The Post-PhD Life

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It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I was trawling through all my old accounts and noticed the footfall for the Pimpernel had been quite heavy of late, so I thought I would pop in and say, HI! Nice to see you and thanks for dropping by.

Life has changed now I am now Dr. Pimpernel and I have the elusive Ph.D. in the bag … official and everything and OH! my word, life is somewhat exceeding expectations and undermining them, simultaneously!

Graduation was a wonderful day full of love and laughter and celebration and almost made the hard work and anxiety worth it … almost. In the intervening two years … TWO YEARS!  tempus fugit indeed! … I have once more been hospitalised for major surgery, with another surgery imminent … gynaecologically speaking, if I was a horse they would have shot me! But here I am, still ploughing on, still buying my body weight in books, half of which I will never get a chance to read!

And, in other news: I am a lecturer. Albeit at a small local FE/HE college, but never the less I am doing it! Sharing my love of the written word!

All in all the Ph.D. journey began by accident. My intention on embarking upon an undergraduate degree was to enable a career in teaching. Fortunate enough to secure funding and foolish enough to think that a Ph.D. meant something, I followed the dream and created a monster. I fell hook, line and sinker into the academic bubble and nurtured dreams of a promising future, researching long forgotten women writers, publishing fascinating books and being hailed as the next F.R. Leavis.

Alas, a need to work and earn money has overridden my desire for academic acclaim, hence the  lecturing post at a local FE/HE college. Mainly my job entails teaching communication (that’s English grammar to those of us old enough to remember o’levels) but I do get to teach literature as well, and this is the part that sustains me. The job is rewarding in so any ways, but it is equally as time-consuming and finding the right balance between my economic and creative selves is proving a challenge!

IN the two years since I graduate, I’ve written very little, fallen into slovenly academic habits and allowed myself to drift into the day-to-day humdrum of earning a crust …

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I am hopeful that a re-awakening of my academic vigour is imminent and with the reviatlisation of this blog – or possiby a reincarnation of the Pimpernel into something more ‘grown-up’ ( or groan-up, which seems more apt! Though it looks like that domain name is already spoken for!) – I can hopefully overcome the debilitating ‘writer’s block’.

There’s a book proposal on my desk that is waiting to be put together, there’s peer-reviewing in my inbox, waiting to be read and there’s two weeks without students to reinvent my blogging self. The marking, can wait!

I invite you to submit suggestions for my new blogging personna … literary allusions wanted: apply within.

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The Academic Community

On the back of yesterday’s good news post I began to think of all the times I had been the recipient of another academics generosity. And there have been many.

SO here is my list of things that have made my life as an academic easier

  • My supervisors never fail to respond to emails promptly – which as any fraught student will know is invaluable. Their feedback can bite sometimes but I know when I do submit that my thesis will stand up to any scrutiny as it has already been seen by the most invested and thorough of eyes!
  • Support staff at my institute and others are usually the most accommodating, usually bending over backwards with the skill of a contortionist to provide the help and support I have needed.
  • When attending conferences I usually find the discussions are unrestricted and unguarded – information is freely shared and whilst some academic reticence is necessary there seems to be little jealousy. More a kind of shared enthusiasm for the subject.
  • Librarians – now libraries are usually a source of contention in any HE or FE institution. Book provision has to be the no.1 talked/complained about matter at any student/staff council. But setting that aside I have found librarians (the proper qualified kind with expertise knowledge in your field) to be the most patient  and generous with their time and knowledge. Our specialist librarian once had me in for a one to one session on how to search for information and locate archives. This was of a great help to me when I was floundering. Her name will be included in the acknowledgements to my thesis because it was as important to my research at that time as my supervisor’s feedback
  • National Libraries – busy busy places that deal with all levels of enquiry yet never fail to come up with the goods – they are like specialist librarians on speed – is there anything they don’t know?
  • Archives and repositories – the best place to get in touch with someone as enthusiastic as you are – the curator of any archive that relates to your topic! It’s a reciprocal relationship because you can learn from them but they can also learn from you!
  • Department faith in students – ours recently handed over book ordering responsibilities to the student. This means we can access our Coutts account and order books that we need in order to carry out our research effectively. They may be subject to approval but simply letting us be responsible is a great sign that our faculty trust us to behave in a grown up fashion.
  • Other academics inc. fellow students and bloggerstudents – Apart from yesterday’s wonderful gift I have also been given book chapters before they were published, as well as articles and information relevant to my work. One in particular involved other academics talking to each other so I got an advance copy of a seminal text that was not going to be complete for another 6-10 months – Thank you Peter Brooker and Jean-Michel Rabaté  for you utter selflessness … I bought the book!
  • Family and friends – last on the list maybe but never least. None of us could manage this without their unstinting support.

Sometimes in life it is just the right time to stop and smell the roses and realise things are never as bad as they seem – that in the darkness of that blinking black cursor and vastness of the empty white screen there is always a glimmer of light

Have a good Wednesday – I am off to write!

UPDATE ON SCRIVENER: it was so good I bought the license – I cannot imagine writing without it now. It just organises all the information you need into these neat little split windows – it shows you any view of the document you want and is adaptable for academic and non-academic writing. Well worth it. Even though I would say it still has a lot to offer that I haven’t tapped into and it is not glitch free or perfect, the forums are fantastic for tips and the software creator is constantly trying to improve the product with regular updates. If you are serious about writing it is well worth downloading the FREE 30 day trial! 

Going Experi-mental

Are you guilty of playing it safe? Of sticking to tried and tested methods of writing, researching, thinking? I know I am.

