Monday, 4 November 2013

How do I manage myself?

I used to think I was pretty good at managing my time and myself - recently not so much! I seem to spend more and more time doing not very much! So I went on a course about time management.  As part of the course we talked about clock time and flow time.

Unfortunately for me, my "flow" time doesn't match the widely accepted "clock" time that most of the working world adheres to - in my case I work best in the early hours of the morning, which either means becoming nocturnal (not ideal when you are also working) or getting up really early! So I get up early - I'm reasonably good at getting up early anyway but 6am starts are less and less appealing as the winter approaches!

So what strategies have I put in place to manage myself?

  1. The heating comes on before the alarm goes off!  - the cold is not an excuse for not getting up
  2. My bag is mostly sorted out the night before!  - saves me time wasting in the morning
  3. My phone reads out my diary for the morning  - it's a good reminder of where I have to be and when.
  4. On PhD days, when I get to the office, I make a cup of tea and check my emails first thing
  5. I'm making the effort to get on with writing during the day and not during the night!

So as winter approaches, I hope I am making the effort to work with winter and not against it - it's not a good excuse to hibernate, hide from the weather or the office!

Will I manage my time and myself better? I'm not sure I will, but hopefully I will be less likely to get distracted. Now all I need to do is avoid getting ill!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Why be a guest blogger?

I openly admit, I'm not the best at blogging, I often forget to publish a new post and I often think that what I posted is more of a rant than anything of use or interest to anyone else (for this, I apologise). I sometimes wish that I was better at it and that I could write interesting blog posts in the same way @thesiswhisperer Inger Mewburn can. I've met her a few times and actually wasn't that surprised to learn that she invites people to contribute as guest bloggers! 

Thinking about it, I've written guest posts for the iad4phd blog and for the iad4learnteach blog (iad4learnteach post is here). Enlisting the help of guests to post on your blog is one strategy to make sure that your blog is filled with interesting for others to read.

 But what is it like being a guest blogger?

I have to say, I'm a bit of a serial guest blogger, having written posts for various other blogs - only yesterday Jo, a colleague from the IAD asked if I would write a post for her blog - woohoo! Maybe I should stop blogging for other people and blogging for myself though. 

As I've said before, I really started blogging as a way for friends and family to keep track of what I was up to when I was in Malawi on fieldwork - there was little or no academic purpose to it. It's only recently I've started to ask more questions around why I blog, what's the purpose and what do I get out of it, other than the chance to tell a story to a wider audience that can occasionally be a little humorous (like this one on my first trip to Malawi).

Sometimes it feels a little odd to sit and write a blog for someone else - I'm always conscious that my blog posts are not up to scratch. I'll draft and re-draft them in a similar manner as I do to my thesis chapters - thankfully the  log posts are significantly shorter! I've now started asking those I guest blog for to link that post to my own blog. No point guest blogging - if the people reading it don't realise you have a blog of your own, where they can read more (if they so wish).

Oh and it also means you don't have to remember to publish it! You only have to write it and give it to someone else - remembering to publish it is their responsibility.  So guest blogging can be good for those who are forgetful too! 

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

"Alli Coyle from Scotland to Malawi" has a new look

I started this blog as I was finishing my MSc dissertation, mainly as a way for my friends and family to keep track of what I was up to in Edinburgh and Malawi. The posts vary over time, with some slightly more humorous tales of my encounters with Heathrow's terminal 1  "A Journey of Adventure"  to  "As the crow flies: A researchers guide to logistics"; which is less of a logistics guide and more about my adventure to the Orkney islands.

As the years have went on and I've progressed further into my research, changed jobs and started  volunteering (again), the blog posts have varied between my adventures on fieldwork to some of the more mundane times spent in the PhD office. There is even a post about World Thinking Day for Girl Guides and Scouts.

Today I attended a seminar session with Inger Mewburn (thesiswhisperer) where she focused on blogging and tweeting for researchers.  As I sat in the session, I began to think a little more critically at my own blog and twitter - do I use them well? (feel free to answer that question). I've got better at using twitter and tweeting more regularly - It took me ages to get into twitter and I used to think it was something I couldn't really benefit from. However I have found that if I tweet about a new post then my blog gets more hits than if I don't tweet it.

I do try to blog regularly and every couple of weeks a reminder pops up in my diary that it's about time to write another blog post. As I'm getting towards the end of my PhD and I find my writing becoming more focused, it's sometimes difficult to write an interesting blog post that engages beyond my research. So if you have any reasonable suggestions or questions (research related or not) that you would like me to blog about tweet me. @amcoyle87 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

A guilt free evening exploring Edinburgh!

