History

All posts in the History category

OCD PhD

Published June 9, 2013 by crazyinpink

Haven’t been able to post as much as I’d like recently. With only a few months until my differentiation, my supervisor wants a draft version of my first chapter by the end of June. And even though I knew this and knew the amount of work I had to do to get this done, I still went ahead and booked a trip to England.

I found out that there was a Sherlock Holmes conference in London and the obsessive side of my personality knew I couldn’t miss this opportunity.

A two-day geekfest all about my favourite fictional hero? Sign me up!untitled (18)

 

An outpouring of excitement on facebook followed this discovery and a friend offered to accompany me on the condition that we went to see Les Mis in the West End while we were there.

 

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A week or so later we ironed out all the details, squealed our combined excitement down the phone and booked our flights, hotel and tickets.  Looks like I’m heading back to London baby!!

Since I’ll be in England anyway, I figured I’d make another little trip to Bristol to see Bristol Boy.  Taking my impromptu trip up to a total of six days.

Losing those six days meant I had to get super-organised to get my work done in time.  I love doing my PhD but I also love having a life.  The relief I got out of my operation means I have a much better quality of life now and I am determined not to waste it.   So I applied the same obsessive tendencies I use to pursue my hobbies (currently trying to finish reading all the Sherlock Holmes stories before I go away) to my research.  I made exhaustive lists of all the materials I need to read and broke them down by archive.  I ranked them in order of most to least important and compared them to my long list of secondary literature to read.   I made a timetable of each day between now and my trip.  I figured that if I get all the research done before I leave, then when I get home I can spend a couple of days writing it all up and hopefully get it off to my supervisor by the 30th.

But all work and no play makes life completely dull so my schedule has also allowed some time for recreation.  I’m going out with friends, seeing shows, going on day trips, catching up on the fun I missed out on all those years I was stuck on the sofa clutching a hot water bottle.  I still get tired and still have trouble with my tummy on occasion but I pace myself and save my spoons for when I know I’ll need them.

Being so obsessive does have its perks at times. 🙂

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What are your specialist subjects?

Published May 14, 2013 by crazyinpink

Six friends, one charity pub quiz, many discoveries of specialist subjects.

In the UK, there’s a tv show called Mastermind (I don’t know if they have it in other countries but it def started here).  Each contestant has to sit in the Big Black Chair of Knowledge (it is actually just a normal chair, I’ve made it sound more dramatic than it actually is) and answer questions in two rounds; General Knowledge and their chosen Specialist Subject.  They can pick literally ANYTHING in the WHOLE, ENTIRE WORLD OF THINGS to answer questions on.

I’ve often wondered, in that way you do when you’re trying to avoid doing anything remotely useful, what my specialist subject would be.  What would give me the competitive edge in a test of the mind.  Aside from minor historical episodes I’ve researched for dissertations and therefore know inside-out, back-to-front and from every possible angle, there are only a few things I think I know well enough to choose for my specialist subject.  These things mainly revolve around the many obsessions I have: Elvis songs, Disney movies, Benedict Cumberbatch, the tv show QI or Miss Marple.

At the pub quiz on Saturday night our team of six graduates with various careers and interests represented a lot of specialist subjects.  A primary school teacher knew about some French scientist and his experiments with gravity or something.  A geography graduate with a ridiculous penchant for pop music knew about the Italian version of the tour de France.  A fellow history geek who studies witches knew about the beginning of genetics.  And what, I hear you ask, did I bring to the team?

Well, in true crazyinpink style, my personal strengths lay in Disney-related trivia.

Except for one or two questions about local history I also knew. (It would have been extremely embarrassing if I didn’t since I’m studying the history of the city we were actually in.) But here are the ways in which my Disney-saturated mind came into its own.

1. Recognising a black and white photo of Walt Disney in the picture round.

2. Being able to recall the name of an obscure Greek god by replaying scenes from the Disney movie Hercules in my head.

3.  In a name that year question, the quizmaster showed a range of things that happened in one particular year. Some famous people died, somebody else won the Nobel prize. Nothing rang any bells. Until… Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End was released this year.  I instantly whispered ‘2007’ to our designated scribe.  Greeted by blank looks, I proceeded to explain exactly when every Pirates of the Caribbean movie was released.

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So, I think I’ve inadvertently discovered my specialist subject.  What would yours be?

 

Conference adventures

Published May 9, 2013 by crazyinpink

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.

