The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

The blog that's full of discussion, advice, travel and ramblings!

Category: PhD

My final day and my goodbye

The final day

Every journey must start with a small step. Every relationship starts with a simple hello. Every memory recalled must have been lived. For three years I’ve crawled, walked, run and flew. I’ve learned how to fail through bitter experience a thousand times but how to get up 1001 times. The funny thing about journeys is you’re always aiming to get to a destination, a final fixed point in time or locality, always on the move, always getting closer. Often the destination is the ultimate goal but its how you get there that’s usually better than the place you’re trying to get to. While every journey must begin with a small step, it must end with one too. Every hello always ends in a goodbye. Today is my last official day as a PhD researcher and the last day of being a student.

I walked back through the doors of that grand old house, Holmefield, my home for the past three years today. Since day one, the strong white stoned pillars guarding the entrance with nobility always gave me a feeling of assurance. As assured as the giant sprawling trees that lined the lush patch of grass outside of the door, who’ve watched countless students throughout the years. In three years not much has changed, the chandeliers still glint in the shaft of light that trickles through the window illuminating the specs of floating dust, a never-ending dance in the air. The staircase that clings to the wall I must have walked a million times up to my office and now it was to be my last time. Punching in the code and pushing that oak door open, I was greeted by silence. My desk untouched since viva, a mass of paper and copies of my thesis, an untouched coffee cup and notepads. The other desks were just as I last remember them, a mass of books, paper and post-it notes, evident signs of feverish work that goes on in here. With each book I placed into my bag, each file I copied from the pc and with every pull of a picture or of a poster from the wall it hit me like a dagger. I’m dismantling my life with every item that goes into the box. In no time at all the only signs I was ever here is a small polaroid picture I placed with a firm thumb on the wall. A picture of H105 occupants dressed in Christmas jumpers posing for a photo, the caption underneath simply read

H105 standing together, forever

I walked down the quiet corridor and popped my head into my old office, the office where it all started in H003. Again, empty and silent, I walked towards my old desk, taking the last steps in the same steps that I took my first on this journey. I’m surrounded by the ghosts of my memories, I watch as I recall my first hello with Laura, then Vic, the Cara, Hannah, Rosie, then Katie, then the rest of the PGRs. I laugh to myself when I look out of the window and recall walking to the shops with Rosie in hurricane force winds. It’s nice to see that crack in the window had been repaired since, a shiver ripples through my body when I recall that first bitterly cold winter in that office where water and wind would rattle through the gap in the door and the broken window pane. I recalled each individual hello as if it were yesterday, the feeling of being apart of a team and getting to know them, in the beginning, was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

With a sad goodbye, I left the old office and walked back up to H105, the office where it really cemented our friendship. I longed to turn around and hear that chirpy morning voice from Laura signifying it was time for our daily trip to the café to drink coffee for longer than we should, discussing everything from life to work. I miss mine and Rosie’s chats about TV shows that my mum and she might like or have watched along with plenty of banter. I miss that I’ll no longer hear footsteps up the stairs and be like with a smile, oh this must be Vic! For the door to the flung open and her smile and greeting to light up the room. I’ll miss Katie’s sarcasm towards me and the many inappropriate jokes/comments that only our childish minds would find funny. I’ll especially miss drawing little post-it note doodles to fill up her wall, I never did reach my goal of trying to cover it floor to ceiling!

I take a look around looking at all of the memories in this place. Sure, it’s just an office, it’s nothing special its four walls and a door. To me, it was home, it was safety in all of the chaos of PhD life. A life raft in the stormy seas. These four walls saw us grow as individuals, its been an honour to have grown with these exceptional individuals, kind-hearted, dedicated and loyal. These four walls it saw us achieve big things, it saw us fall many times, it saw us pick each other up. It’s seen us cry and its seen us in tears with laughter. Oh, the laughter, how that room was always so full of the bellowing sounds of our laughter.

I feel a huge lump in my throat as the silence takes hold, the clatter of keyboards have fallen silent, the laughter fading. This truly is the end. Walking back out of that door for the final time with the confirmation of the heavy click of the lock. My time had come, my journey was over.

My Dad helped me load the rest of my things into the car and we drove away, that part of my life now over. “Are you sad?” my Dad asked as we drove away I managed to muster a “Yes” fighting back the iceberg-sized lump in my throat “Of course you will be, it’s been a huge part of your life” he replied.

He’s right. I’m not just saying goodbye to friends, I’m not just saying goodbye to PhD life and the travel, the coffee and the experiences, nor am I saying goodbye to the best version of me. I’m saying goodbye to a part of me that’s been me for eight years. Eight years I’ve been a student or a staff member in higher education. Now, I’m saying goodbye officially to my identity as a student. Really, while the PhD has been a three-year journey, this journey really started way back in 2010 when I was a lost boy who needed a new challenge from that of high school. A much needed new start when I arrived as an undergraduate Geographer, finally with my wings unclipped to be who I wanted to be not what school clicks and politics deemed you to be. All of the highs of finding yourself on a cold windswept beach in Slapton under the clearest starry night sky and for the first time in my life feeling like I’m valued and as part of a genuine team. To laughing until I nearly threw up in a desert on my Masters. To all the lows of breakups and failing medicals for ATC and all the stresses of work and sacrifices of an RA, at times it felt like I was stepping out into the night with only a positive attitude and hope to guide me. All those at times dead-end alleys were actually a straight line to where I’m meant to be today.

So today, I said goodbye to my life as a student. A life that’s seen me change with each new adventure and chapter. My undergrad, I found out who I was and who I wanted to be, my masters I consolidated that and grew more confident in myself, in my RA years I became far wiser and more mature and the final series, the PhD has taken all of those three things and has turned it up to 11. I am a changed man from the man I was at the start of this journey. It’s impossible for this experience not to change you fundamentally. The most brutal of worlds, the most intellectually and emotionally challengings thing a person can ever do, it’s bound to change you. But it’s changed me for the better. As sad as I am to leave, I leave as the best version of me. That’s all down to the office of H105.

Vic taught me to lighten up and find the joy in life and when things are terrible, you can always make a joke about it and smile. She’s taught me the real value of loyalty and selflessness and treating others as equals. Katie has brought out the fun side of me, the Jokey Tony instead of “Sensible Tony” which was my nickname in Chester. She also taught me how to soften my very direct nature at times and how sometimes my direct unemotional prefer logic approach might not always work for very emotional driven topics and issues (I’m still working on it! Tony the Robot!). Rosie taught me to stay true to myself and my principles, to be steadfast and stoic towards a goal, oh and I now know a lot about TV and I still don’t eat sweets before 12pm!  Laura actually taught me to love again and to find self-worth again in myself. Laura became a true best friend, a confidant, while we’d argue…a lot!…we’d always resolve it through well-reasoned debate. I miss our non-date date nights, I miss our Sunday cycles, our times spent righting the world over a coffee, and I miss travelling to new places with her. I think I speak for everyone in H105 when I say the office was never the same without you when you moved away.

I leave the PhD a wealthy man, not in terms of wealth (I wish) but in that I’ve won the lottery when I’ve had the opportunity to be surrounded by people like that, people who I can call true friends and friends for life. Not just them but friends I’ve made outside of H105, the fellow PGRs who I know will be friends for a very long time.

So tomorrow I will walk across that stage for the final time, I’ll shake the VCs hand and I’ll get my doctorate in hand. The destination reached. There is despite everything, a truth in that we must all face, whether we want to or not is that everything eventually ends and everything has its time. I’ve worked hard for so many years to reach this goal, and I’ve worked my hardest with the right attitude and commitment, doing it the way I wanted it, with compassion and by building others up instead of stepping on them to get where I needed to be. I hate endings, I hate that every hello always ends in a goodbye. I hate that ending. I hated the last day of summer before a new term started, the end of a perfect day with friends or the turning of a final page of a great book. Endings are a fact of life, the seasons change, the sun will rise, and the stars will shine. Life simply goes on around you. Tomorrow is one of those days, an ending, a closure. I say goodbye to everything that was familiar, everything that was comfortable, I’m moving on, taking my final steps on this journey but new ones on a new adventure. While it hurts to say goodbye, just because I’m leaving some people and experiences, have become so ingrained in me that they’ll be with me no matter what. I don’t know what the next chapter of my life holds, I don’t know where I’ll be or what I’ll do but I do know that in amongst all the chaos of life I have a sanctuary, a solid ground in those select few who I dropped walls for, for those who fought by my side. They will forever be my moral compass, my guiding star and that voice that will always be there for me.

As I hate endings, I’ll simply say with a heavy heart and a tear in my eye, thank you to everyone who’s been on this journey with me. Instead of goodbye, “I’ll see you around” xxx

20190708_222321_0000

How to prepare for the PhD Viva

The Viva, the word that is never far away from a PhD students mind. The mythical almost legendary word that looms over everything that you do. When you start the PhD, it seems a long and distant prospect and as you progress, the Viva looms ever larger like a storm cloud bubbling up on a clear summers day. The Viva is the final battle all PhD students know they must face but never want to. The Viva is the most important battle a PhD student will face as if all the other constant battles weren’t enough already! A hill to either die or survive on, the outcome of you becoming a Dr relies on your ability to survive a two to three hour (on average) defence of your thesis with at least two experts.

Many people outside of academia are simply unaware of what a PhD is or even the amount of work, sacrifice and challenges that come with it. Simply too many to list in this blog that’s for sure! However, many people are aware that by the end of your PhD, you will produce a thesis of substantial word count, for example, including references and appendices my thesis came to 212,000 words! If I had to include all my rewrites and deleted and changed words over the course of the PhD, I’d be looking at having written over 300,000! Yet, people don’t understand outside of academia that writing of the thesis is less than half of the PhD, the rest comes down to the Viva. The word that sends a chill up any PhD student (sorry fellow PhD students for the trigger!).

The term ‘Viva’ is actually short for ‘Viva Voce’ which is Latin for absolute hell. I joke. It actually translates to “by live voice”. In layman’s terms, you’ve walked written the walk, now you need to talk the talk. Every country is slightly different, but in the UK at least, it’s an oral exam, a defence of your thesis between usually an external and an internal examiner behind closed doors. They will have read your completed written thesis multiple times and now you sit in a room where they’ll ask you many questions about it for which you have to justify every decision and action made in the time you’ve been on the PhD. As a general rule of thumb, the examiners are looking for three things (1.) Is it your own work and have you written it (2.) Do you understand what you’ve written and what your results are saying and (3.) Does what you’ve done actually contribute new and original knowledge to the scholarly community.

So, how do you prepare for this showdown to get your PhD? Below I’ll outline how I tackled my Viva preparations and if the Viva is on the horizon for you, I hope it may give you some ideas about how to get yourself in the best shape possible for it.

Read, re-read and when you think you’ve read enough, read one more time

By now you’re probably downright sick of your own writing and if you’ve been editing, you’re perhaps resenting your own work with having read it so many times. However, it is vital that you go back and re-read, multiple times from cover to cover. There where three critical aspects that I took to my viva prep re-reads. Firstly, I read a chapter or two chapters a day, making no notes, just reading, remembering and understanding my work. It may seem obvious, but some of your writing is over two years old and with so much going on and so much different sections that you’ve written its good to refresh your brain. After reading it thoroughly, I then went back through and re-read it under a critical eye. I looked for any formatting, spelling or grammatical errors. If you’ve rushed to get your thesis in you’ll probably find a lot of them but even me, someone who spent three solid months of editing and checking my work prior to submission I still annoyingly found 13 errors including an utterly wrong graph!

