PhD Mum

I havent posted for a while as I have had a sick baba at home to take care of, which involved a hospital stay and convincing a toddler to keep a drip in his hand and then in his foot.  And then getting him out of the hospital room cupboard…

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When I tell people I have a toddler at home and I’m doing a PhD they do tend to react like I am some sort of Superwoman…. or Supermum…

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My response is always to say, “let me get the degree first, then we can decide if I’ve been successful!”.  At the moment, and especially after taking a week ‘off’ I feel like I am waaay behind, have so much to catch up on and that I have lost all of the threads I was working on before Henry got poorly. 

Coincidently I read this article in the Daily Mail yesterday (yes, I know, I know…) about childless women upset about the lack of flexibility that they have in their jobs and the extra work they have to take on.  I do think that anyone who cares for another person, older or younger than them, should be given as much help as feasible by their employer.  But then, one of the women talks about having the flexibility to leave early for a nice dinner, or the theatre.  Not quite the same thing. 

I do wonder about how Academia proper works with children.  My faculty is more gender equal than some, and given the presumption that women will do the majority of the childcare, it is reassuring to note the number of high up members who have children. 

Anyway,  trying to get back into things, and using this blog again to start typing out a few thoughts… I’m no superwoman, or supermum, I’m just another PhD Mum 🙂

 

My first time

This post on Nadine Muller’s blog by Imogen Clarke about her first international conference reminded me about mine, and some of our experiences were fairly similar.  I did in fact also watch Jersey Shore in my guest room!

My first international conference was for early-career Theologians, mostly grads. I submitted a paper on my MPhil research which uses digital ethnographic methods to explore the development of a theology among the Pro-Ana movement.  I wasnt at this point too clear on the difference between theology and the socio-anthropological study of religion… I had always described myself as a theologian, or ‘one who studies religion’. My undergrad college chums used to call me ‘Beth the Theologian’ to differentiate me from… well, no one else, I was the only Beth.

Anyway, my paper was accepted and I packed my bag to fly to Dublin.

The keynote speaker was a Professor from my own faculty.  Very well known, very well published.  But her definition of a theologian was “one who prays”.  There followed two days of people talking about Christianity from a confessional perspective.  And it was held in a seminary (I really should have guessed!).

My paper was last of all and on a panel with someone who thought that social media was morally bankrupt and isolating, a loneliness that ONLY the Church could provide comfort for… not a good warm up act to the exploration of an online community that adapts religious forms and rituals for their own ends.

My paper was actually well received.  But the first question was from my Professor:

“Why are you here?”

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Terror.  Blind terror.

But, I had had two days of listening to proper theologians since the keynote speech so I had prepared a little for this question.  I made some bold statement about having a different definition of theology (to one of THE theologians) and blabbed on about the importance of studying new forms of religiosity.  Doubtless she disagreed and probably thought no time should be spent on ‘weird people doing weird things’.  But I think I came across well, even if I was in a cold sweat!

Since then I’ve presented at a few more ‘appropriate’ conferences and had great feedback.  I dont regret my baptism of fire.  If that’s the worst that happens to me at a conference I’ll be fine…

I suppose the moral of the story is to make sure you fit the conference even if the organisers think that you do from your abstract.  And make sure you are on last! But not after the person who hates your fieldsite and methodology…

People in squishy hats

I had the pleasure of attending my youngest sister’s graduation ceremony at Warwick this week.  Its always a great sight: a gaggle of nervous undergrads rocking the robe and mortar board, usually over the party dress that they’ll wear to cocktails and dancing later! A bit different to a Cambridge graduation where the dress code is strictly waitress/waiter: black skirt/trousers and a white shirt (or a plain black maternity dress for my MPhil graduation!).  Our German College Praelector is infamous for rigorously upholding the dress code and sending people away if they get it wrong (Navy shoes! Shocking!)

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And among the gradauating cohort at Warwick there were a few PhD students in their squishy hats and fancy gowns.  This was a useful reminder to me that people DO finish their PhDs and have a nice day with family and friends while still wearing that silly squishy hat.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel, if you just keep plunging on through the dark!

