All 7 entries tagged Will
July 09, 2011
I used to joke that being a postgraduate was just a fancy way of saying that I was unemployed and liked the smell of books. Now however, I'm just unemployed - I've quit my MA. And to be honest, I couldn't be happier.
Now, there's certain things I enjoyed about being a researcher (I really do like the smell of books) and the student way of life. But there were also certain fundamental truths I had to face up to. The most apparent and serious was the fact that, nine months into my course of study, I hadn't actually produced any work. My dissertation had been through about three separate reboots, a grant of extension and a change in methodology yet, still, I wasn't really knuckling down to the work. I simply wasn't enjoying the reading and I was barely giving myself the opportunity to write.
Furthermore, as I mentioned in a previous post, I'd sort of accidentally ended up doing quite a lot of videography work which was eating more and more of my time. I was struggling to meet deadlines and only just about delivering the bare minimum level of academic work. Somehow my degree had become an expensive hobby, whilst my hobby had become the potential basis of a career. At the end of June, as time slipped inexorably towards a still-unfinished presentation I had planned to deliver at my department's Postgraduate Day, I realised that I'd fallen into an anxiety-riddled pattern of setting myself deadlines and goals that not only would I fail to meet, I also did not really want to meet. I'd lost the drive to continue.
When I visited my department to tell my supervisor I'd had enough, he wasn't surprised. I'm very grateful to both of my supervisors for being so supportive: they'd heard me report back tales of research woe on several previous occasions. Ultimately we parted company on very good terms. I'm not turning my back on academia altogether - it's just the wrong thing for me to be doing at the wrong time of my life.
I'm sure there are other postgraduates out there who have considered leaving study - either permanently or temporarily - at some point. In my case, I've had doubts about my course since the beginning. In a way, I wish I'd got out earlier and saved more of my fees, but overall I'm glad I stuck around as long as I did. For one thing, I'm certain it was the best decision for me - if I'd quit sooner, I'd probably never have forgiven myself for not giving the course a proper chance. Also the opportunities I've had at Warwick, and the friends I've met, are just as important as the academic qualification I was striving for. If anyone is thinking of leaving their studies prematurely, I'd definitely advise sticking around for at least another month and talking things through at the earliest opportunity with your supervisor. You have to be certain, and of course for a lot of postgrads the funding is a livelihood that can't be abandoned easily. I was lucky enough to be self-funded.
And so now The Great Job Hunt begins. In a way it's quite exciting to be rethinking my career again, and whilst I doubt I'll be joining the circus (I didn't get my Lion Tamer GCSE and I'm afraid of heights) it's certainly an opportunity to think a bit more ambitiously and try new things.
I'm also not overly worried. Strictly speaking, I'm not unemployed - I've got a couple of jobs on at the moment and a casual position starting next month. But for the moment at least, I'm steering clear of the books.
May 08, 2011
I’m sure every student in the country has heard the cautionary tale spun to undergraduates about the fresher who blows his entire loan in the first week of term. Feeling rich, he decides to spend it all on a yacht, which promptly catches fire and sinks. Determined to stay at university, he comes up with a master plan to survive on the last £5 note he has in his pocket. He buys a job lot of porridge oats and makes a huge proto-flapjack in his top drawer. Every day he eats a small portion of his porridge slab until, a month later, he’s hospitalised with malnutrition and scurvy.
I suppose the moral of the story is to manage your budget well or, if you can't do that, eat plenty of limes.
Now, like most MA students, my course and my student life is entirely self-funded. I spent two years working and saving every penny I could to finance further study. By September of last year I'd saved enough to cover my fees, accommodation and living expenses. However, it was always going to be a tight margin.
After a difficult first term, it became apparent that I might need to apply for a small extension and so I took on some freelance videography to help see me through the extra months. However, the workload became increasingly intense and I found myself spending more and more time on video work. The result, of course, was that my research suffered and now I find myself in a position where it’s likely that I will have to apply for a lengthier extension. And that will cost me even more money.
It’s becoming a vicious cycle. My course itself has become the burning yacht. From now on, I’ll be looking for something more regular. Or else I’ll be left with a drawer full of porridge.
How about all you other researchers? How do you balance your finances with your research?
March 27, 2011
Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/mar/27/academic-study-big-society
Just saw this on Twitter:
Academics will study the "big society" as a priority, following a deal with the government to secure funding from cuts.
The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) will spend a "significant" amount of its funding on the prime minister's vision for the country, after a government "clarification" of the Haldane principle – a convention that for 90 years has protected the right of academics to decide where research funds should be spent.
Under the revised principle, research bodies must work to the government's national objectives, although the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that ministers will not meddle in individual projects.
It is claimed the AHRC was told that research into the "big society" was non-negotiable if it wished to maintain its funding at £100m a year.
There seems to be some debate between academics and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as to whether or not this prioritisation was a voluntary move, but if the AHRC was strong-armed into this position then it is a very worrying development.
This being said, regardless of one's political beliefs, if the 'big society' model is going to become the dominant way in which communities encounter the arts and humanities then it is clearly very important that the scheme is properly researched.
Whether or not the research findings will please the government is another matter entirely...
March 18, 2011
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:
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?
March 10, 2011
I'm really bad at multitasking.
I'm not quite as bad as my Dad. When he came home from work when I was a teenager, he'd turn the TV on and ask what I'd been doing at school. I'd give him the run down of events; tell him what topics we were studying, fill him in on what my friends were up to, etc. After speaking for a fair few minutes about the latest of our Chemistry teacher's limbs to catch fire, the silence would settle and my Dad, suddenly aware that I'd stopped talking, would look up from the TV and say simply 'eh?'.
