Tag Archives: my research journey

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 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!

The Big P…

20 Feb

I’m sure every PhD student goes through it… in fact, maybe someone should do some research to see if there is a connection between the P word and the C word. I think I could safely hypothesise that when Confidence takes a dip, Procrastination soars.

In the last three days I have caught up with many an important task: completed emails and urgent Amnesty International actions; trawled Manchester trying to find an NHS dentist; ensured fridge, cupboards are stocked; ensured freezer has stock of meals we can just defrost and munch (for when the brain gets into gear again and I end up staying at the office until the late hours…); cycled the long way to and from the office; made sure washing is up-to-date (including the dodgy crusty tea-towels from the office that I brought home to clean); changed lightbulbs, sheets, towels; called my dad for a chat to discuss his birthday; started writing my blog… I can only be a bit proud that I stopped short of making a new ‘studying’ playlist, though I do think I might have to at least edit the current one!

The morning was generally ok, started well at least; I read a couple of interesting chapters and made some useful notes and convinced myself there was a bit of progress towards pinning down a couple of concepts I’m looking at putting into my framework. But it seems like there’s a motivational blockage that really needs a bit of feedback from either supervisor to find the drive again. I’ve not discussed my work with either of them since the middle of December and can’t muster the energy to carry on going with no sense of whether the path I’m on is in any way pointing in the right direction. But I have got ingredients for a yummy dinner, am off to swim training soon, and have an assortment of healthy packed lunches ready and waiting.

Procrastination: another one of the things to be calmly aware of so it doesn’t get a grip on the PhD process? Hmmm…. Now, bathroom could do with a mop….

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A morning run cheers up the spirit!

19 Feb

A morning run cheers up the spirit!

We’ve been treated to frosty and cold mornings in the UK, perfect for running and cycling and blowing away the cobwebs of self-doubt. On a morning as beautiful as this I realised this is one of the huge benefits of having this time: instead of being in my office at 7am with the list of demands on my time growing ever larger, I was pounding the pavements at sunrise and thinking about my work that develops my interests. It’s a real privilege and probably SHOULD be hard…

The big C

18 Feb

Today I had one of those moments that (from trawling the internet) appears to have happened to many phd students: hating academia utterly and completely. It seems like most people go through it – wondering how they got to the point of deciding to start the phd, let alone reaching a point where they feel able to complete it.

I am well aware that my main problem is confidence. No matter what I’ve done, I’ve always thought I’d be found out as some kind of fraud and that I had made it where I was because of a lot of luck and other people equating enthusiasm with ability. Even when I passed additional qualifications or got letters and cards that should have given me faith in myself I wouldn’t ever believe what was said. I love writing, love my topic, and I really love where the research is going. BUT (of course there is a but!) I have started to hate academia already, particularly the feeling of inadequacy that follows me everywhere as soon as I step away from my desk and have to interact on any academic level with anyone and they’ll find me out.

And so, I hope this post becomes the realisation that I have found the battleground of my PhD: self-confidence. I don’t know how to change it, but I hope that recognising it is the first step to ensuring I don’t quit…

Now I know this is all self-pitying twoddle, but apparently it’s normal to feel like this… A more amusing stance on the issue is evident in this list of acronyms for PhD (taken from http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~taneja/phd.html):

Patiently hoping for a Degree
Piled higher and Deeper
Professorship? hah! Dream on!
Please hire. Desperate.
Pour him a Drink
Philosophically Disturbed
Probably headed for Divorce
Probably heavily in Debt
Patiently headed Downhill…
Permanent head Damage
Potential heavy Drinker
Professional hamburger Dispenser… “Would you like fries with that?”
Post hole Digger
Professional hair Dresser
Piano hauling Done
Pizza hut Driver
Pretty heavily Depressed
Prozac handouts Desired
Pretty heavy Diploma
Pretty horrible dissertation
…and the funniest of them all – Philosophiae doctor