Time Flies

I was talking to my lovely housemate about how it was already nearing the end of January. How? She’s in the third year of her PhD and teaching on two modules this term. She said that last year flew from January through to Christmas and that she can’t believe that it’s all come round again. For me, time didn’t start thundering out of control until October when I started teaching. January to April was mostly spent getting my head in order, and then I just did lots of reading. Reading is pretty hard to quantify in an objective manner, so it really felt like I hadn’t achieved anything.

I now have a chapter, a module of lesson plans and 2 round of marking under my belt (I finally finished that last five essays). So that feels like something. Of course, I still feel woefully behind on my personal targets. I really need to get this chapter edited and sorted and sent back off to my supervisors. I wanted to have started my second chapter by now really. Not least of all because there is an AMAZING conference in America in September that is currently accepting abstracts. I feel like it’d be a bit of a copout to send something based on this chapter as I’ve already done a paper on it and have an article based on it being published. So. Need to get my thinking cap on IN A BIG WAY. And soon. Really soon.

I’m going to spend the next three days editing my chapter and finishing my lesson plan for Thursday. On Friday I’m helping in a workshop and then heading straight off for the weekend with my besties down South to finally do our Christmas.

Next week I will definitely write that abstract.

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Jan 24, 2016 at 5:52am PST

 

Marking Melodrama

I collected a pile of essays from work this week from last term’s module. My students were asked to write a 2,500 word critical essay on one of the texts we’d studied that term. I’d had some interesting discussions with students and was looking forward to reading what they had to say, but actually sitting down and marking? So boring. I sulked a bit on Saturday before I got stuck in. Sunday was easier, but by the end of play I still had five essays remaining. I’m now lesson planning for this term’s modules, so those five will have to wait until next weekend. I have no idea when I’ll fit in editing my chapter.

This term I’ll be teaching Intro to Critical Theory, which I’ve been looking forward to. I am getting a bit nervous. There’s a lot to cover and this module is literally the basis for all of their future essays. I want to give them all of the information they need, but I don’t want to bombard them and put them off. It’ll be a tricky balance. And of course there will be loads of students that just think it’s boring and pointless, so I need to try and get through to them too.

I’m eager to try and get my chapter edited and sent off again, but I’m knackered all the time. Officially too old for all-nighters. Will try and get this lesson planning done ASAP so I can salvage some week for that.

Oh, and I had a short story published in Severine Literary Magazine 🙂

A photo posted by Emma (@emma_spud) on Jan 16, 2016 at 8:14am PST

What A Difference A Year Makes

This time last year I wrote my first post. It was about how I had spent the prior four months feeling woefully out of my depth and struggling with depression. I’m pleased to say that this post will be vastly different.

I often feel as though I’m achieving very little in any given week, and in all honesty, when I started contemplating this post last week I felt as though I’d achieved very little in the last year and a half. However, I’m feeling slightly more positive today, admittedly after a truly disgusting amount of caffeine and some rather frantic procrastination cleaning.

On paper, these are my achievements of my PhD so far:

  • Very rough introduction drafted.
  • Almost complete chapter drafted.
  • RF1 passed.
  • RF2 passed.
  • Five conferences attended, two spoken at.

I had initially, naively hoped to have the intro and first chapter entirely finished and the second chapter started by now. I absolutely did not factor in the amount of time and energy that goes into teaching, even when it’s only one module a term; that’s something I’m going to need to take into account this year.

Whilst my achievements may be fewer than I would have liked, they are ultimately overshadowed by my state of mind. This time last year I felt utterly worthless and genuinely considered quitting the PhD. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and no idea how to work it out. All of the motivational posts on pinterest couldn’t help me shake the notion that things would never get better and that I had little or nothing to offer to life, let alone academia. Luckily, that same sense of helplessness meant that I couldn’t work out a different direction to take, and so I carried on plodding along. Eventually my spider diagrams and half-digested journal articles started to click together in my brain and I gradually came up with some plans and ideas.

Although I hated them at the time, the things that pushed me through that block were the Rf1 and RF2 – hoop-jumping paperwork and presentations that make you explain and justify your project. For the RF2 I had to provide a chapter plan; at the last minute I chucked one down on paper, believing that it was just there so that I had something to say, but it stuck and gave me the structure that I needed to push on with my thesis. I could never have gotten to that point, however, without the months of reading and hopeless spider-diagramming that at the time felt utterly useless.

One of the turning points last year came in March, when I watched James Hayton’s video on surviving the PhD – which I blogged about at the time.. It gave me a new perspective on what the PhD actually is, ‘the entrance qualification to the world of professional academia‘ rather than the culmination of your academic achievements to date. It means that, of course you have no idea what you’re doing, you’ve never done anything like this before.

