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! 

Pecha Kucha

This is a very new idea to me and I have just received a CFP for a 10 minute presentation based on the Pecha Kucha style.

My immediate response was to google the term and see what it threw up. Started in Japan in 2003, it is an innovative presentation style consisting of a 20×20 presentation lasting 10minutes; you show 20 images lasting 20 seconds each, talking about each one. This is an unique and concise way of getting people to present their research in a fast and dynamic way.

I am intrigued and am contemplating submitting an abstract (it is being run by my Undergrad supervisor so I am familiar with the folks on the panel) but not sure how I can fit it into my PhD research; though I have some ideas… I also think it would be interesting to put a presentation like this up on my public academic profile at Academia.Edu

So that is my new challenge for 2012 – firstly to learn how to pronounce Pecha Kucha

AND – to submit an abstract for a Pecha Kucha Style presentation, get it accepted and actually survive the experience.

Any advice welcomed!

My other challenge is to finally learn how to use colons and semi-colons with efficacy and precision! Apparently according to Lynne Truss

“The main reason people use [the semicolon], however, is that they know you can’t use it wrongly — which, for a punctuation mark, is an uncommon virtue” (Truss 122)

Virginia Woolf may have wholeheartedly subscribed to that dogma but unfortunately  my supervisor doesn’t!!! I would like at least one piece of crit that doesn’t berate my use of the colon and semi-colon! Tall order me thinks!

Geeks’ Corner

What do you call a gathering of Geeks … a conference. Boom Boom

Ok! so my career as a stand-up comic is still never going to happen developing but yesterday I was inspired to write about my support network after reading the lovely Jacqueline’s post ‘Calling all Dreamers’. She hit on something that has underpinned my entire academic career – that of support.

I have been the beneficiary of so much support, from my family from my friends and most importantly (in some respects) my fellow Geeks – the number of which totals two. These two people provide me with a very important outlet – the space to talk shite! about what I love to talk about most – literature, politics, gender dynamics, feminism, history. I know I can drop the odd quote into the conversation without sounding like an utter freak. I can spout forth about Nietzsche and there isn’t a single eyebrow raised or a glazed over eye. It is so important to have a context like this in which you can feel, well how shall I put this, normal. 

 

My aspirations are shared with these friends (only one of which is still in academia, the other is now in retail but still has the heart of a true Geek). When I whine about want to discuss my supervisor they don’t groan and tell me to change the record, they can often share some sympathy, if not empathy and horror stories of their own. Like fellow academic bloggers they can offer me the correct panacea for my troubles, inste

ad of scrabbling around for relevant platitudes …

most importantly ~ They GET my jokes!

If I come unstuck in my research I can seek out their

advice. When I am feeling insecure about my work I can get one of them to give it a quick glance over and say ‘aye that’s ok’ (he’s a bloke and very succinct in these matters). But most of all I can relax, laugh and be so utterly geeky in their company and not be embarrassed. I don’t have to justify what I do (which even with very supportive family can be a bit of a bone of contention). The same things rock our boats. Sharing discoveries about our research is met with shared euphoria and you don’t feel as though they are doing it just for your benefit.

The Thesis Whisperer blog today issued a post about collaborative work and this kind of fits in with what I wanted to say as well. Because, it may be a cliche, but a problem shared really is a problem halved. Working in isolation, as we inevitably have to, we need these points of contact with fellow like-minded people to sustain our energy and enthusiasm. It also kind of plays into my posts about Conferences, Forums and Symposia acting as a sort of ‘living well’ of community and inspiration. It is important to sustain contacts and relationships of this mutually supportive and understanding nature.

What follows is an example of the consequences of eschewing this kind of mental support – albeit an extreme one and one taken from the early part of the Twentieth-century, but , still in my opinion, one worth re-telling.

***GEEK ALERT*** What follows is also related to my Phd and may provide the cure for insomnia should you choose to read on! To any one interested in Suffrage and Women’s Rights it may be of vague interest. 

