A Scampaversary

Today marks three years of living in Edinburgh fulltime. Today marks three years of my official start date in the PhD programme. Today marks five years since I submitted my MSc. Today marks the first day of Fringe. Today was my original target date for submission.

I’d love to say that I was almost done with my PhD, but I’m not. My mom let me hijack her entire morning to work on my theory chapter. I’m talking about 4 hours of her time to read all 7,586 words and then video chat with me and talk through some edits. To be honest, it is the best I have felt about that chapter since I started it six months ago. She has a background in education but never worked with Critical Theory, and for her to tell me that she now understands the theory, and can see how it can be used in the classroom, and how it is being used in my study is a huge relief.

Maybe I don’t suck at this writing thing after all. I have never had this much trouble getting the words from my brain to the page before. I have been so beaten down by my supervisors that I no longer feel like I know what I am doing.

If only someone would hire me now so the impending deportation looming over my head would go away, I would be a very happy camper.

I’d love to say that after three years working as a PhD student that I had something deep and profound to say, but I am too tired to even think boring and shallow thoughts. I’ve been working on this blog for 8 years now, and sometimes I wonder if any of the posts say something deep and profound.

While I debate the merits of sleeping for the next month and hoping that my thesis magically gets written, I thought it was important to mark this day as a good one for me. I haven’t had too many good days lately, so I really appreciate them when they happen.

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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.

 

 

The Scamp and the Writing Challnage: Week 45

The challenge for this week is to write an entire post in the regional dialect of the place you call home.

Ah loove th’ scottish slang! thaur is somethin’ abit it ‘at makes me laugh, an’ makes me soond far mair badass than Ah actually am.

I am going to do my best to complete the post in my best Scottish slang. It is actually a lot harder than it sounds because I still have my expat accent, and vernacular. I’m going to do my best, and my friends can feel free to correct me.

Yesterday Ah maunt tae meit th’ second deadline oan mah checklist tae finish mah phd by julie. Ah hud tae redo mah theory chapter, but mah supervisur gae me a book ‘at he thooght micht help me, an’ tae be honest, it did. Ah hae bin pure woriat abit th’ drafts Ah submit, but noo Ah realize ‘at Ah can turn in jobby wark an’ gie guidence, an’ ‘en hae an easier time wi’ th’ revisin’.

and now for fun, because I hang out with a Geordie (someone from Newcastle and that area), I’ll do the next bit with a Geordie slang.

Ahm hopin that the next section iv the theory chaptor is just as easy tuh write. tuh be honest though, it is ganin tuh be the hardest part, an’ ah hev been draggin me feet on it fo’ twa yeors. ah sorta wish aa’d already been graftin on it, but at least neeo ah hev sum interestin ideas iv ha tuh myek it mare than just a borin aad lit review.

That isn’t that fun, so I think now, in honour of the fact that I am the only American in a school of fantastic Irish teachers, I’ll try my hand at the Irish dialect.

Scon are ‘eadin’ on a wee ‘oliday in cock an’ ‘en days, an’ ‘ope dat wi’ dat as a motivator, oi can git sum serious work done. oi ‘av ter finish data collecshun, whaich ‘ill ‘appen next week, an’ den it ‘ill be time ter work wi’ de results an’ start on two av de meaty chapters av me thesis.

Now, if you can figure out what all that says, I’ll be well impressed with you. I also hope that I haven’t offended anyone with my attempt at using the slang.

 

The Scamp and the Writing Challenge: Week 40

Although it is week 40, I definitely have not written 40 posts for the challenge. Somewhere along the way I got lazy and then super focused on my thesis. I haven’t been making much progress on that, so the last thing I’ve wanted to do was do any kind of writing, for work or otherwise. I’m currently feeling guilty about sitting on my couch eating bad Chinese food and watching TV, so I thought I would give this the attention that it deserves.

So back to the challenge, or at least a chance to write in a focused way with no right or wrong answer. I’m hoping that a little of free writing will get me back on my game and help me figure out what to do with my literature review and theory chapter.

The challenge for this week is as follows:

Express yourself
Tell us about a time you couldn’t quite get your words or images to express what you wanted to express. What do you think the barrier was? For bonus points, try again.

This is an easy one, and I am hoping that when I explain it here, I can work out some of the issues that I have trying to structure a really important chapter in my thesis. Explaining critical theory is the foundational basis for what I am trying to do with feedback and assessment at the university, and if I cannot explain it in a clear, but academic sounding manner, then I have no hope in moving forward with my PhD. If I cannot make connections between the previous research and what I hope to accomplish with my study, then I am not working hard enough, or smart enough for a PhD.

The problem is, I know where I went wrong. I spent the whole summer obsessed with word counts and the number of pages that I wanted to have written that I went for quantity over quality. My methodology chapter came together pretty nicely, and now it is in its third draft and gets a little better every time. That was a really easy chapter to write, the first draft came together in about three weeks. I thought that if I followed the structure and the guide I was using for that chapter while I was writing the theory chapter, I would be in good shape. I became focused on getting my 500 words a day in, and really did not stick to the outline I made at all. I was so disappointed that I did not make it to 30 thousand words by September 1st that I sent off a really crappy draft that was all fluff and no substance. The feedback I got from my supervisor sucked. It was hard to hear. I have to start over. The part that she did like was the part that was written by the group for the paper that is up for publication. I spent two years on that paper, and at this point, after 17 drafts, there is very little of it that is my words. So, the part that I wrote myself is shit, and the part that my supervisors wrote is great, but still doesn’t quite set out to do what I wanted to do. I have a lot to try to redo, and the outline of how to do it, but when I sit down at my laptop, or at a computer at the uni, I cannot seem to get anything written that ‘sounds like it belongs in a PhD’. I see that as having wasted three months. Three months that I needed.

This brings me to the second problem. My funding ends in July. There is no way I am going to get more from the programme, and when it runs out, if I am not done with my degree,, I am not sure that I will even be able to finish. I cannot take out any more loans, cannot afford to stay in Scotland, and will never be able to finish my PhD. I am so stressed about finding a job, trying to get something done in three years that usually takes people four years, and worried about the fact that I will probably have to leave Scotland in a few months. I am so worried about all the things going on in my life that aren’t related to my PhD that I am too stressed to be able to sit down and focus on the work in front of me.

I’d really like to be able to take my mom’s advice and just write out the chapter in my own words and then go back to make it sounds all fancy and pretentious, but I just don’t have the time to do that. I also hoped to work it out here and demonstrate that I actually understand critical theory, and that I can use it, critical pedagogy, and the Ideal Speech Situation to explain why the research on feedback, while it has done a lot to help students in terms of their learning, does not do enough to help create a dialogue between students and teachers and allow them to use feedback as a learning tool. I thought a lot about being able to just free write here and then hopefully get some feedback from my lovely readers. Then I realized that if I did, I’d probably get popped for plagiarism when I turned in the draft because it is published here before it gets published in my thesis.

Sometimes I really hate the fact that we have to be a slave to Turnitin since it not only claims the rights to your work once you submit something there,  but the people at the university who swear by it, swear that if too many words or phrases are strung together then you might be cheating, or if you do not cite your sources correctly then you are trying to maliciously dupe the university into thinking you are smarter than you are. But that is a rant for another day. I’m also a big believer in collaboration, and posting it here and then discussing it with others means that it would not be my own thoughts and ideas, and that is a big no no in the world of the tortured PhD student.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I started this post thinking that I could work through some writing issues, and ended up feeling grouchy and angry that I am having trouble getting the thoughts in my head onto paper, and that now I am falling further behind in my quest to become a doctor of philosophy. I’m taking yet another day off when I cannot afford to take another day off.

Jogging. I am going to go back to jogging. At least being really tired after a run is a better excuse then I am too afraid to sound stupid.

 

The Scamp Crosses One off the List

I have now crossed number 11 off my list! Yesterday I emailed a draft of my methodology chapter to my supervisors. I think it is pretty solid for a first draft, and I know that there are a lot of drafts to come before it is done, but I am pretty happy with how it came out. It also means that I have some words on the page in time for the halfway point of my programme. I’m going to celebrate this moment with a cookie.

  1. Learn how to drive in the UK.
  2. Present at an academic conference
  3. Start a new tradition
  4. Go back to therapy
  5. Visit three new countries (Paris, Malta, Hungary)
  6. Ride in a hot air balloon
  7. Quit the tutoring centre
  8. Volunteer for a literacy programme
  9. Read a book that has more than 500 pages
  10. Make my bed everyday for at least three months
  11. Have a solid draft of my thesis completed
  12. Master scorpion pose
  13. Attend the symphony
  14. Learn a rap song from start to finish
  15. Host a dinner party
  16. Create a  budget so I can pay down my student loans
  17. Create something original
  18. Create a solid workout regime
  19.  Go on a long hike (6 miles or more)
  20. Learn to dance
  21. Eat an exotic meal
  22. Learn to cook a fancy meal
  23. Yell at a football match
  24. Go horseback riding
  25. Master British spelling and punctuation
  26. Create a good sleep schedule
  27. See my favorite group in concert
  28. Fall in love
  29. Stop holding grudges
  30. Let go of my expectations

The Scamp Negotiates Critical Literacy

I feel like I am now an expert on critical literacy. I’ve read countless books and articles in the last month on the subject, and have pages and pages of notes in my handy dandy notebook that will help me in my paper. The problem is, I am not 100% sure that I am looking at the right sources. I have a lot of the big name theorists in the field, but a lot of their work was written more than 3 years ago. I also have the added challenge of trying to find the people that write about critical literacy as it relates to tiny humans rather than the mid sized and full sized humans that feature predominately in the research. I’ve found one book that I can access completely online (thank-you Google Books!) and I am hoping that the author of that book will be able to point me in the right direction of some other work to check out.

I’m hoping that in the next few days I can find what I need since the next deadline with my supervisor is a write-up of the research already done in the field. I don’t want to turn in a vague paper on the research that had been done in the 70s, 80s, and even early 90s. While this isn’t my first time writing a major research paper or negotiating research databases, I always worry that I am missing something or someone. The added bonus here is that the university prefers the use of British theorists, while I am much more well versed in the American ones. Because of this, I feel like I am spending a lot of extra time researching the British theorists and their work before I even start reading the book or article to make sure that I am using something substantial. While I know the second reader on my paper will not think twice about the use of Americans in my paper, I am not sure how my first reader, or the external examiner will feel. All of these little caveats to consider have really made the research part of this project a lot more stressful than my last thesis. I would talk to my supervisor about it, but she seems to be ignoring the two emails I’ve sent her. I’m just glad that one of my besties in Scotland is in on the meetings and can fill me in on anything that I may be missing.

In the meantime, I will continue to scour the interwebs for anything that I think may help me in my pursuit of convincing the world that critical literacy is an important part of book selection for primary school children, and hope that people who are actual experts in the field may be able to point me in the right direction.

As an aside, today is the two year anniversary of my first thesis being published for all the world to see. I’m not as proud of that work as I would like to be, but sometimes I still search my name in the library catalog so that I can pretend that I am a badass.