At Close of Play

Monday

And so starts the last week of year one of my PhD process.  That feels quite shocking to type when I think of how it seems almost like yesterday that I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing and wasn’t quite sure what the year would bring.  Wait.  That WAS yesterday.  Here’s hoping by the end of year two that things start to feel less like climbing a crumbling mountain blindfolded without a map.  Or a safety harness.

Also had a few minutes today where I wished I could get going on my interview analysis.  Then I remembered that while I was doing the interviews all I wanted to do was get going on the chapter writing or background reading.  I always have had difficulties doing one thing at a time to the exclusion of everything else, so it really is taking all of my self discipline to keep my teeth gritted and focussed in on the writing process.  I sense it’s not going to get any easier in this respect as the degree process wears on.

Spent today hammering away full speed on section 3 (academic capitalism and HE marketisation) of the chapter, although I did stop for a while to restructure the whole chapter, trying to streamline it a little and draw some of the scattered ideas back together.  Also decided I wanted a bit of input from my supervisors so sent them an outline of the chapter for comment.  Suspect they may be happy enough, but I wanted to see if there was anything for them that stood out that needed emphasis or perhaps needed removing/sidelining a bit 90more.

Tuesday

Made myself get going by 8.30am this morning.  Hell, when I worked for a living I’d generally be at work before this time of a morning so there’s no excuse.  Kinda slipped into a start at 9.30am pattern over the summer but since we’re past the equinox now decided it was time to make the switch to try and capture as many hours working in the light as I can.  Going to be really sorry to say goodbye to BST – the shift always seems such a bad idea personally, as all of sudden post working day there’s NO time to do jobs outside.  On the other hand I have enjoyed many a country walk in the dark of autumn, so I might start that up again.

Today I decided to crack on with merging my notes for another two sections of the chapter.  I was going to finish off part three first and give it a first polish, but as I’m stuck on a train Thursday afternoon it’ll probably be easier if I have plenty on paper to work on for editing.  That way when I’m back at my keyboard come Friday I’ll be able to write up material with gusto.

For the record the themes today were commodification of knowledge production and the educational experience.  Although I did keep finding titbits of information to go into the earlier sections.  Which is why I didn’t polish any of them, as I suspected that might happen.

Could have done without LibreOffice having a fit and crashing every time I opened a document today though.  Ended up switching the document back to a .odt file from a .docx and that seemed to resolve matters.  Annoying though, as as far as I can remember Open Office never crashed on me.  But then as I was only working on it for an hour or so today (and the rest of the day typing notes straight into EverNote) it didn’t slow me up too much.  A good days work that I’m happy to walk away from now.

Oh, amused in related news to see that my old university (which never met a benchmark it didn’t love) has got a degree in performance management up and running.  Clearly still chasing after the desire to be the new University of Warwick Plc…

Wednesday

I’m beginning to wonder if the title I picked for this week’s post is not more prophetic than I realised.  Heard today from my 3rd Stepmother (yes, I’ve had three of them) that my father’s taken a turn for the worse.  He’s been going through radio and chemo-therapy for the past month, and by the sounds of it has been essentially hospitalised for the past two weeks.  Not quite sure what to do, given we’re not what you call close but all the same it’s not been the best of news for the day.

Meanwhile back in nice mundane academia I’ve finally finished typing all my chapter notes up.  The chapter now is about three times too long, and is about as well structured as chopped noodles.  (Mmmmmn, chopped noodles).  However, as Mrs Llama said to be “At least now you have a block of text to go at”.  That I do, and it will probably take me the rest of this week and next to bring it into order.  There is I know a lot of duplication and bringing the disparate authors’ points together together is probably going to be the first task.  That and spotting which bits are complete and utter bilge, though no doubt Andreas and David will happily point those out later too.

Have been amused watching and reading all the various things on the news and my social media streams about freshers week.  Way back when I was a u/g my freshers week was pretty quiet – I didn’t drink or party, and liked to be in bed by 10pm (yeah, that’s changed a little over the years) but damn I don’t miss that week when I felt like I knew nobody  and didn’t know quite how the experience would be!

Totally different to how my first week as a PhD student…no wait, totally identical!  Wonder how the new PhDs will get on at their induction day tomorrow.  For me last year that was the kick off of the whole ball of wax, though the real start was the meeting with my supervisors on the following week.

