PhD induction: Graduate School Induction

The last, but one, of the PhD induction events was today. At this point, it’s perhaps starting to drag a little, as one of my new friends said to me this afternoon. And there’s one more to go to! But for all that it was fun and I did get some information from it, so it wasn’t a total bust.

But I’m getting in advance of myself. I headed into uni early, after dropping off my partner at the station – parking at the Uni of Leicester is a nightmare at the moment (thanks to building works in the nearest car park) and getting there early to find parking is a must. While eating breakfast there I was thinking about the trip to the University of Nottingham campus yesterday and how you experience space without a map, and perceptions of space around us, how we move through it, experience it. Does space feel larger when you walk it as opposed to driving it, and when you only see part of the space? Do we overdefine spaces by boundaries in modern life, compared to our early modern or medieval predecessors who lived, largely, without maps? Is the way that we perceive and imagine space different to those early modern predecessors? I cannot help but think that we must do, because so much of our lives today are shaped by having a perceptual, overhead and map-like vision of the spaces that we move through. Who here hasn’t googled their house, understood a place that they were about to visit through google maps? Is it a common ability, now, to be able to remember what we see via digital maps, to relate where we are on the ground to an imagined mental map of the space around us? Even in a pre-digital age, I remember pouring over maps, learning to mapread, to understand the spaceand the world we live in, in relation to other spaces that we cannot yet necessarily experience because we haven’t been there. We live in a connected world – quite literally. We understand how Leicester is connected to Nottingham, the spaces that we have to move through to go from A to B. In today’s world, we can – through maps, through google, visualise the next bit of space that we can’t necessarily see, without having actually been there. In the medieval period, when people undertook pilgrimmages, maps could simply be a route, a series of places that one had to go through to go from A to B. So if I was in a small village outside Ludlow, going to pilgrimmage at Canterbury, to the Shrine of Thomas Becket, then my route map might be – small village-Ludlow-Hereford-Cheltenham-Oxford-London-Canterbury. But that’s not a direct route, not the shortest one, just the simplest one, in that there would be something like a road, a route, with signposts and people to direct you on your way. There was no need to percieve, to understand spaces in the same way that we do now. I think we’ve lost, almost, a sense of adventure, in our digital, mapped world. But then, medieval and early modern people would have totally understood and known, in a very deep and full way, their locality, their parish, the areas around them. Modern people would struggle to do this, I think. I’m a historian and I have no idea where, for example, on a very simple level, the parish boundaries are for my home. But 500 years ago people did need to know – the knowledge was imposed on them, they would ‘beat the bounds’, walk around the edge of their parishes, so that they knew, to the last inch, where their parish ended and someone else’s began. They knew where the boggy bits were in winter, where the best wild strawberries grew, where the worst wild apples were that were really only good for pigs. They understood where the safest crossing place was for a river. In short, their perception of the world, the knowledge that they considered important to know abour their locality, their imagined space, is totally different to ours. Does this mean that their world was more defined than ours? Or just defined differently? Interesting questions, all, and totally outside of my sphere of research. (and one of my former lecturers, if he was ever to read this, would probably slap his hand against his forehead and start muttering about why I didn’t think all about this during the MA….!)

After breakfast – both physical food and thinking – this morning was spent in the library. I had intended to start the bibliographic search for the positioning essay that I have to do, and I did start that, after sending rather a lot of emails (trying to sort out too much at the moment I think). In history lit reviews – at least, the ones focused on British or Irish history – one of the best places to start is BBIH, the Bibliography of British and Irish History, which is a massive database of all publications on British or Irish history, regardless of whether it’s a book or an article. Its got a powerful search tool, and to begin with I just typed in ‘Herefordshire’ and the beginning and end dates of my search period. The results were interesting and have suggested some books and articles that I need to follow up on. But what was really startling was the first result – my own name! It’s very disconcerting, seeing your name and work pop up like that when you’re not expecting it – it quite threw me for a moment. And then I did the inevitable screen grab and sent it to my mum. (Doesn’t everyone do that?)

After noting down a few books, chasing a publisher, and suggesting a book to the library for the ‘more books!’ campaign, it was time to grab a quick lunch and then head off to the Graduate School Induction. This started with a brief introductory talk from the Graduate Dean, then was followed by another brief talk on managing the student-supervisor relationship. After that we broke into groups and discussed our three biggest concerns/worries, that we had to write onto post-it notes. I got to meet some more new people, including one very nice physics student that I had a lovely chat with afterwards. My three biggest concerns were:

  1. the question of whether I should bother my supervisor with something minor (we get told so much about ‘look in the handbook! the answer’s in the handbook!’ and tales of students asking where they can find things that they’ve been told so many times before in class. All that does have an impact and I’m one of these people that prefers to be self-reliant rather than bother someone else. If anything I probably carry that too far in the wrong direction and struggle on alone when I shouldn’t.
  2. Organisation. Not of admin, or my time, but of my resources, making sure that I’ve checked every single place that I should be checking for something, checked every single available possible resource. I shamelessly borrowed this from something a friend said, they were worried about organisation in a slightly different way but in discussing it in the break, I realised that they were tapping into something that had been nagging away in the back of my brain (thank you to the friend – yes, you know who you are!).
  3. Not being good enough. I struggle with imposter syndrome and, yes, I worry that one day, I won’t be good enough. I’ve invested so much into this, emotionally, that I think if that day ever came, it might just break me. I’m really not sure how I would handle that and I think it’s something I do need to consider, not because I’m anticipating being not good enough any time soon,but because, inevitably, at some point, I will stop. Even if I continue to learn, continue to write, one day my brain will stop or just be unable to the kind of mental processing that I need it to do and I may have to live with the consequences of that.

Boy. That last one was dark! I didn’t think about it that way when I was writing it on the post-it note, but yes, that last one is definitely a big worry and probably one that many people share as well. No answers to that one but the rest of the induction was filled with advice – advice for mental health, wellbeing, information on the student’s union, various training courses that are available to us. So much to consider, to think about. It’s almost overwhelming.

The next – and absolute last (I think) – PhD induction session is on Monday, which is the College of Social Science, Arts and Humanities induction. It should be interesting, and comes straight after a class on Research Design and Practice, so another very long day. Tomorrow is lunch with a friend, fitted around more historiographical lit review research, from home this time. I did my MA dissertation at the same time as this friend did theirs, so the lunch tomorrow is in the nature of a ‘hooray, we made it!’ celebration lunch! Should be fun and I’m really looking forward to a good catch up. Not going to blog tomorow – well, not unless I have any major breakthroughs in the lit review!

 

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