It's been a while since I've blogged and sometimes when my daily routine consists of eating, writing, working and sleeping there isn't much to blog about. I don't often think that I can really justify putting down the thesis and doing something else - wherever I am I always have a bit of my thesis in some format. A journal article saved on my phone to read on the bus or a bit of a chapter on my tablet.

However this evening, I'm going to do something completely thesis free (well nearly). Panji is visiting from Malawi and will be spending a few hours with me in Edinburgh - a flying visit to the capital city. I may not be working on my Thesis, but I can't help feeling that the conversation will stray into the current goings-on in Malawi and talking about Mary's Meals. This is Panji's first visit to Scotland and as he's here for work, it will be nice to show him a wee bit of Auld Reekie. Most likely the debate of salt n sauce v's salt n vinegar might be up for discussion - Malawians this is the equivalent of mayo versus nali with your chips!

So for a few hours, I'm going to lock my thesis in my office and try to forget about it for a few hours (sorry Supervisors). Guilt free.  
I sometimes wonder how many people feel guilty about doing something other than working on their thesis?  I'm lucky that my working for the IAD and on Researcher Development/Doctoral Training means that my thesis is never far from my mind - sometimes having to re-read the PG Essentials webpages gives me a headache, but at least I can say I'm pretty well versed in what I should be doing as PhD student in the writing-up stages.

So whilst, I have a think about where to take Panji this evening, there is one thing I won't be feeling - guilty about putting my thesis down for an evening.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

From Sunshine to Chiperoni, Postcards and Shopping at the Market!

There is a common myth that Africa is always hot or warm - the pictures we see on TV are of warm places with scorching sun and suggests that factor 50 is a must! This is a myth! It's mid-June in Malawi and I'm dressed like it's winter in Edinburgh complete with scarf and gloves. It's raining and windy outside - this is what is called Chiperoni and is definitely the cold season.

Limbe is particularly freezing and always feels colder than the neighbouring Blantyre (a bit like the distance between Edinburgh George Square and the Botanic Gardens). This is probably the only time that I actually put more clothes on coming into work than I do when leaving it! The tables have turned on Malawi and the weather is so cold that I'm to wish I was back in Edinburgh just so I could put the central heating on.

I also heard from Julie that I work with, that they received the postcard from Malawi - I'm glad it reached them. I know it can take around 3 weeks to get from Malawi to Scotland, that's if it ever makes it! I really enjoy the experience of buying the postcards - the negotiating with the vendors and the very random selection of images which are available.

This is also a bit like the market - especially when shopping for gifts. First of all, it's always a good idea to look at a selection of the stalls - even though they sell mainly the same thing and then start negotiating on prices. I know a few of the stall holders now so normally go to them. Happiness is particularly good at sourcing the bargains and the best stuff. He goes around saying "for my customer, she is my customer." - he sells paintings and Joseph Sells wood carvings - they have a good double act going!

So Saturday at the market was an experience - there were a group of tourists all trying to buy gifts, some being unnecessarily rude and rather annoying. I see one women shouting that she is not getting a "good price" for the bracelet she was trying to buy - at 300 Kwacha it was actually rather cheap. She turns to me and says something like "this is a rip off".  Further along and I come across the same person - to her surprise I'm now greeting someone in Chichewa - I'm no stranger to this Market - I know how to play the game. There are some thing in Malawi that never change - negotiating at the market is one of them.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

A day in the life...

A day in the life is not really an accurate title but its close enough. Settling back into life in Blantyre has been interesting. Its warm enough but not too hot and I find that even after a few days I was once again used to the climate and the dust!

The first few days here, I did the usual things of going to the bank, getting my phone sorted out and doing some shopping. I had forgotten how generally expensive things are here and prices have gone up quite a bit.
I also managed to break my sunglasses before leaving Edinburgh. I didn't have to look hard to track some down with the street vendors selling them along with postcards and jewellery. I wasn't surprised that the street vendors pounced the minute I was on Victoria Avenue, I was surprised that when I said find me tomorrow that they actually did.

Driving around at the weekend wasn't too bad though it still amazes me that some Malawians choose to walk along the road and not on the pavement. I don't mind driving in Malawi, I don't think its any more stressful than at home, still potholes, other cars and buses, bicycles and possibly the odd goat. The search for parking spaces is similar to Edinburgh with tram works replaced by roadworks and attempts to fix the increasing number of holes in the road.

