The Scamp Chooses Quality Over Quantity

The 4th day in Belgium was my chance to present my research. I spent a year and a half working on this paper and waited another year for it to be rejected from a journal so I try and present at every conference that I can to get my idea out there. After the first two days of the conference though, I wasn’t holding out much hope for people enjoying my presentation.

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I wasn’t wrong. The idea of a conceptual paper was almost too much for them. They did not understand why there was no survey and no numbers involved in my formulation of the seven guiding principles to help a programme who wished to move to a programme focused approach to feedback. The questions that I fielded made it clear that they did not understand my paper. Part of me wondered if it was something in my explanation that didn’t translate, or if I really broke their brains with a paper that did not include a survey.

It was not a complete waste though. I met a guy from Germany who is interested in feedback and knows one of my supervisors, so he asked great questions and invited me to be part of a symposium that he is putting together for a conference in April. This was exactly the type of thing that I hoped would happen when I went to the conference. My networking skills suck, so the fact that I could have a chat with someone who is interested in the field and wants to work together makes me happy. I am grateful for the chance to work with people from other countries and differing viewpoints to continue the conversation about feedback and assessment.

This 10 minute conversation about my poster made the conference worth it. I was starting to worry that I had wasted a week that I should have dedicated to writing my discussion chapter.  Hopefully, the symposium is accepted and I can head to Canada in April to continue networking.

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The Scamp Eats Waffles

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If you say the word Belgium to an American, the first thing they will mention is either waffles or chocolate. I have a lifelong love of both of those, but waffles have a special place in my heart. I knew that there was no way that I could leave the country without trying one. After extensive research, I settled on the oldest waffle house in Antwerp: The Waffle House Van Hecke. According to their website:

Gustaaf Van Hecke founded the business in 1905.
Originally the waffles were sold at the door and especially in the pubs in and around the Sint-Andries quarter.

Later on in the Nationalestraat, formerly known as the “Boeksteeg”, a waffle house was established.

The founder Gustaaf Van Hecke 1873-1946

I made it to the waffle house when they opened which meant that I had the distinct pleasure of enjoying the first waffle of the day. I was greeted by the owner, a giant friendly man who clearly loves everything about life. I seated myself outside in the sunshine and he made me a strawberry and mango smoothie while I waited for my waffle. When he brought out the plate he sat down at the table with me for a chat. He seemed worried that I was eating breakfast by myself, so he asked me what brought me to Antwerp, why I moved from California to Edinburgh, and how he grew up with the children of a Jewish family that his mom served as a maid for. He learned English watching American movies, and laughed with enjoyment at the way I pronounced words. Because there was no one else in the restaurant, the women who cooked the waffles came out to have a cigarette, and the owner acted as a translator when the women asked me if I was a tattoo artist.

They laughed a little too hard when I told them I worked for a university.

I only spent an hour there, but I have to say, I probably could have spent the rest of the day there. I don’t mind eating alone, I usually have a book with me, or I get my food to go and then find a nice park or somewhere near water to eat, but I really enjoyed having someone to chat with while I enjoyed my waffle.

One of my favourite things about having the opportunity to travel is getting to sit down across from people from different backgrounds and cultures and have meaningful chats. I love listening to different accents, hearing the stories people are willing to share, and getting to see the world through a different lens. Sometimes I wish I was better about taking photographs or recording these moments in some way because I feel like these little moments make me a better person.

I wish I could say that the waffle and the chat motivated me to get some work done, but it did not. I have the voice of my supervisor in my head telling me that I am doing it wrong every time I sit down to write. Between him beating down my self-esteem in regards to my writing, and the fact that I spent the last 2.5 years going back and forth with a sociopath who used me, and who knows how many other girls to cheat on his girlfriend have not left me wanting to do a whole lot more than just curl up in bed and binge watch true crime documentaries. It doesn’t help that I know what I need to write and just panic when I try and do it.

Oh, and people telling me to just get it done. Like I am just being lazy. That’s not really something that I need to hear. Thank God for therapy….and waffles.

The Scamp in Belgium Day 2

I’m not going to lie….I decided on day 2 that the conference was a waste of my time. I’m officially too old for an early researcher designation, and I struggled to find presentations that I wanted to listen to. I met a fantastic woman from Melbourne who actually grew up in California. She had developed an Aussie accent to help her students! It gives me hope for developing an accent living here (I mean, that probably won’t happen, but a girl can dream). She is similar to me in snark and research beliefs, so it was nice to have a friend among the aliens.

