6 months In

I was planning to take it a little easier this week, and unfortunately another cold has hit me and pretty much wreaked my chances of doing anything much.  That said when I couldn’t sleep the other night, I was reading philosophy around 3am in the morning, so it’s not been a total loss.  So rather than talk about what I’ve been doing in the short term, I thought it might be an opportune moment to reflect back on the first six months  – which is 1/6th of the way through my funded period and 1/8th of the way through my maximum period of registered time on the PhD.  It feels all kinds of scary to think about where I am, and how much there is still to do; and I’m sure I’m not the only doctoral student thinking this.  In this respect, perhaps a walk down memory lane might help!  To help out, I’ve added a calendar function on the right hand side of the page


This was a month of big changes for me, and while my registration date was  October, I also had to sort out things like enrolling online for the degree and then attend an induction day at the end of the month.  Oh and practice driving to campus too!  I don’t need the driving practice (not having to drive as often as with my old job is one of the joys of this PhD), but learning how to get onto or find a campus can be a challenge, even with a satnav.

Looking back the highs, like being made feel welcome, and the lows, not being sure what to do next, at this time it’s interesting to note that there are still a lot of things today (March 2013) that are bit of an unknown factor.  But then I guess that’s what a student experience is all about, unlike a job you don’t do the routine and repeat!  I also note that I was going to look into the “hot desking for graduates” the following week.  Slight confession, I’ve never bothered – and from all reports I’m not missing out much.

Still wish I had some office space in the dept though.


The new office space - Gary Cole not includedWelcome to Month One  – a productive period for blogging with 9 posts in it, more than I do now I’ve adopted the epistolary approach of weekly diary round ups.  It was a month about tentative beginnings and administration challenges (shades of last week then), the roller-coaster of enthusiasm (featuring the best diagram, ever), the onset of the winter weather (has it really been 6 months of winter?) and comments on things like Google+ and eBooks.  I think the roller-coaster metaphor still applies, but hopefully with my plans to kick off some actual, honest to Jovis research in the next couple of weeks, hopefully I should be at the top of the crest to start April.  October also saw me set up my home office in the conservatory  though a combination of falling temperatures (there’s no heating in there) and house renovations have meant that I’ve not actually been able to use the space since early December.  Hopefully as spring finally arrives and we move on with the house decoration, I’ll be able to finally return.  It’ll certainly be better than working on the dining table all the time.

Notice that I obtained an ILL in October, to date the only time I’ve needed one.  Generally the uni has the books and access to journals I need, supplemented by buying stuff off Amazon resellers for in some cases a single shiny penny.  All in all though, the general themes of month one are getting started and finding my place in a new environment.


It was also the month when I first really encountered MarxMonth Two brought with it 8 blog posts (see this number drop in the coming months!), although one of the posts was actually about one of my puppetry videos so that probably doesn’t count.  It was a month when I read a whole heap of books, probably more than in any month before or since.  It was my key directive at that time, to read as much as possible to inform my thinking and planning.  At the time I remember struggling a bit with motivation, getting a bit depressed and trying to see how this work would actually contribute to the PhD process.  Now though, I’m grateful I put the time in then, as now there keep just being so many other distractions, coursework, administration etc that get in the way of serious reading.  Doubtless, full-blooded academics will tell me how it is for them all the time.  As well, I was also feeling a sense of dislocation from my fellow PhDs given the spacial distance and rare encounters   That’s faded a fair bit now, and there are more than a few of my cohort who’d I happily go out to dinner with; although having said that I’ve not managed to make any kind of social life out of the PhD yet.  As well, at least the relationship with my chickens (the remaining two) is there to support me.  I’m still aware that as a mature student it’s pretty uncomfortable to think about joining a club or society, and certainly living miles away doesn’t help.  Ah well, such is life.
This was also the month when I started work on editing my research proposal into shape – something that would continue through to last week.  It also saw the first efforts towards getting my fellow English, Media and Culture students to meet up regularly.  We’ve managed it twice since then (three times if you count the occasion when only two of  us showed up), and it’s still proving tricky.  It seems that simply meeting up to chat for a couple of hours isn’t enough, they need a reason or discussion topic; and these are proving a bit elusive – certainly those that are of interest to us all anyway.  November was also the month where I took a look at how I was almost learning to read all over again, or at least learning to read critically.  Certainly now that’s something I find a lot less effort, so all this time spent cracking the books has certainly paid off.


I DID remember to have Christmas thoughMonth Three saw 6 posts, continuing that downwards trend, and one of these was a long discussion about the Mass Effect game series.  The three substantive posts this month saw me battling to edit the research proposal and doing a fair bit of reading on theory and method.  It also saw me take a week off over the Xmas period, mostly because the Wife didn’t like the idea of me trying to work while she relaxed, and also because she thought I ought to take some time for myself.  I’ve not got any better at taking personal time, as the only points at which I down tools are weekends or when I have a raging cold that prevents me breathing – let alone work!

