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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unthinking disabilism in higher education

A PhD position became available recently, connected to deafness. I had a look at it, but decided it wasn’t the right sphere for me, that I didn’t have the right skills for it, so I passed it on to our postgrad community in case anyone there fancied it.

I was asked several times why i didn’t go for it, as I’d be perfect for it.

They didn’t say this on the basis that they thought that my skills, knowledge and discipline made me perfect for it.

They said it on the basis that I’m deaf, and it’s a PhD connected to deafness.

This actually made me quite cross, because it is disabilism, pure and simple. it takes no account of me as a person, my skills, and reduces me down to one thing and one thing only: my deafness. And here’s the thing – they didn’t even see that it was ablist, that it was prejudice. It wasn’t malicious in any way – I suspect they’d be dreadfully upset if they ever read this, that they had inadvertently been so prejudiced – but … fact remains that that is exactly what they’ve done.

Imagine suggesting to a black person that they’d be perfect for a PhD examining skin colour in some way? Or a woman that they’d be ideal to study the effects of oestrogen? Or a transgendered lesbian that they should study the impact of sexuality in transgendered people? Or a Catholic that they should study the troubles in Ireland?

It would be very frowned upon, of course, all of these. People would – quite rightly – be upset and disgusted.

So why should it be acceptable to suggest that someone should do a PhD incorporating deafness purely on the basis of their disability?

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not by any means suggesting that people should not do those things. That the black person shouldn’t study skin colour, that the woman shouldn’t study the effects of oestrogen, and so on. If they CHOOSE to do so, that’s up to them. It’s a matter of choice.

I don’t choose to study deafness. I feel that for me it is the obvious route and that I want to study something totally unconnected to my deafness. That is my choice, and I have a right to make it. If others want to study something connected to their deafness, then that is their choice, and I support and applaud their right to make that choice.

But for me, or anyone, to be encouraged to study a field purely on the basis of their ‘label’ – be it gender, skin colour, religion, sexuality, – or, yes, disability – is just wrong. It suggests that they aren’t capable of more. That we should stay within our sphere, because that’s where we belong.

And that makes me very, very angry.

I’m much more than just my ears. much, much more. I should be free to study as I wish, to the best of my own skills and capability (which is very capable), just as anyone who is hearing is permitted to do.

It makes me very, very sad.

It makes me realise that there is still far too much work to do to educate people, even people in higher education settings. Rightly or wrongly, I expect more from them (and these suggestions came from other PhD students, not members of staff). It makes me sad that these intelligent people can’t see further than their own experience, their own privileged life.

It makes me very, very determined.

If nothing else, it makes me more determined not to go the ‘deaf’ route, to opt for studying deafness in my field in some way. I’m happy to facilitate education for others, to aid with deaf awareness etc. But I want to study what I will be studying, and my path will not change.

It makes me determined to do my bit to educate other people. It makes me determined to make the institution realise that they are failing their staff and students in not providing disability awareness. It needs to change – and it will change.