I ditched the conference at lunch though to enjoy the sunshine and get a little culture. My first stop was the main square to see the Brabo fountain. Unfortunately, most of the buildings are under construction so I could not see much.

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The statue gets its name from the legend of the city. According to Wikipedia:

The reason is the legend of the name of the city, in which it is said that the giant Druon Antigoon cut off a hand to all the ship captains who moored in the area and refused to pay toll, then throwing it to the Scheldt. The captain of the Roman army Brabo cut off the giant’s hand imitating what he had done. The fountain reflects the moment when the Brabo throws the giant’s hand into the river. According to this legend, the etymology of the name of the city Antwerp is a composition of the Dutch words “(h)ant” (hand) and “werpen” (launch).

However, John Lothrop Motley argues, and so do a lot of Dutch etymologists and historians, that Antwerp’s name derives from “anda” (at) and “werpum”(wharf)to give an ‘t werf (on the wharf, in the same meaning as the current English wharf). Aan ‘t werp (at the warp) is also possible. This “warp” (thrown ground) is a man-made hill or a river deposit, high enough to remain dry at high tide, whereupon a construction could be built that would remain dry. Another word for werp is pol (dyke) hence polders (the dry land behind a dyke, that was no longer flooded by the tide).

Brabo’s hand will become important for me later in the day.

I decided to keep walking to the MAS. It is on the port and used to be a storage depot in the 16th century.

Each floor of the building held a different exhibit. My favourite was the one dedicated to celebrations. It was bright, it was weird, it was cheerful. The last room had an amazing electric band. It was colourful, the music was a cheery circus/jazz music. There weren’t a lot of people in the museum, so I had the chance to wander at my leisure, which I love.

I’d walked myself to blisters along the harbour, and on the way back to the hotel, I decided to stop by Brabo’s Hand Tattoo (https://www.facebook.com/braboshandtattooshop/) to see if they could help me out with a souvenir to mark my time in Belguim. When I first walked into the shop, I was less than impressed. No one acknowledged me and give that it was 30 degrees outside, and about 40 degrees in the shop, I did not see myself lasting long. When the shop assistant finally did acknowledge me and I asked about walk-ins, he mentioned that he had an artist with an opening. The guy was fantastic. I told him I wanted a brightly coloured cactus and within 15 min he had something simple drawn up for me. He also worked really quickly, which I appreciate.

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The cactus sums up my personality. Prickly, but still pretty, and if you can get past the needles, there is a soft nice heart….not to mention I thrive in warm weather and I’m fairly low maintenance.

The music in the studio was amazing, but there was one song that my artist played a few times while I was there that really got stuck in my head. It is hauntingly beautiful, and unfortunately shortly after the video was made the rapper was shot and killed.

I walked home humming this song and thinking about travelling, my struggle with mental health and my horrible sense of direction. I got myself turned around on the walk back and Google maps failed me to the point where I was texting the wombmate practically in tears about being lost. I was so happy to find the hotel by accident.

The work and the motivation to work was still almost nonexistent. Every time I sit down with my laptop and the chapter, I hear my supervisor in my head telling me I am doing it wrong and that I am just going to have to redo what I am writing. It is hard.

I quickly made up my mind that I was going to ditch the third day of the conference to try and get some writing done because none of the papers seemed interesting or worthwhile. There was only one thing that was going to save day three: WAFFLES.

 

The Scamp in Belguim

I know I promised to finish detailing my journey in Cyprus.

I haven’t.

I know I said I was going to write my discussion chapter and make my chapter edits to finish my thesis by the end of July.

It’s not looking good.

So, in an effort to stick to something, I am going to post this week about my time in Antwerpen and then go back to work on the posts about Cyprus.

And I am going to write my damn thesis.

I was in Belguim to attend the JURE conference. This is dedicated to junior researchers of the European Association for Research and Learning. I had really high hopes for this conference. I thought I would be able to network and meet people who were doing all kinds of interesting research all over Europe. What I got was a keynote speaker who made the point that when a person is sleep deprived they suffer from fatigue, and when they suffer from fatigue they are less motivated to learn.

Seriously.