I hear that many people don’t want to re-read their work for fear of finding exactly that, a mistake. It happens and the examiners will know it happens too. You’re writing in excess of 100,000 words there is bound to be mistakes. Of course, in your edits its best to catch as many as you can but even if you’re diligent you’ll still miss one or two. Chasing the perfect error free thesis is chasing a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, a nice idea but ultimately, a futile one. If you submit a thesis that is strung with spelling and format errors because it’s been rushed or you failed to re-read it before submitting it doesn’t mean the Viva will go badly, but it will cast some doubt in the examiner’s minds I’m sure. You’re giving them more ammunition if you’ve failed to check your work. Use software, colleagues, supervisors and friends and family to check before you submit! If, however, you still find mistakes, relax! Make a note of them (I highlighted mine) so that if the examiners point them out, you can be ahead of the curve as you’ve identified it (my examiners didn’t even point out the mistake in the graph which I was stressing about so much, so don’t worry!). Also, it’s super rare that the outcome of the Viva is no changes, you’re most likely at a very minimum getting minor corrections so don’t stress, you can correct those errors in the post-viva corrections phase!

Highlights and sticky notes

After reading my thesis multiple times, I went back through again and brought out my trusted highlighters and post-it notes. I used different colours to represent various aspects of the PhD. Green, for example, was a simple identifier for me of where each chapter began, thus in the Viva when referring to individual chapters if needed, I could just flip to it straight away. Orange I used as fundamentals, i.e. research aims, questions and critical results where purple I used as potential sections of note be that an important paper or parts I feel they may well grill me more on or want to know more about. Find whatever works for you, you don’t want to over complicate it and highlight absolutely everything in your thesis, it’s best practice to only refer to the thesis in the Viva if absolutely essential. So highlight what you feel are the key things and use a system that you know.

20190421_121834

My thesis and appendices with my post-it notes

Prepare Questions and Summary

While making your post-it note decorations on your thesis, I opened up two word documents. The first one I used to summarise each of the key points of that page. For example, when summarising your methodology outlining the key papers and 3 principal pros and cons of the method chosen. This helps in your re-read to focus your brain, and the day before the Viva I found it really helpful to just focus on those summary notes because that gave me the key points I needed to focus on without getting too lost in all the details.

blog1

Example of my summary pages

As I went through, I also came up with questions that they could potentially ask me about those sections and I wrote them down. I also utilised some fantastic sets of questions out there online about viva preparations. The most effective way of preparing for the Viva was actually to be asked the questions so that I could answer them verbally. It’s all well and good preparing your answers in word, but it’s far better to practice verbalising them. My friend Rosie skyped me a set of questions from her Viva cards, I made a note of that question and then answered it. It’s seriously great practice! For example, she asked me what the theoretical implications of my study where and I gave a very long winded and pretty terrible answer. We discussed together how I should tackle that and be more focused and low and behold a similar question came up in my Viva, and I was able to nail it because I had been prepared. So get a friend, a supervisor or even your family to throw as many questions your way as possible. Below is the 19 random questions Rosie used from her cards to help me prepare. After answering all 19 that came to just under an hour of talking, so you can see how quickly a viva can go, especially as these are generic. Sadly, you can never truly prepare for the very specific and in-depth questions the examiners may have!

  1. Why did you narrow your focus of enquiry to this?
  2. How did research questions emerge?
  3. Which previous studies influenced your work?
  4. Who or what was most influential?
  5. What is the area in which you wish to be examined?
  6. How did you choose your methodology and were there any constraints?
  7. Limitations of your method and study?
  8. Did you encounter any problems?
  9. Talk us through how you analysed the data?
  10. What steps did you take to mitigate errors and bias the data in your qualitative methods?
  11. Do you believe your methods entomologically aligns?
  12. If you could start again, what would you do differently?
  13. How did your thinking develop as you went through your research process?
  14. How do your findings challenge the established literature in this field?
  15. How long do you expect your work to remain current?
  16. Where did you go wrong?
  17. What are the theoretical implications of your findings? What are the policy implications of your findings?
  18. How can it influence your findings?
  19. How do you intend to share your research findings?

Give yourself some space

I can’t stress this enough, it seems counterintuitive that as you scramble to cram as much in and practice as much as you can for the Viva that you should give yourself some time off. But seriously, trust me. Do it. Take a day off, go for a walk, go do something you enjoy. A tired brain is not a brain that’s going to perform well in the Viva. I know that its really hard to do because your mind will keep going back to viva prep, but you need to force yourself to do something differently, even if for an hour. I am forever indebted to my friend Ro who gave me no choice but to go out for a walk or my parents who forced me to go food shopping to take my mind off it. It seems small and daft, but it really worked. It gave my brain a few minutes of breathing space and especially on that walk realising that, yes, while the Viva is probably the most significant thing you’ve ever done to date and yes, so much is riding on it. That you have so many people who support you and there is so much more to life than getting three letters after your name. It does put things into perspective.

The day before try not to throw up and get some sleep

I read that some people say not to touch any viva prep the day before to give your brain a rest. I agree in principle, but I still did some prep. I read those summary pages a few times throughout the day and then gave it a rest. There comes the point where you know you’ve done all you can, and you feel as prepared as you can, so doing more won’t help. I spent a lot of that day sitting in the sun listening to music and trying to take my mind off it. Whatever coping mechanism you use to deal with stress now is an excellent time to use it! I also read and made notes of the latest papers that had come out since I submitted my thesis. A read a lot of these viva prep blogs who placed so much emphasis on you knowing every single paper since you’ve submitted. Please do not spend a load of time on this! Examiners can ask you to make sure you’re aware of how your research fits in, but they cannot directly examine you on any paper that’s been published post submission. Focus on your own work, I wasn’t even asked about any new literature in my viva. Imagine if I had dedicated so much time to that, what a waste that would have been!

Go and smash it and some final tips

The Viva is undoubtedly massive, and there is no denying that the day is enormous and massively stressful. You will feel like you’re crap, that your thesis is rubbish and you’ll feel vastly underprepared despite being the most prepared you’ve ever been for anything. It happens. I felt awful before my Viva! I think any PhD student who says they’re not nervous about the Viva is either a liar or incredibly naïve, or at worst has delusions of grandeur. Well, they’ll just set themselves up for a fail. Remember, and again I read this before I went into the Viva but didn’t really believe it until after the Viva, the examiners are not there to trick you or catch you out. They’re doing their job and your examiners should ask some very tough questions, you should expect them, it is a PhD after all. But any question is never a personal attack and its never to catch you out. Remember, despite the feeling of imposter syndrome, you really are the expert in the room. You should try and enjoy it as much as you can too. My Viva was brutal and tough but it was really enjoyable once I got into it. There is no other time in your life as a student where someone outside of your supervisory team will have read your thesis cover to cover, and you can sit in a room and discuss it at length with people who are just as enthusiastic about it as you are. My parents, for example, have only read my acknowledgements of my thesis so, yeah, make the most of two strangers taking an interest in your work because your family don’t!!

I found it vital in my preparations to be critical and honest with the thesis. What is good about it and what are my weakest points. I cannot stress enough how important it was for me to know before I went in what I was going to defend until I was blue in the face and what I was happy to let go. You need to know what battles you’re going to pick in the Viva. You don’t have to defend every word, in fact, if you do you could be posing more problems than its worth. An example, if I defended the term pedagogy in my title and following sections, I have no doubt I would have had major corrections instead of the lower end of moderate. I was wise enough to know it was my weakest part of the thesis and the examiners saw it too, I was happy to not defend it, I’m glad I didn’t. On the flip side, my examiners weren’t that excited about my large section on UAV regulations and asked not once, not twice but three times was it critical. This, to me, was a fundamental aspect of my argument in the thesis and one of my mantras in the conclusion so three separate times, I defended it in the viva. I would have justified it a 4th if I had to because that was one part of my thesis I was going to defend until the end. Of course, by time they asked me a second time there was a flicker of “they’ve asked me this again, should I concede?” but no, it was a test to see me stick to my argument and defend it. By time they asked a 3rd time I was more adamant than ever to keep it in!

Be honest. Seriously, this is my final point and one that is vital in the Viva. Be honest. In mine I was asked if I was familiar with a particular set of literature which to them was essential if I had mentioned one thing, I really should have mentioned this. I was honest that I wasn’t familiar and they simply said thanks for being honest, one of your corrections is to do a small section on it. Then that was it, happy days we moved on. If I had tried to blag it, it would have caused so many more issues! You’re not meant to know everything in the Viva, you’re human. If you don’t know it put your hands up and admit it, they’ll be absolutely fine with it. If you don’t know it and you try and blag it well, they view that very dimly that’s for sure. As the old saying goes, it’s better to be thought of as a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.

So try and enjoy the Viva, if you’ve had the right attitude, if you’ve prepared well enough then I am sure you will survive, and you will get what you’ve worked so hard for, you’ll be a Dr! Good luck and godspeed to you!

If you have any questions or even if you want me to read anything or even Skype you with some viva prep questions, let me know in the comments or get in touch on social media @TonyCliffe210. I’m currently in the process of writing a book about my PhD experience and how to tackle the many issues it throws up, so get in touch if you want to be involved in that! Or you can read about my Viva experience here: The battle of the Viva and my ode to H105 

Or read here my thoughts i penned before the viva: Some thoughts about the PhD journey as i near the final battle.

If you want to chat about the PhD or viva, get in touch, us PGRs need to help each other out to survive.

Go and smash it guys! You’ve got this!

IMG_20190507_093432_118

Post viva you get to wear cool badges!

The battle of the Viva and my ode to H105

“So congratulations Dr Cliffe” my internal examiner raises a huge grin and leans across the table to shake my hand, followed by my external then a slap on the back from my supervisor. I slump back in my chair as I thank them. I’m exhausted. I take a deep breath as I feel the stress of the viva flow through me and out with every breath. I can’t quite believe that I’ve survived. Is it over? There is no rising movie score of epic proportions, there is no confetti canon or wild cheering. A formal handshake completes the epic journey, a refined act for what has been an epic battle from day one. I’d just finished a PhD in 2 years 8 months and come through a tough viva, but I feel numb, completely numb. I’m happy, of course I am! But I’m also acutely aware of how instantly tired I am. When you’ve been stressed and working so hard for what felt like forever, with the goal reached it was that surreal moment of reaching the summit of the highest mountain you’ve ever climbed, looking back from where you’ve come from and then looking out at the view and just standing in amazement. I had reached my goal and now what was my first thought.

But more than that, I’m numb with bewilderment because I thought I had lost it all within 2 minutes of the 1hr 45 minute viva. I had done the best I could in the Viva but felt that my best wasn’t good enough, too many torpedo hits and not enough patching up to stop the ship from sinking. I was wrong, I had survived, I had done enough. Brutal. Intellectually brutal is the only word I can describe for the Viva. Nothing compares, and nothing ever will. I get it now, I really do when they say getting a PhD and particularly the final battle of the Viva is the hardest intellectual thing you can ever do. It all became apparent how hard it is to get a PhD in this moment.

There is no amount of patching up that you can do to save it, and no amount of effective counter weapons can save you and your thesis either.

I replay the morning ahead of me as I took a deep breath and thanked them all for their time, collected my belongings and walked out of the room. I could barely feel my feet under me, my mind still ultimately shell shocked at the whole experience, not just the Viva but the cumulation of nearly three years of solid hard work was over. Like a solider that’s been told the war is over, looking down at his dishevelled uniform.

