Category Archives: Life after the PhD

This week

Some thoughts on my work in December

  • It is exam season here, which means that Q. is refusing to have library dates with me (even though we’re now both free of teaching so we could work together) because if he goes to his office he can work in blissful silence as opposed to the “silence” of many undergraduates “studying” with their closest friends.
  • The library where I work in the mornings most days is still very quiet. The big library is not. I’ve had to shush people on a daily basis (and I am sitting in the SILENT ZONE where no talking of any kind, ever, is permitted, so I have no problem with shushing). The main irritation with exam season for me is that someone else gets the little room I like to think of as my own because they all start studying before 9:30, even on Fridays, and that’s the earliest I can get to a desk.
  • I can accept this, with some bad grace, if the people who take ‘my’ room use it wisely. Today it is occupied by a pair of love-struck undergraduates. They have been cuddling and whispering throughout the morning (I am far enough away not to hear them, but I notice this when I walk past), and are currently both asleep with their heads on the desk.
  • I am looking forward to around the third week of January when all the good intentions for the new semester have worn off and exams seem a lifetime away and the only people left in the libraries are those who are very serious.
  • When I arrived at the little library on Tuesday, one of the librarians was busily taking the ornaments off the Christmas tree at the main entrance. I walked past and then doubled back to confirm that, yes, she was taking them off and not putting them on. The tree went up in the third week of November. Confusing, but when I walked out of the library at the end of the day, the tree was fully decorated again, only now it was much bigger and bushier and it smelt divine. They’d obviously decided that a real tree couldn’t be trusted to survive if displayed any earlier, so they’d set up the fake tree first, even though that made extra work.
  • The tree smells amazing. I love walking past it.
  • I have spent the bulk of my workweek cutting words out of my chapter for our edited volume. It feels weird to consider a day productive when the end result is fewer words on the page, but the chapter was significantly over length, so it had to be done. I’ve cut 2,457 words out in the last three days. Progress, to be sure, but there is more that must be destined for the trash.
  • I have started my book revisions. This should be accompanied by several (nay, copious) exclamation marks, given this is the albatross that has hung around my neck for the past two years (moaned about most recently here and here). What forced me to get started was, I think, a combination of personal loathing (I am so sick of not having finished the book that I think the idea of continuing to not finish the book is now worse than the process of finishing it), the lack of alternatives for procrastination (chapter draft finished- all the tinkering in the world can’t eat up every day of every week), and my newly-formed writing accountability group. At the first meeting, three of my four goals for December were book related. I wanted to work on the book revisions at least an hour a day once my seminar paper was over, I wanted to have completed all the “easy” revisions my readers recommended, and I wanted to have started a new file on my computer for the second draft (which ought to be the most absurdly simple goal to meet, but the very act of starting a new file and thus BEGINNING the revisions was something which had become a huge mental block). I am motivated to not embarrass myself, and so stating these goals to the other members has meant that now I am on track to meet all three goals.
  • Before starting the revisions, I forced myself to read the readers’ reports again. For two years now I have operated under the knowledge that there was a good review and a bad review. Reviewer B really quite liked the book and thought I should be offered a contract once I had completed the (relatively minor) revisions. Reviewer A didn’t like the book all that much and had doubts about whether it ought to be published, even with significant revisions. The funny thing is that once I read them again, I realized this wasn’t quite true. Both readers had similar criticisms about the book overall: they both felt the middle four chapters were the strongest, and they both, quite rightly, felt that I suffered too much from the dissertation anxiety of “must include everything!” and used too many examples and discussed those examples at far too great a length. Reviewer A’s most serious criticism largely stems from (I think) a misunderstanding of my argument, which itself stems from the way I did (or did not) define my terms and organize my ideas. Two years of ignoring the reports has meant that I’ve created enough distance between myself and my dissertation that consigning large sections of it to the trash now seems like the obvious right thing to do instead of an unimaginable horror. I don’t think I could have made the revisions in late 2015 and early 2016 even if my life had not been derailed by pregnancy/father’s accident/stepfather’s terminal cancer; I think I would have still been too close to it. But now I have another project which I’m enjoying, and the dissertation is no longer sacrosanct. Between the two reports, the report from my external examiner (who also felt the middle four chapters were the strongest), and my own sense of what needs to be changed, I think I have a strong (and not too contradictory) framework for going forward. It will still be a lot of work, of course, especially once the easy revisions are complete and I have to get down to the business of editing, but it now seems manageable, and provided I keep telling my accountability group what I intend to do, I will have no choice but to do it.
  • And now I must go and open that new file and complete a few more revisions. To close, a different kind of Christmas tree (spotted in the big library, along with a sign explaining the history of the books used, because of course):

