Too warm, gone trashing.

I’ve finally managed to manhandle other tasks from my inbox so I can dedicate full, uninterrupted days to the time I need to spend with the actual poems I want to critique in my second chapter. That will have to wait until tomorrow since today it was far, far too hot in my room to study – even with a standing fan blowing in my face.

Today I got out of my little oven for a few hours and engaged in a ‘trashing’ – a slightly bizarre post-exam event wherein friends of finalists throw confetti and give balloons and flowers as they leave the exam schools. This is made all the more ‘Oxford’ since the finalists are in gowns and sub fusc (white tie), and there is visible security checking bags for non-regulation substances (ie. flour and eggs).

Amazon Kindle for Academia

I’ve mentioned before that I was given a Kindle for my birthday a few weeks back. In fact, the Kindle has become quite the talking point since everyone who knows about it keeps asking me how I find it. Yes, for all our all touch screen mobile phones and ultra powerful laptops, we are utterly bewildered, disgusted and beguiled by the idea of an electronic book…

I’m the first to admit that the Kindle is something I’d never have bought myself since I love a good paperback and second hand bookshops are something of an addiction. However, since it has landed on Planet Alex, I’m giving it a fair go and so far I’m fairly impressed. I’ve compiled a list of pros and cons based on my usage for personal reading and academic work.

Pros

People say they can’t get over not reading from an actual book. You do. Once you are absorbed in the text you seriously won’t notice the lack of pages or the fact you are reading off a screen.

When I’m on the Oxford Tube up and down to London, having a choice of reading matter all bundled up into one small package is great. I used to pack a novel and a slim poetry collection or two to dip into – now I just pack one item.

Loading the content is very easy and the charge lasts much longer than a mobile phone, or even my iPod Touch (which does boast ebook reading apps). It’ll be good for around 1 month away from the power socket.

Most books out of copyright can be sourced online for free and read on the Kindle. If this had been available during my undergraduate course I would have saved a lot of money and probably also read around the course more.

Books that are in copyright are generally a few pounds cheaper than a new copy. I paid only £2.99 for Emma Donoghue’s Room.

When I move house in August I may have fractionally less paperbacks I have been trying to resell for months to lug across the city.

You can add notes and footnotes in the text, and transfer them to your computer. This is a bit clunky as a method of note-taking, but it does work.

Cons

Secondhand would still work out cheaper on lots of texts.

I’m slightly uncomfortable letting Amazon control all of my book consumption since they can screw small publishers. However, when I really thought about it, I do buy most of my books there anyway.

Not all publishers are producing ebook versions. For example, of my core texts for my DPhil, one publisher (Cape) has all the books available to download. Picador has only most recent in ebook format, and Carcanet don’t list any of their titles in that format.

In fact, most of the books available currently are the commercial titles – the biographies and blockbusters. Not much hope of catching literary theory up there in the bestsellers list.

A major bugbear for me – the device has the ability to give page numbers but not all of the ebooks being sold have the page numbers included. If I wanted to reference something for an essay or article things could get difficult. For this reason, I’ll primarily be using the Kindle for recreational reading and not research.

So, if you are prepared to still buy books new when the publisher doesn’t do ebooks, to go for secondhand when the price is better, and can trade off convenience for some titles against the ability to reference properly, then a Kindle could work for you too.

I don’t think this is the death of the book as we know it – heaven forbid –  it is just another option. To become a really viable option for academic users though, they need to iron out the permissions, referencing and get the less commercial publishers and books on board. With time, if these issues were sorted, we could have a fantastic research tool. I could see it working particularly well, for example, with something like this fantastic hypertext of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.

Transfer of status: the result

Word has finally arrived back from my transfer of status viva, sorry interview. Despite my worries for the last few weeks I have passed which means I won’t have to resubmit my materials and I can happily continue with my research and i can officially call myself a DPhil candidate, rather than a Probationary Research Student (but no one calls themselves that anyway…).

This is obviously good news and I’m really relieved that my research is on track. The notification I received by email didn’t include the assessors report – I’m waiting on that coming by post – and I’ll be interested to see more detailed feedback.

