When I first started my PhD I came across a blog post called “managing the #phd- keep a reading journal” written by Pat Thomson. Dr. Thomson is a Professor of Education in the School of Education at The University of Nottingham. She has a blog called Patter where she discusses her own work and also gives helpful advice about academic research and writing. In her post, she recommends that PhD students keep a journal so that they can keep track of and also make sense of what they are reading. She writes that the larger goal of the journal is to help you understand who is involved in the scholarly conversations and to give you a space to reflect on the debates, tensions, and holes in the literature.
Admittedly, I had never thought of doing this and while working on my Master’s degree and I remember it taking me hours to unearth an idea I had written in the margins of an article months prior. After reading her post, I thought I’d give the reading journal a try so I bought a small, portable 250-page notebook which I have used to keep track of what I have been reading during the last 18 months of my PhD. Personally, I’ve used my reading journal as a place for reflection, to jot down ideas to explore, and a space to try to understand the seismic shifts that occurred during the period I’m studying. I have taken it to every meeting with my supervisor, conferences I have attended, and in my travels to jot down concepts that I have been wrestling with. I’ve also used it to note down the core questions I’m trying to answer through my field exams and essays. I often refer back to these questions when thinking about whether an article I’ve just read will form a part of my core bibliography. It has been a great way to keep my ideas in one place and have them easily accessible wherever I go.
While keeping a journal, I’ve learned that there are no rules on how or what to write in it. Although my journal is a physical notebook, yours could be digital. It could even be a folder or a box of notes. No matter its form, its purpose is first and foremost a place that forces you to reflect on your own ideas in conjunction with the work by established scholars. I have found it immensely helpful and I hope you do too. A key thing to remember is that your reading journal is something that evolves as you learn and develop intellectually through your PhD process. Most importantly, as Dr. Thomson says, it’s a place for you to develop your own voice in a space that isn’t inundated with the noise of other people’s ideas.