When hobbies fall to the wayside

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By kkmarais (Flickr: Streicher 1869 Grand Piano) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons 

Until I was in my mid-teens, I had regular piano lessons. I practiced almost daily, running through scales and arpeggios and my favourite pieces of music. But one day, I started drifting away from the piano, probably in part because I was busy with exams and focusing on getting the grades I needed for university.

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Looking back at 2015

2015 was a good year — it brought new blogging adventures, my graduation, and an unexpected twist at the end of the year (you’ll have to read to the end of the post to find out about that).

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A piece of wisdom from Thomas Hardy

During the summer, I participated in the WordPress course Blogging 201, which gave me the boost I needed to refresh areas of my blog and plan for future posts.

I would have liked to post more often. My readership and reader engagement with the blog (i.e. via comments, follows and likes) increased during the two months when I posted my ‘Between the Pages’ series, with several themed posts about Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy. Continue reading

Festive Traditions

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The Twelve Days of Christmas. By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (Creative Commons)] via Wikimedia Commons

When I was growing up, family traditions made Christmas special, and we still continue many of these traditions.

On Christmas Day, we always unwrap our gifts in the afternoon, after lunch. When I was a child, on Christmas morning I was occupied with gifts from the stockings that had been hung up the night before. These gifts were delivered by Mother Christmas, not Santa Claus. And our Christmas lunch was — and still is — vegetarian. No turkey in sight!

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Musings from a Soon-to-be Graduate

Graduation frame - public domain image Text added by Grace @ Cultural Life.

Graduation frame – public domain image
Text added by Grace @ Cultural Life.

Last year, I was walking to class one day and another student was talking on his phone in front of me. Snippets of his conversation floated back to me and one of them was:

“Can you believe it? I’m actually getting a degree!”

I smiled when I heard this because I understood the feeling. As students, we know that we will get our degrees, as long as we study and work hard — well, even the students who don’t work hard can get degrees, but their degree classification will most likely suffer! — but it still feels slightly surreal.

When I walked out of the exam room for the last time, having spent the past two hours intensely focused on writing exam answers, I felt a strange mix of happiness and wistfulness. Graduation is a time of change and transition, which can bring mixed emotions with it. As I reflect on the past few years, I can see how far I have come and how much I have changed from day one to the last day of my undergraduate degree studies. I have developed increased self-assuredness and strength, as well as confidence in my own abilities and determination to reach my goals and push through challenges.

I completed my degree at the end of May and I received my official result in June: I am graduating with a First Class Honours degree! As most of my readers are from North America, achieving a First in your degree is equivalent to a 4.0 GPA. Needless to say, I am very happy with my degree classification! I’ll share some photos after my graduation ceremony in a few weeks.

Jumping for joy! (Public domain image source)

On the whole, my undergrad experience wasn’t the stereotypical student life; my mother developed a serious illness in my first year of studying and it culminated in a year’s leave of absence from my studies while I coped with being her caregiver and all the responsibilities which it entailed. However, I returned to academic life after my leave of absence and the experience gave me a greater sense of perspective.

Meanwhile, although it is exciting to graduate, I am already busy formulating a plan for the next step: working while studying part-time for a Masters by Research.

I have a research proposal for a linguistics project which is ready to go ahead and I will be sharing more about this in the coming weeks. The only obstacle is that the project needs funding. Earlier this year, I applied for funding from an academic research council, but unfortunately I didn’t get it. There are no scholarships available; I have written to educational trusts in the hope of obtaining a small grant, but many of them only fund undergraduates or PhD students.

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Academic funding budgets are small and have been cut in recent years. As a result, more and more graduates are turning to alternative and entrepreneurial ways of funding academic projects, including crowdfunding. As a student said in a Financial Times article,

“It’s really hard to find funding for postgraduate courses in the UK, in the same way that it’s really hard to afford the fees for undergraduate courses in the US”

I plan to work to fund living expenses and I will conduct my linguistics research part-time, which will take two years. Although I have mixed feelings about it, I am investigating crowdfunding as a funding method; my university has its own crowdfunding platform and other postgraduates have successfully raised funds.

Cultural Life is strictly non-commercial and is a space for me to share posts and connect with other bloggers. However, I decided to join Amazon Associates a few days ago after seeing that a few blogging acquaintances use it. If you click through to Amazon and make purchase anything via my Associates link, I get a tiny percentage as a reward for referring you to Amazon. Anything that I receive from being an Amazon affiliate is going to fund my project. Thank you very much!

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

As always, I welcome feedback and discussion in the comments section. What advice would you offer to graduates who are transitioning to the next phase in their career?

