It’s hard to believe that I’ve been blogging with SGSAH for almost six months. Next week I’ll compose the monthly round-up and after that I’m handing over to a new blogger who is sure to offer a very different perspective on the experience of being an Arts & Humanities PhD student in Scotland.
I’ve loved blogging for SGSAH. Over the past six months I’ve written one blog per week on all sorts of topics; worked with guest bloggers to ensure a range of perspectives are represented; given a presentation to 150 new PhD students at the SGSAH Welcome Event; and gotten to know the lovely SGSAH staff team. I still can’t quite believe that I was brave enough to apply for the position in the first place!
The best laid schemes o’ PhD Students
Way back in August, when I started blogging, I envisioned planning out each month with a post on a predetermined topic each week. I intended to be very organised and write some articles in advance, so I could post them during weeks when I was too busy to write. I thought I might write long, detailed (but interesting!) posts on the prevalent themes I came across in Tourism Studies & Heritage Studies.
None of this happened. The topics which seemed of the utmost importance to my PhD experience in August were overtaken by new concerns in September, and yet more, unforeseen issues and opportunities unfolded as I entered my second year. The magical time when I could ‘get ahead’ of myself and write ‘reserve’ blog articles never transpired. It became clear that my blogs were not the best platform for detailing the theories I’m working with in my thesis, and so I found more imaginative ways to write about central topics such as tourism, diaspora and heritage.
Taking on a new challenge
The prospect of writing one blog per week was initially terrifying. Until this point, my experience of writing had been confined almost exclusively to academic prose: essays or dissertations I composed after reading every possible text on the given subject and redrafted extensively to the point where they bore no resemblance whatsoever to what I’d originally written. In other words, when I took on this role, I had very little evidence that I had the capacity to write 600-1000 words every single week (without redrafting to perfection using time I didn’t have!), alongside all my other commitments as a PhD student.
Yet not only did I manage, I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and found it extremely rewarding. Don’t get me wrong, during some weeks I really struggled to write anything. For example, I had to delay writing this post on anxiety and Imposter Syndrome by almost a week because my first draft was so depressing I knew I couldn’t post it. I was really struggling with confidence and anxiety issues at the time, but the process of writing a blog article about it (admittedly once I was feeling slightly better) was cathartic. It helped me put some of my challenges into perspective, and engage with others who were feeling, or had felt the same way.
Other weeks, I started writing what I thought were straightforward posts, only to realise that I needed many more words and a greater level of detail than was appropriate for a blog article in order to convey my point. Sometimes during the process of writing I simply discovered that I needed more time to develop a proper discussion in writing. In these cases, even when I’d already written for a couple of hours, I parked these articles and wrote on something else instead. In other words, blogging has reminded me how invaluable the process of writing is, even in those case where that means what I’ve written won’t actually be used at the time. A vital lesson for any PhD student.
Embracing the learning curve
The past six months have been a real learning curve for me. Writing an article per week has forced me to be reflexive about my own working processes, and encouraged me to think more clearly about how to work efficiently (as I describe in this article). Not only has it provided a regular writing deadline, but alongside my other deadlines it’s meant I’ve had to work in extremely focused ways to get everything completed. The role of SGSAH Blogger is for 5 hours per week to write, correspond with guest bloggers, format blogs on the WordPress site & publicise using Twitter. The temptation is always there to go over hours, and at the beginning I did this occasionally.
Yet this experience has forced me to learn an important lesson: how to recognise when a piece of work is ‘good enough’. It’s indescribably difficult to let go of a piece of work which I know I could continue editing until every sentence was perfect, every word deliberated over. Publishing written work online, and knowing that hundreds of people might read it, that it will be archived for people to access in the future, is unnerving. There is always a temptation to hold off publishing until I’m 100% happy with the piece. But it’s been enormously liberating to force myself to click ‘publish’, and move on to work on other tasks. It’s accustomed me to sharing work which I haven’t had time to polish and redraft extensively, and it’s made me better at writing and editing my own work to a tight timescale.
It’s been an enormous privilege to work as the SGSAH blogger over the past six months. I’ve met wonderful people through SGSAH and accessed all sorts of supportive networks. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experiences as an Arts & Humanities PhD student based in the Highlands & Islands. I can’t wait to see who will be writing here next!
We are always seeking new guest bloggers! If you have an idea for a blog post or would like to informally discuss writing for the SGSAH blog please get in touch with Joanna via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with the blog on Twitter