Talk and Read, Read and Talk.

What I am about to say is going to sound like the most obvious piece of advice given in the history of giving advice. Sometimes though, it’s the most obvious pieces of advice that we need reminding of, maybe the most easy to forget, but often the most useful.

I have emerged from a recent PhD slump, and am glad to say I feel reinvigorated, re-motivated and pretty excited by my research again. I put this down to two things:

  1. Talking to fellow academics about my research, and
  2. Reading other PhD theses.

See, obvious when I say it, hey? But I had completely forgotten how important these two things are when you’re studying for your PhD.

The PhD process can be a very isolating experience – I live about an hours drive away from campus, which isn’t a lot, but I have to factor in the school run and part-time work and therefore I rarely get on to campus – even less so now teaching has finished for the year. So I very rarely have any contact with the people in my department.

Conversations with your supervisor can be at times, unequally balanced in terms of the power dynamic, and often I find myself listening, nodding, agreeing – but not asking any questions, and not answering any either.

I am lucky enough to have had two really useful invaluable conversations recently – one with an academic friend and ex-colleague and one with a very close friend who has recently made it (very successfully) through the PhD process. These conversations meant that I was answering questions about my research, the what’s, where’s, why’s and sometimes “so what’s”. It meant that I was thinking critically about my work, was able to ‘bounce’ ideas off somebody who knows me, who knows how I work and is not afraid to be honest with me (I think!). It meant I was moving beyond the descriptive stage – the stage where somebody outside of academia asks what your PhD is about and you mumble a sentence that doesn’t really encompass what your research is about, but it’ll do.

At first, both of these conversations threw me into some kind of “I can’t do this” panic – I doubted the stage I was at, doubted my research and doubted my capabilities. However, since having these conversations, my motivation has rocketed and because of this, my work output has increased and improved and I have a much, much clearer idea of where my research is going.

Talking allows your thoughts to move from an isolated space into a conversational space, and eventually, into a much clearer textual space.

So what about reading? Whilst doing your PhD, you spend most of your ‘spare’ time reading and I have this awful problem where I spent my (procrastination) time searching for and downloading ALL the journal articles that I probably won’t ever have time to read. Yesterday however, I thought I would browse some sociology theses in the Uni archives as I thought, it may help me in the writing up process. How right I was, really right, more right than I ever imagined. It was really inspiring.

The thesis could be from your department – not necessarily a completely related topic, but the structure and possibly the theoretical framework may mirror your own work; it could be from a different department/discipline but have a similar focus, and therefore maybe the literature might be something you can relate to, or it could be written by somebody who writes in a similar style to you, or has used similar research methods and methodology.

Often with so many other texts to digest, reading other theses may be pushed aside for more ‘important’ reading, but it really is as important as any other texts in your pile.

During reading the thesis yesterday, I was not only enthralled and excited by the research subject, but it also triggered a lot of reflexive thought, which I was able to scribble down to be used in my methodology chapter. I also found the bibliography really helpful, and the overall structure of the work – I could finally see how my own work would look. Again, with the PhD process being so isolated, it’s imperative to utilize this outside inspiration.

 

So, two very obvious pieces of advice, but two tasks most likely to be pushed to the bottom of a very extensive PhD priority list.

 

Prioritize them! Especially if like me, you need a helping hand out of what seems like a very steep slump.

 

 

Advertisements

Regrets, I’ve had a few…

… but then again, too few to mention. 

Anybody who follows tattoo-related news will have by now seen Bidisha’s Guardian article – a self-confessional opinion piece expressing the regret she feels over her choice of sleeve she acquired in the 90s.

 

http://gu.com/p/3qxyf

This article annoyed me more than most anti-tattoo articles. Offensive Daily Mail pieces written by non-tattooed journalists are so common now that we have come to expect them; it’s no surprise that the same people who hate anything other than white, middle class mainstream are going to take a dislike to tattoos. Even the comments from readers, albeit incredibly judgemental, are nothing new.

However, to read a piece of confessional journalism by somebody who regrets their tattoos and now thinks that every other tattooed person is an idiot, was at best, disappointing and at worst, offensive.

