PhD? Oh yes, that is a thing now.

GREETINGS wordpress. I haven’t written much in the last several months (April doesn’t count). I thought it was time I’d log in and actually write an update of some sort. A real one.

I moved from Stratford back to Galway. You already knew that. I finished my master’s with Distinction overall (hoorah!) and graduated in December. The graduation ceremony was magnificent: they had this brilliant musical section who I was ALMOST SURE were going to start playing The Throne Room from A New Hope. Unfortunately, they did not, but I’m pretty sure they played Wagner instead which was pretty cool. After a year and three months of being called ‘Emm-er’ by people, my name was at long last pronounced correctly on the podium to my relief (I apologise for my cynicism regarding the University of Birmingham’s correct pronunciation form). I also didn’t trip up or cause the Great Hall to implode or cause great injury to my friends, fellow graduates, academics, and loved ones. I then spent the evening with friends eating pie and wandering around in Birmingham’s massive humungous German Christmas market (i.e., drinking mulled wine in a charming little shack on what appeared to be New Street). There was also really nice pie and soft furry animals and liking Disney even though they reinforce horrible gender norms.

Leaving your whole life behind for the sake of one guy you met that one time -- that is A Thing. And yet I still love this film.
Leaving your whole life behind for the sake of one guy you met that one time — that is A Thing. And yet I still love this film.

And a few weeks later I had to leave and it was all very sad. But then I moved to Galway so I was less sad.

But here’s another thing: I am now a PhD student. One that started just this month. I was awarded a postgraduate scholarship by the Irish Research Council [UK friends who are not in the know, this is basically the Irish equivalent of the AHRC], and as such, I’m researching Shakespeare in modern Irish theatre 1969-2016 at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance, and assessing the impact of social, political, and cultural influences on performance in the country (taking into account the Northern Irish Troubles, Europeanisation, globalization and the Celtic Tiger, the economic crisis, the tercentenary of the Easter Rising, etc). It’s a big, exciting project, and I’m so delighted to get started. I’m grateful and thankful to actually have funding, knowing all too well how scarce it is from having to self-fund the master’s, as well as knowing many who are going/have gone through their PhDs in a similar fashion. Plus there are LOVELY AND USEFUL ARCHIVES on campus in which I’ll probably get lost in for the next four years. I mean, have you seen the Abbey Digital Archive? This is hardly a bad thing.

But seriously everyone, what am I doing?
but seriously everyone, what am I doing?

So, now I am almost four weeks into starting doctoral research. But it only took about a few days for the whole ‘what the hell am I doing?’ feelings to hit me. I’m not saying it’s all bad and awful: I really love my topic; I have a supervisor who is very supportive and encouraging; I’m in a department that’s inclusive and communal; I’m lucky to have friends, mentors, and colleagues who are there to say ‘don’t worry, it’s totally normal’, ‘that’s what it’s like here’, or ‘please, tidy up your desk’. (Said desk is like a crashed car at the moment. Sorry.) Friends ask me how the PhD is going, and my answer is half ‘I love it/I’m stumbling around in the dark’. Well, we all are to some extent — it’s a feeling that I’ve bonded with other new students over, at least. Maybe the amount of lists I make for myself in terms of TASKS and DON’T FORGET and PRIORITIES and which are STUCK TO MY WALL SO I REMEMBER THAT THEY’RE THERE AND THAT I HAVE TO DO THEM will make at least parts of it more regimented or something. Who knows.

But that’s how things have been so far. I have a conference paper to give in November and a full semester to get through before Christmas. It’s a hodge-podge of flailing hand gestures, ‘wait and see’, and just getting used to things. I think.

So the main nub and thrust of this is: I’m still alive. I’ll try and update this a bit more (I saw so many interesting things over the summer, and meant to write about them but never did), and I’m looking forward to the years ahead. No idea yet as to what they’ll entail, but it’s exciting nonetheless.

