Tuesday, 21 August 2012

I have a dream...

In addition to being an academic extraordinaire, I'm also into arts and crafts. A friend saw some of my creations in my room recently and suggested that I should try selling them online. She is even going to help me set up a website.

I have this half-baked fantasy that maybe I could just…phase out the PhD. One day in the semi-distant future, say in five years’ time, when friends come over for dinner to the home I will then be sharing with the Boy – a stylish home, filled with my leopard-print tea-cosies and my handmade porcelain figurines – and then, maybe in between the starter and the main course, one of them will look up from his or her wine glass and ask, wasn’t I doing some kind of a PhD at some point, and how did that go in the end?... And there will be silence around the dinner-table; the other guests will exchange strained glances and pretend they didn’t hear, much as polite guests will when, for example, someone at table has farted. And I will smile and offer everyone some more homemade elderflower champagne, and conversation will burst forth once more. The infortun√© will eventually slink off home in embarrassment (or else be removed forcibly by men in white coats) sometime just after dessert.

Maybe, if I give it the right spin in the blurb I write for myself on eBay, it could be like the last three years didn’t even happen. I could write something like this: ‘Cloud Nine is an artist and freelance photographer based in the UK. For the last three years she has been living in London; when she is not painting, she devotes her free time to working with homeless artists [am definitely going to start volunteering with the homeless soon] and lecturing at the University of London.’

Monday, 20 August 2012

Long walk to freedom

 Today my PhD is just making me cry. I don't want to pore over the book anymore. I don't want to type stuff up on my computer. I send a long, heartfelt text message to a friend, telling her that I want to quit my PhD.

Friend: 'If you can't work, go get some fresh air, go for a walk, or go buy a top.'

Me: '...but I can't go for a walk every time I hate my PhD. I would be walking forever. And I would constantly be buying tops'.

Am slightly cheered by the idea of how many tops I would get to own, if I did follow this advice.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Quote of the day

It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.
- Aristotle

To quit (or not to quit)

Sometimes you have really good PhD days, and you marvel at your own wonderfulness. Sometimes (more often than not) you have bad days, where you can’t seem to do anything. Sometimes you wonder if you should be doing this at all.

Sometimes you want to quit the PhD. I wonder what would have been a good time. You might get the nagging feeling in your first year that this isn’t what you want to do, and that you should leave; you realize that you’re not enjoying writing the essays, and trawling through the books; but then, a voice in your head tells you that no, this is only the first year, and you haven’t really made a go of it yet; the writing of essays will surely get easier, the more you get into the swing of things. In your second year, you tell yourself: ah, I’ve made it this far. I should carry on, no?... By the time your third year comes round, you’re telling yourself: I really should have quit in my first year, because I am now more than two-thirds of the way through, and it would be ridiculous to quit now, after doing all that work. In the summer of your third year, as you’re sitting there trying to write it all up and it’s still hopelessly nowhere near being finished, you’re thinking: I really should have just quit back when I was two-thirds-and-a-bit of the way through

I have a vivid memory of the first time someone told me I should definitely do a PhD. I was working on my Masters when, one day, a current PhD student came up to me as I was sitting in the study room. I was just minding my own business, using the internet, when she came up to me and sat herself down on the edge of my desk. I knew her, vaguely. She was a nice girl.

‘Hello!’ she said. ‘I’m supposed to talk to you about doing a PhD, you know, I’m meant to be drumming up a bit of future business for the faculty. So I thought I’d tell you about doing a PhD!’
I listened with polite interest as she outlined my future career options. I hadn't really given my future a  lot of thought - apart from thinking things like 'I'm definitely not doing a PhD, because it sounds difficult and pointless.' 

‘Basically’, she told me, ‘you might as well just do a PhD. Because it’s just like having a job, really. You get paid to do it, and if you decide you don’t like it, you can just quit – and it’s OK.’

