All 5 entries tagged Nic

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July 05, 2011

Stressful supervisions – by Nic

Follow-up to Supervisor a source of inspiration? – by Faisal from PhD Life: a blog about the PhD student experience

Hi everyone! I'm Nic, and I'm guest editing the blog while Anna is on holiday. It's been a while since I've posted (thesis submission looms) but it's great to see such lively discussion here!

The responsibilities of PhD supervisors is obviously a hot topic. Faisal has blogged about it, and we've just set up a poll on the Rex's PGR homepage. Go and cast your vote now!

Creating a relationship with your tutor is a crucial part of the PhD process. Sometimes it's difficult and stressful. If you're worried about this aspect of your study, talk to your SSLC rep, visit one of our Research Exchange Advisors or contact the Student Advice Centre.

Don't suffer in silence!

Goodbye Mr Chips

May 18, 2011

Interview etiquette – by Nic

Frost Nixon

I was really pleased at the start of this week. In connection with a journal proposal, I'd contacted two writers I admire, hoping to interview them. To my delight, they both agreed.

Then I started worrying. While I've done journalism-style interviews, I've never used the process in my academic work. So I thought I'd throw my doubts and concerns open to the PhD Life blog - guys, rally round!

  1. Am I compromizing my critical distance by talking to practitioners? (This might seem like a stupid question, but it's a genuine concern in the humanities.)
  2. How open should I make my questions? Do I guide the interview, or do I let it run where the interviewee wants to go?
  3. How much of my interviewee's time should I be taking up? They're busy people - do I try to limit myself to a certain amount of questions?

For those of you who've done lots of interviews for your doctoral work, these probably seem like silly concerns. I'd really like your advice, and any do's and don't's you might have picked up along the way.

[tap, tap] this thing on?

May 05, 2011

From off the streets of Leamington – by Nic

I've lived in Leam for six years now (crikey!), and perhaps inevitably I've started to put down roots. I've found favourite walks, made friends with shopkeepers and hopefully added a little to community life. Here are five of my favourite places in town at the moment:

1. Garrett Books, 39 Clemens Street

Garrett Books

For years, I was slightly embarrassed that Leamington didn't have its own independent second-hand bookshop. Thank heavens for Garrett Books then, which has great stuff at reasonable prices, a well-stocked comic box and serves tea, coffee and jacket potatoes!

2. Millenium Sweet House, 16 High Street

The best veggie samosas I've ever eaten (at 40p each!) and some of the best take-away curry too. A fine Leamington institution, located just under the railway bridge!

3. The Somerville Arms, 4 Campion Terrace


The only pub in Leamington for CAMRA-approved ale, warm hospitality and cosy good cheer. A little off the main drag and all the better for it. I can't think of a better live music pub in the region.

4. The Veggie Table, The Old Library, York Road

Serving fresh food at waged and unwaged prices, The Veggie Table cafe continues despite the demolishing of Bath Place Community Centre. If anything, their new premises are even better. This is a great place to come for a lively lunch - you'll be sure to meet someone interesting! Last time I was there I got into a conversation about Harvey Pekar...

5. Kang's, 4 Grove Street

The best corner shop ever. It's like the TARDIS in here, and Kang's can be a godsend when other shops are shut. You need plug fuses at 11pm? Go to Kang's. Fresh chillies on a Sunday evening? Go to Kang's. Or just go because they're lovely people and you're fed up of the soulless misery of Tesco's.

Please leave me a comment to tell me your favourite spots to visit in Leam, Kenilworth and Cov!

March 03, 2011

Head space – by Nic

Momentum is so important to the writing of your PhD. There's nothing better than the feeling that you're on a roll, that the ideas are flowing and that this may well be the greatest piece of scholarship ever. But it's all too common to feel the opposite: sluggish, stupid and a little bit blue.

Environment affects the way we work, and each of us works differently. Momentum comes with figuring out where you work well.

I know researchers who take their scholarship out to Starbucks, some who can only think in the library and some who prefer to work at home.

