After almost four years of struggling, today I handed in my PhD thesis. In only a few months, I will be a Doctor in Linguistics. But I can’t help but wonder, what have I really got to show for now.
I started this blog about four years ago to deal with my post-travel blues. I always expected to kick out the travel blues by now, and get my backpack from under the dust again. But four years after putting the backpack in storage and the post-travel blues moving in, going on the road again is not what’s next for us.
In exactly one month, it’ll be March 11th. It will be a special day.
Let me run you through the next month. Tomorrow, it’s Monday. Which means, back to work. It’s been really tough, I’m in the last year of my PhD and I’m SO done with it! Turns out the PhD really wasn’t for me, and I’m really getting more annoyed with it by the day. I just really hope I can finish this thing sooner rather than later and move on to something new and exciting. And also, I really really hope that I won’t regret having spent four years of my life on this. I hate getting stuck in “what if”s, so when it comes to decision times I always try to think: “What will I regret the most?” Like when I was thinking of going to Australia for a year. “What will I regret the most? If I go to the other side of the globe and maybe something happens to my grandparents and I won’t be around? Or if I don’t go?” I figured I’d forever wonder “what if” if I wouldn’t have gone, so I did it. And thank goodness I did, because not only did I have a spectacular year, I also met the love of my life there.
So tomorrow, back to work. I made myself a deadline for the end of the month to have a first full draft of the dissertation. That is so not going to happen, but I’ll now try to have a first draft of the first part (out of three). The second part is roughly finished, and the third part still needs a lot of work. And then there’s the intro, conclusion, methodology, appendices, bibliography, etc. Worries for later I guess. Ugh.
The day after tomorrow, my students are coming round to look at their exams. January was exam period, and now that the students have gotten their results I’m getting emails left right and centre for them to come look at their exams. Now this year, my students were quite different from the last few years. They have this weird sense of “that’s not fair”. Maybe it’s to do with this whole millenial business, you know, the fact that millenials feel entitled and stuff (watch this super interesting video by Simon Sinek if you don’t know what I’m on about). Maybe that stuff has finally reached Belgium. I think technically, I’m a millenial too, but I’m not half as bad as my students this year! The course I teach is a tiny tiny course in the first year. Just some terminology of (Dutch) linguistics that’ll serve as a base for the next few years of theory. Really, it’s just getting a hang of the linguistic vocabulary. This is a pronoun. This is an adverb. This is a pronominal adverb (which is only called like that because linguists can’t make up their minds on whether they are adverbs or pronouns, I guess). Now, the grading for the course is a bit peculiar. During the semester, the students have to make tests online (with all their materials available to them), multiple choice. At the end of the semester, there’s also an exam, again multiple choice but this time without their course books and stuff. On a multiple choice test with 4 answer options, you have one chance in 4 that you’ll pass by guessing. So to control for that, students have to get 80% of the questions right to pass the course. Considering that it is such a basic course, I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Also, they only have 7 classes and the course book consists of not even 30 pages. But yet, every class we spent about 15 minutes discussing the grading system. And they’re only first year students! I feel like one of the things you learn at school, is that in some cases, you just smile and nod! You need to learn to pick you battles, right? And battling with me over some silly tests about absolutely basic knowledge for your academic career, that’s just such a waste of time for all of us. So Tuesday, when the students come by, I’m not quite sure yet how to play it. Either I listen to their “concerns” and try to justify the grading system, or I calmly tell them to deal with it. I hope I won’t lose my cool!
Wednesday, I go to the gym and try again for the stupid dissertation. Thursday, same story. Friday,… You know what, I’ll just skip ahead. Friday the 2nd of March is my last day of work before three weeks of holiday. That’s why I wanted to get that first full draft done, that way I could just relax and wait for the reviews to come in with absolutely no worries because there’d be absolutely nothing that would need to get done. I’m annoyed it won’t happen, because it is my own fault. I can be so damn lazy and I stopped enjoying the PhD a while ago, so it’s really hard to motivate myself to do anything. And then I slack. And then nothing happens. And then I don’t make my deadlines. Ugh.
