End of Term Reflection

Teaching is over. It’s the Easter holidays, and the way term has fallen this year, there’s no teaching once we go back – just exams. I’ve absolutely loved teaching this year, and I’m really going to miss my students. It was stressful at times, trying to fit it all in with the PhD, writing papers, and my creative writing, but it’s been brilliant. I’ve had a lot more input with the teaching this year – I’ve created a tonne more lesson plans, written lectures, and had some input in the overall planning. I’ve taught on both literature and creative writing modules, which was lush. I’m a bit gutted that it’s over, but I’m also really looking forward to immersing myself in my research.

I’m applying for a few jobs, too. I’ve realised that I’m not great at bigging myself up – I know that I can absolutely smash these jobs, I know that I can engage the students and really get them involved in their own learning – but I need to get better at letting other people know that. Seeing the student feedback for my modules has given me the boost I need, though. There were some really lovely comments about my seminars and lectures – I even had students saying that they enjoyed critical theory (which, as you may know, is rare at level 4).

Being realistic, however, the job market is tough at the moment. So if I don’t get these posts, then I need a plan for what to do next. I’ll obviously need a job to see me through – I’ll be keeping my eye out for those, too. But I also want to keep on building on my skills – I want to be able to show, without a doubt, that I’d be an asset to any university. My field of research is cutting edge, and I’ve got some ideas for how I can build a module that feeds into that. I also think it’s something I could get the public engaged with. I want to branch out more with my creative writing – maybe work on some collaborative projects. Which is all stuff I’d do even if I did get a job, but thinking CV-wise, these might give it a boost.

Next week I’m heading to Talking Bodies 2017 – you may remember my review of TB15 – I’ll be doing another one for this year’s talks. I’m also presenting a paper (at 9am on the Friday!), which I THINK I now have down to time. But I’ll rehearse it a few more times. Really looking forward to the conference, it’s such an amazing space – there are literally hundreds of absolutely brilliant and interesting people talking about stuff they’re passionate about. The organiser, Emma Rees, is an actual star.

Anyway, for now, I’m getting over the lurg, applying for jobs, and leaping back into my research. I’ve also bought some really great books recently, so I might even take a moment to read something non-research related. Shocking, I know.

 

This is my top academic hack at the moment – thinking of making a series of ‘ac-hacks’.

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Back, back again.

In my last post I did mention that I tend to be a bit ‘all or nothing’, and I have definitely shimmied gleefully into the ‘nothing’ zone for this blog for a while. But I have been busy while I’ve been away. I’ve written two papers for publication (well, one was for a competition and has already been turned down – but it’s written!). I’m basing my Talking Bodies conference paper on one of the above, so that’s sort of half-done-ish. I’ve been teaching on two modules. I popped to Exeter for a LGBT+ History Month event, that I probably should have blogged about but didn’t. And I quit sugar for the whole of February for Cancer Research (spoiler: it nearly ended me).

So, that final chapter I mentioned? Still not finished. But I feel good about the things I’ve worked on in its stead. I’m giving a lecture this week, and am hoping to wrangle the TB paper into shape, but after that, I’ll go back to this chapter and get it hammered out. The two papers I wrote were based on previous chapters, so that’ll help when it comes to editing the thesis.

I also had an interview for a student services role, that I didn’t get, but was a good experience. They gave me some handy feedback on stuff I can improve for next time – like using the STAR technique to answer questions – which is basically creating a narrative of what you’ve done, when, how, and the effect it had. I did it for a couple of questions, but for others it seemed obvious – apparently it’s good to do it anyway. Lesson learned.

I’ve sent a poem off to an excellent new lit mag – Salomé – that I’m keeping my fingers crossed for. And I’ve tentatively been working on another short story a bit at a time. I’ve also made some time for reading and crafts in my life so I don’t go completely crackers. Getting a little better at that whole work/life balance thing. Now I only work 6 days a week.

I’m starting to get the post-PhD panic – when will I finish? Will I have any publications? Will I be able to get a job?

I’ve been looking online at the jobs coming out and the list of things they require seems to grow every week – but I suppose all we can do it work hard and try to diversify our skill sets as much as possible. I’m lucky in that my field (trans theory and literature) is starting to become fairly popular, I’m able to teach on literature and creative writing courses, and I’ve got a solid amount of teaching experience behind me at this point. I am worried, though. I think most people in academia are these days. But I really bloody love it, I love my students, I love my classes, and I love my research. Fingers tightly crossed.

 

SO! I’m writing this paper, getting back on top of my thesis and pushing through the last month of teaching (and then all of the marking in the world). That’s the plan.