Back in the Mary's Meals office, I'm once again sharing a desk with Florian, he never seems to mind that I manage to take over the end of his desk.  It feels a little odd to be back at Limbe and working with Mary's Meals - I think being here makes me appreciate how lucky the team I work with at the IAD in Edinburgh are. I'm not saying this means I won't still fall out with the photocopier though.

There are some things about Malawi that I had missed and some things not so much! So I may have missed the Passion Fruit Fanta but its fair to say the Cadburys chocolate here doesn't taste as nice!!  

Friday, 31 May 2013

Malawi: From Scotland to Immigration

The journey from Scotland to Malawi was quite straightforward; the flights were fine and with the exception of a little turbulence on the long hall flight it was rather smooth. The layovers didn't feel that long, thanks to having a decent book with me. I arrived in Malawi to 28C!

The arrival was more interesting than the flights though! Arriving at Chileka is always an experience - this time it took nearly 2 hours to get through the queue at Immigration. The standing around was exhausting - once I reached the desk, I was there all of 5 minutes and then could go and collect my luggage - I was even waved through by customs. Getting outside I found Gillian waiting on me.

The first few days in Malawi - have been a bit of a whirlwind, not really helped by breaking down at Liwonde yesterday and spending most of the afternoon waiting on help to arrive. At least it gave me a chance to get used to the temperature!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Write that Journal Article/Chapter in 7 Days!

I was having one of those weeks where I could screw up my research and happily chuck it out the window of my 5th floor office, well not quite literally.  (I don't really want to have to run down 5 flights of stairs to give first aid to the unlucky person that's just been injured by my research notes. However, I do find myself asking the question - what's the point? what am I going to achieve? Will it ever make any difference? (sounds like imposter's syndrome, I know).  

I was beginning to feel like I was bouncing my head of a wall of research notes and not actually getting very far - more like I was reading myself round in circles. Then I went to a seminar with Dr Inger Mewburn [@thesiswhisperer].  

I'm used to hearing about how you should write a thesis, best practise and quite honestly there is a point where you switch off have to start thinking about what you are actually doing and not how you are going to do it. It's fair to say I was slightly sceptical that I would be able to write a journal article in 7 days, never mind 7 weeks. What I didn't expect was to come out of the seminar feeling like I wanted to write! I really wanted to write, I didn't really know what just that I wanted to write.

The people I spoke to said similar things, it spurred them on, gave them inspiration and like me felt they wanted to write. So that feeling of wanting to throw my research out the window faded and a drive to write took over - now I can't claim that I've written a coherent chapter/article but I certainly have been writing more over the last week or so. I've also found myself doing lots of the things I've been putting off (I even washed the windows).

So I am going to go back to my A3 paper and trying to organise my blocks of writing into something more coherent (and make sure it's all in English as I now have a habit of dropping in a Chichewa word here and there).

I'm taking full advantage of feeling this productive...

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Bicentenary of Dr David Livingstone...

If you have seen the news this week, you might know that Dr Joyce Banda, The President of Malawi visited Scotland for the Bicentenary celebrations of Dr David Livingstone's Birth (19th March). Amongst other things, she has visited the David Livingstone centre in Blantyre, attended a service with the First Minster and also appeared at the Scottish Cup Final (St Mirren v Hearts).

I was lucky to be invited to the Scotland-Malawi Partnership event on Monday afternoon. Attended by Dr Joyce Banda and Ministers from Malawi, the event highlighted the numerous links between Scotland and Malawi, particularly in the areas of Health and Education. Amongst the guests were representatives from many Scottish Organisations working in Malawi. The speakers included; Martha Payne the NeverSeconds blogger, Olivia Giles from the charity 500Miles and Humza Yousaf MSP, Minister for External Affairs and International Development (to name a few).

The event went without a hitch (if there were any, I didn't notice). There were lots of people there with an interest in Malawi and development. It's not unusual to see the same selection of faces at Malawi related events and it really doesn't take long before you get to know who does what. I've lost count of how many SMP events I've attended in the last three years but I always come away feeling inspired and enthusiastic about working in Malawi (and even for writing my PhD).

What did I do on Tuesday do I hear you ask? I was at the Scottish Parliament for Dr Joyce Banda's address to MSPs and invited guests. This was Dr Banda's first visit to Scotland as Head of State, though she has visited before when she was Minister for Foreign Affairs. President Banda gave a very moving speech to the Parliament, highlighting just some of the issues which have affected Malawi in recent months, emphasising the importance of the relationship between Scotland and Malawi and expressing her wishes for the future partnership between the two nations.

