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May 08, 2012

On bullshit – by Anna

I spent the day on Friday attending 'Othering Academia: A (B)ull/shit Conference' put on by three postgraduates in the English department. I was expecting a day of laughs and lightheartedness about academia and the sometimes obscure or silly ways we talk about things - which I definitely got. But underneath it all, as we discussed in a roundtable at the end, it was actually a serious interrogation of what academic bullshit is, and how it functions within the academy.

Highlights of the day included Virginie Sauzon and Claire Trevien's paper 'A la recherche du Tesco perdu: The unbearable lightness/otherness of capitalism in Rimbaud', which was a hilarious sendup involving a supposed sexual liaison between Arthur Rimbaud and the founder of Tesco. Another favourite was Anirudh Tagat's 'Mine is faster than yours: Analysing speed of speaking from an economic perspective', in which Tagat completely made up his evidence and conclusions for our edification. Andrea Selleri's 'Vibrating subjects: Motorhead and the cunnilinguistics of the Other' also stood out as the day's most straight-faced piece of pure unadulterated bullshit. Well done, everyone!

However, all this came with a serious set of questions, which coincidentally have been coming up for me in the past few days anyhow. In the US there has been a bit of a furore this week amongst academics over a blog post in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Naomi Shaeffer Riley which dismissed and ridiculed the work of four young Black Studies scholars as irrelevant 'hackery'. What's interesting is that she essentially accuses these scholars of bullshit - of looking at topics irrelevant to the wider culture, and of doing so in a way that is based on left-wing ideology and is impossible to understand (although she has not taken the trouble to read the dissertations).

This highlights, to me, the complicated thing role that bullshit seems to play in the academy. As philosopher H.G. Frankfurt's now-classic essay On Bullshit suggests, bullshit is not the same as a lie - rather it's a statement that is made without regard to truth; the bullshitter, he contends, is more interested in gaining power for himself (and it is often a male-gendered thing, though not always) than in stating the truth.

Here are some possible uses of or contexts for bullshit, according to ideas that came out at the conference on Friday:

  • Impressing funding bodies in applications
  • Making what you're saying sound complicated or intelligent (although this might not always be done at the conscious level)
  • Taking a simple pleasure in obscure language, or in the feeling of mastering it
  • Lubricating social interactions amongst academics
  • Applying a potentially complicated theory to a particular set of texts or artifacts
  • Showing that you have achieved fluency in academic language (for. e.g. PhD students)

This last point seems especially relevant to the Black Studies case, because Schaefer Riley is essentially (beyond the obviously racist comments she makes, which have been eloquently discussed elsewhere) accusing these doctoral students of taking the language of academia too seriously. Yet, as someone pointed out today, the overuse of technical academic language often relaxes after an academic has tenure; bullshit contains an aspect of proving that you belong within the academic 'priesthood'. So in this sense, her picking on PhD students, which seems very unfair, is actually quite telling of the ideological structures of academic bullshit.


February 21, 2012

Cross–disciplinary approaches at the rhythm–melody interface – by Ruth

And now, a moment of shameless self-promotion.

I'm presenting some of my recent work this weekend, alongside two of my collaborators.

The registration fee is a mere four pounds, so it would be lovely if you could come along to hear our findings.not right


June 10, 2011

The PhD limbo period – by Dilip

Several guys have blogged about the so called "honeymoon period" in the life of a PhD student - usually in the first year when you are filled with optimism and with dreams of doing a Nobel prize winning research.

However, this post is not about that period but about another period which I shall call the "Limbo period".

Officially the duration of a PhD here at Warwick is 3 years but as everyone knows that it is almost impossible to complete a PhD in 3 years. In fact I don't know anyone who has even submitted their thesis in exactly 3 years. So what happens when you pass the 3 years?

Which brings us to the question "What do you mean by completing a PhD?"

To me, you have completed your PhD when you have had you viva, and made the corrections (if any) and finally submitted your corrected final version of your thesis.

Anyway the first limbo period occurs when you pass the 3 years and enter the PhD extra year. I had applied for an extension but it had been slow in coming through. The deadline came and went and one day I suddenly discovered that I couldn't get into the WBS Teaching centre where my office was located. The doors are protected by a smart card entry system but it simply refused to let me in. I couldn't get into the WBS main building either. Worse, I found out that I was barred from entering the library.