A quick browse through the programme showed that 90% of the researchers were purely quantitative researchers (they do massive surveys and only care about the numbers) despite the fact that their research deals with the motivation of learners. My favourite moment from the first day of the conference was the presentation by a guy who said that because he interviewed a few teachers and they could not name an educational theory, it meant there was no such thing. I asked about critical pedagogy, which happens to be the educational theory that I am using for my thesis, and he did not really have an answer for that.

I ditched the afternoon sessions to take a wander around the city. While listening to the keynote…and by listening I mean surfing the internet on my tablet, I discovered that Antwerpen has a large Jewish population. I am not sure why this surprised me, but it did. I decided to wander to the Jewish quarter because there is nothing I love more than exploring Jewish neighbourhoods and connecting to my religion all over the world. One thing that I learned is that the Jewish people in Antwerp are very Orthodox and that a tattooed girl in a bright geometric dress is not quite their idea of a good time. I wish I could have gone into the synagogue, but I was not dressed appropriately, and I respect the culture too much to be an ignorant tourist.

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I also wandered into the central train station because it is a fantastically built structure in the heart of the city. I’d been through it the night before when I took the train in from Brussels but went back to really appreciate the marble and polished services.

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I wandered the main shopping area and as I weaved in and out of the shops, I noticed that there was an overabundance of tourists who were more interested in muscling each other out of the way for ice cream then enjoying the city, so I took my dinner back to the hotel to work on chapter edits. Those edits did not go well. I am reading edits about edits my supervisor made, and there are a few comments that make me wonder if he actually read the chapter or if he just skimmed it. All of these edits keep me from feeling like I am making any progress with this work.

I really wanted the break in Cyprus and the week in Belgium to help me feel less burnt out, but I am not sure that any of it helped.

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Day one in the city though was a success, and I hoped that day 2 of the conference would re-energise me about the research being done by other apprentice academics.

The Scamp in Cyprus

Greetings from the Republic of Cyprus! For those of you who are geography challenged, Cyprus is south of Turkey. They claimed their independence from the UK in 1960, and their official languages are Greek and Turkish.

The island is warm, friendly, and surrounded by the Mediterranian, so I am a happy happy happy girl. I came here to write my discussion chapter and attempt to get my life back in order. I have been calling this holiday operation tan lines. I have the tan lines, but I am no closer to getting the discussion chapter done than I was when I was in Edinburgh. I’m starting to get a little bit stressed about that.

I do not like to be stressed when I am at the beach.

For the past three days, I have not felt tired, I have not had a headache, not been grouchy, and not been cold. These are all things that should make for a successful writing environment. I know what I need to write, but I am having a really hard time putting the words on the page. I’m afraid that once my supervisors read my draft they will tell me it is wrong. I’m afraid that I am getting one step closer to completing the thesis and I still don’t have a job. I’m afraid that something is going to happen and the chance to finish is going to be taken from me again. I’m afraid that I am just not good enough.

Today I sat in the rain in Coral Bay Beach. I was under an umbrella and staying mostly dry, and for the most part still happy. Of course, that could have been the watermelon ice cream. Before the rain, I enjoyed a swim in the sea and the heat of the sun on my already sunburned body. I was relaxed. I was happy. I managed to drive us there in the rental car without killing anyone.

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I’m not sure that I would have ever come here on my own, but I am really happy that I did. There is a very relaxed feel to the island. The people are friendly and used to dealing with tourists, and because it is such a hotspot destination for Brits, just about everyone here understands English.

Now that I am sitting on my bed in the hotel though, I am feeling very anxious about the few words I put on the page today, and feel stressed that I am going to have another bad meeting with my supervisors when I return to Edinburgh. Maybe I’ll just camp out here and never go home. You certainly can’t beat the views. When I get myself properly organised and settled (I got back at 3 am this morning) I will do a better job of sharing all the great things that me and the fellow llama got see.

 

I started writing this 4 days ago. I never finished. The internet was spotty and I could feel myself snapping back to old Kim. You can see that I was successful with the tan lines, and the place was beautiful, but the writing is slow and I am not sure how to get back in a productive streak with that. Luckily once I survive this week I will be off the Antwerp for a conference. I am presenting a poster, but I am excited to see what other research is being done by early career researchers in Europe.

I’m also hoping that someone will offer me a job.

