Resurrection

Its been ages since I wrote. Last October… good lord. has it really been that long? Well… a lot has happened around here. Things got busy in October: PhD application writing kicked in; I had conference papers and talks to present; and then flu hit. Yay. It went downhill from there, a christmas break that wasn’t (a break), and its just been a case of placing one foot in front of another since then. It wasn’t till a conversation with a friend on a subject ended with “you know, you really ought to blog this on DeafStudent” that I realised I’d not blogged here in absolutely ages. But more of that in a moment: now is about updating.

First of all – NEWS!! The exciting bit: I got the PhD funding I applied for. Which is really excellent news cos it’s really … really competitive funding to get, it marks me out as someone to watch in future. Its not just about the money – although the money is very nice (tutition fees plus living costs, and fairly substantial living costs too, around £15k per year) – its also about the opportunities that are included in the programme. I can’t go into details, cos, you know, that pesky anonymity thing, but suffice it to say that these opportunities allow me to build on my PhD, to contribute extra to my CV, and which make me that much more employable in the years immediately after my PhD. It’s also marked a change, since I got the news, of feeling more assured about myself, and happier because my immediate future is more settled. I know that come October I will have a regular paycheque and what I will be doing, what i will be studying, who with, and where. That kind of stability is, for me, immensely reassuring and makes me feel much happier.

What else? When I last wrote, I was about to deliver a series of talks. I’d done one, and was about to do a conference paper. The conference paper went well, I had a couple of questions, and did some useful networking with people. Networking is something I can and do struggle with, but I seem to have gotten a much better handle on it recently (and I might well do a proper blog post on that). The second hour long talk didn’t happen. I was very annoyed about that, I came down with flu to the point where I couldn’t even drive, much less stand for an hour and talk (and I do mean flu, not a cold). I hated cancelling but it had to be done. That one is rescheduled for later this year. The first hour long talk that I did, that I blogged about last October, was such a success and had so many enquiries for a repeat showing, that I was booked to do a second which I did a few weeks after the flu, rather croakily. It wasn’t as good, mostly because I still wasn’t 100% and the passion that drove the first was a bit more muted. But I hope they still enjoyed it – I’m booked to give another talk in September to the same group on a different subject, which I call a success!

The PhD application: I had an awful lot of support from my supervisors, but I also bounced the application to just about every academic I knew, even the ones that do not have any academic knowledge on my subject. This was quite deliberate: the people who choose from the applications, while academics themselves (or working on a similar level) are not necessarily academics in my particular subject, let alone my specific field. The application had to be detailed, within a certain (very frustratingly, very limited) word count, but had to be understandable enough that those outside my subject could cope. Bouncing the application round to everyone but the college porter achieved that. I also re-wrote. A LOT. I think my application went through 19 drafts before I actually hit send. I paid attention to what the programme managers said they wanted in successful applicants, and made a concerted effort to give it to them. Again, I can’t comment on what those specifics were, but I’m quite sure it helped in the box ticking. When the panel receives 10 applications for every post that’s available, you have to think in those terms to get you through the early stages. What do they want – A, B, C. Do I have them? Yes, no, what can compensate…? that sort of thing. A similar process dictates academic research funding, so .. get used to it now, was the advice given to me.

One thing that I am sure people reading this will wonder: did I disclose my deafness? Yes. A part of the form detailed the allowances that they would need to make for any kind of disability. Although this would have been removed from the form before the panel read it, before it got to panel stage, it had to be approved by the university to which I was applying: of all their applications, a set number got put through to the final approving panel, so the university was interested in approving the applications that they thought had the best chance of succeeding. The university I’ll be studying with is the same one that I’ve been with for the last five years so they were well aware that I’m deaf, and even if they didn’t know, they would’ve been aware cos I brought an interpreter along with me to the interview (more about that in a minute). In the event, I don’t think it made one iota of difference. Universities are so careful about that sort of thing these days that they’d be stupid to even try to be prejudiced or biased on the basis of disability.

Interview: As I said before, I took along my interpreter. That person was someone I’ve worked with extensively before. This was not the time to experiment with new people! The university was good in making accommodations to ensure that the interpreter could be there (they arranged the time and date well before anyone else’s, knowing that interpreters get booked up quickly, for example). That was the only advantage that they gave me; everyone who applied was interviewed (and told that the interviews would be held week commencing XYZ), so even knowing further in advance than anyone else when exactly my appointment would be did not gain me that much. The interview lasted about half an hour, I was asked some very pointed questions but I didn’t let it ruffle me, just answered to the best of my ability. They asked me if I had any questions. I’m quite sure that they thought that a formality – I soon showed otherwise. I can’t detail the questions I asked them here, but two of the questions put my interviewers on the spot, and gave me useful knowledge on how to handle my PhD. In other words: I saw my interview as an opportunity to gain knowledge as well as to impress them, and I think that may have made more of an impression than anything else.