Later at home I discovered that this extended into the virtual World - I couldn't access the Library online nor my student account. In other words I was completely locked out of the University of Warwick - I was still a PhD student but was not a PhD student. This must be what it feels like when parents kick out a child from the family home even though he has not done anything wrong (OK! I am exaggerating a little bit here for dramatic effect).

snow wbs03

Left out in the cold

Ultimately I was granted an extension and all access were restored (apart from my student records which is now blocked to me forever for reasons unknown to me). Later on I found out from other friends that there was yet another form of limbo period – when you have submitted your thesis and waiting for your viva and your extension period suddenly runs out. The whole problem starts all over again and it is worse this time because you have already submitted and are unlikely to get an extension just for your viva.

You then have your viva. However, you found out that like most PhD students you have passed with minor corrections This means that you have 3 months to make the changes to your thesis. You then go to the library site to look up some journal article and then you suddenly remembered that you are no longer a student and have no access to the library.

But you still have got work to do on your thesis!!!


May 13, 2011

Home Sweet Home – Part 2 – by Lauren

Follow-up to Home Sweet Home – Part 1 – by Lauren from PhD Life: a blog about the PhD student experience

Earlier this week, I blogged to you guys about just how awesome working from home can be.

But, as you might have guessed, it's not all a big barrel of rosy roses. No, working from home comes with significant problems - both barriers to productivity and the threat of destabilising that all important Work-Life Balance.

Here are just a few of the pitfalls that are apt to drive me up the wall when working within my own four walls:

Distraction

I suppose this is the real biggie - when at home, I'm surrounded by temptation to do, well, anything that isn't my thesis. Some of this, admittedly, is stuff that would distract me in the office too (ebay, for example). But a lot of it is down to location. There are days when working at home that I just can't shake that pressing need to hoover/do the laundry/clean the kitchen - partly because, I think, when you're there, all your housework is just staring you in the face. When my house is a tip, I either have to a) clean it or b) go to the office and shut the front door firmly behind me on all the piles of crap.

Isolation

The old cliché about the loner, introvert PhD researcher feels all that more true when you're working from home. Dangerously though, you often don't realise this until you actually leave the house...when you suddenly discover that you haven't spoke properly to another human being in days. At least when you go onto campus, you are forced to interact with somebody, even if it is just the bus driver...

humans?!

Self-Care

Now, you could say that I'm a girl who likes her clothes. That would be a bit of an understatement. One of my fave parts of any morning is picking an outfit, accessorizing, adding a cute pair of shoes...you get the picture. Only, as the first part of this blog might have indicated, when I'm working from home, me and my pyjamas are rarely separated. In fact, in a working from home week, it can be that the only times I leave my beloved jammies is to a) put on a new pair of jammies or b) put on my footie kit. Ew...So, the shallow part of me says that working from the office must be better, as I get to give my lovely wardrobe an airing. For anyone though, working from home can make you wave goodbye to any kind of personal hygiene routine beyond a cursory spray of anti-perspirant in the morning. Not good.

Regime

Firstly, there is something to be said for having the flexibility to work when you're most productive. If you know that mornings aren't your thing, it is great to be able to work with your inner night owl to bash out that chapter into the wee hours. However, this can all too easily get out of hand, and before you know it you're existing like a zombified night worker, keeping different hours to the rest of the world and then getting a short, sharp shock when you're required to go in to uni at 9am for a supervision or such. At least having set hours where you are in the office keeps your home life distinct from your thesis work - after all, it is such sweet relief to go home and enjoy an evening, away from the books, guilt-free because you know you've done your 'day'.

Once again, this blog won't have covered all the home-working horrors, but hopefully it can provide a springboard for us all to think about how to get the very most out of the working flexibility that we have as PhD researchers (in the humanities, at least). As others have suggested in the comments to the last blog entry, perhaps it is a matter of working out what types of work you do best in different locations. Perhaps changing your working location regularly is the key to success. If anyone has any thoughts/suggestions/experiences that they'd like to share about the home-office balance, I'd love to read them!

Yours (working from home today, but getting dressed later, I promise), Lauren


May 11, 2011

Home Sweet Home – Part 1 – by Lauren

As I was *ahem* 'researching' on the Internet the other day, I came across this cartoon about working from home on The Oatmeal. Let's just say, it touched a nerve...http://theoatmeal.com/comics/working_home

I have to say upfront that I LOVE working from home. At least, I love having the option to. There is something wonderfully decadent about being able to be productive from the comfort of your bed, tapping away on your laptop whilst wearing your jammies and sipping a cup of tea. But, as the cartoon illustrates, working from home can be both a blessing and a curse. As a PhD researcher, I feel as if, daily, I am required to weigh up the pros and cons of a 'home day' or an 'office day'. And I thought that it might help me (and others!) if I were able to lay it all out here.

