PhD induction: Day Four

I’m actually really qurite proud of myself this evening.

To explain why, I need to talk about my background a bit. I think I’ve said before that I’m deaf, and as a deaf person, communication is something I can find very difficult, particularly in noisy environments (and especially if I’m without my interpreters). As such, in the past I’ve found that I’ve really struggled with networking. Even with sign language interpreters, I’ve still struggled. Lack of confidence in myself, lack of social graces. I’ve not grown up with interpreters; although I’ve been deaf as long as I can remember, I’ve not used interpreters on a regular basis until I went back into education in 2011.That lack of access, of communication, does hinder the development of social graces and networking skills in a person, and up until relatively recently it’s been something I’ve really struggled with. I’m better at it now, than I was then, but even as recently as two years ago, I was still really not able to mix well in professional, but social settings. Take two years ago, for example. Then, I attended the school’s social reception, with an interpreter. I stood mostly on the edges of the gathering, trying to summon up the energy to dive in and mingle. Some – staff members who knew me, for example – came and talked to me, and I responded but I know, looking back, that I let my fears get the better of me. I think I left after about 45 minutes. Determined to do ‘better next time’ but not really knowing how to, or how to improve my abilities.

This afternoon, the same event, I did better. Vastly better. It helps, of course, that after two years of a part time MA, and five year of studying at the University of Leicester, that I know a good proportion of the staff, with at least nodding acquaintance, and I also know many of the other PhD students, even before my own PhD started this week. I know that makes a huge difference. I’m still proud of the way that this time, I didn’t hang around on the edges. I dived in, talked to new staff members as well as the old, talked to people I knew, and people I didn’t. My interpreter helped immeasurably (they all know who they are: thank you from the bottom of my heart for this week) but reaching out, responding, keeping the conversation flowing, reacting well – that was all me, not her, ME. And although I’m exhausted, I realised tonight that I’m so much better at that kind of communication than I was, I enjoy it more than I did. Rather than being something to be endured with gritted teeth, these kind of academic social events have become something to look forward to, an opportunity to talk with my peers. One fellow student put it very well this afternoon when we were discussing what I talked about in yesterday’s blog, how I feel that the AHRC Midlands3Cities residential school changed me somehow and I wasn’t quite sure what it was. She suggested that it was the difference between a taught MA and a research degree: being treated as researchers for the first time. She may be right, I need to chew on that some more. But what she is absolutely right about is the importance of discussing anything and everything with one’s peers, not just work but experiences, to get used to the exchange of ideas, of conceptualising and expressing oneself on the fly, not just adequately, but well. It’s one thing to craft a wonderful piece of written work; there is time to do that, time to consider the advantage of this word over that. It is quite another to do the same verbally. Like the difference between a slow, considered painting, and something created quickly, in a matter of minutes, but not slapdash, careless, and with beauty in its own right, regardless of being created so fast.

My day has actually been non-stop talking. I met a friend for coffee this morning; we had a great chat, and saw off a ladybird that seemed to have a bit of a thing for her, off her jumper and hair…! Another friend for lunch; we had a great gossip and a catch up. The afternoon was a session on research via the internet. The increasing digitisation of primary sources is fantastic for historians, although there are drawbacks, and we needed to be aware of those – and where to look for different resources. It’s a field that changes a great deal in a short space of time, thanks to technological advances, so although I went through that session myself two years ago, I decided to sit through it again and I’m glad I did. The School Social was next; I had some cracking conversations, caught up with people I’d not spoken to in some months and I’m glad I went.

Tomorrow: The last day of induction week (although not the last induction event of the year; there is one more next week, and the final one is the week after), which sees a presentation on how to get an article published (which I am really looking forward to), a session on the online library search systems (which, again, has changed quite a bit recently so a refresher is needed) and finally, New History Lab.

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