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What No-One Tells You About Doing A Masters: Five Weeks In

As of last Tuesday, I officially became Emer McHugh, B.A. (NUI), and became an alumna of NUIG. I saw my friends, my other half, my family, hugged and waved at numerous people, paraded around in academic robes and struggled to keep my hat on my head. I didn’t realise how much fun a day it would be. And then I hopped on a bus at 1am, flew out to Birmingham at 6.30am, and arrived back in time for class at 1pm that afternoon.

Welcome back to Postgradland.

I have been immersed in Postgradland (or as it is officially known, a Masters degree in Shakespeare and Theatre at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon) for about five weeks now. I’m glad that now I can focus on something that I really do love, and that I can commune with people who share that same love. The novelty of that wears off in the first week, which is not necessarily a bad thing — it’s just second nature for us all to talk about Shakespeare and early modern theatre, and to natter about what we find so interesting about it.

At the same time, nobody prepares you for what a Masters or any form of postgraduate course entails. No-one tells you what to expect. NOBODY. I’m not asking to be spoonfed here, but after talking to fellow new postgrads, I’ve come to the conclusion that the first few weeks of a Masters is the equivalent of wading around in a deep lake that you thought was just a shallow pond. (Poor metaphor, I know.) It wasn’t what we expected it to be, but I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. We just went into it blindly, I think. But there’s a sense that maybe, just maybe, we should have pulled one of our lecturers aside, or someone who has gone through it, anyone, and asked a bunch of questions.

So this is for those of you who are contemplating doing a Masters degree. I’m not trying to put anyone off, but these are just my own observations.

1. It is a lot of work. Biggest ‘duhnoduh’ statement, but it is true. You may have six hours a week, but you do have work to complete for those six hours. If you’re a humanities student like yours truly, most of it will be reading. Which is not a bad thing. But there is generally a much shorter timeframe for you to do that reading. So, to quote one of my English lecturers at NUIG, ‘you’ve really got to like reading’.

2. You may feel that you can’t do the work. But that is OK. What was crucial for me was knowing that others felt the same way. Whether they were in the same course as me, whether they were in the same university, whether they were back home in Ireland or here in the UK. A great piece of advice from one of my best friends was that eventually, you catch up to the pace of what is expected of you. That same person has just received his results from his Masters, and he’ll be graduating from his M.IT very, very soon. I’m very proud of him. He also makes a mean cup of tea.

3. You’re not special anymore. Remember when you were the only kid in your seminar who actually talked and took an interest? Remember being the only one who answered questions in your lectures? And over the years during your undergraduate degree, as you attend classes and accumulate good grades, you have slowly built up a very good reputation for yourself. Well done you, but it turns out that you weren’t the only one. More than likely, your fellow classmates didn’t just sign up for this course out of idleness and are there because of their ability, interest in the subject, and intellect. And yes, you may not feel special anymore, but that’s something you need to get used to. It’s also something you can use to your own advantage too, which leads me onto to my next point.

4. You know what’s the coolest thing about doing a Masters? The people. I know it’s something I keep reiterating again and again, but it is true. Especially if you’re interested in something that is quite specialist, like Shakespeare or the eighteenth century. It’s incredibly nice to be surrounded with folk who want to talk about whether Aaron from Titus Andronicus is more sympathetic than Richard II in the pub, or whether that production you saw at the RSC the night before was better the second time you saw it. The lecturers and seminar leaders are just as eager to talk about such topics too. And for once, you’re not the only would-be academic in the room, and those who don’t want to be academics still care about what they’re studying too. For me, that’s just heartening.

So there you have it. While I’m at it, I should refer you to my dear friend Patrick McCusker’s post on a similar topic (albeit it deals more with studying for a Masters abroad). In general, I recommend his blog The Neverending Blog: Part II. It’s funny, insightful, and quite thought-provoking.

And to conclude, here is a banana kitty.

