Ph.Ds Can Seriously Damage Your Health!

So this has languished for a week. But not without reason.

It appears that this Ph.D is seriously bad for my health. Since I have started I have been back and fore to the doctor with numerous ailments, stress related disorders and health complaints. I seem much more prone to chest infections, stomach complaints and viruses than at any other time in my life. Stress obviously is a big factor in these matters – and that can be hard to prescribe for.  Since starting my academic journey I have been hospitalised 3 times, operated on once (with another in the offing) scanned innumerable times, been prescribed antibiotics more times than I can count and been plastered (and not in a good way) once. Impressive track record eh! That’s not to mention the recurring incidences of tennis elbow caused by typing for many hours on end and the terrible weight gain, caused by comfort eating (caused by deadlines)  and prolonged periods of sitting and being unable to find time to exercise.

The latest in this long line of maladies, and the reason for my non appearance last week (no doubt my two followers and my random commenter* were distraught) was a sudden excursion, in the middle of the night, to the local A&E department with what has since been described as Biliary Colic. It was rather painful and extremely sudden and resulted in hospitalisation for 3 days after which I made a break for it.

Things ain't what they used to be in the pre MRSA days!

And my primary thought whilst I was lying in my sick bed was … yes you’ve guessed it, “shit I am losing time on my PhD”. Have you ever tried working on a hospital ward? (and I don’t mean as a nurse!) It is impossible. Even reading the kind of trite drivel you can buy from the magazine stand becomes a feat of determination. I am beginning to feel like a walking (or in the case of the broken leg last January ‘sitting’) disaster area when it comes to health matters. I am not denying that my age is also probably a factor – fingers crossed I submit before I succumb to the dreaded menopause!

I did dread telling my supervisor that ‘yet again’ I had been ill and that my work was ‘yet again’ liable to be slightly delayed. Luckily she was pretty supportive and understanding. It is far better to have these things ‘on the record’ in case at some future date questions are asked such as:  ‘So Ms Pimpernel, why has it taken you twenty years to complete your Ph.D?’ 

The irony in all this is I have been advised to follow a very low fat diet – which is what I have been doing since August! Having talked to fellow sufferers it appears that one of the triggers for biliary colic is weight loss – go figure! Does this mean the more weight I lose (surely a good thing) the increased risk I have of biliary colic attacks (a VERY BAD thing)? 

So you see, dear reader (for by now I have surely lost half my audience of two), I send out this warning to anyone thinking about embarking on a prolonged course of advanced study – Ph.Ds can seriously damage your health


Half Term

… has been rather a pain in the butt – I can probably write off the last two weeks because of the constant interruption, the cries of ‘I’m bored … so I am mighty relieved to have the ‘not so little anymore’ one back at school from Monday!

My New Mantra

I have 8 weeks to complete a 25,000 word section – which means as of Monday I will need to produce 3,125 a week … my goal is to have at least this many words by Sunday evening. It is possible to write a couple of thousand words a day when one is focused and not too distracted by offers of 50% off all orders from Monsoon  and at least a seven hundred to a thousand of those should be ‘good’ words: the sort you can read without shuddering at your own ineptitude.

I have found that I work through my thinking via writing – it is no good me me planning what I am going to write. My thoughts are of the willo’ the wisp variety which means the minute I try to pin them down they float off into another realm. I found when I was writing a paper for a conference a short while ago that I am far better and much more fluid if I free write without paying too much close attention to the editing process. The only thing I do as I go along is footnoting (because sod’s law tells us that if you fail to footnote your information as you use it you will immediately forget where the hell you got that information from and spend the next 3 months trying to locate it!) .

So the plan is – the weekend will be reading in dribs and drabs. Monday morning will be spent structuring each section to create an over all ‘plan’ and Monday afternoon I will try to have at least 1000 words down on the page. Whether those make it to the final cut is highly doubtful but early on writing without holding back is the key … words, any words, down on a page takes away the fear of empty page syndrome. 

I shall also be referring back to The Thesis Whisperer blog for handy hints on how to write productively; especially  the on writing section.

One other consideration that I will be confronting over the next two days will be whether or not to write this section in Scrivener or whether to stick with what I know and keep on plugging away with word?  I am sure come Monday I will let you all know what i decide … that’s if you can wait til then!

