Only 4 days late, but at least the year hasn’t quite been broken in yet!
After re-reading my ‘End of Year‘ 2011 post, I started to draft this post on the 27th of December. It’s only been now I’ve been able to return to it after moving house during the holidays and hibernating through the usual obligations of the festive period. I’ve been re-reading a lot of things I’ve written online over the last 3 years, especially in the run-up and during the actual suspension of my PhD at the end of October. The benefit of keeping a blog, even if it doesn’t strictly feel like ‘PhD’ or research related chat or reflects an academic or work-related self-promotional tone, has been a real confidence boost (when I’ve really needed it) and a way of reminding myself of the things I have done or the frame of mind I was at a particular period in my life. Even if I didn’t want to admit it or even recognise it at the time. So, a personal reflection of 2012? Why not.
Don’t get me wrong, suspending the PhD – it was a big decision, and I guess I would like to think it was a decision that defined the year. But it wasn’t. It was pragmatic. And it wouldn’t be a reflection of 2012 if I didn’t write about that first.
It was partly financial, but not because I was skint or lacking in relevant work contracts but when funding runs out, it is a case of deciding to go part-time and attempting to less work that pays more (ha! lucky for some) or suspending until into a better situation with accommodation, debt repayments and gaining a steadier income comes my way. Having moved back to Glasgow quite hastily in May and found myself living under a friend’s stairs up until a few days ago, it’s only been now that we are in a new flat that I’ve been able to dig out paperwork and begin to assess the real financial damage of the events of 2012. With this in mind, it has not been a good time to let the precious clock of PhD time tick away when I know there was a particular hierarchy of need that had to be addressed before I could return to the luxury of being able to focus on a task such as completing the write up of a PhD.
It was partly subject related, having got too personally involved in the public critique of the Olympic Games through the torch relay and the #citizenrelay and moving far away from my initial research interests of alternative media, new media and citizen journalism and how specific communities engage socially and politically online. So less about the Olympics and Olympic Studies (a bizarre space that I do want to engage in any further at this stage in time – thank god 2012(tm) is over), more about mega events (or even events in general) can be used as a catalyst for community engagement using citizen-led media and the emerging research methods (using social media) to measure value and impact of this. However, in short, I am a person who loves reading. Who loves writing. And when I’m not reading and I’m not writing – and feeling guilty because I am not doing either. We have a problem. Furthermore, the first day I went to the Mitchell Library after suspending my PhD, I inhaled the first two books I picked up in one go. Story books. The stuff you feel guilty reading because it isn’t something relating to PhD research. Being registered on a PhD, without any passion or spirit to read or write is simply a ticking time-bomb to fail in the long term. I have no regrets as I am picking my reading speed up again through library books and reclaiming my attention span which was at the stage where a 10 minute youtube video required too much concentration.
And finally, what I am realising now, that I am so far removed from the initial PhD project about Vancouver 2010, with such a filmsy and unloved background of literature and absolutely no passion or enthusiasm to correct it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a lot of ‘stuff’ written in various folders and documents labelled PhD. I have 4 folders of organised work, reading notes and annotated bibliographies, but to attempt and rewrite a backdated version of my life wouldn’t work. I went to Vancouver without a body of literature or a detailed methodology. Now, with a couple of research projects under my belt, I can’t think how I can cram that mess into a document that would resemble (and pass as) a PhD – however, there has been plenty of bang of its buck in terms of how that trip influenced projects between 2010 and now. It cannot be separated - but it itself isn’t the PhD. I know in myself, if I have to backdate and rewrite work from that time, there are a few things and learning outcomes that would be much easier to write about and be a PhD that I would want to spend two years part-time writing up. Things change, people change – and I could argue that I’ve been staring the wrong dataset in the face for so long that I’ve missed the point of a PhD being an exam I have to pass and defend. It’s not as if I want to rip it all up and start again in a entirely new field, I have a lot of writing and research that I can work with, I just need to shift the focus back into what interests and gets me excited and fits into my current work practices. I know that I can do this – and I won’t be any means starting from scratch – but it will hopefully be a project that will not only be something I will enjoy doing, but can be situated within a research area I feel part of and want to contribute to.
