…How did we get here?

Greetings, everyone. I have not written here in a long time (a lot has happened — we have marriage equality and gender recognition, for one), so I’ll do one of those update posts á la Sophie Duncan’s at Clamorous Voice (you all should read that blog, as it is indeed Very Good).

Anyway.

1. I am about ten months into my PhD. I did a bunch of writing this year, passed my GRC meeting in May (that’s Graduate Research Committee, fact fans, kinda like a progress panel), and thus launched into four to five weeks of SO. MUCH. TRAVELLING.

2. The first was a trip to BritGrad at the Shakespeare Institute, which is generally brilliant every year — I always come away from it having spent quality time with old friends and having got to know excellent new friends. It’s essentially a holiday at this stage. Second trip was the STR New Researchers’ Network symposium (I’m a committee member, fnarr) at the Shard, which I came away from loving all of the delegates and all of my fellow committee members, and also feeling very hopeful for the future of theatre and performance studies. Every panel I went to was great, and taught me something new. Third was, following a weekend at Dublin Pride with friends, a trip far down south to Skibbereen in west Cork. I stayed in a very swish B&B, or what my housemate called ‘a sex B&B’. (FYI, I did not have anyone to have sex with in that B&B.) The reason I was down there was that Druid’s latest production, DruidShakespeare, was performing there for a night, and the thesis dictated that I would basically follow that production as much as I could over the summer. Other than the show being Very Good (I’ve seen it several times now), I came away from it thinking that all theatre shows could do with serving free tea at intervals. And then I went to New York to speak at a symposium about the show and then got to see it in the city there too. Which is all pretty good. (All I need to do now is get tickets to see it in Kilkenny — performing at Richard II’s digs! — and then the odyssey will be over for now.)

3. I arrived back from New York on Monday, attended the launch of the Yeats & the West exhibition (you should check it out, it’s so pretty), saw Luck Just Kissed You Hello with my friend Chris that night, and went to see St. Vincent on Tuesday night. The only downside is that now, my body is beginning to revolt, and as a result I am experiencing All Of The Jet Lag. The worst part is the sudden feeling of constantly being off-balance, so now I am in my bed, trying not to lift my head too high, and attempting to strategically drink cups of tea without lifting my head too much. We’ll see how things go. I would like to be able to stand in the shower and not feel nauseous.

4. My department are organising this conference next week and you should go because it’ll be great and I’ll be volunteering at it and being overly chirpy at the registration desk. Oh, and it’s GIAF. Hurrah.

5. I really don’t want to get on another plane for another long while but then I remembered I’ve to go to London at the end of next month. Damn.

6. My tea is now cold. Shit.

So, You Want To Do A PhD [And Get Money While You’re At It]

I have a strange kind of nostalgia for this time last year. I remember how I had arrived back in Galway for a few days to meet with a potential supervisor to discuss PhD ideas and funding, whilst also keeping my visit very low-key because I was a little bit worried about everything falling through (I’m cautious to the point of Let’s Not Do It At All, sometimes). Otherwise, I was spending my last few months in Stratford reading, researching, writing, thinking, putting together That Proposal. It’s amazing how much has changed in the last twelve months. When I think about it, those few months were fun, exciting, and full of possibility: now that I’ve started my PhD with full funding, I consider myself very lucky to be able to do what I want to do, to be able to do what I love with financial backing. It’s difficult at times, but there is nothing else I would prefer to do right now — which can only be a good thing.

Now, it’s that time of year where research councils such as the AHRC and IRC are rolling out their call for applications, and where people are putting together their proposals, and are sending tentative ideas to academics they’d like to be supervised by. I’m not saying I’m an expert on all that there is to know about applying for a PhD and getting funding (every situation is different), but this is all I can offer.

1. Initially, the process of choosing a supervisor should go like this: Topic, Supervisor, Institution. Which is a contradiction, but this was advice given to me by a PhD student at the Institute and he was damn right. I remember my MA supervisor telling me that I should do the project I’m doing *in* Ireland — because that’s where all the resources and archives and performances are. In that case, choosing my supervisor, and to that extent my institution as well, was a no-brainer (again, have you SEEN our archives?). As much as we all want to work with Tiffany Stern because she’s Tiffany Stern and pretty bloody amazing at what she does, do your research interests align with hers? No? Then don’t approach Tiffany Stern.

