Getting Stuck In -or Sucked In?

 There is no other way that I can describe the past few months (well, 4 months!) than a great void. I have started my first bit of teaching, which has meant that I have spent weeks in an oblivion, trying to figure out my own research  in the mean time. Combine that with the stress of Brexit, and I have been asking myself the same question over and over again – what the hell am I doing?

The past months have passes with no trace, and all I seem to have done has been sleep and stress. As I recall, the last time something like this happened was when I was in business college working on one essay and feeling like nothing was going ahead. There seems to be a large void where my life used to be. The days blend into one, and I have very little recollection on what I have been doing in the past weeks. Certainly it feels like there has been nothing constructive going on with everything.

As I am typing this, I am waiting to hear from a student of mine to see if she want to have a supervision today. I had a meeting that was cancelled, and I earlier met one student. Before this, I finished a night shift in my regular job, hopped on a bus and rushed four hours away. Tonight I have to wait until 10 pm to for my bus (it’s now half past two) , I’ll get home nearer one and tomorrow I need to go an abundance of housework, clean, write my own research, and get enough sleep to head out to work on Friday for some overtime. no wonder there seems to be a small black ball of nothingness occurring at the moment!

Take this as what you want. A whinge about my busy life (it is) or a brief mulling about what life is like at the moment. In the end it seems that it is time to pull my fingers out  and start working again though.

Creativity – Where Does It Go?

 I was busy pottering around Tate Modern a while back. The new part of it does look amazing, and even after visiting the place for the second time I feel like I have missed much of the art that was on display.

I still have a habit of planning my time off and my trips around different art galleries and museums, but for some reason my own creativity has gone down the pan. And yes, I know that as I type this at 10:30 am on a Sunday morning my creativity should really be directed towards my PhD which is what I am supposed to be writing up right now.

I used to love arts and drawing, but when I realised as a teenager that I was not good enough to make a living out of it, I gave up. Went to a business college instead of an art one, and later went to read totally different things at a University. I currently engage in research that feels somewhat artistic – well, as artistic as researching journalism can be – but there is still a distinct lack of the visual in my life. I have been thinking about how to somehow bring back a more visual approach in my life, and there are some books on art and drawing that are currently sitting on the floor in my room amongst all the books on research and languages I have. And no, I still have not started on my proper studies for my next Korean trip, or getting the basics of Japanese sorted in my head in case I make it there next year as planned.

The big question is about pursuing something when you feel that a.) you’re not good at it, and b.) is not useful. Whether you believe in the Myers-Briggs personality typing, I have tested for many years as an ENTJ. I acknowledge in myself a great sense of not wanting to do things if there is ‘no point’ in doing them, which is where my current lack of creativity partly stems from. Why draw or paint when there is no other reason for it than entertainment? Which also makes no sense to me because I do pursue other things just for the sake of them being ‘fun’. Furthermore, there is no bigger frustration to me than knowing that my capability after years of not drawing does not match what I want it to be. Yes, practice makes perfect, but I have an attention span which is shorter than the time it takes for me to find a pencil in my room.

 I admit, with the Brexit and the future being more than a little unstable, I have been even pondering the idea of going back to University full time, this time studying design. But that is a pipe dream. I still have on my Bucket List the desire to attend actual University entry exams where I am from, just to see if I could make it through and pursue a job that was a childhood dream, but also to experience the preparation for it. Although it feels like I have been a student forever – since 2009, in fact – I have not studies full time since graduating with my undergraduate degree. Maybe it is time to consider student life again, who knows.

But for now the question remains – how to inject creativity into my life? I am already in the process of destroying my Hobonichi  planner for 2017, so that offers some creative outlet. But the question remains – is there a way to be creative AND academic at the same time when the two do not really match up? DO I even want to match the two together since my research is a cause of so much annoyance and frustration because the topic is emotionally heavy? Should I try and ‘lighten up’ the topic by turning some of it into something more ‘fun’? Answers on a postcard, please..

The Joys of the Holidays

aka ‘the things you don’t have to worry about if you are a full-time student’. 

