Last weekend, I jumped out of a plane to raise money for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. I’m not kidding – this is actually me. So far, I’ve raised £695.00, but you can still sponsor me.

I can’t say it was a wholly pleasant experience. There was a shutter on the side of the plane which reminded me of the school tuck shop opening, but there were no sweeties. I was then dangled from the door for a while and when finally set loose, there was quite a bit of tumbling (looking back up at an aircraft getting smaller is quite distressing). Before the canopy was deployed, my face was flapping about at 120mph in freefall and it was very, very cold. When the parachute was released it was much more agreeable, and the view across the frozen fields was stunning.

I could talk at length about how doing a thesis is like doing a a skydive, but frankly it is Thursday and I’ve been doing close reading pretty much all week so I’m not in the mood for that sort of thing. Instead, if you don’t mind, I’ll return to thinking about the relationship between planes, detachment and sense of place in contemporary Northern Irish poetry…

‘today, we say, the world is upside-down…’
Leontia Flynn, ‘Sky Boats’, Drives (2008)

Halfway, and a New Beginning

This week marks the halfway point in my three year DPhil programme. Yes, I know it may take more than three years, but my funding stops after three years, which means halfway does count for something. So, this week has been a time for reflection and planning. The planning has been for my third chapter, which has a structure but needs some filling out with close reading. Close reading is one of my favourite parts of research, but it can be mentally exhausting.

In terms of reflection, I’ve been thinking back to all the research I did in my first year. My supervisor didn’t encourage me to do too much writing at that stage, which initially did make me nervous. Now, though, I am feeling the benefits of that background knowledge and reading, and I’m starting to pull it into my chapter plans and to supplement it with new reading which is more targeted to the areas I’m interested in.

In other news, I have a new job. I’ve blogged here before about the importance of [caution: buzz word] ‘public impact’ in academia. In many ways I’ve been struggling to understand what this really means in literary studies, although I’m clear that it is important for early career researchers making their way into the job market. I’ve been impressed with many of the science, technology and engineering projects – there are some great ones out there, especially online. Maybe I appreciate these more because I don’t have a specialist knowledge of their subjects and their dynamic methods get through to me.

This week, I’ve started working for the JISC funded ‘Great Writers Inspire‘ project which will collect and release digital learning content on the theme of great writing (and ask what ‘great’ means). The content will include ebooks, blog posts, background and contextual resources, lectures, audio and video materials. Importantly, all this content will be available under a license meaning is can be reproduced and used elsewhere in a number of different learning environments. I think this is a great opportunity to investigate some of the ways the web and multimedia can be used in engaging the wider humanities community, lifelong learners, schools and the wider public. I’m looking forward to seeing how the project develops and I’m happy to be a part of it.

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