All 13 entries tagged Lauren
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March 16, 2012
There's been an awful lot of what my supervisor punchily dubbed "peer panic" flying around at the moment regarding jobs. Specifically academic jobs. Specifically academic jobs in the arts. Which has, as those of you who remember my post The Back-Up plan know, has always been my Plan A. So when I read about the Careers in Academia event on the Graduate School website, I signed up immediately.
Confession time here: this is the first ever careers event I have voluntarily attended in seven (!) years of university life.
To my surprise (and shame, after hashtagging it a #boringcareersevent in a tweet earlier that morning) - the event was extremely inspiring and made for a thoroughly riveting, if tiring, day. This was not least thanks to some of the excellent speakers, all of whom were members of staff at Warwick who had given up their time to come and tell us all about their jobs - the good and the bad. As one speaker put it, this was a "warts and all" look at the career. Some speakers - I'm naming no names - had more warts to share than others! It was also eye-opening to see the administrative and governance side of academic life represented, and the passion that Laura Meadows and Jocasta Gardener displayed for their jobs was, judging by the room's reaction, truly infectious.
The event was structured so that all of the sessions had ample space for open discussion and lots of time for questions from the floor, which made a real difference. The candidness of the responses provided some extremely useful strategic knowledge which I feel like I can now translate into job applications. The audience of postgraduate researchers are also to be congratulated for getting involved and keeping the discussion moving in a useful and sometimes probing manner!
The atmosphere of the event was warm (surely not just down to that orange and red Postgraduate Hub colour scheme!) and collaborative, and as speakers spoke so enthusiastically, I found my mind flying off on loads of different, exciting tangents - my notes from the day do not just reflect what people said and the wisdom they imparted, but loads of ideas that I had while sat there for research projects, teaching ideas and ways of re-framing my existing skills when I come to write that all important First Job Application.
My only criticism of the event would perhaps be that it would have been nice to have some speakers from other universities - as most of the people there could only speak "for Warwick". With things like teaching-loads and research leave differing so much from institution to institution (and Warwick's allowances being fairly generous), it would have been helpful to have some staff from different "types" of universities represented (not necessarily as a negative, as some people in attendance were interested in more teaching-oriented posts). This is also key, I feel, given that most people's first permanent academic appointment will involve a change in institution.
The biggest thing I took away from the event though, was that if I want to pursue this career it's going to take time. And, rather than putting the fear of God in me, this actually made me relax a lot. I've always felt fairly resigned to the idea that academic work would be contingent and perhaps even non-existent for a while post-PhD, and the vehemence with which some of my colleagues seemed to be punishing themselves for not yet achieving their Dream Job was starting to make me worry that this meant that I didn't want it enough, or I wouldn't push hard enough to make it happen. (Ah, that'll be the peer panic setting in.) Since my colleagues (friends) will probably read this - I'm not judging you in any way! I just know that I need, for myself, to take a more relaxed approach and this event gave me the armoury to deal with that, if you like. Put more eloquently, it confirmed the words of Robert Louis Stevenson:
Judge each day not by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.
Many of the speakers said that one of the best things about the career was that you are always learning - in some ways you remain an eternal student. And this really rang true with me, because I love to learn (duh)! So when I (hopefully) get my PhD, I won't be thinking "I am now an expert in X", but "what can I learn next?". I went to the day aiming to learn some tips for getting a job, and I came away with a whole new attitude.
If you are in the Faculty of Social Sciences, or the Faculties of Science and Medicine, the good news is your events are yet to come, and you can find details and book online here. If you are in the Faculty of Arts, the Student Careers and Skills team were filming exit interviews with speakers and students, so look out for some of the best tips on their website soon. Students from all Faculties might also be interested in the upcoming Research Student Career Days.
Disclaimer: This event was co-organised by Student Careers and Skills and the Graduate School, but I am affiliated with neither department and they did not ask me to write this. They just organised a really great event!