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Books, Life after the PhD, Writing

Too Busy

I missed my 30 posts in 30 days goal by three posts. I got pretty close, and I even had ideas for two posts that would be quick and easy but still have some substance, but the last two days of the month were so crazy blog posts were never going to happen.

Tuesday I got home from teaching around 9:45 p.m. and went straight to bed. P. slept through from 7 (or thereabouts) to some time after 6 for the second night in a row. I nursed her and she went down again. She woke up on Wednesday morning one minute before our nanny arrived at 8:20.

Amazing, no?

Well, no. It turns out P. was sleeping like mad to try to fight off the HFM she’d picked up from Spud, as when I got home on Wednesday there was a note from our nanny that she thought P. was getting a yeast infection because she had a few spots in her diaper area.

It wasn’t a yeast infection.

P. woke up covered in spots on Thursday morning (after being up five or six times that night). She was only up twice last night and is covered in more spots today. Some of them seem to be crusting and drying already so I’m hopeful she’ll fight it off quickly. She is eating well and is mostly cheerful for everyone else (and is a total mess when I’m around). E. is still healthy, thank goodness. Q. and I are both sick but I think we just have end of semester colds. Q. had a sore throat one day and I’ve had a super runny nose but no fevers and no spots to report for either of us.

So Wednesday I dropped E. at school and then got straight into the car to drive to meet my mother so we could house hunt. We were supposed to be on a fact finding mission- trying to narrow down what Mum really wants.

We did that admirably as Mum ended up putting in a successful offer on a townhouse!

It worked out so well- we were in the complex to look at another place (which had just come back on the market after a conditional sale had fallen through) and her agent said that this one had just come onto the market the day before and was significantly less expensive. She felt we should go and compare. The less expensive one was also MUCH MUCH nicer inside. The basement hadn’t been as finished but the main two floors were beautiful- Mum could just move in and not even have to paint.

The funny thing is that the day before, when the agent had sent through the listing for the one that wasn’t as nice, I’d looked at the pictures and thought, “Gee, I can really see Mum living there.”

Then we went to see three condos, the last of which was empty, so we stood in it for a while and discussed. Ultimately Mum really didn’t want to move to a condo. She hadn’t liked the downtown. She really wanted some outdoor space. She needed a townhouse. And she really liked the nice one.

Mum and I went for lunch (where we independently decided to order the exact same thing) and labmonkey looked up transit routes for us while the real estate agent went back to her office and emailed us other examples of townhouses in that complex that had sold in the last few months. It was clear the nice one was massively under priced and that the complex itself was in a great location.

It was also clear that the middle units had a different layout from the end units so we decided we needed to see the other layout (there was a third unit in the complex that was also back on the market after a conditional sale had collapsed due to financing).

Here is the part I am most proud of: while we were waiting for the agent to call us back to tell us whether we could go and see the third unit, we were also trying to figure out whether I should cut and run because I had to leave basically right then to have any chance of avoiding the traffic.

I was considering doing it so I wouldn’t miss three bedtimes in a row (even though Q. was totally fine with that happening). I was super tired. I hadn’t finished my seminar paper yet.

And then Mum started to crumple too. “You bail and I’ll bail and we can get back before dinner and we’ll just tell the agent we don’t want to see that other place,” she said.

I pushed right back and told her she had to see that other place because if she didn’t see it she wouldn’t be in a position to put an offer in on the nice place and it was going to sell that day because there were already offers on it. And then our agent called and we could get in to see the third unit in half an hour and I decided to stay because I knew if I didn’t stay Mum wouldn’t be able to make any decisions- she was getting overwhelmed and frazzled.

