Category Archives: 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.

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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.

 

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

Accountability- September

Today is my last day of work for September, my last day of work in my first month back from maternity leave.

What have I accomplished?

  • I have written just shy of 8,000 words of the first draft of a chapter for the edited volume which Q. and I are editing. The chapter is meant to be no more than 10,000. I will be over this in the first draft, but I am not worrying about that at this point.
  • I have entered all of my evidence into my giant spreadsheet, which means I no longer have a million post-it notes in several books, left over from the reading I was able to do in the spring. I’ve also read a few more authors and have added their evidence too. I am not finished collecting evidence, but I’m far enough along with the project that my argument is clear and it makes sense to write at the same time as I read.
  • I have read and provided feedback on some of the other chapter drafts for the edited volume (although not as many as I feel I should have, since our co-editors aren’t doing their work and the lion’s share has landed squarely on Q’s shoulders).
  • I am 25% of the way through the fall semester of my class. I have taught the second half of this class before, but the first semester is new to me, so there is a lot of prep work. I am enjoying the teaching and my anxiety about teaching has largely dissipated now that I have a connection with the students. (I am a very good teacher but I always feel sick before teaching a class, especially in the first couple of weeks. I think it’s a form of performance anxiety. I’m so introverted that even though I genuinely love teaching I have to consciously prepare myself to do it.)
  • I have managed a daily (almost) writing practice on work days. Four days a week, I sit down first thing in the morning with my laptop and write for ninety minutes (or two hours if it is going well). The morning is my most productive time by far and I have fiercely protected my writing time from teaching prep, marking, reading, email, life admin, etc. I have always been an academic writer who think and thinks and thinks and then writes and writes and writes. I wrote my dissertation by not writing for weeks or months at a time and then writing 1,000 words a day (or more) for a few weeks when it was time to produce another chapter. This wasn’t a form of procrastination- it was just how I operated. I thought about my ideas for so long that when it was time to write them up the first draft needed very little to be changed. It worked well with the dissertation, where probably 85% of the finished product is identical to what I first drafted, but it meant I hit a hard wall when it came time to think about making revisions for the book. Admittedly, with this current chapter, I have been thinking about it for months, but I can certainly see a difference in the way that I’m writing. My hope goal is that when I get the draft finished I will be able to just start tinkering with editing the book manuscript, since I will have established writing and rewriting as part of the daily routine. I love to write and hate to edit. I’m trying to change that as it’s become abundantly clear to me that I will never publish if I don’t.
  • I have found places I like to work, particularly a little room on the second floor of one of the smaller libraries of the university that is not mine (but at which I have borrowing privileges).
  • I have completed the first three weeks of the C25K running program (and started week four this morning). That is the most consistent running I have managed since I last completed the C25K program, right before our final FET in the fall of 2014. I have run three days a week every week for three weeks. That should make a habit.
  • I have read five books for fun and am well advanced on a sixth. That is the most books I have read in a month since December 2015.
  • I have mostly stayed on top of our life admin. I have figured out how to pay our nanny; booked a cottage holiday for Thanksgiving; ordered hot lunches for E. at school and signed both children up for activities (swimming lessons and an after school science class for E., music with her nanny for P.); read emails and (mostly) answered them; had my eyebrows waxed and my bangs/fringe trimmed; visited the dentist (twice in two weeks since I am someone who needs to go every three months and I hadn’t been in nine).
  • I went out for lunch with Q., the first of our monthly lunch dates that Q. packed into my tin lunch box on our tenth anniversary, even though we didn’t actually go to the restaurant he had planned as it was so unseasonably warm I insisted we find a patio. I went out for lunch on two other occasions with dear friends whom I never get to see often enough.
  • I ended my work day early once to go and sit in a cafe and drink tea and eat cake and read a book. It was so lovely I had to promise myself I would only do this once a month.

There are still things I am working on. I haven’t quite figured out the best way to use my time in the afternoons when I am tired from the writing and the reading and the deep work but it’s still too early to pack it in for the day. I haven’t solved the problem of how to get up from my desk frequently during the day, particularly since I have to bring my laptop, phone, and wallet with me wherever I go. My original plan was to walk over at lunch time from the small library to the big library, but it turns out I don’t like working in the big library all that much.

