PhD Diary – June 2021

In my last blog post I explored how to condense my work into a short presentation for people unfamiliar to it. I discussed a range of techniques I aimed to adopt, and I do believe that it has helped. The presentation was well received, so as an early attempt at disseminating my research I was happy with how it went. Of course, there are improvements to make, but it is a strong foundation from which I can build my public speaking skills. But for the moment, I plan to try to improve other skills of mine to develop myself in other areas.

I believed myself to be a decent reader, yet I struggle to keep engaged with more extensive reading. I enjoy the process of learning but there are various ways of processing literature. Within the past few weeks, I discovered a Text-To-Speech app known as Speechify and thought it was at least worth seeing if it would help me in any way. I have found that I enjoy listening to podcasts whilst I am playing games familiar to me so I can comprehend what is being talked about. So, my rationale for using Speechify is that I could convert some of the more tedious reading into an audio format. As it works with PDFs, it was easy to drop my existing literature into their web app and try it out.

In practice my rationale did not work out as expected, I tended to focus too much on what is being said and not the underpinning arguments. What this resulted in is me comprehending the vocabulary but if someone were to ask me what the paper was about, I would not have the faintest idea. It is important to remember that the way we talk and the way we write are not the same. When writing, we have more opportunities to consider exactly what we are saying and how we convey it. Writing is less conversational in format and is a bit more declarative. Think of it as the difference between talking to someone and talking with someone. Academic papers are not designed to read aloud, as we have other ways of organising information for more audio-centric demonstrations. Despite that, I did find the use of Speechify to be most effective when reading literature alongside the audio. Having that cue to keep my reading focused ensured that I could comprehend what I was reading and not skimming over anything. This strategy proved highly effective and helped me understand papers better than previous attempts. It is still early days using this method, so further reflections on this method are needed. Yet, I may have found an approach to reading I did not intend to find that has made it easier to digest literature.

In school, I became aware of the concept of learner types. These were different ways certain people preferred to learn. For example, some people preferred auditory methods of learning whereas others favoured something more visual. I do not think that labelling oneself as a visual learner or an auditory learner is a wise method of reflecting on your learning. Some skills are best taught through vocalised teaching whereas others are best developed via practical experience. As I have found out this month, the most effective way of determining what methods work best is to experiment with a range of practices. I have told students in the past that it is up to them to find their most optimal way of working as it differs per person. It is time to put that into practice myself.

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