Chapters and Christmas

I finally handed a chapter in. It’s not complete, but it’s in. I left off doing the conclusion, partly because I wanted some space from it and partly because I’m worried that my supervisors will tell me that I’ve gone in completely the wrong direction with it all. I’m meeting with them both on Wednesday, so we’ll see then.

Since sending it in I’ve managed to achieve very little actual work. I’ve caught up on some life stuff though – think I’m basically organised for Christmas now. I’m heading down south straight after teaching on Thursday (if anyone even turns up), so I need to pack tomorrow really. I’m planning on taking some thesis reading with me, although I doubt I’ll get time. Mum is getting married on Saturday, then on Monday I’m heading down to Dad’s, then I’m heading to some mate’s before we all go skiing. The coach to Austria will take 24 hours, though, so I’ll try and do some reading then.

I’m so thankful that it’s the end of term. It’ll be nice to have a few weeks without having to factor in lesson planning. Although, ideally I need to start reading for next term’s module on critical theory. The students are all exhausted after their first term at uni. Attendance has been less than stellar. I’m hoping they all perk up over Christmas, bless them.

Tomorrow I’m planning on having a bit of a think about the next chapter I’d like to tackle. I think it’ll be the one on embodiment, surgery and essentialism. Embodiment is a common theme throughout the thesis due to its prominence as a concept within trans theory; it needs tackling head on though, which will be the tricky bit. I’m aiming to find a middle ground between essentialist and non-essentialist arguments regarding surgery. I think I’ll revisit Julia Serano quite a bit.


That'll do for now #PhD #phdchat #thesis #writing #chapter #tired

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Dec 10, 2015 at 4:36pm PST


Blogging is probably quite unlikely until January now. That’ll mark a year of having my blog, so I think I’ll do a bit of a round up of what’s happened and what I have and haven’t achieved.





Dinner’s In The Oven

It’s been a busy few weeks here. I spent my birthday weekend at the end of November in Birmingham and was running to keep up as soon as I got back. I’ve been lesson planning for my regular classes as well as some additional critical theory tutoring I was asked to do. It’s been quite handy getting back to grips with some of the theory I haven’t touched since I got thoroughly engrossed with my thesis, especially as I’ll be teaching it next term.

I spent the weekend after with a lovely literary mate that I met at a conference earlier this year. We went on a pilgrimage to see Sylvia Plath’s grave. It’s in the village of Heptonstall, which is sneakily hiding along some very windy and remote country lanes. We battled the weather and the satnav and eventually made our way down a tiny cobbled road. The village boasts two pubs, about fifty houses and a really amazing graveyard. We had a brilliant Sunday lunch at The Cross Inn before making our way through the wind and rain to the newer part of the graveyard.



Since then I’ve been teaching and have only in the last two days had time to get back to my chapter. Getting back into the swing of things has been hard. I’ve mostly just been editing what I wrote before. I’ve officially reached a point where I just need to get it done and hand it in though, so there might be a couple of late nights in my immediate future.

This week we were talking about the work/life balance of PhD students, particularly those of us who are teaching as well. We have to fit in lesson planning, teaching, marking, reading for class, reading for the thesis, research, writing, editing, and remembering to leave the house and shower. The lecturer we were speaking to suggested that our research productivity might become something  that’s relatively seasonal, fitting in around teaching. I personally can’t work like that – my memory is so terrible I’d basically be starting over every time, but I can see how that might be the case in the long term should I end up with a career in academia.

I’m struggling to get the balance right – my teaching prep has to come first, as it has very strict deadlines, but the thesis/life part is tricky. Teaching takes up most of my week, so my thesis stuff gets done over the weekend. This means that if I lose a weekend to socialising I’m essentially losing two weeks between one chunk of thesis time and the next. It’s difficult. Not sure what I’m going to do over Christmas when there will be lots of stuff drawing on my attention.


Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted.

Marking and Larking

On Tuesday I spoke at an event held by the careers service. It was about getting on to a PhD and what it involves. There were two of us speaking, both second years. Rachel was far more upbeat, it must be said. She was great at talking without a script and still actually making sense, which is just not somrthing I can do. I shared with them the horror story of my first PhD interview, which is still to this day the single most humiliating thing that has ever happened to me. And I embarrass myself a lot. Ultimately it was entirely worth it, it gave me more focus, it prepared me for what was to come. Taught me that expecting the unexpected isn’t just for paranoid Aurors.