To paraphrase a dear friend of mine, Rosie, she once offered her pearl of wisdom about the PhD and torpedoes. In essence, your thesis is a ship in a battle, and there are certain things that you’ll do or write that will come under attack from the examiners. So it’s your job to make sure your thesis is as watertight as possible, yet that is impossible. The examiners will always find something, they’ll send their torpedoes directly towards your ship. The point of her analogy was that there will be small torpedoes that you take the hit and move on, but there will be fundamental torpedoes such as your methods where if you’ve got that wrong, the examiners will send a direct hit, and you’ll be sunk. There is no amount of patching up that you can do to save it, and no amount of effective counter weapons can save you and your thesis either.

That analogy flashed across my mind as I watched that torpedo ripple under the waves towards my ship. The opening salvo of the battle of the Viva had begun, and in my head, it had felt as if I’d already lost. “Have you written a thesis that matches your title? We don’t think you have”. Boom. Damage report. Flashing lights and noise fill my head as I scramble to right myself, any sense of I could win this had vanished, any plan of attack I had and had prepared to defend my thesis was thrown out of the window. I scramble for a confident tone in my voice despite feeling my heart in my mouth and my entire PhD crumble around me “Yeah…I have…Absolutely”.

In my head, a million thoughts are rushing around my brain, and an internal dialogue goes on in my head, What have I missed? What has everyone else missed? I’ve planned for this worst-case scenario, but I never thought it would come true, what do I do? Have I failed? Is this a test question? I’ve come so far ahead of the curve people are going to be so let down if I fail. Did I gamble not ever working a Friday? Fuck. Fuck. Breathe Tony. Fight, you know your stuff, believe in your work. Come on! Battle stations!

For the next hour and three quarters, a healthy and in-depth viva discussion occurred with my excellent examiners. I had to take some torpedo hits that I was willing to let happen, but I fought back with my own, defending my thesis and my journey to this point. It was constant, question after question, no time for rest or composure. An intellectual debate of the highest order it had felt as if my brain was in a boxing match. From defending the use of certain words in the thesis, to a discussion of changing my title, to me shouting about the merits of my innovative EVFG that I’d created. Despite that initial blow, I felt that I had recovered throughout the Viva. The examiners seemed pleased with my answers to their tricky questions. I thought I had defended my thesis when needed and let it go when I needed to. For example, I have the term pedagogy in my title, I’ve never liked it, always felt uncomfortable with it in and its corresponding sections in my thesis. It showed in my writing. That torpedo they sent my way was directed right at that. My weakest section, my ships design flaw. They’d honed in on it straight away, a vulnerability I had recognised but put up with because I was in an education department, so it had to be in there, despite my true self being a Geographer, not a pedagogic researcher.

“Pedagogy means something very important to both of us. Why is it in your title? We both agree this is by far your weakest section, everything else is great but this. Let’s get to the bottom of it” was something like how they approached this deciding question of the thesis. I told the truth. I agreed it was my weakest and I explained how I didn’t ever really want it in there but gave it my best shot at putting it in there. I hoped my defence was enough, but there was no real telling from their responses from my perspective. My external sends a giant torpedo my way, I know at this moment that it’s the big one. Depending on my answer, I was either going to be sunk entirely, or I was going to stop that torpedo before it hit me. “Did you make your virtual field guide to enhance the students learning? Or, did you make the virtual field guide to prove a concept exists and if it happened to enhance their learning that was a byproduct?”

I answer without hesitation. The examiners despite the title had seen my vision and my work, I had created this brand new model to prove that as no one has done it before, that the concept could be done and it has benefitted students and educators in their learning on fieldwork, but that is just a fantastic bonus. I’ve proved the concept works, I was so glad that they agreed and were so enthusiastic about it. They saw real merit in it. In this moment I thought I might actually survive.

After what was the longest and quickest 1hr 45 mins of my life and after more thesis defence, the battle of the Viva concluded and I was released to enter the staff room while they spent 30 minutes conferring what my outcome would be. I had no way to tell how it had gone, I had fought back from that opening but I prepared for the worst.

“Oh, here he is!” Tim, my supervisor, exclaimed with a grin as I enter the staff room. “Fucking hell, Tim, that was brutal!” I exhale as I slump into the chair.”Ah can’t have been that bad?” he says jokingly as I turn to him “they want me to change my title, Tim!” I exclaim in exasperation. “Oh” is all he could offer. I then debriefed him on how it went, blow by blow, torpedo by counter torpedo. “I don’t know Tim…after that it could be anything, I suspect moderate but prepare for major. It all depends on if I’ve done enough to let the pedagogy go and defended the VFG well enough…” is my concluding statement of the debrief before I’m interrupted by the internal examiner knocking on the door asking for me and this time Tim, to join me in the room.

The walk up the stairs felt like the longest walk I’ve ever done. In my head, as I always do, expect the worst case scenario, and if its better than that, then that’s a bonus! Sitting down at the table, there were no signs from my external or internal which way this was going to go. My external commends me on how much work I’ve done, which according to him felt like 3 PhDs worth! And commends me on a great and in-depth viva before saying “congratulations Tony, We’d like to award you the PhD pending moderate corrections” I didn’t hear much after that! The examiners went through what corrections where to be made, what to remove and what to add. It had felt earned this moment, despite being mentally exhausted. It had been a hard viva, as hard as everyone says it was going to be. But weirdly, I’m glad it was hard. If the examiners had just said okay that’s great it wouldn’t have felt like the PhD was earnt but now it did. Both Gary and Judith as examiners where exceptional. No question was asked to catch me out, all their questions were to draw out of me clarity of my work and to see me defend every word, every action over the past 2 and a bit years which accumulated in the thesis. A textbook example of how a viva should be done. I can only thank them once again for what was the toughest but ultimately rewarding experience in my academic life thus far.

When I exited the room, I noticed that my old DoS’s door is open, a woman who I could not thank enough for getting me where I am today. If this were indeed a research war, she would have been my commanding officer. Fran was my DoS for just under two years before going on maternity to which my 2nd supervisor Tim took over for the final stretch of the campaign. I also realise at this moment how fortunate I was to have them both! Fran had made her way in especially for my Viva, to be there whether it was good or bad news. I guess while it was nerve-wracking for me, it was in my hands. For Fran, she hadn’t seen or been updated on the PhD for months since she was on maternity so I can only imagine what she must have been feeling as I ventured into that Viva!

I offer a weary, tired knock on her door and enter, god knows how I must have looked! I placed my stuff down on the table as she looked at me with a face that said: “Well, how did it go?”

I manage to raise a smile and just two words “Dr Cliffe!”

Seeing how happy she was for me, it slowly started to sink in just what it was that I had just achieved. In 2 years and 8 months and only working Monday to Thursday on it I had completed a PhD! I give her a quick debrief about the moderate corrections the examiners want me to do. “They’ve given me three months” I relay to her to which she replied “Knowing you, you’ll have it done in three weeks!” she knows me well! I leave and head down the old staircase and out into the bright blue sky and sunshine as I lug my giant thesis between my arms, what once was a mental weight on my shoulders has been lifted as I breathe in that cool fresh air. I offer myself a wry smile as I walk down that path towards my office that I’ve done thousands of times before with the crisp blue skies, lush green rolling grass giving way to the twinkling of the river in the distance capped by the looming Welsh hills. A sight I’d grown fond of over the years, a sight and a path I’ve walked for 2 years 8 months as a student, now finally a Dr.

I walk up to my office and notice a card and a blowup minion sellotaped to our office door. I raise another smile as I peel it away and open the door. For the first time today had I felt comfortable, I was home. H105.

20190424_140948

Thanks Sha!

Opening the door, my dear friend Vic turns around from her PC. I had grown used to and often looked forward to her cheery greeting and smile whenever either of us entered the office for the first time in the day, not so much today. “How did it go?” she asks a hint of nerves I detect. Which is my fault, I told her if I’m not back in 3 hours something awful has happened. A Viva shouldn’t be that long, so if it is that long, I’ve fucked it. As the Viva had started 45 minutes late and post debrief while it had only been 2 hours for me, it was touching 3 hours since I left the office for the Viva! Plus, how I looked hot, sweaty, and shell shocked probably didn’t do much to instil any good vibes from me!

“That was fucking brutal! But I did it! Mod corrections!” that hug was most definitely welcome! Vic joked later on that she’d never seen me like that before, that’s how bad it was! Outwardly and in person I have a firm control over my emotions and as such I have this persona of a very confident, calm and self-assured person. So much so that it is an injoke that I’m a robot. That had gone out of the window by time viva had come around! This robot was trying very hard not to malfunction! A few days before the Viva, I was out on a walk with my close friend Ro to clear my head pre-viva. “Wow, I’ve never seen this side to you before! Where is your confidence!?” truth of the matter is I never really have it I just think I have it!

We are the fellowship of the PhD

Vic came with me to the lunch with my supervisors and my examiners and Katie joined too with another welcome hug (and a fantastic Viva present, a llama lamp!). My mind was still spinning. The journey was over although I knew I still had corrections to do but I was confident in getting them done in a quick turnaround. After an hour or so, I thanked my examiners once again and my supervisors and was given what I was told is a tradition for passing a viva. A giant bottle of Champagne from Fran!

20190424_155423

Post Viva smiles!

I walked back with Vic and Katie to the office, just like so many times before. And that’s where it all feels like a double-edged sword for me, a victory and a loss at the same time. I’ve come and did my duty, I’ve fought my fight and I’ve won, I’ve finished, I’ve survived. Yet, I feel guilty that I’m not back in the fight with them anymore, I feel guilty that I won’t be in the office anymore, I feel guilty that I’m on the other side while they’re preparing to go through it all. They’re not colleagues, they’re not even friends or close friends, they’re more than that, so much more than that to me. They truly are a family to me, there are no other people I would have wanted to share this journey with, to stand shoulder to shoulder within this PhD war. In a war where everything does its best to not make you succeed, in a war which makes you doubt your abilities and in a war which takes you to some incredible lows, they’ve been there, a beacon of friendship, advice, solitude, a light in the dark. H105 and its occupants had become a sanctuary in the chaos. A bond that was forged in adversity would never be broken. We’ve faced it all together. I am forever indebted to them for everything, to them, to Laura, to Rosie and the rest of the PGR community. No words can ever express just how much they have meant to me on this journey. We’ve had highs and lows, we’ve laughed in the sun and we’ve wiped tears away in the rain. We’ve travelled to conferences together and had European adventures. We’ve been rocked by life and we’ve each been a shoulder to cry on. We’ve dropped everything to race to be there when tragedy has struck. We’ve celebrated the little and the big wins as if they were our own. I had to fight back a little tear as I read in my card “we are the fellowship of the PhD”. They mean everything to me.

 

FB_IMG_1558734827999FB_IMG_1558734926377FB_IMG_1558734977600FB_IMG_1558734988757FB_IMG_1558735009867FB_IMG_1558735041213IMG_20170805_190000IMG_20170716_162718

It really does pain me that I’m not going to be on the frontlines with them anymore, but I can offer something I couldn’t before. As the first to go through this process, I feel like I can be that lighthouse in the stormy seas. I have survived and I know they will survive too, I’m going to make sure that they do. Whether it’s the PhD or the Mphil. My family, my H105, forever stronger together. We can beat anyone and anything! The PhD and life here have thrown so much stuff our way, but we continue to defy the odds and come through it all. I cannot wait to be there when we’re all safe, when we’ve all survived, when we’ve all graduated. When we can all sit back whether we’re in academia or not, PhD or Mphil, and raise our glasses, to the best group of people I have ever known, I raise my glass to H105, the true meaning of the fellowship of the PhD.

FB_IMG_1558734397175

H105, the greatest office of them all

 

Some thoughts about the PhD journey as i near the final battle.

