Last weekend I had the honour of being invited to speak at a symposium commemorating the life and work of Leonore Davidoff, who died last October. There were moving speeches from scheduled speakers and audience members alike, and I found it a very touching tribute to a sociologist/historian whose substantial body of work broke a lot of new ground, especially in the fields of gender and family history.
After the horrors of my third board (not completely negative, but an overwhelming slew of suggestions for improvement made me feel like I’d never get it right and should just give up), I was apprehensive about the board I had on Wednesday of this week. There wasn’t much I could do to prepare for it (or any board, for that matter) once I’d emailed in my material for the board to look at, but I’ve definitely noticed that I’ve been sleeping better and had a lot more energy since going from the ‘build-up’ to the ‘it’s over! I’m still alive!’ stages. It was a good board. I actually came out feeling positive and inspired rather than bogged down and hopeless like the last couple of times.
This week I had the opportunity to view Age Exchange’s ‘Children of the Great War’ film, followed by a question-and-answer session with the film-makers. This hour-long film was one of the results of interviews conducted with more than a hundred people about stories they had regarding their family in the First World War, a reminiscence project that also incorporated digitising thousands of war-related artefacts owned by members of the public for the Europeana archive. I enjoyed the film, and at the same time it raised questions for me about the similarities and differences between the concerns of historians and artists such as film-makers.
Ah, Foucault. That really talented and prolific French guy who gets referenced by practically everyone in the humanities. Seeing as he had things to say about human nature and the self in terms of ‘the subject’, I thought I’d better read some things by/about him. I’ve found some things so far that could relate to my thesis, but I don’t know if they’re too forced/tenuous.
As I mentioned in the last post, this week I took part in a session where a few of us who have been through the process once or more gave some undergraduates advice on how to do their IRPs (i.e. dissertations). Although we ended up answering questions as a panel, I prepared a guide to the seven stages of a dissertation and I thought I’d share my advice here. Obviously, deadlines, expectations and supervisory arrangements vary from place to place, as I found - the students I spoke to had to have far more of an idea what they were doing by the end of second year and an earlier deadline than I had!
One very important thing you need to do a PhD is space to work in - somewhere you can plonk your laptop and/or books and concentrate. This blog features some of the places I’ve worked in the past month or so.
Last week I met up for coffee (well, hot chocolate - if I liked coffee my life would be A LOT easier and my stomach probably less rotted from sugar-free Red Bull) with one of my PhD colleagues. The conversation turned to how we hate the question ‘how’s the PhD going?’ and how the answer is always along the lines if ‘urgh, alright, I suppose’. We all know PhDs are really hard, and they wouldn’t be worth very much if anyone could do one. But there is this culture that, even if it’s going amazingly, you have to tone it down. You can’t look like you’re having too much fun (unless you’re trying to sell the PhD at an open evening). It’s like you’re somehow ‘letting the team down’ if things are going reasonably well. There are really hard times and, being of a realistic (some say pessimistic) nature, I often find it hard to be positive about the PhD myself. So, this post, I’m deliberately going to write about the parts of my PhD that are going quite well at the moment, actually. I’m not saying everyone is having an objectively nice time, of course - just finding things in my experience that I sometimes lose sight of!
A few months ago, I had one of those dreaded conversations with a taxi driver about what I research, which segued into the research interests of my fellow PhD students. To paraphrase: