The Scamp Reframes the Narrative

I’m struggling with my thesis edits. I’m struggling not just because I have to rewrite the entire thing in six months when the first draft took three years to complete, but because of what happened to me in those three years, what I had to endure there and then in the viva that have made it really hard for me to sit down and rewrite  my work in a way that is satisfactory to the people that control whether or not I get my degree.

This week the University and College Union called a strike at universities across Scotland over the rising cost of pensions and other pay and working conditions (this is the very simplified bare-bones way to explain it. You can find a more detailed explanation here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/). UCU issued a news update this week that I think really explains it well:

Guardian editorial said the marketisation of universities had seen a new breed of vice-chancellors emerge aping the language and salaries of a business CEO complete with an entourage of financial managers and marketing gurus. However staff had been left behind as their pay fell and an intellectual precariat was stumbling from year to year on temporary contracts wondering where the next teaching gig was coming from. While the Financial Times said that the industrial action carried wider significance than the fate of a disputed retirement plan, and had exposed the precariousness of Britain’s higher education system as it has become more of a marketplace.

So what does the strike and the fight for better pay, suitable contracts and fair working conditions?

Everything. See I am on one of those temporary contracts. I am paying a lot into my pension that could be helpful in paying my student loans. Full disclosure, I am not a member of the union so I am not allowed to strike even if I wanted to. But that is neither here nor there.  What I want to focus on is the last sentence in the paragraph from UCU. The working conditions of the UK’s higher education system.

See the thing is, it is not just the staff who are suffering. PhD students are also suffering. The expectation, the pay, and the complete disregard for the mental health and wellbeing of the students undertaking the role. These were battles that I had to face almost daily for four years and when I spoke up to the people that were in a position to help me, they either laughed in my face or told me not to worry. No one took me seriously. No one even acknowledged the possibility that my worries now may become actual problems in the future. At one point I was working on five different projects to scrape money together to pay my bills every month. I burned out twice. I cried every Friday with a therapist.

I made it all the way to a viva only to be told what I had done wasn’t even half good enough. I was failed by a lot of people, mainly my supervisors, and I could get in a lot of trouble for even putting that in writing. Yes, it is true that I could email my supervisors and ask for help. The thing is, I don’t even know what to ask for. The only one who would even respond would tell me that I know what I need to do and I just need to do it….and I really wish that was true. I have no idea what I need to do because I did what was expected of a PhD student, the examiners hated it, and now I am trying to do something that leaves out a lot of important information…..oh yeah, and I need to not mention the methodology that I used to collect the data because the examiners hated it.

It really hurts when people call me Dr Wilder….one because technically I am not, but two, because it is a slap in the face to be seen as an expert when I was told behind closed doors I wasn’t good enough, even though half the choices made were not made by me.

But dealing with that reality is not getting me anywhere. That attitude led me to not working on my thesis, making poor dietary choices, weight gain, ridiculous anxiety and my current (and starting to feel like permanent) grumpy state. So I am trying to refrain that narrative. But it’s hard. I want to go on strike and refuse to work under these conditions. I want to fight the people that put me in this position in the first place.

I want to not be afraid that I could lose my job because I cannot meet the needs of a system that does not care if I pass or fail as long as they get paid….and since they already got paid, there really is no reason to help me.

I am not really sure why I dumped all of this on my blog about being an expat. It isn’t fun. It isn’t happy. It isn’t even insightful. But I guess it makes me feel better to know that I am not incapable of writing. This is the most writing I have done at one time in months, and maybe, just maybe if I can go on strike against the conditions that I was forced to work in before and see this as an opportunity to really get a PhD with my work saying what I want to say and start helping university’s help their students with assessment and feedback. I think I am good at what I do. I think that once I put this nonsense behind me that I can continue with my work in an environment that supports me, encourages me, and is allowing me the chance to do things that I am good at and try to help people who want to enhance their assessment and feedback skills.

I am ten posts short of 500. I have no idea how I got to 500 posts, or what that special 500th post will look like, but I am excited that I am almost there. Maybe it is another sign from the universe that I can get the writing done and I can show the examiners that I earned the PhD that cost me a lot of blood, sweat, tears, friendships, and mental health.

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 and the Writing Challenge: Week 34

Hello from the sick bay! I managed to catch a bug. I don’t feel great. I don’t sounds great.

The good news? The Fringe is over. Tourists will start to go home, and my city will quiet down a bit and settle down. This makes me very very very happy.

The not so good news? It is the end of the month and I am going to hit my 30,000 word goal for my thesis.

…which brings me to the writing challenge for the week: take the third line of the last song I listened to and make that the title and the subject of the post.  I was jamming to the new(ish) Paramore song ‘Hard Times’. The third, and the fourth line actually work well for the way I am currently feeling. They are:

Tell me that I’m alright
That I ain’t gonna die

Given that I feel like death, I know that if I went to see the doc right now, she would tell me I am fine. I need water, plenty of sleep and probably stop going to sleep with wet hair. It has been awhile since I’ve felt this crappy, and I am just happy that it is at the end of the summer and that a lot of the hard work I wanted to do on my PhD has been done.

That being said, knowing that I am falling short of my word count has me stressed. I don’t like falling short, and I would love it if my supervisors would tell me that I am doing okay. I had a really good meeting with them this month, but all I could hear is that I am a little behind the curve of where I should be as a third year, and I am constantly worried about how fucked I got in my second year on data collection.

I’ve already made it farther in this programme than I did in the one in California. I think I can even see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But it is what comes after I make it through the tunnel that has me scared. I’ve made no secret about wanting to become a permanent resident of the UK, specifically, Edinburgh. Work visas are hard to get, especially when I am not exactly a specialist in the field. I still have about a year before I really have to worry, but worrying about finding a full time job here in the city is a constant part of my day.

I want someone to tell me that it’s alright, and that there will be a job for me and I can stay in my flat and continue to miss the sunshine.

Until that happens, I am going to sit on my couch, guzzle tea by the gallons and chip away at my word count. Only 60,000 words to go.

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 13

…or, The Scamp is a Reluctant Statistician.

I don’t like the writing challenge for this week, so I am just going to make this one up as I go. I’ve been back in Scotland for more than a week, and I finally had to have the conversation that I have been dreading for months. I have spent almost two years collecting survey data and interviewing the staff and students at the uni as part of my thesis research. Most of the surveys were passed out in classes, and then entered into the dreaded SPSS software system. I have just been playing around with the software to see if I remembered how to use it, but I have been putting off doing anything more than finding averages and simple standard deviations within the data.

I hate statistics. Those who know me, and who were with me through the two semesters that we studied it (hey old study group, I’m looking at you and our old Google Docs) know that you often had to drag me kicking and screaming through an explanation of the relationship between the numbers, and I had to sit with a very formulaic fill-in-the-blank sentence structure so I could just plug in the numbers into the template. I only passed that class because I had people way smarter than me sitting next to me helping me understand what I was doing. I’m a qualitative researcher. I’m more concerned with the hows and the whys, with talking to people or observing phenomena. I like interviews and focus groups. I like interacting with others, and spending time going through documents to learn. I do not spend my time with large data sets.

My director of studies loves numbers. He is a scientist. He loves big numbers, he is very uncomfortable with emotions (which I can see every time I cry in his presence), and he does not think that Grounded Theory is really a thing. We’ve clashed a bit on the theory for my thesis, and in the last few months he has been pushing me to sit down with the statistics and really start to create questions and hypotheses (hypothesi? I’m not sure) to explore for the analysis chapter. He has been after me to meet with him, to create charts and spreadsheets, and to get some hypotheses written on paper.

I’ve been avoiding him and making passive aggressive comments about not wanting to work with the numbers. When that didn’t work, I straight out told him that I was worried that I have no idea what I am doing with the stats, and I am really afraid that I am going to have to do complicated bivariate correlations and ANOVA tests and then have no idea how to explain the results and the numbers that are produced from it. He kept saying that things would be fine, that he would sit down with me and we could do it together and everything would be fine.

Meanwhile, I’m stressing out over stats and the never-ending edits to the paper. I had my 6 month review this week and cried in front of my external supervisor who has met me exactly one time 6 months ago. It is my physiological response to frustration and stress (or anger or embarrassment, or sadness). My external was really nice about it, and did her took her job wonderfully and tried to mediate the situation. She helped me get a really good compromise, and I think my supervisor finally understand where I am coming from.

I also think I will be able to handle the stats I have to do for my thesis.

I know that this is all part of the process. I know that I am not going to always agree with my supervisors, and that I am going to have some bumps in the road, and that there would be some learning that I would have to do. I haven’t been able to meet with all of my supervisors at once in a long time, and sometimes I feel like I am a one woman show. I’m currently the only person working on an Education based PhD, and it is not always fun being a lonely island. It doesn’t help that my depression is up and down and I have killer anxiety. I enjoyed my time in my in California, but I have a stop start relationship with my work, and see it as a waste of time when I take a break, rather than a chance to clear my head and center myself before I continue. Thank the sweet baby Jesus I have a therapist that helps keep me on track.

I hate that cry when I am in situations like that, but I do feel better that things are out in the open. I’m hoping now that my plans to spend the summer with my data will not be as stressful.   In the meantime I will binge listen to My Favourite Murderer and try not to think it is weird that I enjoy listening to tales of murder and two super neuritic women telling me to Fuck Politeness! and Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered.

The Scamp Collects Some Data

I finally get to write about something related to my research! It has been a bit of a struggle, but I have managed to get some surveys out and today I spent the day inputting the results into SPSS.

The last time I used SPSS was for the grad program at CSUF. I worked with three other people to write notes and put together a complicated semester worth of data sets and questions. We made step by step notes on how to do everything from simple regressions to comparative factor analysis. At the time, I couldn’t tell you what I was doing. When writing up the results, I copied the wording from my handy dandy manual and just plugged in my numbers. I’m a stubborn qualitative researcher; I just don’t care about the numbers. My supervisor is a scientist, so he is quite insistent that I have some quantitative data to back up all the hippy dippy feelings (he hasn’t quite said those words, but I know that this is something that he would say).

After a quick trip to YouTube to refresh my memory on how to properly set all of my variables, I was able set up all of my questions and create a set that can now be analysed for all sorts of fun connections. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel having to use SPSS again, but all in all, I am happy that I remembered as much as I did. I will probably have to consult the internet for the proper language to use when describing the trends, and will probably have to look up the proper way to create the charts and graphs that I will need, but it seems a lot less scary than I thought it would be.

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and just for fun, here is proof that I actually worked on my surveys today.

I’m excited because this means that my research is finally underway, and I am making progress with my PhD. I have a couple of months left until I advance to full on PhD status, but with this underway, I know that that meeting will be a cinch.

Update on my 30 things to do before 30: I bought tickets to the symphony, and made my way up a little higher on the list for a therapist. I can’t wait to be able to cross some more things off my list.

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge:Week 2

I’ve got the rainy day blues. I did not go into the university today, and now my writing is slow going. I think my mistake is that I am wearing trackies and my UC Merced sweatshirt rather than jeans and a t-shirt.

I need yoga. I need a nap. I need some inspiration.

The writing challenge for this week is to focus on making a list of what I am grateful for. I laughed because I just spent the last year doing this every week. I feel like I have done nothing but write about what I am grateful for. People are probably sick of it.

Right at this moment I am grateful that life goes on. This time last year I was a mess. I was headed to a disciplinary hearing over the plagiarism charge, and I saw my whole life falling apart. Today, even with the rainy day blues, I woke up next to my manpanion, had a lazy morning doing a crossword puzzle while he studied Scottish laws for work, and even though my writing is slow going, I have research, I’m collecting data, and I am working toward my PhD. In a little more than a month I am headed to California for the birth of my nephew and then on to Texas to watch one of my besties get married.

All in all, I’m really happy with where I have ended up. The dark and twisty is still looming in the background, but it is getting better.  I am still worried about making my loan payment, still negotiating my role in my job, and still trying to balance my need for adventure with my adult responsibilities, but with every day that passes, I think that I am doing a little bit better with each of those things.

Now if someone will send me so motivation to get my writing done, I will be a very very very happy girl.