Ever the optimist, I'd like to start with some of the awesome, amazing, wonderful perks of the home office:

Tea in Bed

'nuff said.

No Commute

Firstly, no commute gives you extra time to either a) indulge in tea in bed or b) start work a good half an hour earlier. Secondly, there's no faffing around with buses/trains/finding a parking space/shooting murderous looks at other commuters. I don't know about the rest of you, but manys a time that a morning of late and full buses, rain and undergraduates moaning loudly about their seminar tutors has put me in a foul mood for the rest of the day. You also save money on fares, parking and petrol. Finally, if you're a driver, eliminating the commute also eliminates nasty greenhouse emissions and fuel consumption, so the Earth wins too!

Food and Drink

Being able to walk into your own kitchen and prepare your own lunch, snacks and drinks is a real godsend. As a bit of a tight-arse, I find it incredibly galling to pay £2 for a hot chocolate that I could make myself for a fraction of the price. When I'm in the office, I often don't have the chance to prepare a proper, healthy lunch, and end up snacking the day away on strawberry laces and chewy Refresher bars. Delicious, but not nutritious.

Flexibility

There is a lot to be said for being able to do your weekly shop when the supermarkets are quiet, or being able to go and work in the garden or the park when the sun shines. I feel like the balance of my work and life is generally healthier when I'm working from home. As my partner also works from home most days, I feel like getting to spend more time "together" in the same space, even if we are working in separate rooms, benefits us both (he might disagree though!). "Family time", as it were, seems to be one of the areas that suffers most in modern routines, and it makes me feel very fortunate to be able to steal more of it.


Of course, these are just the obvious good points - there are many more.

I'll be back on the blog later in the week with my take on the terrible traumas and temptations of the home-worker...in the meantime, I'd love to hear what you think about pyjama productivity!




April 29, 2011

Good ole Royal Wedding – by Anna

Oh Royal Wedding madness! How you have cut into Summer Term and kept all the undergraduates at bay for another week of sweet, sweet bliss. Count on the royals.

Kate and Wills

Actually, a friend pointed out to me today that I am the same age as Kate Middleton. Just to think - I could have been marrying a prince right now rather than living in a PhD ghetto house with 21 other cash-strapped postgraduates and working feverishly on a book-length project that no one will ever read...

OK, so you caught me at a bad moment.

Seriously though, how do people feel about the royal wedding? Academics tend to be such crabby, cynical left-wingers. We tend to view the masses as easily duped. Is this what's happening today, or are we genuinely putting this down for a moment and letting our inner princesses get the best of us?

I am seriously quite divided on this point.



April 08, 2011

On caffeination – by Anna

Last week I wasn't here blogging. You may have noticed. Wanna know why? Because I was in Roma!

Roman Forum

Roma Roma Roma! It was warm and sunny and full of art and history and I LOVED it. Just think, all you suckaz were here at home writing your chapter while I was strolling around in the sun and eating pizza.

ANYWAY. One of the things about Italy, of course, is that everybody drinks espresso.

espresso

Tiny, tepid and insufferably bitter, this is pretty much the closest thing you can get to a caffeine injection without using a needle. Just take all 3 sips and you'll be rolling for hours!

Now before we go any further on this topic, I need to admit that I feel a little - no, quite - morally superior on the matter. I don't drink caffeine at all, like not even decaf or tea or decaf tea or any of those supposed alternatives that actually still have a bunch of caffeine in them. Although this is for a medical reason, I still get tremendous enjoyment out of gloating over my lack of dependence on a chemical substance to stay awake. I can sit and drink my lovely, rich, thick Italian hot chocolate, my eyes fresh and dewy and full of morning sunshine

morning dew

while everyone else is glowering grumpily

victor meldrew

and taking hits on their happy juice.

Which is what made me think of all y'all postgrads. Whenever I tell another postgrad that I don't drink any caffeine EVER, they stare at me in disbelief. How can anybody write a thesis without caffeine?! A mathematician friend of mine even refers to maths PhD students as 'machines for turning caffeine into theorems'. It's like the whole academic world would stop turning if it weren't greased up with caffeine at, oh, hourly intervals.

I observe this caffeine addiction in action on a daily basis in the Research Exchange. All day, people flock to the desk to get their (free) coffee and tea, chipper chipper chipper about life. But if the hot water or the coffee runs out, I instantly have a passel of disgruntled PhD students on my hands.

