On Becoming a Dr

It has been four years almost to the day since I started out as a fledgling PhD student. As of the 5th October, I am officially (and finally) a Dr. 

It has been a long six months since my VIVA. I was awarded major corrections, somewhat to the surprise of my supervisor. This essentially amounted to a difference in academic opinion and approach. I have no issues with being peer reviewed or receiving criticism on my research. However, I was left somewhat with the feeling that I was being forced to “do it their way” or not receive my doctorate. 

Having worked tirelessly for three months to get the corrections done (ten A4 typed pages of them no less!) I can now say that, for the most part I am happy with the corrections made. The structure, after some rearranging, is much better and, whilst not my instinctive way of arranging such a large piece of work, is certainly no worse than the original layout. 

All corrections made were received without further issue and without the need for a second VIVA. The external examiner even stated that he was ‘impressed’ with the revised thesis. PhD win. 

Facing the future

So now what? I have spent pretty much every waking minute of the past 4 years thinking about my research. Even when working part time for six months and waiting three months for my VIVA, the creature that is my thesis has never been far from my mind. Now it seems as though there is a large portion of my mind that is suddenly unoccupied 24/7. I know I will not be the first PhD student, or should I say recent Dr, to experience such odd loss, however this doesn’t help me in this bizzare transition period. 

I have been working as a freelance archaeologist for the past 18 months on and off and will, for the immediate future continue to do so. Luckily there is work available with a local unit at least until Christmas. However, I still face some questions:

  • How should I go about publishing my research? Which journal/s? 
  • How should I break down 80,000 words into manageable journal articles, by time period or theme, or as one within the other?
  • Perhaps most crucial to my survival- how am I going to acquire money!? As I said, the immediate future is dealt with but I face the daunting prospect of turning the Doctorate I have worked so hard for into an actual career. I have hopes of building on my freelancing experience and establishing my own archaeological unit in the next year or so – no small task. Bring on plenty of tedious report writing. 

So, what have I learnt from the last 4 years? I am good at my job. I enjoy teaching students and the general public about history and archaeology. Pottery and landscapes are not universally interesting to all humankind (much to my surprise). I am ambitious and am going to make serious attempt at being a successful archaeologist and at creating a successful archaeological company. Having a blog is an excellent procrastination technique. 

On becoming a doctor has made me think back over my time as a research student (don’t worry, you won’t need tissues, the experience hasn’t quite turned me into a sentimental wreck). It gave me the opportunity to broaden many of my own horizons as well as those of volunteers and students in some small way. I have worked with a host of great people. Whilst not all great at the practical fieldwork, they were all lovely volunteers and I certainly couldn’t have achieved the extent of my research without them. 

So, whilst the freelance career continues, I hope to turn my research into mildly digestible journal articles and who knows,  maybe even a short book. Perhaps I may even acquire a Tardis and start calling myself The Doctor. 


Countdown to a PhD : the VIVA

It’s been a while since my last post about my progress towards handing in. Have no fear, hand in was achieved, Thursday 24th March 2016.

The nervous wait for a VIVA date followed. I say it was a nervous wait but I actually managed to distract myself quite successfully by filling my diary with freelance excavation work. In fact, I was so successful at occupying my time that I completely forgot about the VIVA until some unsuspecting soul asked me about it. Even after the date had been confirmed I was not connected to or engaged with it. It seemed like this thing that I knew was going to happen to me but was far from being real at that point.

V Day – THIS FRIDAY! 17th June 2pm.

I spent my time enjoying doing my day job. I also taught on the undergraduate training excavation which was exhausting and rewarding. Still had nothing to do with my VIVA though.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I faced up to the fact that I suppose I’d better do some prep for it. I had a meeting with my supervisor the outcome of which was him telling me he wasn’t worried about it and couldn’t think of any serious issues off the top of his head. A win right?

That’s what you’d think. In fact I spent the following week mostly doing commercial work and other non-VIVA related activities (including the Great Knaresborough Bed Race) and telling anyone who asked that I was relaxed about the whole situation.

Then came Monday, yesterday. I realised I have 4 and a half days until V day. I expected the little panic monkey in my heard to wake up and start running around in abject terror, and yet… I think I have more of a panic sloth.

FullSizeRender 2

I am revising this week (re-reading and making edits to my thesis). And I am aware that my VIVA is in2 and a half days. But somehow I still feel rather disconnected. I think this is good as I am not panicking and will hopefully have a cool, calm and collected head on Friday afternoon. I’m not sure how I’m going to feel when it is all over.

It’s true what they say, you have to account for the fact you will grieve for your PhD.

Hopefully this is all indicative of the fact that I know my thesis and my research so well the sloth has decided it is all nothing to worry about and the panic monkey, with his tiny voice, is being ridiculous.

Perhaps its more of a faith-in-myself sloth…

Countdown to a PhD: Keeping it together with 2 weeks to go…

Yep, you read that right. As of tomorrow I will have 14 days till I plan to hand in. My official deadline is now the 15th April (supervisor’s advice was to give myself 2 extra weeks ‘just in case’) BUT I am planning on sticking to the original deadline of the end of March. Once you’ve factored in the bank holidays that accompany Easter, this means I will be handing in Thursday 24th March. So how am I ‘keeping it together’ with two weeks to go?

