PhD Induction: the absolute last one… ever

… I hope!

Yesterday we had the final inductions, the College of Social Science, Arts and Humanities (CSSAH) induction, and the AHRC Midlands3Cities students were pulled out in the middle of that to have our own induction. By my count, that made induction number five, not counting mini ones like induction to the library, etc. Fortunately the people who make up the welcoming team seem aware of the fact that we’ve been more than thoroughly inducted and welcomed, and even made a joke of it yesterday. One brave soul, who has a foot in two different departments, admitted to enduring 7 inductions!

The CSSAH session was useful – they handed round a sheet that asked us to think about different positions with regard to managing the supervisory relationship between supervisor and researcher, and then to discuss with our nearest neighbour in twos. One useful thing that came out of that discussion was to consider numbering our drafts in the same way that software programme designers number theirs: for major changes, number them by 1, 2, 3 etc., for minor changes, number them by 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, etc [the amusing part was when we both turned to each other and said at the same time, ‘write that down’!]. I also thought about making meta notes: making a note of where things are, a sort of overview document of not only WHAT kind of documentation and files I have, but how they are stored, where, the sub-files, etc. Those who have never studied at this level may be thinking I’m ever so slightly nuts, but yes: That much paperwork DOES get generated and its important to keep ontop of it all, keep it sorted out.

We then went onto the M3C session, where we met the Leicester site directors, three students who have preceeded us in the programme and who gave us tips, and we talked through some of the requirements that M3C have of us. What was most useful for me was meeting the person who is responsible for approving my communication support expenditure; putting a face to a name is always good. While we’ll sit down for a more in-depth chat at the end of October, it was good to do some preliminary chatting and agreement on practices to get me through the next few weeks.

The inductions weren’t the only event we had yesterday. Class 2 of the Research Design and Practice module took place in the morning, with lots of heavy discussion on formulating research questions. The group work made me realise that I had taken slightly for granted that there would be one particular kind of primary source evidence in existence, and that I didn’t really know what to find in answer to the question that I was posing for part of my research. This is something that needs to be addressed, fairly quickly I think, and possibly brought up with my supervisors for discussion in November. Having said that, I’m not worried about this. Even if it turns out that the primary source evidence that I had assumed did exist, doesn’t, then it’s not an insurmountable problem: the absence of evidence/material is something every researcher has to learn how to deal with/handle sooner or later. It’s not the absolute disaster that it may otherwise appear on first sight – and in some respects, it’s something I’ve already had to deal with. My first ever article (written from the research I did for my undergraduate dissertation), on the battle at Cursneh Hill, grew partially out of a lacunae in the primary source evidence, as it forced me to look elsewhere to understand not only the gaps in the evidence, but also the impact of the event that I was seeing in evidence much, much later.

The end of induction certainly does not mean that the uni is now shooing us out into the world to toddle off and research alone like good little doctoral students. The Research Design and Practice class is running till the end of term (before Christmas), and I think there may be a subsequent module to run after Christmas to the Easter break; I have the beginning of a two-part course on history teaching and training starting tomorrow and a brief meeting with my primary supervisor to discuss training needs; and an event at Nottingham Uni next Tuesday which may give me the opportunity to try something I’ve long wanted to do. In between those, I’ve lots to research, as I said before, I have a historiographical review essay on C17th Herefordshire to write and an abstract for a conference. The abstract is coming together in my mind, and I’ve made a few brief notes on that, so I know how I’m going to approach it. I’ve a huge stack of articles that I’ve printed out to read for the historiographical review, so there’s lots to do! In some respects, Induction really doesn’t represent what a PhD is like for a student, in that there’s far more socialising, networking and talking than normally happens (I think, usually, that the life of a PhD student can be quite isolating). Which is why New History Lab is so important. Their next meeting is on Friday, and I’m baking…. I’ve promised to bring along a batch of the infamous cookies from my supervision, so Thursday evening I’ll be batch-baking those. I just hope I don’t end up with a soggy bottom or a Mary Berry glare of doom!!

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