Standing still

e27541204b3623fe3c281d7b578dadf6PhD research moves in mysterious ways: back, forth, slow, quick, or not at all!

In December 2014, I had my upgrade presentation, chapter submission and interview. Things went well and it was a very intense and interesting experience. Up until I started presenting I was quite sure that my presentation was awful and that my world would come to an end right afterwords. No such thing happened. On the contrary, I received some stimulating questions and a lot if interest from colleagues that made me proud but also optimistic about my research. After that, I had a long deserved break, enjoying chrismas holidays and having fun.

January set the limit of going back to research. That is when all went wrong. More than 3 months now, all of my reading, studying, writing takes me nowhere in terms of academic writing or argumentation as if there is nothing to say. Every day, I wake up telling myself that today is the day I will break through this situation, but actually it’s more like the Groundhog Day, only I am not Biil Murray and I dont tell the weather (not yet at least). In this desperate condition, I decided and sent my wanna-be-chapter draft to my supervisors feeling loads of shame for that piece of naive writing that stands miles apart from an academic text. And the thing is that I still dont know how they can actually help me, since I have not yet decided what it is I am arguing about.So, here I am in my third year, where supposingly I should be doing loads of writing, looking at my screen and notes, wandering what it is I am doing. In my first year of research, I was much more driven, decisive and was writing much more than now. Less knowledge it seems, but much more effective.

Why though sharing this experience with you? Because I think that we -as in early researchers- tend to disclose only the results of our research but hardly discuss the process with other people who are more experienced and might be of help. We exchange views on such topics only in informal gatherings and private discussions between us, as if reavealing in public that at some points you get stuck will mean the end of our acedemic careers. Moreover, I am at the moment far away from my academic environment which means noone to talk it through. So, here I am, saying out loud that I am not going anywhere with my research, hoping that it might motivate me to start over again and take a better shot at it from today, or maybe receive some response from other people being in the same heartbreaking condition.

Until then, enjoy the spring with its sunny weather and blossoming flowers, cause summer is coming up soon.




I want to break free

excusedI Know what you did last summer‘ should not be a film title but rather a PhD quote for researchers who spend their summers writing and studying. Valid for starters and for those at the finishing line. From April up until now I have been writing, editing, re-writing, re-editing a chapter of my thesis. It has been something like 3 days that I have sent it to my supervisors for some comments. Fingers crossed that it won’t have major changes, just a bit of editing.

It is very surprising for me that every time I read that chapter, I think I have to re-write it since I find new things to add or new thoughts and associations. It is the same thing with my major sources. Every time I study them, I find something new that creates new dynamics and makes me question my findings or my previous line of thinking. This is as inspiring as it is troubling. Inspiring in that my research is something shifting that creates a constant interest and reviewing. Troubling in that I will forever remain in this particular chapter and wont proceed to the rest of the thesis and its questions.

My aim was to continue once submitting the chapter, but instead I find myself stuck in the same spot. No energy to walk on further, no mind for further studying, no willingness to proceed…for now. I imagine it is an in-between space that I have to cross but on the other hand, I believe that sometimes it is necessary -although time consuming- to completely stop researching or studying and have sometime for yourself to re-organize and re-start. Or, to put it slightly different I really want to break free! The question then bothering me is how do you disengage without always having in mind that you are far behind, that you have to stick to your schedule and go on working no matter what. At this point any suggestions from fellow PhD researchers will be very much appreciated. What do you do when you have to go on but yet again you also have to take a break? Do you ever actually have a break without thinking about your research or is it to much to ask?

Good luck everyone and hopefully I will get back with some more challenging questions and news.

Now what?

now whatThe first time I watched Nemo, I couldn’t stop laughing when the fishes succeeded in escaping their fish jar, but found themselves in a sealed plastic bag, in the ocean, without being able to get out of the bag or without having any sense of destination. They look at each other and ask “now what?”. That is exactly my point!

It has been some time now, that instead of focusing on my research, I am spending my (precious) time on university procedures and forms. I understand the scope and aim of such procedures during a PhD research, up to the point that they are proven motivating and useful for the researcher in defining her topics, methodology and intentions. But, when this process takes too long, for no significant reason, it is just time and energy consuming. I feel I have been drifted away from my own interests, lost my perspective in an effort to write down what I am ‘expected’ to write, for the purposes of a specific application.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and I am way behind on my schedule. What is even more annoying is that I can’t seem to find my way back. Suddenly, I am not quite sure what I am looking at, can’t really engage with reading because I don’t find the links to my research, every attempt to write down my notes becomes awkward and not productive. In other words, I don’t have a clue what I am doing or how to cope with that.

