First full week, and the first thing that’s hit me is that I’ve a great heap of deadlines for coursework and research proposals hanging over my head from here ’til Easter, so it’s going to be a busy old time. Fair enough, but it’s going to take a while to shake off the post-Christmas fugue I suspect, although I managed to get through about half of what I wanted to today so that’s a good start. I say good, because I always try and plan twice as much into each day than I know I can easily achieve Sometimes I hit a winning streak and really perform and get through more of it, today I was just on a normal par. Mostly spent getting my head around an introduction to Foucault and a paper by Benkler. The former was a bit harder to get into than I thought it would be, though I’ve some useful thoughts coming out of it – and a sneaking suspicion I’m going to have to read Discipline and Punish sometime this year as a result.
My personal favourite Foucault quote in the book, which really helped me warm to him some more was:
“I want my books to be a sort of toolbox that people can rummage through to find a tool they can use however they want in their own domain…I don’t write for an audience, I write for users, not readers“
What a class act!
Benkler on the other-hand was supposed to be a light-relief general background paper. However, it turned out to have a very, very interesting framework for network analysis and representation of power and freedom in overlapping systems. Which I confess is going to come in very handy in my research, so I’ll be keeping this paper on file you can be sure! Thank you Prof Benkler for making my day! Then it was back to wrestling with RefWorks (which has developed the annoying habit of not letting me in 4/5 times. The trails of being non-campus based, but at least I’m not stressed about it*!
Exchanged a couple of emails with my fellow PhDs in the dept, which was nice, and then looked wistfully at the NTU Refresher’s weeks events. Don’t think I’ve really the time to join any of the student societies; not to mention they’d want to sit me in a rocking chair in the corner if I turned up anyway! Shame, as I could really do with some more socialisation with my peers this year.
Today I got on with doing anything that wasn’t revising my research proposal. I was supposed to be revising it, the first time I’ve gone back to it since early December – and now armed with all the new knowledge I’ve picked up with my extra reading…I find I’m facing the elephantine challenge and it seems just as daunting (if not more so) than when i first sat down to write it.
I often remind Mrs Llama that you don’t eat an elephant in one bite, and so i had to take some of my own advice today and break down what I needed to do. Read through my last meeting with my supervisors’ notes. Read through their additional suggestions via email. Look at my scribbled notes on my proposal draft. Then sit back and plan what I need to edit, what I need to change – specifically and in the more general sense. Took me a long time to really get going, although I spent an entertaining hour or so correcting my references to the right NTU Harvard based format. Must remember to finally add them all to RefWorks so I can generate them on the fly from here on out; probably a task for Friday I think.
Around 3pm I finally got myself backed into a corner – there was no more planning to be done, now I just had to get on with the editing and rewriting. And actually for a first pass it looks like there may be slightly less awry with my proposal than I remembered. Yes, the theory and methodology need a rethink for sure, and the rationale needs restructuring and recontextualizing, and indeed the context needs a polish. But none of this seems actually that hard. I almost wish I could have found my editing mojo earlier in the day as I’d have managed to perhaps do more. On the other-hand now I’ve dived in, I’ll try and just keep going with this the rest of the week (save for tomorrow’s four hours or so of lectures I’ve got to attend). I might actually have a new version for my supervisors to critique come the end of the week!
Oh dear, this was a real curate’s egg of a day.
I went in to campus early and read a few papers in the warm library, which was a bit of a challenge as I nearly dozed off a couple of times – given that it is much much warmer than my house there. I don’t think my fellow students would appreciate my stripping down to stay cool, so I just had to snooze and bear it.
First RPC course sessions of the new year, and this kicked off with probably one of the worst single lectures I’ve sat through (ever). Thankfully it was on literature reviews, about which I know a fair bit but still I’m always interested to learn more. However, it wasn’t the greatest of sessions – I certainly felt pretty uncomfortable during it at certain points. Not so much the information, as the format. Ah well, sometimes I have to remind myself I just have to survive a year of this and I can move on with my work.
As it was I came out of that session feeling like this Research Practice Course is some form of academic hazing that we simply have to endure. At times it feels more like a distraction from the more serious work of getting my research proposal finished.
I did however have to slope off for a restorative cup of hot chocolate at half time. And that’s the first time I’ve done that since I started. Nice café on campus I discovered thanks to my splendid cohort chum Mohamed!
Anyway, moving on. Philosopher of the day was Wittgenstein; and thankfully we had my favourite of the philosophy teachers who not only got through all his slides, did an encore sessions going into a bit more depth. I’d have happily traded for 4hrs on Wittgenstein and done without the literature review session thanks! Although the one bad bit of news is it looks like he’s another philosopher about whom I need to consider learning more, especially as his work relates to communication. Ah well, all grist for the mill, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t relish the intellectual challenge.
Thursday & Friday
Two for one here as essentially for both of these days I’ve been jumping over the high hurdles as I rework, improve and generally enhance my research proposal. Writing is rewriting I keep telling myself, and I must have rewritten each of the first two sections (context and rationale) about a dozen times each over these days. They are vastly improved from their mark 1 version from before Christmas. On the other hand they are still overly long, but as I have to precis them down for a piece of RPC course work next week I think I might find a fair way to trim some of the fat. The difficulty is identifying what IS fat about them, as unlike these blog posts, I’m using a brevity of phrase. At this rate they’ll end up being a bullet pointed list rather than a piece of prose.
Maybe I’m over-worrying myself on this point, but the project approval is a key stage in my research, so I need to get it right. But with only 2,000 words to play with – making it say what I want it to say, within the format that I have to work with is…not much fun! I’m also feeling very much in the dark about exactly what the Research Degrees Committee are looking for in terms of a good proposal I’ve the one example my supervisor lent me, but it might have been useful to have looked at past examples say, rather than meandering around the dark corridors of literature reviews.
So a week where I’ve ended up being pretty focussed, and not a little stressed about some of the things I’ve got to do this and next month and how I’ll pack them all in, and stay on top of my reading, and having maybe a bit of spare time to sleep and the like. Speaking of which it is time I wrapped up this week and tidied my papers away (though I might get the Method out over the weekend and start looking at it all the same).
*That’ll come when I urgently need RefWorks to work at some juncture down the line I suspect!