2. Make enquiries to intended supervisors. Who is the most enthusiastic about your work? Who makes time to answer your email in a detailed and timely fashion? Who shows interest? What is their attitude towards you? They could be a Big Shot in your field, but if they’re dismissive towards you… do you really want to work with them? This may not be feasible or maybe too expensive, but also try and meet with them in person. That will also give you some indication of how you might get on with them, and how excited they are about your project. I don’t have any advice on contacting supervisors you might not know (I was lucky in that I knew mine from my undergraduate days), but when initially emailing them, don’t send them A Huge Chunk Of Text. Especially if you’re prone to rambling about the stuff you love, like me. I remember redrafting my initial draft of the ‘so hey I’m interested in working with you’ email to my supervisor twice: partially out of fear, partially because it was too damn long. Save the rambling for when you meet them (but please don’t scare them off either).

3. Get reading! Get writing! Don’t be afraid to show drafts of applications to your intended supervisors. Contrary to popular belief, they will not think you are wholly incapable of doing research because of a rough draft you send to them. Remember, they were at that stage you’re at right now too, and they genuinely want to help you succeed and GET MONEY.

4. Enjoy doing the funding applications. I’m serious. They help you clarify and think about your research in ways you can’t imagine. You also need to be super specific in them too, especially when it comes to money and justifying your project’s financial needs. Go onto British Airways or Ryanair or Aer Lingus and see how much it would cost to attend the main conferences in your field. Include details of conference fees, bursaries (if they are awarded, that is — you don’t know if you’ll get them, but it will show that you have actually thought this through), living expenses, and accommodation. This also goes for research trips, but you need to make sure you’re thinking about them sensibly (I wanted to go to the Guthrie Theatre initially, in my first year. Ha ha, good one).

5. Further on from writing and reading and editing, use your supervisors, but ask friends, former tutors, and people whose opinions you actually trust to read over your drafts too. Listen to them. Sometimes you will agree with them, sometimes you won’t, but it is very valuable to discuss your ideas with other people who may offer different perspectives on your work. (If your supervisor is anything like mine, they will encourage this.) For example, my undergraduate Shakespeare tutor [who, in my mind, is equally as brilliant as Tiffany Stern] doesn’t work on performance, but his suggestion to be conscientious of plays with an Irish presence in the text was something I needed to be aware of. My best friend reads everything I send to her, and she is the queen of detecting clunky expressions and has the innate ability to make sentences sound beautiful and clear. And where your supervisors are concerned, they can help in making very valuable changes: suggesting a line of enquiry to take, or a place to go on a research trip to, or particular authors to include in your critical context section.

6. If the scholarship you are applying for requires an interview, bring a thesis outline and a plan for the duration of your studies. Draw on it during the interview (maybe bring another copy for yourself to keep), but leave it with your interviewers. Also, you might be asked to think about how your work so far has brought you to this stage, and how your work can make an impact beyond your immediate field. This is important: what are the wider implications of the work that you want to do? Again, what your assessors want to see is that you have actually made an effort, and that you have thought this through, and that you’re not flying by the seat of your pants (well, we all are flying by the seat of our pants, we all just need to learn how to hide it. I’m still learning myself. Also, isn’t ‘flying by the seat of your pants’ a FABULOUS expression?).

8. Acknowledge that your research is going to change and develop over this period, and that this is okay. In fact, it’s fun. As I’ve already said, funding applications are invaluable for helping you to clarify your research question, and to reshape it into something more exciting than you previously thought. If you don’t get funding, that doesn’t mean that you’re incapable of doing research, or that your idea isn’t great — research councils are unpredictable and often very fickle. Someone will get funding from one awarding body, and will be turned down by another. It’s very, very weird, and very saddening considering the amount of funding that is out there for the humanities (i.e., dwindling, dwindling quite fast). I wish you all the best of luck, and enjoy the ride.

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.