Friday, 30 November 2012

Good news and bad news all rolled into one.

It turns out that mountain biking was a very fruitful hobby to have taken up those many moons ago and has provided me with some very clever and useful brains to pick regarding PhD applications.

The initial group of mountain bikers I went out with in 2006 included a young lad who was studying at Newcastle University, he was 25 years old, a great mountain biker and intelligent beyond his years. He's now 31 years old and is a lecturer in Economic Geography at Northumbria University and more importantly he has agreed to help me through the painful PhD application process. I invited Dr Jon Swords over for tea (that's 'dinner' or 'supper' depending on how posh and non-Northern you are, not simply a cup of tea) with the agreement that I could barrage him with questions and to his word, he's answered all of them honestly which means I got both good and bad news from his visit.

The bad news is that I really need to be completely realistic about how competitive the studentship competition is. I knew that already, I mean you can't ignore how many different places and people tell you how much competition there is for places but it's something I need to reinforce. I need to be thinking about what to do post-MA now based on the assumption that I won't be starting on a PhD. The rapidly approaching prospect of being made redundant in March just adds extra impetus to that need.

Another potential negative which I've only just started thinking about recently is that I don't know exactly when I'm expected to finish my MA. The Durham uni website says that part time it takes "2 years plus completion of dissertation". What does that mean? Is that 2 years or 3 years or 2 years plus an extra term?? When am I due to finish it? If I get an extra term or longer then I won't have finished it by the time the PhD would be due to begin thus surely meaning I wouldn't be able to start it? That's something I need to find out for definite from the PG office because ultimately this may scupper my plans entirely so I've emailed the PG secretary to find out but she's unavailable until Monday. Slightly missed deadlines scuppering my plans wouldn't surprise me at all, after all, they're the reason I couldn't do my MA/MSc with the Open University (they withdrew all PG Soc Sci provision just as I was about to finish my BSc - I missed the final registration by 6 weeks). Sometimes it really does suck being a part time student; very little is coordinated properly to suit you and you get far less of the benefits of being a student (many associations don't grant you concessionary membership rates unless you're a full timer, as if somehow those of us who work full time, study part time and pay our tuition fees up front must surely have the financial wherewithal to pay the standard rates).

So there are two negatives - one potentially plan-blowing but I'll not dwell too much on it for now otherwise I'll just upset myself.

Oh the plus side, Jon seemed to think there might be some mileage in my ideas. The two ideas I have don't seem to have been directly researched so a literature review will have to draw on adjacent research to show how mine would 'fill the gap'. Each idea could go in about a dozen directions so that's something I would need to narrow down. He's suggested that I get in touch with a potential supervisor asap - as he rightly said, if applications close in February then allowing for time off over Christmas then marking in the new year etc. it doesn't leave a lot of time for an academic to speak to students so I'll get an email sent off to the lecturer I have in mind this weekend.

Huge thanks to Jon for his sound advice, I don't think pizza and belated birthday cake quite made up for the wisdom he passed on so I greatly appreciate it.

It's all a bit much for me at the minute truth be told. Imminent redundancy and the need to start serious job-hunting, the fast-approaching deadline for PhD applications along with the possibility of not even being eligible to apply, and ongoing studies with looming assignment deadlines are all just sapping away my emotional stability and will soon leave me a gibbering wreck. The job situation is the worst. I fear I may be served my notice any day now and to be completely truthful I'm not qualified to do anything yet so I don't even know what jobs I should be looking for.

I'm in limbo. No man's land. That awful place where I need a new job but am too far away from having a qualification which might just enable me to get a job I like. At the minute I'm not really qualified to do anything, and I suppose to be honest, even if I was the job situation in the North East of England is dire at the minute so you never know, next time you call into Greggs for a corned beef pasty it might just be me serving you.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Doctorate demons

It's no big secret that I suffer - quite badly at times - from lack of self-confidence. Although it's something I've experienced for the majority of my life I wouldn't ever really say I've 'battled' with it, in fact right from the beginning I've just sort of, well, dealt with it. It doesn't really bother me. It would be nice if it would sod off and blight someone else for a while so I can know what it feels like to be rid of it, but for the most part it doesn't actually hinder me at all.

Despite it causing infuriating levels of self-doubt which manifest themselves in some peculiar forms I can by-and-large ignore it. Now that's not to say I've 'cured' myself and it doesn't affect my thoughts anymore, it's just that I've found a way of getting round it.

You see, the problem I face is that I constantly feel like an imbecile. Whenever I speak to someone about my studies or what I'm aiming for I somehow feel they're going to haul me up as a faker, a bluffer, someone who has managed to blag their way this far thanks to a reasonable grasp of English and not much else. I accept that some people may think that's a ludicrous thing for me to think but the fact remains that I think it.

Take this PhD application for instance. I would absolutely love to study for a PhD and in my own little head I think I'm quite capable of doing it and succeeding, but I have this nagging little demon telling me that everyone is probably snickering at my clueless audacity. "What on earth makes her think she's capable of something like THAT??" they're saying under their breath. It's horrible, having people fictitiously calling you names behind your back. It unnerves me and often makes me want to hide away and not face the possibility of failure in the first place, but that would be stupid so I shrug it off as best I can, make apologies for my own petulance and just carry on. To quote Susan Jeffers, I feel the fear and do it anyway.

It works, for the most part. I suspect that had I not felt the fear but done it anyway I might not have taken up mountain biking - which led me to meet Gordon. I might not have got a place on a Masters programme at a top 3 university - which I still think was a fluke since I didn't technically meet the entry criteria. And I probably wouldn't have signed up to numerous things throughout the past few years which made me feel nervous - conferences, OUSA, Platform, Great North Run to name a few.