It’s just like a job; you get paid to do it, and if you decide you don’t like it, you can just quit. Whose side was she on, anyway? Who was this girl working for, exactly? I’ve remembered those words and they still make me grind my teeth and wave an imaginary fist at her imaginary face. That was a lie. Doing a PhD is nothing like having a job. You get paid, yes (well, if you’re lucky like I was, you do). But no, you can’t just quit. It’s not the same as having a job. Because if you quit a PhD, you have failed to finish it; you have basically failed at something. That is most emphatically not the same as quitting your job, and finding a new one. It’s nothing like the same thing.

And it's also not like a job because it follows you home every night for three years. You never have the Friday feeling. It's like Narnia: it's always winter, yet never Christmas. Always Friday 3p.m., yet never the Friday feeling...

I occasionally come across the girl’s updates on Facebook. I want to write to her and tell her what she has done. I want to send her hate mail. I want to tell her that it’s all her fault.

lastminute.com ....

I know what the problem is. I’m a last-minute person.

Recently, a lovely friend of mine came into my room, flopped on my bed in despair, and told me about everything that she thinks is wrong with her life. Eager to ‘give something back’ to the community after having wasted hours of my friends’ time in complaining about how hard MY life is, I was all ears. It was the last project she had done at work which had got her so down. She told me how, two weeks previously, she had been given a task to do. An important email to send, some results to tidy up and include along with it. And she sat there staring at it all for the full two weeks and couldn’t do it. She didn’t know how to ‘bite’ into it (to use my Mum’s expression). She just couldn’t figure out how to sink her teeth into this task. How to set about converting the data into the text of the important email, how to make sure that it was what the boss wanted, how to ensure she didn’t miss anything out, how to make it comprehensible, readable, how to ensure that the clients would understand it… So she sat there for two weeks, and stared at it and fretted and tried to get it done, and couldn’t.

‘Then, last night, around ten p.m., the day before the deadline’, she told me,  ‘I was just sitting there really tired, and suddenly I realized how I needed to do this. I just realized how it needed to be. And I did it. I had to stay up for hours on end to do it all, and I did it, and I delivered it to my boss today and it was fine, but… why couldn’t I just do it two weeks ago, get it out of the way, and not have a horrible time stressing about it at the last minute?... But the thing was, I really couldn’t see how to do it until last night. I tried and tried – and nothing. I really hate myself sometimes.’

I listened to her and it was weird: it was just like listening to myself. She had just described a two-week stint of PhD. I kept having to stop myself from interrupting her at every word, with a ‘Yes! Yes I know! Me, same thing! Same exact thing! I can’t do it either! I hate myself too!’ – and giving five recent examples for every thing she said. (it was hard to restrain myself, but I tried not to interrupt her the whole way through. I do want to have some friends left by the time I finish my PhD, so when they tell me their troubles, I try and not be all like ‘Oh, yes, yes, I know the one. Why, the same thing happened to me the other day with my PhD…’)

(I do listen to you guys, I promise. I really do.)

I know what the problem is: I’m a last-minute person. I do get up at eight and sit down and try and work. I rush off to the library and take out books and frantically pore over them. I stay in there til late. I never seem to not be working. However, it’s not until the Last Minute that the brain fog lifts and I think, Yes! That’s what I should have done! And I know exactly what to do. Of course, by then it’s the day before the thing has to be handed it. (actually, it’s the day you were going to hand it in, to give your poor tutor two whole days to read it. Of course that now doesn’t happen, and your long-suffering tutor is lucky if she gets it 24 hours in advance.)

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t do everything at the last minute. A-level coursework was just one long all-nighter. ‘Your problem is, you just think about it too much’, said a friend as we sat one day in the library, and I watched her speed through her French grammar exercises with a velocity and concentration which astonished me. She didn’t pause to ponder. If it was wrong, it was wrong. She got it out of the way, and following her example, so did I. It never happened again. My undergraduate degree saw me stay up later and later every time there was an assignment due. I would finish one at nine pm… the next time there was one due, it would be 10:30 pm… until one day I had to be woken up for a tutorial by a friend over the phone, because I had stayed up until about 6 am getting the work done, and had completely overslept.

