Why I ran away from my PhD for the day

Yesterday I had a run away day. I was sick of my work and wanted to get away for a bit, so I drove out the Peak District and wrote in my research diary for a while. The following is a little bit of what I wrote, reflecting on the benefits that a brief escape from your PhD can have.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a riverside cafe somewhere near Hathersage. I’m annoyed at all the people who have a seat by the window where they can actually see the river. That’s why I’m here really, I just wanted to look at a nice view and have a cup of tea. I feel like these people don’t need the view as much I do, or appreciate it as much as I would right now. It’s the same kind of irrational anger that I get when I don’t get a window seat on a train! Anyway, I now have a very expensive cup of tea, no view and a cake that I probably shouldn’t be eating.

I’ve sort of run away for the day. I’d driven to Collegiate for the interview, and I thought about going for a quick walk around Endcliffe Park, or maybe driving to Millhouses Park, but I got in the car and knew I wanted to go to the Peak. So I got in the car and drove, and just kept going. I just wanted to see some open space and some green. I forget how sick I get of the city, the built up environment- that feeling of being trapped, no matter how much I love Sheffield. Every time I see the hills, I feel like something inside me unwinds. I didn’t want to go home because I knew that it would mean that I had to transcribe.

It has been a funny couple of weeks. I’ve started my first set of interviews with my participants, which has been fascinating and exhausting in equal measure. I’m amazed at what people say, what they will tell you. I feel really fortunate, honoured that these women will give their time to me and tell me their stories- but in a weird way it feels like a huge responsibility, too. I want to do them justice, to represent their stories well and in a way that they would be able to recognise themselves within my research.

I’m sitting at a table by the window now. It’s really lovely here. It’s a garden centre sort of place, so there are books about bird-watching on the tables, and a big bird feeder just outside the window so you can see all the tiny pretty coloured birds eating and flying about, moving in that fascinating jerky way that they do. Then there’s the river flowing below and the fields and rolling hills behind. I feel a bit better already, sitting here and writing this.

I did an interview this morning, and I really didn’t want to. I felt really tired and ill this morning and it was a real effort to drag myself out of bed. The interview itself was interesting- I loved the story she told about when she got her PhD offer- but at nearly two hours it was pretty long, especially in comparison with the others I’ve done. I found my mind wandering, and was inwardly groaning at the amount of transcribing that I knew an interview of this length would entail. It’s not like the interview was a disaster- it’s not even like it even went wrong particularly- but if anything I needed to be more on the ball than usual in order to direct the interview better.

I feel as though the point of my PhD is being lost somewhere- in the dread of transcribing, the feeling that I’m always behind; the constant guilt. Before I started my data collection I set myself what now seems like a ridiculous target- to do one interview per day, with one day off per week, where I’d do an interview in the morning and transcribe it that afternoon. With transcribing taking usually 3-4 times the length of time that the interview lasts, clearly this was a bit of an unreasonable expectation. Not long after I started the PhD, a friend who is now a senior lecturer said that I shouldn’t be afraid to just take the time to sit and think about things. I feel like because of the way that I’ve needed to start data collection so early, I’ve had very little time to contemplate what I’m doing, and how and why I’m doing it.

Somehow I feel like sitting here and doing this is the best thing I’ve done in a little while. Surely there’s no point in doing a PhD and being given all this time and space, unless you sometimes have days like these? I loved driving with no particular destination in mind; that feeling of wandering and being free to do so. I genuinely love what I do and I don’t want to feel constrained by it. It’s just the thought of going home to three hours of interview material- I can’t bear it. But I don’t have the money it would take to pay people to transcribe the interviews for me. What will I do? Probably bite the bullet and just do it, eventually. But today is my run away day and I don’t want to think about it any more.

I’ve done an interview today. That’s enough. No more guilt. As I’m sitting here writing, I’ve realised that I actually have my hiking boots- and possibly a waterproof– in my car, left over from the last time I came out to the Peak. I think it’s time I went for a wander in the hills.

When I got home I felt like a different person- calmer, more relaxed, and more able to get back to work the next day.

To any of you who want to run away from your PhD for the day- I can highly recommend it!

image (1)


Collaborative writing, or something along those (blurred) lines

One bright Tuesday last November featured a new, surreal experience for me- being interviewed on BBC Radio Sheffield. My colleague and I were being interviewed by BBC Radio Sheffield about our research on the Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams song ‘Blurred Lines’.

I was the Research Assistant on the project over the summer of 2014 which aimed to explore different interpretations of the song, and was responsible for designing and sending out the questionnaire and analysing the responses that came in.

I generally hate any form of public speaking, and I really thought about saying no to the interview- my colleague could have easily done it by herself. But just being scared isn’t a good enough excuse for not doing something I know would be a valuable experience. I’m going to have to get used to putting myself in uncomfortable situations and challenging myself- soon enough I’ll have to teach undergraduate classes and present at conferences. Both of these things fill me with dread, but I don’t want to be scared of them any more.

With a small group of academics, I have been writing up the findings from the questionnaire and we have recently submitted our collaborative effort to the journal of Feminist Media Studies. It has been a brilliant project for me to be involved with- I’ve gained experience in analysing qualitative data, and had the opportunity to engage with literature about representations of gender in the music industry. Most of all, I’ve learned from my colleagues- how for an academic journal and how to write as part of a team.

Writing collaboratively has been an interesting, but challenging experience. It was the first time I’d ever tried to write a piece of work with other people- it’s just not something you learn how to do as a Master’s student. There were several of us contributing to the article over a period of three or four months, and and so the easiest way to write was to create a Google Doc which we could all add to, as well as edit the content.

When you write collaboratively, you write with two audiences- both the future readers of the article (it’s always hoped that there will actually be some!), and also the other writers. I found writing in front of my colleagues (all academics) as a Master’s student (I hadn’t even started my PhD at this state) a really daunting prospect. At first I was incredibly self conscious about what I was writing, and didn’t want to write any drafts directly into the Google Doc we were using where others would see it. I wrote initial drafts in Word before I deemed them good enough to be added to the Google Doc. What I hadn’t realised was that this meant that colleagues didn’t know what I had written, and so we ended up duplicating work. Not ideal!

Much as I felt like my initial writing wasn’t good enough to be shown to my colleagues, another issue was communicating clearly within the process of drafting sections of the article. We all have our idiosyncrasies when we write. I find it hard to write chronologically- I write in a very piecemeal way (don’t know where I’d be without copy and paste)- and I use a lot of ‘xxx’s, ‘…’s and different coloured fonts to remind myself where to go back to later on. Exposing these idiosyncrasies to other writers feels a little embarrassing, and expecting others to understand what you mean by them is a lot to ask!

I’ve learned the importance of being transparent when writing collaboratively. Sharing what you write isn’t always easy, but the feedback I’ve had on my contributions has always been constructive,  and has made me a better writer. As well, I have learned how to communicate better through the process of writing with others- adding little comments within google docs to say that you’re going to expand this section, or add your references later, doesn’t take much effort but is very helpful to other writers.

This is how it is in the world of academia, with a considerable amount of academic articles being co-authored. Interestingly, research has highlighted that women are more likely to publish collaboratively than men (Schucan Bird, 2011) I feel glad to have had experience of collaborative writing so early on in my academic ‘career’- if I can call it that at this stage!

If you’d like to read more about the research we did on Blurred Lines, the article we have submitted can be found here. Please note that this is our first version which has been submitted to this journal, and may change as it is subject to review.