So I ultimately might be making a fool of myself even thinking about applying for a PhD. I might not be actually capable, intelligent or academic enough to do one, but I won't ever know that for sure unless I apply. There are myriad quotes I could cite to substantiate this theory: "shy bairns get nowt" (my mother), "if you never try you'll never know" (unknown but it's common as muck!), and my personal favourite "of course you can't become, if you only say what you would've done" (Len 'Steal my Sunshine' - one hit wonder).

I'm feeling the fear (for 'fear' read 'self-doubt'), but sod it, I'm just gonna do it anyway. I've not got much to lose when all is considered so I might as well. You never know, I might have just what it takes to do a PhD and I just don't know it yet. I might be a born learner. I'm very much doubting it but then stranger things have happened.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Two ideas but only one proposal, how do I choose?

I feel sick. No, that's not a theatrical exaggeration for the purpose of sounding more dramatic, I actually feel a bit queasy. My head is a complete whirl of thoughts and directions at the minute and it's making me feel dizzy.

So as I mentioned in my last post, now is the time I need to really get my game face on about applying for a doctorate. I thought I was really starting to get somewhere last week - I had begun drafting out some notes for the proposal, I had gathered together a heap of articles to sift through for a literature review, I had selected a couple of potential supervisors to approach and I had asked a lecturer friend of mine for some help in forming my bitty shards of ideas into something more cohesive. I really thought I was starting to get somewhere.

But now disaster has struck. Not quite disaster, but it's behaviour so utterly typical of me that I'm surprised I actually function day-to-day. A second proposal topic has come into my head and is now lodged so firmly I can't shake it, it's there, dizzying my thoughts into a whirling mass of incomprehensible gloop.

Both topics are of interest to me yet both are completely different. How do I choose between the two?

I feel sick.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Sixpenny mix-ups and my ongoing quest

Am I just lazy or can I cite being busy as the reason I abandoned this blog somewhat vehemently at the start of my Masters career? Sadly I feel laziness wins out in this particular battle but there's a slight sense of urgency slowly developing in my quest which I feel warrants its resurrection.

It is November. I am presently almost half way through the first term of the second and final year of my Masters degree. I still feel like a fraud. I don't belong in a lecture theatre with such intellect and I fear that one day someone will stand me up in the middle of the class, pull down my pants and proceed to point and laugh at me and call me an imbecile while I stand there, shaking from the horrific truth of the situation. My poor sense of self-worth obviously still haunts me, I fear it will never leave and we seem to have developed a strange symbiosis now. I am blighted.

Much has come and gone since I last posted but I shall edit out the gash and mention only one - I graduated. Almost nine years to the day since I embarked on my further education escapade I graduated with honours at Manchester Bridgewater Hall with my beloved in the audience giving me (I hope) rapturous applause. It was an emotional day filled with pomp and circumstance and for a lot of the students in attendance it was the final curtain on what may have been a lengthy and emotionally trying event for them. But for me it was simply a formality to confirm the permission to jump from one stepping stone to the next. It was a handshake that said "yes, you were allowed to make that leap 12 months ago, go forth and study harder".

In the time since my last mental out pour I have both progressed AND regressed. True, I am now halfway through my Masters degree. But also true is that I have begun another Bachelors degree. It occurred to me upon completion of my Open Degree that it resembled a 6p mix-up in its construct. Over the course of the degree I had picked up the following:

  • DD100: An Introduction to the Social Sciences. This was my white chocolate mouse -1p - firm favourite and always a good starting point for a successful mix-up. 
  • A211: Philosophy & the Human Situation. This is more a sour cherry - 1p - some people love them, some hate them, guaranteed to make your face squirm up in discomfort.
  • AA308: Thought & Experience, themes in the Philosophy of Mind. This is like a sour fizz bomb - 1p - those who don't like sour cherries simply cannot understand why you'd pick a sour fizz bomb straight after the facial contortions of a sour cherry. I consider it a test of endurance.
  • DD305: Personal Lives and Social Policy. Definitely the cola bottle - 1p - an average all-rounder, no one objects to picking one out but it doesn't really get your taste buds tingling.
  • Transferred credit: Foundation Degree in Quantity Surveying. This is my pontefract cake - 2p - I don't even like liquorice but it got offered for free and I'm never one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

So no real coherence within the degree; no theme running through it, just a mash-up of bits and pieces that don't make sense together. So I've gone back to the proverbial sweet shop and started again. This time I'm concentrating my efforts on a BSc in Criminology & Psychological studies (would that be like a bag of chocolate eclairs - they look quite fancy and special but really everyone's eating them...). I wasn't even considering torturing myself again as an undergrad but I got caught up in the heat of the transitional fees moment and registered, somehow convincing myself that I'd be stupid not to do another undergraduate degree since it was being offered at the 'old rates'. My logic truly defies logic although I'm sure it made sense at the time. *sigh*.

So here I am again. I'm either an under-postgrad or a post-undergrad depending on which makes most sense to you. The time is almost upon all post grads aiming to take this madness one stage further - it's doctorate application time. Soon doctoral training centres and postgrad departments the length and breadth of the country will be inundated with proposals from students desperate to eek out their love of education just a smidgen longer and eager to dedicate three years of their lives to a quest for specialised knowledge.

I aim to be one of those desperate students. In that case I ought to decide on a proposal topic.