I really hate the way I do this, but there it is. If I have two weeks to write a bit of a chapter for my PhD, I will work the entire two weeks, but I will essentially waste the first twelve days or so. I will stress and get up early and blunder around in libraries amidst piles and piles of books, but it’s not until I hear the heavy tread of the approaching deadline that my mind slides into focus and I know: I should have spent the two weeks rereading this, or sifting through my notes on THAT. I wonder how I didn’t see that. And then I just have to stay up at night and do the best I can in the time I’ve got, which never is actually ‘good’. You don’t get ‘good’ when you’re tired and you’ve just got the time and energy to tart up whatever rubbish you’ve already got.

Trouble is, last minute doesn’t work on the PhD, I don't think. At university, I just had to get assignment done. You researched it; you wrote it up, for better or for worse; you had it marked; you got told what was wrong with it; you learned something and then you shoved it in a drawer. It was finished. You started on the next one. No-one was telling me: OK, now you know what’s wrong with it, take it away and rewrite it all, with these corrections. And also do some research on this. And now that you have put in these corrections, you need to rethink this bit, which now doesn’t go. This is what the PhD is like. On and on it goes, in an endless cycle of rewriting those terrible, poorly-written last-minute essays. Those last-minute essays which were not meant to be seen by anyone, which were meant to be read through once, in utter shame, and then spend the rest of their days hidden in a drawer. Those poor things.

Sometimes I wonder why on earth I stayed in academia for this long. A graduate-school Guru once recommended us taking the Myers Briggs personality test. He said that to know your personality type can help you understand why you work the way you do, which in turn helps you try and play it to your best advantage. I did it, and the results were kind of astounding. The Boy, who is normally dubious about such things (same as he doesn’t believe in ghosts and stuff; he has patiently spent time in the past converting me to the view that psychics are not real, and horoscopes are bollocks) – even the Boy was amazed. ‘That does sound scarily like a description of you’, he said.

The top careers recommended for me were Graphic Designer and Artist. The other careers recommended for me included Early Years Education. (part of me was actually a bit gutted when I read that. All those years spent applying for research grants, preparing lessons for undergraduate students, honing my skills in critical analysis, and stressing, and what do I find out? I am actually ideally suited to doing up small children’s shoelaces. I could have just packed the books up a long time ago, and gone to live a simpler, happier life. I feel like a scientist whose entire life’s work has been a total mistake.)

But the thing that really stuck with me from the results of the personality test was this: apparently, people of my personality type “don’t do very well in mainstream education”. So, I don’t do very well in school, it transpires. Schoolwork, and school in general, bores and scares me. This according to an online personality test. I kid you not. All of a sudden, all those late nights spent fretting over mock science exams have made tragic sense. I have always known this: I hate school. I needed a personality test to tell me this. And here I am now, and I’m doing a PhD.

Perhaps I have stayed too long at the fair?...


For your amusement, here are some of the things that the personality test said:


Your Type is

Famous people of your particular type
Princess Diana, Auguste Rodin, Elvis Presley, Frederic Chopin

More than the other Artisans, Composers are in tune with their senses, and so have a sure grasp of what belongs, and what doesn't belong, in all kinds of works of art. While the other Artisans are skilled with people, tools, and entertainment, Composers have an exceptional ability-seemingly inborn-to work with subtle differences in color, tone, texture, aroma, and flavor.
Although Composers often put long, lonely hours into their artistry, they are just as impulsive as the other Artisans. They do not wait to consider their moves; rather, they act in the here and now, with little or no planning or preparation. Composers are seized by the act of artistic composition, as if caught up in a whirlwind. The act is their master, not the reverse. Composers paint or sculpt, they dance or skate, they write melodies or make recipes-or whatever-simply because they must. They climb the mountain because it is there.
This ability to lose themselves in action accounts for the spectacular individual accomplishments of some Composers, and yet on their social side they show a kindness unmatched by all the other types. Composers are especially sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, and they sympathize freely with the sufferer. Some have a remarkable way with young children, almost as if there were a natural bond of sympathy and trust between them. A similar bond may be seen between some Composers and animals, even wild animals. Many Composers have an instinctive longing for the wilds, and nature seems to welcome them.

