Preparing to present

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Apart from sharing a room with other students [I always book a room all to myself for sanity’s sake], the cartoon above is pretty much what it can be like when you are asked to present at an academic conference.

OK, I say ‘asked’. Only the most noteworthy, respected members of academia, as far as I know, ever get ASKED. The rest of us have to apply, submit abstracts, pay our own way there, often pay to actually attend and [as with my visit to Cologne last year] maybe discover that the actual conference bears very little relationship to the topic you are working on. Dreams of networking and making useful contacts, picking up vital information about other people’s research first hand, or even having a conversation with someone who knows the first thing about your own line of research can be totally dashed as soon as you look at the programme.

Nevertheless, presenting at conferences is part of what we are required, or at least expected, to do during our post-grad studies and, on the whole, I quite enjoy it. What I don’t like, and am constantly battling to improve, is my skills at creating a decent PowerPoint presentation. If I decide to use special effects they work all wrong. If I decide on a running order I invariably decide that I need to insert an entire section or juggle the slides round so they flow logically. Transitioning in a clever way between slides – forget it. Finally, after thinking I’ve sorted it, when I try to preview the entire slideshow I decide it stinks!

Yup, I am currently trying to create an interesting, informative PP doc. I am failing. I don’t like the images I have chosen to attract my audience’s attention. I don’t think it makes sense in the order I have put different sections. It didn’t make any more sense in the previous ways I had arranged it. And, worst of all, I don’t know if I would spend 20-30 minutes of my life watching it if I had the choice. AAARGH.

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The Amazing Creativity of Language

 

This article appeared in The Conversation and I felt I just had to share it with you. People have a deep, innate need to communicate no matter what the means at their disposal. We invented Morse code, semaphore, smoke signals, beacon chains of bonfires, but the way sign languages have evolved through a necessity among Deaf people is truly amazing. Hope you like the piece 🙂

https://bit.ly/2COL6Gk

First Attack of the Wobblies

I’m stuck. I’m very stuck. I’m very, very stuck….ad infinitum. In October I had a plan, I knew exactly what I planned to do for the next three years. I had it SO sorted. Now…I haven’t a clue where I’m going or how I will get there. Did I mention the RPA? They told me it stood for Research Programme Approval. Oh no! It stands for Rabidly Psychotic Aggravation – well it must be something along those lines. phd111612s

To be allowed to move on with my research I need to persuade, before 1st Jan 2019, [yup, 2 weeks ago] a group which I imagine looks very much like the one above that my work is worth doing. I am redrafting it, adding things I only vaguely understand, removing bits [such as my Lego-related questionnaire] that I was very much attached to and doing the fastest reference-finding ever to make it look like I have read and understood it all. I’m in a state of paralysis. I daren’t move on in case they decide they don’t like what I do next. I daren’t stand still as time is ticking away. At the moment, this is me:

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I have just submitted yet another ‘final’ draft. I dare say there’ll be many more……sigh.

No Rest for the Academic, Wicked or Not.

Welcome to episode 2 of my occasional research-related ramblings. If I could cope with any more sites, log ins, passwords etc I would have begun yet another, fresh blog [pause to mention The Travelling Hamster and remind people that this one is linked to my BUSINESS – plug, plug]

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So, as the great party season approaches [or, if like me you celebrate Hanukkah, passes], what is the best survival strategy? For students beginning their research programme in October, the submission date for the RPA* document is 1st January. Yup, a day when nobody at all is working in the land of academia. At my last meeting with my supervisory team we decided that my own RPA needed to be almost totally re-written in order to persuade the powers-that-be that I have a viable plan. Although I, personally, have not changed my main focus, it all needs couching in less specific terms to give me room to manoeuvre in case I should come to a dead end, research wise. So, between now and New Year’s Day I have a massive amount of work to do – in theory. In reality, though, my amazing supervisor, Daniel, has discovered that nobody will even cast a glance in my general direction until much later in the year [ok a couple of weeks later] so I can breathe again!

I do find it best to work from the rather nice post-grad study room in our department; being at home has too many temptations to do frivolous things such as the washing up. However, the buildings are closed for a while over the time when they are at their most quiet so I plan to carefully check when the uni is open but, hopefully, deserted. Having almost nobody in the library is a God-send, and knowing there won’t be the constant clatter of doors slamming, students moving between classes and other people’s phones ringing means it is so much easier to concentrate. One drawback, though, is that most of the catering outlets are closed even though other facilities are open, so careful planning and advance packed-lunch making is vital. I plan to conquer this oasis of opportunity and be at my most productive over the latter half of December. Please, though, do not remind me of the best laid plans…mice are terrible planners 🙂

I did briefly mention the scary prospect of progression last time, didn’t I? This, to me, is a very strange concept but I have no choice but to go along with it. When you start a PhD programme, you are actually studying for an MPhil [Master of Philosophy] whether or not your research has any philosophical content. Also, already having an MA, this feels rather silly – I could, in theory end up with both  an MA and an MPhil yet know nothing about philosophy whatsoever. [This is my favourite philosophy book, all human wisdom is contained therein:]

220px-pooh_and_the_philosopher

https://bit.ly/2QtKAqK

Half way through the programme, at around the 18 month stage, it is necessary to produce what is, to all intents and purposes, a mini thesis and sit a mini viva. If, at this stage, it is considered you have made sufficient progress and are heading towards something of doctoral quality you are allowed to progress; to carry on suffering for another 18 months or so and then produce your full thesis, take your viva and hopefully be granted a PhD degree. If you don’t get this far it is likely you will still get awarded an MPhil so all is not lost.

