My first two weeks…

Well I have come to the end of the first 2 weeks of my PhD and I thought I would try and put on paper some of my thoughts about it. Have I enjoyed it? Yes. It is a great feeling being back at uni. A bit strange as I am walking around with lots of young undergrads who only a few months ago I was teaching myself. I have to try and shed the shackles of being a lecturer and get back into student mode for a while though of course life as a postgrad, especially a PhD student is quite different.

The key difference for me is the lack of any classes. As a pupil/student, and even do some degree as a lecturer, your life is normally structured around lessons/lectures. Not so for me. Doing a History PhD in the UK, compared with those in the US (See Robert’s topic on the course he is doing in his first year), is very loose and structured by yourself. I have no lessons to attend. I could if I felt I need them take research modules from various MA/MPhil courses but I have chosen not too as I already have a degree of training in this area having completed my MPhil. I am aware of research methods and how to investigate areas surrounding my topic. This does, however, leave me with the dilemma of organising my time, so far it is going ok but as I used to say to student “could do better.” I have planned out my week and I just need to stick to it but the first two weeks have been hectic with getting registered and settled. So far my week stands as, though of course this will have to change as I go through the course:

  • Mondays – Writing; I have to write-up several articles stemming from my MPhil, write a few conference proposals, write a funding application
  • Tuesdays – At uni using the library for the Official Histories etc. There is also a weekly seminar that is useful to attend in the evening
  • Wednesdays – Reading and prep for the archives
  • Thursdays – At the archives
  • Fridays – Processing information from the archives and more reading

Despite having no lessons to attend the university is very keen to foster debate among its students and there is a seminar group led by one of my supervisor on certain Military History topics. For example, this Monday we are having a discussion on the ‘Cultural Approach to the History of War’. It is just a small group of us but a great chance to discuss ideas, and for me a chance to meet other research students.

As for research I have been to the National Archives twice now. I have managed to sort out Leigh-Mallory’s infantry record and I have found some useful bits on his work with the Tank Corps. I have also found a lovely piece written by him when he attended the RAF Staff College on his war experience. Considering the paucity of his papers this is an invaluable insight into his First World War career, though more on that later.

Of course I am reading as much as I can with plenty being done with regards to Leadership Theory. This is the one area where I needed guidance and I am lucky that one of my supervisors is an expert in this area and can guide me in the right direction. I have yet to decide what and how much of theory I am going to use but I am certain that I am not writing a straight biography. It needs more structure and analysis, especially given his notoriety and the lack of papers.

I did have some fun with registering at uni. I started last Monday but my registration paperwork was not ready until Tuesday but even then I could not register until the Wednesday as they had not activated my computer login, ah the joy of a world controlled by the computer! It was sorted in the end but a bit of an unnecessary distraction.

As you can see I am getting there and enjoying every minute. I have got bits to do but I like I bit of pressure and side projects, hence using Mondays for writing as I need to be doing something other than just researching Leigh-Mallory. This is a good point and well worth remembering. Do not be worried or afraid or researching/writing about something extra. It keeps the mind fertile and responsive. I have also started reading fiction again for the first time in a few years. Working full-time and doing my MPhil meant I had little time for that but I am determined to do it now. It is good for the soul and hopefully reading fiction may improve my writing style i.e. liven it up a bit and not let it be a dry text.

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8 responses to “My first two weeks…

  1. That has always been my problem. I’ll create a schedule, and after a few weeks I start making exceptions and then everything falls apart. Ugh!

  2. That sounds frighteningly organised! I think most of my first few weeks were taken up with settling in and doing general reading; it took me a month or two to get into a routine. The regular writing is still something I need to work harder at, as I have a tendency to binge on reading and then realise I need to write it all up in a rush.

    How many other PhD students are there in your department? The seminars sound good – although we’re lucky at Manchester in having a very sociable department, we all work in rather disparate areas, so our regular reading group is a great way to look at papers and discuss issues that connect us all. We also have a weekly postgraduate lunchtime seminar which is nice and informal, as well as the departmental seminar series.

  3. Jakob the organised bit comes from having been a lecturer and having to organise other students lives! Also doing my MPhil part-time meant that I had to organise and compartmentalise my time in order to be efficient. I guess it is a useful hang over from that. As to regular writing that is why you need to use your blog more;)

    In terms of numbers it is hard to gauge. The actual school is quite large so there are lots of PhD students but in terms of those of use doing Military History there are still quite a few. There are 5 of us doing the weekly seminar but I think that is just those of use who are full-time. I know of a lot more students who, having done the part-time MA’s in British First and Second World War Studies, have progressed onto PhD’s. The Military History PhD students seem to be split into two camps; first, those doing it with an endgame in sight i.e. working in academia. The second group are those with an interest in the subject and are choosing to do a qualification but already have a profession. If you look here at the Centre for First World War Studies website and look at grad students you will see what I mean. The centres have a good ethos with seminars and day schools and there are a few things planned with an air power slant to them in the not to distant future.

  4. I must say that I am jealous over the fact that Britain has such specialized areas in military studies. There is nothing like First and Second World War Studies, instead we usually choose War & Society and then concentrate on a particular aspect of war.

  5. And hopefully I will get a chance to teach on them over the next couple of years too. Quite looking forward to it. They are though the only courses of their kind in the UK. In many respect they answer the needs of many people who have an interest in the conflicts. The First World War has a large following in this country with organisation such as the Western Front Association and many of the stduent are mature students who come to the coursr through this route. However, we have our share of War and Society degrees in the UK too.

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