The First Supervision

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the infamous cookies


You might think, since I’ve been quiet in blog land for the last two days, that I’ve been enjoying time off. Not a bit of it (although I will be taking next weekend off). I’ve spent the last two days nose to the computer keyboard, plugging solidly away. Part of the reason for that was the decision to hold my very first supervision meeting today, with all three of my supervisors (And while who they are is a matter of public record, I do believe in respecting their privacy, so I won’t mention them much, or by name). I have three, by the way, because when I was considering the team and my proposed project, I felt strongly that I needed an additional voice to help guide the archaeological elements that are included in the project, as well as the other two who are more focused on the documentary side of things.

This morning I was nervous, I freely admit. Daft, perhaps, but I was. Supervision meetings were new to me, and it’s not like anyone can really tell you what they’re like as they’re highly individual to the person being supervised, as well as to the supervisors themselves. I am lucky in that I know one of my supervisors fairly well – he supervised my MA dissertation. But that doesn’t negate feelings of nerves. I always want to do well, and the first meeting is important. First impressions and all that.

We went for lunch beforehand, with another PhD student. It was good to see more of the University of Nottingham’s lovely campus. Very different to Leicester – much bigger grounds – and the views are quite amazing. This is one part of the AHRC Midlands3Cities partnership that I really do like, the opportunity to visit other universities, to see different campuses and set ups. That broadening of experience is something that can only stand me in good stead, I think, in future, and prevents a certain insular perspective. It’s good to break out of the same places, the same routines and experience new things, both on a personal and a professional level.

The supervision itself went well, I think. I took cookies! I think they were appreciated (I’m taking something else next time. Don’t know what yet. We’re meeting before lunch, so I have to think imaginatively, perhaps). It seemed to set the tone for what I thought was a nice, relaxed meeting, with some laughter and some seriousness. I had some good news about my dissertation results (unofficial, so not saying anything here till it is official!) and I’ve been set an assignment to do for the next supervision, a 3,000 word essay on the historiography of Herefordshire. It’s one of the ‘positioning’ essays that they want me to write between now and Easter, there’ll be three or four of them, and it should be fun. I’m itching to get my teeth into it – and I may start researching that tomorrow. I’ve also got an abstract to write, for a CfP (call for papers – basically an application to speak at a conference), so that’s exciting too!

Tomorrow: I’m on Leicester campus all day – in the library in the morning, digging into that essay, and in the afternoon I’ll be attending the graduate school induction. Should be fun. Fingers crossed I make good progress with the research!

PhD status: Imminent

It’s about to start, my PhD course. I’m officially registered now, but as of Monday, I will be a probationary PhD student. I have a week of induction to get through, then the project begins. I’m excited and nervous all wrapped up in one; there’s a lot of networking to get through next week and networking is not something I’m very good at. At the moment, at least. Things always improve with practice and I’m going to be getting a lot of practice!

This course is going to be very different to anything that I’ve done before. My two previous degrees were both taught degrees: that is, there were a series of modules with assigned credits, classes that I had to show up for, assignments to complete – to above specific marks – in order to pass. In other words, a taught student, whether BA or MA, is marching to someone else’s drum. The learning is predefined, even the assignments (dissertation apart) are predefined.

A PhD, as a research degree, is completely different. The PhD is about researching, not to tell your teacher how much you know, but to push the boundaries. To provide something new, original. This graphic from Matt Might describes it very well. To put it succinctly: I’m aiming to grow a pimple on the face of human knowledge. But there are no restrictions other than the ones you, yourself, place. There are milestones that you have to hit, certain things to achieve, yes, but otherwise, this time, I’m the drummer. I’m the one leading the way, determining what my project is, what I research, and what – and even when – I submit. It’s difficult for non-academics to understand, I think, the huge difference between the two – and the terrifying emptiness, almost, that seems to herald the next three years. This time two years ago, or last year? I was busy – putting class dates, assignment due dates, into my diary. This time around? Nothing. I have induction dates. I have a date in 2019 when my funding runs out. I have a date in 2020, when I HAVE to submit my thesis by. Beyond that… nothing. The pages of my diary currently gleam as cleanly as they do on January 1st.

