Thursday, 15 August 2013


Today's supervision meeting went better than I could have possibly imagined. They liked my framework and structure, and want me to keep it and flesh it out into a chapter. Talking it over with them, I realised that I've been ridiculously hard on myself.  My framework is an original contribution to knowledge, which is the whole point of the PhD, after all.

The fact that it's original is why I felt so unsure about my approach. Not being able to find any literature to explicitly support my ideas made me feel like they weren't good enough--surely somebody must have done this before. But actually, the fact that this is different doesn't mean that it's weak--it means that it's original and it's a contribution to the field. I'm capable of so much more than I believe. I need to give myself some credit for this one, and have more confidence in my work.

This chapter isn't a "dissertation-by-numbers" theory chapter. It's not about subscribing to a theoretical point of view or debating the merits of one dead white guy's views over another. It's about breaking down the literature into its main ideas--it's really more of an analytical lit review than a theory chapter.

In other news, today I've submitted my revised journal article to the wonderful folks at Ludwig-Maximilians Universitaet in Munich, so my very first publication is closer to being a reality. Beyond excited!

I was hurt by some news yesterday that confirmed what I'd been thinking about the future direction of ICS, but I'm trying to put it all behind me. There are millions of opportunities out there in the world for me, and the changes at ICS might be just the push that I needed to get out there and pursue them. I've absolutely loved my time here and the people I've met, but it's obviously not meant to be a permanent thing for me, and that's for the best.

Monday, 12 August 2013

"The Five-Year Engagement"

I watched "The Five-Year Engagement" recently, and there are a few things about it that really irritated me. Richard thinks "it's just a movie" and I shouldn't get worked up about it, but my years of hanging out with film/media studies people in ICS have taught me that it's never just a movie. It reflects attitudes about gender roles and success and family, and it ends with some pretty terrible lessons. (Spoiler alert!)

At the start of the film, when Violet (Emily Blunt) is applying to post-doc fellowships, I was thrilled--"hey, that's me, that's something I'm doing in the near future!" It feels great to be represented--it's not very often that the lead female in a rom-com is a post-doc. Students in film are usually undergrads (or high school), and grad students in films are often in law school (Legally Blonde--where your knowledge of chemical hair treatments miraculously saves your reputation as a future lawyer) or med school (Patch Adams--where the only female student gets killed).

The main conflict is the idea that Tom (Jason Segal) gives up his career (he's poised to run his own restaurant in foodie-city San Francisco) to be with fiancee Violet at her post-doc in Michigan, and while he seems cool with it at first, he quickly resents it and goes crazy, and their relationship falls apart.

The idea that the man in a relationship could make career-related sacrifices (as women have always been expected to do) is refreshingly egalitarian, yes. But the fact that he goes nuts and they break up just reinforces the original stereotypic idea that men shouldn't sacrifice their career. Moreover, Chris Parnell's character makes an absolute mockery of the stay-at-home-dad/female breadwinner household arrangement. He knits (badly) and hunts (to gain back some of his masculinity?), and is just generally ridiculous. Violet's sister is a whole other mess that I won't bother to go into--"there is no right cookie, you just pick one and take a bite!" (her advice: nobody's perfect, so settle)

My main beef with the film, though, comes with the revelation that Violet was only given her post-doc project and offered a lecturer post because the Prof (Rhys Ifans) was attracted to her.

It was at this point that I hated the film and wanted my £5 back. She was never actually successful at all. She was just pretty. What a horrible message for women in academia. Meanwhile, after the break-up, Tom started his own business and became wildly successful. Violet was just fooling herself the whole time, and should never have been so silly as to presume to be the breadwinner. Tom's original plan didn't work out, but because he's now free from his flawed, emasculating relationship with a female post-doc, he found a successful alternative.

The film ends without any clear sense of where they'll live or what she'll do for a living, but we know 2 things--they're married and he's got his awesome taco van business. And they lived happily ever after...

I generally like Judd Apatow, Jason Segal, Emily Blunt, etc. so it was a disappointment...I was really glad to hear other reviews call this film sexist, too:
Bitch Flicks: 'The Five-Year Engagement:' Exploration of Gender ...

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Separating Emotions from Work

My mood's improving since the last post--I'm cautiously optimistic about my upcoming supervision meeting and I've been working on a new plan of attack for the dissertation.

For those 4 terrible weeks, I mostly kept the struggle to myself--it was only when I started talking with Richard, my family and friends that I finally realised that I'm not a failure and I actually do know what I'm doing with my project.

The most difficult thing for me is to not take criticism personally. I'm very sensitive and insecure, despite looking calm & self-assured most of the time. Some friends at ICS have told me that I seem very relaxed, considering the fact that I'm submitting relatively soon. I've always been good at hiding it and smiling through difficulties. The first time I arrived in London, I got on the Tube at Heathrow and took a seat. A Canadian couple boarded and sat across from me, and asked if the train was going to London. I said that I thought so, but wasn't sure, as it was my first time here, too. They laughed and said, "oh, you looked so relaxed, like you knew what you were doing!"

When it comes to my work, I'm especially sensitive. I've been thinking about how I can separate the emotions from the work, but I'm starting to doubt that it's possible. If you really care about your project and you feel that it is what you're meant to do with your life--if it's your calling--then you can't help but be emotional about it. 

I'm only sensitive about the important things. When I worked retail for a summer during Uni, I wasn't that great at it. We were supposed to complete transactions at the till in 60 seconds or less ("60 Second Checkout", the supervisors reminded us constantly). I wasn't that fast, and I was told that I needed to speed up. Criticism at that job didn't upset me, though--I knew it was just a summer job, and it wasn't my career or my calling. 

After my presentation at the Finland conference, one of the organisers said that I'd done well, and that she'd picked up on my enthusiasm. "You love your work, I can tell!" And it's true. 

Whatever people think of my work, my interest areas, my favorite books and authors, my dream of working in academia--the important thing is that I love it. It's my calling and I truly do feel that I'm living the dream.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Not So Fast...

Morale has been very low for the past month.

At my last supervision meeting, I was asked to go away and read for a month, and write a theory chapter.

Going into the meeting, I'd been hoping for some nice, constructive, helpful feedback, and I'd expected that they would tell me to get on with the next task on the list. It was the first time I'd had any feedback from my new supervision team, and I was keen to hear what they thought.

Being told to read theory is like having to move back to the start in a board game. I went with it, agreed to take it on and after our meeting I went straight to the library to check out a range of Political/IR/Communications/Psychology theories that might be useful.  For the first two weeks, I just kept reading and taking notes. Last week, I started to write and that's when it started to get ugly.

I felt like an absolute failure. Why don't I understand theory? How did I manage to get a BA and an MA and never get a grip on theory? I must have screwed up somewhere without realising it. I've been a fraud all this time, obviously. When I sat down to write, the empty Word document with its blinking cursor just amplified all of my fears and self-doubt. A title, a subject heading, a phrase or two--I made dozens of false starts and ended each day with nothing much to show for it. When I would come up with an idea, I would just hear one of my supervisors in my head, criticising it and saying it wouldn't work, it wasn't good enough, I wouldn't pass, etc. They've never said anything like this, of course--it's just my self-doubt.

It's been very dark.

Today, I had a slight breakthrough--I was able to at least decide upon a structure and main premise of the chapter, the skeleton that I needed in order to be happy with my writing. Things are a little bit brighter--bright enough for me to write on the blog, at any rate.

I still worry that I'm not good enough, that my work isn't up to par and that I should have just listened to the people who told me that my dreams were unrealistic.

But...(there's always that hopeful 'but'...) my family & friends support me and think I can do it, even when I'm not so sure. And it's important to recognise that I'm my own worst critic, and thankfully, it's not up to me whether I pass or not--let others decide whether my best is good enough.