The time between interview and the result was horrible. I tried to put it out of my mind as best I could, not helped by people asking me if I’d heard anything. Annoyingly, the interpreters were the worst for this! I’d see one particular interpreter for a class on a weekly basis and every week they’d ask if I’d heard anything, even though I told them the week before that the result would not be until X date. Argh! The day the result came through though was a very special one, as can be imagined.

In the last month or so, I’ve delivered two more conference papers and attended the introductory day for my PhD programme. All three required a lot of networking, which is why I think I’ve improved – one of the conferences was at my home institution so I knew most people already, but the other was at a new (to me) university and it showed beyond doubt that I can now at least go up and talk to unknown people about their papers, even if I’ve still got a way to go with networking. I’ll give more tips in another blog post, but I definetly punched the air on the way out of that one!

So, what next?

Well, I’ve an MA to finish off, which is what I’ll be doing over the summer. In October, the PhD begins; I’ll have access to a form of Disabled Student’s Allowance (not run by Students Finance England, thankfully, but by the Research Council responsible for my funding) which will help to cover costs for any communication support I need through my PhD. I don’t forsee a problem occurring, if I’m honest: it would be counterproductive, and I’ve been assured by both the head of the section dealing with the programme at the Uni and the head of the entire programme (‘The Big Cheese’, as my supervisor put it) that my deafness is a non-issue and that they’ll do all they can to keep it that way. I’ve been offered a place teaching on an undergraduate module next September already; although I’ve been doing some teaching in the last two years, that was fairly limited as I was working on a computer module, where the students had a workbook that they had to go through to complete the module – I was on hand to answer questions and sort out the inevitable screen freezes and blue screen of death. What I’ll be doing next year is a step up from that, encouraging online discussion amongst new undergraduates on my subject and hopefully fostering a love for the subject. Well… one can hope. So that’s exciting. There is also definitely the opportunity to teach tutorials during my PhD programme, although I’m not sure when (they may try to restrict it to the second and third years). It all adds up for the CV, which is good.

All I really have to do right now is finish my MA dissertation. I have the marks, apart from the MA dissertation to achieve a distinction, so naturally, that’s what I want to achieve. There’s also a prize for the best dissertation, so I’m aiming for that as well (and then I’m going to try to get articles out of it as well. Waste not, want not).

It’s going to be a fun summer…!!

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Time: how being deaf can affect your study time

Time just gets away...

Time just gets away…

As a student, particularly as a postgraduate, time is something you’re always fighting. This is particularly the case if you’re either a self-funded postgraduate or a part-time one, as there will be other demands on your time, such as paid employment.

Part of being a successful student (any student, not just a postgrad) is in learning how to manage your time successfully, so that you allow time to prepare for assignments and exams properly, do the background reading, do the research, and so on. There are plenty of resources out there on time management for students. Your university library should have a selection, there are online sites, and even “how to” books for students, such as the series of Study Skills books by Palgrave MacMillan will cover the subject within their wider subject title. There’s one on student procrastination – definitely one for me!

This blog post, therefore, isn’t about how to manage your time. I have no interest in re-inventing the wheel! What it is about is how being deaf can impact on your study time in two different ways, and what needs to be done about both.

Removal of potential sources and multitasking

These two are related, and touch on a very specific part of multitasking. I mean, of course, the radio, or any audio source of information. This problem was driven home to me not so long ago when I was catching up with general news one morning online, and I spotted a reference to a new report in a peer-reviewed journal with important implications for my field of study. The details of that aren’t relevant to this, but I excitedly downloaded the article through the university library, emailed my supervisor about it, and drove to uni to get on with my work for the day.

At uni, I ran into my supervisor, and I asked if he’d seen my email. He hadn’t checked his mail that day and asked what it was about, so I filled him in. “oh yes, I heard about that on the radio as I was driving here”. We proceeded to have a discussion about the article and its potential implications, but what was stuck at the back of my mind was that he was able to listen to the radio on his way to uni. He was able to put the time that was otherwise useless (from an academic perspective) to good use by listening to the radio and broadening his world-view.

This is something that most deaf people cannot do. Instead, we have to purposefully make time to read through a newspaper or an online website or watch a news programme with subtitles on the television. Either way, it is a purposeful, deliberate act that probably takes longer than it might take for the average programme to be read through on the radio.