Thursday

Interesting start to the day as I heard via a PhD colleague and also my supervisor that they’re looking for people to run some teaching in my dept.  Sounds simple enough, except we have to formally apply and be interviewed.  Doesn’t pay what you’d call big money (hell, this is academia we’re talking about) but it’d be relevant experience.  And even if I don’t get it this time (since I know my colleagues a bit more informed in the fields they’re looking for) it all helps to put my face on the departmental map a bit more.  Which is something I’ve been keen to do ever since I started.  Hence I spent the first couple of hours of the day filling in the application form (deadline being Sunday! Not a lot of warning).  It would be so much easier filling in these online forms if my career wasn’t so long/distinguished!  Interviews are next week – so at least I won’t be out of the loop for long.

And there I was thinking that I’d got a three year break from filling in application forms – whilst attempting to depart my previous employer I must have written about a dozen or so last year, so I am at least oh so very familiar with the process!

Did some light editing after that, but couldn’t really get my headspace right as I’d decided to go see my dad in hospital mid-afternoon.  There are 6 people on his ward.  He was easily the sickest, and least aware of where he was.  When I saw him just a few weeks ago before the chemo and radio therapy he wasn’t great, but he was 80-90% there.  Now there’s barely 10% of him left.  How his poor wife and family must be feeling I can’t comprehend, cos it’s left me pretty emotionally shell-shocked and I barely know him.

Living on my own without Mrs Llama has never been tougher than right now.

Friday

Not the best of workdays as I had to catch a series of trains in the morning to get to something with Mrs Llama.  However, i did take the time to do some on paper editing so it wasn’t a total loss.  One thing is sure, next week between my multiple commitments of life and work, is not shaping up to be a whole lot of fun.  If I can just get through it sane I’ll be a happy llama.

Not quite the end to my first year of PhD studies I’d hoped for, but an end all the same.  I’ll be having a look back over the highs and lows of the year in the next week or so.

Saturday

Ha! Surprise extra day working on the job application.  Not the finest application I’ve written, and to be honest not that sure they’ll interview me so haven’t flogged myself to death.  But I was happy enough with what I wrote in my supporting statement.  I’ll just have to let it ride for now.

150 Not Out

Celebration CC Cake
Celebration CC Cake

Yes I’ve just spotted that this is the 150th post in this blog.  W00t.  Okay, so a fair number of posts have been from before my current PhD studies, but the bulk of them are now well and truly focused on my adventures as a mature post-graduate research student in the arts and humanities.  If you’re a new reader, hi there – and do say hello in the comments, I won’t bite!

Monday

A sorta odd day, in that I had to leave the house around 6.30am to drive myself and Mrs Llama way down south for a meeting, and then all the way back here again.  240mi round-trip and 6.5hrs later (so just after 1pm) we made it back here for lunch and light work.  Having been up early and having done all the driving (Mrs Llama has issues with my car) I’m not going to attempt to do anything monumental.

However, I did re-enroll for my degree year two.  Deadline isn’t until the end of October, but I think it might have been causing me email issues on campus – so following advice from the IT guys at NTU I did this online, so hopefully now my email and everything will keep on working.  Or at least I hope it will!  I did take the time to read through the various enrollment supporting documents, which included one on student intellectual property (IP), a topic as close to my heart as ever.  Nice to see slightly contrary to what I heard from the IP class last year (the one day of the research training programme I was sick, damn it) students do own their IP generated at the uni.

There are clauses, such as sponsors having a claim on potential commercial IP (and the uni too).  Luckily I doubt what I’ll be generating will be exploitable to that degree.  Interestingly the uni does get to have “a non-exclusive right to retain and make available for non-commercial purposes copies of material produced by students during the course of their studies at the university“.  Interesting that “non-commercial” tag – for surely is the use of any of my (or fellow students’ work) in marketing or promotion of the institution in any form a commercial exploitation?  Hmn.  I’ve run into this idea before that universities think themselves “non-commercial” even as they tie down the exploitation of IP generated by their staff, seek to maximize their recruitment and fees and develop technology transfer partnerships.  Yes, indeedy, that doesn’t sound like a commercial organisation at all…

It’s grist for the marketisation of HE chapter I’m working on at the moment, this sort of schizophrenic split of identity that universities like to promote in the early C21st .  “Yes, we’ve public education bodies…unless there’s money to be made, in which case come friendly enterprises, rain capital upon us!”.

I might not be quite so flowery in the chapter, but it’s a useful little local titbit (and I’m sure if I searched other institution’ rules I’d find much worse – I think especially of one or two of my past employer HEIs here).