November 04, 2011
No, this isn't a post about University Challenge (however awesome it is and however much it makes me actually look forward to Mondays in a way only otherwise imaginable if I had a 9-5 job gazing at pictures of puppies and Ryan Gosling).
This is a post about reading...wait for it...for pleasure, during a PhD. As I hope the title highlights, one of the "things" about a PhD, especially in the arts and humanities, is that you do an awful lot of reading. And, ladies and gents, while my love for the written word knows almost no bounds, I have to confess that, when you have to do it basically for a living, reading can sometimes become a little bit of a chore.
And, even if the stuff you are reading is enjoyable, and exciting, and engaging, when you put those books down at 5pm (Or 8pm. Or 2.30am. Whatever, I'm not judging!), quite often the very last thing you want to do is pick up another book and start reading for fun.
Which is a real shame to me, and I suspect many others in similar situations. When I was a child, I was like this guy:
I devoured books, from cover to cover in a matter of hours. Okay, so they weren't all classics, they weren't all literary marvels, often they were focused on twins and babysitters and girls who had horses. But I loved loved loved my books. I loved my weekly trips to the library on a Thursday evening, walking up to the desk with a stack of new "teenage" fiction tucked under my chin. Each night, after lights out, I would struggle to read by holding my latest paperback up awkwardly to catch the words in the thin strip of light that came in from the landing. No wonder I'm short-sighted!
But as I left home, and went to uni, and became engaged in the almost full-time act of reading as work, I lost the space in my life for reading for pleasure. At the end of the day, it was always more tempting to relax by going to the pub or turning on the telly than by opening up yet another book. (Of course, now that I'm a television scholar, watching tv is always work too, but that's a post for another time). I'd replaced reading with other hobbies that required a different type of concentration and a different skillset - knitting, sewing, and football!
However, this year, inspired partly by the Guardian's list of the best books of 2010, I decided it was time to rekindle my love affair with reading for pleasure (freading?). I started with David Nicholls' One Day, and since have been slowly plodding on from one book to the next. My eyes have been completely opened once again. I can't believe I'd forgotten how exciting, inspiring and stimulating just losing yourself in a good book can be. I'm daily coming across sentences that make me laugh, astonish me, make me want to shout out the quote or thrust the book into the face of the nearest person and squeal with delight: "Have you seen this?! Look at the clever things we humans can do with words!"
I definitely don't read as much or as fast as my adolescent years, and this is still a source of frustration. But I'm trying not to feel guilty about it, as I think that this sense of guilt over not reading enough is one of the main reasons for my not maintaining a healthy appetite for reading for pleasure in the first place.
It's still really hard for me to find space to read - both literally and in my own head/mindset. The telly's always on and there's the computer, and the internet on my phone...I wonder if one of the other problems is that we're always "reading" - even if it's not books? The amount of words I read on blogs and twitter each day probably amount to a novel in themselves!
One way in which I've claimed time back for reading is to read on the bus - I used to "work" on the bus too, but decided that this wasn't a particularly healthy strategy and that it would be a good idea to bookend the day with some "me time".
Some of the books I've enjoyed recently:
So here are your starters for ten: Do you still read for pleasure? How do you manage the balance of "work reading" and "freading"? Or has this never been an issue for you? Anything else I should be reading? And any other ways to remove myself of the mindset that reading=work (because it's definitely still there a bit)?
Feel free to prefix your comments with the voice of Roger Tilling: "Thompson, Warwick!"
November 01, 2011
Okay, so after the amount of time it took me to sort out all that paper that I pulled out of my office this summer, and in the spirit of the (sort of) new term, I am on a quest to sort my life out!
As we've been discussing here on the blog, us PhD students rarely know when inspiration can strike, and as such are apt to find ourselves lost in a sea of notebooks, loose papers, random Word files and messages scrawled in biro on the backs of our hands.
And, while all these methods leave me feeling happy that I have recorded my ideas somewhere, when it comes to finding exactly where...well, it all gets a little messy.
