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All posts for the month November, 2012

A Chronic Conference

Published November 28, 2012 by crazyinpink

At the weekend I presented a paper at a conference.  I’ve presented three times before in various universities but this was the first time I presented at home.  I was incredibly nervous.  Already, relationships with other PhD students in my department were…strained.  I didn’t want to live up to the stereotype people have of me as a blonde bimbo.  I wanted them to respect my research and maybe accept me as an equal.

I think (hope) I succeeded.

Mine was the first paper of the whole conference and as such, the room was packed.  There were over 20 people, which in academic terms is practically Wembley.  Best Friend and I were in the same panel and had practised together earlier that morning in our office.  I wore a pink dress which helped my confidence a little and was easily the brightest in the room, fashion-wise.  My hands were shaking but I made it through my 20 minute presentation and then sat anxiously awaiting the dreaded questions.  Presenting is fine, you can practise, you have a script, maybe a colourful powerpoint. But the questions….could be absolutely anything.  I got five, the first was one I was hoping to get as I knew I could expand on something I had briefly mentioned in the paper.  One was a little tough, not unanswerable, just a bit of a curveball.  But all in all, I think it went okay and I was more than relieved to go off and sit down once it was over.

The rest of the conference I was able to actually enjoy as I didn’t have any worries about my turn.  I got great feedback from other students and members of staff.  I survived the conference dinner with my toddler-like meal of plain chicken and mashed potato and had a great laugh with a girl who has decided to adopt me (even though she’s only four years older). Upon returning from the bathroom, she asked me if I had noticed what was for sale in the machine in there.  You could actually purchase a jewelled G-string in either black or pink.  She spent the rest o the next day calling me pink string.

Friday was fine and I woke up on Saturday raring to go.  I stocked up on coffee and fruit juice whenever there was a break but by lunchtime I was flailing.  My back was not amused at being forced to sit still in very uncomfortable chairs, my tummy was protesting against the small portion of pasta salad I had for lunch and my whole body was crying out with exhaustion.  I honestly don’t remember  much of the panel after lunch, during which I fidgeted and squirmed in pain. Popping pills and trying not to cry.  Best Friend told me to go home before the last panel but by this point, there were very few people left and I wanted to prove to myself and everyone that I could last.

It was just sheer stubbornness (and tramadol) that kept me going to the bitter end.  Best Friend and others commented on how they could actually see me physically weakening as the day went on.  I often think about whether I can really keep up with academics when I’m in such a sorry state and have such a heavy burden. Some days it is a struggle to get out of bed and get dressed, let alone drive into the office and study.  It is well known that I need advance warning about things to alter my time accordingly.  I booked myself off Sunday and Monday because I knew it would take me a while to recover. It’s now Wednesday and I’m just about feeling myself.  In a weird way, I’m proud of myself for getting through it and while I’m not exactly over the moon that everyone knows how ill I am just by watching me, maybe it’ll help them appreciate how much of an effort things are for me.  Life with a chronic condition can sometimes be like climbing up a mountain.  It’s not necessarily about making it to the summit, just picking a point and working to get yourself there, no matter how tough it is.  Once you’re there, you stop and make camp for a while before trying to make it to the next point.

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The Sitcom that is my life

Published November 22, 2012 by crazyinpink

You probably wouldn’t even believe me if I told you what I’d been up to in the last few weeks.  When I tell various friends and amigos they give me that “You’re making this up, right?” look.  But I ain’t.  My life and the lives of those around me have just been so crazy lately that I’m thinking of writing a sitcom based on our experiences.

Here are a few of the subplots of late:

The One with Losing the Big V

A friend of mine sleeps with her boyfriend for the first time.  In fact, her first ever time.  This friend, Bella, decided earlier this year that she needed a man in her life, despite having survived the past 27 years pretty well without one.  Enter the dizzying world of online dating and the various catastrophes associated. A brief relationship ensued only to end after a month because the guy turned out to be a cowardly lion.  Cue depression and endless questioning.  Bella has anxiety issues and last year had a breakdown.  After a grieving period, she threw herself back into online dating, texting numerous guys simultaneously and generally behaving quite erratically.  We watched nervously, waiting to swoop in and rescue as she became glued to her phone, having combustive text arguments with a guy she hadn’t even met. Then, suddenly, one came along who wanted to be her boyfriend.  Things were obviously moving fast as a week after they first met, Bella asked me for tips on oral sex (no idea why she came to me as I have never partaken). But it was still a surprise plot twist when, meeting for our regular weekly coffee, she announced that she had slept with him.  And was not handling it well. At all.