But back to the fun stuff. The 11th of March in particular. Because, the 11th of March will be the first day in my life being married to my soulmate! I’m so excited to start calling him My Husband, put that ring on his finger and show the world that what we have is truly something unique.
As a second-year PhD student, I now have to attend as many conferences as I can and really get my research out there. I’m meeting a lot of fellow academics, from fresh phd-ers like me to the older heroes in the field. And every time again, I feel hilariously out of place. So if you are a fresh academic as well, or if you are new to a job and get the opportunity to go represent your work or company at an (inter)national workshop or conference: here are some tips of what NOT to do. Believe me, I speak from experience.
- If you’re a nervous talker and people are talking shop, stay out of it. Before you know it, you have compared someone’s work on primate vocalisation to the Monkey News on British comedy stars Ricky Gervais, Steve Merchant and Karl Pilkington’s Xfm radio show. Don’t forget: you are not there to have fun. You are there to make people think you are smart. And stories about monkeys stealing cars or getting married are probably not ideal for that particular purpose.
- Know what to talk about during the coffee breaks and dinner for at least one or two intelligent conversations. After all, it would be a shame if no one noticed you and your genius ideas because you were too good at blending in with the furniture. And no, your last holiday is not a good conversation starter. Especially not when you are talking to an established and highly prized researcher. Where other people manage to discus their own research with these very interesting people or ask intelligent questions about Mrs. Professor’s latest paper, I managed to steer the conversation to Mrs. Professor’s cat and knitting work.
- Make sure you know who’s who. As in, it’s slightly to very embarrassing when that one time you are actually talking about your research, you try to make a point by quoting research actually done by the person you’re talking to. Do not say something like “In this paper of Smart Person 2015, he claims that …” to have that same Mr Smart Person give you a vague smile and look just as confused as you do by the time you start realising your mistake.
- Make sure you know who’s important. Don’t go round asking “and what do you do” to the people who have been invited to represent the whole field and give the main talks on your workshop. They sort of expect you to know who they are, turns out.
I think a lot of problems can be solved by a good amount of pre-conference stalking. Look up who’s coming to the conference with you. Actually read the abstracts for the talks. I don’t know, rate them on a scale of importantness and also of relevance to your field? Oh, maybe go full on detective style, maps with pins and yarn connections or something. After all, don’t we all want to pretend we are not just boring academics? Or maybe, that’s just me and that’s where my ridiculous conference encounters stem from…
It is now Thursday and I am quite ready for the summerschool to be over. As opposed to most people here, I don’t really take a lot of classes. I have two sessions in the morning this week, and nothing in the afternoon. But still it’s hard work. There are evening lectures that need attending, there are social obligations. You can never just relax an evening at home, since you have to go out every evening to find food and generally at least half of the evening is work talk.
Also, I’m sort of at that point again where really I can think of a-thousand-and-one things to do next at work. Revising what I saw in the lectures and seeing how it applies to my work, reading some material that sounds very relevant for my research, preparing a presentation for the conference I’m going to in September, and not to forget doing the actual research I was planning to do over summer. And rather than getting a move on, I tend to crash. Add to that the hot Italian temperatures and a sunstroke here and there, and I am very much ready for my holiday to start. But of course that won’t make the heavy work load disappear, sigh.
So I am now trying to get some stuff done in the library (only airconditioned place in town, Halleluja!) I figured I’d start with some small bits and bobs: making sure my new literature and notes are organised well so I know where to look for the info when I need it, making sure I understand everything I’m being taught, and trying to not forget all of the new info instantly. Hopefully tomorrow I can manage to tie up the rest of the loose ends and make a schedule for when I’m back at work, so my holiday can start properly! Because the second the boyfriend arrives on Saturday, it’ll be all hikes and trips and fun nights out 🙂
So I belong to one of those lucky people who get to work from home. Even better, I’m not quite sure if I’m even expected to work! My campus closes for a month over summer (and also two weeks over Christmas and one week over Easter), but that doesn’t mean I automatically have a month off. Just like any other Belgian, I have about 20 days to take off whenever it pleases me.