 

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All or Nothing

It’s a well-known issue in diet advice that the ‘all or nothing’ approach won’t work – it’s a short-term fix that will eventually backfire. People tackle this in different ways, some build a ‘treat’ into every day, some people save up calories for a cheat day, some people (like the Rock), save themselves for a mega blow-out every few months. It’s all about whatever makes it practical and sustainable for each individual.

I absolutely fail at this. I am 100% all or nothing. This trait has permeated throughout my entire life – I’ve justified it regarding my thesis, I have a really terrible memory so if I step away from it for more than a day, I have to re-read everything in order to get back into the swing; it takes me a while to warm up into writing, so if I only gave myself an hour or so, I’d get nothing done – etc. However, I’ve noticed that it’s taken over other areas of my life – I won’t read a book unless I can finish it in one or two sittings, I won’t watch a programme unless I can binge watch it; I can’t watch random episodes, even if it’s a show I’ve seen before, I have to start at the beginning and see the whole thing through. It’s an issue.

The PhD takes over your life – I’ve joked that if in my viva they ask me to prove it’s all my own work, I’ll just point them at the three years of social media flailings about my thesis. (Personal update – it turns out that if you go outside, eat well and do occasional exercise, the world doesn’t feel as though it’s ending). So, in accepting that the thesis is bound to take over your life, the next step is probably to understand how thesis-related behaviours do the same.  I used to be able to watch TV and do homework, I used to be able to listen to music and read a book, I used to watch random bits of telly rather than streaming specific programmes, I used to read a couple of chapters a night. The focused dedication of the PhD seems to have rewired my brain into a new set of habits. Ones that I’m not certain are entirely healthy.

I’ve isolated the issue, so what’s the next step? Forcing myself to watch regular telly? Making myself read novels even if it’ll take me a week or two to finish them? Trying to fit work into random spare hours? I don’t really know yet – if anyone has any suggestions let me know.

In other news, my abstract for Talking Bodies 2017 was accepted – yay! That happens in April. I’m almost halfway through my final chapter – hoping to have it mostly done by Friday. Then it’s just the intro, conclusion and editing. It was my birthday last week, my best mates came up north for four days, we saw Fantastic Beasts, hobbited our way round some excellent ruins, and engaged in an all or nothing approach to cake (emphasis on the ‘all’).  After they left I had to crack on with some teaching bits and bobs, and now I’m back to the chapter.

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Perceptions and Reality

Remember how I mentioned that I’d written my weakest chapter yet? Turns out my supervisors think it’s my strongest. It really goes to show how unreliable our own perceptions can be when we’re in the midst of things. I met with both of my supervisors to discuss chapters two and three; it was actually really helpful to look at both at once. I think it gave all of us a feel for how the whole thing is coming together.

I’m working on my final chapter now, I’m only a thousand words in. I’m looking forward to having a full draft of the thesis put together so I can go right back to the start and make sure it all flows smoothly. I’m also interested to see how far I’ve come since writing that first chapter. I know the first couple will probably need to be entirely overhauled. I feel like I’ve learnt so much in the past few months, things have really started to click. I want to make sure that my first chapters are as strong as the last and reflect all of the things I have learnt. Aiming to have things finished by Christmas gives me a really solid chunk of time to edit the whole thing and get it as strong as it can be.

I’ve submitted that narratology paper – I’m not holding my breath on it being published, it’s not my field and I’m not massively confident on the way I’ve situated my work. It was really helpful to write it though – it made me consider my thesis and my stance from a new perspective, one that has really helped me clarify my thinking.

I wrote and submitted an abstract for Talking Bodies 2017 – I bloody loved TB15, and I’m really looking forward to attending again. I’d be thrilled if they accepted my abstract.

On a slightly negative note, however… I’ve been doing some lectures with a colleague on gender and feminism to second-year undergrads. I’ve had a bit of feedback and apparently they’ve found us a bit intimidating and as such haven’t enjoyed the lectures as much as they could have. This is obviously really disappointing as we put a lot of work into it and wanted to do something a bit different and thought provoking. We obviously pitched it a bit wrong – maybe too emphatically. But it’s good to know for the future. I’m doing the final lecture of three on Monday and have toned it right down, I’ve added in some discussion activities, so hopefully they’ll feel more like they can speak with us rather than being intimidated. I’ve found it really interesting to see the difference between my Creative Writing students and these English and History ones – I pitched it at about the same level in the lecture as I do with my CW lot – that is, lots of energy and enthusiasm – whilst the CWs seem to really enjoy it and get quite bolshy back and spark lots of conversation, the E/H lot seem to be much more reserved. It’s a good thing for me to know at this stage in my career where I’m still learning as I go. I really hope they enjoy Monday’s lecture more. It all comes back to how your personal perceptions of something don’t necessarily meet up with the external.