So we saw the third unit and it was a total non-starter. It was clear the layout in the other two was much better even if the kitchen was a bit tucked away. We conferred with labmonkey (who had realized the transit was even better than she had originally thought). We agreed on an offer price (above the price of the not as nice one, but not by much). And then I did finally get in the car and drive home (which took over two hours but I knew it would). On the drive home I talked to labmonkey and my other sister, and to Q., and to the mum of E’s best school friend who was trying to organize summer camps (HOW can it be time to think about this??!!).

I got home just in time to nurse P. and put her in the crib. Then I got E. in bed, and ate a late dinner with Q. I was just clearing up the dishes when I learned from our agent that the offer had been successful and Mum had a new house!

We went to bed a bit after 10 and I could not get to sleep. I was excited and stressed about the new house and worried about P. and my paper. I saw the clock at 11:37 p.m. and then I fell asleep. P. had woken herself up and resettled a couple of times while I’d been trying to fall asleep so I suspected I was in for a rough night (which was true).

Thursday I was up early because P. woke up and needed to nurse again around 5:30 and then I didn’t get back to sleep because I started thinking about house stuff. I really hadn’t slept well- lots of tossing and turning when not getting up to deal with P. My cold was getting worse.

I took E. to school, came home, spent 90 minutes making the handout for my paper and 50 minutes finishing it (I needed to write a conclusion, streamline the introduction and generally edit in a few places). Then I nursed P. before her nap, showered, dressed in my good clothes, printed my paper and handout, paid our nanny, and jumped in the car. While in the car I ate an apple and a Lara bar.

It poured rain the whole time I drove (to another nearby city- I cannot believe some people do these kinds of commutes every day). While I drove I talked to Mum and labmonkey about financial stuff to do with the house. I’d left later than I wanted to but I got there exactly on time. I met with a grad student (I had a caffeinated tea because I was seriously flagging) for an hour, then had twenty minutes to look over my paper (during which time I also called my other sister to talk financials and read a worrying email about my father). Then I went to the departmental wine and cheese where I ate some cheese and drank 1/4 of a glass of wine. Then I gave my paper and spoke for 50 minutes and answered questions (not very many in the end, but I thought the paper went well).

By the end of the paper I was a wreck. I was light headed and shaky and I thought I was running a fever. But I think I was probably just hungry and tired because we then went out for dinner and I felt a lot better. I drove the other two people to the restaurant and they had to stand around while I pulled out a car seat (because I had cut things too fine in the morning to get it out before I left) and then cleaned up the sea of plantain chips and Cheerios I found lurking beneath it. We had a nice dinner out and then I got back in the car to drive home again.

I got home around 9:45. Q. was already in bed. The kids were asleep. I pottered around a little bit getting unpacked and organized until the adrenaline had worn off and then I crashed.

Today was supposed to be quiet as I’m home with P. and E. has no school but is out for most of the day on a special adventure with the nanny, but P. has been a wreck all day (still spotty, obviously not feeling well, and suffering from major Mummyitis) and I’ve been trying to organize the lawyers for the house purchase. So it’s been one of those days where I’ve felt like I’ve been rushing around like a maniac but not accomplishing very much.

Still. End of semester. It’s December. The crazy week is over.

I made it!

3 Comments

Filed under Family, Life after the PhD, Money Matters, The Sick

Strength in Numbers?

A few weeks ago, after I’d taken the quiz to find out my BASE in terms of my writing (the link to the quiz is in my other post and I’ll wait while you go and take it because it’s really neat), I sent an email out to two of my female colleagues/almost friends to ask if they wanted to join a writing accountability group.

I sent the email partly because I was experimenting with improving my social skills for my writing, but also because I’d come to realize in the first month of my postdoc that I needed to be accountable to someone other than myself if I was going to make any progress on my book.

I was a model of productivity for my postdoc…right up until the point where I largely finished the first draft of the chapter I’ve been writing for the edited volume and needed to turn my attention to my book revisions.

And then I stalled.

I tinkered.

I read books related to both projects.

I decided to try to post 30 times in 30 days on this blog, which counted as writing time, but not the writing that would help get the book revisions finished.

I did not want to get started on the book revisions, the revisions I’ve needed to do since August 2015.

And it was too easy to refuse to start them (again) because if I didn’t start them, the only person I was letting down was myself.