On the Bicentenary of Dr David Livingstone, it was nice to feel a part of the legacy of his work. I wear lots of "hats" when it comes to Malawi. For that I owe many thanks to David Hope-Jones and the Scotland-Malawi Partnership for giving me an opportunity which steered my MSc Thesis, led to a PhD proposal and eventually to falling in love with a country that really does deserve the name The Warm Heart of Africa.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

When Thinking Day gets your thinking...

It's Sunday afternoon and once again I'm writing...I'm always writing these days!  This time it's not for my PhD though - it's for the upcoming International Evening at Guides. Last Thursday we celebrated World Thinking Day which takes place on 22nd February (The Birthday of Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scout Movement and his wife Olave, who was World Chief Guide).

World Thinking Day is a special annual day when Girl Guides and Girl Scouts around the world think of each other and express their thanks and apprecation for the International Movement. This year the two themes for World Thinking Day come from MDG 4 (Reduce Child Mortality) and MDG 5 (Improve Maternal Health) -  Together we can save children's lives and Every mother's life and health is precious. Since 2010 there have been 5 focus countries -this year they are; Republic of Ireland, Jordan, Pakistan, Venezuela and Malawi.

Not only is Girl Guides in Malawi very different from Guiding in the UK, there is a stark difference between the lives of young girls in Malawi compared to those in Scotland. Using the MDGs as a basis for the World Thinking Day not only means that WTD is closely linked with international issues but that there is an emphasis on issues relevant to girls around the world.

WTD not only got me thinking about Guiding around the world but also about the role organisations such as Girl Guides can make. With ten million Girl Guides and Girl Scouts from 145 countries across the world, WAGGGS is the largest voluntary movement dedicated to girls and young women in the world. A movement I'm proud to be part of. 
Girlguiding Logo Woven Badge Thinking Day 2013 Woven Badge

Monday, 11 February 2013

Speed Reading and Speedier Writing...Write or Die

Well I also work for the Institute for Academic Development so maybe i'm slighty biased?  I doubt it! I think the courses run as part of the part of the training programme for Doctoral Researchers/ PhD Students are really good and I wish I took advantage of them more when I was in my first year!

I'm lucky that I get to interact with the tutors on a regular basis and I have been known to ask a question or two. I'm going "Speed Reading" next week. It's one of the courses and right now I wish it was called "Speed Writing."

Then I remembered something Louisa Lawes (Head of Researcher Development, IAD) told me about a while ago.  It's called Write or Die. There are variations of this programme and some of them sound a bit less scary! I wonder if it really works though? So I thought I would give it a try! I did find it somewhat useful! Stopped me procrastinating and got me typing. There are different settings and you can set it to how long it will let you stop before it starts flashing red and deleting what you have just typed!

The other programme I have heard about is called Freedom and it stops you accessing the internet for as long as you set it for. I'm not convinced it's for me. For one what about using Mendeley or Dropbox. I rely on the internet a bit too much for other things to be able to shut it off completely. Anyway if I really wanted I could disable my wifi!

What do you think? Would you use Write or Die?

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Ovaha''s Hut - The Giving Hut

Since I mentioned Ovaha's Hut in a previous post, I thought I might blog about it. I've actually never visited the project but through Ruthie Markus from AMECA, Lawrence got in touch wanting to tell me more about the projects run by Ovaha's Hut and what he is trying to do. The following blog was written for Lawrence and the Ovaha Hut team to use. Stepping outside the box, I hope this blog can offer some insight into this grassroots project, for the people by the people. 

Ovaha's Hut
In his own words Lawrence Matembezi Ngwemba started Ovaha's Hut "because many children did not care about school, they were marrying young, drinking alcohol and being violent". He opened Ovaha's Hut to try and put a stop to this, as a result there are now many children in primary school. Many people doubted that he would succeed but by using his salary of 5000 Malawi Kwacha and doing piece work to pay the teachers he has turned a dream in to a success. Ovaha's hut is located in the Takhiwa and Gladstone Villages in the Mulanje District of southern Malawi. The charity organisation is based on the philosophy of giving the best to the community, aiming to develop the community with existing resources so that people can learn to support themselves. Ovaha's Hut has two projects; the first Ovaha Nursery School and the second Ovaha Elderly Shelter.