I recently stumbled across this helpful blog on The Thesis Whisperer about the hangbag office. Well, my handbag is definitely more lippy, knitting and a David Nicholls novel than kindles and netbooks, but I was intrigued by some of the apps that Dr. Inger Mewburn recommended.
In particular, her brave public sharing of her Evernote really excited me - I've been worried for sometime that all the useful links, blogs and hastily typed out notes that I save to my hard drive will end up eluding me when the time comes to write them up, and Evernote seems like a really super way of keeping all this in check.
In the spirit of experimentation, and consumer advice for all you lovely readers (and, of course, the potential to transform my existence and organization), I have decided to test Evernote as a PhD organization tool and hopefully report on my progress through this blog.
Evernote promises to help you "remember everything". So far, so good.
I have several notebooks filled with scrawled thesis-inspiration (often, as you've read, striking in the wee small hours); a folder chock-full of bookmarks of very important links and articles; and a computer littered with notes written to myself about things that I simply must remember. It seems that Evernote might just be the way to put all of these together.
I have to type in the usual details, such as my email address, and pick a username and password. A link is sent to my email account, I click through and my account is active! Hooray!
I sign-in, and Evernote helpfully presents me with a screen about getting started. There are several options, and I elect to use the web clipper to make a note of ingermewburn's Evernote account, which first attracted me to the programme. I am taken straight to a screen where I can download a Firefox extension. In a few seconds, it's downloaded, though I have to restart Firefox for it to take effect, meaning I have to close this blog post and also the original Evernote window that I wanted to clip.
True to form though, Firefox remembers all my tabs and the Evernote button is in place when I restart. It is slightly inconspicuous though, hidden up at the right hand corner of my browser near the search box and home page icon.
I then install Evernote on my computer, so that I can access it when not online.
For Evernote to function in the way I need it too, I need to be able to update it via my mobile phone too. This proves a little trickier. My model of phone is best described as a "not-quite-so-smartphone" - which roughly translates as, it's a smartphone that runs Symbian. Since Nokia have abandoned Symbian, most developers and companies don't bother to create Symbian versions of their apps. This is a real shame, and it seems I'm going to have to wait until I upgrade phones before I feel the full benefit of the Evernote revolution.
One half-satisfactory workaround for this is that I can link my Evernote account to my twitter, where I can DM myself notes - easily done via SMS on a mobile phone. I test out this function, with some success. The notes get through to my Evernote but only if they are less than twitter's 140 character limit. Since I was hoping Evernote would let me save my bus-musings in a useable and searchable form, rather than saved as text messages in my Drafts folder as they currently are, a 140 character limit is hardly helpful. Still, if you have a compatible smartphone, it seems the possibilities are endless - text, photos and webpages can all be uploaded from your mobile to Evernote. (Note to self: sell kidney for iPhone.) (Second note to self: transfer first note to Evernote in order that it is fully archived and searchable.)
So, a week into using Evernote, I am finally finding my feet a bit. I've been mostly working from home this week, so haven't had much chance to fully test out its mobile capabilties, but I have basically been doing all my PC-based work straight into the program. Quite an endorsement, I'd say!
The most useful feature of Evernote so far is the function to "tag" notes as you would with blogs, to make them easily available for reference or to distinguish them as relating to a particular aspect of your life - so far, my tags include: admin, blog, emails, PhD, masculinity, postfemininism.
I'm feeling a lot more secure that the webpages that I stumble across will not disappear into the ether (though I have yet to undertake the mammoth task of transferring across 2+ years of saved bookmarks).
As it works as a basic word processor, I've found myself defaulting to typing any kind of document - research notes, email drafts, blog drafts etc - straight into Evernote. Since it synchronises automatically, there is less anxiety about my computer crashing or my accidentally closing the Word document and not saving. Again, there's a certain level of comfort and security in having all my ongoing projects in one centralised place; it's easy to flick between them and I'm not worried that anything will get lost in my filing system (or lack of it) because as soon as I start a "note" I make sure it is tagged appropriately.