If I didn’t write the chapter for the edited volume, I was hurting my co-contributors, but I was also hurting my co-editors, one of whom is Q.

I’m not going to disappoint Q. if he’s counting on my work for his own project.

Plus, the first draft of something is what I like to write the best, so it was easy to sit down at the keyboard and let all the ideas that had been burbling around inside of me come flowing out.

I already did that with my book. The result was my PhD dissertation.

I hate editing my work. HATE. IT.

And I hate being rejected by people. HATE. IT.

So it’s been unbelievably easy for me to just not do the revisions because they combine two of my least favourite things.

If I don’t take the risk to put myself out there, I don’t have to face the consequences of being rejected.

Somewhere in late October I realized that this situation was never going to change if I didn’t change the circumstances under which I was operating, because although I occasionally lay awake at night wondering if the editor at Esteemed University Press ever wondered where my book was (answer: no, because said editor has many other books to deal with and many, many other academics who haven’t done their revisions either), and I knew I would disappoint my supervisor (and, let’s face it, Q.) if I never published the book, ultimately it just wasn’t a strong enough motivating factor.

I’d hit the point with that research where I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I was convinced that everything I had to say was bleedingly obvious and that any attempt on my part to publish said research would expose me for the fraud I am (see earlier post on imposter syndrome). The idea that if I published the book people might read and disagree with the book (or, worse, think the book was pointless) was paralyzing.

So I emailed two other women whom I knew were in the same boat (actual sentence from our meeting: “I invited both of you to join because we all have the same albatross around our neck.”).

Last Friday we had our first meeting.

We talked a bit about why we were there. One of us has trouble writing but loves to edit. One of us has no trouble writing but hates to edit (that’s me). And one of us has trouble with both.

We talked about the emotional, physical, and psychological toll NOT HAVING A BOOK in a monograph-centric field has taken.

We talked about how our colleagues would never take us seriously (even the one of us who is tenured) without a book.

We talked about how much we hated our research, how fear and shame were the only forces that drove us forward, how we were paralyzed by our own self-doubt.

“This is a very surreal experience,” one of them said after I’d spent several minutes explaining how I felt like I had to finish the book even though I didn’t want to finish the book because I didn’t want the people who knew me to stand around talking about me in five years saying how it was such a shame I’d never produced a book. “It’s like I’m hearing my own voice come out of someone else’s mouth.”

We’re going to try to help each other get through this and get our books done.

We set short-term goals for our next meeting (late December) and medium-term goals for where we wanted to be by the end of July 2018.

If we don’t do what we’ve said we’re going to do, we have to turn up to the next meeting and tell the others why we didn’t.

Shame and fear, yes.

But support and camaraderie too.

It might just work.

 

2 Comments

Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Books, Life after the PhD, Writing

Microblog Mondays: Care Less

I am giving a seminar paper this week at my new department. I (foolishly) volunteered to give a paper earlier in the fall, back when I felt guilty about spending so little time there as their new postdoc.

At the time it seemed like a great idea, although it’s felt like a progressively less great idea the more time I’ve spent writing the paper; it felt like a downright terrible idea this morning when I managed to crash Word while trying to figure out how to insert accents: I not only failed to learn how to type the accents I needed but I also lost two good paragraphs (which could not be retrieved even after much Googling of where the Autosave document ought to have been).

I was happily writing my paper last Friday when a horrifying thought occurred to me: I don’t know most of the people in this new department. At my home university I’m a known entity; I give good papers which emerge from good ideas. At the new place my supervisor knows I’m a decent scholar, but I’m a stranger to pretty much everyone else, including the Chair.

For a moment I found myself paralyzed by the thought that I might make an ass out of myself. It was imposter syndrome (something which I have struggled with for my entire academic career: see here, here, oh and here too) rearing its ugly head. I allowed the usual thought process – I might say the wrong thing! They might ask me about my translations! I’ll be exposed as a fraud who knows nothing! I’ll embarrass my home department, my supervisor, and Q.! – to wash over me.

And then I quashed the negative thoughts.

I am giving a paper about a project I’ve been working on for several months (and have been thinking about for a couple of years).

I will know more about my subject than anyone else in the room.

