The sound of paper

As an antithesis to yesterday’s quote from Woolf, last night before sleep I read a little of The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron. She’s the woman who wrote the The Artists Way. I felt quite inspired and calmed by the chapter I read last night ‘On a Dry Day’, which is all about being nice to yourself when you’re doubting staying power. Gentleness is the key to survival she says. Remember ‘creativity has not gone, merely gone underground’

The Sound of Paper is a beautiful book for writers and in particular will appeal if you are interested in or practice mindfulness. It’s somewhere between a collection of prose, exercises in self reflection and a self help manual.

When we are “in the flow” -even the words speak of water – ideas come to us naturally and we collect them like so many beautiful marbles, not even bothering in their abundance to hold them to the light” ( Julia Cameron p145)



Fear and loathing

A crisp post for all the postgrads out there.  I read this Virgina Woolf quote today. It’s from Orlando. I haven’t actually read Orlando to tell the truth, instead I came across it in Rowena Murray’s book in the chapter on fear and loathing. Some bells may ring here. I’m not aiming to be a doom merchant, it’s only that it is nice to know that even great writers had their wobble moments.

Anyone moderately familiar with the rigors of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote it and it seemed good; read it and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up;cut out;put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings…and could not decide whether he was the divinest genuis or the greatest fool in the world.


That is all. x

PhD & depression: part II

Are you doing a PhD? Do you feel miserable? Moan, misery and woe. Yup, it’s time for a PhD related post. I’m concerned to discover via google analytics that my post on doing a PhD and depression is proving a popular read. I’m sorry fellow doctoral candidates out there; I know – sometimes doing a PhD SUXSBALLS.

This is a vortex, the closest visual representation of what it feels like to be doing a PhD

A colleague posted this on my facebook page today. Love it! So true.

“There’s no laughter like postgraduate laughter, we agree. There’s nothing as dark. Nothing as knowing. It’s death-row laughter, we agree. It’s the laughter of those condemned to death. Because they are condemned to death, the postgraduates. Exposed to the greatest of thoughts, the greatest of books, they are condemned to a life without meaning, without succour, to a life of shit in a world of shit…”

— from Spurious.

Did you know if you put ‘I hate my thesis’ into Google you get about 2,610,000 results ( in 0.20 seconds)?

Personal favourites out there are a blog that’s called ‘I hate my thesis’ authored by ‘Miserable Grad Student’ I like the author’s humour and inyourfacethisisgradstufftisshit tone. Dear Miserable Grad Student you’ve savoir faire in my book. Then there’s the insightful pretty hard damnit and finally the I hate my dissertation king of procrastination song on youtube. To the artist : I salute you! But, it’s the more recent ‘vitriolic rant’ by Anna that resonates with the most with me right now. She says,

I was actually up for half the night last night worrying […]. I think it’s coming from the twin realisations that (a) I want to write things that someone, ANYONE outside academia may want to read; and (b) my thesis does not fall into this category.

I completely concur. Some days I feel like this guy standing on a precipice all alone.

Boo hoo.

On a more serious note here is a v interesting and more recent (2011) article ‘My grief lies all within” — PhD students, depression & attrition’  by . The piece makes many salient points, but when the author talks about a thick wall of silence built around the issue of depression and post-grad study, it becomes clear what a serious yet under discussed issue it is.

1st off it is one thing to feel down, fed up or a bit on your own, but if you’re at the stage where you don’t want to get out of bed, keep crying, insomnia, or you feel panic and so on, then you should go and see your GP or make an appointment to see your counselor service at uni if you have one. You may be suffering from depression proper. In which case, there is nothing to be a shamed of in speaking up and getting some help. You deserve to be looked after and to look after your self. Remember a PhD is really really hard! That’s one of the reasons why not many people have Dr before their name. You are doing something v tough that is little understood and the process of writing a thesis takes it toll mentally on people in different ways.


Ph.D. & Procrastination

Before anyone says anything I do get that it’s ironic writing about procrastination, rather than getting on with the task in hand. However, there is real value in understanding procrastination

Earlier this summer my work went something like this: reading journal articles – fine, making notes –  fine, planning -fine ,  mind maps -fine, thinking about things -fine, meeting people for lunch excellent, writing actual words – not so good.