We also welcomed a plasterer into my working space, which didn’t make for a productive day research-wise; though the dining room looked lovely afterwards.  Just one of the many distractions that happen when your working space is also your living space.  I guess as an undergrad my living quarters were my study, but no one tried to renovate the room while I was using it.  As it was the end of the year, there was also a chance for a couple of cheeky statistics and review posts, the cap stone to my 2012 experiences.  Looking back now it almost seems like this was a month when I really knuckled down to study, and read some books that I really disliked.  On the upside I read some that were bang on what I needed.  I also note that some of the books I got out in this period are still sitting on my shelves unread.  Hopefully I might finally get to them over the next week or two, and then free up my library ticket!


MoosasterA quiet month with the regular 4 posts/month emerging.  Themes that started to emerge here were a realisation of coursework deadlines, snow (still with us as I look out the window), research proposal drafting, more snow and working on my first book review coursework.  Even now I still can’t believe how long it took me to write that book review, a combination of uncertainty about assessment criteria, formatting and paper research certainly played their part.  While word-for-final-word-count the research proposal has taken far longer, book review 1 is still the one thing I’ve done on this degree that gave me the most frustration and anxiety.  Doubtless there will be other things to exceed this – like my panel review meeting maybe in the near future?

It was also the month that saw I was finally making some inroads with some of the nice folks in my RPC cohort, as we struggled to get discussions going on the online board.  They’ve been better but not perfect, but at least there’s been some kind of intellectual interaction!

The month also saw me run out of milk for tea, possibly the single biggest disaster that can hit any PhD student.  Not quite sure how I managed to come back from that catastrophe…


Every PhD gets it I thinkMonth Five and four posts with themes ranging from research proposal editing (that old chestnut), twin coursework deadlines, back pain, moments of genuine scholastic crisis and reflections on the PhD process as a never-ending vortex of work.  I can still remember this feeling, stemming mostly from a period when I was getting much feedback from my supervisors other than a driving need to revise my research proposal, though March was better in this respect.  It was also a month where I battled with feelings of apathy and motivation again, a reoccurring theme.  Wonder if there’s some way other PhDs use to keep themselves on the  treadmill, other than caffeine and happy pills?  In terms of the coursework as of this writing it’s interesting to note that I’ve still not had the second piece of coursework back – the mock research proposal   Shame really, given that as of last week I’ve submitted the real one.  While the intention to help us develop the proposal with this working paper version was appreciated I think perhaps the folks running the RPC might need to reconsider their timings as any feedback now is going to be largely superfluous.

I also had a hint of a cold, but that didn’t come to anything.  Unlike the two in March – the month of sneezes.


It feels like most of March has been me looking/feeling like thisThen we come to March with a shocking four posts (five if you count this one as well).  It saw the delights of philosophy book review 2 being written, a week where a nasty fluey cold knocked me out, re(^6)writing of the research proposal and finally the joy of submitting it.  And the not quite as much joy as jumping through the bizarre paperwork requirements of my 6-monthly review; where if it’s not signed about 11ty times by staff it just doesn’t count.  There was no small amount of other stresses this month.  In part due to deadlines for coursework, but largely down to the idea of getting the research proposal finished.  It seemed an ending was never in sight on some days, and I came to dread my supervisors’ emails with each new amendment   Gradually though the comments got briefer and briefer as they got happier with it, although telling me to “Rewrite the literature review section” four days before I was submitting it sent me into a futile round of headless chicken anxiety.

It was also the month where we lost one of our flock 😦 but were offered some geese*.  It was also a month I was supposed to go on a day course on PhD project management, but was stopped by my illness and Mrs Llama taking away my car keys**.

*Which we would love to have accepted if we knew where we’d be living 6 months from now for definite!
**She was right – I wasn’t fit to drive, probably saved me driving into a ditch 100 yards down the road.

The Next Six Months

These are going to be very different. For one, the RPC course has only 3 more sessions and one wrap up day conference and I’m done with it.  There is another module in October, but it only runs every 3 weeks.  For another I’m going to be starting on the actual meat of my research, which means I need to start talking to more people outside of the uni.  I’m looking forward to this element, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be an uncertain level of challenge.  And given some of the events of the past six months have been unexpected highs and lows, doubtless there are going to be plenty of surprises along the way.

Meanwhile, anticipated trends of the coming posts are:

  • The challenge of getting subjects for my research
  • Discovering the joys of analysis my research
  • Maintaining the work life balance once Mrs Llama moves away***
  • Experiencing academic conference life
  • Struggling with the isolation, apathy and stresses of working on a PhD from home
  • Wondering how I’m going to fit everything I need to do into just 42 short months…

Come October 1st, I’ll be interested to see just how right/wrong I was!  For now I’m going to wrap up my week by catching up with my backed up reading!

***We’re not splitting up – new job for her down south, so we’re going to be apart in the week.


2 thoughts on “6 months In

  1. Hello Mr Llama,

    Your “retrospective” here prompts me into doing rather belatedly what I’ve meant to do for ages and leave a comment saying thanks for your diary here. I’ve very much enjoyed reading your notes of your experiences. You capture very vividly your ups and downs, the moments of excitement and the moments of doubt!

    All the best with the work


    1. Hi Pete, thanks for the kind words 🙂 Glad I’ve managed to avoid turning the blog into a whinge fest, as there have been some days when it’s all got a bit much and I’ve wondered if I’ve descended into a moaning minnie! Here’s to six more months of more ups than downs 😉


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