Addicts!


March 24, 2011

On the similarities between a PhD student and a hobo – by Anna

My friend Pete and I were talking about Woody Guthrie the other day. What a cool cat he was!

woody guthrie

I mean, just look at him. His guitar says 'this machine kills fascists'. He spent large parts of his life (1912-1967) hoboing around the United States, playing guitar to eat, and organising the poorest workers to demand better rights for themselves. All while playing amazing, sublime, unbelievable folk music, which he was so good at writing that he could make up a song on the spot, like he could just pick up his guitar and ask someone to give him a topic and then sit down and play a completely new song that he'd never even thought about before. How awesome is that?! I totally wish I could be more like Woody Guthrie.

Pete and I even coined a word from his name. I propose that 'guthrying' should be a new word for 'politicised hobo-ing', as in, 'I'm going to finish my degree and then I'm going to guthrie around for awhile', or 'I lost my job so I guess I'm a guthrie now'. Which let's face it, we all kind of do at some point. I mean not in quite as badass or as politicised a way as ol' Woody, but still, hobo-ing around is a pretty standard thing to do after graduating these days, and this often has some kind of political or aesthetic or artistic goal.

hipsters

Different times call for different paradigms, right?

ANYWAY, this leads me to the real topic of this post, which is: isn't a PhD student a liiiiittle bit like a guthrie? I mean, maybe a few of us are all focused on our future careers and super together and grown-up about everything, but most of the PhD students I know are drifters. We hang around without any plans after our friends go and get jobs in the City or go volunteer in Africa or something, and it seems kind of like the easiest path to just stick around in our pleasant, low-hassle, low-income studenty ways for a few more years. Eventually we find we have a terminal degree so we'd better actually figure out what we're doing with our lives, but it's easiest to postpone that for as long as possible.

And this is totally political too - most PhDs, at least in the humanities and social sciences, are quite deeply political in fact. We are putting ourselves through three years (and often more) of poverty in order to have the opportunity to think in a pure, unadulterated way about the most important questions of our time.

Or there are people who aren't like that, but who are drifters in almost a more fundamental sense: they want to do a little of this, a little of that - whatever interests them most at the time - and they definitely don't like being told what to do by the Man. Doing a PhD appeals to such people because it's so focused on the self, on personal learning. Plus it involves a steady income for 3 years, so there's that.

Which may make a person less of a guthrie, come to think of it - having a regular income. So maybe the more accurate analogy here is guthries to ECRs (early career researchers).

Or maybe this is all a bunch of hooey. Maybe I'm just trying to romanticise our lives. (Not that I'm succeeding.)




March 21, 2011

REX? – by Pete

Something that's been bothering me for a little while.

What's the appropriate abbreviation for the Research Exchange?

I've always referred to it as the RX, but several of my colleagues talk about the RE (which brings back compulsory school classes in my mind).

I recently became aware, too, that some people - including our lovely advisors - go one better and call it the REX (or is that Rex, like the Toy Story dinosaur)?

And then there are some crazy people who have time in their lives to use two whole syllables, and call it The Wolfson. Phew.

Any other preferences?

Rex


March 18, 2011

Iconic Warwick – by Will

Yesterday I visited a great second year Theatre Studies piece called our.warwick.  The performers related their personal experiences of Warwick as tour guides around a studio space with stations representing various campus landmarks.  At the end, we were invited to share our experiences of Warwick and record them on luggage tags hanging from a tree.

It got me to thinking about Warwick's campus, and the huge amount of time I've spent on it.  It's kind of a non-space; it's not a village or a town.  It's not even actually in Warwick.  It's a big academic factory in the middle of the countryside.  But obviously, through attachment, it means a lot more than that.  There are places on campus that have really important memories for me.

I was thinking maybe we could share what we think of when we think about Warwick?  Images, videos, text - whatever takes your fancy.  I'll start the ball rolling with a pretty obvious iconic Warwick landmark:

Koan

The Koan is a thing of beautiful mystery.  Indeed, according to Wikipedia (that great resource for all researchers) it's intended to represent the Buddhist search for questions without answers.  Hence, 'what is it?' I suppose.  I love the Koan though.  It breaks up the rest of Warwick's corporate look, especially when it lights up and spins around at night time.

Personally, I think it's the Vice Chancellor's secret bunker.  During the (now sadly cancelled) Warwick Shootout competition in 2007, we got inside and proved this theory...


So what's your iconic campus landmark? What does Warwick mean to you?


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