I'm not as brave as Dr. Mewburn, so I've not made my Evernote public, but I guess you guys can have a little sneaky screenshot of it. Just this once, mind.
There are still a few features of Evernote that I have yet to use, including:
- creating a to-do list (with little tick boxes - cute!)
- read PDFs
- search text in images and handwritten text
- import photos
I will come back with an update once I've road-tested a few more of these. In the meantime, what apps/organisational tools have you found useful during your research? Do you use Evernote or similar and have any handy tips? Let me know!
October 13, 2011
I am a rubbish sleeper. Every so often, I try to broach this with my mum (because, as everyone knows, mums have all the answers). "You've never needed much sleep," she tells me, her voice a curious mixture of pride and concern, "Even when you were a baby. We didn't get a full night's sleep until you were two!"
Well, thanks a lot, baby Lauren. You set a truly infuriating precedent. Is it any wonder that my favourite children's book is this?
There are a whole host of reasons why people sleep badly, and I am no exception. Sometimes it's physical discomfort - the bed is too hard, or the room too hot. Sometimes I've drank too much tea, or eaten dinner too late. But mostly, it's because at night, my brain gets extremely chatty.
It seems so cruel! I can sit in front of my thesis for hours during the day, willing some intelligent thoughts to come and fill the blank screen, and the only reaction I get from my brain is a shrug and a sort of "what do you want me to do about it?"
But at night - say, about 2:30am, when all I want to do is sleep - it seems that there is positively nothing that my brain would like more than to have full-on, in-depth discussions about the meaning of life; just how affected I was by that time I tripped over in Sainsbury's car park in January two years ago; and what I might wear tomorrow.
I recently watched the film adaptation of I Don't Know How She Does It. In one scene, Kate (Sarah Jessica Parker) describes how, instead of sleeping, women do "the List" - a mental scribbling through all the things that you absolutely must do the next day. So I am aware that I am not alone in this phenomena. And, like all sensible insomniacs and worriers, I try and make sure I have a pen and paper handy next to my bed so that I can commit the list to paper and (hopefully) forget about it until morning.
However, sometimes, my brain is not content with the List, nor even with a little chat. My brain likes to write. I'm not kidding...whole sentences, nay, whole paragraphs spring into my head fully-formed. And it's not just my thesis (I'm not that lucky), but a whole host of other things too - blogs, stories, emails, tweets. And it seems silly not to exploit the clarity and eloquence of expression that my night-time chatty brain seems to have, so I always have to get up and write these down too. Besides, this is about the only way to ensure that I can actually (eventually) get some sleep. If I don't my brain will struggle all night to hold onto all those perfectly formed sentences, so letting go of them by writing them down is the only way. Which should go some way to explaining why the first draft of this blog is scrawled in red ink across the back of last Friday's to-do list.
I know that I shouldn't complain. I know that I'm very lucky to have a brain that will spout this chatter at all. I know that. I get that. But, seriously, brain? Could we not talk about this some other time? Please?
Does anybody else wish their brain would shut up (or at least keep different hours)? I'm beginning to consider an alternative approach to my research career, in which I sit around doing nothing all day, and then just exploit those two or three insanely creative hours which seem to occur every other night.
What's the best way to avoid insomnia? Although my mum is right, and I can function on very little sleep - that doesn't mean I like it!
Honestly, of all the things to be bad at...
Night night everyone! xxx
September 27, 2011
Next week is Week 1. WEEK 1. Which means *sharp intake of breath* I'm a third year. How the hell did that happen?!
This time of year always puts me in a pensive mood. (I mean, pensive even for an arts PhD student. Which is pretty pensive indeed.)
This is particularly heightened this year as it coincides with the farewell tour (*sob*) of my favourite band, The Bluetones. They have been together 17 years, with 6 albums. I have seen them 9 times. My love for The Bluetones has outlasted most other significant relationships in my life.
