Friday, 6 January 2012

Phil Taylor Conference & New Year Updates

Now that the holidays are over and I'm back in the office, it's time for a few updates. First off, the Phil Taylor conference was brilliant. It was such an amazing chance to meet all of these academic stars--and since we'd been e-mailing each other since August, it felt like I already knew them. We all had a mutual friend in Phil, too, which was a great ice breaker and made it such a unique conference.

On the first day, I got to ICS early to help set up and coordinate the MA student volunteers. When speakers started arriving, it was so great to meet them and put a face to the name--nearly everyone greeted me with "Oh, you're Molly!" because I'd been e-mailing them for months. Some, like Kate Utting and Paul Moorcraft, were really friendly and it felt like we'd known each other for ages. Some, like Nick Cull, were keen on chatting about public diplomacy and gave me some great tips for my research. With others, like Kate Adie, I was more of an audience member and didn't get a chance to chat. But I really enjoyed meeting everyone, and the conference was a fantastic experience.
The Student's Appraisal Panel
with Cristina Archetti and Nick Cull
...and Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob and Elina Bardach-Yalov

Briefing the MA student volunteers in the morning
Group shot of the conference speakers and attendees

Michael Nelson, former general manager of Reuters, emailed me the day after the conference to say that we'd done a great job and it was "a textbook example of how a conference should be run." Brilliant!

Kate Utting warned me that after the conference there would be a sense of anti-climax, of emptiness. She was right--my inbox suddenly went quiet, and I had nothing to do but marking (and that kept me busy until about 12 hrs before my flight to the States for Christmas). I've got plenty of other things to do this term (like my actual PhD research), but part of me will miss the hectic planning and craziness that filled up my inbox last term.

Speaking of my actual PhD research, I've been doing it! Over the break, I went to the National Archives for the very first time. I got my official researcher ID card and sat with a box and took notes for several hours. It was surprisingly fun--I think I must be more of a historian than I'd thought, because there was something really cool about getting my hands on the original documents. They were only from the 1980's and not even yellowing yet, but if it's in the National Archives, it must give me some historian cred.

I didn't find anything world-changing in the reports, but I did find some of the student numbers and funding data that I'd really needed, as well as some useful quotes from FSB chairs and alumni. They also used to print lists with the year that each binational commission was founded, and that was really useful, too--one of those simple little questions that I hadn't been able to answer until now. Having gone through one box in about 5 hours was useful, too--it gave me an idea of the scope of the records, how much fits into a box, and some sense of how much writing I can do until my hand feels like it's going to fall off (22 5X8 notecards).

My trip back to the States was great--we spent a lot of quality time with my family, did some sightseeing, and I had all of my favorite American foods (root beer, proper burgers, Cracker Barrel, as well as US versions of Chinese and Mexican). Richard and I went to NYC for his birthday and it was fantastic. I'd only been once before, briefly when I was visiting Columbia University as an applicant. This time we did all of the touristy things that neither of us had ever done--going to the top of the Empire State Building, taking the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, having a hot dog from a vendor and eating it in Central Park, seeing the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

When I'm abroad, I always run into people saying that they've been to NYC and they love America based on that experience. I always thought that was odd, because I thought NYC was just like any other big city--very internationalised, like London or Paris or Tokyo. But now, having done the touristy bits of NYC, I get it. It really is a cool place, and it does have its own distinct character (just like London and Paris and Tokyo do...). I can see why it would make someone like the States (even though I still prefer Seattle...just like I prefer Liverpool over London).

Review of last year's New Years Resolutions
10. I will get in to the office no later than 10 am
I've been relatively good about this--mainly because I just had too much to do and needed to get in by 9 or 10 to get it all done.
9. I will be open to more opportunities for CV-building--teaching, conferences, etc.
I definitely did this...a little too much. This year's resolution will be "Learn to say 'no' to CV-building opportunities and focus on the PhD!"
8. I won't let myself get distracted by non-research-related websites during office hours (this means you, Facebook...)
Again, I've been pretty good about this. If anything, I need to limit the amount of time I spend checking and re-checking my e-mail throughout the day. Answering conference-related and placement-related e-mails can really take up an entire workday.
7. I will actually read the library books stacked on my desk, instead of skimming them and leaving them in a pile until they're due back...
Good progress--although overall, I need to spend more time reading.
6. And on a related note, I'll be a better library patron and only check out what I intend to read in a week's time (3-4 books a week?)
I've been good about this, but really haven't spent enough time in the library lately--will resolve to make it a regular habit
5. I will start bringing lunch to work more often, as it cuts down on the lunch break length and gives me a chance to hang out with other PhDs & staff
Ever since Lent (when I gave up cafe lunches and coffees), I've been really good, bringing my lunch in 3 or more times a week. Unfortunately, it's not a social occasion--I've been eating at my desk and using the break to catch up on news.
4. I will write longer, better essays for my supervisor
Since I haven't written anything for Robin since the upgrade (yikes), I really need to make this resolution again.
3. I will pass my upgrade this summer!
2. I will update this blog at least once a week, because it helps me stay on track & refocus my thoughts
Didn't happen, but will make this resolution again...
1. Finally, I resolve to enjoy the process and treat my PhD like the amazing opportunity it is.
Yes, I absolutely loved the process this year. I loved the reading, writing, conferences, teaching, etc. It was all brilliant, and the past term has really convinced me that I'm doing the right thing. Even when I'm struggling with my research (like now), I still love it.

2012 Research Resolutions
10. I will focus on my PhD research, because first and foremost, I'm supposed to be a PhD student. Not an events planner, not an administrator, not a teacher...

9. I will learn to delegate tasks and say 'no' occasionally (remembering that the one thing I can't delegate is my PhD research)

8. Every day, I carve out at least an hour to talk to my family back home. This year, I'm going to carve out at least 2 hours of reading each day. I seriously haven't been reading enough to call myself an academic.

7. Keep bringing lunch to work, but try to eat away from the desk more often

6. Get a section written every couple of months

5. Write the 75,000 word first draft and submit it to Robin in December.

4. Update the blog every couple of weeks with something

3. Don't let wedding planning get in the way of the PhD. It's just one day.

2. But don't let the PhD get in the way of enjoying your wedding and honeymoon--block out the month of September in your calendar and plan work accordingly.

1. Keep on enjoying the process and living the dream!