A typical morning would be boot up the computer, open my note book and try to write a paragraph of my response to some new literature.  I’d stare at the screen for about 25 minutes  without typing and tackle it head on by looking up a recipe for soap. Soap for everyone for Christmas, hurrah!  Perhaps I’ll become an aroma-therapist. Look at watch, time for a mug of tea, mmm the kitchen needs a wipe…here we go.

Lovely windows.

My problem(s) FEAR & LOATHING. I’m afraid. I’m really afraid. This will never be over and there’ll be more recommendations, more changes. The examiner will hate me. I can’t write. It’s never going to be over, not now, not then, no never. Hmm I think I’ll bleach my tea spoons.

A v quick bit of online research suggests that procrastination is often rooted in fear of failure. There is a useful handout at the writing centre all about it.  Also I came across a person who claims they procrastinated over their thesis for  two decades and reading their story made me feel better about myself I have to say :-)

According to the usefull handout I’m guilty of at least 3 of the most commone pro-cras strategies

  • Substitute something important for something really important? (For example, cleaning instead of writing your paper = very clean teaspoons)
  • Let a short break become a long one, or an evening in which you do no work at all? (For example, claiming that you are going to watch TV for ½ hour, then watching it all night = watching an entire series of Gossip Girl in 48 hours..perhaps Chuck Bass might ‘arrange’ me a docturate sigh).
  • Spend too much time researching or choosing a topic (= I have read everything ever, I’m not kidding. I’m now at the point where I’m ordering unpublished manucripts from the 19th Century from obscure libraries).

Does any of this sound familiar? Sadly I think it may. The is at least one PhD & procrastination group on facebook with over 500 members. The latest news feed says “fffuuuuuuuck i hate my thesis” ( apologies for bad language these words are not my own). There’s even a forum.

The good news is there’s lots of tips out there for tackling pro-cras.  50 tips here and  some nice Zen habits here.  Common tips are chop up tasks into mini ones, make mini deadlines, make deadlines public, schedule a reward, have a routine, banish distractions. Also a really fascinating article about the science of pro-cras with some handy hints about building up stamina and will power to get things done in the same way one would train for a physical task like a marathon; the article suggests

you must treat your daily work like a competitive athletic event. Your self-control is a muscle. If you don’t tend to it through rigorous training and careful schedules of use, you’ll perform well below your potential..

There’s immense value to be found in trying to understand procrastination and getting to the bottom of why you’re prone to thinking in a certain way, IMHO is the 1st step to getting going. Realising that I do what I do, because I’m frightened has been liberating and now when I’ve a morning which starts badly I can label my thoughts and say to myself “I’m procrastinating”. In doing so, for me it seems to now stop it in it’s tracks. There is a really good talk at audio dharma on thinking which explains this technique and can help with lots of other things and noisy thoughts. The speaker talks about how our absorption in our thoughts pulls us away from being present and how we create an adversarial relationship with our thoughts. It suggests you work with what’s going on rather than resist it. It’s been a big help to me.

Look. Clean teaspoons!

Mini deadline and rewards don’t work for me. I miss the deadline and then give myself the reward anyway, because I’m nice  and I deserve it. What has helped , is adopting the Pomodoro technique.

The author says…

I found myself in a slump, a time of low productivity and high confusion. Every day I went to school, attended classes, studied and went back home with the disheartened feeling that I didn’t really knowwhat I’d been doing, that I’d been wasting my time

It’s based on the idea of tackling tasks  for 25 minutes at a time. You’ll notice a difference in your work  and productivity almost immediately.  You can down load a free booklet to get started that takes 25 minutes to read. Or even better, there’s a quick crib sheet to get you started.

Once again best of luck. Procrastination is a horrible horrible state of being. Be nice to yourself, don’t judge yourself. if you’re in it, just notice it – it’s the first step to moving forward. Good Luck!

Phd & Depression.

