Monday, 8 August 2011

Upgrade Update

This afternoon I finally submitted my final draft of the upgrade document. It's out of my hands now...
The next step is the viva, where I'll be questioned about my research by 2 members of staff (which two, I'm not sure at this point...). I'm not actually too nervous about the viva. Thanks to having done my MA here, I've spoken with nearly every member of staff before (if not about my research, then at least socially), so at least I won't be facing strangers. What's more, I actually like talking about my research. I think it's pretty interesting stuff--that's why I decided to spend 3 years of my life reading and writing about it.
A few of my first-year colleagues have already done their upgrades, and two of them passed with no corrections, which is really impressive and slightly intimidating. I know you can't compare your PhD process with others, but it's so easy to do (especially in a shared office...).

In other news, we've made a lot of progress on organising the Propaganda conference in memory of Phil Taylor this December. It's really shaping up and there's been a lot of interest and enthusiasm. Prof. Rawnsley has asked some of us to contribute to the student perspective portion, reflecting on Phil's impact on our work/life. While I'm really pleased & proud to be able to contribute, it's more than a little intimidating. I never wrote anything for Phil's tributes website. Every time I started to draft something, I'd start crying and just couldn't do it. I didn't know what to say. How can you sum up a person's impact on your life without resorting to cliches? And I knew that anything I had to say would seem insignificant compared to the contributions of people who knew him better & longer than I had. I only met him when I came to Leeds for the MA in 2008, so I only knew him for 2 years before he passed away. When I looked over my module options the summer before the MA, I remember thinking that his courses sounded really interesting--I signed up for both of them and just hoped that I would like the professor, because I'd be with him all year.
When I was in his classes, I instantly liked him--his style, his take on the subjects, his sense of humor. But I sat quietly taking notes and never once asked a question (that's the kind of student I am...shy & absorbent!). The first time I actually said more than a dozen words to him was when I visited his office to discuss the possibility of a PhD. He was encouraging but realistic, telling me that the PhD would be a lonely process, and very expensive, so only do it for the right reasons. I told him that I wanted to be an academic and he said that was the right answer. We talked about teaching--we had both started out Uni intending to teach secondary school. We talked about Vanderbilt, where I first attended Uni (briefly) and where he'd spent time in the 80's as a Visiting Professor. We talked about Blair and Bush, Obama, the Special Relationship, British politics, public diplomacy, Richard Curtis films, etc. We threw around ideas about research topics and I gained insight into the workplace politics of academia. Like many other students have noticed, our conversations were all over the place and they were endlessly fascinating. He was the kind of professor you wanted to have a pint with (and I didn't even know you could drink in front of your professors until I came to England). He was brilliant, of course, but most of all he was just a really nice guy to spend time with.
There have been so many times in the past few months when I wished I could talk with him--not just about my research, but about everything--current events, politics, my personal life. It's been extremely hard to work on this PhD that we started on together without his continued guidance and input. When Phil said it would be a lonely process, he didn't mean it would be like this.

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