Friday, 29 April 2011


I have been a very busy Plath student as of late. Getting everything prepared for my Transfer of Status is proving stressful but I've just sent off an email laden with attachments to my supervisor. Here's hoping that there isn't too much to correct! It has taken quite a few drafts for my supervisor and I to get to a place where we're both happy with the hypothesis I'm presenting but I think (and hope!) that today I finally cracked it.

All my other research and work should slide into place once my supervisor gives me his final stamp of approval. I'm so glad to have everything wrapped up - ever since the conference a few weeks ago, I've been studying non-stop. Tomorrow though, my friends and I are all heading off to the Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Festival for a weekend of sunshine, drinks and good music! I have tickets to see Beth Orton on Sunday afternoon, so am really looking forward to that! (She dated and duetted with Ryan Adams, did you know!)

Aside from all the studying, I took a moment to take a photo of my workspace. A few months ago I posted a picture of my desk at University but I'm currently at home with my family and have taken over a desk here too!

I really love looking at workspaces. I don't admit to being the most organised student while I'm working.. as you can see with the mess of pages and unfolded books! But I am quite organised when it comes to tidying everything away. For those interested, flickr have a great group called My Desk where lots of people have taken photos of their workspaces and some are just so aesthetically pleasing it's insane! Some day when I can afford an Apple Mac computer, I will be just as concerned with the layout of my desk!

While I'm sharing photos, I thought I may as well show you all the person who accompanies me on my long hours of study when I'm at home....

.... My cat, Scruffy! Before you all run screaming and think I'm one of "those" women who studies Sylvia Plath and feeds her cat, ad infinitum, I have to defend myself here! Scruffy is no ordinary cat. If you look closely you might notice she's missing her front leg. She's also missing a tail and a lot of teeth :( About eight years ago she climbed into my father's car and fell out on the road about three miles from our home - very badly injured. On the point of death. We did everything we could (even sending her to a vet clinic in Belfast) and she was fixed physically to the best of the vet's ability. However, it's Scruffy's personality that has really shone through. She lives the life that many an able-bodied cat would never! Killing birds, rabbits and bringing them to us as "presents". She really has a great personality - it takes a very special animal to ignite my interest and if this makes me sound like a crazy cat-lady then so be it! :) Her life is a great story of survival I think though!

If I make it back alive from the music festival and survive the corrections my supervisor wants me to make... I may have some very exciting Plath-related news to share with you all! I don't want to give anything away until I have concrete confirmation but stay tuned for (hopefully) exciting news!!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Conference Survival!

I've had such a busy weekend, but the conference I had been working for is now over and I think it went as well as it could have. I presented my paper and it ran well in terms of time and was received with moderate enthuasiasm. The questions asked after I presented were interesting and I feel I was able to answer everything to the best of my ability - albeit stilted! Conferences really are very stressful but enjoyable events. They can be very daunting, so I thought I'd compile some survival tips - things I've found helpful along the way.

1). Prepare.
If you are presenting at a conference, preparation is the key. Ensure you have your paper written in good time and get a friend, family member or even your supervisor to look over the piece making sure it's coherent and understandable. Personally I'm of the simplistic school of thought when it comes to paper presentations. When people use large words I tune out or begin to worry I'm not smart enough - and this deters me from asking questions about the paper. The simpler the better! Timing is also hugely important. In the run-up to the conference, time yourself over and over. Knowing your paper fits well within the time allowed will bolster confidence when you go to present!

2). Pace Yourself.
A lot of students pile massive expectations on themselves to succeed. For my first paper, I wanted to be the absolute best, and then when I ran over time and skipped pages I felt like the biggest failure in the world. At the conference I attended this weekend, I felt very inept for the majority of the time - everyone else seemed more eloquent, more intelligent. I think the key to overcoming these feelings is to Pace Yourself. Expectations to be at Tutor or Final Year PhD level of intelligence and confidence when just starting out in academia are crazy. We all work at our own pace and with hard work and practice; eloquence, intelligence and confidence will come. Case in point: my performance this weekend was 100% better than in January. So, hopefully the next time, my paper and presenting skills will be 100% better again! We can all be our own worst critics. I think it's really important to have faith in ourselves! We will get there, but it's always a work in progress!