The Scamp Laughs

I have been running around like a mad woman this week trying to get the chapter edits done and make some headway with my thesis. I’m not sure how much luck I am having, but I survived the week, so at least that is something.

All the running around means that I have been too lazy to cook. I stopped at Subway on my way home this week, and while I was waiting for my sandwich, the guy behind the counter asked me if I was headed to work or headed home from work (it was 4). I told him I left one job and was headed home to another one. This is the conversation that followed:

Him: another job?! What is it that you do?

Me: I work for a university, but I am headed home to work on my PhD.

Him: (sceptical) what are you working on?

Me: I study how students respond to the feedback they receive from lecturers and whether or not they learn from it.

Him: Feedback?

Me: Like the comments on an assignment, or if you write an essay and get notes written in the margin.

Him: You can study anything…

Me: I mean….there is a guy studying how takeaway trauma effects people. Like how anxious you get waiting for your pizza to arrive.

Him: See, that is a worthwhile study! That is important!

Me: ……….

That’s it. I quit! I’m done with academia. I had a really good giggle over that because it reminds me that my work, as important as I think it is, is really only important in my corner of the world.

I’m okay with that though. Even though I am massively behind schedule and freaking out about the future, I am happy that universities will fund almost anything so that I have a chance to try and help people in my little corner of the world. I also really needed the laugh.

Plus, the guy looked so serious that I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the takeaway trauma study was probably bullshit.

The Scamp Suffers a Setback

I would just like to take this time to apologise to the people in Tollcross at 4 pm this afternoon. I know I offended a lot of British sensibilities when I got off the number 10 bus and went straight into the arms of one of my best friends and sobbed like a baby.

For a good five minutes.

I’m sorry for the people on the number 10 bus who saw me using my jacket to mop up the snot.

I’m sorry for the people on the number 16 bus who didn’t get to sit down during rush hour because I was a drunk mess sobbing on my way home.

I am, however, not sorry for my emotions, or the fact that when I am upset I have no control over them.

For the last three years, I have been busting my ass to finish a four-year project. I have dealt with changes in my job role, setback and delays with my writing, and the constant niggling fear that I was not going to be able to complete my work before my funding runs out. 6 months ago I was told that I was on track to submit by July. I’ve been working toward that deadline.

Today I was told that it is almost impossible for me to meet that deadline.

So I did what any mature person does: I cried like a baby.

The last four months have been really tough on me. I’ve been juggling multiple jobs, sending out loads of job applications and suffering from stress-induced writer’s block.  I have not seen my family in over a year because I had to prioritise finishing my thesis, and have not had a break since New Years. I’m burned out. I have zero fucks to give and now it turns out that is going to cost me graduating on time.

This means that in two months I will lose my primary source of income and have to figure out how to pay my course fees and all of my bills. To say I am in a panic is an understatement. To say that my struggle with anxiety and depression is making it worse is like saying the sky is blue…just so painfully obvious it doesn’t need to be said.

Last week the dean of our department basically told the staff to strive to be average. I heard this from people who were actually at the meeting (I wasn’t allowed to attend, because let’s be honest, I have never been a part of the office). At the time I sided with my supervisor who was raging. Why should anyone strive to be average? Who wants to be mediocre?

Right at this moment, I understand being okay with just being average. I would love it if my thesis was just average, just passable. At this point, I just want it to be good enough for me to get my degree, rather than the best work I am capable of producing. I understand that mindset right now.

The positive in all of this is that I am surrounded by people who are very supportive of me. One of my supervisors hugged me and let me cry whilst telling me that I can still prove my main supervisor wrong and that it is okay for me to feel this way. My mom paid off a large part of student loan for me so that I could save the money I was going to use for my bills next year. My wombmate sent me photos of my babies that she knows make me happy so I had something else to focus on.

One of my best friends here pretended that he missed the bus when I text him and hugged me until I stopped crying and then filled me with rum and chips while helping me look at the situation objectively and make a plan of attack that would allow me to move forward. My llama offered to burn down the place and promised to keep me on my writing schedule so that I could kick ass and prove everyone wrong.

Now I am drunk, which never happens, full of pizza and self-loathing, and reminding myself that a setback just means that I am going to feel that much more accomplished when I finish.

Right now though I am going to cry a little more and watch cute baby animal videos on Youtube. Tomorrow when I am hungover and remorseful I will get myself back into my research and try to get myself back on track.