I try to resist these terrible moments of uncertainty by reading a bit more, without a purpose other than simply reading. Can that actually get you anywhere? Will that even be useful in the long run, or am I simply avoiding my own research? And, on top of that I am supposed to meet my supervisors in two weeks to discuss my progress. Wait. Come again. To discuss what? There is no progress. I was doing much better when I first started, with my enthusiasm and anticipation. Back then, I would have written 10.000 words for breakfast while right now I am not able to find a title.

That is why I tried finding a solution to my current state of mind by googling things like “how to write a thesis” and “how to structure your PhD”, only to understand for one more time that there are millions answers. The universal advice is keep on working, writing, trying…However true, not very helpful.

Then, I tried writing whatever comes to mind, with no censorship as they have advised me in so many PhD workshops. Newsflash: it’s not working. I am programmed to censor my writing and material and to expect some kind of structure even before writing. So, back to square one.

Frustrated as I am, I think that when writing and submitting PhDs, there should be an additional section where we would reflect on and acknowledge the procedure, so that it is crystal clear how one lives and works throughout the research.So, when another scholar tries to read your thesis (if anyone does eventually), it can be actually helpful.

However, I must admit that every time I acknowledge my difficulties in public, even without further discussing them, it helps me to move on. This negative exposure leads to positive results, as if letting everyone know you are in a difficult situation makes it easier to cope with. Quite egocentric but yet again I might not be the only one with this paradoxical mechanism. Maybe, this is another answer added to the millions out there about PhDs. You just have to let it go, before starting again. So, I ll just keep trying and see what comes up eventually.

Happy Easter everyone!

PhD: what is it all about?

Being on my second year of the PhD,  I am now confident that this is a process much more complex than just researching your own topic and writing about it. It is about participating and/or attending conferences where you can share your research but also listen to everyone else. It is  about remaining in touch with the academic community, its trends, questions, topics, rivalries and debates. It is about joining residencies and exposing yourself. It is about learning to write the academic way, which is sometimes useful -in that it demands precision while inviting critical thought- and others extremely annoying -in that it sometimes deprives texts from being communicative, poetic or more simple in some ways. It is about staying focused at your research no matter what, but at the same time networking to remain in touch with the academia. You learn to support your research, present it, raise questions, raise some more questions, doubt even more and then write about it. It is a process of going back and forth, confused, unsure but yet holding on to some 80.000 words that will be miraculously written at the end. It is tiring, challenging, lonely, exciting and as such it invites frequent mood swings that make you look half crazy to everyone else. Or maybe you are half crazy for doing it, but it doesn’t matter since you have already started.

Good luck everyone!

The basic questions

4 posts and some months later I return to reply to some basic questions. failure2

Here we go then:                              1. Why are you doing a PhD? Because I like writing, asking questions, researching and I do like Universities and students.

2. What is your PhD all about?                                           It’s all about specific Greek choreographers who during a period of sociopolitical crisis have engaged with alternative production and communication modes and with historical narratives in their works. I argue that they are trying to articulate a new discourse within a shifting context and on my behalf I try to outline these new possibilities being generated and their significance. (that is I guess my briefest description)

3. What is your methodology?                                                                                    That’s a really tricky question but for now I would say I combine theoretical approaches of arts and their sociopolitical context along with ethnographic fieldwork where I get to participate at and observe ongoing artistic practices, communication codes, relations that are being established, performances and whatever comes along.

4. Does anyone else really care?                                                                                Well, that’s for someone else to reply to, but I can always count on my dreadful supervisors, the artists participating, part of the academia, part of cultural policy makers (or they should at least), my colleagues and my friends (because they are my friends).

5. Where are you right now?                                                                                            I am on my second year of research and still haven’t produced any adequate written material but hopefully that will happen as well.

6. How much time do you invest?                                                                                Well, sometimes I work all day. Other times, I skip a day or two and have a break, but the real thing is that research never gets out of my mind. It’s like a constant, personal reminder of what I have to do, look at, examine, write, see, attend, participate etc. Never ending questions and anxiety come along with the PhD process, at least for me.