Also, I am aware that crowdfunding can elicit negative responses — what do you think about the growing trend for postgraduate researchers to seek support via crowdfunding platforms? Please be honest! I’d love to hear what my readers think!

Taking a break…

Time waits for no woman…the clock is ticking and my deadlines are calling (Public domain image source)

I haven’t blogged in a while. Where you can find me? Down the rabbit warren that is Google Scholar, getting (enjoyably) lost and immersed in a sea of interesting research. If you’ll excuse the use of another animal-related metaphor, I’m busy beavering away in preparation for my final undergraduate exams.

As much as I love blogging and reading your blogs, I am taking a blogging break until the end of May. As I have exams starting on May 11 through May 18, I have little time to spare for blogging right now.

Meanwhile, happy May Day and see you at the end of May. I hope you have a wonderful month. Do you have plans for this month? If you’re a student like me, are your exams looming on the horizon?

How do you relax?

The past few weeks were strenuous in terms of my workload, enjoyable but strenuous! Regular readers of Cultural Life might remember that I hit a low point for a week or so when I started the final year of my BA in October, but I think that was simply due to adjusting back into the pace of the academic year. I was also feeling somewhat daunted by the first piece of fieldwork that I had to do for one of my modules. As I wrote in that October post, the class assignment was “the most advanced and demanding project I have done so far”.

However, flash forward a few months later: the project is finished, I turned it in last Monday and I feel happy with my work. When I printed out the project, MS Word told me the total editing time was 1906 minutes — 31.8 hours! That doesn’t include the time I spent finding people to interview, which entailed making lots of phone calls and utilizing social media, making several 2-hour round trips to interview people, transcribing the interviews and reading background literature on my subject. Overall, I estimate that I spent at least 60 hours on the project, but it was worth it! Whereas I felt somewhat downcast initially, the experience I had of carrying out this project has made me even more sure that the academic life is the life for me. I am intent on pursuing my goal of becoming a university lecturer. While I know there will be low points along the way, it’s good to reflect on the high points too because sometimes, when there are setbacks, it can be difficult to remember how the highs feel.

Public domain image source

This weekend is a brief respite before the Spring/Summer semester begins and I am making the most of doing nothing study-related! As Caitlin Kelly from Broadside Blog tweeted recently, “We all run ourselves at an industrial pace”, which is so true!

It does feel good being unproductive. I am taking this weekend out to relax; last night I went out for dinner with friends and today I went for a 3 mile walk, followed by too much time on my laptop, catching up on blogs and browsing online newspapers. This evening, I’m going to curl up in front of the fire with Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her time as Secretary of State. It feels deliciously unproductive and yes, I could be doing preliminary reading for the new classes which I start this week, but sometimes it’s good to just give ourselves a break.

How do you relax?

My kitty says "take a nap!"

My kitty says “take a nap!”

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my readers!

Ring out wild bells to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true (Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

Even though it’s the New Year, the twelve days of Christmas don’t finish until Twelfth Night on January 6, so I thought I’d share some Christmassy photos.

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It’s the time of year for winter walks, when the morning dawns clear, bright and frosty:

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A treat after a bracing walk: lebkuchen and a cappuccino, made using the milk frother that was a Christmas gift from my mother. If you’re a coffee drinker, I recommend that you treat yourself to a milk frother. It adds a special touch to a cup of coffee and I love being able to make cappuccinos at home now!

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Happy 2015 everyone!

I Got the (Final Year) Blues

 I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on till I am — Jane Austen

Created using Wordle

Created using Wordle

Recently I began the final year of my undergraduate degree. It should be an exciting time: graduation is within sight and the modules are challenging and intellectually stimulating. Now that the groundwork has been laid during the first two years of study, final year offers an opportunity to deepen into my subject. I have posted before about my love of linguistics and fascination with language, but during the past week or so I have questioned what it’s all for: what is the point, for instance, of analyzing the distribution of phonological variable X, correlated with age, sex or social class in a geographic locality?

I felt that acutely yesterday, when I sat down in the morning to plan a project which requires me to choose my own area of research, collect data for it, quantitatively analyze the data and write a 3000 word paper about it (the most advanced and demanding project I have done so far). I started out with good intentions but spent nearly all day wrestling with it without anything to show for my time. By the end of the day, I was feeling daunted, despondent and disheartened, questioning myself about whether aspiring to an academic career is really what I am cut out for. Today, after a more productive morning, I do feel slightly more positive and I’m not ready to give up on my chosen field yet!

I don’t know why I am currently walking through this mire of self-doubt and second-guessing my abilities, but I suppose I have to take heart that everyone has bad days (or bad weeks, in my case!) and trust that it will not last. Even though “I am not at all in a humor for writing [and researching], I must write on till I am” and turn these problems into challenges to be overcome.