I'm one of the latter. In my more pretentious moments (there are many), I like to think that makes me an ascetic, finding inspiration in solitude. Actually, it's more to do with comfort and laziness. There's a lot to be said for the freedom to work in my pyjamas, to have a constant supply of tea and the guarantee of silence!

If you do work from home, it's important to have a routine. I work 9 to 5 but that kind of regimentation isn't essential. Just make sure that you're allowing yourself enough writing time each day, and that you take regular breaks.

The most important part of my day comes at 2 o'clock, when I do the washing up. I get to reflect on what I've written so far, and go back to my computer feeling refreshed and re-engaged.

Top tip: make sure you leave the house once each day. Fresh air stimulates thought!

Of course, the great advantage of working on campus is the vast storehouse of knowledge right at your fingertips. Off and on, I've been using the Library since 2001. Explore it - don't always sit in the same place. You might find a book that sends your research off into a new and exciting direction!

For postgraduates, the Wolfson Research Exchange is your obvious first port of call. But you may find that the Silent Reading Room suits you, or that you're stimulated by the chatter on the ground floor and the Library cafe. Or maybe next year you should book a carrel?

Some departments have a dedicated work area for their postgraduates and it's worth finding out about these. If you're feeling creative, try the Writer's Room in Millburn House!

The important thing is that you know your options. Understanding how you work is crucial to working well. So find your happy place!

February 25, 2011

Outside, looking in – by Nic

Loneliness is a common problem for postgraduates, along with the feeling that you’re not getting the most out of PhD life. It’s easy to feel distanced, especially if you’ve spent some time away from academia.

In 2007, I thought university was behind me. I’d started a journalistic career and was teaching at an FE college in Birmingham. It was a chance encounter with an old tutor on a platform at Moor St station that prompted my return to Warwick.

I’d expected readjustment to academic life to be easy. What I hadn’t foreseen was the nagging feeling that I was here under false pretences. This was only confirmed by my first attempts at writing, which were frustratingly aimless and, even worse, boring.

I started to wonder if I’d made a mistake in coming back. And with this came the horrible sensation that (gulp!) I was going to get found out.

Pretty silly, I suppose, but confronting these fears meant facing a few home truths:

1. There’s no such thing as “the academic style”

Looking back, I was too anxious about seeming cleverer than I felt. Result? I ended up writing in a strangulated cod-academic language that was often incomprehensible. Your ideas are the most important thing. Style is valuable, but it will come naturally if you read, discuss and write as much as possible. Don’t force it.

2. There’s no hurry

Well, okay, you do have a submission deadline to meet! But it’s a long time for one piece of work, and it’s important that you learn at your own pace. Set a rhythm with your supervisor that allows you to get the best out of your meetings. I’m not suggesting that you slack off, but equally don’t spend your PhD feeling guilty. Your work will suffer and you’ll find ways to prevaricate.

3. Publish and be damned

Or, to put it another way, don’t run before you can walk. It’s easy to look around and feel like you have to keep up with your peers, who are churning out conference papers like there’s no tomorrow. Certainly, giving papers and publishing your research is vital, but make sure that you’re ready. I didn’t speak at a conference until the end of my second year; I’m still not published. And that’s fine. You’ll be judged on your contribution to the research community, so make sure your contribution is the best it can be. Do get involved, but don’t waste time comparing your achievements with others. It’s quality, not quantity, that counts.

4. The green-eyed monster

Related to my last point, it’s very common to feel envious of others’ achievements. People just don’t talk about it because it makes them sound kinda small… Well, here’s me in confessional mode: I often look at other academics and think, “Why aren’t I more like them?” And then I feel like a bad person! It’s natural to feel envious if you’re feeling insecure, but it’s also utterly pointless. You’ll never be that person – put your energies into finding out what it is that you do well. Chances are that once you find it, you’ll realize what it is that makes you unique as a researcher.

A final thought: I spent so much time worrying about being diminished by my time away from academia, that it never occurred to me to consider an alternative. My hiatus had given me a unique perspective on my research – it was a strength, not a weakness. I just had to find the confidence to admit it.

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