Ovaha Nursery School
Opened in 2008 and formally launched in 2009, the nursery school is a not-for-profit institution with the aim of educating the local children in a local school. Like many things in Malawi, Nursery School is viewed as a luxury, only affordable to the few. Ovaha Nursery School is part if the community, open to all, regardless of ability. The mission is simple; to enable all children, especially the underprivileged, to access education before commencing primary school. By providing a place of education for children from ages 2 to 7, the nursery school further aims to encourage children to learn from an early age, to want to attend primary and secondary school and to develop an ambition to be educated. Ovaha's Hut acknowledges this as a challenge - as many children who do not have the opportunity to learn before attending primary school struggle and do not take education seriously, many marry young. The teachers are all volunteers and come from the same village in which the school is situated, giving the nursery school a real sense of community. Currently gathering under a tree, Ovaha's Hut is attempting to the raise the necessary funds to build a school block.

Ovaha Elderly Shelter
Based in Takhiwa village, the Eldery Shelter provides support the elderly members of the community. The shelter gives support by providing some of the basic goods to members of the community and it also ensures that those who are sick are taken to the hospital. Ovaha's Hut chose to support the elderly as they believe the Agogo's are a bit like a walking library for the community - a wealth of knowledge and experience. Ovaha's hut bring the elderly together three times a week, they participate in a range of activities including knitting - everything that is knitted goes to the Nursery School. Their mission is simple to support the needy and to make the elderly feel needed in the village. 

The newest project is to start a pig-farming project where the elderly members of the community are each given a pig to raise. They would then be able to sell the pigs and buy some more, not only making the project self-sustaining but bringing the community together. The project along with the existing ponds to keep fish will help to make many of the elderly people in the village self-reliant.

So what are the challenges?
Like any other organisation working in Malawi, Ovaha's Hut faces lots of different challenges. They are constantly on the look-out for donations of learning materials and for training materials for the volunteer teachers. They also need an increasing number of volunteers to help run the projects. Ovaha's Hut is currently in the process of raising the funds to build two shelters - one for the Nursery School and the second for the Elderly Shelter. Further challenges lie in; providing food to the children who attend the nursery school, providing medical assistance and items such as soap, salt, sugar and food supplements especially for the elderly.

What about the future?
Despite facing many challenges, Lawrence and the team at Ovaha's Hut plan to open a place for the youth in the community, a place where they can learn new skills to help them find employment. Not only is the aim to help the youth develop new skills but it’s hoped that they will become role models for the community.

Lawrence Matembezi Ngwemba is committed to the development of Ovaha’s Hut. He works hard to help the community and wants to inspire others to do likewise. He’s about as close to the ordinary Malawian as you can get, growing up in the village and now based in Blantyre, he continually works hard to do what he can for others. 

Sunday, 6 January 2013

2013: A New Year

It's 2013 and as the world slowly goes back to work and normality I start to wonder what the year ahead will bring. Today, 6th January, we welcome the Magi to the stable, bringing with them gifts. Now although we don't expect gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, I wonder if it wasn't for the ipods/ipads/new phones and gadgets what would we expect of the festive season? I got a bit sickened walking along Princes St in Edinburgh seeing all the "for sale" signs and hearing children (and adults) use the phrase "I want" once too often.

Ovaha means to give in Lomwe (one of the languages spoken in Mulanje, Malawi) and so Ovaha's Hut is essentially the Giving Hut. However it doesn't give out ipods or the latest gadgets, it gives food, support and provides education to the most vulnerable members the community. It has two main objectives; to help the elderly and the young. The nursery school provides a learning environment for the children whilst the shelter for the elderly is a place where they can be helped and looked after. Established by Lawrence Ngwemba, a Malawian who is clearly passionate about Ovaha's Hut the aim is simple - to make things better using the resources they have.

The festive season for most in Malawi, isn't full of oversized christmas trees, expensive presents and too much turkey. It is like every other day, a fight to survive.

In her latest blog, Letter from Malawi: Coming Home, Ruthie Markus talks about life in Malawi being tough but she also talks about how Christmas there is different to Christmas in the UK. No ipods, no gadgets, it is a time for family and a small treat (if you're lucky). Reading Ruthie's blog reminded me of why I love Malawi so much but it also reminded me of  the street children playing and the women begging, of the old man in the wheelchair who sits at the top of Victoria Avenue, of the uncertainty.

So as 2013 gets underway and I go back to work and back into the routine of life in Edinburgh, I wonder what 2013 will bring? I look forward to the challenges and the adventures.