Another thing that helped me was attending conferences. Meeting other people who share your interests and worries, listening to people who are passionate about their work and having people get excited about yours is an invigorating experience that boosts your energy. Submitting abstracts and writing papers is also great for creating firm deadlines and helping you articulate thoughts that you might otherwise leave until later (forget).

Less tangible things that I have achieved this year are things like making amazing new friends, getting out of my comfort zone more often (attending conferences, talking to new people, talking in front of people), traveling, learning to ski, learning yoga, getting fit, getting healthy (or at least healthier). All of which have attributed to my increasing sense of wellbeing. Of course, I still have slumps, but I’m more able to deal with them. The sense of utter despair has dissipated, and when it starts to creep back in, I’m more able to knock it back.

My aims for the year ahead are to write a couple more chapters, try and get at least one paper published (publish or perish), and to travel more. I’m hoping that I get better at teaching, I think I did ok last term, but I want to do the very best by my students. Ultimately I’d like to happy, or, at the very least, moderately stable.

Haze

This week has been an odd one. I’ve apparently achieved quite a lot – I finished the Judith Butler book I was reading, I’ve gone through a number of my other text books to retrieve their quotes about Butler’s work and I’ve written another 2000 words and sent some work to my supervisors. I just have no idea when I did all of this. Well, I know I did the bulk of the writing yesterday and the day before, but up until then I felt like I’d had another week of procrastination. I don’t really know when and how I got things done.

That’s probably a compelling reason to more strictly enforce the timetable I set myself.

No matter what happens during the week, I always feel that I should have done more. That’s largely due to the fact that I waste and endless amount of time on twitter and generally farting about on the internet rather than reading the pile of books I keep on renewing from the library. I’ve fallen into the old creative writing trap where I think I need to be inspired before I can achieve anything. “Oh, well there’s no point doing it now because I’m just not into it, I’d do it much better later when I’m feeling more alert.”

Here’s the thing, inspiration doesn’t spring from sodding nowhere. And it doesn’t come from the same place every time. It comes from new things and experiences. If you’re stuck in a rut with creative writing you have to go and read some new books, or take yourself off on an adventure. I think the same can be said for academia. I really got into the swing of things on Thursday when I decided I was going to read what I thought was a completely unrelated journal article just because if I had to read one more thing about Butler I was going to set Undoing Gender on fire. It sparked something, I started to draw connections between that essay and my work on Butler and then I bashed out a couple of thousand words bouncing from those ideas.

Tackling and old topic from a new direction makes it interesting. Tackling a new topic from an old direction makes it understandable.

Now that I’ve sent that bit of work I’m going to spend next week reading some of those library books and hopefully gaining some inspiration from their new ideas.

Word count: 2000ish

Gym sessions: 2

Sit Still and Sulk

This week has been pretty sedentary. I didn’t leave my house for four days. Whoops. I did however write 2000 words. And I think I’m happy with them, which is something that hasn’t happened in ages. It’s a piece of work that I’ve been putting off and putting off because it’s on a topic I’ve covered before and I couldn’t work out how to write about it without basically copying what I said in my MA. I sulked for the weekend and most of Monday and Tuesday about it. Eventually I just decided to go back to the beginning.

Instead of just re-reading the notes I already have on the subject, I went back to the primary and key texts, which seems obvious, I know, but once I’ve made notes on something, I tend to stick with those out of pure laziness. Upon returning to the first primary text I found a section I don’t remember reading before and it fits perfectly with my thesis, it uses the key word in my title about four times per sentence. Ideal. So that reinvigorated my interest somewhat, and seemed to help everything piece itself together. I’m still talking about the stuff I mentioned in my MA, but I’ve streamlined it and this new angle has let my discuss similar ideas while using a different entry point making it feel new to even the most easily distracted parts of my brain [most of my brain].

I also realised something pretty crucial this week. Exercise helps you think. I know that every motivational pin on pinterest and all of the exercise advice out there tells you this, but I tend to ignore stuff I don’t want to admit to myself. Like the fact that I’ll never get my Hogwarts letter. Or that I’ll never have a pet dragon. Up until the past fortnight I’ve been doing pretty well at going to the gym at least a couple of times a week. But then I stopped. And now my brain has too. Gone is the easy bounce of idea to idea, and instead there’s a slow drag, like pulling yarn out of an angry tub of lard. So now that I’m on track with my words-a-week goal, I’m going to add ‘getting off my arse’ to the list of things I want to achieve every week.

This coming week I’m going to continue with last week’s writing and as a reward I’m going to read Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology which looks all kinds of awesome and perfect for my thesis.

Word Count: 2000 ish.