To finish on a high, though. I wrote a short story for the Off The Shelf short story competition and came second! I was so thrilled. There were some properly brilliant writers there, and the winner was fantastic. It was lovely to meet other local writers too.

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Online Presence

I was discussing online presence with my supervisor this weekend – she’s trying to up hers. It’s something that she’s actively thinking about, concerned about. I think it’s certainly something that you need to keep on top of. There are so many platforms available, twitter, linkedin, wordpress, piirus, academic.edu, researchgate, etc. Should you blanket them all or just pick a couple to concentrate on?

I personally spend a lot of time on twitter. Once I’d discovered hashtags like #phdchat #phdlife and #acwri, I felt like I’d found a proper community online. It was something that really helped me get through the isolated nature of the PhD. Conferences regularly use hashtags too –  you can keep up with all of the panels, and find the other people that you’re meeting there to talk to later. Building connections and a sense of community is so important when you’re in academia, I think, being the isolated office dwellers that we are, that it’s easy to get completely separated from the world.

I started this blog to help me keep track of what I was doing during my PhD – it’s easy to forget that you’ve made any progress when you’re stuck in a mire of deadlines and failed lines of thought. At the beginning, writing things down, keeping track of my weekly word count and holding myself accountable to the blog gave me the motivation I was lacking at the time. As I’ve gotten more in the swing of things, I’ve written on the blog less, but I find what I do write now is more useful. More about tracking achievements than berating myself for falling short.

People talk a lot about Linkedin, but to be honest, I’ve struggled to get to grips with it. I’ve had a profile on there for years and I update it semi-regularly; I add new people I meet. It hasn’t really seemed to do anything. Then someone told me that there are groups on there. Lo and behold, there are – groups about different areas of academia, about different theoretical interests. I’m beginning to see how it might actually be used for networking rather than just a static online mini-CV.

Things like academia.edu and researchgate are great for keeping track of what’s going on in your field, and for putting little bits of your research for other people to see what you’re up to. I probably don’t use them as much as I should, but I’ve also been concentrating on blasting my thesis, rather than writing papers.

Honestly though, twitter and facebook have been my main links to the outside world – I think they’re such important resources, both personally and professionally. I encourage everyone to find their online community.

Other useful online stuff:

This post on being an online academic – I took part in the online chat last year and it was pretty interesting.

My previous blog post on surviving the PhD – just in case you need a reminder that you’re not going crazy.

Stumbling Towards an Early Finish

So I mentioned in my previous post that I was aiming to have the thesis drafted by Christmas. In light of the amount of teaching I might be doing this term, that might not happen, but I’m going to get as close to done as I can. Finishing by Christmas means I will have drafted the thesis in just over two years. Which sounds pretty good, huh? It also means that I can ignore it for a bit and try to get some academic publications out before going back for editing. I’m hoping to submit it around April, which gives me 6 months to complete corrections and finish within my three years. Fingers crossed.

I’m feeling really positive about teaching. I’ve got creative writing students this year, which I’m really excited about. I’m going to try some different techniques. I look forward to discovering how my new students learn best, probably as they do the same. I’m going to be teaching on what is essentially a year-long study skills module that helps their transition into HE and gives them the skills they need to become fledgeling academics. My aim is to make it as interesting as possible and get them to appreciate how important these skills are for the rest of their university/academic careers.

Regarding my own creative writing, I’ve been on a bit of a roll recently. I’ve just had my fourth piece accepted for publication and I’ve had a couple of really lovely rejections where they’ve encouraged me to submit something to them in the future. Writing is something I let drop a bit when I started the PhD – I felt pretty overwhelmed by the whole thing and felt like I needed to put my whole focus on research and analysis. Actually, creative writing is massively helpful to academic writing – it gets you to really think about each word, what information you’re distilling, if you’re writing it in the best way to get your point across.

Academic writing wise – I finished a rough draft of my third chapter a couple of weeks ago, I’ve written a draft of the paper for the narratology journal that accepted my abstract, and I’m typing up quotes for chapter four. My third chapter is by far the weakest I’ve written, I’m not at all happy with it, but I’m going to let it sit while I write ch4, and then go back for editing. I’m meeting my supervisors in the beginning of October to discuss ch2, so after that I’ll titivate ch3 and send it off for advice.

Things seem to be speeding along at the moment. Not sure if I’m just having a bit of a manic stage or if the productive panic I’ve been awaiting for the last two years has finally kicked in. We’ll see how it goes when teaching starts and chunks of my time are focussed there.

