Later today I’m going to be on a panel with some other guys from the department, informally sharing a bit of our journeys and hopefully sharing some “good advice” with some new post-grads. The questions won’t necessarily be your usual though, the person putting the panel together has come up with some which really made me think. The questions we’ve been asked to think about in advance are these:
– What have been some of the most stressful parts of the process, and how have you dealt with them?
– How do you strike a balance between work and the rest of your life?
– What has made you most excited in your studies?
– How do you see theological work relating to the wider world?
– How do you see your own work as part of your calling?
– How has your own faith been part of your work?
– What advice would you give beginning students? What might you do differently if you could start again?
Brief answers I’ve come up with thinking through these are:
•Most stressful bits have been the lack of funding and having to balance more hours at work than I wanted last year with the course, the not knowing if I was going for an upgrade or not and the length of time it took to refine my question and fieldwork proposal into something workable which would pass the ethics committee. Dealt with by finding out everybody who could help me and getting advice and help. Talking stuff through with trusted friends also useful. Being totally honest with supervisors was vital.
•I fail miserably to strike a balance between work and life. It just sort of comes together and sometimes gets close to falling apart. I have made sure I have a network of friends to keep me focused and hold me accountable when they see it totally getting out of balance. Being part of a faith community, networking over coffee with friends also studying, and having an internet community outside Durham has kept me sane. Blogging and Facebook have been important for me in this as it has given me a forum to shout “help” when it all seems to be getting totally out of balance. However, they have also been problems for me as I tend to procrastinate too much.
•Most exciting things have been the getting stuck into the American studies on family and seeing that there are “proper academics” starting to address some similar things and getting to meet one of my “heroes” at the BSA Religion study group conference last year.
•I see my theological world relating to the wider world because my topic is rooted in the wider world. Whilst I want to produce a good high quality academic study I do practical theology which does not see a huge distinction between the academic and the wider world.
•I see my work as being part of my calling because it is giving me knowledge which I might oneday be able to use in a practical way, somehow. It’s about looking at and trying to identify what is good and bad practice and about what gives single parents a good and a bad experience of church. I see myself as an interpreter with a passion for effective and appropriate mission in 21st century Britain rather than an academic and I think this ties into that.
•My own faith has been part of the work in terms of giving me the motivation to undertake this research. I am v. much of the view that there are certain silences in theology and sociology of religion which will only be addressed when people of faith stand up and ask why a lot of research is not touching on their lives and experiences. I have had to learn to hold onto my faith but also to distance myself from it in my research, becoming more objective. This is no bad thing as it helps us engage with the faith of the other aswell as critique our own faith more effectively.
•My advice to others is (i) find good friends in the department to network with and sometimes moan with over coffee…having people going through it too is really important, (ii) if you having problems go and see your supervisor sooner rather than later, (iii) work out why you are doing this and where you want to go, (iv) it’s ok to give yourself a break and (v) take advantage of all the opportunities being here might offer you.
•If I could start again I would have settled for the M Litt from the beginning, not even thinking about the possibility of the upgrade. I would not panic like I did about Durham and have reduced the culture shock. I would not focus on my differences with people but rather just get to know them. I would have smiled more. Oh and I would have been more focused on my research question from the beginning.
As you can probably pick up here I am currently back in one of my “I love Durham” and “I love my research phases”. For those who know what I’ve been feeling in recent times in terms of my research just to reassure you I’ve finally refound my motivation!!!!!!
Whilst not intended as a meme as it was just preparing for the post-grad lunch I would invite other students, particularly post-grads reading this to take up the challenge and answer the same questions. Particularly tagging: JTL and Knitting, Sex and God.