The little kingdom of unimportant research topics

Originally posted on May 17th, 2013

Only when you think that your research is getting to that point where no one will ever understand why it’s important, and when you doubt of its own relevance and interest, some magnificent things occur to make you change your perspective, or at least brighten your day.

Three things in particular have happened over the last two days, and all three have given a positive kick to my ultimate procrastinator mood. First, I was at a seminar yesterday. Well, it was in fact two seminars, but for me it felt like they were part of the same thing. They were organised by the University of Glasgow and Shinton Consulting. I had seminars by Shinton before, and they are really good, especially in the sense that they get you to interact with other people that, for one reason or another, might have encountered the same problems as you when doing research. At one point during the day, I was on the spot of explaining, as if presenting a poster, my whole research in 1 minute. It had to start with the hook of “why is it important, and why are you doing it?”. Whilst scrapping for words, I found myself explaining a part of my research that I have had inside but that has not yet developed into being: the reception of Russian 19th century classics into the Catalan context of the 1930s. It definitely seems easier and more attractive that having to mention an unknown “that author” (since people outside the Iberian studies have no clue of who Rodoreda is) and her connections with Russia. I guess it’s just a way of explaining it. All of a sudden, as I was done, one of the girls that was listening commented that it seemed like a really good yet very complex research, and asked how I was coping with the language interference (or something along those lines). My reaction was “well, I don’t really have a problem with that”. Which made me see that the problems I have or might have have nothing to do with what other people might think. And it was great to see that somebody thought that what I am doing is interesting. For a change.

Today, a completely random yet cheering story. As I was making this woman some coffee, she asked where I was from, and of course the chat went on and she said that she had been studying for a year in Catalonia, in an inland, very traditional and of course only Catalan speaking. We spoke for a while, and then she asked me if I go back to Barcelona often. I answered I had just been on a research break, and of course she was interested in knowing what I was researching. So I used the hook from the day before, and took 30 seconds to roughly explain what I am doing, which she deemed to be very interesting. That, again, cheered me up greatly. Straight after I had said this, the next customer, a nice American guy who I had spoken to previously, said out loud “Well that makes me feel better, welcome to the random topics of research” (or something along the lines). I felt his pain, and I thought it was funny yet very true, that some times we pick stuff and then we ourselves realise that those topics might seem of very little interest (or hard to explain why they are interesting) to other people. So he was my third “fan”.

This support comes with great timing, especially when things around my research are slightly shaky due to unforeseen personal (more like mental really) reasons. It has been hard going back to work after submission, especially considering the amount of hospitality work I have had, and the pushing stress of the new house. I have identified that I am stressed, and I am learning to cope with it. I know that I am procrastinising and avoiding work, but I think that I have perhaps found some ways to gain back the edge into the project. Certainly these small boosts of confidence help.

The hard(er) way

Originally published on May 14th, 2013

Two different people have tried to appeal to me lately commenting that my methodological approach to research might not be ideal. The words have been similar to “trying harder”, or attempt to do things in a way that one works more yet gets a better outcome. I somehow do not know how to reply to comments of the like.

I wish to be polite, rather than having to play the victimist card that I could so easily use but I refrain from most of the time. Just because I laugh off being self-funded and working all the time, that doesn’t really give anybody the right to laugh out loud about such a situation. I feel I am standing on the border that delimits full-time study from full-time employment (with flying quotes, of course) and my priorities are shaky. This all creates a massive burden of elements that should go in a different way but, because of the current circumstances, are not.

I’ve had to find my own way, my own methodological approach to research, because starting from the point that I do not study 9 to 5, five days a week, because I do not have the economic means to do so, I am doing everything differently from any other PhD student. That does not make me better, at all. But I would never bring into question anyone’s methods, we are all different. I have to bend the rules because that has been the whole bottomline of this course so far: no funding in the current circumstances means drop out and limbo. For me it means work harder, and nothing will stop you, and it clearly hasn’t. Not only I have learnt to love and appreciate myself and the results of my work this year, I have also learnt how to draw a leaf on the top of a caffe latte.

Ironically, this all comes in the week in which I have fully paid off my first year of research. £3,450, well spent I want to believe. Some rules are meant to be broken.