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The offices where I work on campus are being reorganised. New staff arriving, old staff being called to meetings to talk about the new staff and the reorganisation. New staff getting settled in by the old staff. Old staff being asked to update upstairs staff about new staff. New staff not knowing how things work and asking old staff. Old staff getting frustrated.

I’m glad I’m finishing this thesis. Maybe I’m wrong to feel this way, but I am disillusioned. I think every project has its course and this project has run that course fine and well. If this were to be dragged out any longer, I would go mad. I am glad I am close to finishing, and glad I will be leaving soon. I am politically progressive in every sense of the word but having seen new staff come, old staff go for more than 2 years and being miserably stuck here all along, I’m starting to feel like it’s high time I left. Finished and left. I don’t want to watch new staff come and go and still be stuck here. I don’t want more change in the place I work. I want to change myself.

These last couple of months are probably the hardest. There’s this sense of dread eating away inside me, constantly hurrying me along, telling me there’s no time, no time at all, stop procrastinating and keep writing, writing, writing. But worse than that, I’m starting to feel even more irritated at the people who work around me, especially, and perhaps undeservedly, at the new people, who arrive fresh and bright-eyed and oozing with enthusiasm. I was the same as them when I started; their outlook is natural for their position; I have no place being cynical about them. Yet they have started annoying me to no end.

Sometimes it feels like I am so much part of the furniture that people see right through me; they are indifferent. After all, furniture just sits there silently. Yet inside it’s as if I’m screaming to get out of this place, kicking the doors in, smashing down the windows.

I’ve all but completed my last round of data collection. Actually, I’d all but completed it yesterday, and today I have just been sitting at my desk, shuffling papers, checking emails, reading the news, pretending I’m working when really I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.

Actually, that’s wrong. I know what I’m supposed to be doing, I just can’t resist the magnetism of procrastination and so I let my next important goal – writing my thesis – slide while I look busy but essentially bum around doing nothing.

Well, maybe that’s wrong too. I have done a few productive things today. For example:

  • I did a preliminary check of my data. My sample size isn’t as large as I’d hoped it would be – actually just over a quarter of the size I had on a similar project last year – but I’ll take what I can get. I also had a look at the institutional and geographical distribution of the data to get an idea of what the comparison groups are going to be like.
  • Then, I ran an errand for my supervisor. It was a minor errand, but someone had to do it!
  • I also dealt with a series of emails that urgently needed dealing with, mainly because they were from people making enquiries about my data collection, specifically, regarding circulating my study information, which I really need them to do or else I can’t get my data.

Despite doing all these things though, all in all it has been an unproductive day because I just haven’t got as much done as I usually do. It’s my own fault, but it bothers me profoundly and I feel bad for it. I can’t stand it.

This always happens to me when I’ve been working on a long, repetitive part of my project for weeks or months on end – when I finally complete it, I have a dazed period when I come to the office and spend the days wondering what I’m supposed to do next. My mind is blank, and paradoxically in a state of mad, whirling chaos. I can’t go forward because I don’t know which way I’m facing.

And it takes a little while to figure out where to go next – even if you already have a plan. Believe me, when you’re doing a PhD, if you’ve got the slightest bit of brains, you always have a plan. You have a plan for the day, a plan for the week, a plan for the quarter, and a plan for the entire project. You have a Plan B, and a Plan C. And when you’re doing a PhD, believe me, it’s true, your plans are always changing, altering, mutating, going in circles, and falling through altogether. External commitments, emergencies, absurdities come along and throw your plans in the trash. Everything is in a constant process of metamorphosis. So as soon as you get to the end of one confusing period of work, you have to stop a while and get your head together before the next one begins.

Take this for instance: I’ve just finished my prolonged campaign to collect data for my last study, and next, I know, I need to write the remaining chapters of my thesis, edit the existing ones, and get a working draft together for my supervisors. And yet, in an absurd contradiction, I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing.

Really. Not the slightest.

If I had a magic wand with which I could change any three things about the present world, I would:

1. Create absolute world peace, forever. Probably, this would have to happen by removing the majority of men in power of various authorities, like governments and educational institutions, and replacing them with well-educated, liberal women.

2. Distribute free chocolate to all PhD students, worldwide. And…

3. Make all men disappear…at least for a little while.

In a break from tradition, today I just want to post about food. Because it’s quarter to twelve in London and I’m hungry.

Not starving. Just hungry.

I can’t stand it when middle class and even relatively well-off working class people in developed Western countries dash panting into the office at 10 o’clock in the morning and lament “I’m starving.” You’re not starving. You’ve woken up at a leisurely hour, left yourself no time to have a decent breakfast at home, rushed out of the house and needlessly spent £2.65 on a questionably sourced caffeine fix from Starbucks, and arrived at work in a sweat only to need to rush back out, this time to the on-campus Starbucks to needlessly spend more money on an overpriced late breakfast.

Bulk up.

Children in Palestine desperately waiting for humanitarian aid to sustain themselves, millions in some of the most deprived and war-ravaged nations in Africa, the homeless even in the rich West who rely on spare change from passers by for their next meal – they’re the ones who are starving. People on self-imposed hunger strikes protesting political injustice and persecution and abuses of human rights. They’re starving.

So, I am hungry.

I came across an interesting blog today. I can’t link to it because they probably wouldn’t like what I’m going to say.