I’ve also been spending a few minutes working out how to generate a contents table in Libre Office.  I like Libre Office, even more so than Open Office now, although there are some things it just doesn’t do as well as M$ Office I’m sorry to say (sadly Impress is a poor shadow of PowerPoint, and how Writer handles comments by printing them at the end of the document, rather inline with the text is similarly weak).  Too me a few minutes of fiddling with styles and menus, but now I do have a nice little contents page for my chapter which helps give me an idea of the structure – and where it doesn’t quite flow right. Tomorrow, I’ll be hammering at the structure somewhat more forcefully – hopefully after a lot more sleep and no more driving.

Tuesday

Chapter writing and editing.  Wrote and edited the chapter introduction page, covering the focus and the key arguments I wanted to make with it.  Also did one more interview – as one of the big universities I’d approached months ago finally came out of the woodwork.  Think I might underscore that as the very last interview in this phases, as I feel like I can’t really spare the time to do more of them now.

Wednesday

Working on the second section of the chapter, taking stock of the environment within which universities in the UK function.  Today I was mostly writing a brief history of the UK university and material on the ideas and thinking behind universities in general.  There’s probably a lot more I could write on the subject, but for the purposes of this chapter i think I need to keep it relatively concise.  Did come away thinking I need to track down a decent paper or book giving a timeline of the foundation dates of universities.  Wikipedia does have a good page on it, but I got lightly told off for quoting from it previously, so don’t feel I can.  But frustrating since as far as I can see the information is accurate.

Thursday

Still working on the second section, this time mostly on neoliberal reforms and the knowledge economy.  It is slowly hanging together, but there’s a long way to go.  I’m a bit worried as I have a tendency to overwrite in a first draft phase, including everything that might be relevant.  I really struggle to edit things down to a more pithy length – I’m on page 8 of what is supposed to be a 15 page chapter, and only a quarter of the way through writing it.  Could be that it’s better to have more information in here, and given I’m using 1.5 line spacing perhaps there’s really only 6 pages of content.  But all the same it’s a worry.

That's not quite what I meant
That’s not quite what I meant

It’s also a worry just how long it takes to pull this information together and arrange it in any semblance of order.  I can feel I’m a bit faster at it than last week, but all the same I dream of the day I can just skip lightly through all this content and pull it together.  I guess that’ll come in time as the concepts I’m dealing with become more second nature to me, and less like trying to wrestle an octopus to fit into a t-shirt – too many arms, and I’m not quite sure he should be in there in the first place.

Needless to say, there are no octopi in this chapter

Friday

The second section turned into a bit of a monster (possibly with tentacles) but I did manage to get a rough draft of it done and started work on the third section before the day was done.  The third section is looking a bit tricky as it is really the heart of the chapter, so I suspect I’ll be working on it for most of next week.  But at least I’m up and running now on this chapter.

September Arrives

Monday

Academic capitalism
Academic capitalism


Bright, but showery today – and a lot cooler than of late, so today marked the return of wearing socks and a hoodie to work.  Mrs Llama was working from home today which is a bit distracting as I’m not used to someone coming and going while I’m trying to think.  I used to have no problem working in a busy (if moribund) office with a lot of people around, but I guess I’ve gotten out of the habit.  Not helped today by a lack of enthusiasm and mojo, with doubts over-riding for a large part of the day my ability to concentrate on work.  Did start reading the last book in my academic marketisation sequence though.

One thing worthy of note, I’ve pretty much moved over to Evernote for my reading notes.  Now I’ve got my tablet and keyboard I can work pretty much anywhere, and run off copies on either the main PC’s printer or when I’m at uni.  Sort of wish I’d started using it earlier, but then I’ve only had the tablet for just over a month so it’s taken me this long to get comfortable using it.  It’s a little shift, but I think it’ll increase the effectiveness of my reading and researching.

Tuesday

September arrived with a vengeance today as I woke up to the sound of the central heating just ticking over.  Wasn’t aware that Mrs Llama had left it on.  Our heating only comes on when it drops below 17DegsC so working in the conservatoffice today was a bit chilly.  Mrs Llama is off at a conference now for the next three days so I won’t be interrupted.  Or indeed probably see anyone unless I go out to the shops, which isn’t high on my priorities.  Really got into the Slaughter and Rhodes book today, perhaps the lower temperatures help my brain work better.  Hope so as there’s lots of work to do and plenty of cold weather ahead.  Found myself debating, philosophically, at one point if we have cold/wet weather in-between the warm weather or vice versa.  Nothing to do with my studies, but was something to mull over for a few minutes.

