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…!!

Networking

Networking

Networking

Networking is a key skill if you want to work in academia. It is so important, that The Academic’s Support Kit, an invaluable series of books for anyone wanting to work in the industry, has a whole book devoted to it – Building Networks – and I doubt very much that Boden, Epstein and Kenway are alone in thinking this way. Its a skill that needs to begin early – and as a deaf person, its a skill that I know I am lacking. [at least, in person. Online – I totally rock!]

With this in mind, I recently went to a postgraduate meeting. This, promoted as a series of seminars aimed at postgrads in my field at my university, with cake, tea, and an inevitable trip to the pub after, isn’t unusual in the academic world. It allows students, who often focus intently on their own little sphere, to keep tabs on work that is being done in the wider field; to discuss their work with their peers; to get help and feedback where necessary; and most of all, to make the contacts that in terms of their careers, will be invaluable. These are the people that I may be working with in future. Developing a good relationship with your peers is an absolute must for anyone who is serious about a career in academia.

I had, I will be honest, been avoiding this. I’d gone to the first, set up as part of the induction week and the university paid for an interpreter to come with me. I had a great chat with one chap about the focus of his MRes, and listened to the talks provided by the people who ran the group. So far, so good. Then came the bad news. SFE wouldn’t fund attendance at the seminars as part of my DSA, as its not a compulsory part of my studies. I can’t use any other source of funding for it, like Access to Work, as its not employment. The University can’t fund access to everything, and more to the point, this was strictly a voluntary thing. And there were bigger battles to fight: there was also the risk that DSA would not cover the various field trips that I needed to make throughout the year as part of my studies (in the end, the university agreed to fund those, thank god). So I let it lapse.

Then I got talking to one of my interpreters. She’d been a PhD student herself, in an unrelated field, and knows well the demands of academia, and is a trainee interpreter. When I mentioned this group to her, she offered to volunteer to interpret the sessions, as it would give her greater experience of working in a university setting. I lept at the chance, we agreed the time and date, and off we went.

We walked into the room where the session was being held to find just 5 people in there. We said hello, and then the people returned to their conversation. Fair enough, I thought, they were mid conversation when we walked in, and I talked to my interpreter instead. In sign language, which I think, in retrospect, was a mistake. Other people came in who were greeted and spoke to the group… and they all more or less continued to ignore me. They huddled in a little group at the other end of the room, and the only time anyone spoke to me was to offer me cake, or to respond to a direct question (I asked the speaker where he would be speaking from, and introduced myself and the interpreter – which is only good manners). The talk itself was interesting enough but I left feeling upset and disheartened by the attitude of the other attendees towards me, and wondering if I should persevere with this or just give up on it and find some other way to network.

I discussed it with my other half (who, I should add, isn’t deaf, wasn’t there, and isn’t an academic, but he is ferociously intelligent and occasionally comes out with smart stuff!). He listened sympathetically, let me rant about it for a bit [the words ‘clique’ and ‘bad mannered’ featured a lot, along with ‘disablist’ and ‘gonna write about this for BADD!’] and then simply pointed out: ‘did you say anything to them?’

‘um. well. no. but.. but… hearing! they’re supposed to be welcoming and stuff to new people!!’

Even I saw through the fallacy and stupidity of THAT one as soon as it left my mouth.

Yes, they are supposed to be welcoming but, ahhhh… give them a break. Yes, they made a mistake and they may well be kicking themselves for allowing me to walk out of there without saying anything to me. But seeing it from their perspective, I began to realise. Someone walks in, who they don’t really know, and they don’t know my needs, who I am, anything about me. I could be one of those incredibly touchy people who threatens to sue the entire world if anyone says anything that is even a tiny bit wrong (and yes, we all know they exist) so.. well.. can they really be blamed for taking the safer course? Am I not just as much to blame for continuing that status quo, not introducing myself (I am able to talk for myself, the interpreter is there to help out with communication coming in, not going out), not making my needs clear? Could I have done things better to try to ease their fears and help them to communicate with me?

In a world full of prejudice, regardless of whether you’re the one with an ‘ism’ or not, sometimes its all too easy to take the safe route and not say anything. I do that myself. Sometimes, when I don’t have communication support, its too easy, in group settings with new people, to take the easy route and not introduce myself, or to stand awkwardly and pray that sometime I do know talks to me. Sometimes I’m just tired and I don’t think I can be blamed for that. But if I can’t be blamed … then neither can they.

So. I’m going back to that group in a few weeks, with my interpreter. I’m going to email them ahead of time so they know I’m coming and who I am. Give them enough information so that they’ve got stuff they can ask me about. Bone up on the people who are in the group (the group’s on facebook as well) so that I have stuff I can ask them about. And then [this is one of those times where there’s a fantastic sign for it and the equivalent in English is a bit pathetic in comparison] … I gird my loins and step into the lion’s den.