Meanwhile, several of my PhD peers, including my partner, are reaching the submission stage.
The words of Burt Bacharach have rarely seemed so pertinent: "breaking up is so very hard to do".
All this got me thinking about how much writing a thesis is like being in a relationship. I'm looking back on two years of research, two very different years, that eerily seem to echo the stages of a romantic entanglement.
Year One, Term One
The Honeymoon Period. Those precious days when the sun just won't stop shining and there aren't enough hours in the day to drink in all the gloriousness of your beloved. When every moment spent apart makes you ache with longing. When every moment together passes at a frenetic pace and you can't believe how the hours fly - look it's getting light outside already, and we're still up, here, together.
Your first term or so with your thesis is like this. Look at all these fabulous ideas we've got and how much time we have ahead of us. We can look forward to the future - see how many exciting books we've got to read! I promise I will never get bored of you, or not want to be with you, thesis.
Year One, Term Two
While the initial exhilaration may wane as you find your feet, it gives way to a warm contentment and general sense of well-being and safety. Working on your thesis feels like being nestled in a cosy living room, with a log fire blazing away in the corner. We know where we're headed now, we know which shelves in the library we need to access regularly, what journals we like to keep up to date on, what hours of the day are best spent together. We've got a bit of a routine on - nothing boring, mind you; just nice, safe, comfortable.
The nagging voices of outsiders rear up in this period. "Do you actually have that much in common?" they say. "3/10 PhD candidates don't complete in 7 years, you know" (this is extremely snide, and is the academic equivalent of telling newly-betrothed couples that 1 in 3 marriages ends in divorce). In this state, however, you are apt to ignore them, you know that you and your thesis are the perfect fit, and no-one can tell you otherwise.
Year Two, Termtime
Reality has kicked in, and though you and your thesis are still going steady, there are jobs to be done too. Teaching, administration, part-time work and chasing publication all mean that you can't spend as much time together as you would like. But that's okay, who were you kidding, thinking you could stay up together til 5am each morning? Life just isn't like that.
Other things have changed, too. When you do spend time together, everything about your thesis drives you up the wall. The things you used to find endearing - the unanswered questions, the structural quandaries, hell, even the font you're using to write the thing in - now fill you with an intense and building rage.
Year Two, Summer
After months of increasing neglect, you get a wake-up call. Your thesis needs you back. "I'm leaving you," it says, "unless you invest some serious time in our relationship". You take one look at it: messy, bedraggled, incomplete, and know that you need to take action. You might even have to call in a counsellor (your supervisor) to mediate this one.
Gone are the days of the cosy living room. Working on your thesis is like meeting up with a lover you've not seen in a long time. You're trying to give it the attention it needs, but it takes time to get reacquainted. The conversation is slow, stilted, forced even. You write painfully slowly; a paragraph, sometimes half a paragraph, at a time.
Your thesis knows that there are others in your life - articles, conference papers that are shorter, newer and more glamorous than it - and you secretly start to question whether you would have been better off with that abandoned first topic all along.
But, with the investment of time, effort and perhaps a bottle of wine, things can become amiable again, and your relationship, while perhaps lacking the intensity and purity it once did, blossoms on a new level, one built upon mutual respect and understanding.
So that's where I'm at now. My thesis and I have gradually repaired our relationship, to the point at which we're talking again. And we didn't break up. Yet.
Year 3, Autumn
Unlike the best relationships, however, all good thesis must come to an end. And now I'm only (potentially) 12 months away from that eventuality. This year might be our toughest test yet. I hope we're ready for it.
What stage are you at in your thesis relationship? What have I got instore for me this year? Is there any way to rekindle the romance of the early days (I'm guessing sexy lingerie and candles won't cut it...)?