So I started writing a blog about my journey on the PhD, and I’ve had to take a step away from it because I realise it’s really hard, to sum up, the vast array of experiences that I’ve had in the just under 3 years on the PhD! So while I got lost in a very long-winded analogy of ships which will become far more clear in this blog, for now, I thought why not break it down into some of my ramblings, bare with me!

It’s a battle and a journey, hell you’re at war!

PhDs are fundamentally, I believe most would agree, is a journey. It’s a journey of knowledge, research and often a journey of self-discovery. The word ‘Journey’ conjures up a lot of thoughts and feelings, when I ever see Journey or someone describing that they’re ‘off on a Journey’ my mind wanders between the 80’s power Ballard group and some exciting far-flung adventure. In actual fact, a PhD is a war, a series of many battles. PhDs are a battle. You’re battling others, you’re battling a system, you’re battling approval from experts at the end of the day, but above all else, you’re battling yourself.

I often think of the PhD journey like a ship in World War II trying to get back to England across the North Atlantic. You have to somehow cross the Atlantic to home base while avoiding a crossing fraught with a line of research U-Boats, Heavy Cruiser politics, Frigate sized inefficiencies and Mine strewn sabotage.

The biggest threat amongst many is quite simply, yourself as a PhD student. No matter how many words I could write or how many times I could tell you what a PhD is like unless you live and breathe it, you’ll never understand. Friends and family always ask how the PhD is going, and I got my soundbite down to a few sentences. Enough to answer without much detail but enough to keep engaged because if you were to tell them of something great that’s happened like a small thing of finding a P value less than 0.05 or the horror of a rejected RD9R form, they’d switch off. It’s not their fault, it’s just a very different and complex world we have to live in. That avenue and soundboard of advice and a way to clear my head was now lost. It doesn’t help when friends and family joke and with good intentions that “you don’t have a real job!”… “When are you going to finish school?”… “Pfft, you just sit around in an office all day doing nothing”. I laugh, I agree, the topic changes, I move on. Banter. They don’t understand that it is a job, an actual job that I have. I have the equivalent of a £23k job, I get paid tax-free just under £1300 a month,  work different hours to a 9-5 but equally as long if not longer sometimes, 1 a.m., 4.am, maybe a weekend.

I sit around in my office all day completing cutting edge research that could one day change the face of geoscience fieldwork teaching, ambitious, of course, but the potential is there. PhDs literally is the accumulation of someone pushing the boundaries and is the creation of creating new knowledge. See, the thing that people don’t understand is the PhD you’re right, is not a job in the traditional sense because no job does it actually become a way of life. No job from day one puts you under so much pressure to succeed yet every minute someone is trying to make you fail, no other job has the rule of one mistake and you’re out and no other job after three years of hard work cumulates in a meeting with an expert to decide whether you get to earn your job title or you leave with nothing. No other job has that setup.

Because of this and the lack of understanding, friends and family only ever see the successes, the awards, the conferences in exotic places (of which I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to go and present in 3 different countries) or the paper published or finally at the end, that giant book of paper that is your written thesis. They only ever see, much like an iceberg those things, so it’s unsurprising that people have this view of PhD life as easy, sitting in an office or going to different countries to talk about your stuff. What in fact you don’t see, is the tears of frustration when your research doesn’t work (which is often. I haven’t failed I’ve just found 150 ways not to make a Polygonal 3D SfM model of a field site), you don’t see my outward projection of overconfidence cracking when you get yet another research paper saying you’re not good enough which only fuels your ever-present battle with imposter syndrome. You don’t see that I’ve just nearly threw up in the toilets a minute before my presentation due to nerves, despite my love of public speaking and my confident projection and lack of shaking hands. What you don’t see is behind the smile in that social situation I’m thinking about what needs to be done next or what I should be doing, hiding the feeling of guilt for ‘not working’ despite the already 60 hour week I’ve done in secret because you don’t see the thought at 1 a.m. in the morning that spurs me on to open the laptop up and work in the wee hours of the night.

I say this as one of the good ones who have or at least had bar occasions and certainly the last few months of the PhD in the write-up phase, a pretty healthy work-life balance. I refused to work Fridays or weekends but worked incredibly hard Monday to Thursday. Working majority 4 day weeks I managed to finish my thesis in 2.5 years. Yet, despite having a strict work-life balance, I still felt and feel all of those things above. Now add onto that, the complexities of life that you have to deal with as well, family, friends, and relationships, deaths of family members and pets and general life stuff. It’s crazy. So please, for the love of whatever Devine entity you worship, stop saying to PhD students “you do nothing” or “to get a real job” because…just don’t. Just give them a hug and a coffee. Trust me when I say that even the ‘strong ones’ are struggling at times! PhDs are hard enough without having to deal with your shit banter.

Supervisors make or break a PhD

Now it’s hard enough surviving all those enemy ships and yourself that I mentioned before on your research crossing the Atlantic, let alone having your escort team have an incident of friendly fire or conveniently have a radio issue when you call for back up and assistance and then reply and turn up once the damage has already been done. If this was world war two crossing the Atlantic, my tiny ship in my escort has been flanked by my supervisors who have equally played a part in my survivability thus far. A veteran Heavy Cruiser and a newer built guided destroyer. They have been exceptional in absolutely everything. Giving me heads up on threats ahead, actively trying to mitigate them before they got to me or helping me to dodge those attacks and helped me plan my way forward across the choppy seas. I’ve been lucky.

Supervisors have been said, and I can only add to this, that supervisors really do make or break a student’s PhD. Please don’t take this lightly. It’s fundamental, and it’s a real issue. I 100% believe there is no more prominent part of a PhD student’s likelihood of surviving a PhD than what supervisor they have. There is a reason that on average only half of all those who take on a PhD survive until the end, in some faculties the attrition rate is only 1 in 5 stick it out and survive. You could be the GOAT of Grad School but you ain’t getting shit if you don’t have a good supervisor team. I’m not dramatic here, I’ve seen with my own eyes that at best, some supervisors are inconvenienced by their duty to mentor PhD students, because not like it’s their job or anything right? They see such an inconvenience as a way to increase their tally so that they can be promoted. Or, metaphorically speaking here rather than literal but I’ve seen supervisors literally tie their students up and place a gun in their hand. They either shoot you, get the system to shoot you or you get so marginalised and worn down that you use the gun on yourself. Let me shout this louder for the people at the back, if you’re a supervisor put aside your scramble to the top, set aside treating your students like stepping stones or cheap manual labour and instead treat them as valuable assets, and you know, actually, develop them. Crazy radical thought I know. Just remember you were here once.

I used to think such horror stories were the minority, yet coming up to three years and having interacted with hundreds of PhD students now, in person, at conferences or on social media, my supervisors were the exception, the minority. My supervisors have been beyond exceptional. I cannot express into words how lucky I feel to have had a team like I have had. I’ve always been fortunate to somehow luck out with mentors in my life. Of course, part of that is in how I interact with those mentors over the years and what words of wisdom and tricks and tips I’ve taken from one into the other. I’ve had experience of how it should be done and witnessed plenty of ways for how it shouldn’t be done. If I ever did become a supervisor, I’d make sure to emulate my great mentors of the past and present. What has been a real eye-opener is besides the small pocket of truly exceptional people and that is often faculty and discipline-specific who are very much for the student, i.e. my old department, geography in general, SaP folk and pretty much other PGRs and staff in Education, everyone else wouldn’t give two seconds about climbing over you to get to the top. The real eye-opener in grad school is actually while I thought it would be the students to be like this (maybe in other grad schools this may be the case, again maybe I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by incredibly supportive PGR culture, woo go EHC!) it’s actually the majority of staff who do some truly eye-opening things to get ahead. Sometimes I look at them and I actually feel sorry for them. A. because they’re like that. B. That the system and culture of modern-day Higher Education have made them like that and C. That those who don’t actively be dickheads and instead are decent, supportive, encouraging and want to get somewhere on their own merit, get left behind. All I can say is I shake my head in pity and shame of what the UK higher education culture has become. All I can say is, thank god for those exceptions, although becoming increasingly rare. There is no surprise why many PhD students like me are turning our backs on academia to head into industry. UK H.E has many fundamental flaws that are a blog in its own right which I won’t go into here but to name a few; Student’s as consumers, REF pressure, chronic underfunding except the elite and most depressingly a culture that rewards and glamorises overwork, competition and ill health to get ahead.

You can’t do it alone

If anyone says they’ve done a PhD, and it’s all down to them, well they’re an arse and they’re lying. You cannot survive a PhD on your own. There is too much pressure, too many challenges and obstacles for even the savviest or strong-willed person to overcome. I like to think that I’m a very self-sufficient guy and I want to believe that most of the time I know what I’m doing, yet even me who can be an emotional, rational, logical robot at times, I deeply value having people around me. In recent years there is no surprise that my most happiest times were the 2nd year of Uni, RA team and 2nd year of the PhD. What they all have in common is a supportive, close-knit group of people around me, who all have their strengths to bring to the team and for all who I rely on and confide in.

Something I learnt very early on in my days in the RAF cadets, especially in -5c at night on an SAS training camp, is adversity and a challenge brings the best out of people and brings people together, all they need is an element of common ground to enable a seed to grow. Before I ever ventured out onto the PhD, I had read countless articles about how lonely PhDs are. To tell you the truth, I was deeply concerned by this before I started. For the first month, my worst fears came true on the PhD. I would leave the house, talk to the guys at the ticket office for my train, and I wouldn’t open my mouth again until I got home. There was just a lack of PhD students in the faculty. I was in a giant hot-desking office that was decidedly cold and empty. Some of the 2nd and final year students would pop in once in a blue moon, exchange pleasantries and then leave after an hour or so, never enough to ever feel at home.

That all changed when my cohort started a month after I started. Our super group I imagine may well have formed anyway at some point, but our origin story fills me with smiles looking back. If it wasn’t for Laura venturing in to say hello that morning and following mornings and building that rapport with each other who knows where a. our friendship would have been, would we have been friends at all? And b. would the group have formed around us at the start, who knows? For me, that getting to know Vic, Rosie, Laura and later Katie and building that team was vital for me and it’s down to them and others too like Cara, Hannah, Sha and Rozie and the other PGRs which made the journey what it was.

Without being too emotional here as I have a reputation to keep! But the core H105 group went very quickly from being colleagues to friends, to best friends to ultimately, a family and a massive part of what I am right now. The PhD has been challenging, it has been a journey of research but also self-discovery. I’ve felt like I’ve developed more as a person in these two and bit years than I have in my previous 26 years and that honestly is saying something considering I thought I changed a lot in undergrad, masters and RA work. Yet, these hard, tiring, stressful few years have been offset by laughter, encouragement, guidance, and learning and above all, unconditional love and support from them. I don’t like to admit it, but I deeply value people like that in my life, and I’m at my happiest when I have that team around me. It actually kills me to admit it to myself but for the first time in a very, very long while have I felt outside of my own family at least, that I have a family and that I rely on them. That’s a very hard thing for me to realise that for once, I admit that I rely upon and that I need that PhD family. Without them, this PhD would have been far different.

As our group has at least in a physical setting changed with people moving away or getting jobs, it hit me hard this summer sitting alone in the office of just how significant an impact a group of people can have on you.

A PhD is not just another degree, a PhD is not just having the privilege of calling yourself a Doctor or the creation of new knowledge. The PhD is a life-changing and affirming process, which is emotionally and intellectually the hardest thing I have ever done.

While I still have the viva to go and I’m still a long way off from being Dr Cliffe, what scares me most about the next step in my life is not where what or how life will be post PhD, which has been something I’ve lived and breathed for nearly three years. While the terror of the unknown does indeed worry me, what upsets me the most is that that next chapter will be without seeing my H105 family every day.

