Time Flies When You Have Fun

Goodness me. I have not long come back from a trip to London where I have been discussing the first course I have a more academic role at. On the way back I met up with someone I started my research Masters with – and who will next week have her viva and defend her research.

Where does the time go? It feels like not long ago we all started out respective journeys in at the University, and now look at us. we seems to be getting to do things,go to places… At the same time I am currently still trying to figure out the situation with Brexit and how life will revolve around that. There is a backup plan which is time consuming, and another backup plan which is even more time consuming. Then there is obviously the newest backup plan which is the most time consuming, and which will either offer me a respite from the woes that are involved with doing research of media racism or add to the general frustrations by increasing my workload with things I am probably too dumb to understand (we’re talking complex maths and physics here). But  as my perennially cheery ex-colleague  said, you can learn complex things, you just have to tell yourself that you can and then throw yourself right in there.

Right now the only thing I intend to throw myself into is the bed, however. Tomorrow is a library day which involves lots of preparation for the teaching session on Friday where I meet the students I will be guiding through their research project. Then it will be back to normality for me – back to the day job. And to the normality of trying to figure out my own next steps. Luckily I have an online peer support group who are aiming for the same thing as I am as my backup pan number 3.  Maybe we will muddle through all of this together.

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!

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.

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.