Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Week in the Life...3.0

I've had a little hiatus from this series (which has really only just begun!), mostly due to holidays, bereavement, and starting a new placement. But I'm back!

So, what is happening with me at the moment? Well, since my last update I have finished my secondment with UCL Library Services and have just started with Estates Services back at the University of Oxford. (If you are curious as to what my job is and what I'm doing, check out this post). I have received a (much-appreciated) extension on handing in my thesis for publication as a monograph. Those are the two big things happening, but here is what I'll be getting up to this week:

  • Proofing my manuscript and endnotes formatting
  • I should hear tomorrow whether I have funding for publication rights to images - if I get them, I will have to re-edit my manuscript to include them
  • I have to write a 800 word (much overdue) piece for Guardian Higher Ed on the academic costs incurred by those working outside of academia and the lack of support available to them
  • I have meetings to attend at work and generally trying to get up to speed with what my team does (and remembering names!!)
  • I finished my Couch25k series so now I am doing Bridge210k in preparation for a 10k race in August. Have to fit 2 more runs in this week.
  • My lease on my apartment is up at the end of July so I am doing viewings and trying to get that sorted

I think that looks like a lot, but some will balance others. I am stressed about securing my accommodation and anxious about this new placement, so running is actually a great stress reliever. The Guardian article feeds directly into the issues related to potentially not securing funding for publication rights and the consequences of that.

Busy busy busy...but in a good way!

And now off to a viewing...wish me luck!

View the series so far:

Monday, May 30, 2016


Well, the day finally came that I got to don my doctoral robes and graduate from my DPhil. This blog started because of the setback I had with major corrections and it only seems right that I share my experience of my graduation day which represented the culmination of all that hard work.

It seems strange, but I didn't think that graduating would matter so much. My doctorate was formally approved way back in May 2015 and I had to wait a year for an available graduation date (because graduations at the University of Oxford are heavily oversubscribed and other reasons which are opaque to me!). But as the day arrived, as did my family from Ireland, it was clear that this was the day we had all been waiting for. The robes made it real.

The day was brilliant. It started with heading up to my college, Wolfson College, in my sub fusc to attend a champagne reception and lunch. Sub fusc is something that all Oxford students will wear at different points of their studies (exams, matriculation, graduation). Usually it is a dark suit, skirt and tights, black shoes, white shirt, bow tie or ribbon, coupled with a gown. This is me heading off to Wolfson College in mine:

Sunglasses optional!!

At Wolfson College I collected my doctoral robes and donned them for the requisite family photos. It was a beautiful day and so lovely to share my college home of 4 years with my family.

After lunch, we headed to the historic Sheldonian theatre (built by Sir Christopher Wren, of St Pauls Cathedral fame). I returned to my black subfusc and left my doctoral robes in an adjacent building. We processed into the theatre according to rank (DPhils, Masters, Undergraduate). The ceremony itself is a very solemn affair and conducted wholly in Latin. The DPhil students stand in front of the Vice-Chancellor of the University and the Proctors where we swear an oath binding us to be obedient and faithful to the University and its interests, and to comport ourselves circumspectly at elections to University offices. We then process out of the theatre, change into the colourful doctoral robes, and are processed back into the theatre to applause. (This process is then repeated for the other students). At the end, the graduands walk out of the theatre. This time undergraduates first, followed by masters. When it was the turn of the DPhils it was a shock and pleasant surpise to see that all the preceeding students were lined up like an honour guard for the DPhils, Vice-Chancellor and Proctors. It truly felt like a very special occasion and one which truly cemented the fact that I am now Dr Fiona Whelan.

I could not have done it with my amazingly supportive family. Thank you so so much!!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Life Interrupted

Apologies for the radio silence recently but things have been a little manic recently! The past 2-3 weeks have reminded me that as much as we can try to plan out our weeks, months, and years (life-plans and all that!) there will always be bumps along the way, be they big or small.

Almost 2 weeks ago I finished my four-month secondment to UCL Library Services, an experience which I absolutely loved. However, the last 2 weeks were a sprint to the end to get all my work done leaving little time for blogging. Then my family all came to Oxford to see me (finally!) graduate from my DPhil which was just a truly wonderful occasion (more on that in a dedicated post). I treated myself to a glorious week in sunny and historic Malta, before an unexpected return to Ireland for a funeral.

As a result of all of this, I am a little behind on getting my manuscript completed for submission to my editor by my deadline, and I am hoping that some leniency will be allowed. However, it did get me thinking about timelines for PhDs.

I've written more extensively about this in my book, The Honest PhD Guide (get yours here!). I was lucky in that I had so serious derailments in my PhD timescale. Mostly, the extension into the 4th year was a result of jobs and extra-curricular activities (none of which I would trade as they have got me the job I have now). But contingencies do need to be built into timeframes for PhD as hiccups and hurdles will occur. And they can manifest in different shapes, sizes, and severity:
  • Having to change the direction of your thesis when you discover someone has already published on your exact topic
  • Changes in supervisors
  • Problems of access to resources or sources
  • Experiments not working
  • Major corrections / referrals
  • Illness
  • Mental health
  • Care-giving
  • Bereavement

While it is important to have a plan and a timescale (both in academia and in life), it is so important to build contingencies into that timescale, and to not beat yourself up when you go over the time you have given yourself or missed a deadline you have set yourself. And if it is an externally set deadline, don't be afraid to speak up about your concerns about missing a deadline. I've always found that most people are incredibly understanding, sympathetic, and willing to help.

So this week I am starting my final placement 3 days later than planned. And I am about to email my editor to explain my situation and see if I can have a few days grace with my deadline. The worst that anyone can say is no, so there is nothing lost by asking.

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Week in the Life...2.0

Continuing my short posts on A Week in the Life of...

Last week I set my week tasks/goals as the following:
  • Work: Preparing to run focus groups and a User Experience project and am writing up my final report to be delivered next week. Finishing up ILM assignment (Institute of Leadership and Management).
  • Academic: I need to edit 2 chapters of my thesis for my monograph manuscript.
  • Personal: I have three 25mins runs to complete for week 7 of the Couch25K scheme.
So, how did I get on? Well, work is going well and I finished all of my tasks, and am prepared for a week of running focus groups. I submitted my ILM assignment before the deadline (yes, I am an overachiever!). Personally, I completed my three 25mins runs. On the academic side, I wasn't so good. I have only managed to edit one chapter so am definitely a little behind on my schedule. But luckily, it is a Bank Holiday today so I can take the rest of today and try to get that second chapter done!

Now it's time to think about the next week:
  • Work: Run 4 focus groups, write up the results of those groups, and complete my placement report. I also have to prepare a brief presentation.
  • Academic: For my monograph manuscript, I have to write a short chapter discussing briefly other themes which are covered in the medieval text I study but which are not analysed in depth. It should be relatively straightforward, but I have to admit that I have been procrastinating with this as I haven't written new research in a while!!
  • Personal: I am on week 8 of the Couch25k scheme, which means three 28 mins runs for me!! As a perk, this weekend I will be shopping for some summer clothes for my upcoming holiday to Malta!!
I recently asked the Twitterverse what methods people employ to keep track of their tasks. There was a huge variety of response, from large posters to physical planners to GoogleCalendar, to specific apps such as ToodleDo or Todoist. I have to admit that I haven't come to any sort of method myself, but I do find that publicly documenting my goals and tasks in this forum makes me feel like I hold myself more accountable for achieving them! Hence the slight guilt in not doing as much editing as I would have liked...

But hey, you have to have a little fun on a Bank Holiday weekend!

Now, back to editing....