Well, it turns out you keep learning right up to the end of your PhD experience. I know that might sound like an obvious statement but you’d have thought that by the time you are in the final throws of your edits, learning would be over. Wrong. The latest thing my thesis is teaching me (and yes, it is as if its a living breathing thing ,passing on its own wisdom now), is how to deal with finishing a 3year project, practically (editing, making time for appendices, binding etc.) but also psychologically (grieving for the looming loss of something that has been an all consuming part of my life).

The fact that I will, very shortly, no longer have my cubby-hole desk to work at, will no longer be in the department everyday, will no longer be engaging in the daily banter and chat that occurs in the office, is all very suddenly extremely real.

I am about to be thrust out into the real world of archaeology.

Having finally learnt to ignore the ‘imposter syndrome’ feeling all PhD’s experience, I will suddenly have to learn to have confidence in myself in a whole new environment. I have spent the past 7 years in academia and the past 4 in the same department. Moving on from my PhD is therefore feeling like a massive life change, which is exactly what it is.

I do know that the experience of my PhD has not only given me the skills I need to function as a professional in my discipline, both in the academic and commercial worlds, but it has also taught me the skills I need to move into this next part of my life. A life removed from the relatively safe world of a student.

I am excited about a change, and, more importantly, I am ready for it (forcing myself to make more edits everyday is getting increasingly difficult).

Bring it on world.

Countdown to a PhD: 30 Days to Go

The last post I wrote was on day 65. Much has changed since then! I worked hard to submit a full draft to my supervisors and I have submitted my ‘intention to submit’ form. Although I am still aiming for 24th March, I gave myself two extra weeks on the form ‘just in case’. So whatever happens, my PhD WILL be handed in by Friday 15th April (insert fanfare of choice here).

Yesterday I had a meeting with both supervisors to go through the full draft I handed in three weeks ago. It was a very positive experience. The manuscript is not without its flaws and there is still work to do before handing in. But both supervisors are happy that once the changes we have discussed are made then the manuscript will be in a good state to hand in, and more importantly will stand up in my Viva. I even managed to surprise one supervisor who thought he wasn’t going to like a chapter but after reading it, liked it very much!

So jobs for the next 4 weeks… keep editing, keep making those changes, keep on improving the language. Essentially, keep calm and carry on!

Countdown to a PhD: 65 days to go

Peake Selfie

Peake’s spacewalk selfie! (theguardian.com)

Four days worth of work to catch you up on… Day 69 was a good day, I worked on editing Chapter 5 and did some reading for the final section of the chapter (“Becoming Roman”). I took a 15minute break around lunchtime to watch Major Tim Peake on his historical spacewalk which was pretty cool – great live streaming service from NASA.

Day 68 was also a very productive day – I seem to get a lot done now I’ve sent the chapter 7 dragon away, at least for the mean time! I went up to main campus. This is working out as a good plan for my weekends – spend Saturdays at main campus and Sundays at home catching up on all those life jobs I don’t get done during the week, like sleep… More chapter 5 editing and I started to read for and write my introduction.

Day 67 was a ‘life jobs’ day although I did get a little bit of reading done for my introduction.


Notes figuring out what each of my chapters actually does so they could be summarised in the introduction.

Day 66 left me exhausted from fitness class – don’t know why but we all found that session particularly tiring! I did some odd jobs when I got to the office, organising notes etc. I read for and wrote my introduction for most of the day. Did have a brief 45minute break to catch up with a friend. I got as far as I can for now with my introduction without answering the question of what my thesis does and why it is important – far too scary a question to deal with on a Monday! So I ended the day by starting to make the edits to Chapter 6.

I’m meeting with my supervisor this morning to go through the Chapter 7 dragon. The plan for the rest of the week is as follows: finish edits to chapter 6, finish writing and edit chapter 7 in light of today’s meeting, double check the the edited versions of the chapters are all in the document THESIS2016 and print it, read through it making notes for my conlcusion chapter and other general edits, plan and write my conclusion. Deadline for full draft = Friday 29th January.

Pushing the boundaries of the human species

Tim Peake

Official NASA portrait of British astronaut Timothy Peake.

This lunchtime Astronaut Tim Peake will make British space history becoming the first member of the UK to officially undertake a space walk. He and his colleague will spend a whopping 6hours and 30minutes outside the International Space Station to fix a solar panel. At 12:55pm (GMT) this lunchtime you can watch the events unfold live online via NASA from 11:30am (GMT).

I was thinking about this on my way back from fitness class this morning. I marvelled at the fact these people will be quite literally pushing the boundaries of the human species and what we can achieve. Today I will sit at my desk and put some words to page (hopefully!). No contrast really. But then I got to thinking how PhD students push different boundaries – we push the limits of academic research, or at least we are supposed to. So today as I undertake my own academic “space walk” I will be thinking of Major Peake and his colleagues as they float outside the ISS pushing themselves mentally and physically and brining humanity that one tiny step closer to life in space.

