Should have known this was coming, after last week’s wonderful feedback (and I even had some more over the weekend), this week has rather pissed on my chips a little. So I’m finishing off the term feeling exhausted, worn out and totally depressed with the world.
And I’ve still got a long hard slog over the coming week before a couple of days off over Easter. I’ll talk more about my woes below – those of you who enjoy a good moan will at least get a little schadenfreude out of this; so it’s not a total loss I guess. See, I’m starting to get more cheerful already…
Yeah, I’ve been threatening this for a while – and I’m now in the process of revamping the look and feel of the blog. As I’m using the free version of WordPress I can only really make changes to the live site, so my regular reader (I think I’ve got one of them…possibly) might be a bit surprised that the site will keep changing over the next few weeks as I tweak the colour palette etc to get it just the right shade of vermilion. I jest…possibly.
Lots of preparation for this, this week. Didn’t think a 15-20 minute talk would need this much work. I’m basing my talk around a couple of previous ones, but at the same time tweaking the narrative so it tries and segues in with my co-presenter Bryony’s (aka librarygirlknit) one. Been enjoying a smashing correspondence with Bryony, which reminds me how much I enjoy collaborative work! While our talks our separate we’re trying to give it a bit of a ethnographic theme. As of this writing I think I’ve got the talk down, although I keep taking more and more words off the slides to make them appear less texty (my default mode, what a shocker eh) and more pictorial. Might see if I can’t work in some more of the ideas I got from this week’s lecturing buzz lunch as well. Although perhaps not the drum loops. Will be spending most of Sunday travelling up to Glasgow for the conference, so am glad that next weekend is Easter and I get a few days off, I suspect I’m going to need them.
As of Friday afternoon though it’s all sorted out, I just now need to sort out my clothes and pack for the trip. How many hats it too many though? Also having seen the weather forecast I hope I don’t have to swim across the centre of Glasgow next week.
Went along to a lunchtime seminar hosted by the NTU academic staff development people on The Lecture as Performance. Sounded interesting for raiding for ideas to improve my own teaching practice (hey, the feedback was great but I could always be better and I know it!) and also for my communications workshop for FIL later this year. Free hot lunch too, which was great – although catering did forget the first rule of serving food: hot food: hot plates, cold food: cold plates. So as I ate my rapidly cooling mushroom and butter bean pie (tasty) I listened to talks from a former actor turned mathematician, an avant-garde urban historian with a penchant for drum loops, a man deconstucting the speeches of Barack Obama, and a chap showing off tricks using simple PowerPoint and free apps. Well worth the attendance I thought as it sparked some ideas in my head for future workshops and lecturing practice. Also nice to feel (if only ever so briefly) part of the lecturing family of NTU, rather than the outside PhD student who they just chuck teaching at and forget about (can feel a bit like that at times). Was particularly interested in the use of a phone-driven voting app for lectures- so much more effective than having to hand out those little handsets. Wonder if it works on all systems or if you need install rights? I shall have to have an explore of this over the next week or so, as anything that drives more student interaction in sessions can only be a good thing.
I did particularly like the little factoid about people remembering more about the questions you asked than the facts you tell them in a lecture. Makes them engage on a more cognitive level, which perhaps explains why seminars have such a good reputation for allowing students to get to grips with aspects of their courses better. I think I shall be looking closely at my next conference and lecture slides and trying to embrace that idea a little. Or shall I?
Teaching – Face to Face to Facebook
International communications this week looking at Radio Free Europe and its role in the 1956 Hungarian revolt. Slightly confused for a minute as I didn’t think I was teaching history! But mostly this was about discussing the moral and ethical issues around the application of soft power like radio in terms of destabilising or countering effective hegemonic control of a state. First session of this was pretty informal as I only had three students – and they had a lot of questions about the exams, so get a little sidetracked. All the same it seemed a positive teaching engagement so I’m not going to stress about it.
Also been dealing with a whole host of questions over the last week or so from students worried about or wanting advice on their essay. Hopefully I’ve steered them all in the right direction without giving them too much overt assistance. Tricky line to straddle, especially doing it all online (lacking an effective on site presence is a bit of an issue being a seminar tutor, and not one that’s going to be resolved sadly). Feedback from the students seems positive here, so am hopeful that this means I’ve averted their concerns and I’ll have a stack of top flight essays to mark next week. Although slightly terrified at the idea of marking about 84 scripts in a short period of time.