Having said that, I’ve been doing some reading over the last few days – of University regulations, mostly – and I’ve gained a much better idea of what is expected of me as a result. I have to pass a probationary review in a year, which involves writing a probationary review report (only 5-10k words) and face a probational review panel. I will have monthly supervisory meetings, and at the end of the second year (and third, if I have not submitted by then), a progress review report (2.5k words) and panel. I am expected to undertake a certain amount of skills and career development training – exactly what, is left to the student. And that doesn’t account for any additional things that I need to do as a Midlands3Cities student. It’s clear that I am the one who has to take responsibility for driving my learning, not just in terms of showing up, not even in terms of organising meetings (which I will have to do) but in terms of leading the meeting, in terms of being the one doing most of the talking, in terms of making sure the project Gets Done.

I can’t wait!

Next week’s induction promises to be busy. I am lucky, at least, in that it’s on familiar ground; I know where to go and I won’t be one of those people peering at a map wondering where the *bleep* XYZ room is. Monday is the initial introductory session with the Postgraduate Tutor. Tuesday I head to Birmingham, to the ICC, for a two-day residential school with M3C that promises to be extremely exhausting and SO MUCH fun! Thursday I’m back at Leicester, for more training and a school social, then Friday for yet more training and New History Lab (expect to hear more about the fantastic Lab over the next few years). The following Wednesday sees the Graduate School Induction, and then the week after, the College of Social Science, Arts and Humanities Induction.

And then the project begins. I’ll have my first formal supervisory meeting, probably with all three of my supervisors, so we’re all on the same page, marching to the same drum, etc. (I’m thinking of bringing cake. 🙂 You can’t go wrong with a bit of cake, can you?). I expect to be told to go away, work on research questions, construct a timeline, begin a lit review, think about what training I need. Then report back in a month with where I am. It’s scary because it’s totally dependent on me to drive it. You have to have self-discipline in spades to do this, and it’s something that I’m going to have to learn to do (I’m not, I freely admit, very good at self-discipline. I am, on the other hand, TOTALLY excellent at procrastination). But I do have some powerful motivators for doing this and I think they’ll see me through. Help me to sit down at my desk and keep bashing at my keyboard even when it’s the absolute last thing I feel like doing.

I’m not sure, at this point, what form the blog will take over the next few months. I want to try to keep writing here; not just to share my thoughts on what I’m reading/discovering, but also to keep a track of my progress. That sort of reflective thinking, understanding where you’ve come from as well as where you’ve got to go, and where you are now, is crucial, I think, in keeping mentally healthy. (Of course, there’s more to keeping mentally healthy than just this but hey, this PhD ain’t about mental health…!) I do know one other thing though.

It’s going to be a hell of a ride. 🙂

Coming?

 

… daily PhD?

… maybe not. Not so sure that particular style is working for me – as evidenced by the lack of daily posts. There is only so much one can say about reading articles after all (I may as well post my notes), and I suspect at this point that won’t change until the second year of PhD studies.

Quite how this is going to shift, I don’t know. But it is a young blog, and blogs often take a while to find their feet, to settle down into their style. I’m not too concerned about that. Maybe a weekly post would work better. Let’s try it, for now:

Monday morning was primarily spent away from my studies, catching up with a few necessities like food shopping and so on. I still have to eat! I spent the afternoon working through a few ideas for increasing the social media use and engagement of a project that I’m going to be working on, in preparation for a meeting on friday. I started to read through an article, but had to leave to collect my partner from the station before I could finish it, unfortunately. In that respect, its a forced ending to my day – 6.15pm or so, is when I more or less have to down tools. I can’t decide whether that’s a blessing or not – I suspect it both is, and isn’t.