September 07, 2011
Ahhh, autumn! The leaves are starting to turn golden and the winds are a-blowing, and for us here at Warwick that can only mean one thing - the start of a shiny new academic year! Things are already starting to get a little busier on campus after the summer lull, and for a certain fraction of PhD students this can only mean one thing: teaching looms.
I'm going into my third year this year, so I've decided not to teach so as to have some time to write my actual thesis (which, as I described in my last blog, got rather neglected last year). However, I do remember that this time last year I was absolutely terrified as term approached. I spent the whole of September dreading the moment when I would have to stand in front of a roomful of students and take control. I imagined staring blankly at their 19-year-old faces, knowing them to be far cleverer, more streetwise, more confident than I, and certain that they would have seen more films, read more books and have shinier hair.
This blog is for all my colleagues who are teaching for the first time this year. This is by no means a comprehensive, official or even sane view of teaching, but it does contain all the stuff that I wish someone had said to me 12 months ago. In no particular order, here goes.
For some, this won't be a problem, but I think this was the single biggest obstacle to me doing my best teaching. And a lack of self-confidence isn't an easy thing to overcome. If it was, there wouldn't be a multi-squillion pound publishing industry devoted to it.
That said, there are things that can help.
- smile - it sounds cheesy, but smiling will actually lower your blood pressure, and release endorphins, natural pain killers and serotonin - you can actually trick your body into changing your mood. Smiling will also make you appear more confident to others, and makes people warm to you more quickly.
- avoid caffeine - no matter how tired you feel, there's no way that the jitters will make you seem any more confident to your group. Try a herbal tea instead.
- fake it til you make it - urhg, it's a horrible phrase, but it is so, so useful! I'd say this is the single most useful technique I've tried for building confidence. Go into that seminar room with the intention of acting like an assured, enthusiastic, dauntless teacher. Pretend to do this, no matter how much you feel it is a lie. After a few weeks, you'll realise that what you've done is actually become a confident teacher! Pretend to be enjoying yourself. One day, you'll come out of a seminar realising that you actually did enjoy yourself. Blimey.
This is somewhat of a divisive issue in teaching. I know tutors who go into a seminar without any plan at all, and let the discussion develop. I know others who plan each seminar literally down to the minute.
There is no right or wrong way.
Develop a method you feel confident with. Mine tended to be somewhere in the middle. I didn't like to feel I was going in "naked" so I'd have:
- a rough outline of how I saw the discussion developing
- questions to fall back on if discussion dried up
- a note of anything that I thought we absolutely must mention
I tried to keep this to one side of A4 - anything more is difficult to read while keeping the discussion going at the same time.
Though planning is important, the nature of seminar teaching means that flexibility is key, so be prepared to 'go with the flow' and don't be too uptight about sticking to seminar plans (your blood pressure will thank you for it, as will your students).
Almost as important as what you do before your seminars is what you do afterwards, at least in the first few weeks of teaching. This is the point at which you will reflect upon your teaching, think about what worked, what didn't and what you would change next time.
Firstly, if you're anything like me, you will be exhausted! Three back-to-back hours of thinking on your feet, leading intellectual discussions and trying not to let on how nervous you are, well, that can take its toll! If it can be helped, try not to schedule anything too mentally taxing for after your teaching sessions.
Secondly, you will want to discuss your seminars. You will want to discuss them loudly, at length, and to anyone who will listen. You might even want to swear about them. It's a good idea to have someone on hand to do the post-mortem with. This can be anyone you trust, although I have found that other teachers tend to be the best qualified at dealing with seminar-induced rage/glee/hyperactivity.
Some suggestions for post-seminar wind-downs:
- arrange to meet some other teaching assistants in the pub after you've all finished work, so you can swap tales and commiserate/congratulate
- get your jammies on, get into bed with a cup of tea, and get your best friend on the phone for a natter
- get on the PhD Life blog and tell us how it went!
Either way, talking about teaching is really important - it's one of the best ways to dissect your performance, the progress of your students and seek advice on how to get things to go better next time. Equally, if you've had a seminar that passed off beautifully, and all your students were engaged and eager, it's really great to have an unresentful friend there to share the accomplishment with.