The One with the Bisexual Boyfriend

As if the Bella storyline wasn’t enough, another friend had drama of her own when she returned from a holiday to discover that her boyfriend had multiple dating profiles on gay sites, actively looking for hook-ups.  Ellie had met her boyfriend through the choir that we both sing in.  He made it obvious one night at a concert that he was interested and relentlessly pursued her through facebook til she agreed to have coffee.  Soon enough they were facebook official.  Ellie wasn’t completely head over heels but figured that she would give him a chance.  He, on the other hand, was overly keen, lavishing presents for their one month anniversary and talking about hotels for wedding receptions. Ellie went away on holiday and decided that she just didn’t feel that way about him.  Before she could actually meet him to break up, a gay friend of hers admitted that he had found her boyfriend on a dating site. Not believing it, she looked for herself and found at least five different sites belonging to him with various degrees of detail and pictures of an inappropriate nature. Completely shocked, she turned to me.  I then had two women reeling from their love lives.

The One with the Office Politics

Sharing an office with your best friend might sound like a dream but in reality, it is anything but.  Settling in to life as a PhD student is tricky and it is only made more difficult when you share an office with someone as bewildering as my Best Friend. It has only been a month but we’ve already had our fair share of ups and downs.

Scene One: I get told off by Best Friend for not attending research seminars often enough and then get a second lecture by grumpy PhD guy who doesn’t like me.  I leave for the research seminar half an hour early although it is literally across the road.  BF questions this and I tell him that I need to get a seat in the back so I can fidget. “Don’t fidget then” I have to, those seats are so uncomfortable and hurt my back. “But your back seems fine now” Yes, but sitting in those chairs for an hour and a half will make it sore. “You’re so over-dramatic.  I think you just decide when to be sore so you can get out of things.” *exit scene before I punch him, followed by hour and a half seminar during which I say all of zero words to him*

Scene Two: I enter the office Monday morning after a meeting. I see BF has already been and left his stuff in. On my desk lies a paper bag with a post-it on top. It’s from BF. Inside the bag are two yummy buns from the bakery, something nice for me because I am always doing nice things for him. BF returns about an hour or so later, by which point I am sitting on the floor as it is more comfortable than my chair.  He chats away merrily, occasionally dropping on the floor himself to tell me things. After a while I get up and stretch, hands on my back.  BF is watching me and asks why I stand like that sometimes. When I explain that I stand like that (the way pregnant women stand supporting themselves) because it helps, he scoots over in his chair and starts rubbing my back.  He says that he has seen men on tv do this when their pregnant wives are in pain and asks does it help. I cannot even register if it does help as I can only think bout the fact that his hands are on my lower back, my very low back, dangerously close to my posterior. The rest of the day is filled with touchy-feely gestures, hand holding and hugs from him as I remain utterly bemused and start wondering if he’s done a Dr Jekyll-type experiment.

 

I could go on but I really need to practise my paper for the conference tomorrow. Oh yes, I still have to function as a normal PhD student in the midst of my drama-filled life.

No new storylines are allowed to happen until after this weekend.

A digital fairytale?

Published November 20, 2012 by crazyinpink

Once upon a time, there lived an relatively ordinary girl.  Her name was Melody and, although not blessed with the technology gene, she did have a soft spot for the world of Twitter.  She joined the twittersphere long before other people she knew in real life and became quite addicted to tweeting amusing comments, sharing her opinions on her favourite TV shows and posting pictures of new additions to her shoe collection.

One day, while watching a particular favourite crime show, Melody tweeted and retweeted lines from the show.  It amused her to feel like she was watching with a whole room full of people and their opinions rather than on her own, in her pyjamas.

One tweet was particularly funny and after retweeting it, Melody curiously looked through the rest of the user’s tweets and deeming them equally amusing, followed him.  Barely a minute had passed when the tweeter struck up a conversation with her, first about the show they were both watching but then turning into a general chat. Melody was flattered by the interest and attention and kept the conversation going until she went to bed.  Earlier that day, she had bumped into her crush and the experience had left her certainly feeling crushed herself.

