Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Deadlines whooshing by!

I have to admit, aside from the genuine love I have for all things Plath, and all things Literature-related in general, the overhanging worry of unemployment is definitely one of my Top 5 most-thought-about topics. I'm just over half way through my Ph.D. program and while things are beginning to come together and become more coherent thesis-wise, worries about getting a good job in an area I love (but has few opportunities) weigh heavily on my mind. I regularly attend courses run by the excellent vitae.ac.uk organisation and they suggest ways of improving your employ-ability by not only having academic plus-points on the c.v. but also project management, money-management and other organisational skills that translate widely over a larger job range.

So really, I think it's a very difficult balancing act. With the job markets oversubscribed as it is, postgraduate students really have to push all buttons - not just certain academic or corporate ones. This means postgraduate students should be trying to have a presence in the academic world (publications, conference presentations, teaching, etc) as well as completing courses and perhaps taking on sidework that demonstrates we have transferable skills, like budget management, teamwork etc - all the while working on a dissertation with all the peaks and troughs that brings!

Balancing all of these components can be exhausting. And difficult also! So this blog post is perhaps dedicated to the art of prioritisation. Knowing when to put certain things on the back burner and focus on something else. This has been the case for me personally in the last few weeks. I've been in quite a critical point regarding my thesis recently. At the end of January, I had written up two draft chapters for my supervisor to read. While I felt that the arguments I made were definitely getting to the root of what I want to examine; there was something amiss. I just wasn't getting to the point quickly enough, I was losing focus. After a great meeting with my supervisor, we decided to change the framing of my argument. The points would remain the same, but the focus would be thematic, rather than chronological. As many of you can imagine, even for the most enthusiastic and forward-thinking Plath student, finding your place between biography and literature is difficult. And even though I know where I stand in regards to this (see my previous post on "How do we read Sylvia Plath?" for more on this), I found it difficult getting the flow of my argument to reflect my stance.

So, in realising that I needed to alter how I broached my argument - therefore creating additional work - other important parts of my postgraduate life were unfortunately, set by the wayside. I had aimed to write an article for the upcoming Plath Profiles publication, and I had hoped to submit an abstract to a PG Symposium of an organisation I belong to. But because I knew I needed time to think about my dissertation, I had to prioritise my aims. That famous Douglas Adams saying comes to mind: "I love deadlines. I love the sound they make as they fly whooshing by!" and, for me, that's precisely what the last six weeks have been!

I suppose the point of this blog really is to say that priorities are essential. While I hate to renege on aims that I set myself, I know that taking time to think about my actual work will stand in my favour and hopefully when I go to submit next year, the fact I recognised what was essential and inessential will reflect in my thesis. Publications and presentations are very important. So too are the courses that widen the scope of employment for postgraduates. But at this point in my career, the dissertation has to be #1. And hopefully, in the next few weeks when the pace is less frantic, I will have time to write up a paper, or propose a conference abstract. We can't do everything all at once. Sometimes, because of the solitary nature of postgraduate life, we expect so much of ourselves and pit ourselves against other students because we perceive them as doing more, having more experience. But the life of a postgraduate is very much an individual one. We each have our own paces.

I feel as long as the work is good and our c.v.'s demonstrate enthusiasm and  a commitment to the academic and professional working world, then as bad as the economy is, hopefully a rewarding career should follow on after study. And it is by individually learning lessons like prioritising that perhaps make postgraduate students more adaptable and vital to the workforce than other sectors of the job-force. Well, we can hope!

I would be really interested to hear from other postgraduate students on this topic - what are your worries and hopes for life after University? How do you manage your own workload?


Nikki said...

I'm having trouble to visualize a life after university, but I do have an idea about this priority stress.

I think a large part of workload has to with the absence of structure. If I compare my life (23, MA student) to that of a friend's (28, MA student) or my mother's (53, full time manager), something becomes very clear: they can do more in less time.