Finally, once you've discussed your seminars, try to let them go. Don't take up valuable headspace worrying over one little thing you said, or one comment that you should have corrected, or one raised eyebrow from a cocky student. They won't be worrying about the lesson once they've left the classroom, and, providing you know that you tried your best, neither should you. Some rigorous physical activity might help - nothing quite whips away stresses like tearing up the football pitch or zipping down the road on your bike.
Rest assured that, however nervous you are right now, teaching can and will get much easier as you practice. Remember the first time you tried to ride a bike? You probably kept falling over, putting your feet on the ground, and wobbling. No one expects perfection from you, except you.
If you can, try and enjoy the experience. There is no feeling at all like the one where one of your students makes an astute and well-thought out observation prompted by your question, or when they expand upon your point and lead the discussion in a new direction. There's a reason so many people go into teaching and stay there, and it's not to do with money, status or the paperwork!
It took me until my second term of teaching to get to actually like doing it, but once I did, I was a much better seminar leader. It took me by surprise too ("What is this?! Job satisfaction?!").
Finally, don't ignore your feedback. While students moaning about early buses from Leam or the screening rooms being cold might not be useful to you, there will almost certainly be comments that will help you think about how to improve your seminars, be it in terms of atmosphere, level of formality, or inclusivity. And, who knows, it might just say something nice! (Which brings me to another, closely related point - don't read twenty brilliant feedback reports and then agonise over the one that says something negative. Just don't.)
So that's my hour's worth of thoughts on the matter. There's almost certainly stuff I've missed out. And most of it isn't particularly practical advice, but I think sometimes it just helps to know that other people have felt the same as you.
Are you starting teaching this year? How are you feeling about it? I'm happy to give an honest answer to any queries/questions that you might have.
Any more old timers out there have any teaching advice?
P.S. If you're still concerned after reading this, or you just want some helpful advice and tips, the Teaching Grid works with both new and experienced teachers - why not pop in and have a chat with them on Floor 2 of the library?
August 18, 2011
Having finished teaching, I was unceremoniously evicted from my departmental office space last week, a hasty removal which involved me shoving piles and piles of loose A4 into my rucksack along with my E.T. mug and Twinings fruit tea. Today, I decided it was finally time to face the music and try to impose some kind of order on all those sheets of paper.
Neatness has never been my strong point, as my mum, former housemates and current partner will no doubt testify. I like living life on the edge of panic, never quite knowing where my keys/phone/mascara/library books are. So all this sorting out, leafing through and recycling is not only tedious, but uncharacteristic.
However, as I sit here surrounded by folders and dividers, consigning reams and reams of handwritten notes to kerbside collection, a picture begins to emerge. For most of the stuff that I have removed from my office is categorically not to do with my thesis. The vast bulk of it is teaching related: prep notes, seminar plans, registers, essay feedback. The rest is a mix of stuff related to various research groups that I participate in or administrate. The rest of it was bags of sweets.
a genuine, unposed picture of the chaos in my home study at the moment...
What this tells me then, was in part what I already suspected, which was that my thesis took a serious backseat last year. Seriously, a whole office full of paper, and barely one sheet with actual thesis work on it? Incredible. Seeing it laid out, physically, in front of me like this actually makes me feel quite differently about the work I've achieved. Rather than beating myself up about how little thesis-work I did last year, I am marvelling that I did anything at all, and actually feeling proud of the chapter that I somehow produced, without, apparently, leaving any trace of it in my workspace.
It also makes me feel much more positive about my current work and the months to come. I've returned to my thesis like an old friend, and we're spending a lot more time together this summer, something which I hope to chat to you all about in another blog very soon. Until then, I have a whole lot of hole-punching to do!
June 07, 2011
No, not the terrible Jennifer Lopez vehicle...