Teaching – Media Communications
A bit of a confusion behind the scenes next week, wonder if the students were even aware of it? Had the plan for a seminar on the power of images in hand, despite the lecture showing up as being about propaganda in the timetable. Decided there must be a cross over…but no turns up there’d been a slight hiccup in the planning – as this was supposed to be a week for a tutorial on their PR campaigns rather than a seminar. But as we had the material for the seminar it was decided to go ahead with that anyway. Turned out the lecture was on the role of images in the media (including a potted history of art and image) – which was fascinating. Great lecturer I’d not come across before with a wonderful relaxed and deeply informative style. Just a little embarrassed that only 12 students out of almost 200 turned up for it. I know we’re near the end of term but…wow. I had 7 to my seminar (out of 26) so actually my %age attendance rates are a lot higher. Not quite sure the students quite got what this week’s seminar was about mind you, but I could be wrong. Possible they’ve done aspects of this in other modules so this might have all been pitched at too low a level for them. Ah well. Shame really as it’s the last time I teach this group – just seminars and assessed presentation sessions for the rest of the year now. Going to miss them, as they’re by far my liveliest mix of students – which makes interacting and teaching them a whole lot easier.
Supervisors seem to be on silent running since my email last week. After a week I sent them off a gentle reminder, to hear on Friday that they’re snowed under and will get back to me after Easter. Fair enough, but does leave me slightly in limbo. Guess I’ll just have to finish off all my marking and conference funding applications and get bookings in place for the Vienna conference in the meantime. And then move onto sorting out my next phase of interviews. And catch up on my reading. Actually, when I think about it, I suspect I’ll manage to fill all the time very, very easily.
Never thought I’d end up in the same position as Jeremy Clarkson this week, only you know, without the violence. Went in to discuss my potential lecturing next year as ideally I was looking to expand my role a bit, even up to a day or two part time. I’m acutely aware that when my studentship ends this summer I am going to be very, very broke and I can’t rely on Mrs Llama to pay for everything – we’ve had three years of being not very well off, and this will exacerbate matters. Turns out though dept aren’t permitted to keep me on now I’m this far through the PhD as they need me to complete on time so that that their PGR stats don’t take a hit. (I’ll try not go off on a rant about marketised HE subsumed by aspects of neoTaylorist measure here…). I could totally see their point from one direction, as I too would like to be able to finish this PhD before the end of time itself and move on to the next stage of my career. But I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t expecting this when I went in to the meeting – so I did my best not to sound like a deflating balloon throughout the rest of the discussions.
I will say they were really nice about it, and I could tell they were annoyed by the situation as well, so I’ve ever sympathy for the akward situation they’re in as well. Especially as I can well understand it’s a position a lot of PhDs find themselves in . On the positive side of things, and I’ve got to remember that there are a lot of positives about this whole experience, at least they told me I was an excellent teacher, which was great to hear. Even if it isn’t going to keep the wolf from the door come September. Did make it clear at least that I can work, as the university can’t stop me finding other employment, and will write me a stunning reference. They just can’t provide it.
So what does this mean for me? Well on the down side it pretty much destroys any plans I’ve got for holidays or LARPing type adventures unless I can find somewhere else to employ me in the meanwhile. Suspect I’m a bit old for bar work. So feeling a bit of a total failure right now, as my self-confidence has taken a right old nasty knock from all this. Not really a rational thing, and I know I’ll cheer up in a day or too, but I might have to mooch around over the weekend doing positive things like updating my CV and scanning jobs pages. Frankly, glad I’ve got the UKSG conference to go to next week as I need the distraction. Debating hanging a “For Hire” sign around my neck at it or maybe just taking a batch of short CVs to hand to some people. Not sure if I’m enough of a tart to do that, but I guess I might have to be – Mrs Llama has expensive tastes I need to cater for!
And of course I’ve still got 4 more weeks of teaching to come after Easter to look forward to, so I shall have to just enjoy every moment of what has been a great experience and opportunity for the past couple of years. Not that many PhDs here get teaching experience, and that I have is something for which I’ll continue to be grateful. I just know I’m really going to miss the weekly contact with…you know…people. Working as a humanities PhD from home was ever isolating, and this was a brilliant distraction from that. And at least now I have no excuses for not knuckling down and finishing the thesis. If I can just get my supervisors to let me push on to the next bit!