After a little procrastination and fashion chat here is the 1st of a series of the promised posts about making corrections to a thesis. As you can see I’ve begun with a cheery title: PhD & Depression. Please stick with reading this post. There’ll be a few paragraphs of woe and misery as context but there is advice and cheer at the end :-)

When I was starting to think about what I wanted to say, I came across and incredibly sad blog post. The author begins by saying something along the lines of ” My PhD has literally been an emotional rollercoaster — sometimes, I feel like a manic-depressive.”  But, the real tragedy is the many comments which run from 2006 until October of this year from people stuck in a 5 year or 6 year black hole of revision, corrections, fallings out, rejections, bad advice and isolation. That’s 4 years of comments people. 4 YEARS OF COMMENTS from PhD students with pretty much nowhere else to go to articulate their very real woes. I can’t express how much reading it both touched and saddened me. It made me muster up all the loving kindness I can manage and send it out into the t’interweb of dreams.

Here’s a sample of what people  said

I have come to terms with realizing the most difficult part of a PhD is coming face forward with one’s own weaknesses (loneliness, procrastination, fear of rejection). I think we all go through it.

I am into severe depression phase. I am just wondering can I get out of it someday, I feel like its just increasing day by day.

I’ve just been agonizing over endless visions and revisions. I’ve poured so much of my life into preparing for an academic vocation that abandonning the degree is out of the question. I would rather die than not finish

This has been a nightmare that is hopefully coming to an end now that I am letting go of it, but god it is painful, still.

The worse thing for me in this whole process has been the isolation

PhD depression has hit hard and I’ve contemplated quitting

I’ve become severely disillusioned by the way things work in academia and i’m becoming more and more cynical by the day

I so desperately want to say something positive  and helpful now about the experience of doing revisions. At the beginning of the year a few people said to me “this will make you stronger and a better researcher” and ” you’ll realise that at the end of this process you’ll have a better thesis” . I’m sure these things are true, but to be honest I don’t feel them…yet.  My experience has been emotional and  lonely. Before gathering the strength to carry on I looked humiliation and doubt in the face. The treatment I received from one of the examiners, particularly  after the viva, was so deeply unkind that it caused weeks of misery and insomnia, followed by a total crisis of confidence. Their behavior led me to question my own beliefs about anger and compassion and that is to say nothing of the effects on my finances, research, career plans, relationships and even the roof over my head. But it is possible to acknowledge these negative emotions and not respond and thus give into them.  So let me really begin here by telling you a few things I’ve done to cope with the sadness and fustration in the hope they may help.

  • Complain, but for the love of god, please complain sensibly. Separate the wheat from the chaff. Some of what is recommended will be useful, but don’t accept bad behavior on the part of the examiner. I registered my intension to appeal & went to the S.U and the vice chancellor and as dispassionately as I could manage – I made sure people knew how the examiner had behaved  after the viva and what they’d very publicly done and said. Although I did not receive explanation or apology from the examiner, they agreed to step down from examining my work. Then and this is really important file away any remaining anger and put your energy into getting on with your work. Even say to yourself I will finish the PhD first and then deal with seeking an emotional resolution.
  • Listen to the soundtrack of the 1972  Jimmy Cliff film “The Harder they come”. I’m not joking. This is a serious remedy.

If you’ve had a nasty set-to  like me, listen to The Harder they Come track first: feel cross, imagine retribution etc etc and then come out the other side with an I’ll show you attitude, and by this I mean I’ll show you with the quality of my work not argy bargy. Draw your strength at Draw your breaks. Wallow in procrastination or marvel at the ineptitude of the university system during Sitting in Limbo. Purge yourself of desolation by listening to the achingly beautiful version of Many Rivers to Cross. Feel the stress and frustration at Pressure Drop – finally  the grande finale: You can get it if you really want. I defy anyone to listen to this track and not feel even a tiny murmur of motivation

  • Tell people who you care about and who care about you – how you feel. They won’t understand. It doesn’t matter. Simply saying how you feel will help. Be 100% honest. If you feel like shit say so.
  • Separate yourself from your work. You are not your corrections. You are not your writing. You are not your thesis. This is your mantra. Chant it.
  • If you can  – get some exercise and meditate. Sit quietly for 5 minutes close your eyes and concentrate on your breath. Thoughts and anxieties will pop into your head, just acknowledge them and go back to how your breath feels. Monkey mind describes that horrible state when your brain is all over the place, thoughts are going off on tangents and it’s hard to concentrate. Just 5 minutes of mediation will really help to calm this and do wonders if you’re feeling depressed. It also helps with procrastination too.

