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.

psychology

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Part of the process of studying at this level is gaining a great understanding and mastery of self, in a number of different ways. This can mean things like the skills that you will gain that are transferrable to other situations (e.g. research skills). It can also mean a greater understanding of what makes you as a person, tick, and gain more self-confidence and selfworth.

I think I wrote before that a request for communication support for a conference had been turned down last week. While that situation is still not resolved, I finally realised last night quite why that has affected me so badly (not helped by two nights of very bad, fitful sleep). It very much ties into imposter syndrome: when you’ve spent years quite convinced that at any moment the uni will write, regretfully, that a mistake was made, that you have to leave, anything that provides a setback plays into that. That is particularly the case with this, which is connected to my deafness. There is a very long history of deaf people being told that we cannot do things (we can’t read, we shouldn’t sign, as doing so makes us look like performing monkeys, and so on), and being told “no” in such a way really plays into that history. In addition, it comes at a time when I’m waiting to hear whether a journal will take my first article and when I’m trying to pull together a PhD proposal. Right now, I’m getting achingly close to being able to achieve my dreams. When you’ve spent so long, and worked so hard on, trying to achieve those dreams, the thought of actually not achieving them is incredibly threatening. I really cannot overemphasise that.

Understanding this is half the battle; I am now putting things into place to try to stop it having quite such an effect on me, including having the above picture on the wall above my computer. What also helps is that yesterday I received an email from a contact in Herefordshire, asking me to come and deliver an hour long talk on an aspect of my research into Leominster’s history at their AGM in November, to 60 people. This will be the first time I’ll have spoken this long and it was with a lot of trepidation this morning that I wrote the email accepting his offer. And yes, I have declared my deafness (although I think they knew already). There will be room for questions afterwards so I had to. I’ve given them two options, one fun and informal (and cheap!), the other costly and more formal. We’ll see which they go for.

So today has been taken up with admin this morning, chasing people for various things, and this afternoon I’ve been getting into civil war politics in Coward. Fun! One foot in front of the other and keep b*ggering on, as Churchill would say.

Sometimes its all you can do. Pick yourself up after the knock downs.. and.. keep b*ggering on. I should have that printed on a T-shirt!