When I started my research, I made the choice to reconcile myself with the fact that I am apparently a magnet for unusual problems. I’ve made some unconventional choices over the past few years (none of which I regret), and have found myself at the centre of a barrage of complications and long-winded issues. In the past year, my PhD has made it into the line of fire.
When I began my research I was one of the first wave of recipients of a new type of funding, for which I was very grateful. There was, however, an unfortunate catch. Instead of working on one project for my PhD (like most people do), I was told I’d have to do a standalone MPhil first, and then move onto a standalone PhD when the MPhil is complete. Due to the fact that the funding is so new, there are some terms and conditions that have not been ironed out, and I was given the choice of waiting a year to start and just doing the PhD (in the hopes that someone would bust out an iron), or going ahead immediately on the split PhD route. I chose the latter, for various reasons (most notably in the interest of avoiding yet another clash with my favourite of all the government departments, the Home Office).
278 pages later, I have a first draft. I was given a 60,000 word limit (though I applied for and was granted a 10% extension on that), and on a computer screen it didn’t seem like a big document. Turns out that in its printed form, you could definitely knock someone out with it.
During the course of this research, I have learned many things. We are fortunate to have family and friends in many different countries, and I have enjoyed keeping in touch with you all via our blogs. I’ve been off the radar for a while, so in addition to confirming that I am still alive, I thought I would share some of my favourite lessons from my 278-page experience.
- Family is everything
Postgraduate research can be all-consuming. It’s a solitary journey, and it’s really easy to get super wrapped up in it and live in your own little world where your career is the centre of the universe. Then something happens and you realise that actually, there are other things, and people, who are so much more important than a career could ever be. Last year I got some very exciting news – I discovered that I was going to be Auntie Hobe (I REFUSE to explain this nickname on the internet so don’t even ask). When little Harrison was born in April this year, it brought about a much-needed perspective change for me. I took some time out of studying to help look after him for a week, and discovered for myself what his mum meant when she told me that it doesn’t matter what difficult things happen in life – just one look at him and all the complications and hard work fade into the background. I have never been remotely maternal – I’m still not sure that I am, but this beautiful, wonderful little boy has helped me to realise that being Auntie Hobe is much, much more important than being Dr. Miller. The latter is important to me, but I’ve learned that it shouldn’t consume me or cause me to forget the family I am blessed to have. Cheers for that, little buddy.
2. We are surrounded by Treasures
All my life I’ve loved hearing my grandparents talking about their childhoods. My gran grew up during the Second World War, and when I was little I couldn’t believe that for years she didn’t see an orange. During the course of my research, which focuses on British intelligence in the Second World War, I have used many recorded personal memories and diaries from people like her. With intelligence history of any kind the official records are often lacking for reasons of secrecy, so these personal memories become suddenly very important. I’ve used a lot of them, so I began to take them for granted a little. Then one day my dad and I took my gran to Churchill’s War Rooms, now preserved as an underground museum beneath Westminster. She was one of the only people down there that day who could remember hearing Churchill speak over the wireless during the war, and understood the true meaning of the events the museum recounts, perhaps more than I ever will. I don’t ever want to be so convinced that I know what I’m talking about that I don’t listen to other people – especially the ones who were there. Their stories are so valuable, and one of the greatest privileges of being a historian is that I get to be a part of preserving them.
3. Spitfires and desk toys are the best
One of the very best sounds in life (after my nephew’s laugh and Frank Sinatra) is the roar of a Spitfire taking to the air. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time at the Imperial War Museum Duxford site, where historic aircraft are frequently flown. I’ve never been much of a patriot (much to my American husband’s confusion), but if there’s one thing that does bring a proud tear to my eye it’s the sound of a group of Spitfires flying off in formation into the sunset.
I’m not entirely sure what the USS Enterprise would sound like taking off, but I bet it would be equally awesome in its own way. I have a model Spitfire on my desk, next to my Enterprise, which lights up. I switch it on when I’m sad.
4. Sophie was right
I think the most valuable piece of advice anyone has ever given me was from my good friend, Sophie. When I started my research she was already a chunk of the way into hers, and I asked her if she had any nuggets of wisdom. She said that it was important to be able to step away and take breaks – PROPER breaks. We’ve managed to abscond to Derbyshire every couple of months, where there is no cell phone service and no internet. It’s wonderful, and I have found it so very, very helpful. Now I count it as necessary. Thanks for that Sophie, it’s been instrumental to the retention of my sanity! You are a wise and wonderful woman 🙂
5. It’s a roller-coaster! And that’s OK.
I mostly love what I’m doing. I have days where I am happier than I have ever been, and I’m so grateful that I get to do what I enjoy. There are other days when I feel like headbutting my desk, and giving up seems like the most comfortable, logical solution. I’ve had people ask me (somewhat condescendingly actually) when I plan on ‘getting a proper job’, and suggesting that I ‘give up being a student and come live in the real world’. On the face of it, perhaps that seems like a good idea. I see the attraction in earning actual money, for sure. The thing is, I never set off down this path because of money. I did it because it was the right thing for me to do, and because it makes me happy. Sure, there are days when I come home crying because I’m so exhausted that I don’t know what else to do, and a fourteen hour stint at my desk feels like a hopeless little drop in a huge ocean. But there are other days where I come home excited about a breakthrough I’ve made, and yesterday, seeing my thesis bound, I felt like this:
That’s my Isaac, on top of that hill. He is ever-patient, always loving and is my biggest cheerleader. Without him I’d have given up a long time ago. There are lots of things that keep me going, not least my faith.
One epic roller-coaster, several major (and ongoing – particularly the one involving the aforementioned government department) crises and 278 pages later, life is good, and we are happy.
As always, thanks for caring about us – we miss you and love you all.
Live long, and prosper.