I have one final PhD battle to go. For this one I must do it alone, to enter the battle field and come out as a Doctor or not at all. I await, the Battle of the Viva!

A look back on 2018 part 2

July

Starting July with a 50-mile cycle around Lake Geneva in my books is one hell of a way to start a month off!

A fantastic few days away this was. I look back fondly on my trip to Croatia and the trip to Switzerland, perfect days with not a care in the world with the best company. Sadly for a long time that would be the last time I’d see Laura as she headed off to new pastures down south and its when the year started to get a bit crap without my sidekick with me!

But despite the turn for the worse from July onwards, this caption sums life up well.

I brought a new phone in July after dropping mine while trying to take a selfie on the bike in Geneva, oops! The Samsung S9+ is, however, the best phone I’ve owned to date!

View this post on Instagram

Selfie mode on the S9 plus is awesome!

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

I was home for only a few days before I was off on my travels again. This time I was heading to deep South Wales after I was invited by the British Ecological Society to run a workshop on Drone with their A-level course down in Port Talbot. What a totally rewarding and fantastic few days away that was, it was hot and hard work but the kids were lovely, and it really felt like I had made a difference to these kids.

View this post on Instagram

Moth traps set for tonight

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

2 days later I was back on my travels south again, this time for pleasure as we headed off to the Royal International Air Tattoo. The biggest airshow in the world and we just so happened to have front row seats!

View this post on Instagram

Front row flightline seats! Let's goooo!

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

View this post on Instagram

F35 is a bit loud!

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

I still snigger at this. Lolz.

I also finally got around to putting some pictures up in my room of my travels.

August

While the UK baked in one of the hottest summers on record, with the office empty of people as they were either on a break, in new jobs or were travelling, I was working flat out on the PhD alone. This summer was one long montage of movie themes and hard work.

In between all the hard work was the brutal extraction and complicated extraction at that of my wisdom tooth. I’d been putting up with the pain since April and finally got it sorted but holy fuck it was one of the worst pains having that out that I’ve ever had and that’s coming from someone who’s had multiple operations and 8 leg breaks!

A summer of editing and writing

Amazing what painkillers and determination will get you.

This picture summed up 2018 at times, just when everything is going well you fall down haha.

While the PhD was the focus of my last summer as a PhD student, it didn’t stop me taking some time out with my Ginger Zinger to go hiking. I’d wanted to head up to Mau Famau for ages and when Ro called up and wanted to go on an adventure, i knew the place to go!

And I’m always happiest outdoors up a mountain! Where the geographer belongs.

September

After a month of solid writing and spending my downtime hiking or cycling I was as fit as I’d ever felt.

Which just left more room for many many BBQs on what was fabulous weather for once!

View this post on Instagram

Mmmmmmm BBQ!

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

And plenty of time catching up with the best people!

View this post on Instagram

Sunday impromptu walks! 😁

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

Another day, another conference. This time I headed up to Leeds to present at the Enhancing Fieldwork Learning conference. One of the best conferences I’ve been to and I loved presenting my work there.

View this post on Instagram

Light pollution over Leeds at night.

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

Finally, a few days off came. Happy times!

View this post on Instagram

Woo not in work for over a week! 😁

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

But the days off don’t last long and once again I was on another train heading north, this time to Newcastle for the BERA conference. The biggest conference I could present at as an Education, PhD student. I was nervous but excited!

While my presentation went well, the conference itself was a bit crap! Too most elite for my liking but thank god my friend and office buddy Vic was presenting too at the conference! She made that conference for me 😀

As a life long Newcastle United fan, after being a Mascot for them as a kid, I finally managed to visit my favourite club!

View this post on Instagram

I finally visited my favourite club!

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

And Vic holds the record for being the only person to get me out to drink in a town centre at 1 a.m. Many have tried but failed!

Back home it was time to relax by going to see the Royal Tattoo but this time in Liverpool. We’ve done the official one on Edinburgh before, but as a treat to my Dad we had a great father-son evening, drinking whiskey, eating steak in Millers & Carter and watching a fabulous show.

October

October started off pretty well I’d say!

After a hell of a lot of work over the summer burring myself, my first draft of my PhD was finished. This was quite emotional to get to this point. The PhD was nowhere near finished but its a major point in the life of a PhD student, the end which was once so far away was finally starting to come into view. It was time to enjoy the moment before months of editing and rewriting was to come.

View this post on Instagram

One phd draft equals half a forest

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

While the family were on holiday abroad, I spent the many nights on my own stargazing in the back garden and rewarded with capturing a meteor!

For those of you who follow my Instagram stories will all recall this night well haha

October brought death in the family that hit me the hardest this year. Great Uncle Peter I absolutely idolised. I was and still am to know he’s no longer with us. When the family asked me to say a few words at his funeral, I wanted to, but I was aware of how much responsibility that was, to sum up, someone’s life who meant so much to you. Weirdly, that’s my proudest moment of 2018. Delivering that Eulogy which was my trademark sincere but full of humour style, what he would have wanted, getting a lot of laughs at a funeral is something not everyone does every day that’s for sure. Seeing the family proud and that I summed him up to a T really helped me and I’m glad I could do him proud one last time. I miss you, Pete.

I didn’t have too much time to process the funeral as I was straight on a flight to Norway for my final international conference as a PhD student.

View this post on Instagram

It's a bit cold here.

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

Bergen was a truly fantastic place to visit for the ISSOTL conference a bit of time for solo travelling.

One of my favourite memories of this year was sitting in this coffee shop, with my cold hands wrapped around the cup, watching the people of Bergen pass the windows as coffee house music floated around me. It was the best coffee shop I’ve ever gone into. I had just stepped off a 3-hour Norwegian Fjord cruise, despite being layered up I was frozen to the bone. I spent 2 hours warming up, chatting to the locals and going through the hundreds of pictures of what was an amazing few hours in the Fjords.

View this post on Instagram

Coffee views!

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

And the Fjord, wow. They were stunning.

View this post on Instagram

😍

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

Bergen is surrounded by mountains, and every night I was there I took the lone hike through the forest up the mountain for a nighttime hike. I was rewarded with stunning clear skies and amazing stars.

Bergen is just as stunning at night as it is in the day.

That was it, my last two presentations as a PhD student was officially over. I’d presented in different countries and at two major international conferences. Hundreds of miles away from home at the top of a mountain I reflected on the journey on a such a cold but clear night. The following is one of my favourite pictures of 2018. Where the adventure will lead next, I have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.

You’d be mad after a week of hiking and travelling to come home and go straight back out hiking, but that’s exactly what I did!

View this post on Instagram

Frozen in the rain but worth it!

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

October started with a £100 win, and it ended with one too, boom!

And the Pumpkin of the year…

November

Autumn had arrived, I hate Autumn, and I hate winter, but I love it for the colours and photography.

View this post on Instagram

#autumn🍁

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

Remembrance Sunday help a poignant and special meaning this year.

As with the lows in life, there are often the highs too. I was on my travel again to the Midlands to see my best friend from Uni, Han get married to Dan. A couple I had shipped for so long and was so happy to see get married! And what a wedding!! It was amazing, and it was great to catch up with the old housemates, and they’re witness to a very rare thing, me dancing!!

This sums up editing a PhD thesis.

Again, when you’re about to give up its often the moment that you make a breakthrough to carry on. I got my first ever academic citation from my paper I wrote last year! Aaaaaaaahhh!!!

December

What better way to start December than having our yearly jaunt around Liverpool Christmas market with Ro!

View this post on Instagram

Yearly christmas market selfie! 🎅

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

The next day I took Em out for her Birthday meal in Millers & Carters. Can you get a better present than steak?

Of course, Meryseyrail where still being Merseryrail so I had no choice but to drink coffee and go Christmas shopping.

We finally got a new kitchen!

View this post on Instagram

Our new kitchen is done!

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

Which meant our Xmas celebrations were way off kilter and at the last minute we managed to get out tree up. Phew.

View this post on Instagram

Tree is finally up! Merry Cliffemas!

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

But to me, the best gift for Christmas was being reunited with this one for a little while before she headed back off for new adventures and more hard work!

Who knows what 2019 will bring? For me, I should finish my PhD and become Dr Cliffe. I plan on going travelling to new countries, continue to photograph everything in sight, value and cherish the moments I have with those that I love and hold dear whether they’re near or far. I don’t know what job I’ll have or where I’ll end up or what 2019 will be like. This year can be topped, but as I look back, there has been a lot of highs and some crushing lows. The hardest thing for me in the second half of the year was adjusting to work-life alone again. Laura heading off, Katie and Rosie moving to different countries and Vic travelling over summer meant a lonely summer slaving away on the PhD. I realised how much I’d come to rely on their company and humour each day. They made 2017 for me, and the adventures we’d shared in the first half of 2018 meant everything. 2019, I head out alone again on this road, but while they’re not here next to me, they come on this journey in my heart, and whatever we do in 2019, I’m sure it will be worth it, we’ll get there!

So no matter what your goals are or your aspirations for 2019, remember with the right attitude and hard work you can achieve it. I wish you, my followers and readers, a 2019 that is better than 2018 and I hope its a fantastic year for you. As always, you’ll see my 2019 on here, the good and bad. Who’s ready for another year of adventure hey?

Until next year,

Toe

X

Look back on 2017 via Instagram: Part Two July to December

Okay so we finished the last post at the end of June, let’s dive in and see what other gems i can find for the back end of 2017!

Let’s start off with a little fun shall we? Laura was one of the first people i met while doing a PhD and since then i like to think we’ve grown pretty close as friends and by time July came i thought we knew each other well enough for me to do this and get away with it!

In July after four years of having the same glasses it was finally time for some new ones! Glasses if you wear them all of the time become a part of you. I loved my old glasses but it was time for a subtle change and improvement and i’m glad i did! I now love my glasses!

I was honoured to be a Best Man for my Brother from another mother Luke and even more so to be the Master of Ceremony at his Wedding! It meant a lot and such a thoughtful gift to receive from him on the eve of the wedding! Plenty of whiskey will be drank from this i can assure you!

Wedding day finally arrived and it was a wonderful day and everything worked out great! Luke and Amy deffo win my couple of 2017 award! They also win the wedding of 2017 award too but i only went to theirs in 2017 but even if i went to others i’m sure they would have won too. Stunning venue, great organisation and just a lovely day and night filled with love and laughter!

View this post on Instagram

Last night 😂

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

Wedding night with the family though…oh that crazy wonderful family of mine! I like this picture because it sums up how bonkers we really are!

View this post on Instagram

50 shades of pug 🤣

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

This picture was taken the day after the wedding and is still probably one of my favourite days of 2017. It was one of those perfect days full of laughter! I love these two and there was nothing but laughing and goofing around in the sun. We were the three that were most often in the office together and a little trio formed, we’re all very different and we each have our quirks but one thing we have in common is having a laugh. It was one of those days were if you had the ability to replay it, if you were ever feeling down you’d whack that episode on and watch it time and time again and you’d cry with laughter. That weekend was such a good weekend with nothing but love, laughter and memories. I can still hear the sound of the pug now :D. I had bigged Formby Pinewoods up to these two and it didn’t disappoint!

View this post on Instagram

"Act naturally you two!" So we did. 😂

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

If a picture summed up our friendship i think it would be this one!

View this post on Instagram

Romantic meal with Quayle. 😉

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

After using my excellent fashion skills and hours of shopping with Laura and after trying to find a place to eat i stumbled upon an old Italian restaurant i used to go to. A nice romantic meal for the most coupley non couple of 2017 ;)!

