Conference Paper (Apr. 13)

Apparently its March already.
This means I have less than a month to finish researching and writing my first conference paper of the year.

The abstract was submitted months ago and I did start my research in between submission and viva but prepping for viva and doing corrections have completely distracted me from actually fleshing out this paper – an especially annoying scenario since I am determined that it will form the basis of something to be submitted for publication. I really want to get some of my work actually out into the world and can’t keep going over the thesis material even if I do publish it eventually..So tonight as a way of treating myself for doing lots of work on the thesis I am going to go back over some of my research and find some more material. I am also going to commit over the course of this week to making a skeleton slide outline to work round.

Key thoughts:

  • Susan Cooper uses Classical knowledge to signify education and to a lesser extent superiority.
  • Section on Romans in Britain emphasises series themes of displacement, duty and connection to one’s land
  • Contrast practical/factual/educational Classics with mythic/emotional Celtic & Saxon imagery
  • Is this a recognisable trend in children’s fantasy?
  • Is this a trend in 50s/60s/70s lit.?

Gonna do me some real research.. gonna enjoy it!

Learning about Lamps

Art & Archaeology are not the strong points of my classical background (I am a lit/history kinda gal) but they are pretty central components to Museum displays.
So right now I am engaging on a crash course on categorising and dating terracotta lamps. The lamp in question has a rather hazy (by which I do not mean to imply shady or nefarious) provenance but fortunately a slightly more informed researcher than me began the process.

I am fascinated by the arcane arts of judging the shapes and different methods of production. I am intrigued by discussion of fabric and spout detailing. I do not quite understand why such suggestions are made and I don’t know if I could do the same thing. I am interested by the interpretation of the imagery and I find that easier to unpick but of course it raises more questions…

What I have not yet decided is how the objects themselves can offer a narrative acontextually of their original setting – not because I don’t think they have stories to tell about production, trade & lifestyle as groups but because fitting that to complement but not repeat other displays is a tricky process.

To Read

In an effort to stave off the real world and its terrors (e.g. research, jobs, emotions that kind of thing) and in between my refound joy in fiction I’ve been reading book reviews again.
So I thought  I’d make a bit of a record of some of the books I want to make an effort to read. This is extremely dull for non-classicists so is under the cut.. Continue reading

Scholarly dithering

My academic goals for this year are: the full completition of my thesis (here’s hoping the viva goes well and the revisions are minimal) and its acceptance, at least in principle, with a publisher; at least the successful delivery of the 2 conference papers I have had accepted and 2 or 3 journal articles at least under review.
However, I am at this stage horribly uncertain about which things to approach first.. my plan for the articles is to take one or two out of my thesis with moderately substantial rewriting to make them more focused [one from a specifically Cornish angle and one from a Classical Reception standpoint basically] and to make one or maybe two from the research I am doing for the conference papers (which are overlapping but not the same).

My problem is this.. do I knuckle down to first re-writes of parts of my thesis, knowing full well that real serious re-writing may be required to in fact pass my doctorate and that in beginning re-writes before I have my examiners feedback might make me less confident but knowing that the material is comparatively fresh in my mind? Or do I throw myself into new research and writing conference papers with a firm eye on the publication potential of the work and use that to fill me with fresh confidence and enthusiasm about the process of research when I have been so busy writing for so long now but risk losing the detail of the knowledge I built up in my thesis research?The truth, I guess, is that it matters almost not at all as long as I do something and don’t let my mind atrophy through the process of job applications.

UK Academia in the News

Ever feel like the news is getting at you?
Well recently it has been my turn. Two things have felt surprisingly personal this week; firstly the announcement that postgraduate study in the UK isn’t producing value for money and secondly a new government report on self-harm suggesting GPs are not sufficiently trained for the growing epidemic. I’ll save my thoughts on the 2nd item for a little later but as a proto-/pseudo- academic I have some pretty strong thoughts on the “University Business”.