Write Dangerously

However the way to discover new things is to think outside the box, to challenge conventions and to get go a little bit experimental!

In the past I have talked about software I’ve downloaded, tactics I’ve tried, thoughts I’ve had, mind mapping, even blogging – all of these are my way of trying to find fame, fotune, a wealthy husband, notoriety, success, media attention  a new way to succeed in a very traditional field, that of Literary Criticism.

Yesterday’s post about lacking originality was another way of trying to find a pathway to something new – even when you feel there is nothing left to find.

It is very hard to be innovative when studying something like literature. But when you  analyse literature to any degree you are immediately confronted with writers who are trying to do something new, something hitherto unseen, something exciting. The trend of the Modernists to ‘make it new’ was a reaction against the generic formulaic Victorian and Georgian formalism. Modernism was the apotheosis of experimentation, with Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake being the apotheosis of that apotheosis … imagine if he had stuck to the tradition of writing in linear, structured, coherent sentences.  Whilst Joyce is often held up as inspirational and ridiculous in equal measure, and often to cries of Emperors New Clothes, it cannot be denied that his work has the authenticity of longevity – we will be talking about if for many, many decades to come. Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf wrote fervently to create ‘the woman’s sentence’ – the antithesis of the black imposing masculine ‘I” that had dominated literature in the preceding centuries. They argued against the male dominance of the novel and took a step allowing women writers to engage a more feminine approach.

If unlike me you are not into Modern and contemporary literature, it isn’t a far stretch to look at the greats, such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert, et al and recognise experimental literature when you see it … any banned book is another test case for change and advancement.

It’s easy to dismiss this ‘experimental verve’ as part of the artistic or ‘creative’ process that as academics we ‘should’ sit outside of, but we don’t and we shouldn’t. Any piece of writing involves the creative process. Yes we do have to follow certain conventions, but that doesn’t mean what we ‘say’ has to be conventional. Whilst I do find some forms of new criticism, like the idea of Hymenal Space (especially considering it’s medically questionable that the Hymen actually exists/ed)  ‘out there’ and I find my nose wrinkling up slightly at the thought, I do applaud anyone who is prepared to push back boundaries to create or investigate something new.

We don’t have to be Joyce, Woolf or even Leavis, Bahktin or Chomsky, but we can all try to look at our work from a different angle, structure our work in a way that works for us as well as for the examination boards and test the boundaries (via out supervisors) a little. Even if it turns out it doesn’t work, you will have learned new things in the process and become a more thorough academic in the process.

And if we can’t do that in our actual Ph.Ds we can do it in places like this! Or NaNoWriMo … places that encourage you to be different and new and unique and uninhibited – unleashed from the constraints and conformities of traditional academic writing.

So today is ‘Forget health and safety Tuesday – go a little bit experimental’.

Book Day!!!

Today it has been a day for the postie to bring me lovely surprises.

First off the door bell rang and I opened it to discover two parcels for me. How exciting!The first was a ‘special delivery’ and contained my Tiffany chain, which had been sent off for repair after it snapped. Marvellous service – free repair and polish and packaged up in a beautiful Tiffany box complete with white ribbon. I can now wear my Tiffany key pendant again! I wear it all the time so I have missed it whilst the chain was away being repaired!

The Prize Pile

The second was a parcel of books that I won in a competition run by the blogger Little Interpretations. I have never won anything before so I am thrilled to have won this as the prize was BOOKS! And you can never have too many books! I am particularly looking forward to the autobiography Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay, who is a wonderful writer and is also partly responsible for me winning the prize ( I submitted a review of Kay to the blog for the competition). After the first batch of books went missing, Marie kindly offered to source replacements – and it was those that arrived today. The blog itself is a fabulous for anyone (like me) who can’t get enough of books! So THANK YOU MARIE. 

The Research Pile

A little later in the afternoon I took delivery of my amazon order. All related to my thesis so I feel justified, but also all look like interesting reads. Lost Voices of the Edwardians is snippets from real people, a recorded social history compiled from letters, journals and other personal writings. A nice one to dip in and out of when I am needing a dose of ‘what life was really like’ (which always helps to prevent me imposing a 21st century sensibility on an early 20th century period.)

Planning Perfection

Also in this parcel was my new 2012 Molesekine Weekly notebook planner … *SIGH*. I have missed using this perfect diary! If it’s so perfect why did you stop using it I hear you cry …. Well, my daughter bought me a lovely diary for Christmas last year so I had no need to buy a Moleskine like usual. But I am such a creature of habit that I am almost relieved to be getting near the end of the diary so I shall be able to use the Moleskine again! I am a fan of these notebooks anyway but the planner is perfect as it has a note page for each week, as well as a notes section at the back, which allows me to compile to do lists and jot down thoughts etc without having to carry around another notebook! Perfection thy name is Moleskine!

Now all that remains for me to do is read all of them! I could be a whole!

Update: My posts about mind mapping and Scrivener generated quite a little debate here and on another website I frequent so it’s good to know that the stuff I choose to share is worthwhile. I really have enjoyed getting feedback and other perspectives on these subjects. Keep them coming.

I am still enjoying Scrivener (on day 5 now so that’s pretty good going for me and new software!) and I can actually see me buying the license when the trial is finished. Sadly I haven’t quite managed to keep up the 1000 words a day effort (unless you count the blogs in which case I am over – yeah!) ! It’s a definite ‘could do better’ on that one I’m afraid! Still, as they say, tomorrow is another day!

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.