After weeks of literally hitting my head against the desk to get my models to work i did something (i still haven’t figured out what i did!) and it worked and it was a wahoo finally moment! Sometimes you just have to take the credit even if you have no idea what you did. I was happy as this formed a huge part of the PhD and was a breakthrough for me! Plus they cool right?

Another of my favourite images of 2017! Another day full of laughing! Despite our paint war i think us PhD students did a cracking job of painting!

View this post on Instagram

#PhDfamily

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

PhD family is always more than just the PhD! We weren’t painting any old room it was for Vics wonderful new house! She has done an astounding job decorating her house, i mean it is seriously good! If the PhD ever falls through or you get sick of academia Vic then you most certainly have a career in interior design!!

View this post on Instagram

#Nnnnneeeerrrrfff

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

The moment Katie became an official honorary Scouser by getting a selfie with an actual scouser and the Iron Men! That was a fun day out and quite possibly the biggest steak i’ve ever had! I’m sure it was half of an actual cow.

In August we ended up in Prague for a brilliant five day trip! This picture was taken on arrival for our adventure despite the delay! That was a really good trip that had many funny moments in as always with these two. Prague itself was a stunning city and one i’d love to go back to one day!

View this post on Instagram

Coolest selfie yet 😂😂

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

Still by far the coolest selfie i’ve ever been in!

If you wanted to know the dynamics of this group here is a taster…they both just gang up on me and bully me but i wouldn’t have it any other way 😛

In September it was great to present at the EFL conference and having a catch up with my old boss! Never did i think 7 years ago when we first met that we’d become friends and eventually become office buddies together! Dr The Most Scouse Plastic Scouser there is 😉

I just love this picture! The sunrise manages to light up the rainstorm giving a whole new meaning to there is always a silverlining. Special moment and great to capture it on camera. Walking through the park on my way to work is always a pleasure for moments like this. Nature is beautiful, you just have to keep your eyes open for it so that you don’t miss it!

At the end of September my Operations Manual was approved and my licence became official! 2017 achievement award!

At the end of September i started that epic solo adventure. My first stop Iceland was breathtaking and i so long to go back there!

It felt so good to be back in Canada especially for their 150th birthday! Naaaw i always forget how young Canada is compared to its big brother the UK! This was my first day in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Later that day i would travel to Peggy’s cove the most photographed Lighthouse in the world!

View this post on Instagram

Trying some local food, moose stew! 😊

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

After travelling on the plane for 2hrs 30 up to the frozen North East of Canada to St John’s i settled down in a cosy pub to escape the -5c wind chill to try some local food. Moose stew was pretty decent and i just loved the pastry!

The next day i travelled to the most Easterly point of North America! Pretty special to say i’ve stepped foot on the most Easterly piece of North America. Amazingly rugged place and today was the day that i would fall in love with St. John’s and Newfoundland.

I had an amazing time solo travelling so far and nothing i love more than hiking up a mountain alone thousands of mile from home! I loved this place and the caption sums up my feelings perfectly as the sun set!

Even if that solo hike was fucking scary at times!!

Charlotte town completely stole my heart of this trip. There is not a day i don’t wish i was back on this wonderful Island of Prince Edward Island. It was just amazing from start to finish!

View this post on Instagram

😍

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

The 2017 most amazing sunset award goes to my first night on Prince Edward Island!

What happens on travels stays on travels hey?  Hahah.

My most serine moment of 2017 has to be my last night on Prince Edward Island listening to the most beautiful music with another stunning sunset with the birds flying home to roost. God i miss that place!

View this post on Instagram

The awesome Canadian Cliffe's! 😚

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

It was great to end my trip with my first Canadian thanksgiving and again what amazing hospitality they gave me! As the caption states oceans between us but the bond is as strong as ever! As much as i miss Prince Edward Island i miss these guys so much more, family is family no matter where we are in the world!

View this post on Instagram

Business class upgrade 👌

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

One last gift from this trip was a lovely upgrade to Business class home! Sometimes i am just lucky!!

View this post on Instagram

Great evening at the fireworks! 💥🔥

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

November it was back home and back to work but it was great to watch an amazing free firework show on Liverpool’s waterfront with these guys!

One of my fav pictures of me and Em taken on a very cold November beach! We did however see many squirrels for the first time in like forever have i ever seen that many squirrels in the woods! It was almost as if they were following me…

That moment that you both turn up to work wearing pretty much the same thing! I still don’t know if that is a good thing or not!? #Twinning

Maybe the Squirrels were following me? The award for WTF!? moment of 2017 goes to this little buddy climbing up my leg in Chester!

View this post on Instagram

Great yearly catch up with Han and Dan!

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

Always a pleasure catching up with Han and Dan and even better in Chester where it all began 7 years ago when me and Han struck up a conversation about Muse because i had a Muse T-shirt on in the first few days of undergrad then the rest is as they say, history!

My luck continued into December where Em had got free tickets for Kasabian and invited me along. Not only did i get a free ticket, i got upgraded on said free ticket and we both got closer to the stage! Awwww yeah! Cracking gig and my first in 7 years!!

It wouldn’t be a review blog if i didn’t mention my favourite ginger! An interesting year for the both of us its safe to say but as always and as per the last few years i know that we will always try to get each other through the madness that is life! We get one selfie every year and i quite like 2017! At least this time we’re not being photobombed by 2016’s giant LED reindeer!

View this post on Instagram

Happy Christmas from the PhD office!

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

But 2017 has been dominated by the PhD and these guys as i spent nearly all of my time with them and in the office so its only fitting to leave 2017 with this image of this crazy lot! I hope 2018 is full of adventure and fun and i look forward to more fun and pictures. Have a great New Year everyone!!

Look back on my year via Instagram: Part one January to June

 

As 2017 is coming to a close i thought i’d take a step back from writing my travel blogs and dive into my Instagram to find some of my favourite shots of 2017 that i’ve taken. Each picture i’ll explain why i like it so much, it may be the story behind it or the subject to just the colours and setting. I’m writing this as i go though my Instagram in chronological order so i have no idea what i will find! What i do know is i suspect plenty of landscapes and friend selfies that’s for sure! This first blog is January to June So here we go…

Ah yeah what a nice start to the year it was in the world of the PhD office! We all hit rough patches while doing a PhD and mine was definitely between the months of January and May. This post in particular was a culmination of nothing but crap for like three weeks and on that Monday morning i had an email which just topped the lot! But sweets made everything better :D. I like this picture because it sums up those who i share this journey with, they always pick you up when the PhD knocks you down.

It was nice to have my first trip of the year to see the Irish family and on the way back on a particularly cold February morning the frozen Welsh mountains gave a lovely sight on the flight home! I never get tire of taking pictures of landscapes from the air.

View this post on Instagram

His and hers 😂 #cycling #roadcycling

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

I gained a new cycling partner in Laura in 2017, i just think the size difference and looks in our bikes is just cute and therefore worthy of a mention! It is super cute tho.

This was an odd day, sitting in front of TV cameras giving a speech about your PhD research! Was really cool to do and kind of felt like i was on the news!

A video this time! Storm Doris hit Merseyside with 90 mph winds…of course me and Rosie thought it would be a good idea to leave the relative safe confines of the office to walk in it! At least now i have proof that i’ve walked in nearly hurricane winds!

Had such a good time with Em in March for our little trip away. We did indeed feel like a King and Queen looking out onto the sprawl of Amsterdam at midnight. It was a great trip with a long and well loved friend and sometimes you get those perfect nights. It was a pretty cool view that’s for sure! What i love most about this photograph though is a definition of our friendship, no matter what we’re always at each other side.

This picture and the caption makes me laugh as it pretty much sums up our expressions 90% of the time that we’ve hung out for 12 years! 😀

Not long after i arrived back from Amsterdam did i go ahead and book the 2 week solo adventure to Iceland and Canada for September and October! Here it was jotted down in my notebook. I like this picture because having done this trip its crazy to see it written down at the time of booking on one piece of paper. A few months later that page would travel thousands of miles with me!

View this post on Instagram

Packing the bike up for Ireland

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

In April it was time to grab the passport out again and head to Ireland for a few days cycling! This was to be the first time i’d ever taken my bike outside of the UK and my travel bag worked a treat!

View this post on Instagram

First time faster than a plane!

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

This was pretty cool cycling away from Dublin on stage one of the tour of Ireland! That turned out to be the easiest ride of them all and that route is something i’ve wanted to do for ages!

By far one of my favourite personal moments of 2017 captured in this photograph. Of all of the years i’ve been cycling and been travelling to Ireland i’ve always wanted to cycle up the Iconic Howth Head climb. I finally got the chance and not only did i get up without stopping, i smashed it with 2nd quickest of the day! This moment proved to me that all hard work on the bike over the winter paid off, it showed that mind over matter always works and that sometimes goals are only achievable if you work for them. Despite the 30mph winds and brutal 16% incline i was chuffed and still am!

Sticking with the cycling theme, this is one of my favourite shots of my bike. This was at around 7 a.m on a spring morning training ride and the sun was just perfect. As a photographer i couldn’t just pass this bridge without taking a picture!

View this post on Instagram

Gulp. First assessment day.

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

Still get sweaty palms just looking at this picture! After months of revision and online modules it was the first day of three days of Civil Aviation Authority RPAS Pilots licencing exams. Still one of the hardest things i have ever done and certainly the most pressured thing. If i didn’t pass these exams i would have no PhD…So no pressure at all.

3 days later and right after a touch and go practical exam i became the UK’s newest qualified RPAS pilot. A dream and a goal i’ve had since i was 5 years old was to have a pilots licence and i finally achieved that. What better way to celebrate than a pint before my three hour train ride home. Deffo 2017’s “You finally did it!” moments. That never tasted so good!

By time May came around i was having another of my Birthday’s outside of the country! This time i spent it in Berlin in a bar full of monkey’s while being beat at Darts by Wolfgang and his bitches. Quite a surreal way to spend your 25th birthday if i’m honest!

View this post on Instagram

Brandenburg gate! #travels #Berlin

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

Berlin was a lovely city and i recommend you visit it at least once! Luke’s stag do was a brilliant few days away in Germany, with cars, bratwursts and a football game!

View this post on Instagram

My RPAS pilot wings came today! 🛩

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

My RPAS Pilots wings came and within that small metal pin badge is a lifetime of trying and goals achieved. Means a lot to me that does getting that and i wear it with pride while flying.

PhD life summed up in one picture…Coffee and Computers. PhD at this point was heavy going with having to create from scratch a 20,000 word Operations Manual for my UAV. It was one of the longest and most frusrating things i’ve ever had the displeasure of doing but as with all PhD’s there are hurdles like this that you have to plough on with and win. I got there in the end…

View this post on Instagram

Cya work hello three day weekend.

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

Following on from that Operations Manual it reached a point by June where i ran out of fucks to give with the PhD and everything in between. Logging out for the weekend like…

Probably 2017’s most random thing award has to go to the man who was standing in a field playing the bagpipes. I mean as you do right?

It still amazes me the rollercoaster of emotions you get on a PhD. Only 9 days before this post i was at the point of no fucks having been worn down by writing the ops manual and i was in need of a win. It came with the news that a paper i submitted in March had been accepted for publication! My first ever journal article! Another goal achieved this year and i was very proud to have got my first one under my belt. 😀

This things you do for your bro…i get a call asking if i’m free. I didn’t expect it to end up lugging a 60kg log through the woods for his back garden! In his defence it’s now a lovely plant holder in his garden and i’m proud that i didn’t die doing log PT for a mile!

View this post on Instagram

Hiking!