In the spirit of The Plath Diaries, I’ve decided to be quite honest about my experience since the purpose of this blog is to reflect the ups and downs of the thesis journey. To that end, I’ll be honest and say that I am a little surprised that I’ve passed since I didn’t feel the interview went as well as it could have done. I was confident that the materials I handed in were of a fairly good standard – and after I’d handed them in I picked them apart so I could preempt any reservations and defend them. However, in the interview I felt a little at sea.

Part of this may have been down to nerves, although I’m not a nervous person in any other arena. The date was a difficult one for me since it was the anniversary of a recent family death, and while I didn’t think that would effect me it definitely did on the day. Aside from these things, some of the assessors’s questions were long and involved – so by the time it came to respond I felt a little confused at to what exactly they wanted me to get down to. I didn’t feel at any point that the wheels were truly coming off, but I also didn’t feel I was breezing through. Worst of all, I didn’t much feel like I’d impressed or done my research justice.

If I had the chance to do it again, I would have batted back the questions that weren’t totally clear and asked for more clarification, instead of attempting to answer and not delivering exactly. This is hopefully a valuable skill for the confirmation of status assessment, and ultimately the final viva.

I obviously didn’t do as badly as I thought too – so perhaps this is also a message about mental attitude too, which is incredibly important when doing solitary research.

Onwards and upwards.

Brighton

My birthday celebrations are well and truly over, with a bump back to reality and a manic inbox this morning. On another birthday related note, though, today is the first birthday of More Books, Please. Look how big she is growing!

On Friday, in between eating cake and opening presents, I was at the English graduate conference to give my paper on female absence in Northern Irish poetry pre-1995. There were many other papers too. I particularly enjoyed Stuck In A Book blogger Simon on middlebrow, and papers on JD Salinger and Long Meg. Thanks to Sophie and the rest of the conference committee for a great day and an excellent lunch!

One of my gifts was an Amazon Kindle, which I’m reserving judgement on until I’ve used it a bit more. So far I’m finding the electronic ink effect to be very convincing. I’ve downloaded Emma Donoghue’s Room and Wena Poon’s Alex Y Robert to test it.

I spent a relaxing long weekend in Brighton and managed to combine a little bit of culture with a restrained amount of amusement arcades. I got to see the only AIDS memorial in the UK (see below) and I had way too much to eat. I’m feeling refreshed and ready to tackle some more of this thesis business!

'Tay' - AIDS memorial

Looking for France

‘an end-of-the-line sense of freedom’

I’m in the middle of one of my busiest weeks for a while.

I was in Hull yesterday for a meeting with the PG CWWN steering group. We had a tour of the venue for our September conference, and sifted the abstracts into panels over lunch. We also had a gossip and a catch up, as ever.

Larkin quote in Hull station

Larkin quote in Hull station

I had a supervision this morning – my first of this term – and we discussed various aspects of both the work I’ve done and the work I’m planning on doing. I’m losing my voice though, and my tonsils were not amused at the rate of discussion. Still nothing on the transfer of status results, though.

I’ve also done some final prep on my conference paper for tomorrow’s Oxford graduate conference. I’m looking forward to the event, but I’m really hoping my voice holds out for the 20 minute paper.

On Saturday I’m heading to Brighton for three days, which will be a welcome break and will give me some freedom from my commitments for a few days. Naturally I’ve already looked up literary landmarks to look out for. I’ll hopefully visit some Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West related addresses and the only AIDS memorial in the UK. I watched Brighton Rock (the 1947 one) last weekend too – which is a fantastic movie, and I’ll see some (less highbrow) sights from Sugar Rush!

Limbo

Time marches on, as ever. I’m fairly certain that time goes quicker when you are a PhD student though. Term here is nearly over and I always feel like I’m only half begun.

Last week was the transfer of status interview, and unlike Sophie and another Victorianist first year, I wasn’t told my result in the interview. This seems to be one of the wild discrepancies taken as normal here. This is pretty frustrating since I’m now still in the limbo between forging ahead and re-considering my whole purpose in life.

June used to be my favourite month since it meant yawning days and the end of school. This one is shaping up to be busy on a number of fronts. I’ll be visiting Hull next week to do some admin for my September conference, after that I have a supervision and then the Oxford postgrad conference. Then I’ll be in Brighton for a few days break and a friend is visiting for another few days the week after that. Add to that schedule a fairly substantial book review due by the start of July, my birthday and a magazine launch. Who says a PhD is a life of solitude?

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