I do not feel like I am being a good mother, at least not to the standards to which I hold myself. I am not getting enough sleep because P. is up more than she should be at night and she gets so angry and sad when Q. goes in to try to settle her that it is just easier for me to go in instead and give her the cuddle and the milk that she wants. I am sure I would be better at managing this if I were home more during the day and did not feel as guilty. I am convinced she wakes up because she is missing that connection with me, but it is probably teeth or developmental or habit.

I am not as patient with E. as I would like to be, which is a constant battle made worse by the fact that I feel like I should have so much more patience for him since I now see him less. I have a lot of patience, but there are many days where it is not enough.

I do not always manage to have a real conversation with Q. rather than one about logistics and timings and schedules and house needs and kids needs. This morning I volunteered to take E. to school since I was going to be ready to go at about that time anyway, and then E. took a very long time to brush his teeth so I ended up bundling him out the door and forgot that I hadn’t said a proper goodbye to Q. or given him a kiss.

I still think Q. is doing too much of the housework, but every time I suggest an alternative he restates his position that he thinks it makes sense to just get it all done in one morning. He certainly is doing too much of the cooking, but I have to admit that the nights when I need to cook from scratch are frantic and stressful as it turns out there are very few meals you can cook from scratch with a toddler on your hip who is usually trying to nurse. My idea of “easy weeknight dinners” is not the same as Q.’s, so if he wants to do most of the prep on the weekends, I think I should just gracefully accept.

I am still not sure this is what I want, but I do like having the time and space to think about my research and I can see how difficult it would be to build momentum if I had any less time in which to do that. It’s also extremely difficult for me to rationalize taking any time for myself if I’m working less than four days a week, as I feel that if I’m not with the kids I need to be working, especially if Q. is at home with them.

I am still taking it one day at a time, but, on balance, I think this month has gone well.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Choose Happiness, Life after the PhD, My addled brain, Nursing, Sleep, Who am I really? (Career Angst), Writing

Make Time for Me

I am trying to find the positives in going back to work, even though at this point I really don’t want to go back to work.

It will be nice to have some time and space to think again.

It will be nice to have some quiet. I was home this summer with both kids, and while it was in many ways a lot of fun, it most certainly was not quiet.

It will be nice, I suppose, to think about my research again. Perhaps I will actually make the revisions the press requested for my book (two YEARS ago. Gah.).

Mostly I am looking forward to being able to make the time to exercise and to occasionally have lunch with a friend.

When E. was little, I found it hard to rationalize doing anything for myself that wasn’t work-related, because if I wasn’t home with E., that meant Q. was, and that meant Q. wasn’t working when he should have been. It felt inappropriate and frivolous to use my time away from E. for anything but the PhD.

This time around, it’s different.

Three days a week P. has a nanny. It is the nanny’s JOB to take care of P. She is not supposed to be doing anything else.

So if I want to use an hour of that time to go for a run, or to eat lunch with a friend, I shouldn’t feel guilty, because the only person whose work isn’t getting done at that point is me. In my view, life’s too short to work all the time, even if I’m supposed to be maintaining full-time hours in my research position and I’m already behind by choosing to stay home with P. one day a week.

I do better work when I make time to read for fun, when I make time to run, when I make time for anything other than sitting in a library staring at a computer screen with a pile of books stacked next to me.

This does not make me a particularly good academic, but it makes me a better person and a much better mother.

I don’t want to be back at work next week.

I would much rather still be at home with P.

I would much rather be the one picking E. up after school every day.

But if I’m not going to be able to do that, at least I can try to make sure that my time away from them is well spent.

And that means making time for me, not just for my research.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Life after the PhD, Running

Microblog Mondays: Silent Women

Q. and I ran a mini-conference at our university last week, a workshop for the people who are writing chapters for the book we’re editing. It was an exhausting three days, with me out of the house each day from 9:15 a.m. until after 10 p.m. (except for an hour around bedtime when I would leave the workshop a little bit early to make sure I could get home in time to see E. and put P. to bed before taking a cab to the dinner location).

It was also invigorating: I spent three days listening to interesting papers and talking to interesting people in a very collegial environment (which is certainly not always the case in academia but Q. and I were quite strategic in who was invited to contribute to the volume, operating on a policy of “how many of our friends or people vouched for by our friends can we get involved”). It was wonderful to remember why I did a PhD in the first place, and to devote some time to the academic part of me. And, let’s face it, the chance to have uninterrupted adult conversation and drink hot tea and eat my own food at my own pace without needing to help someone else with their meal was also most welcome. Most people were exhausted by 4 p.m. because everyone had to attend every panel, unlike at a conference where no one will notice if you skip out on a session or two; I kept telling everyone I felt like I was on holiday.