The end of this week was a dark pit of marking. I did two mammoth sessions and just got them all done. It was an interesting experience. It took me about five essays to get in the swing of locating the assignments within the grade boundaries. I was really chuffed that my students did so well, they came up with some really intersting ideas and have clearly been listening in class. I can’t wait to see them improve over the next couple of years.

Marking left me entirely brain dead, so I pretty much lost the weekend to staring at the walls and hoping that the world would make sense soon. Not ideal. I wanted to get all of my lesson planning done over the weekend so that I could work on my chapter today and tomorrow. Oh well. Will just have to knuckle down.

I’m heading to Birmingham from Thursday to Monday for my birthday and to see various beautiful people. Feel a bit guilty about sacrificing so many days to larking about, but I miss my mates something fierce and I’m so bloody excited to see them.

Stuck on a short story I’m writing. Have about half of it done, but no idea where to take it. Hopefully the weekend will shake something loose.

No sleep for me. Work instead. #cushion #reading #tired #louisemayalcott #books

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Bruised Clocks and Time Spinning By

I think I need to go back to filling out my black board with the week’s achievements. Time is moving so fast that I can barely keep up. Telling one week’s activites from the next is quite a struggle. It seems like it was only last week that I went to see Mona Eltahawy, which my friend wrote a brilliant review for, but in reality, it was almost a month ago. This week I went to see the brilliant Helen Macdonald, author of H is for Hawk. She was wonderfully eloquent and down to earth – the interview was hosted by an ornithologist, which meant that it was a rather bird-y evening, but she managed to bring it back to the book fairly regularly.

I’ve also been working on my chapter, which I think is vaguely starting to take shape. I feel like I’ve been working on it since I started the PhD. It’s the only chapter that I’ve known from the beginning would exist. I’ve found that in the last year I seem to have moved from being fairly good at close reading and picking apart texts, to being really theory heavy. It’s been a bit of a struggle to get back to the text, unravelling the meaning and then reading it using a trans theoretical stand point. I think I might be getting there though. Maybe. I’m sure I will have changed my mind by this evening.

I’ve been working on a book that I used in my Masters dissertation and I’m finding it interesting how different my reading is now. Well, not necessarily different, but certainly more complex. I haven’t really had a yardstick with which to measure my intellectual progress until now. It’s easy enough to say, well I’ve written this many words and this conference paper – that’s just target setting and achievement. But seeing how your thinking has actually developed is much harder to judge, and I think ultimately more satisfying. Of course, when I hand the chapter in I might get a short, sharp reality check, but we’ll see.

The chapter is due in at the end of the month, ready for a discussion a couple of weeks later with both of my supervisors. I then need to move immediately onto the next chapter, which I haven’t even vaguely started thinking about yet. I keep on finding myself so grateful that I took the time to colour code all of my notes according to chapter. It means I can just flick through both of my folders and find the most pertinent information.

This week I’ve also been teaching, organising abstracts for a collection I’m editing with some other academics, and writing a short story to submit to Severine Lit. I also wasted a day getting a new tattoo, which is excellent (but is currently very bruised).

This week I’m marking essays and trying to finish the chapter. I’m also speaking to some people thinking about doing a PhD for our careers service. No idea what I’m going to say yet…

Feminist Research Methodologies Conference

Friday saw the culmination of almost a month’s worth of work. I presented my paper on trans and feminist theoretical interactions (available to read here) at the Feminist Research Methodologies Conference at Sheffield Hallam University. It seemed to be received pretty well, a few people asked for my slides. I had started to regret spending so much time on something that probably wasn’t going to go into my thesis, but the conference gave me a boost. Everyone needs an excuse just to do a bit of research into something they’re interested in rather than something practical. I also got to meet other people interested in my area, which is always nice.

The conference itself was brilliant. I was astonished by the sheer range of speakers – different universities, different areas, vastly different topics and opinions. It was a really well put together day. And it was bloody amazing being in a room full of feminists.