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So in that vein, my plan for the rest of this week:

  1. Seriously, get more interviews organised and done!
  2. Plan papers for the EASR/BASR conference and start timed writing to get going on them 🙂

Still plunging on in the dark….

 

 

To-Do-List no. 25367…

A slightly short day and week again this week as I have a graduation to go to (well done little Sis!).  But here’s the highlights of what I want to get done this week…

  1. MORE interviews… organising and doing.  I am really worried I am not getting enough interviewing done.  It seems to be at least a couple of weeks of too-ing and fro-ing via e-mail before I actually get someone in place and I really need to have more done by the end of this year.  40 plus if my supervisor is right….
  2. Finish reading and notes for the papers for the BASR/EASR conference, start planning them! Major task as most of August I have no childcare and the conference is at the beginning of Sept!
  3. I’m planning on attending some of the Cambridge timed writing groups and working more on my journal article that stalled prior to the writing school. 
  4. Read Brasher.  I’m being put off by the ‘cyberspace-y’ pictures in the book, but I’m sure she’s got something good to say….

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Thoughts arising from the Writing Summer School

After spending all my four working days last week at the Summer Writing School I am now waaay behind… But I do genuinely feel like I have learnt some useful skills for dealing with writing issues, as well as making lots of new PhD friends who are in the same boat.

A couple of phrases kept repeating that are worth having a quick look at before I write myself this week’s to-do-list:

Kill Your Darlings: Great advice and something I always told the writers I worked with when I was a script editor.  But, as a huge geek, I tend to think of my darlings as potential zombies… there’s always a chance for resurrection.  When I cut a larger piece of text I put it in a ‘spare notes’ document, one for each writing project.  But what I have noticed is how rarely those darlings make it back from the grave… there is usually a reason why they had to die in the first place and no black magic is going to make them stagger back into my main document.

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Imposter Syndrome: Lots of people I spoke to at the Summer School were definitely displaying the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome: here’s the well written definition from PhD Confessional:

“Suffering from Impostor Syndrome.  For those unfamiliar with the term, here is a definition:

Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”

Many hadnt come across the term before, but I think at Cambridge its almost an endemic disease.  Cambridge can be a hive of supersmart people who never quite think that they fit in, and that the bee over there is doing so much better than them, and the one over there is coping so much better and being so much more productive than they are.  We constantly measure ourselves against each other, when really, when it comes to our PhD’s, we are all Queen (or King!) bees.  Some might realise that a PhD is not really for them, or an academic career isnt a good fit, but the actual work of getting a PhD is measured against what we can do, not what others can do.

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Two Body Problem: For some of the coupled up PhDs this can be a major problem.  Academia is a transient field these days and maintaing relationships and a career seemed to be problematic for a few people I spoke to.  I wish I had the answer. I have a husband and a son and I know there is going to be a crunch time when I have to choose between the awesome job and the right location for all of us.  Unless of course someone wants to pay me the big bucks and I can be the breadwinner for a while!

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Just some thoughts… 🙂

Learning How to Write (I Probably Should Have Done That a While Ago!)

I have been a little quiet on here for the last couple of days as I’ve been attending a Summer School on writing skills for grads.

I’ve always assumed that I am a pretty okay or even a good writer as I’ve been paid to do it for various mediums over the last ten-ish years.  But I do find academic writing tricky.  I think in part its because I presume that there is an authoritative, neutral academic ‘voice’ to emulate.  Doing this course has shown me some of the fallacies of that voice.  Its unclear, its unnecessarily mystifying, it might even be a bit elitist (“What, you dont know what I mean by ‘detraditionalization’! You ignoramus! Please do get out…”).  I am now aiming to bring some clarity, and some elegance (!) to my academic writing… wish me luck!

Which brings me to the other aspect that this course has helped me with (so far, two days still to go).  We’ve been discussing some of our problems with just sitting down and writing the bloody thesis.  There seems to be a common thread of anxiety running through the participants, whether they are first years or fourth.  A PhD is a BIG thing to do.  But writing it doesnt have to be if we tackle a little at a time, or warm ourselves up by writing small chunks of texts regularly.  That’s what I am hoping to do with this blog: practising writing regularly as well as drawing out ideas and themes from my research.