I will be fine.

And (and this was the most freeing thought of all, largely because I’ve never managed to think it and believe it before) even if I make an ass of myself and they think I’m an idiot, I don’t really care. My future in the profession (if there is a future for me in academia) does not depend on their good opinions of my work.

It was amazing how much better I felt after that.

Are you plagued by imposter syndrome too? What do you do to counteract it?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

5 Comments

Filed under Anxiety Overload, Life after the PhD, Microblog Mondays

How To Stop Sitting

When I went back to work (two months ago, already!), I very quickly reached one inescapable conclusion:

I sit too much.

Not just in a “gee, I should get up more often” sense.

We’re talking “sit down in the chair and don’t get up again until four hours later” SERIOUS sitting.

Even though I figured this out very early on, I haven’t found any satisfactory way to solve the problem (and I know it’s a problem- I know sitting is really really bad for me).

I incorporate a walk into my commute- I try to walk to and from the station each day (barring extreme weather and/or running late to relieve the nanny). With dropping E. off at school in the mornings as well, it means I’m walking close to 4 km in a day.

In between those walks, however, I sit, in one library or another, at one desk or another, writing or reading. It all looks the same: me, sitting in a chair, hunched over my laptop or a book (although I try to be better with posture these days, especially since reading Amy Cuddy’s Presence).

The contrast between those work days and my day at home with P. could not be more stark. When I’m home with P., I have exactly one point in the day where I sit: when she is napping and I can prep my class. I make tea, sit down at the kitchen table, and usually don’t get up again until she wakes up because I’m trying to squeeze as much work as I can into those two hours (give or take thirty minutes). The rest of the day finds me chasing after her, prepping meals, cleaning up after meals, taking E. to school, picking E. up after school, taking both kids to a park, etc. etc. I go up and down our stairs easily 20 times a day.

In my original work plan, I’d intended to change work locations at lunch time each day, which would add in a ten minute walk from one library to the other. I haven’t done well with sticking to this, largely because I don’t like working in the big library because people don’t respect the silent zones. The library where I do like to work is almost always silent, and there’s a little room on the second floor with just enough space for one desk, with a window that overlooks the gardens where I eat lunch on nice days. I think of that room as “mine” and if I get in too late in the morning to claim it, I will set myself up as close to it as possible, ready to pounce if its occupant vacates.

Working in the little room means I can stand up at my desk and stretch without feeling silly, but it also means I can surreptitiously eat my lunch without having to go outside (which will become a pressing issue as the weather gets colder).

The fundamental issue is, regardless of which library I’m working in, it’s not an office.

If I want to get up, even just to refill my water bottle or go to the bathroom, I have to take all of my valuable belongings (laptop, wallet, phone) with me, which means I have to take my backpack (to carry my laptop) while still leaving enough items strewn around on the desk to show that the room is still occupied. My coat is helpful in this regard, but not if I’ve had to take it with me to go for a walk beyond the building.

Going for a walk, even a short one, is a bit of a process, and so I tend not to do it unless I have no other choice.

Q. has this year started working almost entirely in his office at the university (as opposed to only going in when he had to teach). Partly this is because he’s realized how easy it is to swim there, and partly it’s because the transit is about to get much more convenient and make the commute almost as short as it is to get to the other university downtown, but it’s also because he can work in his own private space in peace and quiet and if he wants to get up to do something, he just has to lock his office and everything inside is secure.

In a stark illustration of the differences between the lives of the tenured professors (like Q.) and those who teach classes on contract (like me), I have access to an office at the university for exactly four hours a week. The first hour is directly before my class and is my office hour when students can come to see me with their questions. The other three hours allocated to me are when I’m teaching (and can’t make use of the office). I’ve figured out this bizarre scheduling holds true for everyone assigned that office, which means I can perch in the office for two hours before my office hour without disturbing anyone, as the individual who technically has rights to the office at that point is teaching.

Yes, it’s absurd.

