I’m starting the new year by entering new territory. After fifteen years of working full-time pretty much non-stop, I have become a student again. I’ve just enrolled at Brighton University to do what will eventually become – I hope – a fud.
I’m still coming to terms with what this actually means. It’s the longest single project that I have ever committed to, and I still only have a notional idea of what it actually involves. At a party over Xmas, a fud veteran informed me in a voice weighted with bitter experience that a Phd “is an endurance test”, making me slightly queasy. It will take a minimum of four years of intense research to a depth I have never reached before, and, as another friend informed me, “an awful lot of reading and an awful lot of writing”. And she should know – she’s got two of them.
Additionally it involves a major lifestyle change: no more full-time wage until it’s done! (and no guarantee then given the economic climate and current political handling thereof). Although currently freelance and intending to stay that way for the duration, I still need to work out systems that give me an average 2-3 days a week concentrated study time and an average 2-3 days a week earning money time. And this needs to be flexible enough to fit into the feast and famine of freelance work, my domestic and personal commitments and the university timetable. I doubt there will be any such thing as a routine week. And self discipline is going to be essential.
But I am enormously excited at the prospect. The opportunity to spend a serious amount of time being supported to do work that I have initiated and am deeply interested in, in a study area that will combine 20 years of experience with intellectual challenge and freedom, feels like absolute luxury. (As another friend advised: “make sure you are really excited by your project because you are going to be doing it for a REALLY long time”).
I’m also keen to experience what I think will be a new way of working. In full-time arts jobs, achievement is fast and furious. The default position is to get thru as much work as possible today because there is as much, or more, waiting tomoro. Information is processed quickly. Typically, a scan thru email, e-file or paper, instant analysis factoring in existing knowledge and external context, followed immediately by a decision on what position to take on that information (followed thru into a response, meetings and other work), takes anything from 30 seconds to 10 minutes; less often up to an hour for a longer paper or strategy.
In contrast, I rather suspect study at this level is very different. Careful reading of the text, checking that I understand the ideas and implications that text contains, and connecting it with concepts and information that I already know or discover I need to know, will be a far slower and more in-depth process. Further, even if I make intuitive leaps from A – E – Z (where intuition = experience, knowledge and thinking) I will need to unpick what exactly has led me to Z and be able to evidence and articulate that thinking.
More scarily, I will need to push beyond the limits of what I currently call Z. To continue the metaphor, the challenge for me will be to get comfortable using an entirely foreign cyrillic alphabet by way of latin and hebrew.
It’s going to be a long journey. Wish me luck and happy 2011 all!
*With thanks to The Beatles & UA