‘A Brave and Beautiful Spirit’

 As human beings were are designed to live in a community (even if it doesn’t feel much like it a lot of the time). Mentally it is proven that bouncing ideas around ‘brain storming’ and taking part in collaborative work can have enormous benefits to our own personal intellectual development. This already acknowledged fact was  given  further credence recently as I read my god help me if I lose it, damage it, am late returning it British Library Book ‘A Brave and Beautiful Spirit’: Dora Marsden 1882-1960. Marsden was an intelligent and remarkable woman, who began her intellectual life at 13 when she became a Teacher-Apprentice. She worked as a teacher and attended, via scholarship, Owen’s College at Manchester University receiving a BA. Manchester was one of the first colleges to accept women and confer them with degrees.During her time at University she became interested in the hot topic of the day Suffrage becoming friendly with many women who would later become synonymous with the Woman Movement of the early Twentieth-century. In 1908 she became active in the WSPU whilst still a teacher  ~ there is a strong affiliation between women teachers and the suffrage movement which began life with Mary Wollstonecraft’s assertion that women should be educated back in the 18th century. She quickly rose to prominence and carried out some incredible stunts to draw attention to the movement and the rights of women to secure the vote.  Not least was The Winston Churchill Affair which has become legendary in suffrage history briefly recounted here from Spartacus.

4th December, 1909, she joined Helen Tolson and Winson Etherley in attempting to disrupt a meeting in Southport that was being addressed by Winston Churchill. According to the local newspaper “the security for the meeting was unprecedented in the history of the town”. While Churchill was speaking he was interrupted by Marsden. Emmeline Pankhurst later recalled that Marsden was “peering through one of the great porthole openings in the slope of the ceiling, was seen a strange elfin form with wan, childish face, broad brow and big grey eyes, looking like nothing real or earthly but a dream waif.”

Dora Marsden provided an account of what happened next in Votes for Women: “A dirty hand was was thrust over my mouth, and a struggle began. Finally I was dropped over a ledge, pushed through the broken window, and we began to roll down the steep sloping roof side. Two stewards, crawling up from the other side, shouted out to the two men who had hold of me.” Despite being arrested the local magistrate dismissed all charges against them.

Disaffected with WSPU autocracy, she and fellow members Grace Jardine and Mary Gawthorpe left and began a small periodical called The Freewoman: A Feminist Review in November 1911. It was a notorious and controversial publication which eventually was banned from distribution by W.H. Smith and in it Dora Marsden was to pursue her continued interest in Philosophical academics. Her life is one of tragedy. So brilliant a star was dimmed by a series of events which led to her moving from the hub of literary life, London, to a small place called (ironically) Seldom Seen, near Ullswater, ostensibly to get the peace and quiet she required to ‘think clearly and work industriously’ … it was the beginning of a very slow and sad decline, which Les Garner believes culminated  with an attempted suicide in 1935. She spent the last 25 years of her life in an asylum for the mentally ill in Dumfries, still continuing ‘her work’. Like many great thinkers (Descartes for example) she believed that isolation was the key to clear and lucid understanding, when in fact what she most likely needed was the discursive community she had striven to create  within the pages of The Freewoman/ The New Freewoman. Once she withdrew from this ‘living debate’ her mind lost its ability to relate philosophy to reality and as a consequence it drifted towards insanity instead of brilliance.

So sad, so tragic and (albeit a rather  extreme) a salutary lesson to anyone who thinks they can’ go it alone’ .

Fresh off the plane …

and into a new blog.

I used to blog here at  http://thephdpimpernel.blogspot.com/ but I fell into bad habits and one missed post turned in to several months of missed posts and even though I have decided there is space in my life to blog again I felt the need for a fresh start.

Firstly I am an academic. I refrain from using the word ‘student’ (though really that’s what I am) as I feel my PhD demands a greater level of commitment than any other course of study I have undertaken and therefore needs a greater degree of professionalism. It has to be a full time job and incorporate all the aspects of working as a full-time academic, be it teaching, publishing, editing, conferencing and last (but not least) blogging.