Another person on my Panel, Ben Vincent, presented on their research into transfeminism beyond the binary. They mentioned the importance of trans women openly being a part of the feminist movement. A key point they made was the policed access to feminism experienced by those who identify as non-binary or at the intersection of non-binary and woman, particularly if they are assigned male at birth. They defined non-binary as a family of identities and reflected upon the difficulty of occupying gendered spaces and receiving medical care as a non-binary person. It was a fascinating talk and their research looks really interesting. I’m hoping to pick their brains in the future.

After the conference a friend and I attended a Kathryn Wiliams gig in Sheffield cathedral, which was lush. You just can’t beat cathedral acoustics. I think the main thing that I miss about attending church is the reverberation of clear notes in high stone rafters.


The plan for this week is to get back into writing my chapter. It’s due at the end of the month and I’m away for at least two weekends, not to mention lesson planning and marking. I’m also working on a short story for publication, the deadline for which is also at the end of the month. It’s going to be a bit of a squeeze getting everything done in time. But that’s good I suppose. Better than being bored witless.

Achievement? How long’s a piece of string?

I didn’t blog last week for no reason other than it slipped my mind. My teaching prep felt impossible and took me way longer than it should have which meant that I was then rushing to get in all of the reading I had planned for this conference paper. I’m actually really enjoying being really busy – it helps keep me focussed, it’s cut down on my procrastination and subsequent sense of under-achievement. But for weeks like last week and the week before, it feels like I’m running to keep up. Which leads me nicely on to the fact that I’ve taken up running (again).

I mentioned in my previous post that exercise is helping me remember that my body is more than a vehicle for my brain and a handy prop with which to hold books. But in taking up running, or jogging really…probably somewhat closer to a moderately paced lumber, I’ve realised again how taking up a new exercise is like doing the PhD. Especially if you work in fits and starts like I do. I mentioned this in my PhD Plank Challenge post back in March – but what do you know, nothing has changed and I keep on making the same discoveries. Essentially it’s about working your way up slowly from complete incompetence to a sustained and regular achievement. I seem to get stuck about half way every time I try. I like the initial sense of accomplishment – whether that’s completing a certain amount of time spent running, or writing 500 words every day. The bit where I struggle is when the initial high has worn off, but you still haven’t quite built up that sense of take-it-for-granted-habit. You sink back into the mentality of ‘well, I was really good yesterday, so it doesn’t really matter if I have a little break today, I totally deserve it’, which is fine, until the next day where you think ‘I’m still kind of recovering from doing so well the day before yesterday, and it’s ok because I’ll do brilliantly tomorrow when I’m really well rested’. Newsflash. It isn’t going to happen. You’ll wait until something comes up and makes you get your arse in gear, whether thats a deadline or the fact that your jeans don’t fit.

The other thing that hinders this development of a constant sense of achievement is the fact that in the PhD accomplishment is pretty hard to measure. It would be easy to say ‘do 500 words a day or you’ve failed’ – but then what about days where you’re reading texts – should you have to finish a whole book or you’ve failed? Or maybe half a book? But what if the book is really complex and each page takes ages to pick apart? Well, in which case, surely you can measure it by hours worked? 9-5, right? Like a job. But realistically, are you actually properly working for those hours? Or are you making yourself feel like you’re working simply because you’re at your desk and there’s a book somewhere in the vicinity? This is, again, where I think pomodoro is handy – you can keep track of exactly the amount of time you’ve been properly working. Saying that, I can’t remember the last time I actually used pomodoro.

Something that I’m finding really handy is having an external source of accountability – in my case it’s working in the living room with my new housemates, both of whom are also PhD candidates. We tell each other off for procrastinating and help each other brain storm. This is something I would have found massively helpful when I started and I’m so grateful to have it now. I can’t express enough how important it is to have a sense of community during the PhD – whether that’s having other PhD mates, or working up at uni in a post-grad suite, or keeping in contact with other PhD victims online via hashtags like #phdchat #phdlife #acwri etc.

This week I’m teaching my students about career prospects, which is hilarious seeing as my current life plan is to stay in education for as long as possible and then hope that it sorts itself out.