Mind Mapping II

So the last couple of days I have been testing out mind mapping and the best thing I have found is a cheap app for the iPad – at last I have found a real use for the iPad other than playing solitaire city

rather to fiddly and inflexible and space is constricted

I tried paper and pen – using different colours etc and whilst it was a worthwhile process it was fiddly and once you had positioned your word/image it had to stay there so it got very messy after a while and was quite inflexible. On the iPad you can relocate text boxes with a whoosh of a finger. After having a quick go on the  free version I downloaded the upgrade for SimpleMind – and I think it will provide a useful tool when I am just sitting in front of the TV or in bed, and my mind is still racing with ideas. I can save maps, cross reference them and I can even email them to myself which will prove handy – and better still it is paper free!

Whiteboards are brilliant but a little large to carry around with you.

I also have a mind map on my white board which I often look at or add things too – this is also more useful than paper but confined by space. With the iPad the map can grow exponentially and it never becomes an issue of space – you can even overlap separated maps etc … so I can see me finding this very useful

SimpleMind software for iPad makes mind mapping a doddle

The whole thing is very interactive and intuitive and the whole process is now starting to feel productive – and I do like it when something leads to productivity rather than procrastination … It also solves the problem of having to read my handwriting which she I am in a hurry can be rather less than tidy. The other advantage of course is portability – no need to put them in a folder, or to cart around bulky items- they all sit quietly on the iPad until you are able to open them up – and of course there is the added advantage of using them on the go so you never have to lose the thread of idea !

Out of all three methods the iPad is going to prove very useful. I think I will forgo the pen and ink variety and use the whiteboard as a more permanent over view map of the entire project … So thumbs up from me!

Mind Mapping

… is something I hear a lot about and have tried to do myself at the beginning of a new idea. On occasion it has worked wonders and the ideas have flowed out of the connective tissue that I have created between the words, and others time it just looks like a complicated over-tangled mess.

I think the problem with this is I have never really been taught to use this as a productive part of the thinking process. So many people swear by it and I know I should be able to grasp its basics. I envision it like a more complicated game of connections, where you say a word and your opponent replies with the first word they ‘connect’ to the word you have just said. I then try to connect the individual words to each other to try and identify a pattern of sorts. Often the problem seems to be there are too many connections and it becomes an impenetrable mass of language.

The second problem is that when I mind map and then leave it or a while, all the ideas it created initially seem to have been erased in the elapsed time.  The map itself isn’t stable enough to trigger the ideas it created in the first instance … although this can also be a positive thing as it can trigger better ideas maybe?

My final concern is that to create a thorough or ‘stable’ mind map seems to be time consuming (something I never seem to have enough of) – when you google images of mind maps they are incredibly detailed and use multi textual reference points such as abbreviations, images and words, hyperlinks, web clipping etc. There is even software to help you use mind mapping effectively (yet another one of those things I downloaded to help productivity and failed to get to grips with)

In a way this blog today has become a linear mind map about the pros and cons of mind mapping. Or is the term ‘linear mind map’ oxymoronic?

So my day’s dilemma is – if I spend a day training myself to mind map would it be a day well spent or 24 hours I’ll never get back? Mind Map, Mind Flap or Mind Flop? Is mind mapping just another form of procrastination?

I am trialling IMindMap by Think – I shall post my results on Thursday.

Diaries and Planners

I need a new one – I like the 18 month planners by Moleskine but they run from July to December (but ironically not from December to July – which would make sense surely?)
My daughter bought me a diary for Christmas which I felt obliged to use and now I find that as the end of the year draws closer I need a lovely soft back moleskin planner – so will unfortunately have to opt for the 12 month variety.
Ok so this isn’t as much of a problem as it sounds but the academic year runs at odds with normal 12 month planners … which means I can’t neatly file my diaries into corresponding academic years (sounds anally retentive but it is good for trying to remember past conferences etc) …

I also like the 18 month variety as it allows an overlap for each year and makes planning more fluid ( I am actually surprised at how my own geekiness has grown)
Oh the frustration! And I need to solve the problem soon as my commitments for 2012 are already mounting! I fear I am going to have to opt for the 12 month version! *sigh*

Literary QUERY:While I am here does anyone out there know of novels from about 1900 whose main or supplementary characters include a woman writer (working writer, journalist,novelist)? a fellow Scots Modernist is on the prowl for material of this nature and I wondered if anyone dropping by might have any relevant information.