Tuesday… Tuesday was amazingly productive actually. Every single thing on my to-do list was crossed off, plus some additionals, making for a very positive end of the day. I finished reading, and making notes on, the article from Monday. I use the Cornell notes method at the moment, which helps a lot in terms of not only getting it straight in my head what the article is about (active, rather than passive reading), but also helps me to relate the material to my own research topic. Then I made some rough notes, starting to draw together the plan for the lit review, starting to think about how to frame and position various historians and theories with relation to my research topic.

I got quite a few emails done as well, in a veritable blizzard of productivity. Some of these I had been putting off for too long, but they got back to me fairly quickly, and they turned out to be relatively painless. I did a little housework (such as the ever-eternal washing up!) and prepared for a trip to the Record Office in Wigston, on Wednesday.

Wednesday… the planned trip to the record office. I’m doing a little voluntary work as part of the Charnwood Roots Project, where I’m researching the history of stage coaches and small carriers in parishes in the Charnwood Forest area (to the North West of Leicester). I’m well overdue in doing work on this, but I’ve been looking forward to it for a while, so … time to knuckle down. I managed to make serious inroads on the trade directories, which I think will be the main source for this project, starting from 1794 and I managed to get to 1849. It seems that although the stage coaches died fairly quickly after the introduction of the railways, the small carriers, going between the parishes and the towns, survived much longer – serving the equivalent of the rural bus network today. It will be interesting to trace the services for each parish, see how much continuity there was. I’ve already seen that with coach builders, there was a continuing trade from one particular street in Leicester, for example, although the actual business changed hands at least once. I suspect, that for parishes where the same person/family did this role for decades, they would have been seen as of key importance to the parish, like the parish clergyman or school teacher – if they weren’t disreputable in other ways. I have found evidence in local newspapers, later on (latter part of the 19th Century) that the carriers sometimes had a relationship with alcohol that was, well, lets describe it as less than healthy! Anyway, I’ve scanned/photographed the relevant pages with my phone and camscanner (more about that in another post), so what needs to be done now is a) extracting the relevant information out of the trade directories into parish format, and b) organising the photographs so that they’re ready for turning over to the wider Charnwood Roots project, ready for someone else to incorporate as part of the parish histories. So that will be a day or two’s worth work – probably starting next week.

One thing that I should really note is how good it felt to get into the record office and back into primary sources. I reflected on this in a comment on this post, by someone else who is doing a DailyPhD style blog, although in the sciences rather than the humanities like me. Stewart commented on how he got ‘far too excited’ because he was doing real science (for a change, rather than other stuff) and it immediately struck home for me, because I felt the same way in the record office. Nothing quite like the smell of a record office in the morning… (!) but in all seriousness, I think most people who work as serious historians will recognise what I mean: the excitement that comes when handling old documents, primary sources, of figuring out how to make them relate to your theory, of the implications of them… For me, however, there’s the ‘ding’ moment when you find a document or something that completes the puzzle, makes your theory work, makes you understand something that you were trying to work out… how it contributes to the ding isn’t so important, but the ‘ding’ moment is this moment of incredible clarity where the world, just a little bit, a tiny little bit, suddenly makes sense, or more sense than it did before, and I just feel on cloud nine when I get that. I don’t know whether other historians feel the same way – its not something that I think most people would feel comfortable discussing!

Anyway, back to the week’s review. Thursday, I uploaded the photographs and PDFs (of the trade directories) from my phone to my laptop, so they’re in a better format for working with next week. This was easier said than done as previously I had done this on a one-by-one basis – not suitable when you’re dealing with several hundred photos! So I had to research, investigate and download a suitable app for downloading large amounts of material, and finally found one, then had to sort them out – what with one thing and another that took most of the afternoon. I also did some final preparation for Friday’s meeting, then rounded off the day with a little reading of an edited book.