Back to the Books

Published March 12, 2013 by crazyinpink

I’ve strayed somewhat from my true purpose in life lately.  I now feel awkward when people ask me what I do and I tell them about my PhD, a PhD I’ve barely thought about in recent weeks.  True, I did take a month off for my surgery. When I came back, I had the emotional rollercoaster that was organising a national conference. Like a bottle of fizzy lemonade, that weekend was the final shake to produce the explosion of carbonated thoughts and feelings that had been building in my head for way too long.

But now *sigh* I really have to get back to work, back to what I’m being paid to do.  As much as I enjoy mooning around and over-analysing the tangled mess that is my love life/complicated friendship (sarcasm), I really need to get back to the books.

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So, I had my supervisory meeting to discuss my plans for the next few months. The major thing on the horizon is differentiation.  Differentiation is the process you have to go through after your first stage as a PhD student.  Technically, you can’t be a proper PhD student until you are ‘differentiated’. It usually takes place about 9 months into your research and involves an oral presentation as well as the first written chapter of your thesis.  You send your chapter to your supervisor who circulates it around your chosen examination panel, they all read it and a week or two later you meet with them. You give a presentation on your research, what you’ve done, what you plan to do and outline what you think your finished thesis will look like. They then grill you on everything from methodology to historiography and everything in between. Then they go through the chapter you’ve written and judge whether or not you’re actually good enough to complete the PhD.

It is kind of a big deal. Having coached Best Friend through his last year, I know quite a lot about just how stressful it can be.  If you don’t pass, you do get a second chance to go through it again or you can decide that the PhD just isn’t for you.  That’s not really an option for me. I really want this PhD and while I’m not entirely sure I could cut it in the grown-up world of academia proper, I want to give it my best shot.

Because of my rather turbulent first months, my differentiation won’t be until end of August/beginning of September. Which is a good clear goal for me to work towards. In the meantime, while finishing off a literature review and starting on the research for my first chapter, I’m also engaging in some public history with my project team and, for some ridiculous reason, have decided to submit a paper to a conference in Scotland in May. I must actually be crazy to voluntarily do these things to myself.

But, hey, less time to brood on things…

Conference Craziness

Published March 4, 2013 by crazyinpink

Regular readers will know that I’ve had a lot of stress planning a conference lately.  The conference is now over (Hallelujah) and now, in the post-apocalyptic world left behind, I’d like to tell you about it.

A lot has happened, particularly between Best Friend and me, so I think I’ll spread it out a bit. This post will cover the conference and my next will tell the story of me and BF…

Months of planning and organising culminated in possibly the most stressful weekend of my life.  Friday kicked things off with a welcome wine reception. We had around 80 delegates, most doing a fair bit of travelling to get here. I had mentioned to BF that I would quite like to do the opening speech. It sounds selfish and awful but, of the two of us, I am the better public speaker and I thought I’d probably be the better choice to welcome since I am the friendly, outgoing one.

Everything went well, aside from the fact that BF kept going awol and disappearing for forty minutes. There was a minor issue with security that I had to sort out and generally keep things moving and make sure everything was going well. The speech was only about two minutes to kick everything off. After the special guests had made their speeches, I invited everyone to continue to drink up the wine and eat the cheese and felt free to go chat to my friend Caroline.

BF pulled me aside and criticised my speech for not mentioning everyone on the committee. The only names I had mentioned were mine and BF’s as we had been sending all the emails and were meant to be the two organisers so everyone had already heard our names. After I walked away from him with a feeling that I would never be able to win, he dragged me outside to chat. I refused to apologise and he in turn saw how stressed I was and gave me a quick cuddle until someone appeared in the stairway.

Saturday was the main event – a full day of papers with coffee breaks, lunch, a workshop and then the conference dinner. I had made up a comprehensive rota of everything that needed to be done and had handed it out at our last committee meeting. Everyone left them sitting on the table and ignored my careful plans. I had a clipboard (decorated with pink flower stickers) with all the signs and info needed throughout the day. I left it down for two minutes and the committee witch had stolen it. I got it back and left her with the registration lists…boy, was that a mistake.

Everything went smoothly until after lunch. Everything that needed done had been done, mostly by me while the others sat around looking important. I made time to pop into papers relevant to my research and had my own phone as well as BF’s for emergency calls. At lunch, I was looking forward to a break and a wee chat with Caroline but, on venturing to my handbag for pills, discovered the registration desk was unmanned with our float left sitting open, so ended up minding it. After lunch, I went to a panel only to be called out by BF. Committee Witch had decided that my numbers for the conference dinner were incorrect.  I had only been working on the registration lists and payments for weeks, she’d first seen a version of them that morning, so obviously she knew more than me about it all. Convinced we needed to order more dinners, they started going through why I was wrong and they were right. No matter what I tried to say, they did not want to hear it. I took the lists and shut myself in a room with a computer to work at the spreadsheets. After going through everything twice, I arrived at the exact number I had given them earlier. I tried to calmly explain it to them but, once more, they refused to accept my word for it and needed BF to confirm. He knew absolutely nothing about them but came and stood beside me while I restated my case yet again. After listening to me, they decided they were right anyway. Satisfied that a decision had been reached, BF disappeared once more. I went to the toilets and cried. Caroline was in a panel listening to papers, I couldn’t go in and listen myself while so emotional nor could I loiter in the foyer with the rest of the committee.

