My Oscars Acceptance Speech: PhD Acknowledgements

Thesis acknowledgements are a chance to say thank you to everyone who has supported you through the long, arduous process of a PhD. I am under no illusions of how many people are actually going to read my thesis, however, and I wanted to make my appreciation a little more public. So I have reproduced my acknowledgements here. If my PhD was an Oscar, this is what I would say in my acceptance speech:


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Me with my supervisors, David Gilbert (left) and Innes Keighren (right) on my PhD graduation day (Photo: Graeme Awcock).

First of all, I would like to thank my supervisors, Professor David Gilbert and Dr. Innes Keighren. They agreed to supervise my PhD when my original supervisory team fell through during my Masters, and I will always appreciate that. Since then, they have guided me through the PhD process with skill and wisdom. They work well as a team; their expertise complements each other, and they always made an effort not to offer contradictory advice. I will always be grateful for their knowledge, feedback, and support. I would also like to express my appreciation to my advisor, Dr. Mike Dolton, who has always been ready to provide a second (or third, in this case!) opinion.

I owe an important debt to the Economic and Social Research Council, for funding my PhD, and for trusting me with the freedom to change the project as my research evolved. I am also grateful to the staff at the various archives I have consulted during my PhD; their knowledge and advice has been invaluable. I would also like to thank my examiners, Dr. Briony McDonagh and Professor David Green, whose feedback helped me to produce a better thesis.

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The post-graduation group photo (Photo: Graeme Awcock).

The Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, has been an encouraging and supportive intellectual home for me over the last eight years, I am grateful to everyone there for contributing to such a nurturing environment. The Social, Cultural, and Historical Research Group has been particularly important to me during my postgraduate career. The Landscape Surgery seminar group has been a lifeline over the last four years, making me feel part of a community in what can be a lonely experience. I am also grateful to the organisers and attendees of the London Group of Historical Geographers seminar series. The meals afterwards in the Olivelli restaurant on Store Street were integral to the development of my networking skills—they helped me to feel like I belong in the world of academia. I would also like to thank my fellow PhD students, at Royal Holloway and elsewhere, with whom sharing experiences has given me strength.

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Celebrating my PhD graduation with my family and partner (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Lastly, I could not have got through this without the support of my friends and family. Rachel Taylor has shared my achievements and setbacks with equal enthusiasm, even from the other side of the world. Daniel Dougherty has always believed in me, even when I haven’t believed in myself. My cousin, Theo Hardcastle, has made my Wednesdays a joy and has been a wonderful distraction from all things PhD. My sister, Emily Awcock, is unfailingly positive, unless you try and make her go for a walk. My Mum, Tricia Awcock, from whom I could not ask for more. My Dad, Graeme Awcock, who showed me what an academic looks like. I am grateful to you all.

This thesis is dedicated to my Nan, Olive Awcock, who always supported me, even though she never understood why a nice girl like me would want to study protest.

5 Reasons Why I Love My PhD

Some bits of your PhD are tough, and some bits are damn hard. I have been going through a particularly difficult stretch recently; I am coming into the last few months, and everything is taking about twice as long as I need it to. On some days, it is difficult to remember why I signed up for this in the first place. But I do love my PhD, and I want to hold on to that, so I made a list of all the things about my PhD that I enjoy:

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I have always enjoyed spending time in libraries, and I’ve certainly been able to do a lot of that during my PhD! (Photo: Tony Evans).

1. My topic. I have always loved history and geography, and protest is a topic I’ve been interested in since the Student Tuition Fee Protests in 2010. I was an undergraduate, and it was the first time I got involved in protest. The connections between my experiences and my studies in Geography were obvious. London is a fantastic city to research as well, I love being able to spend my days finding out more about the people and events that have shaped the history of one of my favourite cities in the world.

2. Working in the archives. Whilst I was conducting research on the Gordon Riots, I spent quite a bit of time in the Rare Books and Manuscripts room at the British Library. I consulted the diary of John Wilkes, radical politician and perpetual pain in the neck of the government in the middle of the eighteenth century. I got a little thrill knowing I was touching pages that he had written. I also just enjoy spending time in libraries and archive reading rooms, surrounded by books, in peace and quiet. The Bishopsgate Institute Library in London is a particular favourite of mine, it is exactly what a good library should look like!

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I loved exploring Chicago during time out from the AAG (Photo: Llinos Brown).

