DPhil Diaries Eight: Summer

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last few weeks, but I have been away on holiday, enjoying a nice few weeks away from studying. If you follow me on twitter or instagram you'll probably have seen a few snaps from my brilliant time walking and running in the Alps. We spent a week by the shore of Lac Leman (or Lake Geneva as it is outside of France) and another in Chamonix, one of my absolute favourite places in the world. We've had some great adventures in all weathers, from paddle-boarding on the lake in glorious sunshine to reaching the summit of La Jonction in a snowstorm.

I've come back feeling really refreshed and really excited to get stuck back into my research. Studying for a PhD is a weird thing. Technically I've had the whole summer off, living back with my parents, and aside from the conferences I've written papers for and attended, there hasn't been that much I've had to do. And to be honest, I've not made anywhere near as much progress as I could have done. Yet there's always that nagging feeling of what I should be doing, that bit I should read, or the guilt of not being ready to start writing.

On Remembrance Sunday last year I mentioned to a friend that I don't think there's been a day of the First World War Centenary that I haven't thought about the war. I'm sure I'm far from unique in this. Even on days when I'm as far from working as can be, it still creeps into my mind, or I see something interesting from someone I follow on Twitter. And really, as odd as it sounds, I do love it. I find it so rewarding to be completely engrossed in my subject. There'd be no point in doing the PhD if I didn't.

Yet it's been nice to have a clear break from it, away from the computer, and to spend lots of time outdoors. I've also come back from holiday really keen to get started again, and excited for the next few months. This week, after a few days at home, I'm heading back to France to spend a week on the Somme. I'm not entirely clear on my itinerary as yet, but it will include some of the battlefields around Neuve Chapelle, the French Somme sector, and the new CWGC visitor experience at Beaurains. The daily blogs will be back featuring all of my walking and cycling, so keep an eye out for those.

Then a couple of days after I get back, I'm heading back to Oxford and into more structured studying. As much as I love the relaxed nature of summer back home, I do prefer to have a routine in my life and it makes me much more productive. That's partly why I try to hold myself to a routine of posting these weekly blog posts every Sunday, so that I can give myself structure and deadlines.

But this summer hasn't entirely been a cycle of chilling and then feeling guilty for it. One major step forward I've made is that I now have a working structure for my PhD thesis and an outline for what I want my chapters to be. At this stage it's just a list of eight bullet points, which I'll probably condense into actual chapters, but it has given me a really good order through which to start thinking about things, and I do hope that from October I'll be ready to start properly writing.

A few months ago it was really stressing me out that I didn't have that outline in place. Every time I came up with one, I seemed to talk myself out of it within an hour. It felt like a big stumbling block that was stopping me progressing. I tweeted my frustration about it and with the help of a few really kind replies, including from my college adviser, I began to look more positively at it. Then, one Monday morning it all seemed to fall into place. I'm yet to talk myself out of this rendition, so fingers crossed it sticks for the foreseeable future.

So there we have it, a little round up of what I've been doing lately and where my head's at with work. Check back from Thursday for my battlefield diaries, or follow me on twitter where I'm sure I'll be posting frequently about my Somme trip.


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