Wednesday, 8 February 2017

On starting a PhD with three kids and all that...

I haven't written anything for ages that isn't an event or a review. I have been so busy, and this blog has been overtaken by events and days out for the kids. Which is a pretty accurate reflection of what actually happens in real-life, it's like a strange mirror on my life, and I suppose this blog, in content and form reflects this perfectly, even the title. I'm not sure what this is, or even who I am anymore.

PhD

Well, I have been accepted to start my PhD in October. Time has flown and it really is this year that I will begin. My scores at uni are a merit, I'm doing really well. Obviously I haven't just been "accepted" to do a PhD - writing my proposal has took me about nine months overall, part time. I have designed exactly what I will be doing over the next few years, namely studying protest groups in the 1970s with a focus on gender and the uncanny echoes we have of this in the present day. It's history, sociology, politics. philosophy. It is complex, interesting, new. I am excited to begin and I am hoping with every cell that I manage to secure some funding. I am certain it is worth funding, but I suppose that is up to the funding bodies to decide, not me!

Balance

Well, there is none.

I work at work, I work at uni, I am a mother and a wife and I write this blog. I love my uni work, but I often struggle to get to it. This means we have made plans so that I can balance my life better. Family life is a juggling act at the best of times, but we need to get smarter at it: the only person who suffers is me, because I tend to be the backbone of the family. I organise, plan, arrange.We have sat and discussed how we go forward - our roles have changed. My uni work is now being labelled "work" - I think in the past it was just my "little thing" or my hobby or whatever. It really isn't now, it is so much more than that and it is about time that we addressed the elephant in the room. A PhD is not to be taken lightly, and we need to plan. We have started already - I need certain things, a clear desk, new shelves, a desktop computer, time...

It all seems so obvious, but if this is going to work then this is how we do it going forward.

Against the Grain

I have been struggling lately. Not with uni work, or work, or the kids, or the home. Just with balancing it all. I feel under immense pressure to be perfect in everything - and no matter what I do I feel like I am failing. I don't have much free time, so I suffer from terrible isolation. This is true of a lot of students, but I would say I'm terribly alone. I moved to Liverpool from Manchester years ago, and I feel like I've never really settled in the place I live. I've had about two conversations at the school gate with people since I've been here and I don't generally get asked to do anything or go anywhere by anyone unless it's to do something for someone.
I don't read trashy magazines, or watch television. I don't like things other people like. I am painfully aware of being different. I think this is a product of going against the grain of what I am meant to be doing. I think when I first did my undergrad, it was a bit of a novelty, and then when I started my MA someone actually asked me why I would do that. I got a first class, I love my education, it is what I do. When this person asked me "why?" it was a judgement on what I am doing. Well...what else would I do? I don't want to have a spotless house, or a neat garden. Money is not my king, so I don't want a career in the private sector (I have been there and done that!) So now I am looking at starting my PhD, once again I find myself going against the grain. This is to do with gender and class, I think. Phrases like "ideas above her station" pop into my head. How ironic then that I am studying gender and class and this is the very source of my own struggle.

Things are changing fast and I can't quite decipher what is going on.

I tried to express this once to a colleague, and she completely understood what I meant. She said "It would have been much easier if you hadn't have done it." She was right, of course she was right. My eyes are open and I can't go back to closing them. I don't quite fit in where I once was. I've lost people, my views are different. I've not moved on, or gone anywhere. I don't think I am better or worse than anyone else, I just think differently. Yet at the same time, when I go to uni, I speak to academics and I feel like I belong there, whilst being absolutely completely aware that I might not belong there.

What is this silly working-class woman with three kids doing in my office talking to me about gender and Marx - who does she think she is??

Nobody said that. I'm sure that no-one thought that. This is "imposter syndrome" and I know that I have this. I always say I'm "pretending to be clever." I know I am not. I know exactly what I am doing.

The Hardest Part

I know a few people who read this blog and maybe look for something. Like a sign for me to say that you are doing the right thing for your life. I don't know. I know a few people who are training to be midwives in their 30s - they have kids, they're doing great. Maybe having a goal like that is easier for people to grasp.

"What's Kerrie doing now?"
"She's training to be a midwife."

"What's Kerrie doing now?"
"She's doing a PhD on left-wing radicalism"

See what I mean.

So if you are studying, it is hard. It's not the juggling that's hard. It's managing other people's expectations of you. Gender, class, other people's perceptions, what they believe you should be doing and what you are doing...It's about having the support of people. Having a support network.

My support network consists of one husband, who totally gets what I am doing and why I am doing it - we have spoken at length and he supports what I do. I think my kids (eventually) will get it.

But other people in my daily life? Not so much.

Am I doing the right thing? I don't know. Time will tell - but I can't turn back now. My eyes are open and somewhere some line has been crossed, and I can't go back.

I wouldn't want to.


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