This book was ok I guess #phdchat #book #phdlife #thesis #posits #notes #writing #study

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Feminism and Shoulder Stands

This week’s teaching went much better I think. They seem to be more productive when I ask them to work in pairs than in groups. I think it’s because they each get more of a chance to talk about their ideas, rather than leaving it to the more verbose members of the class. I’ll definitely be bearing that in mind for future lesson planning. I’m not doing any teaching this week as they have a library workshop, but I’ll be offering the spare hours towards tutorials closer to the essay deadline.

Productivity-wise I haven’t been great this week. My lesson planning took longer than I thought it would and I gave myself a day off on Friday that seemed to extend through the whole of the weekend except for a couple of hours of reading on Sunday. I really need to crack on with a conference paper that I’m presenting at the end of the month. I wrote and submitted the abstract in ten minutes and honestly didn’t think I’d get chosen to speak. That showed me. The conference is on feminist research methodologies and I’m going to present on transfeminism. I think my plan is to give a bit of an overview, as most people outside of my research area won’t know much about it. I’ll probably talk about previous interactions with mainstream feminism and the future possibilities of the two working more closely together. I haven’t done a terrific amount of work on transfeminism, so I’m mostly doing lots of reading at the moment, which is nice. Just got my fingers crossed that I can get it done in time…I don’t have much choice really.

I saw my supervisor this week to talk about my first chapter. She seemed pretty pleased with my progress. We’ve agreed that I’ll get the draft to her and my director of studies by the end of November and have a big meeting in the last week of term to discuss it. This means that November is going to be pretty manic as I’ll be working on the conference paper until the end of this month probably.

In other news, my yoga classes are progressing. We started on shoulder stands on Friday, which I just couldn’t for the life of me do. I’ve been practicing every day and I think I’m vaguely getting there. I’m probably doing it wrong, but I’m still counting it as a personal win. When doing the PhD you tend to forget that your body isn’t just a handy piece of transport apparatus for your brain. Having something like yoga and morning gym sessions with my housemate is helping me remember that it’s all connected. My brain actually works better when my body is working too. Not that it makes getting up at 6:30 any easier.

Teaching: As easy as installing an oven.

This week has flown by. I think it’s been pretty productive. At the beginning of the week I was finalising teaching preparation before attending the lecture/workshop on Wednesday. The 2 hour lesson was actually fab, I don’t think that the undergrads really appreciate how interesting the module leader has made it. He discusses the topic for a while and then sets a task for them to discuss in groups. He, the other seminar tutor and I go around the class and talk about their thoughts. He does this a few times during the lecture and the two hours go really quickly.

My seminar class is on Thursday morning. Most of my students turned up, which is always a good start. We were discussing four poems. I split the room into two groups and gave them two poems each to look at. We then came together and discussed them. Most of the students seemed to engage really well. They came up with some fab ideas. I’m looking forward to working with them this term.

This week my housemate and I rearranged the living room into a PhD hub. She found another desk in the cellar that we’ve cleaned up and moved various bits of furniture around to accomodate. I work at the dining table with her on the other side of the room at the desk. We’ve been challenging each other to write 500 words a day, and for two out of the three days we’ve hit target. The day we didn’t was due to the furniture moving and the fact that we had to collect and install a new oven as ours went kaput. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I managed to do it without blowing us up.

I’m meeting my supervisor tomorrow to discuss my first chapter. I’ve got just over 6000 words written, so I’m about a third of the way through. My aim is to have it finished by December so I can move onto the next chapter after new year. The chapter is about passing and crossing in two texts – Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues and Renee James’s Transition to Murder. They both deal with the topic in different ways. Jess in Feinberg’s text transitions to male, having top surgery and taking testosterone. They find it relatively easy to be read as cisgender, however, in doing so they feel as though they’ve lost their sense of self and therefore decide to stop taking the hormones and remove their beard. It is only then that Jess finds an authenticity of self in embracing the liminal, in living as what they describe as ‘a he-she’ – something that allows them to embody all aspects of their gender identity.