A post shared by Dr Anthony Cliffe (@ac2348) on

June i was off to the Isle of Man for the British National Road Race Championships. It was my first time on the Island and what a beautiful part of the world it is! I greatly enjoyed my time on the island and especially Snaefell!

What a great way to cap off the first half of the year surrounded by beautiful Isle of Man scenery!

Part Two July to December coming up next!

Travels, a monkey gif and an achievement unlocked.

Hey guys,

How are you all doing? Thought I’d check in with you readers and update you on life. Long-time no blog but I feel like I open all of my blogs that way lately! I am working on trying to get more regular blogs out. I am planning however to do a special edition dedication blog soon which I’m excited about. Every so often I do one of those special edition blogs and more often than not they tend to be some of my favourite pieces. The dedication special edition blogs have been dedicated from family to PhD friends and to individuals. The next one will be very fitting and worthy of one. So check back in a few weeks’ time for that one! In the meantime please do leave a comment or get in touch via social media if you have any topics you’d like to see me write about. Some of my old blogs have come about from suggestions from you guys so please, fire away.

So my last blog was about me fulfilling a lifelong dream and goal of finally getting a pilot’s licence Hard work gets you your dream… eventually. Granted it wasn’t the one I ever thought I would get but hey, beggars can’t be choosers right? So that was where I was basking in the glow of self-achievement and feeling the immense amount of stress and pressure flow out of me. That sense of achievement and elation quickly faded in all honesty as I’ve spent the past two weeks and probably the next two, writing an operations manual for my UAV operations. It’s as boring and as dry to write as it is eating plain Rivita. 88 pages of policy, specifications and procedures have been written so far. It’s as exciting as it sounds. Yet, I am grateful to be doing it in a way as it means I’m in a position to write one. Only qualified pilots get to so, so I shouldn’t complain too much. Plus, every time I pull on my RPAS pilots high Vis jacket, I look down at those silver RPAS pilots wings pinned to my chest and smile. A symbol of a great deal of hard work.

The week following that flight exam didn’t allow me much time to bask in said glory however. It was a busy week in work, the big graduate school conference was that week. As one friend put it to me on WhatsApp “Tony, do you ever stop?”. As a PhD student you’ll attend many conferences related to your field and some are more important than others. The graduate school one in University is one of the key conferences of the year. They’re paying you a lot of money to do your research so you do have to show up and show what you’ve done to keep everyone happy. Our PhD family is very well established but it’s nice to see what other PhD students are up to in the University. Usually at conferences I’d give a presentation but for this one was just a poster and I was pretty happy with my poster! I bent the rules a little, it wasn’t what should I say … academic. Yet, why stick to boring rules anyway?! I think with some modifications that poster could do well in future events.

20170503_085949

My poster

I didn’t win the top £300 prize but that’s no surprise. Unless you’re curing cancer or doing some hard science PhD you never get a look in. I’m certainly not saying that my poster would have been a worthy winner, it was probably too left field despite many positive comments from others that day. It’s just that social science, education type research or posters, never win. There is an ever present bias in research against such subjects and that won’t change any time soon.  Kudos to the winner and all but there are some great sport or social science research that goes on and they had some amazing posters to reflect that but alas, I’m not the judge so. The day wasn’t a complete waste, in fact it was one of the funniest days I’ve had in a long, long, time! Conferences like that can be dull at times and I always try to make them fun by saying a joke here or there. They’re just too much of an easy target for my sarcastic comments.  Little did I know a simple office monkey gif would have me and Katie laughing for hours like we were back in school. I’m sure you’ve all been there, serious situation you’re not meant to laugh, yet you cannot help it. I had my head almost between my knees while biting my tongue trying not to laugh.

giphy (4)

The gif that has so much meaning to it 😀

It was the final of the three minute thesis challenge but I spent the whole hour trying not to look Katie in the eye and trying to stop my head from exploding from holding my laughter in. In fact, I’m actually laughing as I type this! I haven’t laughed and had tears in my eyes from laughing for ages that day! Some friendships and relationships are defined by either pictures, a song or moments, I think that gif will be forever synonymous with our friendship. While having an important Skype meeting in the office for the journal I’m an editor for, she sent me the same Gif and again, trying to keep a straight face on a Skype call took every ounce of self-control! I hate you ha-ha!  I also walked through a chair and nearly fell up the stairs that day of the conference and had cake which made my tongue blue. Such a random but fun day.

After the conference, it was back off on my travels again for my birthday and a stag do. This time, Tony Travels took me to Berlin for my best friend, well actually he’s more my like the brother I never had, stag do. New country and new city ticked off the list. It was a great few days seeing the sites, an amazing car museum, watching a Bundesliga game in the Olympic stadium and playing darts in a bar full of monkeys…don’t ask.

20170505_212420

A random Berlin bar with monkeys…everywhere. 

Still not entirely over being hustled by the 70 year old Wolfgang and his groupies who just so happened to be Berlin champions. Little did we know. It was like the blitz all over again, we were battered by the Germans that night!

It was really cool to go to Berlin but they weren’t that accommodating to English folks. Especially not a group of lads. Would I visit Berlin again? Possibly but it’s not on the list for a while. I got to see most of the sights and it was amazing to see the Berlin wall etc. but I do feel there are better European cities that are out there that are friendlier. Very little war jokes either which was very un-Top Gear like. Although, I did have to laugh as we walked through a Berlin park at night with a group of 20 young German lads walking in front of us and one of us said “Help yourselves everybody, there’s no fighter escort!”. I appreciate 98% of you won’t get that famous quote from the Battle of Britain but I did. One thing I will say though however is how embarrassing Brits abroad are. That flight out to Berlin full of Stag and Hen do parties was a disgrace. Someone actually pissed themselves on the plane. Yes, we were on a stag do but the Groom doesn’t drink so we had a very cultural Stag do with museums and football games and sightseeing, not being pissed off our faces like those on the plane where going to be like. No wonder the Germans hate us! At least the flight back was nice and quiet and I’m still getting stick for being the only one with priority queue ticket and then us all being put on the same bus, thus rendering my priority ticket and absolute waste of money much to the amusement of the rest of the stag party. Hummppphhh.

It was fun to spend another birthday out of the country. Last year it was my final day in North West Canada that I spent my 24th birthday and this year my 25th was spent in the heart of Berlin. Not sure if I’m making this a habit but it is kinda’ cool trying to turn a year older in a new country each year. My goal this year was to go away every month in 2017. I failed that goal in January by not going away but have gone away every month since. It makes for one hell of a blog at the end of the year I’m sure! My trips have been:

  • Ireland in Feb by myself
  • Amsterdam with Emma in March
  • Then it was back to Ireland for a cycling holiday this time with Shaun in April
  • Berlin in May with Luke and the stag party
  • In June me and Shaun are off to the Isle of Man for the Road cycling national championships

As July approaches I have no plans sadly but maybe that’s a good thing for the planet and my bank balance. I’m sure my carbon footprint could do with a rest but I’m still potentially going around the country visiting old Uni friends in July. So the rest of my year’s plans look like this so far, with maybe a conference to throw in to that mix too!

  • August I’m off to Prague with the wonderful PhD ladies Laura and Katie
  • September off to Iceland for a solo adventure which bleeds into
  • A solo October adventure in Canada
  • and finally currently trying to plan a European trip somewhere with Karen in November followed by Amsterdam again but this time in December with Rochene! I’m really enjoying these travels and its great having so many different travel companions along the way! I feel a bit like the Doctor ha-ha.

I seriously advise if you can to try and get away for a few days a month. It works great for your productivity and you get to explore these places with awesome people! I am grateful that I can be in a position with the job I do, to be able to travel when I want to. I’m certainly trying to make the most of that freedom while I can!

The month has been after the exciting start, rather more mundane.  The PhD has plodded along with not a great deal to do other than tiny bits here and there. University is winding down for the summer and I’m spending more and more time outside burning in the sun at lunch which is nice! Our PhD family finally moved into our own new big office! So now it really does feel like a sitcom! Room 105.

Just yesterday I got news of another big achievement. I could get used to getting a new achievement unlocked every month! Two months ago I wrote a paper of the benefits and drawbacks to virtual field guides in geoscience in higher education. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my supervisors because I did it just as a little test. I submitted it fully expecting to be rejected. I mean, what PhD student who’s 8 months in writes a paper, let alone gets it published. So I was under no illusions that it would come back as a rejection which is why I submitted it. It has to be peer reviewed and when it’s rejected the reviewers will give me some constructive feedback which will help my writing style over all. So that’s why I submitted it. I was shocked to see it come back with major revisions but not a rejection. I was like oh wow…okay! The revisions weren’t actually that major. I spent about two weeks revising the paper and actually putting some effort into it! I sent the revisions off and found out yesterday that its going to be published in a very good educational Journal! I appreciate those not doing a PhD but that is massive news. It eclipses getting the pilot’s licence. Breaking that glass ceiling of getting your first published paper is huge. In this world, it’s publish or perish. It should keep the wolfs at bay for a year or so. It’s good to get a name for myself early on in my career and it’s great to see your hard work paying off. I’m aiming to get at least four published papers done before I come to do my viva. It’s very rare but not impossible to do. That’s one down in my first 8 months. That’s because your viva is there so that your Thesis and research is peer reviewed and in that hell 4 hours of a viva when the examiners ask you about your research and question why you’ve done this or that over the past three years its so that they can say yes, this person is an expert, their research is sound and has been checked by more than three academics. Now you can go forth and become a doctor. If you’ve got four papers published from your thesis before you enter your viva, you’re effectively immortal. Your work has already been peer reviewed because journal articles are peer reviewed by experts. So it’s almost impossible for them to fail you in your viva. Imagine it as in a game, each paper you publish is like collecting a token and when you get four you can use that as a cheat to help defeat the big boss at the final level. If you publish six then you don’t even have to do a viva! You get your doctorate via publication. Now that is rare and I’m not aiming for that because it hardly ever happens….seriously like ever.

In other events I’ve been house viewing with Katie the past few weeks and that’s been fun, it’s that anticipation of if the landlord is a murderer and has lulled us in with an advert just to kill unsuspecting victims. The first apartment I’m still so confused by, it was this big grand old hotel off Sefton Park, it had a vibe that it gave off the impression that people lived there but it felt like no one did or hadn’t for years. Very blink episode from Doctor Who. As an author that really got my creative juices flowing. Maybe I’ll write a short story next Halloween based on that place with its big gates and fallen trees in the driveway!

Of course we had the election take place and I won’t go into that in this blog because I feel my ranting would go on for days but I am so proud that my generation finally stood up and made a difference. Come on Jezza lad!

I also went to watch Wonder Woman with Vic the other day, I highly recommend that movie. In fact I’m going to actually state that it is the best super hero origin story of all time. Yep. It’s that good. It’s not the fact that the actress who plays Wonder Woman is an actual goddess either. In the movie it is said that she has been created from clay and sculptured by the gods. It’s hard to disagree that Gal Gadot hasn’t been sculptured by the gods. She actually comes close to dislodging my ultimate woman of Amy Adams. So close. But yeah despite her being an absolute babe, the way the movie shoots her it’s a breath of fresh air. As a guy of course you appreciate her beauty but as a character she is so much more than that and that’s what makes that movie so great. Other female superhero roles are so overly sexualized that it takes away their bad ass-ness. For example Black Widow. Yet the way the movie portrays wonder woman is when she’s on screen she’s feminine, strong, powerful and beautiful all at the same time and she’s one hell of a bad ass! I think it sets a precedence for how female leads should be portrayed in movies and that’s a good thing for everyone. So go and watch that movie!