So, with that said, a lot of good things have happened in the last few months (moved into a new flat which is probably the nicest place I’ve ever stayed ever and new opportunities emerging from existing projects) the PhD is back on my whiteboard in the form of produced an updated PhD proposal to be submitted alongside a new restart date of January 2014. This not only gives me a year off the clock to sort out finances and concentrate on my career, but also the chance to refocus without the pressure of things like the REF and other administration processes that would have became more important that the research I would have to write up in the first place.
And as much as I said that the PhD suspension shouldn’t define the outcome of 2012 – it was and had became the main focus of my life and the decisions I was making, much of which I talked about the original blog post. A lot went on, I had to keep going and things had to give or be let slip. I achieved a lot of things in 2012, but I also let a lot people down and had to selfishly say ‘no’ to things that I would have properly managed to achieve if I was working to the same levels and intensity that I was at the start of the year. What I have learned this year is about expectations. I know that I am capable of being a workaholic to the point that the first weekend I gave myself off when I moved back to Glasgow, I made myself sick with the anxiety of just downing tools in favour of night out. I also know that when left to my own devices & with sole ownership of my own income, I can be a terrible jake-bag that could find myself on a different night out, with different friends, every night of the week in a city like Glasgow – and I have been good at justifying this, especially related to the amount of time spent over the last 5 years simply not having close friends near me or having little access to the money I was earning myself. But it’s time to reign that in again.
It’s early days now – but with the new flat (which we kind of symbolically moved into on Hogmanay of all days) and being somewhere where I actually want to spend time in, to live in, as a home rather than use a place to crash between work and play, will make a huge difference. 2012′s lesson has been about the importance of having a base – especially if you intend to work in a transient, multi-locational and contextual environment. I spent the first 6 months of 2012 travelling for work. It was getting to the stage that in one week I was in Leicester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Inverness, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Birmingham and London – working on projects whilst I was on the trains into between and sleeping in a different city every night. Now, that level and intensity of travelling still excites me, and I need to go further than the UK – but I had reached the point where I didn’t know what end of the country I was living at. I always wanted to move back to Scotland when I could. But with the people around you conditioning you with the idea that moving back to your hometown was a ‘good’ idea to save money and ‘do the PhD’, it wasn’t long before I was going to implode. It is very clear in my mind now that I could never go back to live in Ayr, no matter the circumstances, because it is just not where I belong and in all honesty? I’m not afraid of offending people when I say that I hate the place.
That’s why this flat is important. It is a base, pure and simple. But it is more than a place to store things, it is a home and it will be a home for as long as we need it to be or until the next adventure. Unlike at the end of 2011, where I was looking towards of future of completing the PhD and getting onto the next stage or level of my career, the conclusion of 2012 has got me thinking a lot more about the smaller things. It doesn’t matter how seemingly productive I appear or the extent in which I jeopardise my own health or mindset in order to pursue a career in existing academia, or even the process of self-medication to cope with the pressures of such, when projects become obligations and the fear of not keeping up with yourself are greater than your love of what your doing. To be honest, I could list a million things I’ve managed to achieve this year, but I also almost ran right off the treadmill, and I was very close to cracking up – and would have done if I didn’t scream ‘stop’ and found myself back in Glasgow, surrounded by people I really needed at the time.
So yeah, 2013?
With the philosophy of doing less things better, I have 12 months to 1) fall back in love with my PhD and hone down the new topic, 2) develop my self-employed career to the stage it has a coherent identity and set of services that I can confidently offer, manage and deliver (and who knows, perhaps be able to employ people as well) as well as delivering on the current contracts I have at the moment, writing them up as case studies (perhaps even forming the basis of academic research project) 3), work closely with academics at UWS and others on projects relating to social media, information management and a community media project towards Glasgow 2014 – and publish at least 2 academic journal articles, 4) sort out finances & think more carefully about what I spend my money on and, importantly, 5) to go on holiday, somewhere abroad – for longer than a weekend (at LEAST 2 weeks) and eventually find a way to travel, for leisure preferably but wouldn’t turn down opportunity to work at the same time.
And with that said, with basic levels of need in place and with the Olympic circus finally out of town, I can now get my head back into being more politically active, especially in Scottish politics and staying more on top of things going on in general. If anything, 2012 has been about surviving more than anything else for me. Social Media has been important, of course, but I’ve thought a lot about how its use has changed for me. And with that, and practice for writing a long document (such as a PhD ;-)), I intend to attempt to write a social media-y ‘how-to’ book this year. Not for any other reason than somebody convinced me that I could do it – and I think it would be fun but challenging thing to do. Why the hell not?