Bobbi in Transition to Murder, who I’ve spoken about before, transitions to female and from very early on in the text voices the fact that she’ll likely never pass as cisgender. She struggles with this during the novel, mostly due the the reactions of the public who are alternately unwelcoming, hostile or explicitly violent. Bobbi’s strong support network, her friend and therapist, her boss, and the trans community group she’s a part of are her real saving grace at that point. As the novel progresses Bobbi grows in confidence, she embraces her own sense of femininity and finds ways in which to be happy and places where her skills are admired.

Both texts highlight the dangers of passing and crossing, but both also show that embracing one’s own sense of embodiment is one of the most important things a person can do. However, it should also be noted that both of these texts feature white, working class protagonists who have, to varying extents, an existing support network when they transition. The ability to embrace an identity that society may frown upon is very much based in a certain level of privilege. My other chapters have novels by trans women of colour, so I’ll be interested to see if the same themes arise.

Today I’m getting on with this week’s teaching prep. And then I’ll probably try and edit what I have so far of my chapter into something resembling sense so I can discuss it tomorrow.

Teaching Prep

This week is focussed on teaching preparation. I start on Wednesday by attending my module’s lecture/workshop and helping in group tasks. My actual teaching begins on Thursday where I’ll hosting a seminar that will be introducing undergrads to comparing and contrasting poetry. Eep! I’ve done some research into the poems we’ll be using in class and I’m meeting the module leader this afternoon. I keep on swinging between excitement and sheer terror. Next term it’ll be easier because I’m teaching on critical theory which is something I’m pretty confident in (I say that now, come January I’ll be freaking out).

As I write this I’m also having a Facebook chat convo with another PhD-er who will be teaching on the same module. It’s actually really nice to be chatting about something neither of us really know about – we’re just chucking out ideas and discussing them. At this point in our academic careers where we’re so focussed on this tiny gap of knowledge that we’re working to fill, this kind of freeform discussion is really refreshing. That’s something I’m actually looking forward to about teaching – seeing people’s perspectives and the leaps that their minds make.

I haven’t touched my thesis in a while. I was away again this weekend – gallivanting in Birmingham. This week will be dedicated to the teaching bits and bobs, but I’ve got a meeting with my supervisor next week so I would like to have a bit more done by then. Friday, Saturday and Sunday will probably be thesis days, with the Monday and possibly Tuesday being dedicated again to lesson prep. I’m also in the process of editing a collection of essays, so I need to squeeze in some work on that. Getting to a point where I really need to start timetabling my life rather than just bopping between the couple of things I need to do. First year really is over. Let the PhD chaos truly begin.

#sky #sunset #motorway #nature #instasky #moon #instanature

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Feedback and Fresher’s Flu

Seriously, I was only up at uni for one day and I’ve only had one new housemate and yet I have been truly felled by fresher’s flu. Ok, that’s a bit melodramatic, but I’m feeling rough and I couldn’t sleep until about 6am this morning. Blah blah blah.

Other than that this week has been pretty good. I got feedback from both of my supervisors on the report I have to submit. My director of studies said that it’s the best bit of writing he’s seen from me, which is thrilling. He also said that if my rapporteur gives me gyp over it he’ll be ‘incandescent’. So I’m feeling more positive about that. Again, I owe it to all of the help I received on twitter, three people in particular were brilliant and sent me fab emails that stopped me from completely falling to bits.

I had to add a couple of hundred words to the report after the meeting, mostly just repeating what I’d already said in order to make it explicitly clear that I actually know what I’m doing. Now I’m mostly gearing up to start teaching the undergrads next week, which isn’t being helped by the fact that the world is currently a terrible place filled with sadness, tissues and cough medicine. Not to mention sherry. Lots of sherry.

This past weekend I was up in Chester for a family weekend away, which was lovely but exhausting. Monday was spent catching up on sleep, emails and meeting my new housemate. Yesterday was sacrificed to the report and wallowing in snotty self pity. Today has mostly comprised of lemsip, buying more sherry and cough syrup and staring balefully at the Norton Anthology of Poetry. I’m away this coming weekend as well, so I should really try and crack on.

In other news, I started yoga classes a couple of weeks ago. I’m rubbish, but I’m really enjoying it. I wasn’t really expecting to get anything other than some bendy stretchy time out of it, but it’s actually really peaceful. Much recommended. Also supposed to be very good at fending off scholar’s hunch.