More to the point, deaf people are unable to multitask in this way. Again, this was brought home to me not so long ago when I walked into the bedroom to find my partner changing the sheets as he listened to an audiobook. I cannot change the sheets while I read a book, or go for a run, or do the washing up, or drive to work – any of the million and one things that must be done on a daily grind, and where hearing people can use that time more productively. We cannot. Even more crucial: hearing people can have things like the radio on in the background and listen with half their attention on it, and then focus in when something of importance penetrates their consciousness. We cannot do that either. Instead, we have to purposefully read. We have to deliberately, purposefully, set time aside for reading that book, the newspaper, the online news site, the television programme with subtitles, and that takes time away from something else we might have done. But this is still important: any academic will tell you that keeping on top of developments in your general field is crucial, because you never know how something will impact on your field. To demonstrate, the article above that had potential implications for my field…? Was in a science related field and mine is most certainly a humanities field. Any academic will also tell you that keeping on top of current affairs is also important. Even if you are in a field that has little to do with current affairs, no academic can afford to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the world around them. The days of being able to lock oneself away in the ivory tower of academia are long gone.

So what is to be done? Sadly, there isn’t a great deal that can be done about this. The best thing is to make sure that you use technology sensibly to aid you. How you do that exactly is very much up to you and your own particular situation but, for example, if you take the bus to uni, and you have a smart phone, reading a news app on the journey may be one way of using that time more productively. There is also the ability to set up automatic searches for things of interest to you and your field on the internet, when new articles are published that could be of interest to you, and so on. You can schedule time to go through specific things. I schedule time first thing in the morning, at lunch and in the evening, to scroll through the BBC news website, and read what I want to. I also schedule time on a Saturday or a Sunday morning to read through more intensive sites such as educational blogs, and the Guardian Higher Education Network. Experiment and find what works for you. If you have things that you do to overcome this, please feel free to comment and I will happily add to this blog entry.

Administration

The other thing that takes you away from your studies, and that your hearing compatriots largely do not have to contend with (unless they are disabled in other ways), is administration. I don’t mean here your garden variety admin – everyone has to do that, like it or not. I mean here, dealing with the admin that comes with external funding bodies like SFE for DSA (if you have it) and booking your support team.

I plan to write more in-depth blogs about both support teams and funding support at a later date, but suffice it to say for now that there is always the need to sort out the administration around this. As a case in point: at the moment, I am involved in sorting out not only the administration surrounding payment of my interpreters and note takers from the last academic year’s worth of classes (paid for by DSA), additional support for extra seminars and a postgraduate conference (paid for by the University), and interpreting support for some paid assistant teaching work that I did for the university, teaching undergraduates (paid for by Access to Work). Three very different sets of administration driven by three different sets of bureaucratic regulations. And it all takes time. A lot of it!

What I can suggest is the following:

1) Organisation is absolutely key. Get different files for each set of admin and make sure everything is neatly labelled and that you have copies of everything. Record who does what, when, where and for how long. Print emails if necessary. Assume that can go wrong, will go wrong, and have a fallback plan!

2) Draw up a contact database – on your phone, in your head, in a little black book, whatever works – of people who you know you can work with, and more importantly, who you cannot work with. I’ve only ever found one interpreter I could not work with but you need to keep a note of names of people who you don’t want interpreting for you, for whatever reason. This way, if you need a support person in a hurry, you have a range of people you can contact in the hope that they may be free. Don’t leave it to your local accessability unit at the university because it robs you of the control that you gain through making these contacts [not to mention the potential problems that can result when another layer is introduced for arranging appointments!]

3) Develop those contacts and maintain good working relationships with them. This is crucial, if, for example, there is a problem with the paperwork and you disagree over hours or a timesheet has been lost or something like that.

4) In developing good contacts, don’t forget to develop good contacts with university staff as well. Many universities and colleges will not announce the timetabling for the upcoming term/semester until immediately before the term is about to begin, at least in England. Maintaining good relationships with staff means the chances are higher that you’ll get your mitts on that coveted sheet of paper telling you when you need to be where, and you can get a head start on organising your support requirements. And I don’t just mean lecturers and the like here. Actually, although you need to be nice to lecturers anyway, I think for this, it is far better to develop good relationships with admin staff. They are so often unappreciated – by staff, by students. Don’t add to that, and in the immortal words of Wil Wheaton, don’t be a dick. Finally, remember, the carrot works far far better than the stick!!

If you can think of any other way that your deafness impacts on your time as a student, and the solutions that you’ve come up with to address these issues, please feel free to either drop me a line at deafstudentuk at gmail dot com, or leave a comment here. In addition, if you’re interested in writing for the blog, please let me know!!