Now, any other PhD student will happily tell you that taking a month off isn’t the best idea. You don’t ever really want to take a clean break, as you don’t want the ideas you’ve worked so hard on to swim away as you jump in the sea from some Italian cliff, or to whizz past you as you cycle through the Black Forest in Germany, or to simply fall asleep and get left behind when you’re chilling out in some park after lunch. So no, I do not have a month of holidays. But I have to say, life has been treating me well.
Obviously I don’t work my 9 to 5, or even 10 to 4 really. I get up, go to the gym or have a glorious sunny morning run, do stuff around the house or garden, and then I get to work. Under the parasol in our little garden, because yes, it is summmeerrrrrr! And as I sit here working, once in a while, my mind drifts off. Like: I’ll go make some ice cream. Or: oh man there’s a cricket! You know what I mean right, the cicadas that make that holiday sound you just cannot escape when you go south? We don’t really get them here as much, but instant holiday feeling! I located them to the tiny bush of grass by the edge of the garden I’ve been meaning to get rid off. None of that now though, instead I might just see if it grows bigger and attracts more vacation-bugs. Because I might be home and I might be sort of working, but life is not bad at all, and I don’t mind doing this for the rest of summer at all. Who says you need to go on holiday to get the holiday feeling?!
So to summarise: here’s my recipe for a holiday at home:
- 1 or 2 crickets
- A parasol
- Little ice popsicle holders (just mix some yoghurt with that fruit you were gonna throw out because it’s not that fresh anymore but really still quite tasty and stick it in the freezer)
- A load of sunscreen
A new first for me: I’m on a conference! Well, I was today. Now I’m back at the hotel, on my own, contemplating on whether to eat alone in the hotel like many other people, or be adventurous and take on the city centre, being the only weirdo eating alone.
Mind you: I’m in Colchester, Essex, and earlier today, England won a European Championship game against Wales. In other words: it might not be the perfect night to go eat out alone. I used to travel a lot on my own, but two things I never did was eat out alone, and go to the movies alone. And since I want to avoid accidentally ending up in the not so nice and drunk part of town, I might have to opt for hotel food anyways. The healthiest option: a pizza with extra rocket lettuce. Oh well. I guess I’ll just order a laaaaarge glass of wine to go with it! (Yesterday I found it funny you can choose the size of your glass. Now I couldn’t be happier about it.)
As you might guess from my mood writing this, the conference didn’t go so well. I really really tried to stay positive and made the best out of a far from perfect situation, but now I am allowed to crash. To start with, I didn’t get to give a full presentation, only a poster during lunch. I think you will agree: not ideal. Secondly, the presentations planned were not in my area of research at all. Either it was applied linguistics, with a lot of child language acquisition, or it was more formal accounts of different dialects of Arabic. Both very interesting subjects, but not nearly interesting enough to travel half a day and pay all the money to get there. Obviously, when it was poster time, my highly formal and theoretical and typological poster looked well out of place. Hardly anyone came by to ask me about it, and when they did they asked questions like “which language are you studying” (as many as possible, I’m doing typology, duh) and “so what exactly can you do with this” (hello, it’s formal linguistics, you can’t do anything with it but find it interesting, or on a more intellectual node: it helps us understand how languages work in our brain).
All the professors at the conference were nowhere to be found during my poster presentation, and rather than disappointed, I was offended. Someone in their review committee decided my abstract was worth to be presented on a poster. I came all the way from Belgium (I know, not that far, but you’d think so differently when you look at the price of the train tickets) to stand next to a f*ing poster that no one showed any interest at.
So for the next presentation of the invited speaker, I made sure I was noticed. I sat right in front of the bastard who didn’t think my poster was worth five minutes of his time, and asked a nasty question at the end (which I do think was relevant, I wasn’t just being critical for the sake of it). It worked. He asked me who I was after. I introduced myself and managed to get the topic on my research. After five minutes, I gave him my handout and went full-on presenting on him. You know what he said? “Very interesting, what a pity you didn’t get to present.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!?!
It doesn’t matter if you’re young and inexperienced, asking questions will get you noticed and open doors.
Don’t try to open doors that don’t want to be opened: don’t present posters at conferences that don’t really deal with your research anyways.
I still don’t like the idea of eating alone.
I love the idea of a large glass of wine.