After a while I abbreviated my daily school reports to a non-commital, monosyllabic grunt.
I've inherited this extreme-focus from my father and it means that anything going on around me will distract me from the task at hand. If there's a clock in the room and we're talking, I'll probably end up looking at the clock. I'm not being rude, it's just that the motion of the hands, or the pendulum or even the noise of the ticking will eventually grab my attention completely. Television is the same, and music is somehow even worse.
I'm incredibly envious of anyone who can listen to music and work at the same time. This seems to be the majority of people on campus, too. But I really struggle to read or write with music in the background.
Sometimes, if I want to break the silence, I'll put something instrumental on. Something like the Doctor Who soundtracks are pretty good, but stuff like Sebastian Tellier, Yann Tiersen, dance, chillout or film scores are really useful too. But if I'm enjoying the music too much, I lose my train of thought and have to turn it off again. Anything with lyrics is a complete no-go area as I find myself thinking about the words of the song rather than the words on the page in front of me, unless I'm so familiar with a song that I'm not really engaging with it anymore. But then songs that I'm really familiar with normally have very strong memories associated with them, and I end up in a nostalgia fest. It's a total nightmare. It's just as well I'm not a surgeon.
What sort of thing do you listen to when you're working? Or does anyone else find music and working problematic?
March 01, 2011
Sometimes, wandering around campus I can feel like a true OAP - an Old Age Postgrad.
Of course, that's ridiculous. I'm only 23 and, anyway, what's old age? When does that even happen? One of my former colleagues was 73 and was not only brilliant at her job but great fun to work with. As far as I'm concerned, age isn't an issue. You're only as old as you feel. Or as my nan says, 'you're only as old as the man you feel.'
(Yes, my nan said that.)
So what's my problem? It probably didn't help that my first induction as an MA student was on arrivals weekend - seeing so many students fresh from their A Levels (some lads clearly not even shaving yet) made me instantly feel like Gandalf the Grey. Most other Masters people I met were also coming straight from their undergrad degrees too.
Finding my way round the new Union building was a weirdly nostalgic experience too: walking towards places where doors used to be, but are now bricked over. It was a bit like that bit in Flight of the Navigator when the kid returns home to find that the world has moved on without him. Talking to undergraduates was the biggest shocker though. People who don't remember the Grad, Battered or when the Union wasn't a no-smoking venue. People who, when I picked up my degree on International Wear a Silly Hat Day, were still sitting their GCSEs. People who now have A Levels at A* grade. Children who probably never saw The Crystal Maze. I mean, what's that about?
Does anyone else ever feel like this? I was discussing this with a friend of mine and we both discovered that sometimes, at events on campus, we have the feeling that somehow the undergraduates can just sort of tell, telepathically, that we're postgraduates. It's like a feeling that we don't belong. Of course it's not true - it's as much our space as it is anyone else's, and no one is being outwardly unfriendly or prejudiced. And of course, we don't look like wizened, ancient creatures from the netherrrealm. But it's there in the back of our minds anyway.
There are ways around it. Joining societies, getting stuck in to student life and generally being jolly can help - most of the undergraduates I've met are really friendly anyway. Or maybe seeking out other postgrads and just embracing the idea of being the Elder States-people is the way forward. After all, we have all worn the silly hats already.
Most importantly though, never, NEVER watch T4 on a Sunday. It's been proudly making me feel too old and uncool since I was about 14.
What do you think? Is agism a problem on campus? Or do you feel ostracised occasionally but feel that it's just in you head? Does the Union and the University do enough to integrate the undergraduate and postgraduate communities? Should it even bother?
February 20, 2011
My name's Will, I'm an MA by Research student from Theatre & Performance Studies. I do love some people's reactions to being a Theatre student - my favourite as an undergraduate being 'Oh...what do your parents think about that?'. But when I started on this course at the beginning of last term, a Maths undergrad asked 'Theatre? How do you research that?'
But that actually turned out to be quite a good question. I spent last term wrestling with my course like it was a huge, angry crocodile. A fat crocodile with halitosis and a passion for The Antiques Roadshow. Truth be told, I wasn't much enamored with my course - I felt a little directionless and overwhelmed. It'd been 2 years since I completed my BA at Warwick and I was struggling to get into independent research after (what felt like) such a long break. The lack of structure was a massive obstacle, and I felt I was scrabbling about in the dark. How were you supposed to research theatre?
But after a lot of head-scratching and anxious hand-wringing I came to the conclusion that my confusion wasn't that I couldn't do the job - it's that the topic I'd chosen wasn't working for me. I needed a clearer problem, with a more obvious way-in. And so I started afresh this term, and now you can find me in the Research Exchange, head-scratching and hand-wringing, but in a wholly more positive direction.
Did anyone else find the start of their research more of a hairpin bend than a learning curve? Anyone out there - Masters or PhDs - still trying to find their feet in term 2, staring at the unforgiving white glare of a blank Word document? Changing the focus of my research felt like a step backwards, especially since my course only lasts a year. I think all students probably look mournfully at their calendar and lament the weeks lost to procrastination or inaction - or worse, wonder why their calendar is still stuck on September. 2009. But it's much better to look ahead than behind: the important thing was to get through the fear, take action and start moving forwards again. Or else who knows how many weeks I would've spent eating biscuits and watching daytime friendly cut-downs of Desperate Housewives.
I was starting to get really into it.