The meeting on Friday went well – that was discussing a new job that I will be doing, very part time, working as a social media officer for the Leicestershire Victoria County History project. This is something I’m looking forward to getting involved with – even did a little work on it on Friday afternoon and was very happy to see results immediately, so that’s good news. I’m also hoping to put in for another part time job doing research – it all looks good on the CV and its something I enjoy doing, so why not?

Next week: More work on the social media project, applying for that other research role, more work on Charnwood Roots, starting to pull together that Lit Review, more reading, and more research work in the record office – can’t wait for that day, at least! My mother is dropping by for a cup of tea tomorrow, on the way past, so it will be good to see her too 🙂

catchup

Having not blogged in over a week, I thought a little catch up post might be in order. The lack of blog posts hasn’t been down to no work being done (and ergo, nothing for a blog post). Rather, it has been down to the unending sameness of the days: get up, have coffee, take my partner to the station, get home, pull out the books, start reading/making notes, have lunch, more reading/making notes, answer emails, do dinner, the washing up, watch TV, go to bed. Rinse, and repeat. Bor—ing. Boring to do, much less to write about, even much less to read about, I would imagine.

Yesterday, however, was different. I went into my University’s library for the day, and I had a fantastic day, got to meet a couple of friends for coffee, do some productive work, and come home feeling brighter and more positive. While I wouldn’t recommend it for every day, It was very very clear to me that actually, everything from the day – from driving, parking, walking around campus, through to coffee and socialising, through to actually studying, contributes to a sense of collegiality, a sense of ‘being an academic’ in a way that sitting at home at my desk, wading through the secondary texts… doesn’t. Its easy to get side tracked at home. Less so when you’ve made a conscious decision to go somewhere, for a specific purpose, and you’ve a set time in which to get things done.

I’ve therefore made a decision: from now on, regardless, I’ll be making trips like this to the library (or somewhere else appropriate) at least once a week, and I’m giving serious thought to going to places like museums once a week. We’ll see. Variety is good for me. 🙂

difficult to motivate myself

the heat today is making it difficult for me to press on, particularly this afternoon. This morning wasn’t too bad: i got some serious notes done on the Coward book. It’s really firmed up my understanding of the positioning of the various different splinter groups within the overaching Protestant faith, the different theological concepts and positions that are possible to take. Perhaps more importantly I’m now understanding what ‘Puritans’ aren’t, and what position/beliefs the average Protestant of the period would have held.

This afternoon I read part of How to get a PhD by Estelle M Phillips and Derek S Pugh. A really useful book, I’m starting to get a much firmer idea of what the PhD entails and what I can expect, which is a good thing.

Tomorrow promises to be even warmer. In this heat its difficult to concentrate, all I want to do is to go and lie on the bed in the other room and doze. I wonder if it is worth, for a few days, just adopting continental sleeping patterns and going for a siesta, and then working later? I may try it….

break from work

The last few days have seen me have a break from my studies – mostly due to my Mum visiting from Thursday evening. So, a bit of a catch up…

Wednesday was primarily focused on preparation for Mum’s visit. I did do some reading of the Coward book, but not a huge amount. Mostly it was cleaning and preparing her room, that sort of thing.

Thursday we were paid so I went food shopping for the weekend in the morning, immediately after I’d dropped my partner at the station. Tesco was so quiet at that time of day, it was really pleasant. Will repeat that because it’s so much better than shopping when everyone else is. This is one of the things that has to be remembered about studying at this level: because so often you’re working at weekends and in the evenings, things like buying food and taking care of the house still have to be done and sometimes study has to give way to allow for these things at times that others might find odd.

In the afternoon I went to the New History Lab’s career workshop. It was a really good workshop, led by two lecturers at the University and it was really useful, explaining how career choices can affect things like your REF score, what sort of things we should be thinking about when we read job adverts, and how to frame an academic CV correctly, how to make sure it ‘scans’ well, that sort of thing. I got some really useful tips about my CV which I will definitely be incorporating (and indeed, already have, as I sent a job application off this morning – more about that in a minute). I had a really nice chat with a few people too so it was a useful afternoon. Then I collected my partner from the station and set off for home. Mum arrived around 8ish and we had a nice quiet evening chatting.

