Birthday week firsts: Post-party energy, driving lessons and a chiropractor visit

It’s been a great week of birthday celebrations (yay to the October-born).  With all the changes that have happened this year, I found myself caught up at the start of this semester with the “must work all the time” kind of mentality that comes with starting a new job. Not surprisingly I found myself becoming quite anxious and mentally exhausted – not a good sign given I’ve got 8 weeks left to the semester.

However this week I’ve been reminded of what actually matters by just being around people. Especially people who want to party. Considering most of my social circle is comprised of language teachers and UK HE professionals, the need for a party runs pretty high. Not party in the sense of all-nighter, lock-in binge (not really my thing) but more grab a drink and chill. I mean actually having a conversation with friends you cross paths with on campus when you’re both on your way to teach your next class but barely have the time to say hello. I don’t think I realised how much I needed to sit and hang out with people until after the party, when I felt more energised than drained. As an extreme introvert this rarely happens, and was a reminder that focussing on work all the time does nothing for anyone’s mental health.

The rest of the week was filled with other awesome experiences: first driving lesson in the UK (I haven’t driven since 2002) and my first trip to the chiropractors to deal with my first lower back twang (running related *sigh*). OK so having lower back pain isn’t awesome but going to see a chiropractor was quite calming. In all this week has been a good reminder to take a step back from work and do some self-care, especially during your birthday week!

New semester musings

A new university year is about to start here in the UK and it’s exciting.  This week has felt like a steady march in terms of keeping up with the different ‘to do’ lists. I’m fortunate to be teaching this year in a similar capacity. Teaching regularly is something that I’ve missed doing during my studies, so when I do get the opportunity to teach, I really look forward to it.

Image via week I had the opportunity to meet a few of the new PhDers during induction week at my university. Everyone is in a positive mood and the momentum to move forward is infectious.  As the ‘old hat’, so to speak, I get a weird deja vu of my undergraduate days, being a freshman (first year) and meeting these seniors (final year) undergrads. I remember thinking “Wow, they made it all the way to the end” and feeling more than a little intimidated. I felt something similar when I started my PhD three years ago, a combination of “they made it to their final year” with a little bit of “whoa.”

Now that I’m on the other side I smile a little at my reaction back then because had I known what it took to make it to this point I would’ve gone “S@*T!” I think I had underestimated the amount of work/time/blood energy needed and so I didn’t think I was nearly as prepared as I would have liked. Such is life, and my experiences are what they are. In all honestly, I don’t think you can be fully prepared to undertake doctoral studies, it is something that needs to be experienced.

I’m looking forward to this semester because it’s set to be my last as a full-time student. The plan *ahem* is to submit this thesis before the Christmas break so I’m aiming for a full draft (in the broadest sense) by the end of this month and work on the the final leg of editing/polishing/rewriting during the rest of the semester.  I really feel like my thesis is coming together and things are starting to make sense! As strange as that sounds, I’m enjoying this phase of my PhD. I hope I can still say that in a few months time!

Reflections on (academic teaching) interview experience

I had my first interview for an academic teaching fellow post at a UK university and, despite not being offered the post, I can honestly say that found the experience extremely useful.  The interview was for a teaching position whose primary focus was to supervise dissertations of pre-experience postgraduates studying at an MA TESOL programme.  I applied for this position thinking that my application would be added to the reject pile, but to my surprised I ended up being shortlisted for an interview!

Devil is in the details: There were two people on my interview panel, the Head of Department and the Director of Studies for the MA TESOL programme. The interview began with them going over the actual duties of the position in more detail since it wasn’t included in the original job description.  I figured they started with this overview in order to let candidates know what they were getting themselves into.  This included outlining how many students the position would be responsible for, how often the tutor would be needed on campus, and, considering I was travelling in from quite a ways, letting me know that travel/accommodation expenses wouldn’t be covered. Also they were straightforward about how the post would not be converted into a permanent position at the end of the contract but that there are several new posts being advertised soon to start in Sept 2013.  I appreciated how frank they were about the responsibilities of this role because it enabled me to gauge for myself whether I could carry the workload in my final year.

“How’s the writing up going?”: The questions asked were a mixture of ones focused specifically on the job specifications and, surprisingly, my thesis progress. From my application form they knew that I’m a final year PhD student in the writing up stage and it was in their best interests to ask about the progress of my thesis.  I should have anticipated this but I was so focussed on the job specs and getting to know the department that I didn’t really think that they would ask about my thesis.

While they were very interested in the topic, they also wanted to have a sense of how far along I was in the writing up process and essentially whether it would interfere with the responsibilities of the post.  I also had the sense that they were concerned that this position would interfere with my own PhD progress. Which brings me to the next set of questions…

“What theoretical framework are you using? / Tell me more about the methods you used for you data collection? / How do you see your research within the wider area of TESOL?”: Viva type questions!  This was the part of the interview that I really enjoyed because I found myself actually being able to answer these questions to an audience that wasn’t familiar with my research.  I sort of had this ‘out of body’ experience, where you watch yourself talk.  It’s one thing to talk to people you meet at conferences about your work – which is a great experience in and of itself – and it’s yet a different experience sharing your work in an interview setting because it gives you the chance to show how your work can fit within the research interests of the department.  In preparation for the interview I became familiar with the research areas of this department and was able to make some connections between their interests and my work.  This discussion wasn’t directly related to the job specs per se but rather I hoped that I gave enough information for them to see the possible contributions I could make to their research portfolio.

Specific job related Q and A: This part of the interview involved questions related to the responsibilities of the position.  I had done some preparation for this section and did my best to present relevant examples.  This part was a little trickier because it involved making the connection between what they were looking for (a.k.a. the job description) and my own experiences.  Some of the question I remember included:

  • What do you believe are the most common deficiencies in postgraduate dissertations?
  • In your opinion, what are the essential qualities of a good supervisor?
  • How would you go about advising students who need to use remote access facilities for data collection purposes?

Interview Feedback: When I received notification that the post was offered to someone else, I took the opportunity to email them to ask for some feedback.  I understand there may be instances where it may not be possible but I believe it doesn’t hurt to ask.  I was fortunate to be offered feedback via a telephone conversation from one of interviewers who was kind enough to take the time to speak to me directly.  In general, they thought I have a very strong CV but I didn’t have as much supervision experience as some of the other candidates. They also took into consideration that I’m in my final year of writing up which was potentially risky for them should I be unable to fulfil my responsibilities as well as for my own progress, should the responsibilities get in the way of my thesis.  He was very clear on these points and offered practical advice on how and where I could go about building up my CV.  I was left feeling encouraged and hopeful. In all, the experience was hugely beneficial and, while I was a little disappointed with the outcome, going through the interview process was definitely worthwhile.