So, one wordy step closer to a PhD for me and one weightless step for Major Tim Peake.

Countdown to a PhD: 70 days to go

Chapter 7 proved to be an unslayable dragon yesterday. I attempted to continue on the part 2 in the morning, but as I said in yesterday’s post, I just seem to be repeating myself. So I moved on to continuing the edits of Chapter 5. Finding my edits was a bit of a challenge, turns out they weren’t where I thought I’d put them in the realms of my computer files. This was a good plan, I got much more written and edited so the afternoon was more of a success than the morning. My brain seems to have been ruminating on the chapter 7 dragon in the mean time and this morning I woke up with an idea to approach part 2 in a different way that would avoid me repeating myself and give me room for some critical analysis = WIN! (metal detectorists have a dance for when they find gold, maybe I should get one for moments like this…!)

Dilemma for today: attempt to implement my genius strategy for Chapter 7 part 2 or continue edits from chapter 5  because this is where my brain seems to be lingering…

Countdown to a PhD: 71 days to go

Okay, yesterday was a bit of a bust, yet again. The chapter from hell continues to be a nightmare to write. I did get some words on the page yesterday but I seem to have lost sight of why part 2 exists. It seems to be just a different way of stating what I’ve said in part 1 which is just repetitive and makes it seem slightly pointless.

So action plan: write in my notes, in note form, into the section in the chapter, send it off to my supervisor (it’s due tomorrow anyway) and wait for a discussion with him next week (we have a meeting on Tuesday). I’ve been in similar situations with bits of previous chapters and sometimes I just need to talk it through with my supervisor for it all to fit back into place. I’ve just wandered a little far from the path in my brain (easily done in the depths of a PhD) and supervisory discussions have been known to redirect me back to the path, or find a new one!

Yesterday’s saving grace was the talk by Richard Buckley, The King Under the Carpark: Greyfriars, Leicester and the Search for Richard III. This was, perhaps unsurprisingly, extremely interesting. It was great to hear the story straight, as it were, from the horses mouth – straight from the man in charge of the research project. I’ve read a book about it by Mike Pitts and seen the Channel 4 documentary but never heard about it from someone who was actually involved in the project. I was pleasantly surprised to find that what Pitts had written, as a third party, was indeed exactly as it happened and a faithful account of the events of the project. I was particularly shocked in Buckley’s talk to see how close subsequent activity had come to discovering / destroying the final resting place of the some time King (second image, top row). His feet are most likely to have been lost to a nineteenth century brick outhouse…

A selection of slides from Buckley’s talk.

The discovery of Richard III will remain one of archaeology and the country’s greatest moments in modern times. And I believe the way the research project was conducted – not as a search for the king but as a chance to investigate the little known friary – was the best possible way to have dealt with the situation. The fact that it succeeded in all of its research objectives, including its most unlikely, and exceeded all expectations remains an exceptional feat of archaeological investigation.

Countdown to a PhD: 72 days to go

Yesterday was fairly boring. I spent it sorting through the reading for the thematic case studies for Chapter 7 – aka part 2 of the chapter from hell.

This started well, I worked through it industry by industry typing the relevant information into sections on a word document. Only trouble is that its incredibly tedious with 10 industries to work through. Needless to say by 4pm my motivation had long since done a runner. Certainly by that point I looked like this…

So today is a new day and all that. Fitness class just about shocked me awake this morning. Today’s job: attempt to write part 2 of the chapter from hell and see what happens. I do have something to look forward to today. It is the first of the termly seminar series (and also cake Wednesday…). They are starting of the term with a ‘bang’, the guest speaker being Richard Buckley talking about “The King under the Car Park: Greyfriars, Leicester and the search for Richard III”. I’ve read books and articles about the discovery but never heard from the research director himself so yey! This is a 515pm so I have a goal to work towards.

Countdown to a PhD: 73 days to go

This weekend was quite a hectic one. I spent Saturday (75 days to go) at the main campus editing Chapter 5. The idea was to have a bit of time away from Chapter 7 to get those particular writing juices flowing again. Unfortunately my key broke off in my lock making the weekend not only hectic but very expensive too! I spent Sunday (day 74) with my parents and had an unplanned day off (didn’t make it back into my house till the early hours thanks to the key incident).

So how did day 73 go after all that? Answer: my cunning plan worked! (*insert evil laugh*)

Monday started with a trip to fitness class (skipping again, ouch!). I returned to Chapter 7 and discovered what I had written last week wasn’t complete rubbish – huzzah! I finished the reading for the last couple of sections and wrote them into the text. I then printed Chapter 7, read it (the return of the red pen!)and spent the rest of the afternoon editing it.

Overall this has put me in a much better headspace regarding Chapter 7 and has allowed to me improve it as well as finish writing the first half (day 72 being spent on the second half when not writing this blog…).

Excellent cunning plan sucessfully implemented. Time to pat myself on the back I think…!


minions party

!Yey me!

Image credit:  http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/despicableme/images/5/5e/Despicable_me_2_minions-wide.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20130703054446