This post was going to be a summary of all the things I’ve finished recently, but then my to-do list, which had some lovely ticks on it, suddenly got longer. Such is life.
Make no mistake - I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying introvert. I’m the person who relates to all the fridge-magnet pictures on Facebook and cartoons on Tumblr about finding social interaction exhausting and needing to hide in my cave sometimes, while not necessarily being ‘shy’. But my chosen career path requires me to teach, network and speak at conferences, so I can’t hide all the time. And you know what? Even though I’m wiped out by these activities, I’m not bad at them.
Last night I went to Hester Barron’s talk at Senate House about her research on parent-teacher relationships in the interwar period. I found it very interesting, and while it would be daft to recount the whole thing here, there were a few points she made that especially grabbed me.
A lot of the literature I’ve come across, old and new, suggests that only children are/were rather hopeless at team sports, largely on the basis that by not experiencing ‘rough and tumble’ with other children and fair, consistent rules at home before they started school, they were ‘unclubbable’, timid, and resisted games that they didn’t have a higher-than-average chance of winning. My preliminary research using autobiographies shows that while some only children did have this experience, a substantial number reported that they enjoyed school sports, or otherwise had mixed experiences of them. Additionally, some sibling children had negative experiences of school sports that echoed those expected of only children.
I’ve finally read all the control group autobiographies and listened to all the control group oral histories, so now I can concentrate on something I personally find a lot more fun and stimulating - actually analysing my data! In the last few days I’ve been using Nvivo to code the last of the autobiographies and put together my Social History Society conference paper. Some people like it for the charts and graphics you can produce with it, but I prefer to use it as a practical digital alternative to highlighters and sticky labels. So what have I been doing with Nvivo and the autobiographies?
Honest post alert. There are some great things about doing a humanities PhD, but it’s not all eureka moments in the archives. Some things about it are a bit rubbish.
This week I mainly read Born To Rebel, by Frank J. Sulloway. I probably should have read it a lot earlier, but I didn’t know it existed before, which was kind of prohibitive. Anyway, Sulloway spent 20 years collecting and analysing biographical data about people like scientists and politicians, and found out that, in the main, firstborns tend to be conservative in their outlook, whereas laterborns tend towards radicalism in a bid to carve out their own niche in the family and avoid ‘being kicked out of the nest’ (basically, it’s a Darwinian theory). He also gave a whole bunch of circumstances which create exceptions to this rule, such as age gaps and radical parents (firstborns ally themselves with their parents, apparently). He didn’t say much about only children, apart from that they’re wildcards who can go either way. I can get on board with that one, but despite all the mathematic proofs he gave for the firstborns and lastborns, I spent a lot of the book feeling quite critical and thinking ‘I don’t think I can get on board with this.’
At the beginning of this month, I was sick of my PhD. I’d had no time to work on it over Christmas because of all the marking I had to do, and I had a particularly uninspiring to-do list, the most tedious tasks on which were Nvivo coding (OK in small doses, but not something you want to do all day), and my oral history control group (people’s life histories can be quite interesting, but sitting there WAITING for them to say something relevant when you could be doing something more fun is boring as). My supervisor picked up on my complete and utter boredom and suggested I take a break and do something thesis-related but actually fun - which I interpreted as READING! I saved myself from the tedium not only by dedicating a week of afternoons to reading secondary works, but by building reading back into my everyday work in order to get through the ever-expanding list of books I need to read, but also to get a bit of fun and inspiration back into my days.
A guest blog I wrote for Phdtalk about the gym and self-care.