The blog is about a university student’s daily meals – where and what they eat and how much they pay for it. I happened to come across yesterday’s entry and, fascinated, went back to look at the previous day’s, and then the day’s before that. Every day seemed to be composed of a breakfast of a buttered breadroll and something to drink, a lunch of an energy drink, chips, and donuts, and a dinner of more energy drink and occasionally a packaged meal. Wow, I kept thinking, doesn’t this person ever make an effort to eat properly (and save money at the same time)?

Firstly, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s usually the first food you eat after having ‘fasted’ for 8-12 hours overnight and it restores your blood sugar levels and sustains you throughout the morning. The morning hours (8-11am) are the hours when attention and other cognitive processes have the greatest potential, meaning if you’ve had a good breakfast, you’ll be much more likely to work productively. Lunch doesn’t have to be a big effort. If more people kicked their own arses to cook a meal for dinner in the evenings, the leftovers would do just fine for the next day’s lunch. You can cook a meal easily in an hour or so, providing you pick up some simple groceries from the shop.

I always cook, whether I’m living alone or not. Because I like it. I like buying supplies and using them to create different meals and rising to the challenge of achieving it all cheaply and quickly, because I’m a student. I find it bizarre when I have people round to eat or when people ask me in the office and they seem to think it’s such a huge effort to actually go to the shop and buy groceries and come home and cook a meal. That seems like a lot of effort, why don’t you just buy it? they ask. I couldn’t imagine buying three meals a day, seven days a week. I’d be out of pocket but more than that I’d get sick. Really. Many people seem to think it’s healthy and acceptable to consume bottled fruit juices, packaged TV dinners, boxed sandwiches. I get sick if I eat these more than once in a while. I get purple circles under my eyes and I start to feel permanently tired and I get headaches. It’s bad for you, even though it looks healthy. Please don’t eat it.

And you know, much more than being out of pocket and sick, I won’t eat commercially made food because it makes me feel like a slave to irresponsible consumerism. Today we live in a world where many people can’t imagine how they would survive without the convenience of being able to buy a sandwich or a roast dinner from the supermarket. People who don’t have the slightest idea how to make soup, even the simplest kind. People who actually hate cooking meals for themselves, because they think it’s tedious or boring or a waste of time.

Bulk up!

I don’t want to be one of them. I don’t care if the research is coming out of my ears or if I’m up to my neck in teaching. I will spend an hour to cook for myself and I will enjoy it.

Now I will have lunch.

Whilst we cannot be certain of Alfred Nobel’s reasons for prohibiting Nobel Prize nominees from being publicly identified until 50 years after their nomination, the rule seems to have come in handy to the Norwegian award committee this year, who are responsible for selecting the winner of the Peace Prize category. The winner this year, of course, was announced last Friday, and was the European Union.

For a pan-governmental authority currently bowing to the political persecution of individuals like Julian Assange, directly contributing to widespread unhappiness and political unrest in the Greek population through severe austerity, and, for one particular member, following the Bush administration into unethical and expensive wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I must say I am surprised by the committee’s choice.

Naturally, because the nominees considered alongside the Union cannot be revealed until 2062, we have no reliable way of evaluating whether the committee’s choice might reflect general public opinion. I have a feeling it might not.

It seems senseless to award the European Union a Nobel Peace Prize when the European Union is constituted only by a range of member states, each of which have engaged in acts that both promote peace and damn it at the same time. Moreover, I would personally favour everyday individuals or non-governmental organisations for the Peace Prize over and above governmental authorities, whether over a single state or a whole continent. Mostly because I believe grassroots movements have generally achieved more in the way of progressive social change than any government.

So, if and when we come to the day when the European Union’s fellow nominees for Peace are announced, I shall look forward to shaking my head and pitying Nobel award committees’ seeming fascination with an outdated reverence to state and pan-state authority.

Well, I’ve finally got round to putting up my WikiLeaks support page. If you support freedom of information and freedom of the press and want to see more transparency and accountability in your government, please get informed and involved!

https://happyseptember.wordpress.com/wikileaks/

On a recent field trip to the Imperial War Museum in south London I was taken aback at how much this chunk of the Berlin Wall seems to bear relevance to what PhDs are for.

After experiencing the apparently common phenomena of First Year Fun and Second Year Slump I have now moved on to Third Year Cynicism (my apologies for being unable to find a synonym of cynicism that begins with a ‘Th’). I feel cynical about the purpose of PhDs and how that purpose must have evolved from a purpose more noble in years past. Sure, we’re ‘changing the world’, but progress seems slow. At present, I count at least five academic staff in my own department alone who have no publications, and no visible ongoing research. And, unless their staff profiles’ ‘research and publications’ sections are empty because they are relentlessly busy doing life-saving research to create a utopian world, that’s pretty disappointing.

I had hoped so badly that getting to the top of the academic qualification ladder would mean being able to change life, to work harder for peace, to create a classless society. Now, I just feel cynical. I can’t work out if that’s because I’ve been working on my thesis for too long, because I don’t believe in it any more, or because I’m just being stupid.

But I do think, with increasing marketisation, competition between universities for research funding and league table status, and this overwhelming emphasis on corporate advertising to trumpet out people’s achievements, we’ve lost track of the fact that we need to use PhDs for change, not for self-promotion. While most people would happily agree, change is hardly at the forefront of our minds every day while we’re editing minute details in a diagram, fixing PowerPoint slides, or attending lab meetings.

Change is a far-away ideal on the horizon of doctorhood. Conversely, it should be the blood that runs through our veins.

Friend of WikiLeaks

June 2017
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The Final Countdown

Submission of PhD ThesisMay 1st, 2013
The big day is here. Joy to the world!