As a PhD student, the weeks blend into each other. I sink lower and lower behind piles of books I need to read and lists of sources I need to find grow longer. It is a strange thing, a PhD. You lose any concept of time passing. You only figure out it’s no longer term time when you venture into the library and there is a conspicuous absence of undergrads. There are no weekly duties like lectures, there are no monthly goals like essays, there is little face-to-face time with your supervisor or, indeed, any other human being if you’re not careful.
I don’t cope well without something to work towards. I know I have differentiation at the end of the summer but that’s months away.
So I set myself short-term goals. Within one month I wrote a 7000 word lit review, created a poster about my research and presented it with a little talk and wrote a paper for a conference. In hindsight, that was probably too much in such a short period of time.
Presenting my PhD research for the first time at a conference was scary. With all the setbacks, taking a month off for my op, organising my own conference, I felt I needed a push to get something down on paper. It forced me to do some research and think about it properly so it made sense. My title for the paper was the vaguest one I could think of so I could do anything with the paper within that vague area. The conference programme showed that mine was definitely the vaguest title. *proud*
I wrote the paper based on what I know so far. That’s not much, it must be said. I haven’t done that much archival research yet. But I was kind of pleased that at least I understand what I’ve done so far. I found it relatively pain-free to write the paper, though it ended up veering into the realm of intellectual history which I’ve never ventured into before. Intellectual history is concerned with ideas, how they filter through society and what motivates and cultivates these ideas into action. When I sent it to Best Friend to read over, he pointed out the intellectual history nature of it. I nervously asked if he thought it was okay. I didn’t want to embarrass myself talking about these big ideas if I couldn’t fully express them properly.
Paper written, we set off for the conference. Of course, both Best Friend and I were presenting at the conference since we can’t seem to do anything independently these days. We arrived a day early to do some sight-seeing. Early morning flights are not my friends and I was flailing by mid-afternoon even with all the random touristy things we were doing. On that day we visited a monument (up a stupidly steep hill), a graveyard, a castle (at the top of another hill), a cathedral and an art gallery. Not too shabby. Then we checked into our hotel and I had a nap while Best Friend practised his paper for the next day. We met up with another student from our uni for dinner and eventually, finally got to go to sleep.
The conference itself was grand. Only a nine to five affair, all postgrads so a sympathetic audience and only about thirty or so people. My paper went well and I got some really interesting questions that I was able to provide at least some kind of answers to.
My bladder, which is causing me problems at the mo, started to protest by the end of the afternoon and I ended up sitting awkwardly trying hard not to make it look like I was in pain from out-of-control bladder spasms. A lovely middle-aged man was talking to Best Friend beside me. He noticed my yellow ribbon I had pinned to my dress and asked me what it was for. I told him it was for endometriosis and then, seeing the blank look on his face, explained that it was an incurable medical condition which caused chronic pain. He asked if I knew someone who suffered from it and I said that I did. Best Friend was throwing me telepathic messages of ‘Please do not start talking about your ovaries.’ I was too uncomfortable to really keep the conversation going but at least he has heard of it now.
We wandered around the city, popping into the library (of course) and then back for dinner again. It was an intensely academic trip, even our dinners were spent with the two boys talking about history or theory (or football) and me absent-mindedly checking my phone or sipping juice, thinking longingly of sleep. But it was nice to have a little break from the routine for a few days.
Best Friend was on his best behaviour too. I was slightly anxious about us going away together again, especially since we couldn’t afford separate rooms. (Or, really, I couldn’t afford) But I needn’t have worried. He was a perfect gentleman and seemed to be looking out for me when he could tell I was getting sore or tired. He kept mentioning Bristol Boy as he isn’t entirely sure about what’s going on there. Neither am I really but Best Friend has a very basic understanding of relationships and in his head, I’m taken now so there are much clearer boundaries in our friendship than there were before. All in all, the trip went well, even though it did involve incredibly early mornings and a lot of walking.
But now…back to the books.