I am not good at the summer ‘break’. I have plenty of work to keep me occupied, but everything is so dull, campus is absolutely dead and there are no events to go to. It’s only since I’ve been at university that I’ve hated this time of year. Unlike university, the re-starting of school was nothing to look forward to whatsoever, and as a child I had a higher tolerance of daytime TV (only four-and-a-bit channels as well!), no termtime social life to compare with the dead time of summer (this has everything to do with being a misfit introvert and nothing to do with being an only child, by the way), and the internet could keep me entertained for a lot longer when I couldn’t use it until my mum finished working on the computer. So, to ward off boredom-induced insanity, I’ve been trying to do interesting/new things as an act of self-care.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to watch 25-minute presentations by potential new staff for my department. I learnt things that would come in handy when/if I’m interviewed for academic jobs, but it also brought home how hard it would be.
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.