Dear diary,

a few weeks ago I accidentally started a minor war at my work place.

let’s set the context. In August last year my colleagues TUPE‘d over to the company we all work for now from another company which had its specific processed and ways of doing things. Some of them, I hasten to add, had nothing to do with anything more than ‘but we’ve always done it’. Boom, the change is done, and I enter the workplace as a complete newbie to my job but a veteran of the company with a good few years behind me. It goes well. I learn my job and enjoy it, and bring in a few new ideas.

Being tied to my PhD as the academic year that goes with it, I calculated my shift pattern for the next three years on a very boring night shift. Let’s be honest, sometimes the only thing that saves a boring night is planing your next getaway.  Looked at next year, looked at our online booking system and put some holidays in at a time I knew people rarely wanted. Job done. next step, booking a hotel that was recommended to me the last time I was at my location.

Except it wasn’t that simple. One of my colleagues hit the roof, her argument being ‘but we’ve always waited until we have drawn the rota up’. I could insert a comment here about how she always used to draw the rota up and how mysteriously year after year this rota had her on a holiday for the Christmas period. but I’m not passive aggressive unlike some people *insert a cheeky wink here*.

Now, the only person who my holidays have an effect on is my working partner as both of us cannot be off at the same time. He was fine with it, so there was no issues.

However, there was a great big argument about why it was unfair that I booked my holidays : it was ‘because the rest of us don’t know when we want our holidays’.

Now, here is where the fundamental difference between my life as a PhD student comes to the forefront. I have deadlines, academic years. technically I am supposed to ask for my supervisors for permission to go on holiday – and I emphasize the technical here because as a part-time PhD student I live in a wholly different world to my full-time colleagues. My life is mapped out. I have sent myself a fantasy date by which time I have packed my things up and moved away, changed jobs, started a different life. My life does not have the luxury of not knowing when I want a holiday – it has the luxury of being structured in a way where I know I can toddle off to Seoul for a spring break (which I intend to do) and fly off to Tokyo to see some snow (and hopefully some ice hockey because as John Irving said,   ‘you’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed’).

And somehow people struggle with the concept of planning, of structure. In this modern world where you can do anything anytime, it seems that having a structure is somehow frightening. But you know what – there is nothing frightening to me in knowing that come the first week of May in 2017, I will be making like a panda!

On A Time Out 

Today I have started a hybrid holiday and travelled to Finland for a few days of snow and, by the looks of it, sunshine.

It is however not a full holiday – the intention is to schedule my booked skating lessons in the diary, look at whether playing hockey would be a real option, read a book and find some new source material for my research, plot through ten articles with the intent to do the same, and then start writing posts for two different blogs now that I finally have a lightweight laptop.

 The work never ends but atleast this time it is done somewhere different.

Onwards!

What’s It Like, Then?

Being a part-time student is a whole different kettle of fish, I tell you that. And I thought I’d write a quick post about it now that I am pondering the topic in my head. This topic is something I will return to later on, no doubt.

One word immediately springs to mind. Confusing. I used to work a shift job, 12 hours shifts that went from days to nights to days off at a relatively fast pace. I used to head off to lectures straight from nightshifts, memorably falling asleep in a quantitative research class. Luckily my lecturer knew my working life and was quite gentle when whispering to wake me up when I as supposed to be calculating things on the dreaded SPSS. Still I managed to pass my course, and eventually get my highest grade in my University career in a statictics examination, which still astounds me.

Nothing that kills you more that doing an 84 hour week, with a 12 hour nightshift followed by heading straight to Uni for a full day. Luckily the lectures and the deadlines kept me somewhat aware of the weekdays, since I frequently did not know where I was, or what I was supposed to be doing. Days melt into one big lump and the seasons tend to pass, because for postgrad students, there’s no real summer holiday, just work with more or less undergraduates around. That still happens – I vary between thinking it is April and being completely sure October is around the corner. I frequently do not know which weekday it is, either, thanks to my shift work.

But I did manage. I passed two Masters degrees part-time with the full-time job. Most probably there is some sort of a masochistic tendency going on, because really, TWO stints in grad school? Sheesh. I do however admit that I did my second one mainly to help me to get into my PhD programme.  And here I am – part-time PhD, third year in full swing. I have achieved the status of a PhD candidate quite recently, and got a very cheery e-mail not long ago informing me that my final submission date is the 30th of September 2021. I nearly burst into tears in the lift at work because it really feels sometimes that the slog is never-ending. But I honestly would not change this for the world.

Right now any feelings of discontent less about the PhD and more about the feeling of being stuck in life, a kind of suspended animation because the PhD is stopping everything.

 And that is the overwhelming feeling – repetition. Every year is the same, every month is the same. I read books, find new articles, write, re-read my writing and think it’s rubbish, confuse myself and my supervisors about going on in circles, then re-reading the writing again and being surprised at how good it is. E-mailing myself key words and new ideas while I am at work, then prompty forget what they mean when I finally remember to look at them in my University account. At the same time, my arguments are getting more sophisticated, and I am beginning to see how things link up.

However,  I have to admit I have battled the staleness of everyday life in the past month and done things such as travelling to a country I one day want to work it and returning to the gym to fight fatigue. And it has helped immensely. Routine is good at times but you need to challenge yourself atleast occasionally.

Do I envy those peers of mine who work on their doctorate full-time? Occasionally, yes. I miss knowing my fellow doctoral candidates and always missing out on things going on in my Department. And the coffee and cake in the staff room, let’s be honest!  I’d love to have an office but there is no space for part-timers so all the research is done either in my flat or in the library, neither which are massively good for productive work. There are also days when I feel that I am ‘in the zone’ with my research topic, and would like nothing better than being able to sit on a computer and write for hours. But then I have to face the reality that at 4 am I am getting out of bed to head to work to deal with temperamental workers . Such is life.

 There is a silver lining in everything, however. Work allows me to not think about my research, and acts as a reminder that my research will not in the greater scheme of things really save the world or pay my immediate bills. Working gives me a different perspective. My research is serious, and deals with serious issues. But it’s not a matter of life and death for me. If I mess things up in my research and have to correct them, it does not feel catastrophical. And there advantages in working over a longer time period. The brain never stops working on things, so there is more time to think of things – getting them on paper is whole different matter, I admit. And there is certain satisfaction in knowing that I may indeed have paid off my student loans before the end of my PhD which is a definite bonus.

 As I am typing this it’s 23.30 on a Sunday night. In the next few days I have a diary to sort out, two gym classes, a write-up of 23 articles into my existing chapter on research context to fight through, a trip to the launderette and the shop to do plus two training courses at the University scheduled. Oh, and the library wants me to return two books by Tuesday that I have not even started. On Wednesday morning I’ll jump to the bus at half past four in the morning to start my four days of work. Another normal week.

Off Again 

Greetings from the road. Here is another short and rambling post fuelled by train station coffee and not enough sleep. 

  
I’m currently sitting on a train, on my way to a concert and typing away on WordPress on my iPhone. If I’d had any sense I would have brought my tablet with me, or atleast crammed in a pile of reading in my bag, since I’m trying to both write up my context and start organising and coding my data. In an odd way, although my thoughts are jumbled up, it feels like there is light at the end of the tunnel. This time it also feels that light is not the proverbial oncoming train…

 I am not saying that I have reached any level of understanding of my topic that goes beyond the intellectual level of a cabbage. However, I am beginning to see how things might fit together and form a thesis. Naturally, who knows what the data might throw at me. I’ve already been ‘pleasantly’ surprised by the fact that there is an emerging issue in my data that goes beyond a certain national group and delves into other types of discrimination. This came out of the woodworks although on hindsight you may have guessed it to be an issue. Only the actual data analysis period will show me whether this was just a fluke or whether it is a real significant issue that needs addressing. 

However, instead of sensible work, I have an hour to kill during my travel which I am currently spending writing up a to-do list. So far I only have one item on it -‘write everything that needs doing into the diary’. 