The workshop was very successful and Q. and I feel confident we’re on track to produce a very interesting volume.

But here’s the thing- in the first morning session, there were seven women present (and nine men).

During that two-and-a-half hour session, three of those women said nothing at all. Three of the women spoke once.

And then there was me, who just wouldn’t shut up.

I found myself thinking about this all through lunch. Yes, I am much more well versed in the project and the literature, even while being on maternity leave, because Q. and I have been talking about the book and thinking about the book for two years now- but that holds true in comparison with the men as well. And yes, I was ridiculously excited to be out of the house using my brain, so I was maybe a little bit overeager to participate and a little bit nervous to establish my status (since the draft of my chapter which I submitted had been underdone given I’ve been on maternity leave and I knew it was underdone, although it looked far more advanced than it actually is when compared with some of the others).

The truth is, I’m always going to have something to say. I trust that my thoughts have value. I’m not intimidated by men, even very senior ones.

I sit at the table, and I speak up.

My sisters are exactly the same way. So at lunch on that first day I texted them, telling them what I’d seen and asking them how we’ve ended up being women who will not be silent.

We didn’t really come up with a clear answer, but we agreed that P. will have three fierce role models as she grows up.

The gender discrepancy in the workshop got better in the later sessions, but it never evened out entirely. I made a point of noticing when a woman had her hand up to speak and was being overlooked and made sure to defer back to her when it was my turn. When a female graduate student was brave enough to ask a question in front of several very senior full professors from overseas universities I made a point of finding her during a break to tell her what a great question it had been. And I made a point of telling Q. and our very good friend O. (who was one of those senior visiting professors) what I’d noticed at the end of the first day so that for the next two days they made a point of doing these things too.

Do you sit at the table and speak up? Do you feel valued by your colleagues when you do?

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

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

On sleep, work, the baby, and balance (or haven’t I been here before?)

I find myself reminded on a daily basis that sleep deprivation is a form of torture.

I am functioning, but only just. It isn’t even that P’s sleep is all that dreadful, more that she’s up twice every night so the sleep I do get is always fragmented into three blocks, compounded by her for the last week or so getting up for the day before 6 a.m.

Every morning I find the last line from Samuel Beckett’s novel, The Unnamable rolling round and round in my head (“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”)

I can remember being in a very similar stage at a very similar point during E’s infancy (I wrote about it here). The situation wasn’t identical, of course, but it was eerily familiar: I had a baby who was waking up to nurse twice a night, guaranteeing I couldn’t get a block of sleep longer than four hours, and I had a looming academic deadline. In E’s infancy it was the first chapter of my dissertation. This time around it’s the first draft of the book chapter for an edited volume.

We’re running a workshop for the volume in mid-July and all contributors are meant to have the first draft of their chapter available for circulation by the end of May. Given I’m one of the editors (and Q. is another- the book project is really his baby), there wouldn’t be serious consequences were I to miss that deadline. But that’s certainly not ideal.

When we first organized the workshop and mapped out the deadlines, I can remember thinking (this was before P. was born), “No problem. I’ll start reading and collecting sources in March and then I can write the chapter in May.”

I didn’t seriously believe, you see, that I could end up with TWO babies who would get up twice a night to nurse in the second half of their first year. Surely, I thought, by the time P was eight or nine months old she’d be sleeping better than E was. And then she was such a good sleeper for her first two months that she lulled me into thinking she’d be an easy baby.

Ha.

So here I am, with an academic deadline and a brain that feels like mush, and what really gets me is the whole thing is just so.damn.familiar.

Last time around, when I was assessing the impact of my long-term sleep deprivation, I noticed this:

I’m breaking things.

In the last month, I’ve smashed at least four things in the kitchen- a glass, a port glass, a plate, a bowl. I don’t think I’d broken four things, total, in the previous ten years. They were dumb accidents too- I’d reach for something on the counter and knock something else over instead, or I’d pick something up and drop it on something else. They were dumb enough that each time I remember standing there amidst the shards of glass or pottery, thinking, Really? I just did that?

Yep. I’ve started dropping things or being unable to properly hold them when I go to pick them up. It’s like I’m losing my hand-eye coordination.

And there was this:

I forget things.