One fact to remember, though. Should anybody try to brag they have the letters MPhil after their name – remember they are, in all likelihood, failed PhD students!!!

*RPA – Research Programme Approval [see previous blog]

 

The Perils of PhDdom

As a break from the seemingly endless search for relevant literature in connection with my research, I have decided to bore  entertain you with a few musings on my progress. It also, hopefully, will enable me to realise I actually HAVE achieved something when I’m really feeling as though it’s all a pointless, uphill struggle to goodness knows what. So, for those of you unfamiliar with post-graduate study, I thought I would begin with a brief[ish] outline of what the process entails.

Firstly, get your proposal/acceptance submitted. As my research is a continuation of my MA, I already had most of the details about my planned topic and, most importantly, the backing of my supervisory team. It can be a daunting process if you’re not sure what you hope to do, but as long as your idea sounds reasonable at first then it is generally accepted that almost everything may change during the actual research.

Funding: Thankfully, the SFE [Student Finance England] now offer MA and doctoral loans so one of the greatest hurdles has been removed. However, in my case at least, the finance only covers my fees and rent so it’s still a good idea to have a part-time job to pay for luxuries; food, utilities, clothing – stuff which can be quite important. My own business is going through a bit of a lean time right now with very little proofreading work and only 1 student requiring English lessons. I’m plodding on with my book publishing on Amazon but, due to the time I need to devote to study, I can’t spend as much time as I should promoting them.

Induction courses: Hmmmmm, what can I [politely] say about these? If you are brand new to a university then they are invaluable. If, however, you’ve been at the same institution since your under-grad days then they can be tedious, time consuming and mostly pointless. There are always a few gems – at my last one we had a talk from a supervising tutor on how the process works from their viewpoint. This was very interesting – training your supervisor is always essential so this gave some useful tips. Being told where the library is and what facilities the campus has, however, were a good chance for a snooze.

RPA. This stands for Research Programme Approval, and it is terrifying! They want to have an outline of what you propose to be doing for the next 3 years in a credible timeline. To me, tomorrow is a vague concept; June 2021 is way, way out of my imagination. Nevertheless, I have drafted something which sounds fairly hopeful – now I need to see if my supervisors and then the RPA committee [I envisage them as bearded old men with top hats and monocles] approve of what I have written. The main cause for panic is that you only have 3 months to submit and obtain this approval [6 months if you are part-time]. What happens if they fall about laughing at my plans? I. HAVE. NO. IDEA.

Ethics Approval: After the RPA, survivors then have to seek ethical approval for their work. My MA was looking at letters which had been written by people in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. It still needed ethical clearance. Maybe I risked upsetting some of the authors? Who knows. If I were going to dig them up, revive them on some Frankenstein-type machine and interrogate them I can see there might be problems, but as far as I know they are all still sleeping soundly in their graves. This time, however, I am going to have the temerity to question real-live living people too. What’s more, I will be asking them about what they conceive as polite – the chance of offending hundreds of people are looming; maybe I will fail at this hurdle?

Should I cope with all this, there is then the horrible process known as progression. As I have probably already scared you more than enough for one day, though, I’ll leave the delights of that for another time.dwz0hepvmaeir64

Image from http://phdcomics.com/comics.php?f=1999

Established …Year Dot

As you may have noticed by now, if you have been following this blog for any length of time, I spend a lot of time on buses. Today was no exception…except that I had made a conscious decision to leave my phone in my bag, on silent, during the journey. [It was only about 25 minutes so no real withdrawal symptoms kicked in!] The reason I felt challenged to do this was a short programme I saw on TBNUK tv this morning, about making a quiet, desert place to be silent with The Lord.

https://www.tbnuk.org/home

I have been told, and I do not disagree one whit, that I have a chatterbox mind – forever flying off on different tangents and running conversations through over and over again. Silence, mentally, is not easy to achieve. On the whole, I think I failed miserably this morning, but I did notice one particular word – Established.

The new fad for micro-pubs is quite a nice one I think. It seems that almost every week I spot another new one opening up around my neighbourhood. The one I saw today is in Bamber Bridge, and is called The Beer Box.

https://b-m.facebook.com/Beer-Box-1670413716340447/

On its signage it says, proudly, Established 2018., In the current economic climate, I felt this was a very brave, optimistic statement to make. It has connotations of permanence, an expectation of ageing and becoming a grand old fixture on the high street, and I wish them well. However, the actual word made me think of a verse from the Psalms [103:19]

The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.

