Friday, 21 January 2011

PhD's: for the rich and the (very) lucky?

Well, I had my viva on Monday and thankfully was passed! I am so relieved to have it over, one of the major challenges of PhD life so far for me, has been self motivation. I have been trying to cram as much as I can into my days but worry that it isn't enough. It isn't ever enough!;) It was great to get some feedback from the academics at my University as well as organising the work I've done so far in some kind of order. In terms of reading my presentation aloud (something I haven't done in around three years!) I made a cardinal error and said "ummm" quite a few times, but around the three-minute mark I definitely felt a rise in my confidence so I hope I was articulate.

The whole exercise was definitely good training and came at a perfect time for me. I am currently revising a draft I wrote for a paper. I'm presenting the paper at a Postgraduate Symposium next Saturday. My paper is entitled: 'Rat courts' or 'a great, loud cats' bag': sororities, schooling and reconstruction of identity in the short stories of Sylvia Plath. I'm really excited to get the opportunity to present and also to meet more students with similar research interests to myself. It will hopefully be a good day:) If things go well and the paper is received favourably, I will post a link to it on my blog very soon:)

In other news, The Guardian published the following article this week: Who can afford a doctorate in the arts and humanities now?. I thought this article was very interesting and in a lot of ways, true. Basically the article details the lack of funding available for students who wish to pursue a PhD and describes the variety of jobs students take up in order to get the money raised to continue studying. Personally, I would not be able to afford to self-fund my PhD, there would be no way. With the funding that I'm on (DEL Funding, Northern Ireland), life is a struggle enough. I'm contractually obligetd not to undertake any other work, even part-time (which to be honest would be a great help). I live in rented accommodation but luckily, am not living in a large city so the expense is not a huge amount. I honestly don't know how even funded students can afford to live in Dublin or London for example. The prices of food and day-to-day life are so astronomical, it must be very tough.

I think the Guardian article makes a great deal of good points about education becoming increasingly available only for the more well off. Indeed, any personal friends I have at Oxbridge are all self-funding, and it's not for lack of 1.1 degrees or Distinctions at MA level: the funding is just not there. I realise that I might sound like a hypocrite going on about the dire state of education when I myself am funded, but it is through sheer luck - a nice God up there in the clouds looked down at me and decided I was more suited to academia than a receptionist - that I am able to be at this stage in University. My own MLitt at Glasgow was self-funded (except for a one-off small bursary from AHRC) and it took me around two years working my receptionist job to clear my overdraft as a result.

This is the final point the Guardian article makes, and one that I have been on the receiving end of myself. You work hard at school, at University - pursue postgraduate education in the form of a MA and emerge fit for a job you could have attained leaving school with 5 GCSE's aged sixteen. Facts like this are another off-putting factor for students in the world today. The specialist jobs simply are not there. How can we be expected to self-fund and then not enter a job that has a salary to help get out of the debt acquired while studying for the subject? It's very difficult to comprehend. The sacrificing of the depth of knowledge in Arts/Humanities will be the result of the dire situation education finds itself in. To quote the article:

"It's a real shame – not just because so many able people are missing out, but also because we're in real danger of our academic and intellectual horizons becoming the preserve and playground of the wealthy."

I would be inclined to agree with this. At University I met so many wonderfully intelligent people, far more intelligent than me; and they have been dissuaded from further study because there are no incentives. And I believe education loses out!

It is with this article in mind that the days when my alarm clock goes off and I want to snooze; I force myself to get up and open the books. Constantly reminding myself how lucky I am to be where I am is a strong factor in my enthuasiasm for this research project. Fingers crossed I can maintain the momentum!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Faber and Faber Book Covers

I am still in the process of preparing for my viva, this coming Monday. Things are progressing as well as I would like but it's still a worrying prospect to have such an examination ahead of you! My best friend is studying for a MPhil in Irish Writing in English, so we both hit the library together a fair bit. It's always great to have a study buddy, someone to grab a cup of tea with and laugh for fifteen minutes or so before getting back into the work!

In getting my presentation together, I have tried to make the slides as Plath-like as possible. So I looked for inspiration from the various book covers of her work, to see if any artwork could be mirrored in emblem form for the top left-hand corner of my slides (This is a trend for me - if you didn't notice, the header for my blog features the vase of flowers from the 1984 edition of 'Ariel').

While looking for Plath artwork, I stumbled across the Faber and Faber flickr account and was delighted to find lots of books covers, not only of Plath but from all Faber writers! In my opinion F&F is probably the best publishing house in the world, and it was a real pleasure to see covers of Phillip Larkin, Seamus Heaney, Louis MacNeice books. Check the page out for yourself! Maybe one of your favourite authors are included.

These book covers really are special. A lot of time and consideration has gone into putting them together. Take for example:

This book cover has been illustrated by Sarah Young. I think it is so representative of what readers will find in 'Ariel'. The moon image, the bee, the face split in half; as well as the birds, trees and sea-like motions really show so many of the themes and thoughts explored by Sylvia Plath in this book. I think this cover is terrific!

The previous image is the inlay of the book. Again, the same creatures feature and there are different types of moons and insects littered throughout the drawings. It would be such a pleasure to sit down and read some Sylvia Plath with a cover and artwork like this!

The Faber and Faber flickr really is worth a visit - there are so many unique interpretations of text through art adding a whole new level to the understanding of literature. To me, poetry is all about the images conjured in your head while reading the words. The poet directs you to think of the topic they are discussing but it is the imagination of the reader that brings the work to life. With these colourful and interesting book covers/inlays, there is so much more food for the imagination!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Preparing for examination..

Well, things have been quiet the last few days because I'm preparing for a 100-day viva that takes place Monday week (17th January). I have to provide a report on how I have advanced, what I have learned since starting the PhD and also a presentation to discuss the issues put forth in the report. I am very nervous about this and hoping that everything goes ok. This viva is a good way of forcing myself to tie in everything I've read and thought over the past few months: I could be content going on and reading forever. I'm just finding it difficult to include everything new I've found out! Keep your fingers crossed for me:)

In terms of study, I am a very neat person. I can only start studying when my work space is completely clear and organised. It's an obsessive habit. This is what my desk looks like:

You might notice the Sylvia postcard I have on my wall. I got it in the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco when I travelled across the USA in the summer. The second portrait postcard is Marcel Proust, and was sent to me by my dear friend Morgane:) I definitely think a personalised workspace is integral for study! It's important to feel comfortable in your environment!

Tonight I hope to finish the final draft of my report and mail it to my supervisor for her opinions. Then I have over a week to correct anything she thinks needs to be corrected and work on the powerpoint presentation. I will be glad to get this over with! I've chosen a very 1950s-inspired outfit for the actual viva itself: try and channel a bit of Sylvia in the room with me!

I was reading some of the "Letters Home" last night and definitely found a lot of strength in a letter Sylvia wrote home on November 29, 1956 in relation to a friend of Aurelia's who had become deeply depressed. Sylvia replied offering advice, particularly about schoolwork: "When he dies, his marks will not be written on his gravestone. If he has loved a book, been kind to someone, enjoyed a certain colour in the sea - that is the thing that will show whether he has lived". I thought that this was such a lovely statement to come out with and it really helps put things into perspective when under academic pressure.

For posterity, the albums I'm listening to at the moment are Bright Eyes - "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" (2005) and Sea of Bees "Songs for the Ravens" (2010). These are both great albums, perfect for cold and dismal January. Also, it's snowing again in Ireland. How horrible! I am sick of the snow!