Oh, and the course is being held in this awesome location I’ve never been to before.  They do maths here:

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Current Projects (Apart from PhD Thesis):

Right, now for a bit of work planning and summarising.  I find writing out lists like this reminds me to get on and write the darned things!

  • BASR/EASR Conference Papers (to be written for September 3rd-6th Conference):

Big, Bad Pharma: New Age Biomedical Conspiracy Narratives and their Expression in the Concept of the Indigo Child

5.7 million American children aged 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. Approximately two thirds of those diagnosed have been prescribed amphetamine based drugs such as Ritalin as a treatment. Diagnoses and prescriptions are also increasing exponentially in the UK. Diagnostic checklists include: fidgeting, answering questions before they are finished and being unable to stick at long and tedious tasks.

In this paper I will explore New Age conspiracy narratives which accuse the pharmacological industry, or Big Pharma, of collusion with schools to turn naturally active children into compliant drones. In particular, I will describe the category of the Indigo Children: allegedly a special, intuitive, spiritual generation appearing since the 1980s. This category celebrates the inability of some children to fit into mainstream systems while actively attacking the commercial machinations of ‘Big Pharma’ involving children: over-medication, but also harmful vaccinations and genetically modified foods.

Blame Sheila: The 2011 UK Census, ‘Other Religion’ and the Rhetoric of Narcissism

This paper will consider the 2011 Census question on religious affiliation, specifically responses under the category of ‘Other Religion’ where the public was able to write down a choice instead of box ticking. Answers included, ‘Jediism’, ‘Scientology’, ‘Wicca’, ‘Spiritual’, ‘New Age’, ‘Heavy Metal’, and ‘Own Belief System’, amongst others.

Parallel with an overview of sociological approaches to new religious movements and spiritualities I will discuss how the numbers in this category of ‘Other Religion’ have been reported on, including their changes from the 2001 census results.  I will explore how reactions to this part of the census have replicated a rhetoric of narcissism and individualism, such as seen in Bellah’s (1985) definition of ‘Sheila-ism, while they have also dismissed answers voluntarily made as cynical parodies or ‘spoilt papers’.

Bellah, Robert (1985) Habits of the Heart, (California: University of California Press; 3Rev Ed edition (7 Sep 2007)

  • Harvard Conference Abstract for October Graduate Conference (Submitted, waiting to hear, end of July)

The Indigo Child as Other, the Indigo Child as Self: Forms, Categories and Experimentations within a Contemporary Online Spirituality

…today’s children are different – more challenging, more intelligent, more confrontational, more intuitive, more spiritual, and in some cases even more violent – from any generation we have yet seen”.[1]

The Indigo Child is a category that has emerged within the New Age Movement that expresses several important religious and spiritual themes and scientific speculations.  Indigo Children are considered to be an especially psychic, sensitive and innovative generation which first appeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Interpreted variously as psychic warriors, revolutionary trouble makers or messianic heralds of the New Age, Indigo Children are both a source of celebration and of parental concern.  The category has been used to explain behavioural issues in children, including those that the mainstream would consider biomedical in origin, such as autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and the therapies advised by Indigo experts represent technologies of the self and a way of employing scientific discoveries which has its origins in the broader history of metaphysical religion in the West.

However, the category can also be a description that individuals choose for themselves.

This paper introduces my PhD research into the Indigo Children as a contemporary spirituality, or New Religious Movement, and will problematize the distinction between self-labelling and the labelling of others, a distinction that is often unremarked upon by the community itself.  I have explored this issue through fieldwork with New Age groups, interviews with Indigos and their parents, and through a historical consideration of the origins of the concept from both New Age and scientific, secular source material.


[1] Virtue, Doreen (2001). The Care and Feeding of Indigo Children. Pub. Hay House UK Ltd.

  • Book Chapter: New Religious Movements, the Internet and Legal Pluralism: Scientology and Jediism (Title to be worked on! And it needs a new Abstract): Rewrites due end of September
  • Rewrite of journal article on Pro-Ana based on MPHil research for resumbmission (I have a writing course next week I am going to be using this project as a sample to work on, so hopefully that will get this project going again!)

PHEW!

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