Life Jackets

Sometimes I feel like I’m on the raft without a life jacket, and everyone thinks it’s fine, because I’m such a strong swimmer.

But I don’t feel like a strong swimmer.

I feel like I’m already slipping and the water’s below and who knows what’s lurking there…

And everyone’s saying “you got this”, “it will be a breeze”, “you’ll fly through”…

And I’m thinking “errr, little help here…?”

But it’s ok. Because everyone else on the raft is thinking that too.

We all feel like imposters faking our way through academia. We all think we’ve been lucky to get this far.

For me the proof was in a conversation I had on Wednesday with a forth year PhD student, who STILL feels like he’s faking it and that his great deceit will eventually be revealed and he’ll be cast out forever, a disappointment to all those who believed in him. What he can’t see or feel is all the hands holding on to him.

For other posts on imposter syndrome in PhD study, follow the links:

When Do I Start Knowing What I’m Doing?


I went to a networking seminar today and met some fellow occupants of the raft. People clinging on despite jobs, despite children and despite working in male-dominated disciplines against the background of being from a culture which values meekness and subservience in woman.

It was a great experience, and really made me think about not only how I can present my research quickly and succinctly in the best light, but also what I want from network connections. Previously I’ve networked because I like people and I like making friends, I’ve  been here at the uni so long and in so many different capacities that my network is pretty substantial, but I never really thought hard about how that network could be more than a source of pleasure and support, and more a source of valuable connections, and how useful benefits could flow both ways. I tend to be the giver in my relationships as I forget to think about what others can bring to me – and I tend to be amazed and surprised when people do chose of their own volition to do something that benefits me and not them. A perfect example is the word of mouth through which my business has spread – I couldn’t have done this without several brilliant advocates and I was always amazed that they would recommend me without any thought of personal gain.

Now I just need to work on my “elevator pitch” before I attend any conferences.


All my coding is finally done! The bf was working super-hard in the run-up to his deadline so every evening when he was watching How I Met Your Mother or Scrubs and designing his building, I was data tagging. I essentially felt guilty if he was working and I wasn’t, which was a great motivator!

So now it’s scary writing-a-new-chapter-time. I think I’m going to start by looking at the rare occasions where things go wrong in my data. People think intercultural communication is full of unintentional impoliteness and misunderstandings, but in my data that’s just not the case, these things do occur, but they’re really rare. I think this chapter will encompass apologies, misunderstandings, aggressive behaviour and mistakes.

I’ve started pulling tagged segments out of QDA Miner today and putting them into Antconc to get an overview of themes. For example, I pulled out all the segments tagged as ‘apologies’, put them into 2 .txt files (one for Liz, one for her clients) and then compared the keywords with a standard British English corpus to show what occurred at a statistically significant frequency:

Antconc apologiesThe number to far-left shows the term’s number in the list, the next shows the frequency in the text (I eliminated anything with only one occurrence) the next number is the ‘keyness’ rating (anything over 3 is in the 95th percentile, so everything in the image is highly relevant). Draw what conclusions you will – I haven’t had time to fully analyse these yet, but it looks to me like the clients (left side) are late and forgetful, whereas Liz misunderstands and does things wrong!

In other news, I’ve also been writing my 4000-word report for my June yr1 viva. So that’s been fun! I hope my progress is PhD-worthy-enough.

Turning a PhD into a Presentation (or Worse, a Poster)

This weekend and last week I’ve been trying to do that impossible task – which will only get more impossible as time goes on – of trying to distil the whole massive idea that is my thesis into a 20 minute presentation for one conference in June, and a poster for another next November. How the hell people manage the 3MT competition I do not know.

Linguistics is not exactly a discipline that lends itself to graphical presentation. Something like Physics – awesome for graphics, Architecture – amazing, Fashion – elementary my dear Watson…

But I struggle. I’ve got a pretty chart of how all my participants are connected and this lovely map which shows where they come from:

World map highlightedThis will look great on the poster – but I’m not entirely convinced it actually tells you something that useful about my project. I guess it highlights diversity and a non-Euro-centric cohort so that’s a good thing.

But in Linguistics, unsurprisingly and fundamentally all the big ideas pretty much have to be shown using words. There are a few legitimately visual projects, usually the quantitative kind like dialect mapping but the majority of us struggle to get a decent table out of a linguistics project.

So in conclusion, any help, especially on the poster, is appreciated. I don’t even really know how to structure the poster, let alone make it visually stimulating!

QDA Miner Lite

Data tagging is a pain in the butt.

It is super time-consuming and super boring. And unless you’re analysing things like parts of speech (POS tagging for all the linguists out there) or semantic tagging… then you pretty much have to do it by hand. I’m tagging for recurring themes, so things like requesting meetings, paying compliments or negotiating money. Because these are done differently by different people you can’t (yet) write an algorithm to find them. You just have to tag them yourself.

You can do this super old-school in Excel, or you can use specific software. The software installed on the uni network is NVivo. I don’t use it because it’s not free – and I want my work to be portable. So I use QDA Miner Lite – the ‘lite’ version is the freeware reduced-features version, and you can upgrade to the full package if you want to access to all the advanced fancy-schmancy features.

My QDA tagging looks a bit like this:

QDA ccomplex tagsThe tags are all on the right-hand side. Frankly, it’s starting to look like a bit of a shit-storm. Luckily QDA Miner pulls the tags out in lovely easy to read tables when you want to search for something.

There is basically only one big problem with QDA.

It has a massive Excel phobia.

It runs scared (crashes) whenever you change or save something in Excel, and QDA has no auto-save, so you can easily lose an hour’s work with an inconvenient crash.

Sadly I use Excel all the time – to clock my hours, as a calendar, to organise PhD data…

I might be at the point of needing to stick a post-it to my laptop saying

Save your tagging!!

The Raft

No-one doing a PhD has it easy. That’s just a fact, but some definitely have it easier than others.

I was talking to Sz the other day. Sometimes I feel like we’re all on a raft holding each other on – on a good day with good feedback and fire in your belly about your research you’re fully on the raft. On  a bad day when you can’t get started or you’ve got so much paid work to do your PhD takes a back seat or your kid gets sick you start to slip… And sometimes someone falls off. Though I haven’t seen this happen in my department yet. The thing sucking me into the ocean is definitely my two jobs – right now things are good, I’m turning down business in my self-employed work to give myself room to breathe, and my regular job is only 15 hours a week.

But I’ve got it easy compared to some. Sz is Kurdish, her close family are here but she’s studying against the background of the IS affecting her wider family.

She doesn’t want to go back.

I can’t imagine what it is to focus when militants may harm your sister, your mother. It’s beyond belief.

Kurdish Female Fighters

My discipline at PhD level has an international student majority. Sz told me I’m the only Brit they talk to – I pointed out I’m the only Brit on the programme! We share the office with others, but they’re all History or Literature. Our international students come currently exclusively from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. Most of them speak Arabic. I love and envy that people from countries as far apart as Libya and Iraq (1,600 miles) can talk in a common tongue.

That’s like the distance between UK and Greece.

I’m glad for them. With the background they’re trying to study against the stronger we can hold on to this raft and to each other, the better.