...although, knowing my thesis, that could be relevant too!
No, I'm talking about my fallback, my Plan B, my alternative career choice. Yikes!
It's a sad fact of what news-bods like to call the "current economic climate" that the job that I am currently in training for by doing a PhD is starting to look a little less attainable than it once was. Not that I ever thought becoming an academic was going to be easy, mind, but it has become clear that it's definitely time to stop putting all my imaginary eggs in one metaphorical basket.
So recently, my thoughts have been occupied by what I might do instead. Unfortunately, some of my other, previous Plan B's (e.g. working in arts administration) have also been shot by current policy. So here are my current dream careers:
1) Running my own business. I'm not sure doing what, but having seen through family and friends what a positive experience it can be, I'm sorely tempted to go out there on my own. It appeals to my sensibilities to make money for myself and those I love, and not for 'the man'! The PhD will have prepared me well for working under my own steam and setting my own schedule. I am an extremely disorganised person though, so volunteers to do my books for me most welcome.
2) Something creative. I find sewing, knitting, designing, writing, and playing with images and text on the computer all really stimulating, rewarding and exciting. If there is some way to make money out of any of these, I'm on it! I kind of wish I'd studied graphics or design at some point. I'm thinking of looking into an evening course in Photoshop or web design
3) Film-making. See point 2). I kind of lost the love for film-making after my undergraduate degree, thanks to a very heavy workload in year three that involved 2 film projects on top of dissertations, research projects, essays and exams! But every now and then I'll watch a few short films and wonder if it's time to dust off the old MiniDV camera and pull my tripod out from under the bed...
4) Something within the charity sector. I figure that this is one sector that should theoretically expand under the 'big society'. Working for a not-for-profit would sit very well with me ethically, and I imagine there's a higher degree of job satisfaction (if a lower pay packet) than in working for a corporation.
If I did want to go down one of these routes, I don't necessarily want to wait until I've finished the PhD to start it. Equally, I am also very aware that taking my eye off the ball two years in is a dangerous game, and that to maximise my chances of success at Plan A, I also need to invest time there - trying to get published, attending conferences, and, oh yeah, writing my thesis!
It's a very difficult juggling act, and on the one hand, I'm extremely peeved that I feel like I can't just concentrate on the academic career. On the other hand, it's incredibly exciting to think of all the things I 'could be [when I grow up?]'.
How are you managing thinking about your career while still carrying on with a PhD? Is it something that you're thinking about now, or that you'll worry about when the time comes? Which route do you think I should take, or should I just concentrate on my last year or so of being a student?
Hmm, maybe I should just watch the J-Lo film...
May 23, 2011
Well, my, don't we look swanky today?! I heartily approve of our fantastic makeover (and, as a scholar of television makeover, I should know what I'm talking about).
Just a quick post, to share with you all that I had a wonderful day last week, one that served as a much-needed reminder of why I'm doing what I'm doing. Amongst all the re-drafting and essay marking, getting bogged down in my own work and teaching, it's been too easy to forget all the things I actually love about being an academic-in-training.
On Thursday, my department held a workshop entitled 'Archives of the Audio-Visual', as part of our on-going Histories of the Digital Future project. It transpired to be an extremely well-attended and engaging event, bringing together academics and research students to grapple with questions of physical and digital archives. Personally, it was incredibly intellectually stimulating and reminded me just how exciting it can be to be in the company of a group of interesting people all working together. Which is also why, I think, the new Research Exchange website is so important - it's exactly that sort of collaborative atmosphere that the good people at the Rex are aiming to foster. It wasn't that I felt 'isolated' beforehand, exactly, but that the event re-ignited that desire to talk and listen to other researchers and about topics beyond my thesis. This can only be a good thing, and I'm really looking forward to working on a more formal report of the day's proceedings.
Has any one else had a similar experience at a workshop, symposium or conference?
Until next time, comrades! Keep talking...
May 13, 2011
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:
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.
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...
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.
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