Coasteering, Part 2.

Publishing, conferencing and secondary APR’ing.

My last post was a bit of a bummer, but it needed to be said that writing is hard, and that making time for space and reflection is even harder. We promise ourselves a daily walk, a few hours to read those slightly oblique papers that will enrich our perspective, and catch up on the even more enriching work that’s happening outside of academia, but we don’t always manage it. Time bends when you do a PhD, and there are always more roads to navigate. I think the picture above, from a card given to me by my eternally patient friend Gemma, sums up my feeling like a little truck, trundling through the big, beautiful waves, always moving.

Let’s start with some good news. In March I was off the scale thrilled to have something published in The Conversation. My very first piece in fact, and an exercise I would really recommend PhD students try. You can find out more about The Conversation and what they do here, and my piece is here. I was fortunate that my university arranged some meet the editor sessions, so I popped along. It works by you pitching an idea for a piece, and if it gets accepted, you are invited to write the whole piece (around 800 words), and then you go back and forth with an editor ironing out any kinks. The whole thing took about three weeks from start to finish, but this varies hugely depending on the topic. My original pitch in December was rejected, but then the topic gained huge media interest so there was an element of right place, right time.

Having this piece published was significant for two reasons: at a time of increasing media hostility towards transgender and/or non-binary people in sport (and other areas), it felt good (and felt important), to offer an alternative perspective, one which centred the experiences of transgender people. As a trans-inclusive feminist, doing this is at the core of my personal and political position. Secondly it was a good confidence booster. My last post has already touched on how I  have been struggling, and seeing a real piece of my work in the wild went a long way to calming my anxiety.

This is not to say it’s magically disappeared. My secondary Annual Progression Review was on the horizon. But what happens in a secondary APR? What is expected of you? Does anyone ever survive? The short version is that yes, you do survive, but make no mistake – the focus is more intense. Your primary APR (see ‘Negative Splits Part 2, August 2018), focuses on your general progression. Hopefully you will have completed your ethics and written a solid literature review. Maybe you’ve collected some data and presented at a conference. In your second APR you need to have written a lot more. At least 25 – 30,000 words, most usually your methodology and methods chapter and perhaps a revision of your literature review. An update of what you have done (for example teaching) and any tweaks to your research plan.

My APR took place on Monday 24th June in what turned out to be the busiest week of my year.  That same week I was due at two conferences on opposite sides of the country, but more about those later. As before, my APR readers were relaxed and informal and did everything to calm my shaky voice and twitching hands. One of my supervisors was there again to take notes and provide silent support.

Some people ‘revise’ for an APR, they memorise chunks of text and have a 5-minute presentation ready to role out in their head. Great ideas, and although I had revisited key bits of my theory and argument, I knew that I would have no answers for the stuff I was still weak on – my ontological and epistemological position – so figured faking it would only blow up in my face. So I was prepared, but not word-perfect. Don’t worry, I will be for the Viva.

As it happens, my literature review was barely discussed, though my readers were complimentary. But they did discuss the nitty gritty of my methodology chapter. Remember I did that painful personal narrative? They spent a lot of time talking about that, and the importance of striking a balance as a researcher, and as commendable as it is to have clear convictions (as a trans-inclusive feminist), I need to remember my other commitment is as a social scientist, one who produces balanced, unbiased research. They also discussed the weaknesses in my writing, exactly what I knew they would do, but thanks to having re-written that chapter 4 times, it didn’t come as a surprise. I was ready for their suggestions. They encouraged me to just read a bit more, think a bit deeper and get to the point faster. I managed to neither throw up or cry and held my own when they asked questions about my choice of theories and the omission of citing Judith Butler. It had taken me a long time to justify and explain clearly my use of feminist standpoint and queer theory together in relation to my research, so I was pleased with where I had got to. As for Butler, she simply hadn’t written anything relevant that others weren’t saying more currently, and at times, with more significance. Sometimes, our choices aren’t very complicated.

The whole thing was over in an hour, and I was given the go ahead to progress. My readers also offered me some advice on what to try and achieve in my third and final year in order to be employable – finishing on time and getting published are for me the gold standard here, so if you take anything useful away from this, that’s it. Think about what you need in that last year, what offers you the most currency, and be realistic. Where do you see yourself after the PhD? Lastly, the thing which one of my supervisors is constantly bemused by, is my total lack of confidence and faith in my academic ability. My supervisor worries, quite rightly, that it will hold me back. I don’t know what to tell you about this, only that I’m working on it, or at least working on keeping my mouth shut when I feel an apology coming on. So when (if) you are feeling like this, remember I do too.

A quick note before I go on conferences. Due to commitments I have to choose very carefully what I go to but I was lucky enough to have a paper accepted for three conferences: the Gender in Education Association which took place at the University of Plymouth, a symposium on The Embodied Researcher in Sport at the University of Canterbury organised by Dr Amy Clark, and POWES at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor. I am lucky to receive a bursary to cover these events, so I really wanted to maximise my time there. It’s a great chance to showcase your research and get feedback from more experienced people, and my presentation at the GEA resulted in being asked by the Sociological Review to write a short piece about an aspect of my methodology (see, it’s not all doom and gloom, and it’s due out this month!). I was also asked by someone at the POWES conference to write a position piece on another aspect of my research (similar to The Conversation piece), so I’m working on that right now.

And because publishing opportunities are clearly like buses, I have also submitted an abstract for a special edition journal to co-author a piece with my supervisors. Those last two are peer reviewed – the holy grail of publishing – so if I pull those off then I’ll be heading into my Viva with a hopefully less shaky voice and twitchy hands. Though I doubt it.

I’ll be back in September with my to-do list, which is going to be all about data analysis, and an update on the publishing process.

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