Composers are just as plentiful as the other Artisans, say nine or ten per cent of the population, but in general they are very difficult to observe and thus greatly misunderstood. Very likely the difficulty comes from their tendency not to express themselves verbally, but through their works of art. Composers are usually not interested in developing ability in public speaking, or even in the art of conversation; they prefer to feel the pulse of life by touch, in the muscles, in the eyes, in the ears, on the tongue. Make no mistake, Composers are just as interested as other types in sharing their view of the world, and if they find a medium of non-verbal communication-some art form-then they will express their character quite eloquently. If not, they simply remain unknown, their quietness leaving their character all but invisible.


ISFP Relationships

ISFPs are warmhearted, gentle people who take their commitments seriously, and seek lifelong relationships. They are very private people, who keep their true feelings and opinions reserved or hidden from others. This may cause them to constantly defer to their mates in their intimate relationships, which may cause problems if their mates are not extremely aware of the ISFP's feelings. Some ISFPs who are in the habit of not expressing their needs and feelings find themselves in situations throughout their life where they feel overshadowed, overlooked, or even "tread upon" by others. Highly practical and cynical by nature, these feelings may cause the ISFP to become bitter, and to either give up on their relationships, or to start using their relationships for their own personal gain. Although this problem is observed sometimes in the ISFP type, it does not seem to be present in those ISFPs who consistently express their feelings to those closest to them. These ISFPs have a very positive, warm outlook on life and love, and are not as likely to find themselves in relationships where they are taken for granted or taken advantage of. ISFPs go to great lengths to please their partners. They're very loyal and supportive, with a deep capacity for love. They detest conflict and discord, and highly value being seen and understood for who they are. They need space to live their lives in their own unique way, and will respect other's need for space.

ISFP Strengths

      Warm, friendly and affirming by nature
      Usually optimistic
      Good listeners
      Good at dealing with practical day-to-day concerns
      Flexible and laid-back, usually willing to defer to their mates
      Their love of aesthetic beauty and appreciation for function makes them likely to have attractive, functional homes
      Take their commitments seriously, and seek lifelong relationships
      Likely to value and respect other's personal space
      Likely to enjoy showing their affection through acts and deeds
      Sensuous and earthy

ISFP Weaknesses

      Not good at long-range financial (or other) planning
      Extreme dislike of conflict and criticism
      Focused on enjoying the present moment, they may appear lazy or slow-moving at times
      Need to have their own space, and dislike having it invaded
      May be slow to show their affection with words
      Tendency to hold back their thoughts and feelings, unless drawn out
      May become overly cynical and practical

ISFPs as Lovers

"To love means to open ourselves to the negative as well as the positive - to grief, sorrow, and disappointment as well as to joy, fulfillment, and an intensity of consciousness we did not know was possible before." -- Rollo May

ISFPs are warm and giving people, who have a depth of emotion and caring which is not often obvious to others, except those who know them extremely well. They are usually intense people, who experience their emotions on an intense level. Although they may appear to be light-hearted, they are in fact extremely serious, and take their relationships seriously. Unlike other SP types, people with the ISFP type desire and seek lifelong, committed relationships.
ISFPs may have a problem with communication. With Introverted Feeling dominating their personality, they are more vulnerable then most to being hurt. Perhaps because of this, they tend to hold back part of themselves from others, and do not always say what they think or feel. This is especially true during conflict situations, which the ISFP abhors more than anything in the world. Confrontations and arguments are very difficult for the ISFP to deal with. They feel personally threatened in these situations. If the ISFP falls into the habit of not communicating their feelings with their partner, this could cause serious problems in the relationship over the long haul.
Sexually, the ISFP approaches intimacy with complete attention, seriousness and depth. They experience lovemaking through their senses, and welcome the chance to interact with their mate at this level. They are not likely to express their feelings verbally, believing that actions speak louder than words.
ISFPs need positive affirmation to be happy and feel good about themselves. They need to be praised, although they are usually uncomfortable with "gushy" praise. The greatest gift their partners can give them is the expression of their affection and admiration.
Although two well-developed individuals of any type can enjoy a healthy relationship, the ISFP's natural partner is the ESFJ, or the ENFJ. ISFP's dominant function of Introverted Feeling is best matched with a partner whose dominant function is Extraverted Feeling. The ISFP/ESFJ combination is ideal, because the types share Sensing as their way of perceiving the world, but ISFP/ENFJ is also a good match. 