Some more comprehensive and great tips on staying sane during a  PhD & depression to be found here too.

I hope this helps someone a little bit.  There is more to come I promise, especially on dealing with fear and procrastination, but meanwhile if there is anyone reading this who feels anything like some of the comments from the other blog post on depression I mentioned, remember you are not alone. I wish you the best.

Doing a PhD

Greetings, after a bit of a hiatus from me may I present a wordle word-cloud of my thesis in its entirety. Woo hoo!


I’ve had a crazy e.o September updating, re-drafting, and proofing, working late into the night most nights. It really brought home the notion that writing a thesis is sometimes an endurance test. By Thursday morning of last week when I was sat with the reprographics guys watching it fly off the press, I felt v wobbley; something close to acute jetlag. ( note to self: don’t try and make an original contribution to knowledge on 4 hours sleep).

And, I was so tired after I signed off all the paper work, I celebrated by going home , eating a take-way curry with the Italian, and sleeping for a gargantuan 14 hours.

Finally 2 bound copies of the actual thesis  are with the academic registry. Yes sireeee! And just in the nick of time with only 3 days off, before teaching started.

Hopefully in the next few weeks or so, I shall post some reflections on the process and the trials and tribulations of submission.

Back once again like the renegade master

As the Wild Child Fatboy slim remix goes…”Default damager, power to the people“.

Oui mes readers jolie, it is I, & I am back with the ill behavior.  

Google analytics tells me, much to my surprise and delight, that people are ending up at this humble destination whilst searching using key words stress & PhD. Therefore I’m thoroughly obliged, nay, compelled to revive thinking is the new black and share the highs and the lows of my personal tale of research-arama, avec tous.

So much has passed since I last blogged way back in April:  I watched the new season of Lost no less, Hilary was defeated by Obama, people wore Gladiator shoes, Safari chic and the Global Traveler look, I moved in with Senor Marco,  we went to Italy & Ibiza for the Summer hols, the iPhone came down in price, & I returned to the commercial world of work for 5 months. And still IMHO no one has really found a use for Twitter. My, time has flown. 

 Why no words on here from me for so long? By April I had been holed up for 4 months writing the thesis, and was more than ready to get ba wit it mandemz the legendary content and media team at iCrossing UK. But alas alack, after bashing 65000 words out of the 80000 word count of the PhD between Jan-April 08, frankly I have not felt like writing  even a shopping list until now. In addition, I was busy working on some research and analysis projects over the summer for a TV client, a major FMCG and finally a pharma client, on behalf of iCrossing, so social media kept me from social media.

It has been a very tough decision indeed to leave the team, but I’ve decided to return to academia and teach this semester in order to allow me time to submit the thesis, prepare for the viva, maybe even write a paper and go to some conferences. (More of this in coming weeks…) Teaching starts next week and I’m really looking forward to supervising some undergrad dissertations this year, and teaching “Innovation, Culture and Technology”. Although I’m already missing the A-team in content and media in the Brighton office and their clever clever ways I’m also really happy to be able to pursue my own agenda.

So yes folks, I am a university lecturer and PT freelance researcher, or as I prefer to say at diner parties when asked what it is that I do?   I’m  presently a symbolic analyst thank you very much for asking.  A term which comes from economist Robert Reich, in Reich R, B. (1991) The Work of Nations. Simon & Schuster.

 “all the problem solving, problem identifying, and strategic brokering activities […] they do not enter world commerce as standardized things. Traded instead are the manipulations of symbols -data, words, oral and visual representations. (Reich 1991 p177).


Although it’s some 17 years old, I’m still very taken with this book and I’ve employed Reichs’ work in my own a fair bit, and especially in a paper I wrote for the BSA conference in 2006. I’ve also used his theories in my thesis, so expect more of him too. Anyhow, I’m one now, a symbolic analyst that is, when I’m not busy being either a research student, social anthropologist slash social scientist slash communication theorist, slash fashionista revolutionista slash retired at 33. Hmmm. So little time so much to do.

A full update on the state of the PhD and A/W fashions with be with you imminently. :-)