One thing that I picked up at last week’s conference is a lot of academics are now in summer mode – which means for some (my supervisor included) that they’re disappearing off the face of the Earth for a bit. Only picked that up in an overheard conversation, and while I probably can still contact him via email, it might have been nice to know directly. Then again, I’ve more than enough work to keep me going for a few months right now, so I can’t complain.
Today was spent doing one interview, one transcription and two book reviews. The book reviews were coming close to the deadline so I thought I’d best spend the time today cracking on with them. Writing one of them (video games) was easier than the other (electrochemistry). However, both were actually very good books and I hope I’ve done them both sufficient justice.
A quick few minutes first off arranging a few more interviews with repository staff. This week I hit 50 interviews, for which I may have the world’s smallest celebration. I’ll celebrate more when I’ve written up all the transcripts. More interviews in the afternoon today, but this morning will be spent engaged in reading once more. I’m way behind with my background reading so the next two weeks I’m going to make a real effort to crack on with it – since that and the interviews are pretty much my sole focus for a while.
I managed to mainline quite a few short papers in the morning, and then had a long battle with RefWorks to try and add them to my bibliography. I have to say while once you get it working RefWorks isn’t bad, but in terms of reliably being able to log in from off campus – it is shoddy in the extreme. Not sure if it’s the Shibboleth handshake at the NTU end or on the RefWorks site – but frankly if this was a site I was using of my own volition I’d have dumped it long ago. It seems the status quo is taking about 15 attempts to log in, rather than the occasional blip. Unimpressed.
Today I spent the morning reading a book about Foucault and power. It’s been sitting on my book shelves for months brooding at me, but finally I cracked it open. To be honest it’s better than the last one of his books I read, though the more readable part was the introductory essay by someone else. Think I learned more there than in 3 hrs trudging through the first lengthy chapter. I’ll come back to it tomorrow to see if my brain has assimilated any more of it.
The afternoon though was spent on campus. I’d volunteered to take part in a focus group about the graduate student experience, which turned out to be run by the Dean of the Graduate School and head of their staff. Not so much a focus group as a 35 minute defense of what they’re doing a a stilted two way conversation (I could teach them a thing or two about how to facilitate focus groups, as I’ve led a few in my time!). However, there were some good things to come out of it. Firstly the information about what the GradSchool is doing to improve things. Personally while there are glitches and issues, as with any institution, I’m largely very happy by my graduate experience. Well, you know, aside from their over-reliance on physical signatures. There is a real passion by the Dean and team to get the graduates engaged and to sort problems, that is refreshing to see. I could cynically suggest it’s because they’re chasing QAA ratings, but I believe it’s very genuine.
And part of this is they’re putting together a regular feedback panel/focus group and as a result of turning up to this meeting I ended up on it. So I’ve manage to last 9 whole months before landing onto a university committee. Ah well, at least the future sessions will be facilitated by the Marketing Office – which may mean we get more of a dialogue going. Having the major stakeholder OUT of the room will certainly allow for more honest discussions I anticipate. I am however, even more confused about the successor to the RPC – and really didn’t like the sound of classes running on Wednesday “1pm-8pm”. Gah, my brain switches off by 6ish. I shall wait and see what it is we have to do once more information comes out.
There was also an interesting bit about the GradSchool wondering having a social media presence or as they put it “Doing something in Facebook”. I do so enjoy it when people think Facebook “is” social media, and just having a page means you are “doing” social media. I believe I ran a workshop last year proselytising on how that wasn’t the case… I’ve quite enjoyed talking to both the NTU and NTUStudent twitter accounts, and think they’re doing a fine job at engaging in the social sphere, so my hackles are always raised when it seems people just want to slap a big old social media bandage on and hope for the best. I shall be saying as much at future sessions. It’s interesting though that 18 months ago the (invisible as far as I’ve seen) Student Reps said no one wanted social media. Can’t say that there would be a great big ground swell of it from the folks on the RPC course (with a limited number of exceptions) but it might be nice for the GradSchool to perhaps facilitate a coming together of those of us who do make a use of it to a significant degree, I think it would be very valuable in terms of engendering community, cohesiveness and opening channels of potential collaboration and support.
But what do I know eh, I’m only a PhD student working in the field of Culture, Media and Communication… 😉
Came back and did a bit more transcription and write up, before calling it a day and writing this blog. Tomorrow, more interviews and more Foucault. The former I look forward to more than the latter!
Hit a motivational and mood black spot today. I’d call it an existential crisis but that’d be a) a bit pompus b) a bit over dramatic. Various things got on top of me today. Did the interviews (a high spot, even if they were brief), and typed them and another interview up. Bar a couple of emails that was my day.
Beginning to think I need a holiday, but looks like that’s not happening this year.
Did get an email from my supervisor with some suggested readings on marketization, so will start tackling that next week.
In a better mood today, probably as Mrs Llama came home for the weekend mid-afternoon (plus it’s her birthday so should be a work free/high fun time). The day was spent with Prof Foucault’s book which at times caused my eyes to dance all over the page in a grim effort to escape from reading it. At other times it seemed to be right on the money and exactly the sort of thing I wanted to read. Have to agree with what’s been mentioned to me in the past, that the interviews with Foucault are fare more digestible and readable than his prose or transcribed lectures. Still, having managed to devour a couple of hundred or so pages of the book today it’ll have to wait until Monday to be finished off. Probably just as well as around 5pm I hit a rich vein of relevant thought, that is probably not best digested (or attempted to be digested) that late in the working day.
There were moments today when I actually found myself reflecting back on the PhD process as a whole and where I am here at the end of month 9. I seem to be a bit adrift at the moment in a sea of field work and theory, each competing for attention. Each of which I could probably work on 100% of the time and still have not enough time to deal with them. I like to be busy, but I hope over the next few months through to the end of year 1 that things start to take on a better shape than they’re in now. I’m worried that I may well slip away from the central focus of my work, or even worse take on too much (if I haven’t already). Then again I’m guessing this is a common fear of early PhD researchers, and part of the (seemingly) Sisyphean challenge we all face – taking a huge ball of knowledge and research and attempting to punt it into the crater of originality. And right now it feels a lot of the time like this ball is just getting heavier, and heavier with each passing day.
Ah well, at least I learned the etymology of the word apathetic today. So that’s a bit of knew knowledge to take into the weekend!