ISFPs as Parents

"You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth...Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable." -- Kahlil Gibran
ISFPs enjoy their parenting role, and take great pride and comfort in their children. Most have a special affinity with babies and young children, and form bonds with their children when they are very young. They are very laid-back parents, and are not likely to have highly defined expectations of their children. They will gently guide their behavior, and suggest a particular direction, but their own respect of the individual psyche will cause them to be quite easy-going and non-demanding as parents. The ISFP is likely to treat their children as individuals, and encourage them to have their own role in the family.
ISFPs love to have fun, and live in the current moment. All ISFPs have a bit of little kid inside themselves, and they love to play games alongside their children. They're special affinity towards nature and animals makes them likely to lead their children in fun outdoors activities.
ISFPs are not likely to provide a very structured environment for their children. They are also likely to have a problem with disciplining or punishing their kids. The gentle manner and kind heart of the ISFP makes it hard for them to make others unhappy - especially their own children. However, structure and discipline are important for growing children. If the other parent encourages and promotes structure, and is able to administer discipline when necessary, the parent combination may work very well without there being an obvious lack of structure. However, if the other parent is also not strong with structure or discipline, this is an area which needs to have special attention. Growing children do not have the experience to decide on their own the difference between Right and Wrong. They need to have barriers set down in a tangible way, to help them decide.
ISFPs like to show their love in deeds rather than words, which is manifested in their doing a lot for their children. They may lavish them with gifts on Christmas day, or go out of their way to do special things for them.
The ISFP is a service-oriented person, who defines their personal worth in some part by how happy they make others. This is typical of people with the Feeling preference. The special potential problem that ISFPs face is their service-oriented attitude combined with their habit of not expressing their own needs and feelings. This combination causes some ISFPs to get taken for granted. If this happens frequently to an ISFP, they may become bitter and angry. They think of themselves as victims, and may erect barriers to keep out those who have hurt them. This may be a serious problem if the ISFP parent feels that their children are taking them for granted. The best defense against such a situation occuring is for the ISFP to get into the habit of verbalizing and communicating their needs.
ISFP parents will be loyal, dedicated and self-sacrificing to their children until they leave home. When the kids have left the nest, the ISFP will enjoy their time alone to do things for themself. If the ISFP has not allowed themselves to become victims or victimizers in their life, they will be very good parents, and will be remembered fondly and affectionately by their children.

ISFPs as Friends

ISFPs are able to get along with most of the other personality types, although they tend to be reserved around those they don't know well. They will enjoy spending time with others who share their interests, and who understand and accept the ISFP for who they are. They greatly value their space and autonomy, and appreciate other's respect for that.
The ISFP is not likely to have much patience or tolerance for those who are strongly Judging. ISFPs celebrate their own uniqueness, as well as everybody else's, and don't appreciate being judged harshly for their differences.
In work settings, the ISFP is likely to get along with most everyone, unless someone inhabits their space too much, in which case sparks may fly. Generally, the ISFP is kind-hearted and generous with those they care about, and makes a true-blue friend.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Read this. Do your job better.

Dear PhD students,

I urge you to read some of these:


I especially enjoyed the one about 'Bad Brain Days' and the one about procrastination.

Not just for PhD students?....


cloud nine x