Archive | August, 2013

Winging it

22 Aug

Winging it

This quote found its way to me and I had to share. It’s so appropriate for so many of the discussions I’ve read in PhD land, particularly related to impostor syndrome and the constant battles with confidence that so many of us have despite knowing that we know some people are winging it too…


Recap: #ECRchat on Changing Track, 1 August 2013

16 Aug

After the post I wrote yesterday about having to change my project this blog from ERCchat is one to come back to. My to-do and priorities lists are about to get jiggled about.

The heart vs head…

15 Aug

I feel a bit broken today. Broken for a country I love that has descended further into turmoil, and broken because the changes I thought I might have to make to my fieldwork plans are probably just the beginning of a retreat away from a project I (and, I think, my supervisors) really believed in. My heart and head are in conflict and it’s coming to crunch time…

My research explores activism in Egypt. Having worked and lived in the country on and off for over two years, I have a deep affection for Egypt and the many people I grew to care about in Cairo, Luxor, Aswan and beyond. There was always something special about arriving back in Egypt: my Arabic skills would wake up at passport control, groggy from the months of rest and the late night arrival, and, as the taxi reached a familiar flyover in central Cairo, I would feel, in some ways, that I was coming home.

As part of my fieldwork, I was hoping to return to Egypt and explore political learning with community activists as their struggle for democracy continued. But as the situation escalated since the protests of June 30th, my researcher ‘head’ is being battered with the ethical concerns for the safety of participants being asked to discuss politics and thoughts of ‘the political’, and the university’s risk assessment for me as a researcher in the field. These battles mean the time has come to make some changes to my research project. Not completely, but enough that my heart feels a sense of sadness for the stories that cannot be told in the way they need to be told.

One of my criticisms of the academy has been the lack of research in authoritarian states and in the middle east – but today, it feels like I’m perpetuating that bias. It’s not a decision I take lightly, and I’m determined to remain focused on Egypt and Egyptian activists, but theoretically and methodologically, the plan we were so sure of has to evolve and take into consideration the heart and the head.

When we start a PhD we know there will be inevitable changes along the way: a new theoretical direction emerges from an illuminating reading session, or a new way to use a method previously dismissed seems possible, relevant and necessary. People in my department who know my work is on Egypt have enquired of my plans, many suggesting simply, ‘you can just apply the framework to somewhere different though, yeh?’. For me, changing case studies is not an option I’m ready to consider: my heart is still connected to Egypt, even though my head knows of the practical and ethical concerns of the university, not to mention my partner and family.

But maybe it’s being stubborn and maybe it will come back to haunt me, but I think we have a commitment to doing research that needs to be done, and that contributes understandings that can help to make the world a better place. If I were to back away from Egypt now, I would feel I was letting down all the Egyptians who made me so welcome for so long.

The immediate challenge is to use my head to adapt the research theoretically and methodologically because my heart tells me the ongoing revolution in Egypt is too important to walk away from…

The library during university holidays is…

6 Aug

…quiet, peaceful, productive

…a place to Get. It. Done.

…full of people actually working rather than sitting on Facebook all day

…a place to be inspired and reminded of our goals and ambitions

This time last year, I was in the library every day, diligently writing, writing, writing my Masters dissertation. There was a very tangible goal in sight that carried the focus through every 12 hour day: sharing the goal with other students kept us all motivated, determined and desperate to make it through the final couple of thousand words. 

While there were also many exhausted moments of frustration that summer, walking through the same doors today was a journey back into my most energised and motivated period of study ever – and that energy was back with me today. Perfectly timed. I felt excited to walk along the corridors of books knowing I’d made the right decision back then to accept a place and keep studying, even when others thought I must have been losing my mind. After 15 years out of academia, the thought of leaving behind the chance to keep learning, exploring and engaging was one I wasn’t ready to consider, and today it really, really dawned on me: I get to do it all again.

As PhD students, most of us know we are lucky, privileged and fortunate to be able to immerse ourselves in a project we (hopefully) feel passionate about. A little walk in the quiet of the vacation time library was a perfect reminder of the joys of studying.

Hopefully, I’ll be writing the same kind of positive note to myself next summer…  

The trouble with summer?

2 Aug

I love summer, but being based in Manchester, in the north west of the UK, we don’t always get one. We do reliably get 3-4 months where we can reduce layers from four to two (and maybe a cardigan!) but we haven’t had a period of more than about two weeks of good sunshine for what feels like years: official reports say the last prolonged period of sunshine was 2006…

But this year we can now declare we HAVE had a summer. A lovely, gorgeous, warm, make-your-veggies-grow-wonderfully, fabulous summer. Which makes motivation for a PhD topic that’s already being tested by political unrest and foreign office blocks on my intended fieldwork all the more difficult. I can read in the sun, I can write/type in the sun, but I can’t ignore it when it’s outside winking at me, and I admit it’s scuppered my ability to get 6 hours good work done each day. And with a lack of 6 hours good work a day comes a huge side order of guilt; I feel cheeky for having time off from the PhD. It’s clearly a common theme in this blog that I feel I should be working ALL the time, even though I know it’s not possible. So I am taking a moment to think about what I have done with this troublesomely lovely summer, and for my own sanity, I’m going to list things I have achieved (note: achieved, not done… I’m making that distinction on purpose!) in these 7 weeks since my end of year 1 viva (many of which have been put off for anywhere from 3 to 13 months… agh!)

Work: Read one whole (very relevant) book and around 150 pages of journal articles/reports. Two days paid academic work. Written about 1500 words, literature searched and planned. About 30 hours blog/news reports on current events relevant to my research. Home: plastered, painted and decorated hallway, lounge, dining room. Sorted the garden. Sorted post and filing,  the car and all those boring chores. Me: made it back to yoga (which makes me very, very, very happy!). Back up to 6+ mile runs and feeling good. Had time with many, many friends in France and London and locally, and lots of fun, days out, evening walks and time with the other half: festivals, art, movies, sport, travel. I finally got into a rhythm with the volunteering, have applied for a couple of interesting posts, and progressed on the freelancing.

And I had a haircut.

Although this summer may feel cheeky because I haven’t been cooped up reading, typing, typing, reading, I might finally be learning that productive time off is what will keep me sane and motivated for the long haul.

ImageI spent some time running in meadows, through woods, along the river. The flowers bloomed this summer so I also ran about and took photos. This picture reminds me of one of those lovely runs…