Month: January 2016

Countdown to a PhD: 65 days to go

Peake Selfie

Peake’s spacewalk selfie! (

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:

Countdown to a PhD: 76 days to go

I started the day attempting to remember how to use a skipping rope without falling flat on my face. It was part of fitness class – it was a good session but skipping kills my legs! breakfast and some housework followed and of course I wrote day 77’s blog entry.

I had decided to have a bit of break from Chapter 7 as it was driving more than a little bit insane and I wasn’t exactly getting anywhere with it. Instead I spent the day editing Chapter 5. This went well and I got quite a bit of it done. Before Christmas I had gone through most of my chapters with red pen in hand noting where things needed to be changed / expanded etc. I spent time yesterday acting on these notes.


The onslaught of red pen for Chapter 5.

I still felt a bit disconnected sat at my desk so I spent a couple of hours after lunch working in the common room (devoid of pretentious 3rd years this time). Overall I am pleased with what I achieved. Turns out it is good for the brain to have a couple of days away from the beast that is Chapter 7.

I am spending today at the main campus library – I could work from home but I never quite get as much done as I’d hope. I am going to make a habit over the next 11 weeks to come to main campus on weekends to keep up my momentum (as much as it exists!) for completing this thesis.

Happy weekend!

Of Writing, Getting Ideas and Following Through

This is a great post about being a writer and the writing process: Of Writing, Getting Ideas and Following Through. I don’t necessarily think of myself as a writer.  I don’t have a literary–geared mind, nor am I obsessed with great literary figures of past and present. But, as a researcher I am a writer, just not in the conventional sense or in the sense of the image I have in my own mind of what or who a writer is. Writing is all about what you want to say and the audience you are addressing. For me writing my PhD has very much been about fishing for the right ideas, phrases and individual words – something I had not so eloquently thought until reading the post by ofopinions.

As quoted by ofopions: “When things are going well, I can’t write fast enough to keep up with my mind. Writing walks, speech runs and talk flies. Other times, though, it’s like fishing.” – Dylan Moran.

Source: Of Writing, Getting Ideas and Following Through

Countdown to a PhD: 77 days to go

The unproductive trend continues…

I spent yesterday doing yet more reading and writing for Chapter 7. It increasingly feels like an uphill climb and I don’t know why. Its all information I know and things that are important to my conclusions but I just can’t seem to engage with it. Last time I experienced this it heralded 6 weeks of writers block… **praying to the PhD gods this isn’t the case this time**!

A change of scene did help get a solid couple hours of writing in. I went to the common room – there was something about the room and my desk space that was depressing. The cliché downside of the common room were the pompous undergraduate students. Not to sound too harsh but they are like toddlers or 12 year olds. You look back at yourself then and wonder how on earth you were ever like that – you ask: surely we can’t have been that bad when we were their age!? Well the same disquieting question can be asked when faced with third years – all puffed up because they finally figured out this ‘university thing’ and are starting to feel somewhat like ‘actual academics’. It would be endearing if they weren’t trying to outdo themselves with the amount of reading they’d done (unfortunately still not as much as they should have!). On the plus side there was a gorgeous sunset over the department.

So change of scene and some entertainment in the form of third years that would only have improved with the witty and dulcet commentary of Sir David Attenborough.

Today’s plan: work on editing some of my other chapters to give my the boredom part of my brain a rest. In the event of boredom, a tactical retreat to the common room will be enacted!