Diary of a Postgraduate Researcher – March 2018

It’s been six months since I started my research – seems like a good time for an update! As always, thank you all for continually checking that I’m still alive, and for not giving up on me despite my total lack of social life and hermit-like tendencies! I’m so grateful. It’s so easy to feel isolated and lonely, and though I was warned about this (and how inevitable it is on this journey) it still catches me off guard sometimes. When kind people (especially Amba and Julie) just come over and give me a hug it means a lot.

For the first time since I started as a postgrad, I’ve begun to feel the strain of it. I think there was a honeymoon-type period, where I was riding a wave of excitement and joy because I get to do what I love everyday. Lately I’ve been flagging a bit, and have begun to feel a bit tired. Granted, there are several reasons why I’m INSANELY busy. The first year of my research is on an absurdly accelerated deadline, for extraordinarily confusing and irritating reasons which I will not go into (bureaucracy/funding). It was always going to be me vs. time, at least until the end of September this year. I keep myself on very strict schedules, with my own deadlines, which I generally meet.

Unfortunately, what I did not see coming was the ‘Beast from the East’. For various reasons I can’t study at home (see below), and the research room on campus has become my second home. The snow (though having lived in upstate New York I didn’t actually class it as that, not in our area) caused the train service to go into meltdown, and I couldn’t get into Cambridge for a whole week. Separated from my books and my distraction-free desk, I fell behind. I’ve had to pull a couple of very long days to catch up. Boy is the 5.30am train a barrel of laughs. The research room is pretty empty at that time in the morning – fueled by an unhealthy amount of tea, I get some good research done before anyone else is in. At least it’s light at 6am now.

Research room 2.jpg

I can’t work at home because I share my house with a little orange monster. In the past week alone, he’s fallen down the toilet (the picture below was taken seconds before this happened), trodden white fence paint through the kitchen and had to undergo extensive paw-washing, decided that the brand new couch is preferable to his brand new scratch pole, and has sabotaged my work with his shoddy typing and insistent attempts to initiate cuddles. I love the little guy dearly, but I was glad to be back at my desk for work purposes after the snow melted. I also think it’s healthy to separate home and work – I’m one of those people who finds it hard to switch off, so having clearly defined work and relaxation spaces is important.

In other more sensible news, I’ve had some pretty great research breakthroughs over the past couple of months. I feel a bit paranoid about sharing too many details online (thanks for that, Lidia…), but am happy to do so in private. I have been honoured and thrilled to be given the opportunity to sit down with some veterans from the Second World War and record their experiences and stories. Some are from Bletchley Park, home of the codebreakers that cracked the German Enigma machine, and some are from Fighter Command. I feel so privileged to be able to do that. I’m finding people at the archives, libraries and museums are being so helpful and generous with their time and resources, and I am indebted to them. Particular thanks are owed to Charles, the nephew of one of the Dambusters pilots, and to Tim from the Association of Royal Air Force Fighter Control Officers. I have a very exciting lead in the form of a cassette tape – a recorded interview with a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force officer who sadly is no longer with us. A fantastic find (happy to explain why, but not here) – but I realized after I’d calmed down that I don’t actually have a device that plays old tapes. I borrowed one from my nan, and found that for once she had to help me to learn how to use a piece of technology. Said tech gave out pretty soon after that, and was suddenly glad that my dad never throws anything away. The monstrosity below became my old/new pal.

Tape.jpg

I am have also been welcomed into the Royal Air Force Historical Society, and the Royal Aeronautical Society. Through them I have met with some very kind, very lovely people, and I am enjoying this networking business much more than I thought I would. Back in February I attended my first academic conference. It was at Cambridge University, and was on women’s suffrage – a baptism of fire for a baby researcher, I thought. Inspiring and terrifying at the same time. It was hard to be in a room with over 100 women’s historians, some of them quite well renowned, and not feel extremely intimidated. I’ve heard some people talk about something called ‘imposter syndrome’ – where you constantly think you can’t really do the thing you’re trying to do, and you’re just fooling people into thinking you can. I can relate – I’ve had those days. I’ve also had WIN days too, though, and I think confidence grows over time. Mine is growing – some days it takes a dent and you just have to get up, brush yourself off, quit crying and get on with it. Some leads don’t go anywhere, and there’s always disappointment, but then there are other leads and you soon feel better. I wasn’t ready for the emotional roller coaster that this would be (not sure Isaac was either…). The other day I wrote 4000 words in a day and ended up getting off the train crying, with no idea why…

The onions are gone. They were in the fridge for about three months, and they made their sad departure from the research room at Christmas. The strange incidents I mentioned in my last post continue. It’s funny – you’d think a room full of doctoral candidates would know that if you switch a fridge off at the wall for two weeks but don’t empty it first, bad things happen inside it. Very bad things. I also came across this box the other day. Rather confusingly considering there are no children or dogs in the research room (ever), it contained a golf club, a badminton racket, a mini baseball bat and some other quite random objects.

Box 2.jpg

Been tempted to use some of these things on various occasions when the Student’s Union put on midday raves in the corridor below.

I’m forever grateful for friends who don’t give up on us – thanks to Amba for chasing me until we managed to have dinner, it was a welcome fun evening. Super excited for two of our favourites to come and stay soon (Nate and Sarah… talking about you…), and SUPER SPECIALLY EXCITED to become Auntie Sarah at some point in the next two weeks!!!

Thanks are also owed, as always, to my American, who never ceases to support and help me in so many ways. If he’s bored of museums and archives he’s better than I would be at hiding it, and he encourages me when I’m tired and lack gusto. I paid him back a bit by helping him to build Solomon (the 6 ft snowman). He felt very strongly that our village needed to see how Americans handle snow.

Solomon

It’s been a good three months. Super pleased that Spring is on the way (apparently), and hoping for another good few months, for all of you too.

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