Useful procrastination(?)

I jotted down some thoughts about what I wanted to do today this morning.

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I felt good with myself because it included two things I desperately need to do: read and write. Reading I have been very good at lately. I have never really been. But in the last two weeks I have been awesome. I have started to feel I am reading so much and so well just so I don’t have to go into point two of that mini to-do list: writing. I need to write – but everything, right now, seems more appealing. I am, however, not the first person to be in this particular mind loop, judging by the stuff on Shit Academics Say.

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It’s Thursday, and the weather outside, by Glasgow standards, is pretty nice – 13 degrees and clear, sunny skies. I went for lunch and had a long, productive conversation with PhD in AVT, who had just been at a workshop this morning.

Now being at a workshop is dangerous – awesome but unproductive ideas can come to you at any time after you leave the classroom. We discussed a few topics all related to research – mainly related to writing (or to not writing). We have fiddled about with the idea of setting up our own Shut up and write group, but we seem to be still quite immobile as a group – ideas are good, action on them is slow.

The idea that came up from our conversation was to set up a Peer Feedback Group, as a counterpoint to the SU&W idea. We went through all the specific points, and even discussed smaller details when one of our colleagues pointed at particular pitfalls in our plan. So it’s fair to say that what was set up for an afternoon of potential writing (mind you, perhaps one sentence or two), it has now cascaded into putting together a proposal for both our colleagues and the school about our writing group ideas.

This is fantastic, of course. But how much of a distraction is it? Are we awesome at organising communal things or we are just very good at procrastinating?

I am a self-confessed PhD/research-blog-reader. I love reading about research, as opposed to doing any. I love books about reading, and #phdchat and #acwri discussions. Again, as opposed to writing any sort of research. I feel this might be a bit odd (like loving books on literary criticism but not reading any actual literature), but I suppose that if I want to make a career out of this, it’s good to be informed. I am also a keen early adopter of new techniques. If anyone tells me to try something different with my research, I will – even if that implies taking an entire afternoon changing references from one bibliographic system into another. In some ways doing something new, in a different way, is like having a new toy, only in an academic-y, boring environment.

This obsession for new articles to read and new things to try is, in a way, a massive procrastinating factor of mine. I know this. I have assumed the fact that, some times, I just need to read another post about writing or note taking so that I can try it again and see if it works this time. I enjoy this form of procrastination more than dwelling on Facebook or watching videos of cats. It’s terrible. Yet I cannot avoid it.

Does knowing more about the perks of doing research help me do any good research at all? Well, this is a bit of a difficult point to argue. It’s like the old adage of if you can’t do it, teach it. Perhaps it does, perhaps it doesn’t. In certain days, it can definitely get in the way. I try my best to focus on the actual research but there are days that only cats on the internet will occupy my brain span. It’s just the way it is. There’s no point in fighting it at times. What I know, though, is that at least I have a wider knowledge of what is expected of me, and what is involved in conducting research, and hence all the acquired knowledge has guided me towards getting certain things done correctly over the past two and a half years. Or else I have spent some really entertained afternoons pretending I am doing actual research, which is also cool.

I don’t know if our ideas for a Shut up and write and Peer feedback group will work out the way we want to, but certainly they are good initiatives to tackle a problem that me and PhD in AVT seem to have. Which is summarized so well again by Shit Academics Say.

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#alwaysamongrel

The nod of approval

And after a few weeks off and some really lazy Easter antics… I ‘resurrected’. I did it in the back of both good and bad news, but for today, I will only focus on the good stuff. The bad stuff, in the end, has not turned out to be so bad, and it has been positively embedded in the good news. Let me try to be more specific and clearer about what I mean.

Two weeks ago I was told I had been given a scholarship for a project I submitted a few weeks ago. The awarding body is essentially the agents of the polysystem I am currently working on, and it’s meant to take on the project I have been working on for months, and give it a financial push.

This is great news because the Mongrel PhD in me thinks that, at least, half of this year’s university fees will be paid within the next few months and I will be able to breathe out of my overdraft for a couple of months before taking one final plunge into the fee-paying/overdraft pool. I say this many times to my colleagues, but having experienced both sides of the coin, I prefer being short of time than being short of money – time can be expensive, but it definitely does not pay the bills. So getting this award/scholarship is great news from this particular point of view.

The most important thing, however, is not about my temporary exit of the red number balance club. This is an award given to researchers in the field of Catalan studies, about a very specific historical time, and normally involving a particular author, which up until recently, was the main author in my thesis. This is the second time I receive this funding. The project this time is even better than last time around, so I am hoping it will receive even better feedback. I have been assigned a tutor for this, someone who is, very obviously, an agent of the Catalan polysystem. A great authority in the field, who thought that my project was worth investing in. I cannot put into words how much that means to my research. In the last few months of the year (particularly after my first ever article was badly rejected), it became very obvious that my post-doctoral life was outside academia – within an HEI setting, but not as a researcher.

One of the reasons behind it was the lack of funding in Britain anyway. This award is important in many ways, but particularly in the sense that having two funded projects by the Institute of Catalan Studies can only mean that they trust me to deliver as a researcher and that I am good enough to be doing what I am doing, despite certain doubts around the edges.

I can see the irony in all this – perhaps if I was doing my research somewhere else, I would become an academic. The legitimization of my research, this nod of approval from those in a really high status withing my field, is a big deal. And if I was completely over the moon the first time around, this second time around is even better.

Going back to what I outlined at the beginning, the ‘bad news’ of the last month were that my chapter three was, after all the efforts, a piece of unreadable, dodgy research. I need to revisit some of the points and I have taken a completely different approach, an approach that my supervisors have blessed as the potential proof of ‘having found my own academic voice’. This is quite a painstaking process, particularly when my change of direction means that this will no longer be part of my final thesis. However, this is the project that has received the award, making it very much worthwhile to keep on working on it, and grinding through the process, never mind how hard I find it.

The award has provided clarity to my next few months – this project will be done then, and after that I can move into the reality of building the first chapter of my thesis. But at least I know that re-drafting this project for the third time in six months is not a wast of time, but an investment in money. And with those good news, I roll on and start preparing my Annual Progress Review and the defense of my new structure, which will see me put 40,000+ words into the shredder.

Wish me luck.

#stayresilient #alwaysamongrel