Archive for the ‘phd’ Category
1. Know what you have got to say
This is a huge one for me and I really ought to have learned it by now. More often than not, when the thesis stalls and I stop working on it, it’s because I don’t really know what I’m doing, not because I’m being lazy or bored or any of the other reasons I think. When I work out what I’m doing, it’s easy to make progress.
2. Have the research done
For me this means checking the secondary literature, making notes and so on. This not only helps with knowing what I want to say but also gives me something to hang what I’m saying on. Footnotes, references and quotes contribute significantly to wordcount but require minimal brain power to put in.
3. Sleep well at night
Not always easy to control but makes a huge difference to productivity. I have more or less cut caffeine out of my diet at the moment, which is helping me.
4. Eat well during the day
I have started buying ready-made sandwich fillers. I hate that I am buying them, but it does mean that I can make a sandwich in 30 seconds, almost as easily as opening a packet of crisps or eating a chocolate biscuit and pretending that’s lunch. Real food = real productivity.
It’s not that I haven’t knitted at all in the last few months, but what I have knitted has been stressful gift knitting or competition knitting and so on. I’m now knitting a jumper which involves miles of mindless stocking stitch which is perfect to pick up for ten minutes or more when I need a break.
6. Take long breaks
I used to feel guilty about this before this week. But my pattern in the last four days has been one hour of writing, one hour break. I can write 500-1000 words in an hour, so if I do that two or three times a day I’m well within the target for 10,000 words in a week. And I don’t feel dead at the end of it.
7. Watch tennis
I admit, this is not always possible or desirable. But I find that tennis is the kind of thing that doesn’t require constant attention and is quite soothing in the background. Sometimes music works, but I tend to prefer words or silence. Tennis gives quite a lot of silence without being totally dead. Queens is on BBC2 this week, then a week on Monday Wimbledon starts. I’m hoping for a very productive two weeks then.
8. Don’t try and do ten other things as well as the thesis
This is really, really hard for me in general and especially at the moment. I feel like I could be using all the non-thesis hours of the day for other work and especially writing. I’ve got three editors waiting to hear from me with stories and I haven’t worked on a single one all week. That’s tough. Partly because I like writing and I love the stories I’m working on. And partly because there is a nagging fear that these opportunities won’t last forever. But I honestly believe that the reason I’ve got so much thesis written is because I have had my mind on it all the time. It’s what I’m thinking about in the bath or in the car or when I’m in bed going to sleep. Normally, those are the times I’m thinking about my stories. My mind can’t make progress on both at once. I am not superwoman. This is hard to acknowledge.
So, okay, I have not written 10,000 words of my thesis this week and I probably won’t because I have a friend coming to stay for the next two days. But I have written over 8,000 words in four days and I know I can write the rest when I have the chance. And then I will have the final chapter done and the thesis almost complete.
When I first started telling people I was thinking of doing a PhD, I got mixed responses. Lots of encouragement but also quite a lot of warnings. I remember one friend in particular, who had done a PhD years earlier in a different field, telling me to be really, really sure I wanted it because it was going to be the hardest thing I’d ever done. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe her, but despite all the warnings, I vastly underestimated how hard it would be. Not academically. I knew, and still know in my saner moments, that I’m intellectually up to the task. It’s all the other stuff.
It’s five years since I started on this path and I’m not done yet. Here’s what it’s already cost me:
I eat badly when I’m stressed and when I’m working to a deadline. For most of the last five years, it’s been one or other or both of those. Consequently, I now weigh four stone more than I did when I started. Spending days tied to a desk, staring at a computer, also means that I am even more unfit that when I began.
Also my teeth are in really bad condition because I haven’t been able to afford the dental treatment I’ve needed. I’ve been to an emergency dentist a couple of times, but that’s it. I don’t qualify for any of the categories that would entitle me to free treatment and for at least half the time, I’ve lived in places where it’s been virtually impossible to find an NHS dentist.
For the first two years of the PhD, I was unhappy. That was because I was living overseas and was homesick.
For the last three years, due to a combination of factors all connected in some way to the PhD, I have been depressed. I’m taking medication and I’ve had counselling, which all helps. But still, I would say that this is a direct consequence of being a PhD student. The loneliness, the fear, the burden of a long-term deadline – every PhD student goes through this, even if they don’t have all the other stuff I’ve had to deal with.
To be fair, this has been minimal. I began the PhD with no money and I am ending it with no debt. People have been generous and funding has always appeared when I have most needed it. Mostly, I have learned not to worry about money, but there have been a few occasions when I’ve not known how I was going to pay bills.
I have lost friends over the last five years. I have been a very bad friend to a number of people in that time. I’ve had to prioritise work over people in a way that I wish I hadn’t. It’s hard for people to get what it’s like being a PhD student and it’s frustrating to have to keep trying to explain. Sometimes it’s easier just to let the friendship drift.
