I am also going to focus in on people’s daily experiences and motivation at work through diaries to see how these interact with their more general attitudes and behaviours. I hope my research will help businesses to plan their reward strategies to get the best out of people for the benefit of the individuals as well as the organisation.

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Poster presentations

Last year I was accepted to present a poster at a conference. I didn’t have a clue what this meant…aside from the fact that it must involve a big piece of paper! I did some research and was delighted with the results so I thought I would share my tips with others facing the same challenges:

Step 1: Find some other examples of posters, particularly ones in your field which will help you visualise your finished product:

  • Check the conference website in case they have examples of posters from previous years
  • Google it (google images has loads!)
  • This page from LSE has some useful links to example posters at the bottom…have a good look around

Step 2: Think about your key messages. You are very limited on space so my recommendation would be to use 4-5 powerpoint slides to sketch out what you want to say. You will probably need some kind of introduction and conclusion but these should be brief.

Step 4: Understand the requirements of the conference. Should it be ladscape or portrait? A0/A1/A2? How much should you focus on empirical findings? Read the guidelines carefully.

Step 3: Putting your poster together. Don’t underestimate how long this takes! Looking back at examples you’ve found of “good” posters (clear structure and message, not too cluttered, visually attractive) and test out lots of options. Don’t go overtop with lots of colours but don’t be too bland either. You need to attract the attention of readers from a distance of a metre or two so the font should be right. The LSE site has some great tips on format and software packages for putting posters together. I used powerpoint and found it really useful.

Step 4: Test the effectiveness of your poster. Getting your poster printed at full size is expensive so make sure you test it first. Print it in A4 or A3 so that you can see how it all fits together. Get friends/family/colleagues to read it – is it easy to understand? Check your spelling and grammer!

Step 5: Print your poster. Find out if your University has large printing services, mine didn’t. Local print shops will tend to be more expensive (or they are in London anyway!) so I used PWA UK an online service which was cheap and very fast. The poster was sent in a poster tube, which was very handy for carrying it to the conference, and excellent quality.

Step 6: Presenting your poster. Most posters will be in a large room or corridor where conference participants wonder around, normally during lunchtime, and view the ones that interest them. You should make sure you are available for as much time as possible during this period. People will come and ask you questions (which is less scary than it sounds!) so you should have rehearsed a quick, minute or two, summary of your poster.

Take with you:

  • Materials to fix the poster up (they will probably have some there but don’t take risks!)
  • Business cards and have them available for people to pick up next to your poster…some people are too shy/busy to ask
  • A4 sized print outs of your poster
  • If you have a draft paper to go alongside it…take this too and hand it out to interested parties.

Useful links

These are some other useful website that I used when preparing my poster:

…and finally, in case you’re interested, this is my poster on a qualitative pilot study that I did about motivational experience at work: SDT poster presentation v5.2 – portrait

 

If anyone else has any useful tips of links do share…

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Productivity

Inspired by a blog post I read this morning from Tony Schwartz at HBR (via @occupationalpsy) about his plan for 90-minutes of productivity each morning I have been reflecting on my own strategy for productivity.

Yesterday is a great example: I was working from home (on PhD work). I was at my desk at 8.15 and worked solidly (with 1 tea break!) until my stomach started rumbling at 12.15. This is pretty typical – I am always really productive in the morning.

Post-lunch (15 minute break) I’m back at my desk. I try to read…end up looking at twitter…I try to write…check BBC news. An hour later and I’ve only done 20 minutes of work. By 3pm I’m feeling really sleepy and more than a little frustrated at my lack of productivity.

So yesterday, at 3pm I got up and went out to run an errand and while I was out planned ni my head what I was going to do when I got back. I got fresh air and something off my “personal admin” to do list completed and when I came back I sat down to a couple more hours of productive work.

Schwartz makes some really good points about planning tasks and knowing your own rhythm. Next week, I am determined to apply this and avoid that post-lunch slump. Productivity here I come!

One final word from the Savage Chickens on the art of productivity…

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First past the post…

I have been inspired to begin this blog by the discussions and blog posts linked through the #phdchat on twitter. I am constantly impressed by the quality of discussion on the forum, and of the quality of the blogs that my fellow PhD students produce.

For my first post on my new research blog I thought I might try to articulate the purpose of this blog. I imagine that there will be a few different types of posts:

  • Thoughts in relation to my research topic (motivation and/or reward) that come up throughout my reading
  • Discussion on research methods and methodology
  • Observations about life as a part-time phd student

I have just started the second year of my PhD, and I imagine that I will have another 3-4 years to go so I hope that this blog provides me with a record of my “journey”.

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