For those you not in the UK or blissfully unaware of the commentary: a think-tank has declared that postgraduate studies at British universities are not producing home-grown graduates with useful skill-sets for the job market and that the UK is in danger of under-investing in research.
Now these are two separate claims and worth two separate comments.
The 1st claim is that postgraduate students and their study are not contributing enough to our economy and it is linked to the idea that the universities are spending too much money on foreign students. Now this riles me for 2 reasons: 1st- Universities do not exist to churn out people who are money-generators; 2nd- the implication that people leaving postgrad courses are useless. I whole-heartedly believe that universities and higher-level research (as done by PGs, post-docs, lecturers and dedicated research teams) should aim to benefit society. BUT I don’t believe benefit is easily measured by economic output, nor indeed by rankings and student satisfaction ratios.
It isn’t necessarily apparent what research is going to change the world, and a lot of research will only ever pave the way for someone else but the inability to instantly generate money shouldn’t be a show-stopper. Furthermore, I don’t think it is the responsibility of a university to ‘create/train’ individuals to be good citizens and good workers. No one can make someone a good worker nor should their efficacy as an educational institution be dependent on the amount of money their leavers make.
I truly believe that for most jobs the skills required should either be learnt by age 14 (basic numeracy & literacy; ability to research ideas, make judgements & demonstrate processes; manners, teamwork and self-motivation) or be trained on job (builders, plumbers, electricians &c all fall in this category no training can be a substitute for experience for so many things). Some jobs, of course, do require specialist studies: doctors, lawyers, nuclear weapons designers… but for most of us a degree is a luxury and doesn’t make us more employable. I say this as someone with a BA & an MA and who hopes to soon have a Phd. I didn’t do this to make more money for the government I did it to learn new things and to contribute to a field of knowledge but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t developed skill-sets that are relevant to the economy in the process. I have developed my own voice and an acute eye for patterns, I have a better idea of self-discipline and time-management than most and I’m ridiculously good at spotting bullshit but it remains to be seen whether I can get a job.

The purpose of universities and the contribution that they make to the development of students is obviously important to the amount that we as a society should fund them. If we truly believe that only those that create immediate wealth-generating research and/or individuals tailored to the job-market are worthwhile then money can only be directed to areas of interest to industry and vocational studies. On the other hand if we are to foster innovation and develop indviduals as critical entities we must fund the unexpected and the apparently irrelevant.
To me it seems obvious that as a nation we are failing to invest in research.. budgets at universities are so tight there isn’t enough money for lecturers to do photocopying, departments are axed for not being profitable enough and students are treated merely as consumers and not as individuals invested in their own lives. The fact remains if you are unwilling to put money into something the likelihood is that you will get very little out. So, if you want to create a platform for the underprivileged to better themselves provide money for it, if you want to use costly materials and machines to test new drugs provide money for it, if you want to identify the trends and faults of social and economic models of the past provide money for it…
I know it feels like people do research for the hell of it, and lets be honest those who care invest their own time and money into their research projects but don’t be surprised that people walk away when they can no longer feed their families or afford their commute, don’t be surprised that the gifted walk away from innovation in favour of a regular paycheck and don’t be surprised that universities court those who will bring them the most money regardless of nationality or novelty.

I don’t believe that universities and research centres don’t need to be accountable for their finances, I don’t believe in throwing money away but nor do I think that the profit of education and scholarship is financial

PostGrad representation

Staff-stident liasion committee meetings are odd beasts.
As an undergrad they were easy to manage – a matter of reading and filtering feedback sheets and responding to down-the-pub whinging. They were formulaic and largely for the sake of making students feel powerful, usually they resulted in changes to seminar scheduling or room booking.
Now things are more subtle, my current institution is pretty switched on about QAA and strict about agenda items but research students are harder to pin down. The college wide PGR SSLC has found it dificult to get people to agree to be representatives and those that turn up often report that their compatriots either have little or nothing to say or simply don’t really respond to queries.
The reasons appear to be manifold; time focused elsewhere- writing, teaching & marking, different times and hours to other students, lack of formalised regime to comment on, tendency to take issues directly to supervisors ..
The faculty has suggested one solution to this might be departmental liasion forums where all students are invited to a meeting with no set agenda – today we the committee however dismissed this as unlikely to actually encourage engagement amongst postgrads who aren’t already interested

So what would get research students involved in department and college/school-wide policy-making and get them to discuss the administrative and resource issues that impact on their lives?