This blog is aimed at fellow mature students, post-graduates, academics, bibliophiles, fans of Rebecca West, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Modernism, WWI, feminism, gender and all things literary. I hope to share insights into life as a PhD candidate who is fast approaching the final hurdle, and also those of a book and literature lover. Sometimes I wil take time to explore somethings which have fascinated or preoccupied me in order to make sense of the world … or as Rebecca West once said to a prospective dissertation student who approached her –

I explained that I was writer wholly unsuitable for her purpose … that I had never used my writing to make a continuous disclosure of my own personality to others, but to discover for my own edification what I knew about various subjects which I found to be important to me …

Supernatural Power

I am going to kick off my first entry with a post about the joys of Academic Conferencing as I am fresh off the plane from Baruch College City University of New York having presented a paper there on Rebecca West.

When I first started my career as an academic in 2003, conferences didn’t figure too largely in my life. The odd class presentation was bearable, if a little uncomfortable, but not too demanding. I could cope. But my first ever full-size conference was another matter altogether! I had submitted an abstract based on the thesis I had written at the conclusion of my MLitt course. The argument was condensed into a 20 minute format and I was not confident in either the content or the structure of my paper. The conference was at Newcastle University and was to host over 200 delegates. I was terrified. I could barely speak for the entire three days … and my 20 minutes (well the entire 1 hour 30 minute panel session) is a bit of a blank for me. I do remember that I shook, my hands trembled as I turned the pages of my talk, my throat closed up, I licked my lips repeatedly, I spilled water, and  stumbled through the Q&A without actually hearing any questions properly at all. All in all I looked a complete wreck!  Or so I thought. The feed back was fabulous – my paper was even referred to by the keynote speaker,the author Kate Mosse (Labyrinth and Sepulchre) because her new novel tackled similar issues to those I had raised in my paper on Vera Brittain and The Lost Generation Myth.

I was heartened. I presented the paper again at a smaller venue for local scholars at my home university, but also in front of many of my former tutors. All people I admired and wanted to impress. Again I felt my paper lacked adequate erudition to impress and I stumbled my way through it, blinking like a proverbial ‘rabbit in headlights’ each time a question was directed my way. Again the feedback was not so bad.

By this time I was well into my PhD, which was slowly taking on a proper form. So I felt bold enough to submit an abstract to a huge international conference, held at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge as part of their week long celebration of Women’s Writing.  I worked hard, adapting a large chunk of my thesis into a 20 minute Powerpoint presentation, with photographs and quotes. This foray into technology did oohing to quell my nerves. I  dreaded the return of my usual stammer and twitchiness but to my surprise when I took the floor I found myself giving an accomplished and articulate presentation. I fielded the questions with skill and dexterity and even managed to throw in a few laughs along the way. I found I actually enjoyed the experience! What a transformation. The feedback was better than I ever expected. I felt I had made a success of my trip, and yet I knew I had missed opportunities to chat to other delegates in the preceding couple of days because of my social nervousness.

But this time I took a new approach to presenting in front of an audience of world-renowned West scholars. Conferences are a necessary part of any academic career. They give you the unique opportunity to ‘geek it up’ with fellow nerds who find your subject as equally as compelling as you do. Unlike your family, who tend to glaze over when you even utter the name Rebecca West, these individuals embrace the conversation and provide you with fresh and new insights and approaches that can only enhance your future research. I embraced the conference experience and as a result I found that I looked forward to the event with far less trepidation and as a result my paper went even better than I’d hoped. I have also made some new friends and some important contacts who will be able to help me in my future research. It has been an invaluable experience.

There is a reason that this trajectory has taken the course it has and that is confidence. Presenting is a skill that can only be learnt through experience and over time. Some people are born presenters and they may flourish from the get go but most people are like you and me and they take time to acquire the confidence and know how to give a polished performance. And conferences are the killing fields of experience. It’s where you can make mistakes and no one will remember them. 20 minutes in a 3 day even t is a mere blip in time … I’ve accepted that the only way to approach a conference is with my head held high and my paper well researched.

I am already scouring the web to find future events that I can participate in and share what I am learning about the fabulous writer Rebecca West … I embrace the conference challenge!

BTW – the banner header photograph is one of my own, and it is the torn fragments of a rejected draft of my recent conference paper … my other love is photography and I can also be found on Blip – a daily photographic journal. Please feel free to come visit.

All photographs are my own unless otherwise acknowledged.