The next morning, the mysterious tweeter of the night before began chatting once more.  He was called Edward and was the same age as Melody with similar interests and tastes.  She enjoyed talking to him and smiled when she heard the familiar ping of a new message. It wasn’t long until they switched to private messages, getting to know each other and asking questions.  Edward seemed so charming and sweet, saying that he was pleased Melody had retweeted him because he enjoyed talking to her.  He asked if they could be facebook friends and Melody agreed.  She was intrigued and wanted to know more about him.

Soon enough, Edward asked for her number.  It had been quite a while since a guy had asked for her number, Melody thought.  He began texting her every day, being equally cute, dorky and ridiculous in his messages.  She found herself confiding in him and being much more confident by text than she was in real life.

After a month of texting, Edward and Melody knew each other pretty well and decided that it was time for them to talk on the phone.  Both being quite shy, the conversation was hesitant at first but they quickly began talking like old friends.  Both of them were on facebook at the same time and, in the middle of telling Edward a story, Melody heard her laptop pop. Looking at her screen, she read a message from him saying how much he loved her voice.  She couldn’t help but grin at the cheesiness of it.  The phone call lasted an hour before they said goodbye.  It wasn’t really goodbye as Edward continued to send Melody facebook messages confessing how he felt about her.

Melody could hardly believe her eyes as Edward admitted that he was falling for her and wanted her to be his girlfriend.

Her tummy felt full of helium and also, kind of like she was on a rollercoaster.  She stared at the screen not knowing what to do.

She was torn for a number of reasons.  On one hand, she really liked Edward, loved talking to him every day and he was totally her type.  Had they met in real life, she was nearly sure she would have agreed to date him.  On the other hand, she didn’t want to be another story about being duped by someone on the internet.  She had to be smart and realise that until she met him, her feelings weren’t real.  She was falling for the idea of him and not the reality.  Equally, she knew that he was falling for the her that she wanted him to see.  There were things that they disagreed on, fundamental parts of life like what they believed.  Were those differences too great to be ignored because of some charming words and a cute personality?  These thoughts rushed through her head as she blinked, confuddled, at facebook.

Edward, as he did when saying something risky, tried to brush it off as a joke, something silly.  But Melody knew how he really felt.  She also knew how she felt in return.  In spite of everything, she knew she was crazy about him. There was just one problem…he lived in a different country.

The first month of my PhD

Published November 5, 2012 by crazyinpink

I have been a fully fledged PhD student for exactly a month and a day.  When people ask me what I do and I tell them I’m doing a PhD, their response is usually:

“But what do you actually do?”

I read. I read constantly. I make lists of things to read. I panic that I haven’t read enough. I read and make notes on what I read. I incur library fines for not reading fast enough.

The thing with life as a PhD student is that no one else is doing what you are doing.  Sure you have colleagues who are also doing PhDs but on very different topics than yours.  I am in the rather odd position of doing a PhD on something I don’t actually know that much about yet.  So I really am starting from scratch. I’m trying to get my head around background stuff, just simply learning the main ideas that are already out there before I can even think about starting my own research.

I thought I’d use this wee blog of mine to provide updates on life as a PhD student.  Of course, my experience is personal, PhDs are very different in the UK as opposed to the USA and specific to the field of history.  I also have the lovely honour of being a chronically awesome PhD student fighting an invisible illness.

So if anyone out there wonders what it is like to do a History PhD in the UK while living with a chronic illness…you are welcome here.

So, after one month I can exclusively reveal my top ten PhD revelations:

1) You spend a hell of a lot of time reading

2) You must pretend to be interested in other people’s topics when you don’t have a clue what they’re talking about

3) You will need to alternate hot beverages because if you drink coffee exclusively you will never sleep

4) You will have ridiculous arguments with the people you share an office with over whether it is acceptable to use a teaspoon as a doorstop (it’s not)

5) Don’t be embarrassed when you see your supervisor in the cafe, they are also procrastinating.

6) Reply to important emails asap because you will forget about them

7) Forget about your MA results. No one cares any more.

8) Always keep a book in your bag in case you have time to kill.  Then you can tick it off your ‘to read’ list.

9) If you must be involved in a committee with other PhD students, do not let them walk all over you just because you’ve only started

10) Presenting a paper at a conference in your second month is a lot more work than you originally thought.

 

Now…back to the dauntingly large pile of reading and oh yeah, writing that conference paper…