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.

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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!

Countdown to a PhD: 78 days to go

Right what did I actually do yesterday? Difficult to remember so clearly I had a scintillating day.

It began with an intensive trip to fitness class at 0615 – its certainly one way to wake up in the morning. Academic work of the day consisted of more Chapter 7 reading. This was focussed at first on sifting through the information from day 79’s sleuthing and figuring out how to put it all together in my thesis. I then wrote it into the Chapter and included the pretty LiDAR picture (see Day 79 post!). After that, more reading, this time on the New Forest and Nene Valley industries.

My heart wasn’t really in it. Whatever I wrote will need rewriting – it only passes for PhD level analysis in the barest of senses. What I have so far written more resembles a random collection of my thoughts gathered from my reading of the various industries than actual academic writing. I think this may be the root of the problem: I’m not entirely clear how it all fits together yet – I have some ideas but they are still pretty blurry. This results in my dodgy writing and therefore in my lack of interest in what I’m doing. Its a vicious circle. But this is part of what you could call my “process”. Sometimes I need to attempt to write the chapter sections for it all to begin to fit together in my head. I can then go back through it and edit it to make sense and to coherently put the points across. Fingers crossed I’m just going through my “process” with Chapter 7!

Countdown to a PhD: 79 days to go

Yesterday was a bit of a flop. Or at the least it certainly felt that way. I am still working on Chapter 7 which compares my pottery production site to others in Yorkshire and Britain. Interesting and useful on the surface but rather boring and tedious to undertake.

I am no stranger to pottery reports having written several myself. However, they remain perhaps one of archaeology’s driest products. They are extensive (great record of lost information etc. but..!) and often pitted with long reference numbers to specific sherds, vessels or contexts from whence they came. I don’t need this much detail but I do need key information relating to landscape setting, spread of industry across that landscape, types of vessels (posh tableware or functional kitchen wares), influences on form and decoration, and methods of trade and patterns of distribution. A fairly simple hit list but the trick lies in reading these longwinded reports to filter out the information important to my chapter. Unfortunately there are no short cuts with the relevant tid bits hidden all over the tombs.

Needless to say, there was a healthy amount of procrastination as I waded through what felt like the millionth report (Facebook, WordPress and Buzzfeed should receive thanks in the acknowledgements of my thesis at this rate). This resulted in me feeling like I hadn’t actually achieved much – by the end of the day I had written precisely 795 words about two industries, not my best. The ratio for words in versus those written is heavily biased towards the long reports. If I got even half the words written for those read on each pottery industry I would be laughing – unfortunately this remains a fantasy reality!

Yesterday’s redeeming factor lay in the four hours worth of internet sleuthing I did. I have one industry that is included primarily because of its similar landscape setting to the one at the focus of my thesis (I won’t bore you with details but suffice to say they both lay in or next to Iron Age forts and their production was broadly contemporary). I had managed to find one tiny pamphlet from 1964 about the small excavation there (it was short so yey!) but it lacked much of the detail reports today include thus making comparison a challenge. I figured it couldn’t be the only thing written so I went on the hunt.

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The shortest pottery report I’ve ever read. Thankfully it included enough clues to help with the sleuthing.

I managed to find it on Google Earth, historic Ordnance Survey maps, and discovered it was visible on the 1m LiDAR data available from the Environment Agency. This last produced quite a pretty map. There were also streams (ok not quite streams worth but plenty) of records on the Warwickshire Historic Environment Records website (accessed through the Heritage Gateway).

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The Iron Age fort is at the centre of the image and the pottery industry was just to the east.

So my quite frankly Sherlock Holmes level of sleuthing led me to several more references I can use. This leads to today’s challenge – sift through it all, draw it all together, and attempt to make sense of it in my thesis. Then move on to the next industry – 3 more to go!

After that there’s section 7.3 to write… boo.

So I resolve to keep my pecker up and keep in mind Sherlock’s jolly witticisms and plough on through the tedium.

“To a great mind, nothing is little”

– Sherlock Holmes / Arthur Conan Doyle

Countdown to a PhD: 80 Days to go

So this is about 12hours late but hey that’s life…

Yesterday was ok as far as work went. I spent day 80 reading for Chapter 7 (a comparison with other Romano-British pottery sites). The majority of the day was occupied with one particularly important book. I hate it when this happens. It’s great that there’s so much to discuss from one book, but it makes it seem like I didn’t get very much done. There was the usual amount of procrastination (Facebook, WordPress etc) and I spent some time talking to fellow PhD about his funding options. The one productive thing I did achieve was to update my chapter outline and word counts. I hadn’t looked at it in about six months and there were quite a few minor changes that were needed to bring it up to date.

I’ve started PhD work late today (945am) so will no doubt be working later than usual tonight. Here’s to a slightly more productive day today!

