Archive | March, 2013

The conference nuggets and baby steps!

26 Mar

Now, I’m still a baby in PhD land, a conference novice, so forgive me for an extreme naval gazing moment (yes, again!). This post is really for me to acknowledge the baby steps we take during a PhD, and to hold on to a feeling of achievement I gained from noticing the difference between a conference in November (8 weeks into PhD) and now, March, (6 months in). Part of the difference is in my attitude, part in the content, and part in the implications for my work.

Among many reasons, we go to conferences for those golden nugget moments: the little spark that illuminates a new direction or a different meaning on some part of your work, or maybe even opens a new path that changes your perception of something you thought was or wasn’t related to your PhD. It can be the moment when you realise a critique you have (but perhaps are still reluctant to say aloud because conferences can also be intimidating places at times) is the same insight you should apply to your own work. Or it is the moment where you connect with someone else’s ideas in a way that clarifies and sharpens your own understandings.  These kind of golden nugget moments are exciting and provoking, challenging and rewarding.

I had a few nugget moments today, particularly one that arose out of a discussion of contrasting understandings and practices of solidarity. When one audience member responded to the presenter, I felt an argument brewing against what he’d suggested. I pondered (no really, I actually put my pen in my mouth and gazed upwards…. oh, dear, dear, dear….). I scribbled frantically and knew I’d had a moment where I could see real progress. But then a second, golden, nugget…


I realised that, whereas the November conference had me festering in a bewildering pit of my own fear at how much I didn’t know and excitement at how much I wanted to know, not only was I was now able to actually understand more of what people were saying (I’ll readily admit I remain befuddled at much of what social scientists say…) but I was growing in confidence in my own opinions and responses, arguing against their suggestions in my head and tracing my own journey to that standpoint. Ok, so it’s a seemingly trivial moment, but the golden nugget moment I’m taking from this conference is that the greatest achievement for me if (when… when… when!) I complete this PhD will be surviving the process and learning from all the positives and negatives that come with it – not simply the topic but all the other ‘stuff’ that makes the PhD such a unique experience. It really IS the journey, but it’s a journey full of tiny steps that will (hopefully) come together in one big, happy leap.

The ‘no’, the guilt and the change

20 Mar

Last week I attended a coaching workshop for PhD students. Aside from the moments where I felt sick, tears welling, lump in throat sticking, it was a great day – full of realisations and reflections that will hopefully make life in PhD land a bit easier over the next couple of years (please, I want to do this in 3. Not 4. 3. Three… yes, three).

One of the exercises encouraged us to think about barriers and ladders, thinking about the risks we need to take to take control towards our own progress . Amongst others, I realised one of my barriers is my distinct, definite, debilitating inability to say NO. No to the conversation started by my desk, No to a quick coffee (ok, tea) break, No to the long overdue ‘catch up’, No to “can you help with this…?”. But underlying all the times I’ve refused to say No or ‘not now’ is my definite success at saying ‘YES, COME ON IN, LET’S PARTY’ to something so much more powerful: guilt. Feeling guilty that I’ll come across as rude when I don’t take my earphones all the way out and stand up, feeling guilty for always seeming reluctant, feeling guilty that I feel like I’m always cutting things short.

So rather than putting myself in a position where I end up feeling guilty about saying no or taking control, what have I done? Removed myself from the whole situation and am now working at home, tucked into a much more comfortable work-chair, with daylight, blanket on lap, one cat by my feet and the other on a bean bag winking from her snooze. It feels good. I’ve had the most productive three days of my year. Yes, it’s a bit more lonely and I’ll have to be careful that I don’t become disconnected from everything that goes on in uni life… plus, I can see why so many 3rd year PhD-ers prefer to work from home but seem a little bonkers! But for a week where a deadline is looming then working from home seems to have done the trick, even if this is one giant avoidance tactic of the fear of saying ‘no’!

The Tigger is back!

4 Mar

My philosophy of life could probably be summed up as one of extremes and my daily moods reminiscent of two central characters in Winnie-The-Pooh; most days I am will be either full of Tiggerly vim and vigour being overly-enthusiastic, excited, giddy (and probably highly annoying) or pessimistic, full of doom and much more like Eeyore. No in-betweens. All or nothing.

Embarking on a PhD has definitely tested my (predominantly) Tigger tendencies; it seems there’s a distinct lack of bouncy-jolly-ness in academia which has made me question my ability to stick with it but that’s for another post on another day…

Over the last two weeks, the atmosphere in PhD-land seemed to be perfect for Eeyore to find a resting place and get comfortable. As I continued to write, I was finding myself much more inclined to think every sentence was terrible, that every article I read was incomprehensible, that I wasn’t going anywhere except down. With a supervisory meeting looming, I wasn’t holding out much hope that the few thousand words I had written was remotely what they wanted to read.

And this is where PhD-Land is clearly going to keep surprising and shocking me, and why I want to write these moments to look back on. In PhD-Land the word ‘good’ is magical. And in that meeting it was also preceded by an even more magical one: ‘very’. I could have fallen off my chair and bounced back to my desk. Yet had that word ever been used to evaluate any one of my lessons when I was teaching I’d have been devastated – good was NOT good enough. Neither was very good.

But in PhD-land, good / very good feels incredible. It feels magical. It feels like Winnie himself has given me a giant bear hug and told me I can do a Tigger dance and Eeyore wants to join in! Tigger’s glass is definitely half-full and I’m going to try and remember this moment and drink it in very slowly!