Plumbing the Mid-Point Blues

Monday

Had a not terribly great night’s sleep, and I think in part that impacted on me a lot today as I hit a real funk.  In part I suspect it’s because after a few weeks of exciting trips and meeting people, this is the first time in a month that I’ve been sat home with a whole 5 working days stretching out in front of me.  I’ve nowhere to go, no teaching to do, just the thesis to work on.  Not helped that I badly bruised my left forearm (or the cracked the bone) falling over the wife’s shoes which she’d left in the kitchen doorway.  Aching rather badly today.

There must be light somewhere...
There must be light somewhere…

It’s also because I’m over the half-way point in the funded period of the PhD and there still feels like there’s an impossible mountain to climb.  Or if you prefer, I’ve been climbing through a deep dark cave, and now my torch has run out of power; and all around me is a creeping black void.  Yeah, that’s much more cheerful.

I’ve got three chapters to work on, but I also need to be planning, arranging and conducting the next round of interviews.  I need to meet with my supervisors and have a discussion about this, and it looks like I’ve also got to get my annual review documentation ready for a week tomorrow as I’ve a review meeting set.  Talking to Mrs Llama who has lived through a PhD, and supervised a few as well, she seems to think that this is a normal part of the process – the darkest phase of the PhD is the latter half of the 2nd year she says.  Easy to say, difficulty to live through as I’m feeling frustrated, demotivated, stressed and bored in equal measure.  I like what I’m doing, but at the moment it’s all hurdle and no landing.

Consequently today wasn’t the most productive of days.  I wrote the outline of a presentation for my review meeting, although I’m not 100% sure I give a presentation.  All the same, it’ll be a useful crib note to discuss with my supervisory team.  Sketched out the interview questions for the next round as well, and with a little bit of polish they’ll be good to go.  Just need to start setting up interviews next, but I need to at least briefly talk with my supervisors about this.  I guess I should take it as a mark of their confidence in me that they’ve not needed to see me in ages, but I’m feeling rather unsupported at the moment.

I did a bit of work on the analysis chapter, but it was like mining coal with a tooth pick – largely frustrating and incredibly slow going.  Couldn’t really get into it, but I need to so will be pushing myself harder other days this week.

Tuesday

Slightly less demotivated, despite another relatively sleepless night.  Insomnia’s becoming a bit too common at the moment – some days I could sleep all the time, most nights I struggle to stay asleep.  Gee, it’s like being a student again!  Partly stress, partly because there’s not much of anything social or interesting going on in my life outside of study, research, cooking, cleaning and looking after the garden. Today though at least there’s the entertainment of the carpet fitters working downstairs – so I spent the day hiding in the office upstairs working on my annual monitoring report.

So warm and inviting...and empty
So warm and inviting…and empty

Actually they finished just afternoon, but I stayed in the computer room trying to write the report.  It’s one of those things that’s somewhat of an annoying piece of administrative trivia; but on the other hand I’ve been able to spend the day in a very reflective mood trying to identity where I’ve made real progress and where I’ve slipped up.  Perhaps not too much of a surprise that thanks to the teaching this year that I’ve slipped a month or two on my plan of work.  Only to be expected, and frankly I needed the income and the experience.  I kid you not, it’s been the real highlight of the academic year.  That said the research has to by definition be at the heart of what I do, so I’ve been trying to apply the experience in terms of realistic timescales vs aspirations.

Last time I had annual monitoring the team commented that I had set myself “fairly challenging goals”.  They were right, I’ve not produced half as much write up as I expected…but then I wasn’t really prepared for how much time and energy teaching would take.  Hopefully if I do get a new contract next year, I’ll not need to commit quite so much time to it all; having taught on the course already.  I also learned how to schedule my working days better – but it’s not easy when there’s no where on campus to call my own – and the software I need to work on isn’t installed on local PCs!