A friend happened to text to see how it was going and I spilled it all to her. Within twenty minutes, she had arrived at the university to give me a hug and hold my hand. We waited til Caroline got out and I did my last round of room checks, putting up signs, etc and we escaped. I had said from the beginning that I wouldn’t be around all day and I would need a break in the afternoon. Of course, no one had listened. BF was texting to find out where I was… I was in a cafe with my two friends and a lovely girl we had picked up at the wine reception. Asking for the largest hot chocolate they had with whatever crap they offered with a hot chocolate. the waiter asked if I’d had a bad day. When I said yes, he returned with the most massive hot chocolate known to mankind with double flakes, marshmallows and a mountain of whipped cream.  It was pretty awesome.

I felt oodles better after that. Went along to the AGM to support BF and then had a little rest in the office with BF and Caroline before heading out for the dinner.  Right from the moment we entered the room the dinner was in, I felt close to tears.  I don’t know why, I was just incredibly emotional.  I sat with Caroline, the rest of the committee sat at a table on the other side of the room.  I waited for BF to invite me over but he never did.  He did the thank you speech.  He did really well but by the end, the tears had spilled. In his list of thanks, he kept the committee to the end and me to the very last. He thanked me for doing a little bit of everything and writing everything down in my notebook to keep him right.

I know that he meant well and what he said was true but it didn’t do justice to all the time and energy I had spent on everything.  Everything caught up on me, the exhaustion, the pain, the hormones, my feelings, everything.

The conference is over now and it all went smoothly.  There were no major crises and we were commended by everyone for our organising.  But now, afterwards, I feel like something has changed.  I feel like things might never go back to the way they were.

Back into the swing of things

Published February 14, 2013 by crazyinpink

It’s now time to re-enter the world after my post-surgery ‘hibernation’ of the last month.

I have a lot coming up over the next few weeks and, while I should have been back at university last week, the extra week at home has really convinced me that I am recovered. With any previous operations, and particularly the one last July, I was so anxious not to miss anything that I hurried my recovery.  When will I learn that my body likes a slower pace?! So, this time, I did it properly. I had my daily salt baths, I didn’t leave the house for a full two weeks, and after that, I paced my recovery. I went to church for an hour. I visited GB for half an hour. I’ve been slowly building myself back up and I feel better than ever now.

At the weekend, I did my first outing without my mum, who has been my constant nurse, companion and chauffeur. My Toyboy drove me to the cinema to see Les Mis. I was so disappointed I couldn’t go see it the minute it came out since I’m such a musicals nerd. But Yay! I got to see it and it was amazing!! I may have fallen a little bit in love with Mr Revolutionary. Something which Toyboy, who was watching it for the second time, had predicted would happen.  But seriously, how could you not swoon with this face and that determined stare?

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Anyway *recovers from swooning* I was all set to go back to the office on Monday when my car wouldn’t start. My car is literally running on wishful thinking, it’s so old and, like a grumpy old man, only does things with a lot of moaning and groaning. This time, I had to get a new battery, which took a few days. Thankfully, I have more than enough work to keep me occupied at home but I am looking forward to getting back to the big world.  And just in time too. There is much happening over the next few weeks.

This weekend is marked out for conference organising.  It seems like only yesterday I was complaining about the committee and all the politics and now, its only two weeks away. Our call for papers closes tomorrow so the weekend will be spent choosing the papers, organising panels, assigning chairs. Basically it will involve a lot of lists and hopefully, some arts and crafts. 😀

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Next week, I have a meeting of the Pain Alliance of Northern Ireland. As I’m the unofficial poster girl for chronic pain, I’m being trotted out to speak to politicians, etc. There’s free food though. Then academic obligations kick in. My research project is hosting a one-day workshop on poverty (exciting, huh?) next Friday. We’re taking the visiting speakers out for dinner on the Thursday night. Which also happens to be my birthday so I’m spending it with a bunch of historians. What a fun way to celebrate my 24th!

Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to meet up with some of my girlfriends for a wee cinema trip over that weekend and see my family. Because the next week is going to be full-on panic mode in the countdown to the conference. Which is another weekend gone. I’ll be so glad when it’s all over and, fingers crossed, all has gone as it should.

