history

All posts tagged history

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.

Getting cocky

Published March 21, 2013 by crazyinpink

After my last post about wearing jeans, I got a little bit too cocky with my rediscovered denim abilities.

I spent Saturday morning at a dorky history thing (which was actually pretty interesting) and topped and tailed it with a bit of retail therapy and lunch with a friend.  I wore jeans all day.

By the time I got home, in the snow I might add, I was feeling the pressure. I immediately had to change into pyjama bottoms as soon as I got into the house. I then spent about an hour curled up on the sofa watching some Barbra Streisand movie about two professors who get married for companionship, then she falls for him but he isn’t attracted to her.  I have no idea what the movie was called or how it ended cause I had to force myself upstairs to make a fancy dress costume.

My friend had a Middle Earth themed birthday party. As someone who has never read or even watched the Hobbit or any Lord of the Rings, I was pretty clueless. I decided to go with Legolas so I googled a picture, borrowed a bow and arrow from a friend and tried to recreate Orlando Bloom.  It didn’t actually go too badly, I put in more effort than some people.  It was definitely fun traipsing down to my friend’s house in the snow holding a bow and arrow!

Having just walked with nothing but my phone and keys (and bow and arrow) I didn’t have my pills on me and thought I could do without them.  It had slipped my mind that I’d thought the exact same thing the night before.

On Sunday morning, my body was not amused. The jeans and the no drugs brought back pain I hadn’t felt in weeks. I spend Sunday and Monday in bed, unable to do much.

I’ve learnt my lesson and have been diligently taking all my drugs at the right time. I haven’t gone back into jeans, I’ll leave them for shorter outings and not try to wear them all day for a while. I don’t want to jeopardise recovery by being stupid and getting cocky…

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…

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.

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.