7. When will it be over?                                                                                                   It’s suppose to be 3 years, it eventually becomes 4 years but yet again I really don’t know. Fingers crossed for 4 years which means 2 and a half to go

8. What have you learned so far?                                                                                 Up til now, I’ve learned that doing a PhD you get to know more about yourself than anything else…

9. What comes after the PhD?                                                                                          For starters, a big celebration party, followed by some vacations and then who knows? I’ll tell you when I get there.

10. Any wishes?
To make it up to the end with no casualties and my sanity intact.

Maybe next year I’ll have different answers to the same questions since time moves in mysterious ways. Have a nice (sunny) weekend cause it’s Friday. TGIF!

It’s a whole new year!

Wishes for a very happy and creative new year everyone!

Here are some scattered thoughts on the first week of 2014 that I hope will be better shaped in the months to come. Starting with  new year’s anticipations, followed by my writing obligations and ending with the major problem of archiving. Maybe some of you have already been there and some will be. In any case I am open to suggestions and free advices!  2014                                                                                                                                   Is it just me or does this year seems a bit futuristic when written down? It looks like a film from the future, but I still don’t know whether it’s a comedy, drama, thriller, adventure or a strange combination. Hopefully, it will look more like a romantic comedy and a bit of adventure and less like a horror film, even though I am still haunted by an old graffiti in down town Athens wishing us all “a merry crisis and happy new fear”. Not very optimistic, I know, but yet it is there on a wall and inevitable to think about. For me, any new year is a combination of hope but also anxiety. Aims that are written down as a compass to guide me, along with the fear of any anticipation. As I was saying, it’s one thing to have a script and another to start shooting.

Writing                                                                                                                           Back to reality now, after endless dinner parties and glasses of wine, I have to work as everyone else I guess. Over the last month I have been trying to finish some kind of application where I need to explain in plain words the topic of my research, my main questions and hypothesis as well as my methodology and time schedule. Even though it seemed quite manageable at first, I realized once more that there is a distance between thinking of something and then writing about it. Something like “Mind the gap between thinking and writing” or you can easily get lost. This application is a process requested from my University and I am still working on it but what I really would like to share is the fact that these seemingly trivial and time-wasting procedures do have an importance and helped me delineate my research, but also to track down weaknesses and  gaps in my thought. It is scary sometimes but it is the only way to move on. I still struggle with my difficulty in methodological issues which in turn generates even greater doubts for my own research and its validity, but I try to think about it on one hand as part of the process and on the other as doubt being a motivation. What I mean to say, is that even though I find it hard to remain concentrated on my PhD and to imagine how it will evolve, I appreciate these difficulties as internal to a larger process that keeps me close to my own interests. The key word here being “my own”, since there is no PhD without personal interest to get you going.

Archiving                                                                                                                    Having been stuck with this application for now and trying to summarize what I have already done, I encountered one more major issue: that would be archiving my research. I wasted tones of energy and time to find my notes, especially those that were hand written and placed somewhere in my library. It is really frustrating to know that you have notes from a book or an article but not being able to find them. It means that you have to re-read the article and keep new notes all over again. I am trying to find a way of organizing everything but it seems that it only gets more complicated as time goes by and books as well as notes are being piled up. Until now I have tried Refworks but it only works out for bibliography, then I tried keeping an account through excel but it s not very handy. I have created folders in my notebook but then I don’t really remember which folder has what..So, what I really need to do is re-arrange my entire archive in a way that will be helpful in the long run but I don’t know yet how to. Any ideas are well accepted or I can always just look at my library waiting for a response.

Well, 8 days and counting 357 to go. I hope that by then I will have an archiving solution, I will move on from methodology inquiries to some writing and hopefully will manage to balance doubt and determination so as to keep going. Once more, I wish you a happy new year full of joy, dreams, good spirits and close friends.

Houston, we have a problem

“If anything can go wrong-it will”.

It must be Murphy’s law that when everything starts to work out and you really think you can make it…you have a sudden back strain and you can’t move. The best part of it is that there is nothing you can do, other than do nothing! Meaning that you need to lay down and stay there for some days. Hello, I am on a deadline…Houston, do you copy?

batmanI actually look like Pisa tower, only I am younger and no one pays me a visit! Let’s hope I ‘ll straighten up fairly quickly and get back to you with more research news.

Till then, fingers crossed I ‘ll make it to my deadlines.