‘Tis the season to go to workshops

After six months of very little contact with my academic fellows (outside my school, that is), in two weeks I will be starting my “workshop season”. Not that I am giving any workshops myself (I would love to give the Time Management one, I have to admit it), but rather I will be attending four in five weeks. That is a rather high ratio considering I only attended two last year (the required ones according to the regulations).

I feel that workshops really help me connect with other College of Arts students, so I actually enjoy attending, even if I am not particularly fazed with the topic. I sometimes attend just to tick the box, I have to admit it. But yet again, I try to attend as many as I can, and having been at university for three years already, it is hard to pick a workshop I have not done yet.

This year, however, the workshops I have lined up are incredibly relevant to what I am doing. Their timing could not be better, really. First, I have How to fund research projects. This is in line with the fact that in the past month I have sent two rather important applications for project funding and I am hoping I will get some travel money to fund two weeks of field research at some point this summer. It is always good to hear about new ideas for minor funding – given that major funding seems to be rather elusive for those who research Literatures that are not English Literature in the UK.

Next up is Reviewing your career. Lately I have been thinking about it a lot, since the job market for academic position in the Hispanic or Catalan Studies seem rather slim. I don’t want to subject myself to a particular location for many years or have any wish on waiting around until someone retires. Hence at the moment I am looking for solutions to stay within the university structure that do not imply becoming an academic – I think I would make, for example, a great Student Advisor, or Undergrad Career Counsellor. Ironically thought, I am not exactly sure of the steps to take in that direction at the moment, and some insight on life outside academia will be very helpful.

After that, I have Writing in the middle of your PhD. That one is rather self-explanatory. I am technically in the middle of my PhD. And I am writing (with more or less success) pretty much all the time. I am always on a started-writing, mid-writing, coming-off-writing phase and everything revolts around that, so I feel lucky this year I managed to catch this workshop early before all the places where taken.

And last but not least, I have also enrolled on Stopping self-sabotage. This is the most cryptic yet intriguing-sounding of all the workshops, and the one I am most looking forward to. I am not particularly a self-sabotager – I just cannot be bothered picking up the books or waking up early and be strict with myself. I feel this is absolutely normal when my week is already packed up with 35 hours of a full time job. On days like today, when deadlines are looming and I have barely had time to think outside my little box and face other mental tasks, I think the perfect solution is to lay on the couch and play FIFA, rather than reading (or in this case, just blog, because why not). However there are times in which I am fresh and ready to rumble and still the flow of work gets distracted by something, and strategies on how to solve this would be appreciated. To be absolutely honest, I am also attending this workshop to see what other people quote as their main self-sabotaging issues. I found that being in a course like this, talking to full time students and telling them that I actually juggle my Mongrel PhD with work commitments and a wife and hamsters makes them realise that their time problems are not really problems. I take one for the team in those occasions.

Workshops do make me feel like I am an actual enrolled student, and not a secret part-timer, and every so often that feeling is most necessary. I will write a post soon about a revelation I had over Christmas, when I realised that I am alone in my PhD, and in my research in general. So a little bit of a PhD buddying exercise in an actual academic environment would be good for the Mongrel soul. And I might learn a thing or two – bonus.

Looking forward to February now, so we get over the January blues and the workshops start rolling.

Writer’s blog

I was in a workshop yesterday called “Beating Writer’s Block”. This image was displayed at the very beginning, and it made me think some interesting stuff about it. I thought I would share.

I have not written in a while here, and there reason is not writer’s block. I really had things to say, but I never have the time, and to be honest, blogging took a plunge in my list of priorities. Or it didn’t really, as I don’t think it was ever that high up the scale. But I enjoy blogging, I just had way more pressing things to do than that. And I did not feel I needed to write for fun, which I guess was a mistake. In any case, going to this workshop yesterday totally made me feel that I need to go back to blogging because it’s fun. I also need to be back because I have a responsibility towards fellow Mongrel PhDs. With great Mongrel power comes great Mongrel responsibility, if you wish. Someone has to jot down what doing a Mongrel PhD is like, in the hope that someone out there will feel comforted by the shared feeling.

I do not have, or have ever had during my PhD so far, writer’s block. Why did I attend this seminar, you may ask? Well, first of all, to tick the box. There was a parallel seminar running yesterday called “Writing in the middle of your PhD” and I could not get in. Me and my problems with MyCampus, part eleven. So I decided to go to this other seminar instead. What was I expecting to achieve? For myself, perhaps nothing. See the thing is I have never given too much thought to this whole Writer’s Block concept, and the only time it has come up in reading was whilst enjoying Paul Silvia’s How to write a lot. In there, Silvia describes ruthlessly a reality that I had never considered before:

I love writer’s block. I love it for the same reasons I love tree spirits and talking woodland creatures – they’re charming, and they don’t exist. When people tell me they have writer’s block, I ask “What on earth are you trying to write?”. Academic writers cannot get writer’s block. Don’t confuse yourself with your friends teaching creative writing in the arts department. You’re not crafting a deep narrative composing metaphors that expose mysteries of the human heart. The subtlety of your analysis of variance will not move readers to tears, although the tediousness of it might. People will not photocopy your reference list and pass it out to friends whom they wish to inspire. Novelists and poets are the landscape artists and portrait painters; academic writers are the people with big paint sprayers who repaint your basement.

Paul J. Silvia, How to write a lot, (Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 2007), p. 45.

I think Silvia says it all. Ever since I read that hilarious piece of writing, which amused me incredibly, I have been a non-believer. I wasn’t a believer before, really, but now I really don’t see the whole point in it. Much like Calvin’s argument here, I feel that writers consciously choose the block in order to disguise deeper feelings. The block doesn’t pick you because you’re a fraud, or because it feels you are weak or have nothing to say: you pick the block for those same reasons. And once you get to that conclusion, you will feel that believing in the writer’s block is no longer an option.

However, whilst people were listing the reasons why people might choose the block (not quite with those words, but you know), common features of human behaviour arose: fear of failure, fear of being caught out, having nothing to say, lack of self-confidence, etc. I felt, so about ten minutes, the slight worry that one might feel when leaving an exam: you think you have done reasonably well, and then you meet with your peers outside, and they are all chatting about the things they wrote and had issues with, and you realise you never even considered those issues. “Oh, crap”, is the feeling. Whilst people were listing their feelings, I had the slight worry that I have not felt any of those feelings so far, and that maybe to be more Pedigree PhD, I should feel them – just to know what it is about. Then I realised that, like with everything else, we all take different approaches, and it was unreasonable for me to attempt to feel something (negative) that I can’t even understand where it comes from. But that was it.

Yeah, I am glad to be back. Mongrels need representation.