Emotions and sonnets to gravel #focussheffield

I have just been to an intriguing conference held at the University of Sheffield on Advanced Visual Research Methods.  I am not going to review the whole two day conference, but just pick on a small part of it.  On the second day we spent a lot of time on one session, we had the choice of which session it was and I chose one called Making Emotions: materiality in visual research.

We began by drawing designs and patterns on paper in charcoal.  We had been discussing emotions and I thought I would try and capture my social awkwardness and insecurity when I am at conferences and talking about my academic work.  This is what I drew-

Original design

Original design

We talked briefly about the designs as a group (it was a nice small group, only about seven of us) and voted on the 21 designs to pick two to make into sculptures.  Mine was one of those picked.  We split into groups to make the gravel sculptures and I was told that we shouldn’t work on our own designs.  I was handing over my design to people I didn’t know and people who didn’t know what it was all about.  What would they do to it?

During the next part I worked on someone else’s sculpture design. I wondered what the story behind it was as I made it, my hands were shaking at times to make sure I was pouring the coal dust accurately.  The gravel sculptures were made from limestone chippings and coal dust.   I kept glancing over to the other, “my”, sculpture to see what they were doing, but I was really aware that I couldn’t say anything. Between the artist and the other delegates they had taken out the lines and only left circles.  However, there was a discussion going on about the lines. To my relief they had put some lines in.

Gravel sculpture

Gravel sculpture

We discussed the production process of the gravel sculptures together, and the acts of co-producing work.  It occurred to me that just listening to someone describe emotion is not enough.  The extent of their feelings is incredibly difficult to capture and so easily misinterpreted or overlooked.  Using materials and creative process such as gravel sculptures provides an additional conduit for communication.  Then, it was taken a step further – we were asked to write sonnets to our sculptures.

Here is mine, to the sculpture above (apologies to poets as it is not quite right):

Your concept makes so much sense to me now
Circles and lines so clear and curved
I understand the why, where, when and how
The stark contrasts of black and white reserved

I worried you were in the others hands
Would they understand what you were about
Could they do you justice made out of sands
Or would they miss parts of you out

But the end result made me see as new
How my research and participants will
Allow me to get a different view
And make me aware that others will fill

My research with some unique perspectives
There is no need to follow directives

It is cheesy – I am aware of this – but in the process of this I realised that I had to think quite hard about the right words to describe things and maybe think around them a little to make them fit in.  I realise I might also be quite late to this party, but it has shown me that methods can be varied.  Being able to actually take part in the methods and not just be spoken at for an hour at a time was also invaluable.  I look forward to the next one!

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Succeeding as a ‘non traditional’ student

This is lovely, I am a non-traditional part time student as well and he hits all of the nails on the head with this advice.

The Thesis Whisperer

This post is by Colin Cohen, who completed a doctorate at the School for Health in the University of Bath in south west England. Colin is what we call in the trade a ‘non traditional student’: older, part time and not working in an academic field. Many people have talked to me about what an isolating experience this can be. Colin successfully completed his doctorate, faster than many others do: I think we can all learn something from this post – especially number 2.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 10.27.59 amThis post is about the challenges of undertaking a part time doctorate, whilst working full time in a non-academic setting where I felt isolated from a learning environment. In particular it is focussed on how I tried to maintain momentum and motivation. I offer some suggestions about what worked for me, and hope that people who read this might avoid some of the mistakes I made…

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Writing: practice makes perfect! 

I have been up to Sheffield for my supervision meeting this month, clutching 3000 words about museums, emotions and experience that I had written.  I am aware that writing is not my strong point.   In the past I have been told I was too matter-of-fact (at school) and then I was told I waffled too much (during undergrad) and then I just didn’t think I was very good.  During my MRes I read a book on how to write essays.  Then I wrote an essay that earned a distinction.  Unfortunately this has all fallen out of my head and what I write now tends to be a brain dump of ideas. 

Our discussion about writing went along the lines of practice makes perfect.  Writing has rules and formulas to make it easier for the reading to understand the ideas that the writer is trying to put across.  Writing needs practice in the same way as a musician needs to practice.  

So, back to the blank page, or at least back to the planning stage.

My next month’s task is not to read about museums, but to read about writing.  Then apply some of that reading to my own writing.   I was asked what I enjoy doing.  In this context I like making lists (don’t judge me!), so I am going to plan my writing in list form and then write a complete section of that list.  Small steps, like practicing scales. 

I know that there are a number of PhD students who write about writing and give a range of advice about it.  I learnt today that no one is a great writer naturally.  Some people are better than others but everyone needs to practice and that is nothing to be ashamed of. 

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Juggling and it’s consequences

Juggling... (c) Dr Seuss

Juggling…
(c) Dr Seuss

This last month has been a little hectic.  I am a full time employee and a part time PhD student.  I am not new to studying while working, in fact my two master’s degrees were completed in this way.  I have found though that the workload (which is my creation, rather than anyone elses) is doubled.  I want to do more reading, more writing and more critical thinking about subjects.  I keep getting sidetracked by subjects that are almost the one I am looking at.  All of that is fine – when I have the time.

I have just spent the last 6 weeks recruiting and training the latest batch of student ambassadors for the university.  This involves talks, applications, assessment centres, then three Wednesdays of training to make sure they are knowledgeable and smiley enough to put in front of visitors.  I have managed to get this done within working hours, so no late nights at work to distract me from studying in the evening.  However, as there isn’t any thinking time during the day.  There is always a task that needs doing that requires some brain power.

Now, many people may be thinking that this is what work is always like, but spend 5 minutes contemplating this.  On a normal day I have a list of things I need to do and I work through them.  There is time in between to have a chat to a colleague, someone drops in and so you stop and chat to them, you finish a task and there is some time to think about the next one, you have time to react to the unexpected and change your plans .  There were days in the last 6 weeks when this didn’t happen, one task finished, straight onto the next one.   It left me exhausted, a couple of nights I went to bed at about 8pm because “my brain had stopped braining”.  (I actually said that one night when I ran out of words!)

This impacted on my PhD work.  I could do the reading, that wasn’t a problem at all, but I had a massive case of writer’s block.  I had the information in my head and in my notes, but could not get it onto a page in any sensible fashion.  Luckily that time is done (until next time).

I have come to terms with this, it is alright to have a month where only reading happens.  As long as there is some progress!

I now have my upgrade paper to begin.

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Status: In Class

I explain degrees as a pyramid usually, the higher the degree the smaller your range of knowledge. This sums it up nicely!

instaphd

Source: phdcomics.com

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Thoughts arrive like butterflies…

Butterflies coming out of head

I have been reading some texts that I find a little more challenging than others.  I think this is because of the language and concepts within them, it makes me have to read every word rather than skim through and get the idea of what it is all about.   While reading these kinds of texts I get ideas, almost like moments of clarity among the fuzz of information.   I do worry sometimes that these ideas and concepts will just fade away and I will never remember them again.  They do come back though, when I reread a passage I have marked in that book, the idea returns and I can write it down.

I said last night that I needed a beekeepers hat to stop the thoughts flying away like butterflies!  The response I got was Pearl Jam lyrics-

Even flow, thoughts arrive like butterflies
Oh, he don’t know, so he chases them away

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Here is something I made earlier…

I was looking at some of my old posts and noticed that I mentioned new shelves and how I might not get around to ever having them.  Well, I have new shelves. Home made by my own fair hands.  I am quite proud of them. 

   

         

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