Next up in my diary, an interview for an online broadcast on endometriosis. Part of a series on chronic pain but an episode will be focussing on endo specifically and, handily, it’s being recorded during Awareness Week!

That weekend features bag packing in a local supermarket with my GB girls to fundraise and then a church concert.

I am so glad I’ve booked a little holiday to England at the end of March…I think I’ll be needing a break by then!!

untitled (3)LONDON BABY!!!

I have confidence in confidence alone…

Published February 4, 2013 by crazyinpink

 

Once upon a time, I was convinced that it was my calling in life to teach.  This started in school, after the time I was convinced that I would be a journalist.  I loved writing and reading and had a very inspirational GCSE English teacher.  When I progressed to A Level, I had a younger, trendier teacher who was a waste of space.  She was by far more interested in her love life than in imparting wisdom. Our lessons were hugely dictated by what was happening to her personally. One week we’d be studying love poetry, analysing the relationships in Wuthering Heights and the next, after a break-up, we’d be looking at poems about death and questioning the notion of love in King Lear. Regardless, I still maintained my dream of being an English teacher.

I went to uni to study English and History as I thought the two subjects would offer twice the experience and I’d always had a soft spot for history. My A level results were slightly disappointing as English was my worst, earning a B. Still, I ploughed on with my ‘five year plan’ to finish a degree, do a PCGE (teacher training) and start working as a substitute teacher until I could get a job. This continued for two years of my degree until, after a semester of living hell in my Creative Writing class, I began to see sense. English in first year had been horrible, reading a book a week (usually a very boring one) and expected to understand complex -isms which had never been fully explained. I did well, gaining marks worthy of a 2:1. On the other hand, my first year of History was a revelation. I got to choose what topics I wanted to study from a range of first year courses. First semester had been fascinating but the second had awakened the historian in me. My performance in that class won me a prize at the end of my first year and a glowing reputation among the staff.

I started my second year with optimism, knowing that I could now choose what English modules I wanted. I went with one on language and power, one on medieval literature and creative writing. While my marks remained the same, my heart wasn’t in it. I rarely did all of the preparation required and would only read the things I knew I was going to write an essay on. I made more of an effort in creative writing but it quickly became clear that my tutor only appreciated sinister fiction that involved mutilation and, preferably, the death of several children. She told me that the only way I could be a writer was if I went into ‘chick lit’, in a very condescending tone. That semester also featured my collapse and subsequent adjustment to life with chronic pain, something which was extremely challenging. I think it was this that made me stop and take stock of what I was doing.

I realised that I attended my English classes out of duty more than anything else. The passion had long gone and only mild, wavering interest remained. Whereas in History, I was steadily becoming something of a teacher’s pet. I worked hard because every new thing I learnt seemed wonderful and inspiring. I looked forward to my classes and was eager to answer questions or engage in debate. My reputation was soon heightened and I realised that I really wanted to be as good as people believed me to be. Consequently, my average marks in English were eclipsed by those in History. I had to leave my old dream behind me, there was no point continuing in something which I no longer held in any esteem.

Making the decision to switch my degree to single History was difficult. It meant staying an extra semester at uni to complete the requirements but it was something I knew I had to do. The following year was confusing to everyone as I simultaneously attended second and third year classes. My new second year classmates, a year younger, had no idea who I was or where I had come from.  I later discovered that they assumed I had failed a year and had to re-take it. It didn’t matter much to me, I had few real friends in History. Most of my buddies I had met at uni studied other subjects and we’d bonded over the most bizarre coincidences.

For example, I met one friend Bella at a music society Halloween film screening of The Omen. I hate scary movies and had only gone because I fancied the conductor of the university choir at the time and he’d invited me. I went as a pirate wench and, not being a music student, knew nobody so started a random conversation with another pirate wench who seemed similarly lonely. She turned out to be studying for a Masters in English. Over five years later, we’re still very good friends. 

Anyway, I completed my odd year of being in two year groups and then progressed to my dissertation. Because I had mixed things up, I did mine in Autumn while everyone else did theirs in Spring. Finishing my degree in January meant I had the opportunity to work full time for six months before graduating with a scholarship for a Masters, something I definitely wouldn’t have earned had I stuck with English.

I sometimes think about what would have happened had I not changed my degree. A friend of mine is currently studying for her teaching qualification, not out of any real passion herself, more to appease her parents. The pace and intensity of the course seems like it would never have been compatible with my health. I consider myself very fortunate to have realised in time and chosen a different route.  I’m very glad I had the confidence to change things since now, looking back, it was definitely the right choice.