That’s a pretty big statement – this establishment is from the very foundation of the universe and is undeniably permanent. There are other verses where The Lord establishes things:

Proverbs 8:27 When He established the heavens, I was there, When He inscribed a circle on the face of the deep [talking about wisdom]

Exodus 6:4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners [talking about the descendants of Abraham]

and Genesis 17:7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. [speaking to Abraham, who was childless, promising him he would be the father of countless generations]

The basis of the word establish is, clearly stable. Something firm, fixed, unswerving. I decided to check with the OED for further meanings, and really liked these two in particular:

b. To ratify, confirm, validate.

c. To confirm, settle (what is weak or wavering); to restore (health) permanently; to give calmness or steadiness to (the mind).

What a wonderful feeling of security and stability those definitions bring to mind. Surely these are things that only The Lord, ultimately, can ever promise us. So, my little business was established in 2016, the Beer Box was established in 2018, but we have no idea how long anything we begin will last – unless The Lord himself has promised that He has established it.

Guilty as charged, M’Lud.

Google – Love it and loathe it in equal measures. I changed to Gmail after being hacked countless times through my old Hotmail account. I also prefer Google Chrome as a browser and the Google Alerts are a really handy way of getting relevant news snippets to my inbox. This article, from a New Zealand publication, arrived in my alerts email recently:

https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/106785792/omg-why-is-everyone-using-so-many-exclamation-marks
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I love this article on many levels. Firstly, I also hate the ready-made reply options in the new Gmail – it even dared suggest how I begin a whole new email until I turned that horrible function off.
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However, I must admit I am guilty of over-using exclamation marks. Yet now Google is almost forcing them upon us in our lazy moments. I hereby vow to try my best to rein them in when I am writing.

Does anybody have the contact details for any self-help groups, perhaps?

EVERY Nation and Tongue!

I have written a few times in this blog about language death, and I can highly recommend David Crystal’s book on the subject – but, then again, I can recommend just about every book he has written! However, whilst at a Bible study last week, a very familiar phrase suddenly piqued my linguistic interest.

The phrase ‘from every language and tribe and people and tongue’ [Revelation 7:9] suddenly knocked me off my feet. OK, I was sitting down at the time, but you get the idea, I’m sure. Let me stress, I believe every word of the Bible is true, divinely inspired by God Himself. So, for it to state EVERY LANGUAGE, it must mean just that – even those which have long been extinct, or are maybe dying out and we still don’t even know they exist.

My mind wandered off….it often does that, though usually it comes home eventually. We know there are still tribes who have barely been touched by our so-called civilisation. The Amazon rain-forest and the depths of Papua New Guinea are just two areas which spring to mind. But, if they have never been reached by the outside world, how can they ever have heard of Jesus, the Bible or know anything about God?  Some say Romans 2:1-16 explains this – I honestly don’t know, but I do believe that God is, above all, just.

https://bit.ly/2CktAwL

Sometimes, I think we just have to accept that we, with our small, mortal minds can never begin to understand things so immense – so my way of thinking is ‘Just let God be God’. Let’s face it, if we could understand everything, our tiny minds would probably not be able to cope with it all anyway. After all, I believe it is a real blessing that we don’t know what tomorrow will bring – ignorance is often bliss I reckon.

So, after such a ‘heavy’ post, I’ll leave you with two very different YouTube videos of songs based on the ‘Every tongue’ theme: one is a wonderful brass band, the other is an amazingly joyful celebration, I’m sure you’ll love at least one of them – I love them both, by the way.

 

 

https://bit.ly/2wKLKSg  – David Crystal: Language Death [Google Books]

https://biblehub.com/philippians/2-11.htm

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.…

https://biblehub.com/revelation/7-9.htm

After this I looked and saw a multitude too large to count, from every nation and tribe andpeople and tongue, standing before the throne andbefore the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes,with palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

EXCITED!!!

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Just a really quick post; one of my poems, Stop, will be appearing in the September edition of Asylum Magazine. I’m hoping it may help people; it’s also featured in my book Fractured Reality available on Amazon [shameless plug – why not?!?!]

Check the magazine out at: http://asylummagazine.org/

They’re also on  Twitter: @AsylumNW

And their publishers are on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pccsbooks/

Finally, my book is available here: https://amzn.to/2BbgQHV

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Work

A few thoughts to make you chuckle – and then think. Hope you enjoy them, Mitch Teemley writes some really good stuff – highly recommended.

Mitch Teemley

The work week has just begun (oy!).

A few thoughts on work:

563325_4294593483892_4195369_n“People who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything.” ~Thomas Sowell

committee-meetingIf you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee working on it.  ~Charles Kettering

bored-at-work1The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.  ~Robert Frost

It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.  ~Tom Brokaw

Make a difference.

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