Unrealistic Goals

This week started really well, so well in fact that I started dreaming up mad goals to set myself because I am SO PRODUCTIVE and ON IT right now, I can do anything. I’m going to take up boxing and finish my thesis in a year! I’m unstoppable!

Heres’s the thing. Yeah, I’m feeling pretty on it at the moment, I’ve caught up with the work that I messed up and got some positive feedback; I discovered a nook in the literature that I’m reading that no one’s really explored in the context of what I’m doing; I’m feeling calmer and more on top of things generally. Goals are good. Excellent, in fact. They keep you focused and on track. But if you start setting ridiculous ones, like, oh, for example, I’m just pulling this out of the air, ‘I could totally finish my first chapter by this time next week imagine how impressed my supervisors will be it’ll totally make up for the terrible paperwork asshattery from last week‘, all you’ll really achieve is 1) stressing yourself out, and 2) feeling like a let-down when you don’t reach your ridiculous target.

So yeah, by Thursday I was feeling a little less ON IT and I was a tad disappointed, but yesterday I pulled my socks up and decided that I don’t have to come up with stupendous ideas every day, they don’t spring from nothing, do some bloody reading, write some more notes, and something will come to you. And it did. Only 450 words at the last possible minute, but that’s something, and I’ll keep working on them until they’re a chapter.

I would have written about this yesterday, but I was really busy filling myself with a truly disgusting amount of Chinese food with some people from my department. My supervisor kindly invited me along and I dragged one of my PhD buddies with me. I a little bit failed to talk to anyone that I didn’t know, but I’ll do better next time. Slowly but surely becoming a functioning human again.

Word count: 1,500 ish, including the resubmitted paperwork.

The genius to moron spiral

You know what it’s like, you have a flash of inspiration when you’re reading something. You start manically writing out bullet points convinced that you’ve cracked your thesis. And then something happens to burst your joyous research-junkie bubble. It might be moments, hours or days after that initial elation, but something will happen and you’ll be convinced that you have no idea what you’re doing and that you have absolutely no place doing a PhD and what were you thinking?! I’m a moron, why am I even here?

That’s a pretty good summary of my week. I started on Sunday fully in the swing of the research I was doing, planning on writing my 1000 words for the week on that topic by today. I was feeling pretty confident that I could beast my target, maybe even say something smart. I put in some decent hours on Sunday and Monday because I was attending a set of presentations hosted by creative PhD students on the Tuesday. A friend of mine was presenting and her topic is awesome so I went along in support. The day raised some really interesting questions, the most applicable of which for my literature thesis was: how do you balance primary reading and secondary research? Do you attack one and then the other, and if so, in what order? Or do you mix and match, flitting between the two? How do you separate your time? I’ve been concentrating on the theory side of things so far, but I’m beginning to think that I need to get back to reading some primary texts to help reinvigorate my focus.

After the presentations on Tuesday, my friend and I popped to the pub to celebrate how well she did and I finally got around to checking my emails. I failed a piece of work and I need to resubmit it. UGH. It’s not a huge deal, it’s just some official paperwork that we have to hand in to show that we’re actually doing something. To be honest, I knew it was a bit rubbish when I handed it in last term, but I just really thought I’d get away with it. Most of their comments were fair, and about stuff I was already aware of – my project needed more focus, I needed to be more explicit about my research questions. These are things that I’ve been organising over the past couple of weeks, like the thesis plan I’ve mentioned here before. So that’s easy enough to fix and resubmit. But it shook my confidence. They weren’t convinced that my project would work as it stood, which made me question if it would work at all. What if I’m wasting everyone’s time? On top of that, I’ve never met the staff who reviewed the form, and their first impression of me is based on some nonsense I wrote when I was in the midst of depression and completely unable to concentrate. Great.

Luckily I already had a meeting with both of my supervisors organised for the next day to discuss the plan I’d sent. The first thing they did was talk me off the ledge and explain that paperwork, by it’s very nature, is always a couple of months behind where your current brain is at any one time. One of my supervisors spoke of when she got her first form back covered in scrawls, and she’s pretty much one of the smartest people I know, so that gave me hope. My director of studies said that mine is one of the most exciting projects he’s worked on for ages, which is encouraging, but simultaneously terrifying. They’re expecting great things. I want to live up to that and not embarrass them or myself.

So instead of writing my 1000 words on the topic I was working on at the beginning of the week, I’m instead rewriting a form I’d thought I was rid of weeks ago. I’m choosing to see this as a positive thing. It’s giving me a chance to really formulate my plan, it’s highlighted the things that outsiders don’t understand about my project and therefore informed me of how I need to better articulate myself in those areas.

This week’s word count: 887 (but I’m still going).