Monday, 4 October 2010

Some poetry and professionalisation on a Monday

I am now three weeks into my PhD and life has been hectic. On top of trying to adjust to a new way of life, studying again instead of a 9-5 administrative job; there have been a series of meet-and-greets and seminars that I've had to go to. Sometimes the amount of people you meet and new skills you are informed you need to acquire can get overwhelming, so I've made sure to take time to myself each day, take a walk or listen to a favourite music album (anything by Ryan Adams), just to make sure I keep a handle on all this new information!

It has been so amazing to spend hours poring over the work of Sylvia Plath again. I find myself going off in tangents, reading papers from a million different slants of outlook - from the influence of Plath on Irish Poetry (I kid you not) to analysis of the "Birthday Letters" collection by Ted Hughes. I think my favourite among that collection is 'Visit', a poem that details Ted Hughes drunkenly roving around the campus at Cambridge, throwing sods up at a window he thought belonged to Sylvia. Although I want to steer clear of romantic notions and biographical gossip in my readings of Sylvia Plath and the literature surrounding her, I did think that the poem was full of beautiful sentiment:

"..She fed snapshots
Of you and she did not know what
Inflammable celluloid into my silent
Insatiable future, my blind-man's-buff
Internal torch of search. With my friend,
After midnight, I stood in a garden
Lobbing soil-clods up at a dark window".

In my mind, that whole scene is clear, Hughes has described it so well. I really do think the inclusion of so many words that begin with and feature the letter s gives the verse a really sultry and earthy feel. As well as the hyphenation surrounding blind man's buff.. It's as if the sentences want to go on forever - they feel hazy with nostalgia. To be fair I am not the biggest Hughes fan in the world, I find his poetry very simplistic but certainly 'Visit' has grabbed my attention.

I do hope that my reading will start to become more honed as time goes along though - there is little point flitting from one subject area to another without organisation. I hope that is a skill that comes with time, though - being able to organise what area you are going to read up on for the day and sticking strictly to it.

In terms of Professionalising the PhD, what I have learned so far is that UK and Irish Universities expect a lot more from their students than just the qualification. It is really important - and I think this is something vital to take into consideration if you are thinking about doing a PhD - for the Universities to train their students in research methods, teaching and other skills like communication, computer literacy, organisation. In my opinion, training students up with these kinds of qualifications can only be beneficial in the grand scheme of things. With the Irish economy in serious trouble and the UK about to administer what I can only imagine to be huge cuts across the board, as students - no matter what discipline we are studying in, the problem is that it's a minute area of study. Upon emerging from a PhD, it's a case of being qualified for a tiny market of jobs, with certainly more applicants than jobs going. So, in heeding the advice of people like Bill Clinton, the only way we can hope to have an advantage in this day and age is to sound the battle cry and get the qualification. Know how to work powerpoint? Get a certificate to verify it. Organised a conference? Get a management certificate to prove it! I do think it's a great thing that Universities are showing such foresight into the seriously rocky employment arena that we will all enter into, much sooner than we think.

Also, in attending these seminars and in speaking to friends who have already completed their graduate study, the same book keeps getting referenced. I bought it recently and can see what all the hype is about. "How to get a PhD" by Estelle Phillips and Derek Pugh is the publication in question. It deals with a great spectrum of would-be problems and challenges you may face when studying the the PhD and is written in a friendly way, so it's not a mass of do's and don'ts written in boring block format. I would highly recommend this book to those of you out there thinking of applying for a PhD in the coming future. It was about this time last year I started motivating myself in terms of my research interest and putting out feelers to various academics who had research interests in what I wanted to do for my PhD. Having this book and being able to read the chapters on "Getting into the system" would have been a great help to me - even in terms of something small like email etiquette. I really do recommend this publication.

Tomorrow I have an important meeting with my supervisor in order to help hammer out my thesis title properly. I aim to have the title cemented some time in the next week or so. I believe if I at least start out with a strong base, even if my readings along the way motivate me to alter the title again at some stage, having a strong starting point is very important. So today my short-term goal is to not get distracted by supplementary literature and just put pen to paper and revise, revise, revise!

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