Beginning to wonder if I’ll hear any details for my year 2 research training before it begins – then again last year it was a bit of a last-minute announcement so perhaps it’s still a bit early for that.  Of course I’m also aware that the Graduate School has reworked all the research student training, so I’ll be very interested to know what I can/have to do.

I see that the UK Government’s Business, Innovation and Skills Committee have published another OA report – something to add to my reading list for a quiet (ha!) moment.  Honestly, I’d like to finish reading the heap of books I’ve got on social theory someday too!  Might have to try to allocate at least one day a week while I’m writing this chapter to ongoing background reading.  Too much? Not enough?  Who knows, but can’t let myself fall behind – and it would be nice to be able to return some of these library books one day!

Wednesday

Finished off the book which has been a cracking read, and arranged to go and speak with one of the authors I’ve recently been reading (since they’re on staff at NTU) on Friday.  Then spent a few hours trying to get my thoughts together on this chapter.  As this is the first thesis chapter I’ve tried writing I want to spend a good chunk of time thinking through what I want to say and how I’m going to say it.  Although, that said I do suspect my supervisors will have me doing more than a few rewrites.  But essentially from here on out this probably my focus for the rest of September.

At the moment I’m torn stylistically between writing a glorified literature review or trying to develop the themes of what I’ve read and tying it into what I’m researching.  I guess the truth will probably lie between the two.  Also wondering just how much academic language to cram in there – I’m not personally a fan of impenetrable scholarship; and some of the books I’ve read in the past year have been written in what feels like a foreign language.  At the same time I’m wary of dumbing anything down, given this is part of a serious scholarly work, so I guess I better use the right words in the right place.

If only I can find a place for my favourite word of recent months – synecdoche.  Yes it’s replaced quotidian.

Thursday

Working on the HE marketisation chapter today.

So let’s talk about conferences.  One of the things I’ve yet to get my head around is how people in my school find out about the right conferences to attend.  The other PhDs seem to find and attend some very interesting looking conferences to go to, and I feel I’m currently missing a bit of a trick.  I really want to get out into the academic landscape and start meeting some other researchers beyond the confines of my institution.  Not so much to tell them about my work (but that would be great) but to hear how they’re approaching things, methodologically, theoretically, analytically etc.  I really think it would help shed some light on the areas I’m worrying about (data analysis and interpretation especially).  If anyone has any good tips about how to find out about conferences that would be great – since most of the ones on the mailing lists I’m on seem to be in the states – and I just can’t afford to attend them!

I used to hear about conferences in my professional field a lot on twitter and mailing lists, but now as I’m not really on twitter most of the day (too distracting I fear while I’m trying to understand things), I guess maybe I need to be on some new mailing lists.  But which ones…there’s a good question.

Friday

Off into campus this morning – probably my last pre the influx  of the walking dead…sorry, freshers, all over the place making it look untidy and using all the computers to instagram pictures of their crazy life or the like when some of us have serious Facebooking to do!  I mean, reports to print out.  Ahem.  Yes, that’s what I mean.

A Dictionary of Genetics
A Dictionary of Genetics


[Later] Well that was just brilliant – wonderful insight and chat with my academic colleague, and plenty for me to think on over the next few weeks.  She was not only really helpful, but really got my enthusiasm for the research going.  I just love meetings like that that leave you just feeling energised about the whole process.  Now I know it won’t last and next week I’ll be screaming at a paragraph that I just can’t get to make any sense, but it’s a wonderful feeling while it lasts.  Came back and did some thinking, and then wrote my slightly overdue book review for my journal editor, who I suspect will be chasing me next week.  Or rather would have been chasing me if I hadn’t written it.  Excellent book, so it was much easier to write than some I’ve reviewed in recent years.  Trying to explain why a book sucks dispassionately is actually much harder than saying when a book is fab.  This one is fab, and if you have an interest in genetics go buy a copy.  Oh wait, I don’t get any royalties – forget I sad that!

Back to School

Monday

Back to school commuting fun!
Back to school commuting fun!

I’ve been amused for the past month by all the back to school adverts and the like I’ve run across, and today it seems the world and his wife has gone back to work/school.  Hah!  Alright for some, since essentially doing a PhD is a bit of a 52 weeks a year commitment the idea of actually taking a proper break feels a bit alien right now (although it might be nice if Mrs Llama actually has some time one day for us to take a weekend break or something).