 

 

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Sep 17, 2016 at 6:23am PDT

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Hoarding Words

I’ve just spent a month away from home visiting various friends and family across the country. I took my work with me, of course, but didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped I would. 
Coming back home has made me reassess the place of things in my life. I am a hoarder. I have books, films and clothes I had as a teenager. Various bits and bobs that ‘might come in handy one day’. Impulse buys that I have never used. eBay buys that weren’t as expected. Old magazines. Old clippings from magazines. All of my old uni folders and books. Books that I bought in charity shops years ago that I haven’t yet read and now probably won’t. Furniture. So much furniture. Things that my parents didn’t want any more but didn’t want to throw away. Pairs of heels that I bought, forgetting that I hate wearing heels. Sets and sets and sets of bedding.
Coming back to it all after a while away, after seeing the houses of non-hoarders has made me reevaluate what I really need. Does that item really have sentimental value or is owning it just a habit? 
Having time away from something, immersing yourself in something different, gives you the space to really critically understand something that you’ve previously been too close to. 
I’ve filled up ten charity bags and deleted sticky paragraphs that aren’t really doing anything but I’m clinging to them because I took the time to write them and I’m used to having them there. 
My current thesis goal is to have the whole thing drafted by Christmas. After that I’m going to take two months away from it, do some other bits and bobs, learn something new. Then I’ll go back to it and see what is useful and what I’m just hoarding. 

Paddle-boards and Drafting Chapters

It’s been over a month since my last post. Whoops. In that time I have written about half of my third chapter, visited family and friends, fixed my car, been on my first plane, been on my first hot holiday, relearnt how to swim, gone snorkelling, gone paddle-boarding in Mallorca, popped back up north, driven south to visit more friends, had my car fixed again, been paddle-boarding in Exeter, learnt about low G.I. foods, oh, and did I mention, written half of my third chapter.

This time last year I was gearing up for my transfer viva that allowed me to continue my PhD. I had written a rubbish draft of an intro that no longer reflects my thesis and I was throwing a paddy about having to do a gantt chart. As it happens, the hoop-jumping annoyance of the RF2 was well worth it. I’ve stubbornly stuck with the chapter plans that I made for it, something that gave me the direction I needed. I still disagree with comments made by some of the examiners, but that did give me the stubborn push to further defend my argument, even if it really shook my confidence at the time. I’m so grateful for my lovely friends, they really got me through that when I thought about quitting. Not that I actually would have, I never quit anything, but I fully thought about it.

Anyway, this chapter. It’s about society and violence – the way in which identity violence (where a person’s identity is denied or mocked) and physical violence are enforced and perpetuated by an essentialist and transphobic society. I struggled with the theory section – I have far fewer notes on this theme than I did for the previous two. I was a bit worried that it would be too similar to the previous chapter about essentialism where I spoke somewhat about society. This chapter also seemed to be the most obvious – society is shit and therefore: violence; but actually, as I’ve taken some time to scuttle about between ideas I’ve managed to come up with some points to work on. I’ve managed to hit my word count for that section, although it definitely needs some heavy editing.

The other issue I had for this chapter was that I wasn’t entirely certain which books I’d be analysing. Initially I thought that Sassafrass Lowrey’s Roving Pack would be included, but as I went back through it I realised it would work better in the next chapter about trans community and visibility. I’m currently writing about Imogen Binnie’s Nevada, which was one of my favourites, and I think it’s going ok. I’ve ordered another book which might be useful, but if not I’ll have to have another peruse through my shelves.

I’m still down south at the moment, and stretching out my trip for another couple of weeks – I’ve got my PhD stuff with me, so I’ve been working. I just happen to have also been to the pub and out paddle-boarding considerably more. Also there’s a new baby in the family that I need to go an celebrate and certainly never hold.

Oh, I also had an abstract accepted for a special edition of a narratology journal. I’m looking forward to working on that. If my book doesn’t arrive in time I’ll probably switch to that paper and finish this chapter at a later date. And I need to read the papers submitted to the book I’m editing.

My plan at the moment is to have my thesis drafted by Christmas – finished in two and a half years, eeep. That means I’ll have six months to edit it and read over any new publications. Starting to get a bit worried about the job situation too, so I might look into some further qualifications/experience.

 

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A Reflection on Hate

It’s been a tough week. It has been globally terrible. There was the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando and one of our brilliant female politicians was murdered in the UK. It has been a week showcasing the power of hatred, how infectious it can be, spreading pain from person to person, a rippling impact.

