The Boundaries of Tolerance

aka ‘how the Brexit/Bremain debate  has destroyed some of my friendships and made me hate the people I have to spend time with’ 

I have been pondering on writing about this for a while now, and the draft has been sitting in my file for weeks. Then the murder of Jo Cox happened, and nothing felt like the appropriate thing to say. But the EU Referendum day is only a few hours away, and this feels like the time to let out a small vent before returning to work tomorrow.

I’m the only non-British EU citizen in my team where I work at. I’m the only immigrant in the core team of all the supervision and management team in our building. Everyone else is very English and occasionally quite vocal about it. Especially right now, and, God help me, during the football European Championships. I supported Wales recently which might explain my particular pain about that particular aspect of life. Outside the university I spend a lot of time with very anti-EU/ immigrant people. Who knows why. 

 I have heard the whole ‘all the immigrants don’t speak English and come and work for us’ which makes my ears bleed since it is yours truly who constantly gets asked how to spell English words by our native British peers. There irony is sadly lost on those who ask me these things. And believe me, I have heard some similar things about people ‘not bothering to learn our language’ from a hell of a lot of people who haven’t got dyslexia but who struggle with the most basic english language. But enough about that particular frustration.

As you can guess, the upcoming EU referendum has been the one thing that has been talked about for weeks now. And apart from my own work colleague, nearly everyone I know thinks that Britain should vote leave. Now, knowing my own long-term plans and how long the process to negotiate a departure would take, the result in itself would make no difference. As I cannot vote, I am not going to comment one way or another in the actual process and the arguments that go with it, although as a someone who researches media I have to say it’s been painful to watch. And also a great source of material for anyone researching the topic! Too bad it’s too late for me to change my own research areas now..

 But the whole period has brought forward a new dilemma. Just how long should you tolerate the ideas and opinions of others if they are against your own ethics and/or violently offending to you?

 It has been said that the problem with places like Facebook is that people have lost tolerance. If one of your friends has opinions that differ from yours, you can just unfriend them. because of the relative easiness of blocking those who do not agree with you, it has been suggested that it is easy to live in a happy little bubble where everyone agrees with you and you do not have to question your own values and attitudes. Now, for me, I represent the kind of demographic that in the Brexit- debates is more likely to be pro-European. Discounting the fact that I am European myself, I am reasonably young and educated. On top of that, I view my post-PhD life as one that exist in an international stage, and I currently work in a project that exists in web 2.0, and is done internationally.  My colleagues on the other mainly represent the kind of demographic who are more likely to vote for Brexit, when you look at the age and education levels.

 So here I am, logically thinking that everyone votes based on their own perception of life and interpretation of their circumstances. I live my own life based on those perimeters that my own experience creates. However, recently there has been an increase in the xenophobia at work, and someone recently made a comment about possibly sharing some offensive racist material on Facebook, finding it funny. Here is where it gets difficult. Do I note in my next review that I have an issue with the climate at work, or do I keep quiet because of the likelihood of being told to ‘lighten up’. You see, people, when challenged about behaving in an offensive way, often retaliate by either moaning about having to be politically correct, or tell you to lighten up. So then you have to try and figure out a.) how to react and b.) whether you really ought to lighten up.

 And should you really have to lighten up if someone is offending your values, and offending you? I certainly don’t think so. I don’t think that you ought to threaten the persons in question with ‘I’ll take you to court you b****rds’, but there is nothing wrong with some gentle challenging. As long as you do not call the other person an idiot, even if you want to. Or do a Boulton on them, even if violence does not solve the matter.


This Brexit debate.. I am glad that it will be done whatever way things turn. I think I will concentrate on the NHL Draft instead, because of the whole ‘it is not racist to be concerned about immigration whilst simultaneously supporting negative stereotypes based on nationality‘ is getting a bit old now.. Give me a day or two of hockey chaos, and maybe then I can get my sociology hat on and start focusing on what the EU Referendum really means for Britain and my research. But for now.. just get it over and done with!



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!

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.

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.


Things That Hit You

The realisation that the conference in Japan is in four months and no preparations have been yet done. 

 Time to break out those language books and try to figure out things like flights and hotels. Next week, conference registration, the month after that, the flights. For now, just getting ready mentally. 

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..

The Return of the Wanderer

 I have returned from oblivion. Or rather, a life where my data has literally broken my computer (the hard drive..), my password to WordPress has been lost in my tired brain and where I have spent weeks crying over my time in Seoul where I want to return.  
(Current view of a desk at work where I am busy writing process guidance for our Control Room team). 

 My brain is full of things I need to write and post here, but tonight work is my priority. Have a  few holiday pictures from the COEX Mall Aquarium instead.