Thesis Boot Camp: The view from ‘the other side’

This past week I had the privilege to help facilitate the first ‘solo’ Thesis Boot Camp (TBC) event on campus. For those of you who don’t know, it’s essentially 2 ½ days of no-holds-barred, intensive writing event intended for final-stage PhD students to get as many words down on paper as possible. Last year we had the brilliant Dr Peta Freestone, award winning writer and creator of TBC, lead the very first event.  From that experience we decided to try our hand to run it again this year.

tbc-bricksFrom a ‘former-PhD-student-now-facilitator’ perspective it was fascinating to observe this group of students rise to the challenge of writing their thesis. As I spoke to the participants I found I could really empathise with their struggles. The anxiety and self-doubt seem to grow during the final-stages of the PhD and I remember, quite vividly, the effort it took to ‘just write’. These memories made me all the more determined to find ways to keep the group positive and motivated.

Everyone needs cheerleaders, and during this event it’s a fine balance between what I call ‘pat and push’. Yes, it’s also known as ‘carrot and stick’ but I prefer my version. Less ‘you’re a horse being lead’ kind of visual and more sports orientated (?). Anyhow, knowing when to be reassuring and knowing when to issue an challenge wasn’t easy, especially towards final few hours when we’re all losing steam. Being ‘on the other side’gave me some insight into the process they were currently undergoing. This made it a little easier to know when to lend a hand and when to lend a listening ear!

It’s sometimes hard to know what to say, and I wondered if my words sounded ’empty’ because they seem so cliché (e.g. You can do it! Keep going! etc.). Then I remembered being on the receiving end of this kind of encouragement, and feeling quite relieved to hear these sorts of messages. So I hoped, in some way, what I said was useful to this group!

We’ve got another TBC coming up later this year so, fingers crossed, it’ll be just as productive as this one!

Image my own, taken before boot camp (duh)!

Two-city living: It’s what you do if you work in UK higher ed?

I remember the first time I learned that one of the professors in my discipline commuted to Manchester for work but lived in another city several hours away (by train). He’d stay a few days then go back to his family on the weekend. I remember thinking this was completely crazy – who would voluntarily do this? Well, apparently it’s quite common in academia have what I call a “two-city” life.

Last September my partner moved to Brighton to take up a post at the University of Sussex while I remained in Manchester, so we’ve been in this two-city living situation ever since. So far, the practicalities of travelling every few weeks (I go to Brighton or he comes to Manchester) have been smooth, though a little surreal. We were both so busy at work that the reality of living in different places didn’t really sink in until later in the semester.

Oddly, it feels kind of normal but at the same time I’m still getting used to all this. Technically one doesn’t travel “home” to the other – we both take turns visiting each other (though currently Ben travels more to Manchester)! I also don’t really have a “life” in Brighton – no networks or close friends, and I get lost easily. So when I’m there,  the city feels more like a tourist destination than home.

It’s a weird kind of change, but the weirdness hasn’t come from the distance but rather how normal this transition feels. Like, it’s an inevitable (?) part of us both working in higher education. The move wasn’t expected, but when he got the job offer, it just made sense to live in different cities. Not for the long term (hopefully), but certainly for now. It’s what you do if you work in UK HE, right?

Things that make you go “hmm”! Feel free to comment below.

End of semester countdown

Yes it has been a long time since I’ve updated this blog. I suppose I’ve found it hard to draw the line between writing for work and writing my myself. This blog, in the past, has been a bit of both because it was created during my PhD. Now that I’ve got “Dr” as a prefix (yay) I’m still trying to find my feet with what to do with this blog.

new-year-aheadSo for now, I’ll share a little about where I’m at at this moment – Monday afternoon, just after lunch, at my desk, nearing the end of the first semester. To be honest I’m tired and literally counting down the days until Christmas break. It’s certainly a different kind of tired to “Phd-tired”. I suppose with everything that has happened this year with Brexit and the US Elections there’s an added sense of anxiety for the future that mixed in. I’m looking forward to seeing the back of 2016, but very cautious about feeling optimistic for 2017. New year with the possibility of new changes doesn’t really feel like it’s a good thing, and I’m tired to feeling tired.

So there you have it, my at the moment end-of-the-semester Monday musings. With a bit of luck next week should feel a little lighter!

Image New Year sign, courtesy of