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.

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.

The Red Pen Day

Today is the day I took a red pen to a hard copy of the document titled ‘final-final-draft.doc’. I oddly quite like this process because it feels like I am marking my own work and since I, generally, like it very much I imagine for brief moments that the examiners will find no faults whatsoever.

I like nothing more than a good end-of-essay wordle – so here it is!

So, I’m off to hand it in and then enjoy a good, long, bank holiday. Like a working person.

Supervisory Celebrations

Today was the special day in the diary of this DPhil student when I go to perch on the sofa and hear the verdict on my latest bit of research. There were three kinds of good news: 1.) my work doesn’t need substantial revision, just a few little tweaks, before hand in for the transfer of status; 2.) my supervisor isn’t retiring in September after all, in fact, he’ll be here for basically the rest of my thesis; 3.) He has a new grandson. Celebration all round.

My supervisor asked some poignant questions I’ll be mulling over, although they won’t necessarily fit into my thesis. One is why Louis MacNeice seems to be the presiding influence on much contemporary Northern Irish poetry, as opposed to, say, Yeats or Clarke. Another is why Paul Muldoon is so popular with the younger poets. My wooly attempts at responses in the session were something along the lines of perceived ‘cool-ness’, although that seems a very strange term to use for poetry.

One thing I’ve always said that sets research apart from most other ‘real jobs’ is that the thesis never sleeps. I had a rousing reminder of this today when I read a book review and had an epiphany along the lines of ‘He did say that. Wait – she has a poem about that. And she reviewed a book of his too!’

Fingers crossed there are no epiphanies of a critical nature in the pub tonight.

‘Time off’ – A period when a PhD student waits for feedback.

So, something has been sent to my supervisor for feedback. For a short period yesterday I felt like my eyes had retreated into my skull – eye strain is no joke kids. Either way I’ve met the deadline I set myself and can look forward to receiving feedback on Tuesday.

10000 / 10000 words. 100% done!

I have practically a small compost heap worth of used tea bags in my bin. My bookshelves are out of order. I have red pen on my hands. I have some mild RSI (RSI *not* STI, thank you). I have only communicated with the outside world via Skype all week. I still think cous cous is instant food developed by higher life forms.

Now I can remove myself  from my laptop I shall go for coffee, get some food in (not cous cous), wash up the mug collection on my desk and otherwise recharge for a bit. Oh, and maybe go to the library… no?

Welcome to the ‘Big Society’

In the time that I’ve managed to tear myself from the Guardian live blog on the Arts Council funding decisions (and the emotional rollercoaster that is the #artsfunding tag on Twitter) I’ve made some headway with the sample of writing for transfer.

The National Portfolio decisions are being portrayed as winners and losers, but ultimately these decisions mean that more broadly we will all be worse off for at least the next three years. One of the organisations I’m a Trustee of has received bad news today, despite valiant work. Others for which I work on a freelance basis have maintained and even in some cases increased on their funding bids. Today has been a game-changing day, that is for sure.

Of course, cuts will also have an incredible impact on how the higher education sector develops in the coming years. The other big funding story in my little world was the accusation by The Obersver at the weekend that the AHRC are to prioritise research into the Big Society. The AHRC are denying it though. I’m starting to wish I’d just become a banker.

More positively, in the short term, I’m now not far off 3/4 of this work done. Funny how re-thinking the introduction in a notebook at midnight can change the pace so drastically. An article from The Thesis Whisperer on ‘How to write 1000 words a day (and not go bat shit crazy)‘ is timely this week – although it might be too late on the bat shit crazy front.

7021 / 10000 words. 70% done!

The Source Hunt – What Google Can’t Tell You

5019 / 10000 words. 50% done!

I had hoped to be a little further on by this stage, but i was delayed by a niggling source issue.

When I’m arguing the case of influence, you’d think it would be a fairly simple case to find the source of certain allusiveness, but as I found out yesterday this isn’t always so – and for the first time it seemed that thinking outside of the box wasn’t delivering either. I Googled, I searched the texts available on Google Books, I searched JSTOR and a few other databases. I tried variable spellings. I consulted the books I have. I went to the library to consult the Complete poems. I Googled some more. I asked some knowledgeable friends.

I now have something close – although I’m still doubtful that I’m right. Very frustrating – but I think I need to let this one lie and get on with other things.

*Update* – My supervisor doesn’t know either. So clearly I’m not just totally incompetent.

Getting Somewhere

Yes, it is the return of the progress meter which I used frantically during my MA. This time it is for my sample of writing for transfer, with the target being 10,000 words.

I’ve been working on this for ages, but the progress has been slow on the actual word count because my readings require a lot of leg work in terms of reading the poetry and the theory and then re-reading the poetry to apply the theory. However, I’m hoping now that it is just a case of writing up I can get this into a good draft by next week to send to my supervisor.

4324 / 10000 words. 43% done!

Working at the desk of course means that I’ve done even more online procrastination than usual. My favourite distraction this week has been this tongue in cheek article on Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ as a radical text.

8th Week of Hilary

Today is the end of term here. These 8 week terms are seriously hard to get used to. I haven’t even considered when and for how long to go home for. Not that terms mean much for research students anyway. In fact, I’m sort of hoping that the lack of events will mean I’ll get more work done. I am now officially two terms into my thesis though…

The tail end of 8th week was taken up with re-working parts of my MA dissertation for an article. I’m returning today to theories of influence, looking this time at Gilbert and Gubar’s Madwoman in the Attic. Most of what I know about this text comes from the infamous Rivkin and Ryan critical theory anthology, which is to say nothing about their theory of the ‘anxiety of authorship’, and also raises some questions about extracts of theory!

I should add, since I know that my old friend Jonny has asked me about the workload of a PhD, that I don’t normally work on weekends. I’m pretty busy for the next week with choir rehearsals for a CD recording, so I’m just making up time.

Post S Day

Friday’s supervision went well. I still have lots of do, but I have clear direction about what needs done now before the deadline for material for transfer. Doing the research proposal in particular has helped clear my head a bit about direction. It seems that a thesis is all about knowing the road but also going off piste occasionally.

One thing strikes me about the relationship between student and supervisor – quite a lot seems to depends on the happiness of the supervisor. If he is happy, I am happy, if he is unhappy…

Some of the tasks coming out of the supervision are to add to my research proposal, write up my first chapter, submit a conference abstract and check up on a potentially sensitive aspect of my research. After I’ve done that, it’ll be time for another S Day.

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