One eventual solution for me will be to work at home more, because at home I can make snacks and make tea and check the mail and find the cat and do any number of myriad things that distract from my work but also get me out of my chair. Provided I’m disciplined about when I take those breaks (and about how long they last), it’s a good system. It doesn’t work well right now with P. at home with her nanny- the house is too noisy and I’m trapped downstairs in the basement to make sure that P. doesn’t realize I’m there- and I will always have to clear out of the house before the kids get home from school if I’m not the one picking them up, but there are plenty of options near my house that would be suitable for a couple of hours work late in the day (when I’ve already used up my capacity for deep work).

Until then, I need to figure out ways to stop sitting.

Any suggestions?

4 Comments

Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Life after the PhD

What’s your BASE?

A post came through my Feedly today from The Thesis Whisperer reviewing Helen Sword’s new book on academic writing (Air and Light and Time and Space: How Successful Academics Write). The review started by asking how my writing was going and then asked if I wanted to reflect on my behavioral, artisanal, social, and emotional writing habits. To do so only required me to answer four questions to discover my profile.

I feel extremely time-poor at the moment but I was reading the post on my phone while waiting for the temperamental photocopier in my department, so I needed no time at all to decide to click on the link and take the quiz. (Do you want to take it too? It’s here and it’s really cool. I’ll wait!)

My first result was The Axe Head. Then I decided to take the quiz again, giving myself a lower score for the B (behavioral habits) because while my writing habits have been fairly good for the last six weeks, before that they were dreadful, and they’re still pretty dreadful for any writing that isn’t related to my research.

Changing that one variable gave me The Mountain instead.

The really interesting thing was when I looked up the other profiles. That page also lists the relative frequency of each profile. It turns out that The Mountain is the second most common (after The Pebble, which is the profile where you identify as unhappy with every single one of your writing habits, which says something about how academics tend to feel about their writing).

The Axe Head was one of the rarest.

It didn’t take me too long to figure out why that probably is- to get the Axe Head you have to score yourself highly in artisanal and behavioural habits, but low in social and emotional habits. Leaving aside the social habits variable, this profile means that you think you are a good writer, and you are a productive writer, but you feel stressed and anxious when you write rather than joyful. It strikes me that it must be hard to feel consistently negative about your writing if you are doing a lot of it and you think you are good at it. Writing begets more writing, and the more you write the easier it becomes to write. That has to improve your emotional outlook.

I’m also not remotely surprised that The Mountain is so common. That’s the profile of people who give themselves a high score in the artisanal category but low scores everywhere else (i.e., people who believe they are good writers but don’t make the time to write, don’t have support, and associate negative emotions with their writing). Knowing that you are a good writer but not writing definitely brings on negative emotions, at least in my experience.

The site also points out that “your Writing BASE may change its dimensions from day to day, from project to project, and even from one type of writing to another”, which aligns with my current profile- an Axe Head for my academic writing and a Mountain for everything else.

For me the next step is obvious: more writing, both academic and otherwise. I know from experience that when I am writing regularly and fluently I do experience enormous joy.

Next up- The Lone Wolf!

Did you discover your BASE too? Tell me your profile in the comments, and whether or not you found this as interesting as I did.

3 Comments

Filed under Books, Life after the PhD, Writing

Microblog Mondays: Planning Ahead

I’d been doing really well with Microblog Mondays until September arrived and my new academic year started. I think I’d only missed one or two in 2017 before Labour Day. Since then it’s been a struggle, as evidenced by the fact that I’m writing this on Tuesday morning in the spare fifteen minutes I have before meeting with my postdoc supervisor (for the first time since the postdoc started on 1 September- we’re pretty relaxed about the whole thing and she recognizes I don’t want to drive the 90 minutes it takes to get to her university any more often than I have to).

It’s a combination of being home with P. on Mondays (and thus having very little time to myself), teaching on Tuesday nights, and trying to keep teaching prep and marking from eating into my regular working hours on Tuesdays. This means I spend P’s nap on Monday and Monday nights frantically making a PowerPoint, creating an answer sheet for the exercises from the chapter(s) I’m teaching that week, adding grades to the spreadsheet, etc. I should also spend Sunday nights working on the course as well, but I’m usually so tired by the end of the weekend that I opt to watch something on Netflix with Q. instead.

All that to say I think I need to start writing these entries on Fridays.

Have you had to suddenly change up your routine this fall? How do you figure out what needs to change and where you can fit it all in?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Life after the PhD, Microblog Mondays