3. Going to conferences. Conferences are long and tiring, but I really enjoy them. They are great opportunities for finding out about the latest ideas and research, and for meeting new people, and catching up with others that you met at previous conferences. Doing a PhD can be a lonely experience, and conferences are an enjoyable social respite. They can also be an excuse to travel; last year I was lucky enough to go to Chicago for the Annual Conference of the Association of American Geographers, and I had a fantastic time exploring the city.

4. Teaching. I have been lucky enough to get plenty of teaching opportunities during my PhD. I’ve had a go at marking, demonstrating, lecturing, and running seminars, and I’ve enjoyed most of them. I’ve also helped on the undergraduate field trip to New York.

5. Writing this blog. There have been several occasions over the last few months when I have considered taking a hiatus from Turbulent London, or at least decreasing the frequency of posts in order to concentrate on my thesis. Every time I have decided not too, because I enjoy it too much. The writing style comes to me more easily than the formal academic style, and it feels great when someone responds to a post. So I’m going to try and keep it going for as long as I can.

So there you have it; 5 reasons why I love my PhD. I think it’s really important to be open about the negative elements of postgraduate study and academia, but sometimes you just need to stop and take stock of all the good things.

The Self-Motivation Society: PhD by Timetable

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I have found timetables a useful way of motivating myself during my PhD (Photo: Altug Karakoc).

A PhD is a very individual experience; everyone works in different ways, and finds different aspects challenging. For me, one of the hardest things has been keeping myself motivated. Doing a PhD, it is largely up to you how you spend your time. You might get guidance from your supervisors, you might have work, family or other commitments that you have to work around, but ultimately it comes down to you. Self-motivation is a really important part of doing a PhD!

When I started my PhD, I had 3-4 years to write 100000 words, a mammoth task that seemed both hard to comprehend and far away. It was difficult to know how much work I needed to do each day, week, month, in order to get it done. I tried to stick to a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday schedule, but it was easy enough to talk myself into an afternoon or a day off if I got a more appealing offer, or even if I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind. My favourite argument I used on myself was “well, 9-5 Monday to Friday is a social construct anyway, so why should I stick to it?”-  I wonder if that one works on employers? Now, as I approach the end of my third year, the panic has set in but I still find it hard to motivate myself to work on occasion.

Something that I have found useful in recent months is timetables. I never used to find them helpful, I was never one of those people who made revision timetables in the run up to exams, for example. At Royal Holloway, PhD students have to undertake Annual Reviews to make sure they are still on track. One of the materials you have to produce for the annual review is a timetable of the work you plan to do over the next year. I must admit that for the first few years, I made the timetable then promptly forgot all about it. However, as the end of my PhD started to loom, I decided to try and make a timetable and actually stick to it.

I planned out every week until the end of my PhD, including conferences, teaching, and time off. I included self-imposed deadlines, on which I have to send pieces of writing to my supervisors, so I have concrete objectives to work towards. And for the most part, I have found it very helpful. I know what I need to get done by the end of each week, and from that I can work out what I need to do each day. It is helping to keep me focused and motivated, as well as breaking down the PhD into chucks that are more manageable.

I have also discovered one important caveat, however. Timetables are only helpful for as long as they are actually helping. There is a fine line between good pressure, which forces you to get on with things, and bad pressure, which puts your mental health at risk. Sometimes things happen which you didn’t predict, and sometimes specific tasks take longer than you anticipated, despite your best efforts. When I was writing up my most recent case study, it became obvious that I just didn’t have the material to analyse the issues convincingly. I had to spend another two weeks doing more research. It put me behind schedule, but it was necessary to ensure I come out with a good quality PhD. In fact, I have revised my timetable several times since I decided to take it seriously. I have even moved my self-imposed final deadline back by a month, because it was becoming clear that my previous date was unrealistic (I was aiming for December, I am now hoping to submit by the end of January. Royal Holloway requires me to submit by the end of September 2017, so I still have some wiggle room). My timetable isn’t set in stone; it is there to help me, and if it’s not helping me, then I can change it.

As I have said, the process of doing a PhD is different for everyone, and what I find useful might not be helpful for everyone, or even anyone, else. However, I think its important for PhD students to talk openly about our experiences, and discuss what works and what doesn’t. So please let me know if you’ve tried timetables, and if so, whether or not they’ve been useful to you.