The Relevance of Book-Reviewing

As a time-pressed young (pseudo-/wannabe)academic I am often dependent on book reviews to help me make decisions about whether to chase down particular texts to use in my research and to keep up-to-date with recent publications in my field. [Bless the internet for RSS feeds etc.] But.. I am in a quandary about the place of writing reviews in an academic portfolio.

On the one hand if you are lucky you might even get to keep a copy of a text you are interested in but might not have been able to justify spending money on. Furthermore writing reviews encourages critical reading of academic text and it offers practice in writing for publication – writing for an academic audience, subject to their standards and their criticism without putting your precious research on the line. It even helps establish your name on the list of people interested in and writing about particular topics.
On the other hand reading and writing reviews are time-consuming and will never be as high profile as the real articles (and/or thesis) you would otherwise be writing.

University graduate skills programmes are unsurprisingly ambivalent on whether they are genuinely relevant to young researchers trying to climb the academic ladder and so am I. However, the fact remains that someone has to write them because they are vital for efficient research (and I am told important to authors and publishers too) – realistically I won’t be writing any whilst my thesis is still in progress on the basis that my supervisor might kill me so perhaps I shall resign myself to the notion that they are best saved for maternity leave 😉

On My Mind

So, I’ve been afk for a few days and have a whole host of things swirling round in my head to talk about. These may or may not make it into separate posts in due course..

  • Going to see the sea – its awesome
  • I really want to move back and my beloveds are keen to move with me. How reasonable and feasible is it? Can I formulate a business plan and generate a regular income? how soon?
  • Supervisors – They both seem pretty pleased with where I am at, which means with some solid effort I can get this beastie submitted and maybe even published
  • I really do have to tackle my conclusions and face up to rewriting the dreaded literature review/first chapter and I have to really smash it.
  • Workshop on publishing research- clearly they had never met most classicists… still maybe there is stuff I can take through the conference paper into getting it published
  • Drs. – at some point I am going to have to face up to going to the quack to get more painkillers ( I always feel like they aren’t doing anything until I haven’t taken them for a few days Ouch!) – and admit I quit my anti-depressants cold turkey cos I was fed up of getting fatter as the effects got weaker and even the sleep deserted me again. Not sure where I’m going from here though
  • waiting for a friend to die. No more words
  • Worried about various friends and their coping..
  • Glad the Mrs. has finally got her boss to see some sense (with the help of her Dr and HR) lets hope we can take it a bit further.
  • Fingers crossed for my sister
  • Praying for W’s family

That’s all for now. Hope to be more coherent soon.

Digital Tools in Research: Part Deux

A follow on from Here and Here

I have just found out that the university want to recruit interns to work on the project – research students with experience of using tools from various departments. It involves getting some personal training and training others whilst making a record of practice and implementation. I have to confess I am interested.. but I know I can’t commit. I can’t realistically physically be in my department that many hours a week – I can’t afford it in terms of funding myself, plus I would struggle to keep up a writing regime which is crucial at this stage of my PhD, my beloveds need more support than that would allow for and I can’t let myself attempt to fit that all in without expecting the fatigue to push me towards another breakdown. I hate feeling that I can’t do stuff but I have to be honest with myself.

Below is a summary of the interview based on the notes I made in preparation and entirely unverbatim. The interview itself was more informal and much more based on the feedback I gave the researcher in advance (i.e the answers I discuss below)It focuses on 4 key points: Mindmapping, RSS feeds, Social Networks, Sharing experience. I hope that including it here helps other people believe that they can use these tools and make a difference to others trying it out. I also hope that my getting more people involved more subject-specific resources will be built up and better networks will arise.

Continue reading