And since everyone else has gone back to school I thought it was only right that I went back into writing the daily posts for the blog, rather than doing sneaky short week-encompassing ones.

Highlight of today was going in to the still-deserted campus for a meeting with my supervisors, in their new funky collaborative space in the Computing and Informatics building.  Don’t worry, I’ve not jumped disciplines – I’m still Culture, Media and English, but they’ve been moved into the much more modern area.  The idea being academics might be more likely to collaborate.  Not sure they’re 100% convinced by it, but it was a nice area to have a meeting.  All the same, how it’ll work in practice once more of the academics are back from their vacations remains to be seen.

They were somewhat amazed by the scope of my interviews, not to mention having them all transcribed.  Looks like they want me to put the analysis to one side for a moment and dive in to writing my current chapter on marketisation of education as the primary goal for now.  And then back to the analysis, and then we plan the next steps.  So that’s probably pretty much the rest of 2013 wrapped up for me now I suspect given it’s going to take a month to really tame this chapter (so many new concepts to get my head around) and then at least a month to do the analysis properly.  Factor in the new research training module I’ll be taking, the odd PhD student meeting, perhaps a day off or two and there we are – it’s December easily!

Tuesday

The day began with a spot of house keeping.  Might seem a minor thing, but I’ve managed to end up with research papers I’ve read and bits of random paper all over the place in recent weeks, so a good tidy was in order.  Then I wrote up yesterday’s meeting, or as it’s otherwise known “My To Do List”.  Writing up the meeting while it’s fresh in my mind is important, but it’s also key I think to write it after sleeping on it – because there’s a number of things that were flagged up in passing comments that I remembered and am making sure to highlight.  Yes, I did take notes – but of the staccato short variety – the meetings tend to ebb and flow a bit rather than following a tight structure (which would probably kill about 63% of people I used to work with) so capturing the essence of what was said is a bit tricky.

I did have an agenda though, which helped at least make sure everything I wanted to discuss, got discussed!

Wednesday

One of those days where I struggled to get going and found a thousand things to do other than what I needed to do.  Also spent an hour sorting out the neighbour’s laptop, PC and printer.  She asked if I’d ever thought of working as an IT/computer person full-time.  After shuddering, I explained that I enjoy knowing how to use and manipulate computers, but I also like not dealing with them 24/7.  Not quite sure she believed me.  Still, I fixed everything pretty quickly this time (short of an OutlookXP issue which I’ll consult with Mrs Llama over at the weekend).

Thursday

Damn good read
Damn good read


Slightly odd day today as for various complex reasons I needed to be in the same location as the Wife to sign some papers.  So I caught the train from Sileby to Stevenage.  Well, I say train it’s actually three trains (via Nottingham and Grantham) and takes around 2.5hrs, so longer than it does to drive.  And costs more that the petrol would.  But at least while I was sitting on the train I was able to read my way through most of Capitalist Realism, which is a cracking book,, very accessible and insightful at the same time.  It’s use of examples from TV and film to illustrate the issues really spoke to me (what a shock eh).  Oh, and the author is dead right about Office Space – it’s a wonderful film full of insight and humour; one of my long time favourites.

By the time we’d sorted out our business, and I’d learned not to stand directly under an air conditioner on full blast for ten minutes (hint it makes you feel horribly unwell) there wasn’t much time or drive to do any more work.  So to make up for I chatted to Mrs Llama about what I’ve been studying recently and tried to make sense of it.  It really helps you make sense of a lot of things to have someone to bounce them off, something I don’t really get in the week.

Night in Stevenage and dinner at the wonderful (if pricey) Coast to Coast American Diner.  Hot wings and Nachos – yum yum.  Better class of diner than Nados (which I am partial to as well) next door in addition.

Friday

Map which looks like a bladder
Map which looks like a bladder

The morning was spent working on some more reading and a little writing in my Stevenage hotel room, before the Wife came to collect me for the long drive back to Leicestershire.  Once we were back and settled in I’ve spent the rest of today tidying up my notes, updating RefWorks and expanding my glossary of terms.  A lot about various forms of capital this time.  Oh and I even had a brief exchange of tweets with the author of one of the books I’ve been reading this week, which was nice.  Certainly ready for the weekend, though looking forward to really getting into to some serious writing and editing next week.