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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An Update

I started this blog back in the distant days of my early career as a Ph.D student.

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I say “career” because for me it was the equivalent of a full time job with the added disadvantage of being able to organise my working hours around a growing family. As a single parent I remember thinking how ‘ideal’ this arrangement was, and to a certain extent it was. However it also meant for some very stressful times, when work life and home life seemed destined to collide and the debris was not pretty!

I started out on blogger and moved to WordPress roughly around the time I was planning my nervous break-down. I think most doctoral candidates suffer at least one of these at one point or another , some endure several ( I think I may have had more than my fair share, what with me being so damned wound up most of the time so laid back and all … )

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It has been a test of endurance, physically and mentally. I have gained more weight than I care to admit through excessive sitting … I laugh in the face of the physiotherapist who “advised” me to read whilst on a treadmill … oh yes that way accidents lie, I can tell you from experience!

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In the course of the years I have been studying I have been hospitalised for major surgery twice, once for a broken limb and several times for Biliary colic, caused by gallstones, resulting in one of the surgeries!

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I started this whole journey whilst going through a painful divorce, I think it was my way of rediscovering who I was and where I wanted to go with my life … back in 2002.

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What started as a one-day-a-week access course led to 1o years of full-time study.

And finally on September the 25th 2013, I submitted my doctoral thesis.

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On November 15th 2013, I passed my viva with minor corrections … to become the first Doctor in our family history.

I PASSED – YOU MAY BOW DOWN TO ME CALL ME, (FANFARE PLEASE)

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DR PIMPERNEL ….

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I am Ph.D Pimpernel, MA(hons), M.Litt, Ph.D … there are more letters after my name than there are actually in my (real) name!

Has it been worth it?  I am not entirely sure yet. On a personal level I am a different person to the one that started out. I am more confident and assured in my own abilities, but very aware that the more I learn the less I seem to know. I sometimes wake in the night sweating with panic at the thought of all the books I haven’t read … I think this is what’s commonly known as an occupational hazard of long-term study!

By necessity this blog must evolve – like myself – from the caterpillar into the butterfly … or in my case maybe more of a moth …

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The search has begun in earnest for an academic posting and the reality that all this entails is hitting me quite hard. The Ph.D has been like a huge, iridescent bubble, shielding me from the harsh realities of the real world … and now that bubble has been popped, in a spectacular way and I am left, once more, exposed ….

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I am not sure whether I shall continue blogging. I can’t say I am a natural at it and it has been sporadic at best, usually whole months between posts and then a clumpy flurry of not a lot, so maybe as a form it isn’t my bag?

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But who knows what 2014 may bring. Thank you for following my  erratic progress. I raise a glass to all of you who are still treading the minefield that is postgraduate research and wish you every success in 2014 and for years to come.

So,  it’s a fond farewell from me … for now at least!

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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! 

If you don’t ask – you don’t get!

Unexpected Generosity. Yes, it still exists; out there in the cold real world there are still people who surprise you with their kindness and without expectation of any reward. Believe it!

During the course of researching this current section of my thesis, I stumbled upon a paper published in The Women’s History Review in 2002, that was discussing points that I was planning to cover in my own work. I discovered that this paper was an extract from a D.Phil thesis lodge at the Bodleian in Oxford. It is absolutely necessary for me to read and be aware of its contents as to ignore something that was so closely to my topic would not survive scrutiny at VIVA.

So I emailed the relative librarian, who found the thesis in question and forwarded my request onto the Thesis Repository department at the Bodleian, who emailed me back with full instructions as to how I could obtain a copy (living in Scotland I have little opportunity to pop along and visit) They ~whilst being very accommodating and quick to respond ~  sent me a  overcomplicated email informing me that if I wanted to obtain a FREE copy of the thesis then I had to track down the author, get two signatures in person, return the appropriate paperwork, in triplicate (there were 4 attachments of forms with the email) and return it to them at which point they would provide me with a digital copy (no time scale was represented). If I couldn’t get TWO signatures they would do me a photocopy at £120 (yes I gawped too) plus P&P … but I still needed the author’s permission. I was informed I could trace the author through the relevant college’s administration department.

Luckily the first librarian had provided me with this information so I emailed them a polite request to put me in touch with their alumni Dr. F.  I received a very nice email in reply saying my details had been passed on and hopefully Dr. F. would be in touch.

Now I know a lot of academics. December is a busy month, especially if they are marking exams and assessments so I wasn’t holding my breath for an immediate response. But to my delight I received a reply, within hours of the response from Merton, from the (now) Professor asking how she could help.

I replied attaching the Bodleian’s email and attachments – and thought “once she sees that lot of stuff she’ll probably say she is too busy blah blah blah”

But no. I awoke this morning (She is based in America so we have a time difference negotiation going on as well)  to find a PDF copy of her thesis in my inbox witht he most delightful email saying “here is my thesis. After years of trying to negotiate the Bodleian rules I thought this would be far easier. Your research sounds fascinating. Good Luck” …

So a big cheer goes out to Oxford University, The Bodleian, Merton College Admin and the Librarian in the history department (who I have to say went above and beyond as the thesis was lodge with literature not history and technically I had emailed the wrong librarian – but she still helped anyway!) and not least to the wonder Prof. F at the university of Texas for her unparalleled generosity in providing me with a copy of her wonderful thesis!

How bloody wonderful is that! And what good start to the day. It just goes to prove – if you don’t ask you don’t get!

Now – in the spirit of Prof. F’s generosity I am going to attempt to pay it forward and suggest that if each of us did the same we could all make someone’s day a little brighter! So if you can do someone a kindness today then do so – it may change their lives forever, and even if it doesn’t it will make them smile.