Friday Mum and I went to Bradgate Park outside Leicester – neither of us had ever been and it was fun. I had forgotten that there’s a dig going on there, we wandered over to have a look and I was very pleased to be able to chat to a number of staff and students from the Archaeology department at the University. It’s a really interesting dig, looking at different parts and ages of the park and the results will be very interesting to view, should really change how the park is perceived, I think. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to walk very fast due to a sore foot so we weren’t able to walk as far as I would have liked, but I definitely want to return, maybe with my hearing dog when I get him or her.

Saturday I met up with someone who has just completed her thesis on a similar subject to what I’m proposing to do, but in a different area. It was really useful to meet someone to chat with her about it all, but also to hear about her experiences of doing a PhD. I found that the hour and a half time that I had allotted soon disappeared and I was late to meet my partner and Mum. Once we’d met up, we went to the Richard III centre in Leicester. Its an interesting experience. It didn’t really tell us very much that we didn’t already know, as we’ve all watched the various TV programmes about the history and the dig. Parts of the exhibition left a little to be desired – Mum commented that in places, with different speakers booming out different bits of information, she felt her ears were a bit overwhelmed and assaulted, almost. I particularly liked the way that the exhibition featured the changing perceptions of Richard through the centuries, the way that the story was manipulated by different historians and playwrights for their own purposes. It really demonstrates how history is never about ‘the truth’, but different people’s versions and perspectives – and to me, that is what makes history so interesting. Sadly we weren’t able to view inside the Cathedral & Richard’s new resting place as the Cathedral was closed for the afternoon. So we went and had a nice lunch, and then home to rest my poor foot – I was limping very badly by this point.

Sunday we relaxed and chatted some more, cooked good food, and Mum left in the afternoon. In the evening my partner and I joined some friends to play Ingress in Wigston, turning Wigston a nice shade of blue.

Today has been very much about getting back to work. I did a lengthy job application form this morning for a job that would be part time (2.5 days a week) and would continue throughout the next year. I have serious hopes for this and put in some hard work into the form. I’ve also written a lot of emails, catching up from correspondence that came in last week while I was neglecting my uni work. I also did a little reading and some washing up – the never-ending washing up!

The majority of this week should be much quieter, and I hope to get the Coward book finished – I need to start making more inroads into more books and articles as I only have July left before I need to start working on primary source material.I also hope to spend some time working on the Charnwood Roots project as I owe them some serious time and work.

what the… where’s the day gone?

you know that moment when you suddenly realise you’re hungry and you look at the clock and are stunned at how late it is?

… yeah. that.

Today has been amazingly productive. I like days like today, where I feel like I’m getting somewhere and not just doing my hamster on a wheel impersonation. So far:

  • Read through, and made notes on, the sample CVs, cover letters and applications that were sent out to us as part of the preparation for the New History Lab workshop on Thursday;
  • Replied to an email sorting out a meeting on saturday;
  • Made some notes from a PhD how-to book – E.M. Phillips and D.S. Pugh, How to get a PhD: A handbook for Students and their Supervisors (5th edn, Maidenhead, 2010);
  • Contacted a conference organiser about getting communication support for a conference in November;
  • Applied for two jobs (temporary admin jobs for the summer);
  • Replied to a fellow academic whose research interests are sort of touching on mine;
  • Wrote a blog on yesterday’s exploits, and a blog on today’s accomplishments;
  • Created a poster for a friend who is setting up a website celebrating the 50th anniversary of the MA I’m doing, so that it can be publicised at an important lecture on Saturday;
  • Had lunch. late. very late!

Not bad. Not bad at all! Its now 5pm; I have to leave to collect my partner from the station at around 6.30pm, so in the remaining time, I’ve got to clean the bathroom and do the washing up. And then, if I get time, I can read more of the Coward book or the how-to book. That’s doable. I think!