The Dreaded Change of Data

Today, the one thing that I was dreading happened. My previous research plan and my data regarding certain EU nationals and their migration to Britain was discussed, and after some silence the inevitable question was finally uttered by one of my supervisors. ‘What about Brexit?’. Pardon me for inserting a few expletives to the text in the rest of the post,  the way.

I do not mind the data collection, and I certainly do not mind the change in my research time scales. I acknowledge that the situation we have the pleasure of living is is politically and socially traumatic, historical and exhilaration. Analytically, this really is a one-in-a-lifetime experience. However, I have been avoiding this inevitable factor in my research for an obvious reason – it hits too close to home.

I am, as I have said several times, one of those pesky EU migrants to Britain. I do not have children,  I work and always have, I am educated and more often than not I am not clocked as a foreigner. But like every EU-born person – and a hell of a lot of British people – there has been a feeling of what I can only describe as fear after the EU referendum vote. God forbid you try to discuss the matter with someone or on a public forum, and some.. person will inevitably tell you to fuck off back home. Which I intend to.  You know, after taking the tram or the the bus. And after I graduate I might fuck off to another country, thank you very much,  because the perk of an education is the way it can take you nearly everywhere. That’s the thing people – it’s a wide world out there and it’s full of adventure.

Anyway, moving swiftly on, there is a real risk in doing research that is emotional. People and guidebooks talk a lot about harm to the research participant, and in some ways the responsibility of the researcher to make sure their research assistants do not suffer any harm. But there seems to be a certain silence regarding how it feels like doing research that is traumatic.

 I have so far been able to distance myself from my research because although EU migrants have been mentioned, the focus has been on two groups that are not ones I belong to. But my focus is about to change, and I intend to look at data that does talk about people like me. No, scrap that. It talks about me. It makes presumptions about me, my intellect, my language skills. At the same time, I acknowledge constantly that I have a huge amount of white privilege, the privilege of passing.  I should not feel like I am under a threat, yet I do. And there is a real risk that this feeling will increase as I do my research further, read my revised data and really engage with what the press is saying. I already know there is one particular journalist that I hope will get a severe food poisoning from prawn cocktail – I am not prine to interpersonal violence but do think some people deserve a bad case of diarrhea.     And yes, obviously that topic made me think of this fantastic video:

ANYWAY – to use those capital letters the  Daily Express seems to love – it really will be an interesting and potentially a very unpleasant journey into research that I will start. My supervisors have advised me to take time away from the topic because I have to live in the world as it is, as well as analyse my data and collect it. And in the mean time I need to maybe look into the ethics of research and how can you cope with research that is potentially very harmful to your own sanity.


Thinking On Your Feet

In the past week or so it’s become painfully apparent that the planned conference trip will not materialise. The flight prices have been bumped up so much that not even a months’ wage will cover the cost after I pay my rent (let alone other bills). I am fortunate in the sense that the conference was only partially linked with my research so not being there will not harm me, but losing out on the social aspect is not good.

 But where there is a negative there is a positive. It was my plan to network during the conference for the future. However, by changing a conference trip in the summer to a more targeted holiday/fact finding mission in the winter, my networking will be more focused and hopefully more productive in nature.

 Which raised the big question – how do you create contacts in a foreign country? It’s not something that you get taught to do in any detail, and really does seem to rely on your own proverbial *ahem* balls. And whereas years in customer service-related jobs has taught me the ability to talk to pretty much anyone, the situation is different when you speak about a country that does rely on a certain amount of courtesy and manners, especially when your sole job is trying to make a good impression.

 So there is my task, and there is my next challenge. Find contacts, make contacts, follow-up contacts. As my course leader told me, ‘you start by starting’. But where do you start?

In other research-related news, I am battling a disastrous writers block which I feel like I cannot shake off. It has involved a total inability to blog, or contribute to anything else I have been requested to be a part of. My gut instinct involves screaming whilst running away, but my common sense tells me to go to my department over the weekend and enjoy the quiet nights, and just trash it out for a lack of a better description. Something is better than nothing, after all.

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..