In this series we interview PhD researchers across the arts and humanities in Scotland, and throughout the month of March we’re putting a special focus on women-identifying researchers. In this post, we hear from Adriana Alcaraz-Sánchez, who is a PhD researcher at the University of Glasgow.
What year are you in, and at what school?
Second year, School of Humanities (Philosophy) at the University of Glasgow.
What’s the working title of your thesis?
Hmmm: ‘Phenomenal consciousness during dreamless sleep, a philosophical and psychological exploration’.
How would you describe your thesis to someone you just met?
A philosopher, a psychologist and a Tibetan Buddhist go to a pub (no-COVID parallel universe). They start talking about the different sort of conscious states we can have during sleep. The philosopher says, ‘It’s logically possible to think of consciousness in absence of content!’; the psychologist says, ‘Prove me that empirically!’; and the Tibetan Buddhist, with their non-alcohol beer says, ‘I experience this every night’. And then it’s me eavesdropping next to their table thinking, ‘how can I make sense of all this?’
What do you like best about your PhD/research/experience thus far? Least?
Sharing my ideas with others (academics and non-academics). Now I’m at a stage where I have done quite a lot of work that I can share with confidence (I did an MPhil on the same topic before my PhD), and I like to see what the reception of that work is, and what others think. As researchers, we spend a lot of time in our minds, thinking about our own theories and developing them, but then you share it with the world and you see such a variety of viewpoints that make you rethink and adjust what you have been working on.
What I like the least is this overwhelming sentiment of despair that hits you now and then when you think coldly about what you are doing and what’s the point of all this. Especially when you work in a discipline within the Arts and Humanities where sometimes it is difficult to see the ‘impact’ of your work. That sentiment especially hits you hard when you get bad feedback on your work, you get a journal rejection, or you’re stuck for days trying write the same line in your paper over and over. But then I go back to ‘what I like the best’, which is talking to others about my research. I get challenged on my ideas, I feel the enthusiasm, and I find motivation (until the sense of angst and despair hits again).
What do you wish you’d known going into your PhD program?
I was doing an MPhil part-time for two years before the PhD, so I think I started well-equipped; the change wasn’t huge, and I was rather used to working alone in my own long-term project. So, if I think about when I started as an independent postgraduate after my first masters, I would say I wish I’d been shown how to properly take time off! While we are consistently told that we should try to find a work/life balance, we are at the same time under so much pressure that one thing seems incompatible with the other. Also, what is ‘life’ as opposed to ‘work’? Isn’t ‘my research’ the same as ‘my life’? I was very confused. But then COVID hit us, forced me to pause and have some time for reflection and I just ‘saw’ it. Like, I literally felt it in my body (both physically and mentally) how having set hours for work and for research-free time every day, and full-days off every week, was much more helpful than just being constantly in a state of ‘I’m not really doing much but I’m just going to keep working just in case’. Now I have at least a couple of days a week where I don’t check any research-related stuff (I say ‘days’ because this is usually during the weekend, but sometimes if something comes up, I just move them to a different day). I’m not going to lie, I’m still not perfect at this, and I still overwork sometimes. But I now notice it, take a step back, close my laptop and relax.
What do you do for fun outside of academia?
‘Fun’? What’s that? I think I have tried to find many more hobbies now during lockdown than before, when I had a wider range of options! I used to go roller-skating at a rink in the Southside (but then Covid…). I should try skating outdoors! (I tried in my flat, but it didn’t work well…). Then I taught myself how to play piano during the first (yes, the original first) lockdown, and whilst I’m still not super good at it, I like to just improvise with it and let myself flow with the music. I also love hiking, cycling, and ‘the outdoors’, but unfortunately my walks have been quite a bit constrained to the Botanic Gardens. I’m really looking forward for things to get a bit better so I can go to the mountains again.
Want to learn more about Adriana’s research? Check out her website: http://adrianaalcaraz-sanchez.me/
If you’d like to be featured in our ‘5 Minutes With…’ series, email Danielle.Schwertner@glasgow.ac.uk.