If I had known five years ago what it was going to cost me, I would never have begun. As it is, I don’t know whether I will finish.
At the end of last week, I made the long trek up to Dingwall for the HTC postgraduate conference. This was a small gathering (even more so than usual, for various reasons) but nevertheless a useful and encouraging time. There was one prospective and four current PhD students present which gave lots of opportunity to discuss issues related to being a research student, publishing, networking and getting jobs, as well as our own research. I was the only biblical scholar in a room of systematic and historical theologians, so I had a good workout for my memory as I tried to listen and make sensible comments on such matters as the will of God, Calvin’s view of body and soul, and the incarnation.
I also had chance to meet up with my supervisor and talk about progress thus far. He’s happy with where things are at the moment and is pleased with the work I’ve produced. Among other things we outlined a provisional schedule for work to be done. I’m encouraged that, despite the difficulties of the past year, it looks like things are still on track to be completed in a reasonable time frame.
The chapter that I’m working on at the moment is one of three that will look at the effect of reading the Song of Songs in different canonical contexts: wisdom literature; writings/megilloth; Christian bible. It’s a fun exercise in intertextuality which is already producing some interesting results. For instance, it’s relatively easy to read the bride in the Song as Lady Wisdom, but it’s almost as easy to read her as the Foreign Woman/Adulteress. It’s almost as if the Song is a test of the wisdom learned in Proverbs – can you distinguish what sort of woman this is? Or is the reality that It’s Always More Complicated and that wisdom and folly are not so easily separated as Proverbs would have us believe? The plan is to do a close intertextual reading of three pairs of texts: Proverbs 5 and Song 4; Proverbs 7 and Song 2; and Sirach 24 and Song 7; and use this to build up a picture of the woman in the Song, then to turn my attention to the male figure(s) -Solomon, shepherd, king – and do similar intertextual work, before putting it all together. Something like that, anyway. The idea is to repeat the exercise in each of the three contexts, identifying different significant intertexts which will lead to differences in the interpretation of the Song.
If ever I finish this PhD, I rather think I would like this by way of celebration:
If you click through to the website, you can see an enlarged version.
More urgently, my supervisor is going to be in Cambridge in less than two weeks time and I am supposed to have finished the revised version of my first chapter by then. Must stop wasting time on the internet…
Good news today. It looks like I’ll be staying in Cambridge longer term. I’m working a few hours a week in the front office at Tyndale House and working on the PhD in the Tyndale library for the rest of the time, and this present temporary arrangement is moving into something more permanent. I’m hoping to find privately rented accommodation in Cambridge from the end of June, though there is a possibility that I could stay on at Tyndale.
It’s very nice to have a bit more certainty in my immediate future and it’s very nice not to have to face the prospect of moving to another new place all over again. I’m glad to be earning some money and the job is just the right mix of interesting without being stressful, and enough hours to pay the bills without eating too much into the study time. And the library here is by far and away the best place I could have wanted to be for the work that I’m doing on the Song.
It’s been hard to keep focussed on the PhD over the last few months and progress has been quite a lot slower than I had hoped for. Moving to Cambridge has certainly helped to regain some of that and I think that being settled here will be a big help too.
At the moment I am working on the section of my thesis which tries to explain what a canonical approach to interpretation actually is. This is a harder question than I first thought. Here’s a summary of my thinking so far:
1. The canon is a cohesive, ordered collection of texts.
2. Choosing to read one of these texts canonically involves privileging the intra-canonical intertext above extra-canonical intertexts.
3. This involves a choice (whether conscious or not) on the part of the reader and does not deny the possibility of other interpretations, merely the right of other interpretations to be called canonical.
4. This intertextual interpretation must be governed by those canonical texts which describe the nature of the whole canonical intertext. That is to say, the canon’s own statements about its origin, purpose, content and audience need to be considered in a canonical interpretation of any part of the canon.
5. One of the things the canon tells us about itself is that it is divine discourse: God speaks through the canon.
6. Which means that the reader’s choice of a canonical interpretation in fact leads to an emphasis on the (implied) divine author’s communicative intent.
7. The divine author’s communicative intent is by no means limited to the passing on of information. The canon tells us that God’s purposes for the canon include things like making promises; giving warnings; making people wise for salvation; establishing covenant and so on. A helpful model for clarifying these kinds of things is Austin’s speech act theory. Locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary acts describe what is said, what is done by saying, and what results from what is said. All of these (and a fourth kind of speech act identified by Vanhoozer, the interlocutionary act) are part of the communicative intent of the divine author implied in the canonical text. Thus all of these should inform a canonical interpretation.
8. Canonical interpretation will thus make demands on the reader. A canonical interpretation will implicate the reader in the illocutionary, perlocutionary and interlocutionary acts. The effects of an interpretation will thus form one means of evaluating it: not simply ‘Is it right?’ but ‘Does it work?’