Happy Hallowe’en!

ohdearIcan’thandlehowcutethisis

The New Newness

I’ve been living in Stratford for the past few days now, and two weeks from today, myself and a gaggle of other new students will be arriving at the Institute for the start of two weeks’ induction. Exciting, nerve-wracking, new, lovely stuff. Although, in the light of new things and new places and new newness, I’m trying to avoid turning this post into a minutiae description of what it took to get there, like some blogs do. Seriously, I just hopped on a plane from Knock, landed in Birmingham, took a train or two, THAT WAS IT. This blog does not host contemporary rewritings of ‘Old Man Travelling’, if that’s what you’re here for.

sad Wordsworth reacts to this news. maybe.

Stratford hasn’t really changed a lot since I last was here, unless you’re counting the amazingly fantastic weather. Hundreds of tourists are still pounding the pavement on Henley Street, filling its restaurants, wandering into Shakespeare’s house and gardens and into the giftshop and bookshop, and eventually trickling down onto the green outside the RSC Theatres. Seeing so many people enjoying the sunshine, replete with vendors floating in the river (coming from Ireland, I still find that incredibly novel) and buskers playing the violin or the electric guitar — it’s a sight that’s very reminiscent of Galway in the summertime. Oddly, I still feel like a tourist of some sort, but maybe that’s because I’m still finding my way around, looking for the nearest ATM, the cheapest place to buy colour shampoo, and still finding hidden crevices within the town that I hadn’t discovered before.

I can’t remember if I felt the same about Galway — the first time I had visited NUIG with the intent of studying there, to me the university appeared to be this GREAT BIG SPACE. I genuinely thought it was huge (it’s really, really not). Subsequently, when I finally moved, I barely remember if I ventured beyond the centre of town at all (getting involved in NUIG Dramsoc actually brought me into the town more, now that I think of it). I speak as someone who only first went out to Salthill in my third year, to the ridicule of many.

Anyway, such adjustment is customary, isn’t it? I like to think that I’ve learned a bit about adjusting to somewhere new four years on. The funny thing is, I’ve realised that I’ve gone from being the token Shakespearean in Galway to potentially becoming the token Paddy here. We’ll see how that works out around 17th March.

and now, a nice picture of Mason Croft, where the SI resides — admire, everyone.

As well as this, other newness currently resides in my room, in the form of Very New Books and boxes of herbal tea. That’s a non-sequitur, right there, but surely a very necessary one. Newness continues apace!

 

Strange News From Nowhere, or, The Great Galway Goodbye Trail

I’m a little sentimental today, as today is the first time in four years that I won’t be starting another year in Galway. No more rolling into NUIG at nine in the morning, fresh as a daisy, at the start of the only week in the academic year where you could legitimately get away with not doing much work. No more filing into large lecture theatres, filling out forms, deliberating over whether you want to do the history of the Crusades or military history, children’s fiction or true crime. No more running into folks you haven’t seen in weeks or months, screaming down the concourse OH MY GOD HOW ARE YOU HOW WAS YOUR SUMMER etc. before you all go in separate directions for your first class.

A lot of people I know are doing that right now as I write. Some of them are starting or continuing their postgrad courses, some of them are going into final year, some of them are starting second year and awaiting what’s in store.

Life in Galway over the past four years wasn’t always without its stressful and unhappy moments. That’s only to be expected. But I’ll miss Galway immensely. I’ll miss the university, I’ll miss the people, I’ll miss the town. At the same time though, I am incredibly excited about moving to Stratford later this week. I’ve finally secured somewhere to live, and I’m looking forward to familiarising myself with the town even further. I’m looking forward to starting at the SI, to meeting people who love Shakespeare as much as I do (he’s a pretty cool guy, I know), to studying wonderful things such as performance history and practically every single play in the canon and experiential close readings and so on — the stuff I dreamed of learning more about from as little of more than a year ago when I realised that Shakespeare was what I wanted to continue with. This is the point in the post where I’d say ‘It’s a new chapter in my life, a new beginning’, but I’d rather side-step that for now. Mainly because it’s trite.

So long, Galway, and thanks for all the fish.