The end of a PhD: Planning the last 80 days

Fact: my deadline is in 80 days.

It should have been Thursday 31st March (88days) but thanks to Easter weekend I have to hand in a week early. The binding shops will be shut over the Easter period and I want to be sure it’s bound and handed in well on time. This is the only time you will catch me bemoaning two bank holidays on a weekend!

In order to help myself through what will no doubt be the most stressful 80 days of my life so far I have decided to drag you all along with me by giving you a day by day report in excruciating detail! (okay – maybe not in too much detail but you get the idea). I will be endeavouring to write a piece here, however long or short, every day until the inglorious manuscript is handed in. The theory is this will give me a clear idea of what I have achieved and what I still have yet to do.

To do this I’ve bought a diary – mostly to keep track of what I’m eating and exercise (NY resolution, don’t let my health deteriorate for the next 80 days – and beyond!). But I will also be using it to keep a note of what I have done each day. This will help me to actually achieve submission – and hopefully on time!

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Evidence the diary exists!

Now I just have to stick to the plan and everything should be fine… or so I will keep muttering to myself as I beaver away at my desk!

Watch this space for today’s update!

Writer’s block: inevitable but fixable

I was just reading an interview with the author Neil Gaiman and found this answer on the topic of writer’s block rather relevant:

“Writer’s block is this thing that is sent from the gods—you’ve offended them. You’ve trod on a crack on the pavement, and you’re through. The gods have decided. It’s not true. What is really true is you can have a bad day. You can have a bad week. You can get stuck. But what I learned when I was under deadline is that if you write on the bad days, even if you’re sure everything you’ve written is terrible, when you come to it tomorrow and you reread it, most of it’s fixable. It may not be the greatest thing you’ve ever written, but you fix it, and actually it’s a lot better than you remember it being. And the weird thing is a year later when you’re copyediting and reading the galleys through for the first time in months, you can remember that some of it was written on bad days. And you can remember that some of it was written on terrific days. But it all reads like you. Fantastic stuff doesn’t necessarily read better than the stuff written on the bad days. Writers have to be like sharks. We keep moving forward, or we die.”

For the whole article see here: https://www.goodreads.com/interviews/show/1084.Neil_Gaiman

 

Ho Ho Ho-oh no, not theory again!

111 days and counting until the PhD has to be written, formatted, bound and submitted and its fair to say that I am starting to panic more than a little bit.

With my deadline looming I have started re-reading my front-end theory chapters and turns out they are a bit of a shock! They were written about 20months ago and the latest draft of each about 15/18 months ago. Unsurprisingly, my writing style has developed and matured in the time since the creation of these chapters.

If I read them objectively (or try to), pretending they belong to a student of mine, I am less than impressed. They aren’t terrible but neither are they up to standard. I can cover them in copious amounts of red pen and feel good about myself for pointing out the flaws and the areas that need fixing. But…

…sat at my laptop with a blank screen ready to act on the red pen notes and rewrite the chapters, I am stuck. It’s easy just to change the way I have articulated points (and this does need doing in places) but by doing this I avoid actually rewriting the chapter. I think it stems from a worry of whether this next draft, especially this close to my deadline, will be good enough.

What if it isn’t good enough??

I could rewrite it again and again ,but what if it is never good enough? By this stage in my PhD career my work should be edited to a good standard and some of my more recently created chapters are – almost.

It is almost as if once I have written something one way, I then have a mental block on how to improve or re-write it. Quite a large part of the success or failure of my PhD will depend on my ability to hurdle this particular block.

The solution I am going to attempt to apply is to tackle each chapter separately, and each section within them in turn. To read through with red pen in hand and then write myself a new chapter plan with details for each section. I find that planning each point I want to cover, almost on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis has helped me to keep sections and chapters on track. Perhaps it will keep me from simply rewording these theory chapters.

I am faced with doubts about whether or not I actually know what I want to say about the theory, about what my theoretical stance actually is and how theory applies to and has influenced my thesis.

I know, on the whole, what I want my research to say and what it contributes to knowledge (or at least will do if I can do it justice). But I have been so involved with the minute of my results that switching to editing the broader theory chapters is proving more challenging than I thought it would be. Just as challenging is making sure the theoretical points I discuss are made relevant to the results of my research and my thesis as a whole otherwise the reader (and the examiners!) will find themselves thinking “Great, but SO WHAT!?”.

Research data is seen through a cloud of theory or so Johnson (2010, 106) tells us. Data and theory cannot be separated. So I must persevere and continue to theorise my way to a pair of successfully edited, and relevant, chapters.

There’s no escaping the fact that theory is academia and academia is theory.

 

Reference: Johnson, M. 2010 Archaeological Theory: An Introduction (Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester)