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 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 Challnege: Week 51

Week 51. I’m not sure how that happened. It seems like just yesterday I was headed to the Amber Rose to meet four women that found themselves like me, in want of low key options for the new year, and a chance to meet some new girls. I was feeling depressed, had just returned from Budapest, and my therapist suggested that a good cure for my loneliness would be to go out and meet some new people, expand my social circle and realise that I didn’t need to dwell on the failure of a shitty relationship.

Turned out, it was a really great idea. Even though I went back to the shitty relationship in hopes that a clean start and compromise would make it better, I did keep and maintain a friendship with the new year’s ladies. We have the best group chat, travel together, have epic nights out, and they are some of my favourite people.

But, as usual, I digress. The challenge for this week is to discuss something that I know well: a source of anxiety.

It is fair to say that it would probably be easier for me to write about things that don’t give me anxiety (which at this moment are baby animal videos and chocolate). The challenge is to not only discuss the source of anxiety, but also the ways in which I am (or trying to) manage it.

I have a feeling this will be the most words I have put on a page in a really long time. The current source of my anxiety is words.  The words I am not writing for my blog. The words I am not writing for my thesis. The words being said to me by friends, family, and co-workers. The words being said to me by strangers. The words that I am not saying to anyone…even myself. All of those words are floating around in my head and driving me crazy. I constantly have music on, podcast, the TV, all of it just to drown out the words in my head.

Most of those words are telling me that I am not good enough. That I am not working hard enough to complete my PhD on time or find a fulltime time job. That my ideas for feedback and assessment practices don’t have merit, and that I am not a strong enough to make good decisions for myself. The voices are constantly telling me something bad is waiting to happen the moment I get too comfortable.

Some days I think it is probably terrifying for anyone to be around me, and that they would be even more freaked out if they saw what was in my head.

Now the part that is not so easy: how I am working through the anxiety. As I mentioned above, I keep myself surrounded by noise. I’m sure the ringing in my ears and my future self who can’t really hear are not thrilled by this, but it has been working so far so I might hold on to it for a little bit longer. I have also made sure that I have kept up with my therapy. Those sessions have helped me become more self-aware, and even though I sometimes hate that I understand what I am doing and why it has gone a long way to help me curb a lot of the negative thoughts. I do a lot of writing out of scenarios, and a lot of thinking about what those voices are saying, and whether or not they are based in reality, or if they are part of my dark and twisty. More often than not, that helps talk me off the ledge.

In addition to that, I have been trying to really get back to doing yoga regularly and practising mindfulness. The other day I did a yoga class that really helped me with a way I can make a change from the dark and twisty to the more light-hearted and grateful. Justin, one of the founders of Outlaw Yoga in Colorado created a space to practice gratitude by composing a challenging class and reminding us that we need to change our thought process from ‘got to’ to ‘get to’. In relation to the class, I get to try to hold a difficult pose, I don’t have to. I get to smile and be happy about not stopping when the sequence challenged me because I could have just turned it off and sat down on the couch to watch TV. The way I am going to try and apply this to my everyday life is stop saying that I have to work on the lit review, but that I am lucky because I get to work on it and try and make a contribution to the field. I don’t have to be lonely and in the dark and twisty because I get to see a therapist to help me through it, I get to go to events that allow me to meet new people, and eventually, I will get to a place emotionally where I am a little less stressed and anxious.

That’s not to say that I am successful at this just yet, but the great thing is, I get to keep practising and learning until my default habit is to think in terms of gratitude rather than negativity and self-doubt.

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 and the Writing Challenge: Week 26

It is July.

Seriously. July. I survived the month from hell, became an official PhD student, and made it out of Scotland for a quick jaunt into the world of academic presentations.

I’m not sure I was entirely successful.

I turned in a report last week to justify my becoming a PhD student. It took me two and half weeks to write, and I was terrified the entire time. I had a really hard time putting into words why my work is significant and what made me a good candidate for the transfer of title. It really freaked me out. If I cannot explain what I am doing and why it is important, then why should the university move me on?

Which led to a whole host of other problems. If I do not get to advance and complete the degree, then it is back to the land of Trump and Hilary. A land where I have no job, no money, no insurance, and more importantly, no identity. I cannot go back there.

A rather large problem that I have navigating life is that I tie my entire self worth to the things that I produce. I saw this report as an extension of me. If my supervisors don’t like the report then it means they do not like me. I know that this is absurd. I know this, I write about this in terms of students and the feedback they receive, yet I can’t help but be stuck in that quicksand.

The report was just as bad as I thought it would be. My supervisors ripped it apart. They told me as it was, the report would not pass the committee. I had spent so much time being crippled by self doubt and the impostor syndrome, that I produced a really shitty report. I missed a few typos, the report seemed rushed, and I misinterpreted a  question. It was bad. While the team signed off on me becoming a PhD student once I edit and do some heavy revision, I still cannot look past how defeated I feel. I can’t help but think that I am a huge disappointment to my supervisors. None of what I have turned in so far as been good quality work. I’m not a bad writer. I know that. I usually enjoy writing. Lately I have not been enjoying myself. I’ve been stressed. I’m worried what people will think when they read my work, wonder if I have done enough to show that I am worthy of all the things that I have been given in the last year.

I’m also trying to live up to the pressure that my position brings. I’m the first education based PhD, the first one based out of the Department of Learning and Teaching, and I am the living example of why pedagogy is important to a university. With great power comes great responsibility….and a supervisor who is incredibly hard on me, and expects a whole hell of a lot from me. Unfortunately right now I have hit my breaking point. I am a bit burned out.

Luckily I have people around me who believe in me, and a couple who have gone through the process. They talk me off a ledge, send me goats through the mail, and remind me that I am not defined by the drafts that I produce.

This week I had the opportunity to present my paper at an assessment and feedback conference. Last year I got to go to the conference as my introduction to the university and to the role that I was soon to play. I heard a lot of good talks, met some interesting people, and saw a little bit of England. This time around I got to give a 3 minute presentation to a room full of experts in the field. I knew a few people who were there, and I got to sit between two men that I reference in my paper. It was brilliant.

My presentation…..not so much. I went first, and seeing as this was the fist time that the conference had ever done these nano presentations, I was once again the guinea pig. My paper is based around a food metaphor (and I don’t want to give it away yet since it is not complete, and has not been published), but no one laughed at my jokes, and no one asked any questions or had any comments for me. The other seven presenters all had questions and comments. I had silence and a joke that the picture that I used to illustrate my point was only good because it had a bottle of wine in it.

Yeah. Not really my best showing for my first time out, but, hey, you gotta start somewhere, right? I’m feeling pretty beat up about it. So beat up that today as I tried to sit down and make the edits and that I ended up watching a lot of E.R. and then sneaking over to Dan’s flat to nap with him since he is on night shift. This was after I was a massive pain in the ass with him and extremely passive aggressive for the last couple of days. He told me to come over and tucked me into his side for a nap. Then we ate Chinese food and watched Top Gear  until it was time for him to go protect the Queen (yep. She is in this lovely city and he is on palace patrol tonight…hopefully it doesn’t rain tonight).

So now I sit on my couch trying to pretend that I don’t have a million and one things to still do complete my paper for next week and get back to feeling like the badass flamingo that I am. There is always tomorrow, right?

I didn’t even make it to the writing challenge for this week: my family. Tomorrow. As it is almost midnight, I will come back to that tomorrow.

The Scamp and Poetry

I have been asked to write a poem.

In fact, I have been asked to write a “fucking sweet poem”.

I haven’t written poems in years…not since I took Writing 125 in Merced. In fact, it was in that class that I met the boy that asked for the poem.

I am not a poet. I write prose.  I can spill my guts in a post here, write amusing stories about being fired from my first job, and do all of that without breaking a sweat. Ask me to write a poem though, and suddenly the room is hot and stuffy and my homework suddenly needs to be completely finished and perfect ahead of schedule.

Unfortunately, I have finished all of the work that needs to be completed tonight. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised. I have an amazing study group, and divide and conquer is keeping me within a manageable reading and research load.   I should have gone to bed awhile ago, but instead, I thought I would try to write the poem.

I wrote the poem….or mostly a bunch of words on a page. They don’t rhyme, there is no structure, but the are meaningful.

I only wish I was as clever as Dr. Seuss. A Seussical poem would be a “fucking sweet poem” that would be sure to earn me some points.  A sonnet might work too…..

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