Past Lives

… are wonderful things to investigate, especially when those lives are so eloquently reported in such a periodical as Votes for Women.

I spent a marvellous few hours absorbed in the minutiae that was the weekly organ of the WSPU, laughing at the satirical cartoons, to rival Gyles, and the witty ‘court reports’ which regaled readers of suffragist exploits in the preceding week.

Regular features included protest reports and then follow-ons referring to the arrest and trial of those involved. One such protest, which was carried out on the 21st of November 1911, resulted in 232 arrests – all of which were carefully reported over four pages. The names of those arrested appeared like an honour roll each week … it really brought home what some women endured to give me (and all women) the power to have  a say in the way their country is run. It is such a shame that political apathy is so prevalent in young women today; they obviously feel very disconnected from the inequalities and oppression felt by their foremothers.

Amongst all of this reportage I found a large announcement referring to another magazine I am working on, which will prove useful in my discussion on rhetoric, as it stands apart, stylistically and tonally, from the rest of the newspaper. I had to transcribe it into type as taking images is not allowed unfortunately – a photocopy would have been wonderful However the binding was badly damaged and several leaves were loose and ragged. It smelt of years gone by and when I first began to turn the pages the dust from it caused me the wheeze a little.

After nearly six hours with no break or refreshment I left, having taken copious notes  – but plan on returning very soon for another forage. It was inspirational to be able to handle these age-worn editions personally. Often archival material is too fragile to touch (I have to say given the state of these I was surprised to be allowed access) so when you do get to manhandle some it is a very worthwhile experience.

The facilities at the NLS are pretty good, although the desks are a little high for typing on a laptop (or maybe the chairs are a little low?) so it can also be uncomfortable when working for long stretches. I am taking a cushion next time.


… is never more important than when visiting archives or reading rooms (which I shall be doing tomorrow, as I have tracked down those elusive periodicals at a library near me YIPPEE).

They ALWAYS have a list of regulations as long as your arm, such as no pens! NO PENS! How old do they think we are??? 12? Pencils only – this is a pain in the arse  as pencil notes are feint by nature and often do not last very long, ensuring that you have to spend time typing up notes or at least inking them in – so it takes twice as long!

You are also not allowed to remove books/magazines, take in drink or food, scan, photocopy or photograph,material due to the vagaries of copyright law (that is a minefield!)

These restrictions make you rethink how you approach the material you are about to view. You have a limited amount of time, often you will have travelled to view the books or archives, and will be booked on a return train. You have limited resources with which to make notes (though now I see phones and laptops are allowed in as long as they are silent). So each moment you have in the reading room is precious. Who knows when you will get back to see the material again, or even if you will get back at all.

Now normally I handwrite my notes because I find the engagement between material, brain, pen and paper somehow acts as a sort of synthesis for the information, allowing me to absorb it more thoroughly than if I were typing (typing means I have to focus on the typing rather than the information – it is less engaged and more distracting than pen and paper) but through necessity I am going to have lug my laptop with me so that I can process notes as efficiently (and legibly ) as possible. I will need to be more discriminating on what I take notes on … making sure I have the wholly relevant material, uncluttered by the irrelevancies. This means I have to read more carefully, and with more focus… not an easy task for someone as easily distracted as me. Oh the pressure …

Then there is the long journey (3hours return), the uphill walk from train station to Library, the heavy bag (laptops and cameras do not make light travelling companions), the security process, the finding a comfortable seat in an unfamiliar working environment, the expense (well if I made sardines where would I sit to eat them!) and on top of all that having to work in a totally different way to that which I am habituated …  ….

Library – Fingask Castle – by me!

Given all the problems you would think I would dread these visits .. but no! They are like nectar to an academic soul.The mere scent of a reading room is enough to flare my nostrils in anticipation. The touch of a crinkled page, the musty smell of a decrepit journal, the audible ‘hush’ of the other readers is thrilling and inspiring and surprisingly means you work far more effectively than anywhere else – and without the guilt of a pile of washing staring at you from the hallway, or a school phoning to tell you your child is unwell usually when there is deck all wrong with them or you need to get the casserole on for supper. It is indescribably wonderful to be able to think in solitude and without the day to day distractions of domestic life. Bliss!