Catch up and plans

I blinked… and suddenly, it’s January.

Last I knew I was giving a paper at a conference, and then it was a case of … well, head down, and keep on charging through. I didn’t really get time to think, let alone think about writing here. I have missed it though, which is why I’m back here today: things have cleared enough that I’m no longer impersonating a bull determined to get through that red cloak if it kills him, and I can put my head up and breathe…. and think, reflect.

The last couple of months have been busy, yes. I gave that paper at the beginning of November. It was a success, in that I didn’t fluff my lines, or give the wrong information, and I had a number of compliments on my presenting style and professionalism of the inevitable accompanying powerpoint, which is always nice. I have to say, it was the first conference I’d been to that had speakers from a range of institutions (my previous sole experience being a post-graduate conference at the University of Leicester, last May) and while the focus was about history from the Midlands region of England, within that there was a huge amount of variety, some of it really interesting. I got to meet and make connections not only with people from my own uni that I’d not met before, chat more extensively with the ones I had met before, and and chat to entirely new people – which is part of what conferences are all about really. I had a great time, and I fully intend to give more papers in future, if I can (maybe next May, at the next Uni postgrad conference!).

About a week afterwards, I fell ill with flu; this completely knocked me off my feet. It caused horrendous disruption; it meant that I was unable to deliver a talk at an AGM that I was booked for, a seperate repeat talk, and a whole research trip down in Hereford, all happening over the course of an extended weekend. I was ill for the best part of a month after, very ill for the first two weeks, and then slowly getting back on my feet after that, as the flu had sapped me of energy. At the same time I was trying to pull together my application for PhD funding, research and write a book review for my MA, and research and write a project for my MA. I eventually got the research trip rebooked and done; did the repeat talk, and rebooked the AGM talk for next year. The book review got done and was submitted at the beginning of December; I had the results back just before Christmas and was really pleased with that. The PhD application slowly came together, after getting tons of really useful and great advice from a whole range of people and I submitted that two days before Christmas. I’m very excited about the prospective project and I really hope I get to do it. I’ve been told it’s a strong proposal so it stands a chance.

Over Christmas my partner and I went to visit his family in Germany; we spent an amazing two weeks there spending some very cherished time with loved relatives, and although driving there and back was tiring, just having that time away from Leicester and my studies did much to recharge my batteries. On the other hand, when I got back, I well and truly paid for that time away: I had to knuckle down immediately into preparing for the interview and researching the project that I needed to do for the penultimate module for the MA (on Family History). I fear the project may have suffered because of my focus on the interview, but we’ll see (the deadline for the project was four days after the interview). I only need to pass (50%) for a distinction on the MA overall, as I’ve already gained distinctions on the previous two modules; for the next two, only a pass is necessary (and a distinction on the dissertation), but… I know me, I want that higher mark even if it’s not strictly necessary. I should get the results back on that at the beginning of February. Fingers crossed I haven’t let myself down too badly.

The interview: I think it went well. These things are always so very difficult to tell, but I was talkative (I’ve been told many people apparently freeze in front of the panel), and I think I held my own, mostly, with the questions. Some I definitely did well with, others, not so well. We’ll see. I’ll find out on February 19th if the University is putting me forward for consideration to the overall funding body, and the final decision comes on March 23rd.

This month I also become a published author! The article I wrote that developed out of my undergraduate dissertation research, and which won the 2015 Local History Medieval and Early Modern Essay Prize from The Local Historian, will be published at the end of the month, I think. Our university library gets copies; it will be quite something to slip quietly down to the basement, find the copy, and see my name there in hard print. I hope it’s not the last time – and while I know the first time is special, I do hope its not something I ever get blasé about. Although I promise to get excited about the first book, whenever that may be!

Its been a tough few months, but … I think I’m happy with the way I’ve performed, with the work I’ve done. There’s always more to do but I am smart enough to know that in this kind of field, no matter how hard you work, there’s ALWAYS more to be done!

So… what next? I’m working as an assistant teacher at the university, starting mid-February, which will take up some time. Its really good as it gives me some much needed teaching experience that will be invaluable when I start teaching as a PhD student. It does however tie me down to Leicester a bit more; as I have to be at uni all day Thursday, between the teaching (four hours) and my own class (three hours). I’ve also got my continuing work with Leicestershire Victoria County History and the Charnwood Roots Project to work on. I am hoping that before I start teaching I can squeeze in a research trip over to Herefordshire. I have the makings of another article/paper which developed out of a project I did last year, so I need to do some more research on that to develop it a bit more. I may offer that one up for the Leicester postgrad conference in May, when the Call for Papers goes out. There’s another conference in the summer which also has possibilities, and there, I may present something from my MA Dissertation research, but that’s a bit further off. The deadline for the Call for Papers on that one is the end of April, so I’ve time. I also need to start collecting the primary source material for the MA Dissertation again, and do some more work on secondary material for that. And then there’s the final assignments for the MA: another book review (due at the end of March) and another project (due early May). And part of me also wants to continue preparing for the PhD (even though a voice at the back of my mind is whispering, ‘what if…? Isn’t this like buying baby clothes before month three?’). The other part of me is telling the voice to shuddup, and that since I’m officially a part time student, I should make the most of this time to make sure that come September, I can hit the ground running and make the absolute most of the opportunities that this funding can give me. I should, I suppose, prepare too for rejection; decide on a plan of action for it, and investigate alternative sources of funding (giving up is not an option).

And inbetween it all, I need to try to do more posts. I’m not the first to say this, and I won’t be the last, but in telling someone else something (no matter the person, or the media), you’re explaining it for yourself as well. It’s why teaching and research go together at universities: the best researchers know that in explaining things to their students, they’re learning from them as well. No one may be reading here (which is quite okay) but I’m still explaining; and in explaining to the ether, I’m still explaining to myself; learning, and teaching myself. Which is also why a blog is recommended to so many PhD researchers.

Keep an eye out – hopefully I’ll be back very soon with more posts!

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