All the same, by the day’s end I’ve got 85% of the report written.  Just a couple of paragraphs to go (which’ll take it to the maximum 2,000 I suspect), then a polish and I can let my supervisors have sight of it.  Strange to be feeling more positive as a result of struggling with this kind of thing, but it has left me eager to get back to writing up my thesis chapters pronto!

Started and ended the day by tweaking my Linked.In entry.  I remain unconvinced by it as a social tool or as a route to get work; but frankly I am beginning to see past the end of my PhD and to the void beyond where I’ll need to find gainful employments – and I can’t afford to look past anything!

Wednesday

Starting off the day answering another student’s email about their essay.  Trying to hit the happy medium between offering advice and guidance, without actually spelling out exactly what they need to write.  I mean, they DO need to do some work themselves.  *Mutters about spoonfeeding*.  Still in a bit of a work funk, but cracked on with writing the annual review document; and cheered myself up by aiming to write something positive each week on the blog that’s NOT going to be about my research (but will be about some aspect of the media I suspect).  Submitted it to my supervisor and confirmed the time of my review meeting next week.

Surprisingly this took most of the morning, as I also had to reformat my meeting reports (have to submit them as well); so by the time I’d had lunch and moved onto main writing mode I’d lost a bit of my mojo.  Made a cup of tea around 3pm, had a think – and then a brain wave.  In the meeting reports I’d been asked (ages ago) to produce a briefing on my research findings.  Just four pages.  Realising this would be ideal to bring with me the meeting, AND provide a spur to finishing off my analysis chapter I set to work with a gusto; pausing along the way to agonise over tenses and spellings of common words.  Turns out I can spell “borscht” but I still can’t spell “scholarly” without a long run up.

No, borscht isn’t in here – but it’s in the context of a tweet about the subject I made!

Around 6pm I’d almost finished the document, but left a little to pick up tomorrow.  Find it easier if I don’t start from zero each morning.  Saved it…to discover I hadn’t saved it in the more than 2hrs I’d been working on it.  Rookie mistake!  Two hours nearly right down the pan.

Also had a panic mid-afternoon when I opened mu NVivo data files for the first time in a month, to find half the data missing.  20 panicked backup checking minutes later…I realised I’d been looking at them in the wrong mode.  Panic averted. Near heart attack too.  Glad I’m paranoid about saving multiple back ups (even if it seems I can’t remember to save documents I’m working on…d’oh!).

Thursday

Spent most of today thinking it was Wednesday, despite the fact I know tomorrow’s Friday.  Not really sure why.  Day was spent polishing my presentation for next week’s review and editing the brief version of my analysis chapter from the thesis.  I think now that’s all but done (concluding paragraphs to rework first thing tomorrow), I can see how that might actually do in terms of my actual chapter – just need to expand out some of the quotes and add in some of the missing context and references and it’ll be easily done by a week tomorrow.  That’s quite heartening – a genuine output to share with my supervisors.  And it’s also really clarified my thinking about what I need to ask next in my next round of interviews.  Think I might start on the prep for that tomorrow.

One interesting thing I have noticed again, is it’s easier to write original material in the morning but far far easier to re-write pre-existing stuff (e.g. edit) from about 3pm onward.  Might have to structure my days to take account of this fact.

Friday

Vicky Park in the sun - the only good bit about working at Leicester Uni!
Vicky Park in the sun – the only good bit about working at Leicester Uni!

Low energy and mojo day today, so didn’t achieve anything like what I planned.  Did pop over to University of Leicester over lunch to visit Mrs Llama’s swanky new office.  It is VERY swish.  I’ve never worked anywhere with an office to myself, so she is clearly very important!  Although she has been telling me that for ages.

Did have a moment where I suddenly had some flashes of inspiration from my research data, and wrote some broad conclusions from them.  Will present these to my supervisors next week and see what they think.  Probably pour cold water on them!  Finished the day by spotting an event via twitter that’s worth going to next month over in Cambridge.  All the same, was glad to call an end to the work festivities this week.

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