A large part of this seems to be that they have been used to working 9-5, not only to working 8 hours straight, but doing it on a daily basis, no excuses, no sidetracks, simply sitting at a desk and putting in the hours. At this point in my life, I completely lack the endurance or discipline to equal that rhythm.

Although a university education is very hard work, and a PhD project a particular difficult branch within that, I think university does encourage a certain 'gestation time' that might make us, not lazy exactly, but generous with time. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. But it doesn't help when you're trying to meet deadlines.

CaitMR said...

So much though of what we do
requires 'creativity' and
patience. It would be great to
bang 5 chapters out in one year
but the reality is - it doesn't
happen that way. Last year when
I was finishing my MA
dissertation i ended up giving my
supervisor one of my chapter 3
weeks later than i said i would.
But that's the way the cookie
crumbled. My mind wandered and I
wasn't settled, happy or focused
and I needed those three weeks to
get my spunk back. There are
weeks when I do nought but sit on
Facebook and Twitter and browse
the internet in general (like
today) but other times I'll sit
in the office and I'll be fine.
I'll do something. Each day is
different and I think its fine to
realise that you will have days
where you can't do a thing.
Accept it. Embrace it. Use
that time for you. Watch Big
Bang Theory and let your head
melt. But get your ass moving at
some point.

One of the things I'm having to
contend with is the notion of a
possible future family, work and
me. There is nothing wrong with
being a woman in 2012 and
delaying motherhood, marriage and
buying a house in order to
concentrate on getting an MA or
PhD or finishing one stage or
other in education. I think it's
to be commended. My mother
sacrificed a lot for me and my
sisters (she had me at 24). I
respect her for everything she
gave up but at the same time she
also made a choice. Other people
should respect mine and realise
that MY priority and MY goal for
this moment in time has to do
with my PhD whether it's focusing
on a chapter or questions for an
interview. My PhD is for me and
my future and someday I might
give a damn about someone else
but not right now.

The job hunting situation is
around the corner. We can only
prepare as best we can for that
transition. We will get jobs, we
will get our PhD and more than
anything we have as much pride as
we would if we had a baby.

Focus on the here and now and what
your next deadline is. One thing
at a time. And eventually we'll
start getting somewhere.


The Plath Diaries said...

Thanks so much for your comments, ladies! Nikki, I think you definitely make a good point. I know for sure that I frittered away a lot of my undergrad years solely because those years were my first real taste of freedom and I was enjoying life as much (if not more) than enjoying University. I know now if I could re-do my BA now, I would be a much better student. Same goes for the MA and Ph.D. in ten years, I would probably be much more capable than now, just because of the conditioning to work!

Definitely, a large part of the Ph.D. is sitting around and thinking, reading around things, reading things that may not even make it to your work. But that is the luxury and the downfall to the process really! :)

CaitMR - I have so much to say to you, I can't even begin! This conversation may have to continue over strawberry daiquiri's. What we give up as Ph.D. students in the hope that one day we will succeed in all areas terrifies me. There are some days I long to be back in admin just to I'm in a secure job and on climbing wage. Some days I feel if I wasn't so "odd" and interested in weird 1950s poetry then some nice guy would come along and I could start ticking off all those "boxes" that we need to start ticking off in our late 20s. You see people on facebook getting engaged, married, children... and that's not to say that the Ph.D. process hampers your opportunities to settle down and achieve a family, but the high incidence of independent, single females in this vocation has to mean something!

In Plath's The Bell Jar, her protagonist Esther says:

"I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet."

And to me, that sums up the problem quite eloquently. And to think - S.P. was dealing with the same problems in 1960 as we are today! Times have really moved along! ;)

The Plath Diaries said...

By the way, I love how I blame the Ph.D. and poor S.P. for my un-date-ability. The fact I'm an insanely picky, selfish, arrogant/confident person has nothing to do with it. Of course not! :)