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.

Sitting Staring into the blankness …

 

been a bought week …\I am supposed to be writing – and i have managed do do precisely bugger all all week! I am sat here typing this and giving myself a stern talking to but it doesn’t seem to be working!

 

This just about sums it up for me this week! –

And I think this is pretty representative of me ..

 

Though I am trying to be all …

have a good weekend folks!

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’ .

Reading Between the Lines

… is a skill that we really should develop and hone as academics but is something I find difficult. I need to read every word in context and then usually twice (with particularly difficult concepts) in order to even begin to grasp the basics.

This means I am a very slow academic. Things take a long time to ‘happen’ as my nose is often buried far too deeply in a book to notice that time is flashing past and I haven’t written a word. It’s exacerbated by the fact that every time I read one thing I am exposed to numerous other ‘essential’ sources that have thus far eluded me … which ensures I often end up on an erogenous  erroneous book hunt ( Oh look … we are right back full circle to my good old friend Procrastination). My strap line should really read – the more I learn the less I seem to know! Too much knowledge is a dangerous thing – as is being intelligent enough to know how little intelligence you actually hold … I am beginning to wish I was born ignorant and blissful. I was most certainly conceived in blissful ignorance but that is a whole other blog post! 

So I am trying to read a little and write a lot, changing the old habit of reading oodles and writing in a panic! I have even changed my Facebook profile to a KEEP CALM AND KEEP WRITING notice … a good warning to those near and dear that I am in deed in the throws of giving birth to yet another piece of research.

Matters are never helped by libraries not holding books in stock. I am fortunate in that my institution is very generous to its grad students and we are allowed to order directly for the library (though it has to have approval), which can really cut out the middle man. I have already ordered up one set of books which prove to be a great help to my research and I have another on its way – though sadly it won’t arrive in time for this section but hopefully it will for the revisions later on. I understand the logistics in housing library collections, especially when it comes to specialist subjects but it can be frustrating to say the least to have to rely on inter-library loans and research trips. This week I found myself a victim of the distant learners curse. A library book I had out on loan was recalled, with all the sinister usual threats of heavy daily fines. I had to have it back in the library before 5 pm on Wednesday. Dutiful as I am I did as requested. Thursday morning I got another email informing me that a long awaited book from the British library was now available and I should collect it immediately, as it would need to be returned before the Christmas vacation and was also subject to immediate recall. I had little choice but to jump back in the car and complete yet another 40 mile round trip to collect said book! Again this inconvenience is ameliorated by the fact I don’t have to pay for Inter-library loans, and many grad students at other universities do, so I guess it is a small price to pay for such a service.

However this has caused a knock on effect – in that I now have book shelves groaning under the weight of books I have bought because they can be obtained cheaper in the internet than it costs me in petrol to get them from the library! Whoops!

I BLAME THE GOVERNMENT – because that’s what student’s do right?

I am also trying desperately trying to overcome the mental challenge of loathing Mondays – it is ridiculous really as I don’t have ‘weekends’ in the normal sense as I work to my own schedule and my partner works shifts, so why it should still loom ominously one each week is beyond me …

I know what will cure it – a bit of book therapy .. now where is that link for Abebooks … I am going on a book hunt! I guess I can always buy more shelves …

Playing Catch Up

This is a game I am becoming an expert in. I am approximately two weeks behind on my targets. I know I can up the ante and get it done but why do I always feel as though what lies ahead of me is way out of my reach?

I did better on the 1000 words a day goal after my last post (hence the reason I didn’t blog on Friday) but I should be sitting at around 7,000 words by this point – and I have approximately 3,000! Finger needs to be pulled out – nose needs to be put to the grindstone and efforts need to doubled in order to get some hope of getting it ready.

And it’s Monday.  A day of disruptions and interruptions and kids in and out. There is no food in the house so I need to spend time doing an internet shop!

Gosh – what a gripe I am today!

1000 Words a Day!

I am trying to implement the very wise advice of The Thesis Whisperer of writing 1000 words a day. 

This seems a really sound piece of advice when you have a lot to write in a relatively short space of time as it makes your output quantifiable and measurable in terms of time.I wasn’t initially convinced (I think you may be getting the very accurate impression that I am not easily convinced about most things) that this was sound practice because all researchers know it’s quality not quantity that counts. I thought a 1000 words a day would be counter-productive because lets face it, usually you agonise over each and every word … this surely is counterintuitive to the researcher-writer process.

However – by writing a 1000 words a day you are  often unwittingly tapping into reserves in your mind that when consciously sought are nowhere to be found. Out of the 1000 words written you may discover the nexus of a new idea, the groundwork for a competent study or even that your 1000 words are of such a quality that all that is necessary is a little tweaking and polishing. It sets you  daily goal that is very doable (Given it would take me weeks to craft a 20 minute paper of about 3000 words this came as a bit of a shock to me – what the hell was I doing with all my time? Probably procrastinating on Facebook. )

When I had a presentation to prepare in 10 days I also adopted this approach. Initially I was ditching more than I was keeping of the 1000 words written. That worried me (as a lot of things do – You don’t get frown lines like this for nothing you know!) I have always hated shedding words … but when you are writing a 1000 a day you become blasé about it all and realise that for every 50 slashed another 50 wait to be used. You become omnipotent and daring! I continued, bravely, and  slowly but surely I noticed that my writing was becoming more accurate and more focused in a much shorter time. I was procrastinating less and less and writing more and more. My ideas were also forming more coherently as part of the writing process. So I have broadened my approach to ALL my writing not just my papers. Given the tall order of 25k by mid December it’s very necessary! However with 1000 words a day in 5 weeks I could have my target total. That is an appealing (and not too panic-inducing) thought!

Writing is a skill that takes practice – the more you write the better you get. That bizarre and and oddball event NaNoWriMo also has a lot of good tips for writing efficiently and quickly regardless of whether you want to produce a fairly unpublishable  novel.

I have a lot to thank the Thesis Whisperer for. I signed up to her blog a few months ago and every issue has something of interest for me. It is motivational and empathetic. I can’t count the number of times I have read the blog entry and thought – so I am NOT alone in this after all. That Thesis Whisperer is one clever chick! 

I don’t normally blog on a Wednesday but I am finding the composition of a blog post to be a good way to start a day – it gets me into the swing of writing and kicks stars the grey matter!

Have a Good productive none ‘procastoratory’* day all!

*yes I made that word up!