So that’s a whistle stop tour of my month of May and early June. Keep an eye out on that special blog soon and remember to get in touch if there is a blog you’d want me to write about. I love hearing from you guys!

Until next time,

Toe

 

 

PhD as a sitcom: It’s the friends that make you appreciate the journey

Before starting the PhD there was a sense that there was no doubt that it was a long journey ahead. I’m no stranger to long journeys or solo travel so the PhD was almost an intellectual perfect fit. I often pictured any long piece of writing, be that the two previous dissertations or the two novels that I’ve wrote as long climbs. Long climbs for example on the bike are always more about mental strength than physical. Cycling up a long hill, looking up but nothing but steeper road and no sign of any peak, is exhausting and everything in your head tells you to quit. Yet, when someone else is cycling with you, you keep going, you jeer each other on. The PhD is exactly the same.  Any article I read about doing a PhD before I started was everyone said how lonely the PhD experience was. I had images in my head of three years of solitary confinement and turning into Tom Hanks from Castaway. Perhaps the Thesis would be called Wilson?

wilson

In some aspects as a PhD student you are on your own little island but others are on that island too. Ironically, like lost, it’s an Island that tries to kill you at every turn and we try to escape it over the course of three academic seasons.

I’ve been very fortunate to be in a position that not many new PhD students get to be in and that is a part of a cohort. My PhD was created through a new stream of funding and they wanted to develop a new PhD community in the Education faculty. So I was really lucky to start at the same time as a group of students were starting. So in September we all boarded the PhD boat and it set sail into the bold new waters of undiscovered research. At the moment that boat is somewhere between the Costa Concordia and the Titanic but what matters the most for this metaphor is we’re all in it together!

ship

Accurate representation of the PhD ship on a daily basis.

And that’s important to me. Those of you who know me well enough will know that I pride myself on the company I keep and I cherish my friendships.  As much as I love friends and family who are not involved in the PhD, they simply do not understand the stresses and strain of the PhD. That’s not their fault. It’s an entirely different world. I might as well be on the Enterprise as it’s a vastly different adventure to anything else. PhD friends however just get it and like Vic put it so well “You’re the only ones I can talk to about this stuff”. She’s right. For example the stress of the RD9R form, initiation to the PhD, quest or journey to hell and back, whatever you want to call it, was about as annoying as hearing Adele on the radio every two minutes! I could have complained to friends or family about it but I don’t think they quite grasp the scale of the torture of an RD9R form. On the other hand, my fellow PhD brethren fully appreciate my anger at it all. We all seriously had good and bad days with that form!

survive

Those that know me well will also know that I am rarely one to ask for help or seek council. When I do, you know it’s bad. I prefer to deal with issues myself but doing this PhD it’s almost as if the currency of a PhD is collaboration and help. You don’t help others for any person gain, it’s just what you do here in this weird and wonderful PhD world. If you don’t help each other out on this island you’re all going to starve. If one of you is a dick, then you’ll get murdered and eaten. I’ve read lord of the flies, no one wants to be Piggy.

That being said I love helping others out and I love giving objective advice. I’ve been on the other side of education as a staff member and I’ve seen all the issues that come with it. Therefore I’m well equipped to deal with most problems in academia, be that god awful supervisors to vast amount of red tape. The former I am so lucky to have brilliant supervisors for my PhD but I realise that I am one of the lucky ones. You read about horror stories of terrible Directors of Studies, unfortunately a dear friend is the one who has that nightmare! Pretty much the empire strikes back with that one. This is how villains are created! You know when you thought you could rely on someone being nice and then they turn really horrible on you. Her supervisors have basically pulled a Paolo from Lizzie McGuire.

paolo

snake

 

So, the PhD friends have made this PhD so special in just the short 6 months I’ve been at it. I still don’t think the PhD is hard. That’s not some ooh look at me doing a PhD and finding it easy. The Research Assistant job was just way way harder. I guess I have a busy GID department to thank for my training in those two years! So the research is fun but what makes it more fun is the people. As much as I am a self-centred narcissist at times I deeply value teams and team goals and I demand success from myself, so I demand it from others. I want other people to succeed. Yes, I like to be the leader of said teams or a point of contact for advice. It makes me feel like I have a purpose, which fuels my ego. Pretty straight forward cycle. However, I love giving advice, there is nothing better than seeing your words being put into action for the benefit of others! It’s one reason I’m in academia and that’s to make a difference. Yet, in this job I don’t actually see myself as better than anyone else, we’re all equals in that office because we all have our different strengths that we all bring to the team. We’re pretty much the PhD avengers. Viva people and research degree committees are pretty much Hydra too.

avenegrs

You know well by now that I feel like my life is a TV show in a parallel universe due to the vast randomness that happens to me and all the drama that happens with my fellow cast members! If it was a TV show, I’m sure the audience all have their favourite characters (as do I!) but if my life was broken down into a series then this new series would be the PhD one. I’m pretty sure if the PhD was a series or a new TV show, we’d deffo be rocking 9.5 on IMDB. We even have our own theme song too! ‘Sheryl Crows – Winding Road’ if you wanted to know. It’s literally the perfect song! This group has it all. Vast amounts of comedy and I mean vast. Every day is a laugh and some of the one liners in this group are amazing! Sarcasm is rife, intellectual debate and comedy is pretty much how we talk to each other. You’d struggle to write a script as good as this. Yet, there is plenty of drama, there has been tears and what makes every TV show compelling is the dynamic and bond between the characters. It’s pretty much the TV show community. Everyone is there for everyone else because we’re all in this sinking research boat together. It’s amazing to be in such a friendly and collaborative environment. No problem is too big or too trivial. Everyone chips in to help out. Not for personal gain but because we want all of us to succeed. Statistically one of us will quit the PhD at some point. I like to think despite us all wobbling at times that we’ll be unique in doing this journey together. I’ve pulled one person back on the ship after nearly going overboard and I’m hauling another in as we speak. There will be no better sense of accomplishment to when we all graduate, knowing we’ve got through three years of the hardest mental challenge ever together.

powerrangers

So, a little bit about my PhD dudes!

Emy: The Dad. is pretty much a time lord. I swear. For 52 he looks about 27! I don’t know if he bathes in a Lazarus pit but damn I hope I look that good when I’m that age! Emy was the first PhD student I met in H003 and for a about two weeks it was just the two of us in that office. Emy, is like the Dad of the group, he’s the wise figure head. His life experience is invaluable to all of us and I think I speak on behalf of all of the group when I say we massively respect him looking after a family and doing a PhD! His desk is a work of art in the sense that I thought mine was messy but holy cow, you need a Sherpa to navigate that desk! Luckily his advice and guidance far outweighs his sprawling mound of paper!

Laura: Cycling Bae. Laura was the second PhD student I met in H003 and my mornings would not be complete without our morning chats! Or should I say rants 😉 and by rants I mean I sit there and listen intently and filter the information before giving wonderful advice ;). If I do say so myself. Laura though is very funny and we have real deep and meaningful chats and we have our little side adventures. Be that our cycling trips or sneaking into meetings that we’re not strictly meant to attend. Laura is probably the most studious out of all of us. She’s pretty much replaced Alex from masters in undergrad in that regard. A very hard working person! Also, there isn’t a staff member or trick about the uni that Laura doesn’t know!

Rosie: My office P.I.C. That’s partner in crime if you weren’t down with the kids. There is a two hour window in the day when we’re not in the office together and that’s pretty much when 90% of our work gets done. We talk constantly! Probably to the annoyance of others in the office, sorry guys! I often like to think of myself as one of the most laid back and chilled people you’ll ever meet. Rosie blew that straight out of the water. I think Hammock is a pretty apt nickname. We’re very much alike which is no surprise considering we’re only born three days apart. Practically twins! Also, a southerner who hates Margaret Thatcher!? What a winner. Rosie is also a constant source of good food and tv advice and especially sweets…but not before 12. You have been warned!

Vic: Miss Fun and well miss organised. Vic is always the one to keep us motivated, happy and all together. Forever organising stuff as a group. She’s incredibly funny too but I don’t think she realises how funny! She says what she thinks which I love and is a real down to earth, honest and genuine girl. As she’s older than me she is pretty much almost like the mum of the group for her caring nature. Now that she’s our post grad rep I couldn’t think of a better role for her and I know any concerns we do have are certainly in her most capable of hands. In the nicest way, she has that fun quirky charm which I know we all appreciate!

Hannah and Cara: I speak about them as one because they’re almost impossible to separate. They’re a package and a double act. Like Ant and Dec but way funnier, cooler and generally more likeable. They don’t spend as much time in the office as those core group of the original H003 but they’re always fun to be around. Again, always a good source of humour! They really do have a hell of a lot to juggle and I am amazed at how well they do all of it!

Katie: The newest addition to this mad house that is H003. Even though we’re only 6 months in, we all kind of feel veterans of this PhD game now. Battled hardend and wary already! We probably came across as miserable buggers when she first met us when we discussed the RD9R form and what lay ahead! More so than anyone else are we here for advice for Katie because we wish we had someone who’d been there and got the battle scars, so we want her to have an easier ride! Yet, its almost as if she’s been here from the start. She’s fitted in perfectly! Again, I feel kinda’ guilty that she drew the short straw sitting next to me because I really do talk a lot! On the plus side of that, she has a great sense of humour, sarcasm in spades and what a wonderful surprise to find we share a love of writing and the anguish of what it’s like to put words on paper through novels and blogs (get back to blogs!!). Also it’s so fun to see another person who has random and weird train journeys! See everyone, it really isn’t just me, it happens to others too!!

Some new PhD students will be starting soon but I think this core of students is the one. The beauty of this is that I am always in the mind-set that it’s the people that make the place. These people make that place. The PhD although not hard, is by no means easy. Its mentally challenging, its one hell of a roller-coaster ride. We all share and celebrate each other’s highs because we know in a blink of an eye we’ll get a crushing low. Everyone else in the PhD environment puts you down, tells you you’re crap and that your work is never good enough. If it wasn’t for this bunch of PhD avengers I doubt any of us would have any positive outlooks on life. For someone who is highly independent I never thought I would rely on a group of people as much as I do now. They’re friends, they’re a family. The PhD is one long and arduous journey in a boat that is constantly trying to fill up with water. Yet, with these people, I know we’ll survive and we’ll get off this PhD Island one day. For now at least we have many episodes to come and I cannot wait to see them play out! I’ll end this blog with a quote that I find very apt. “It’s the friends we meet along the way, that help us to appreciate the journey”.

friend

savedbythebell

We’re the new saved by the bell

Until next time,

Toe.

Life of a PhD student three months in.

So i’ve been a PhD student for three months now, so i thought i’d do a fun little blog about the trials and tribulations of gaining the hardest known academic qualification. Dr Awesome!

  1. So you’ve done your undergraduate degree, probably gone and got your Masters degree, maybe even worked as a research assistant for a few years. By this point its pretty clear you’re never leaving the education system so hey. Three year PhD, why not?
    200w.gif
  2. Even better when for the first time in your academic career people are paying you to be a student! Not only that, you’re now tax exempt on that money for three years! It’s basically a 22 grand job!
    200 (7).gif
  3. So you’re a student but you’re also staff. You’re a PhD researcher which means you get to use the staff room, have your own office and generally feel really cool walking around campus.
    200 (8).gif
  4. You have these big and bold ideas and you can’t wait to start! You’re the best in your field, you’ve made it through the gruelling application process. You can do it! Your research idea is going to change the world.
    dreams.gif
  5. But your supervisory team are like…
    200 (2).gif
  6. You either get on great with your supervisor who will do absolutely anything to support you and build you up to be the best Dr ever. (luckily like mine!)