Tag Archives: phd

One year on and learning to read

Hildegard reading and writing

Last friday marked a year since I started my PhD. Not a year full time, but nevertheless the day felt significant. Here’s what’s different:

  • I know where to find a free car park that’s not too far away
  • There’s a coffee shop on campus with a guy called Leo who knows my order just by looking at my Keep Cup
  • I know most of the postgrads and academics in my department well enough to have a friendly chat in the hallway
  • My office feels like home
  • I have nearly 30,000 words and three publications under my belt
  • I have a writing practice that I’m happy with
  • I LOVE my topic, and feel blessed every day that I’m being paid to write and read and think

Here’s what’s the same:

  • I’m still ridiculously insecure about my writing and expect to be told I’m not really allowed to be here, or that my scholarship has been revoked, at any moment
  • I ride waves of overwhelm more than once a day
  • I wish had more time to do my work
  • I wish I didn’t feel as if I was stealing from my children to do my work
  • Becoming a teaching academic at the end of this process feels like a pipe dream
  • I can only find my way back to my building via two very specific routes – if you span me around with a blindfold on in the middle of the university I could be wandering for an hour

And on learning to read: there’s all this amazing advice out there about writing a PhD, but very little about reading for a PhD. I’ve discovered that the old undergrad method of reading, highlighting, pulling out quotes and then writing to them isn’t really working for me. I need to be able to get through much more material much faster than I did before. I read somewhere that you should take notes as if you’re taking them for someone else. This makes sense to me, but I’m creating a particular kind of work, with a layering of voices, and I find that I need to read slowly, to think about what I’m reading, to hold words carefully in my mind, and then lay them carefully inside my writing. How I balance speed with this kind of care is currently beyond me.

How do you read?

What kind of notes do you take?

Share, please, and put a gal out of her misery.

Supervision, cup cakes, and newspaper bridges

Monkey turns three on Saturday so we’re having a picnic. Except that the forecast says rain. So probably what we’ll have is a trashed house instead. I wouldn’t call myself a baker, but for some reason, as the birthday approaches, it’s all been about the cake. He picked a number three with a caterpillar made from cup cakes on top. No problem. Yesterday we made two batches of cup cakes together (okay he licked a batter spoon while I made two batches of cup cakes) and last night I made three batches of cake batter to freeze and then thaw at the appropriate times so we have a cake to take to child care and enough raw material to make a 3 on Saturday morning.

There’s a box of newspaper in the back of my car because I’m teaching a ten week course about work skills for a group of deaf migrants and I’m going to ask them to build newspaper bridges as a way to learn about teamwork. Also I like that they’ll make something strong from words and pulp. And its fun. And it means for ten minutes I won’t be trying to convey complex concepts in my second language to people learning their third or fourth or fifth language.

Meanwhile, I had my fourth supervision today. I’ve been anxious about it for three weeks. I haven’t done/read/written enough. The scholarship application is in so does that mean that everything I say in this supervision will be magically relayed to the selection committee? Will my supervisor actually like what I’ve written? Sparrow came with me and a friend fed him blueberries on the grass. My supervisor didn’t say whether she liked my work or not. She didn’t say it was crap. She didn’t appear to think I should give up or go home.

I’ve got so much on at the moment that I feel almost constantly anxious. But out of everything, what I find myself focusing on is the bloody cake. I’ve overmixed the batter for the 3 – I’m certain of it. When I put it in the tin tomorrow night it won’t rise. When will I have the time to ice and decorate it? And what about the rain? And what if nobody comes? Whose party is this anyway?

Cake gods, rain gods, supervision and teaching gods, all ye higher beings be with me (no I am not a believer, but a random prayer occasionally never hurt anyone).

A baby in the library

I’m learning a new library. I’ve spent enough time in university libraries to be able to find my way around, but it’s the fine details that I need to get a handle on. Fine details this time around include finding the lift so I can get the pram around and working out where the accessible toilets are so Sparrow doesn’t have to sit in the corridor (or on a toilet floor) while I wee. I am overly anxious about the noise he makes. Squeals or sleep moans or cries or grizzles. Other students speak loudly, their phones ring, check out kiosks beep but somehow, in my overly worried head, this is allowed noise. A baby in the library seems wrong. I have to work on behaving as if I (we) belong.

Two weeks ago Sparrow and I went to some training. Endnote A. And then last week Endnote B. I contacted the trainer before I registered and checked. Yes, she said. Fine. When we got there, in a quiet aside, “You will take him out if he gets upset won’t you? Just better for everyone that way”. I agreed, and the training proceeded.

Sparrow rolled around on a blanket and tried to eat the nappy bag straps. I learnt how to create an Endnote library. He grabbed his feet and grinned. I imported references from Google Scholar. He breastfed. I typed one handed and learnt how to switch between APA6 and Harvard. And again this feeling, that it is possible to do this thing (and also a rush of geeky excitement – hooray for Endnote, and for never having to format a bibliography by hand again). There is a baby and his Mama in the library, and we are finding our way.