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The Pequod
Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

Postgraduate Diary: Where Am I?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Any decent Graduate School training programme includes workshops to help a student along every step of the road to a doctorate. There are programmes on how to use Microsoft Word, workshops on time management, guides to dealing with a supervisor, advice on preparing for a viva and, finally, guidance on finding jobs when that doctorate is in hand. But pause and backtrack. Between these final stages there is a step missing, one you do not even think about when you are writing and researching, and which I encountered only on my return from the Christmas break.

Having submitted a few days before Santa geared up his reindeer, when I came back after the festivities were over, and sat down at my desk to catch up on the emails that had built up, I went to compose a reply and realised my signature was wrong. Previously, my signature line included my name followed by an unambiguous statement of my position: "PhD Research Student." I also included the address of my department, and a link to my research profile.

But what should my signature line say now? I am not really a PhD student any more, as I have not gone into continuation and have paid no fees, and I am not actively researching. But neither am I a post-doc, since I have no doctorate yet. Using the departmental address, too, seems a bit odd, since although I am teaching a considerable amount in my department, the bulk of my salary comes from a job at one of the university libraries. Then again, putting "Library Dogsbody" after my name would confuse my students. So I went for the minimal approach, just my plain old name and email address. Not even any of the letters I have accumulated: BA, MA, AHEA. As I have come to realise, the period after submitting but before viva-ing (is that a verb? it sounds like some Latin dance) has no name, which perhaps explains why it is overlooked on training programmes.

Since Christmas, I have been caught in a peculiar routine. Following the advice of friends who have graduated, I am not going to look at or work on my thesis until closer to my viva in Easter. Instead, I have spent the last month or so getting on with my teaching preparation, reading Paradise Lost and Midnight's Children, and mugging up on Freud and deconstruction. I have also had a lot of marking to do. However, my days are by not bursting at the seams of time as they were in the run up to submission last term.

I do have a few research thoughts bubbling in the back of my mind - something on mobile phone fictions, something on complexity, a paper on Frederic Jameson and computer games - but to be honest I simply cannot be bothered to get going on any one of these; when I do, no doubt I'll post thoughts in progress on this blog.

I think I was so burnt out before Christmas that I cannot bear the thought of starting from scratch on a new project. Indeed, I am not sure I can even remember how to begin in principle, because it is so long since I actually researched anything original, took down notes, and wrote down ideas. Although I have never worked harder than the previous six months, that period of finishing my thesis consisted mostly of re-writing and editing, with very little original thought, and certainly no writing 1000 words on a page that had been blank at the start of the day. This was the Polyfiller phase of PhD, when I filled in the gaps and smoothed the cracks of my existing writing and research. Those days three long years ago when I used to sit reading all morning, go for a walk after lunch, and dash out some brilliant (or so they seemed at the time) paragraphs on my computer are distant memories.

This phase, then, can best be described as a limbo. I am not in the heavenly phase of discovering new and interesting ideas, but neither am I experiencing the hell of getting these ideas coherently written during excessively busy days. I am something more than a PhD student, for in the last six months I finally became confident as a researcher, but I am not yet wearing the badge of "Dr" that makes my skills official. And, of course, there is the distinct possibility that I will not be awarded the PhD straight away, but will have to do substantial corrections.

I am still kicking around my department, nattering easily with staff and other postgraduates as I photocopy teaching handouts, but I am conscious that my eyes should really be set on other jobs, in a different university. I am financially comfortable, what with my library and teaching jobs and Mrs. Ishmael's salary also, and could happily drift along like this for the next few years; however, I know that this is not a long-term, secure career.

Perhaps I would feel happier if I at least had a label to attach to this short phase of my life. Pre-post-doc is a bit clumsy. Post-Phd-student is a bit contradictory. Any better ideas?

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Posted by Alistair at 6:07 pm


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