It’s well been over a year since my last proper post on here, and I figured it was about time for an update on what I’ve been doing.
I passed my viva with minor corrections in July 2016 and graduated in June 2017. The reason for the long delay between those two dates – over and above the timing of graduation ceremonies in the UK – was that in between those two dates I had a baby. I also moved home (again) and started a new job (again) in that time. This hasn’t left me much time for blogging and so it has been a considerable time since I updated anything here.
Given that I’m no longer a student and the PhD is finished, I figured that the blog needed either a new focus or to be concluded and left to the archives of the internet. Regardless, I need at least this post to wrap up the final stages of my PhD story.
In my last post here I had just returned from Reimagining the Gothic, a two-day symposium and showcase in all things monstrous and gothic in Sheffield and was awaiting my Viva. Forces outwith the control of my supervisor and examiners delayed my Viva to the July following my submission in August 2015. A less than ideal situation, but not entirely unheard of in the humanities. Some of the delay was related to my supervisor’s busy teaching load and with us both not having had the discussion about examiners prior to my submission. There was also some issue with finding someone who was willing to act as my internal examiner, as my thesis is truly interdisciplinary. Initially my second supervisor recommended a couple of academics from another department, but the first declined and the second (as far as I know) never responded to my first supervisor’s email. In the end it all worked out for the best as I was appointed an internal from within my own department and a date was set with the external examiner.
In preparing for my Viva I mostly followed the advice of fellow Aberdeen alumni Fiona Noble, in her three part blog series “I Will Survive” (The Viva). I found her advice invaluable, and have pointed a couple of friends/colleagues to it for their own preparations. By the time I’d finished reading and annotating my copy of my thesis it looked like this:
Two of my friends kindly offered to give me a mock viva and fire questions at me. They both have expertise in different but related area and their help really made the difference for me in learning to defend my arguments. I also had some excellent advice from my main supervisors, which I’d like to pass on. In the main it amounted to the advice that all PhD students receive: remember that you are the expert on your own research and try to relax and enjoy it. However, what he said that I felt really helped me was this:
- You can refer to your thesis and notes as often as you wish
- You can ask the examiner to repeat or rephrase a question
- Your examiners will be critical, but do not get flustered or upset
- You have written a good, thorough thesis – defend it
My external was unable to travel to Aberdeen, so she joined myself and my internal via Skype. While it would have been better to have met her in person, I actually found this helpful for my nerves. I’ve found the same with interviews that I’ve done via Skype. All in all it was a short by rigorous Viva, with both my internal and external asking for clarification and sometimes challenging my arguments. After a short wait for them to discuss the outcome I was passed with minor corrections. These, in the main, were to clarify my points and clean up my language. I had struggled with finding my own academic voice and asserting myself in my writing and this was the main critique from both of my examiners. One of the main things that I felt I had to defend, that would otherwise have meant major corrections, was the order of my chapters. I was not consciously expecting this, however looking back on it I mush have given it some thought as I had a lot to say about it. This was actually something that I had worked quite extensively with both of my supervisors on and what was originally one extremely large opening chapter was split and large sections moved to Chapter 4. There were arguments to be made for either approach, however I was certain that I’d made the correct decision both for the structural integrity of the argument and for the reader.
Apart from the usual list of typos and errors, my corrections looked like this:
Getting the corrections and actually doing them were two different things. There was a slight delay in getting them, and I had to wait until mid-September for them. By this time I was well into my first trimester because, unbeknownst to me, I was actually pregnant during my Viva. (At some point I will blog about running a three-day academic conference 500 miles from home, almost single-handedly while hiding a pregnancy, but not today.) I was also moving job as my current contract came to an end and battling horrible morning sickness coupled with an extensive daily commute. Oh, and we moved house again in December, getting in just before Christmas 2016 after a short stint staying with my parents. And because of that not only did I not submit my corrections until the following January, I also have very little memory of how I completed them. I do remember working through the errors and typos list and kicking myself for the number of sentences and thoughts that started but didn’t finish. I resolved to work really hard to rid myself of the tendency to leave things unfinished because I’ve worked out what the next sentence should be, because I will inevitably forget to go back and fill in some of the blanks.That’s something that I’m still working on.
I had my little girl, Freya, in April 2017 and life has pretty much been a blur since. Due to complications during her birth she was in the neo-natal until in an incubator for the first few days of her life and I was also kept in hospital during that time. We are both well recovered now and I’m starting to get back to research, learning to balance work, being a Mum and continuing as an academic. She attended the George MacDonald’s Scotland conference with me in July 2017 where she predictably stole the show and got to meet my wonderful external, Dr Dimitra Fimi, who gave a keynote.
And then, I dressed up in a silly gown and hat, donned my ruby shoes and walked across a stage. After which I was officially able to change my title to Doctor.
So, what’s next? Well, I’m back at work part-time in January. I’m working at the University of Strathclyde as a PG Development administrator, meaning that I oversee the training and development of PGRs and ECRs within a research hub. It’s not an academic position, but it still uses the skills gained from my PhD. The next step is learning to manage that, being a Mum, and publishing my research. Meaning that my PhD story might be finished, but my ECR one is just beginning. I think that’s as good a reason as any to keep the blog alive.