I wonder how far from the country I could get without a passport .. Running away from responsibilities seems like a good idea, and I don’t even have my diary with me today! The whole issue of ‘everything that needs doing’ is a difficult one. Right now, the immediately list is as follows: 

  • Read the library book that needs returning next week…
  • ..after finding which book we’re talking about because I forgot. 
  • Find supervision record forms…
  • ..recall the dates and what was discussed..
  • ..organise a time to get the forms signed by supervisors…
  • ..get the forms to the administrator by next week
  • Note down overtime at work and try to remember when I am back at work (Wednesday? I’m on a simple pattern so this should be easy, ffs)
  • Check a conference registration rate and figure out if I can afford it this month
  • Pay rent
  • Book careers advice time to wail about the same stuff I have wailed about for three years now
  • Write a few travel details in my diary
  • Change into a new diary which has all the stuff needed
  • KonMari the hell out of my studio flat
  • Collect data
  • Analyse data
  • Chuck data away
  • Write a good 5,000 words of my historical context
  • Go to the gym on my days off
  • Find universities in Japan, South Korea, China, for starters (goes with my Careers advice meeting plan)
  • Learn japanese
  • Learn korean
  • Pay off student loan
  • Have a hot dog at the hockey match 

Hmm. Immediately things to do you say? I think I’ll just put my headphones on, watch YouTube and pretend none of this is happening..

Who knew…

.. That starting a new job, not even a particularly taxing one at that, would be so earth-shatteringly tiring?

 I changed jobs last month and have been getting the hours in. Although the job is a relatively manageable one, it’s been quite interesting to see how it has torn me to shreds mentally. My research has been sidelined by learning new administration, trying to figure out who from the wider team are the good ones and who the troublemakers, and trying to generally take it in. 

On a positive side, I am finally noting blog post ideas and mentally getting towards a point where some normality can ensue. It has to be said though that being near an airport has made me ponder flying lessons as a further distraction. Can’t win, can you?

Silences

I have again been notable silent on my blog. Call it whatever you like – I’ll call it being stunned. This post is more about touching base than anything else. 

In the past few weeks I have left my old job and am about to start my new one tomorrow. Needless to say that I feel like I have been smacked around the head with a brick. My new job has required me to take exams even before starting, and entails more responsibility than I have ever really held. In the recent years anyway. 

 Academically my time has been spent with data collection, and not has that been painful! There is do much more data than expected, and one data set had already brought into light a completely new dilemma I need to figure out. 

 All I was to do is watch Netflix and sleep. Too bad the self-funded researcher student life requires being an actual responsible grown up. 

Time to crank up this song [my current motivational tune] and pull myself together. 

Because sometimes you need to think you are the best thing ever. 

Let’s go again

The dreaded first post after what feels like years away from blogging..but here we are. I whittled away on Deadjournal throughout my undergraduate years, mainly complaining about work and stressing over my studies. A good 10+ years later, nothing’s really changed with the exception of my work paying for my actual life (as opposed to just providing me my booze money to spend on jugs of cocktails and vodka at my local). 
 13 years ago I had just graduated with an BSc Econ (Hons). Today I have just received an e-mail telling me my final PhD submission date is in September 2021. How things change.. And yet they don’t. Still, here’s to a new start in the world of blogging. 

Me? I am a part-time PhD student, a good few years into my research. I’m at the equivalent level of someone who’s completed their first full year. 

Outside my research efforts, I work in a completely unrelated job which I am (hopefully, fingers crossed) in the process of changing because it not only takes away my will to live, but hinders my academic work because I spend a good 60 hours a week doing it. I have something lined up, that I will *fingers crossed* get. I am trying not to jinx it because having a slightly more humane schedule that would allow me to work more on my PhD wold be amazing. It still won’t be academic, but a change nevertheless. 

Needless to say, my life revolves around working and the PhD. But I do have some passions outside the everyday life. Ice hockey, drinking vast amounts of caffeine while sighing into my Filofax, and wasting hours on YouTube (watching kpop videos)  are how I spend a large amount of those hours that I could spend sleeping. I am an ex-pat, who focuses her research on immigration and frequently gets into a rant about racism, dumb press and the blind faith that people have in the media.  I am left-handed, left-eyed, have an obsession with the japanese cooking show ‘Cooking With Dog’ (YouTube it), and a love of airports.  I’m older then you think when you meet me, and as cynical as Victor Meldrew.

Pleased to meet you.