3). Always Smile.
Keeping a happy and upbeat facade, even in the face of stress is very important. I think peers will definitely remember a smiley, chatty person over a sour scowl and a person who sits on their own in the room. I always make sure to talk to whoever I'm sitting beside at the conference and find out what they're studying. More often than not, such chats lead to great discussions, interesting suggestions and friendships!

4). Dress Well.
This might sound very shallow, but I think dressing well is an important part of attending a conference. Not only are people more likely to remember you if you wear a colourful dress or smart suit, wearing good clothes gives confidence to the wearer. This sounds incredible girly but I find when I have a manicure I study much better! My hands look so nice, I want to be productive and a good student!:) The same goes with dressing up. Having good, clean, colourful clothes breeds productivity!

5). Don't Drink!!
Oh, alcohol... There's nothing more I love than sitting down with a bunch of friends, drinking wine until late in the night and talking about... anything and everything! This is fine and well with friends - and a vital part of life if you're anything like me! But I would definitely advise against drinking at conferences. These people are your peers and possible employers after postgraduate study is finished. If you go for a job interview and all they can remember is you rolling around the floor screaming Simone De Beauvoir quotes (something I may or may not be guilty of at undergrad level... eek!); the chances of peers taking you seriously are vastly diminished. That said, one or two small glasses of wine at a conference dinner can serve to relax and help conversation flow. I would recommend no more than three small glasses of wine, with water (or soda water) placed between each glass. With a large dinner, this should be fine. The problem with conferences are, all day is spent in a stuffy room, with biscuits consumed every two hours on breaks, possibly allowing your stomach to pretend it's full when in actuality, it's not: therefore, you'll get drunk much quicker. It's really a better idea to stay away from the demon alcohol full-stop and then enjoy a celebratory drink with your actual friends in the days after! :)

Well, I hope that these tips are beneficial to at least one person! I'm glad to have the conference over and done with, but the month of May is going to be extremely busy for me. My Transfer of Status viva is 13th June and at that stage, I must have a chapter submitted, my introduction written as well as a report of progress, presentation and plan as to how I will finish everying by 2013! Eek! I'm looking forward to a LONG holiday after June 13th!!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Conference fashion

Apologies for the lack of updates in the past few weeks. I've been completely swamped with chapter drafts, travel funding applications and writing up papers. Things are progressing as well as they can be right now. I've had some positive feedback from my supervisor and know exactly what I have to do and the time-period I have to do it all in! My University has a Transferral of Status viva as part of the progression from PhD Student to PhD Candidate (i.e. progression from first to second year) and mine has been scheduled in for the 13th June. After that date, I'm going to kick back and relax for a few weeks (and go and see my baby Ryan Adams play live twice!!!)... but until then, it's full steam ahead.

Tomorrow, I'm heading off to my alma mater to participate in an American Studies Conference. My paper has been written and timed, so I am hoping that I won't repeat the disasterous performance I gave at a PG Symposium in January!

I think that conferences are a brilliant way of meeting new people, especially if, like me, you spend most days alone, living a very Thoreau-type existence. I would like to meet a student who would be open to writing a collaborative piece with me soon, it's something I would like to get a bit of experience in. Aside from the positives, conferences can also be immensely stressful, especially if you are presenting. The most stressful point for me is - honestly - what clothes to wear! The conference I'm attending runs over two days and there is a meal at the end also, so a lot of clothes are needed!

One of my favourite blog reads is Academic It documents the challenges of trying to be fashionable in the academic world. I found this entry on what to wear at conferences very inspiring. After I finish up at the conference, I'm heading to Dublin to see a concert with my best friend, so the doubling-up of clothes mentioned in Academic Chic's post is a great idea!

For the opening afternoon tomorrow, I'm going to wear a navy pinafore (from Primark) with navy wedges (also Primark). For the day-long Saturday session, which I'm presenting at, I've opted for smart, newly-pressed dark jeans and this top from A-Wear.

For the evening dinner, I have some taupe shoes and a cardigan to wear with this dress from ASOS.

For the concert I'm going to double-up the jeans, wedges and wear a sparkley navy top, just to look a little more ~edgy! So here's hoping I have a memorable outfit and make a memorable impression with my paper!