The article was written with an over-riding air of sarcastic, sanctimonious judgement – a voice that implied she is annoyed at her own bad choices, is annoyed at the increasing popularity of tattoos, and now she’s annoyed that she shares something in common with people she rather she didn’t.

Bidisha ensures through her writing that she distances herself from numerous social groups – she suggests tattoos have become a “hipster habit” and berates anyone who chooses to become tattooed for purely aesthetic reasons. The “hipster” tends to get blamed for many recent misdemeanours and I’m not entirely sure who or what a hipster is, or indeed if “the hipster” really can be considered as one homogenous group.

I am also unclear as to where the “it must mean something” mantra came from, but surely aesthetic value is reason enough?

Then comes the classism. First, footballers:

 “Four players have had the mental acuity to pick up on the sleeve trend just five years after it first peaked, inspired by David Beckham”

A scathing comment alluding to footballers and their presumed lack of intelligence. Not many people have many complimentary things to say about footballers (this may be a bad-timed comment after last night’s World Cup performance), but I think we can afford them the autonomy to make their own decisions about their own bodies. They are young men with huge amounts of disposable income, with access to the best artists in the world and employers who don’t discriminate against body art – why wouldn’t they become heavily tattooed?

Footballers are often rolled out as examples to illustrate the rise in tattoo popularity and just how awful this is. We are never presented with photos of heavily tattooed athletes (of which there are many). Footballers are easy targets for class-related prejudices – unlike our heroic, middle class (tattooed) athletes, providing positive role-modeling for our children; footballers are seen as tasteless ‘chavs’ of the lower classes – and certainly somebody Bidisha wants to dissociate from it seems.

Next, people who holiday in Magaluf:

 “You can stumble into a Magaluf tat parlour in a drunken stupor and have Snoopy inked on your minge”.

And herein lies another reason why Bidisha doesn’t like tattoos anymore – because the awful people who holiday in awful Magaluf have easy access to awful tattoo studios, willing to tattoo snoopy on their lady bits, without much prior thought or consideration.

So really, aren’t they only doing what Bidisha did in the 90s, only on an easier-to-hide body part?

Also, who the hell calls it a “Tat Parlour”?!

Bidisha demonstrates an out-dated knowledge of the industry – with comments such “unartistic body art” and “a postmodern mash-up of badly translated Chinese words, bungled Latin quotes, dolphins, roses, anchors, faces of favoured children or pets, and Japanese wallpaper designs”, again, condemning anyone who chooses to have any of these designs but also refusing to acknowledge the artistic talent and aesthetic quality of much of the tattoo work we see today – and much of it, ironically, in the “hipster sleeves” she loathes so much.

Her comparison of how heavily tattooed women are perceived by society now, and in the 90s, is also problematic;

“Women with full sleeves are common now, as in plentiful. In my day we were common as in trashy”

To me, this suggests that Bidisha might sympathise with the “women with tattoos are trashy” camp – very unhelpful coming from a tattooed woman. Tattooed women are still hugely stigmatised in society (as Bidisha will know from experience) and comments such as this merely serve to reinforce and legitimise this negative attitude.

She is distancing herself from a subculture that she once, I presume, wanted to be a part of. And rather than quietly sliding away from the it, (like we may all do at some point in our lives, with whatever subculture we dabbled in), she chooses to mock and demean it instead. She made some bad tattoo choices and now feels she needs to berate, belittle and patronise anybody who chooses to become tattooed – whether it be a full sleeve or a minge-sized snoopy.

Bidisha indulges in many a tattoo-hating trope: the “you’ll-regret-it-when-you’re-70”, the “tattoos-are-working-class-and-the-working-class-are-scum” and “it-has-to-mean-something” being her favourites.

 

These were her choices, not the artist, not the industry, not other tattooed individuals.

 

Admitting your tattoo regrets is fair-enough, sharing your experiences with the readers of a national newspaper is fine; but adopting a self-righteous attitude and dragging down every other tattooed person whilst you do it, is inexcusable.

 

For Bidisha,