I forget everything now, if it isn’t written down, and half the time I still forget it even if it is recorded somewhere. Given I’ve always been the memory of this family (Q. being a very clever man but a very absent-minded professor), this is quite disturbing. It makes me feel weak.

Yep. I forget appointments, plans, ideas, even words. A normal conversation in our house now looks like this:

Q. (wrestling with tangled cables): “We should set up a charging station for the mobile phones.”
Me: “Yes! I want to get one of those…things.” *gestures helplessly* “You know! The things with all the things that you can plug in.”
Q.: “A power bar.”
Me: “Yes! Fuck. I want a power bar for my desk downstairs so I can have a charging station for the iPad and my phone and my laptop.”

I have these kinds of conversations with E. all the time. My FIVE YEAR OLD fills in my vocabulary gap when I can’t remember challenging words like “gate”, “streetcar”, or “upstairs” (these are all real examples).

I invited some of E’s friends and their parents to come on a nature walk with us a couple of weekends ago and got the start time wrong. Luckily it was a beautiful day and the family who came didn’t mind being there thirty minutes early, but still.

I had to take P’s passport application in twice because the first time I went to submit it the nice lady behind the desk had to tell me that not only had I forgotten to sign it (which was easily rectified right there in the office), but I had neglected to get Q. to sign it as well (which was not).

I cannot emphasize enough how NOT LIKE ME these types of things are.

My sense of my innermost self is built on a foundation of BEING ORGANIZED.

I am the one who is always on time for everything. Always. Even with two kids.

I remember appointments.

I fill out forms correctly.

If Q. is the absent-minded professor in our family, I am the steel trap memory.

I know the sleep deprivation is temporary- E has taught me that much.

But its effect is enormously difficult for me to cope with, not just because it makes me bleary and fuzzy and short-tempered each day, not just because it means I cannot imagine how I am going to maintain the needed focus to do the research for this book chapter, let alone actually write the thing, but because it fundamentally erodes a not insignificant part of who I believe myself to be.

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Filed under Life after the PhD, My addled brain, Nursing, P.- the first year, Sleep, Writing

Serendipity

I am not one for believing that things happen for a reason.

I didn’t think like this even before my father’s accident and my stepfather’s death, although I have said to a number of people that if I did believe this sort of thing I would believe that P. was sent to be this horrible year’s silver lining.

Sometimes, though, I can see how it would be tempting to think that the universe every now and then has our best interests at heart.

A few weeks ago I was walking E. to school when one of his old nursery school teachers cycled past. She saw P. in the carrier and stopped immediately to chat- she hadn’t known I was pregnant.

We had a brief conversation, during which she mentioned that she was no longer teaching full-time at the nursery school but was now instead looking after children who are too young to go to the nursery school.

Here’s the thing- I am going back to work in September. I don’t really want to- I would rather be at home for another year, but it’s not feasible for a number of reasons.

Q. has agreed to take one day off a week to be home with P., and I’ll be home for another day. But even the prospect of looking for part-time care for P., three days a week, was causing me huge amounts of anxiety and guilt. Anxiety because I was worried about finding the right kind of care for her, namely a home-based setting with a native English speaker. And guilt because we didn’t need this kind of care for E.- we juggled him between us until he was old enough to go to nursery school- but we can’t do the juggling act again.

I asked her if she would be interested in looking after a 14 month old for three days a week starting in September.

She said that sounded like fun.

I took her phone number and took a little bit longer than I should have to call her because it takes me a long time to do anything right now, especially call people (because I absolutely loathe talking on the phone), but it worked out because even though word had gotten around by that point she had been waiting to hear from me before talking to anyone else. She believes that things happen for a reason, you see. She felt that our meeting had been “meant to be”.

We met up yesterday to discuss the details.

We’re still figuring out a few things, but I think we’re basically sorted. She’s willing to come to our house and she’s happy to pick up E. after school on the days she is working. This is so much better than I was expecting, as you basically can’t get a nanny who’s a native English speaker. We’d been assuming P. would be in an in-home daycare somewhere and then we’d have to find some sort of after-school care for E. And finding a part-time spot can be difficult.

She is a trained ECE.

She has decades of experience with the littlest people.

I worked with her on my duty day at the nursery school for an entire year.

I KNOW how good she is.

And now she’s going to save up all of that love and kindness and energy for my P.

We hit the jackpot.

I might be able to now stop having anxiety attacks about going back to work.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Life after the PhD, P.- the first year, Who am I really? (Career Angst)