These two events share one thing in common, the media has taken pains to emphasise that the perpetrator was mentally ill. Now, of course, mental illness can lead to people doing terrible things, but it’s not the be all and end all. Mental illness is not an excuse, and it is not the sole reason for a person’s actions. No one lives in a bubble. Both of these acts of violence are a product of the society that they occurred in. They are the result of a society that perpetuates the demonisation of certain groups of people – homosexuals, immigrants – a society in which hate speech is not only excusable but actively used within our politics. As my friend Cheryl Morgan said, hate speech is a gateway drug for hate crime. In the US there is Trump, in the UK there is Brexit – both are stirring up hatred, and both have blood on their hands.

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As someone who is both queer and has an active awareness of her mental health, this week has been very trying. My people are by turns victimised and demonised. But it’s also made me think about issues of intersectionality. The majority of the victims of the Pulse shooting were Latinx, something that the media seems to have skimmed over. Was it a coincidence that the shooter chose a Latinx night to attack? Subjugation has layers, we are not equal in our suffering. Any sexism I face as a white woman is nothing compared to the racism and sexism faced by women of colour, and again nothing compared to the racism, sexism and transphobia faced by trans women of colour, who face disproportionate levels of violence, even compared to other groups within the LGBTQI community.

The murder of Jo Cox, a British Labour politician who spent her career fighting for the underdog – the rights of women, the safety of refugees and migrants, the poor and disadvantaged – was an act of hatred by someone who named himself ‘Death to traitors, freedom for Britain’. This was an act of both sexism and racism. There are plenty of other politicians who shared Jo’s views, but it was her, one of the few female politicians we have, who was murdered. Wherever you stand in the EU argument, it is unquestionable that this was also an act influenced by racism, symptomatic of the political rhetoric that has invoked a fear and hatred of migrants – migrants, I might add, who are escaping a war-zone that we, the UK, helped to create. Imagine how you wish the Germans had treated the Jews, now apply that to the UK’s treatment of migrants. One far-right politician literally remade Nazi propaganda and used it to try and make his point. This is what some areas of British politics has become.

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It’s easy to get bogged down by all of this hatred, I certainly did for a number of days, but I think it’s also important to see the love and kindness. The number of people who rushed to help during the shooting; the people who stayed in the club when they could have escaped just so they could find their friends and give them the chance to escape too; the number of people who have donated blood to help the victims; the amount of money that has been raised for the Jo Cox Memorial Fund to support her favourite charities – those supporting volunteers, Syrian rescue workers and to combat hate within local communities. I heard somewhere that whenever you see terrible things happening or on the news, you should always look for the helpers – they are always there.

I haven’t worked on my PhD this week, I’ve been too sad or angry in turns. But it has emphasised to me how important it can be – education, visibility, representation – it all adds up to hopefully reduce the hate and fear that can be manipulated with terrible impact. Always remember who the real bad guys are, always look out for those with less power than yourself.

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Cafes, Drafts, Escapes.

I have finished the second chapter! Well, for a given value of finished. I haven’t written the conclusion. I’m contemplating leaving all of the chapter conclusions until the very end – give myself some space from each chapter before I try and summarise the main points. Is this a good idea?

I spent most of last week in various cafes with my laptop. I’ve definitely found that working outside helps me concentrate, I tend to get very distracted at home. Although I also found that in doing that I left myself very little personal time. By the time I got home each night I didn’t have the time or energy to make a proper dinner and I definitely didn’t have time to go to the gym. I’m pretty sure that’s just weakness from not having been in full-time employment for the last year and a half.

I do feel pretty accomplished right now. I’ve written this chapter in two months, give or take, and I feel like I can finally see myself progressing. So much of what I did in first year felt like treading water. I never felt like I was really achieving anything and I felt so buried by it all. It’s all coming together now though. Those months of research, tears and spider diagrams are adding up to something that (I think) makes sense.

Having said that, though, I reread some bits of my first chapter yesterday – I’m borrowing from it for a paper I’m writing – and it’s a bit embarrassing how bad it is. Three months ago I was proud of it. Shows what a bit of time and space can do for the writing process, I suppose. I’m not going to edit it again, though. I want to try and bash out all of my chapters ASAP and then go back to them all. Editing is easier to dip in and out of when I’m teaching, so the more I can get done during the holidays, the better.

This week I’m hopnig to get this paper drafted and I’ve got a meeting with my supervisors before heading away for the whole of June – trekking down south via various people’s houses and ending up in Exeter before I head abroad for a week. I’m taking my work with me, of course, and plan on seeking out some hidey-holes to start drafting my next chapter in. Work/Life balance? I think it’s going well.

 

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