Like most of my friends, I started off on social media with Facebook. Having resisted for a long time, I progressed rapidly from silent lurker to poster, commenter and sharer. LinkedIn came later, when I realised that I wanted a connection to colleagues without them being aware of all my social adventures. Somehow I was never as active there as on Facebook, and since I left paid employment at the end of June, I’m not quite sure where my LinkedIn presence is going to go.
Then I found real-time linguistics, and real-life linguists on the net, through Twitter and the Feedly blog reader. All of a sudden, I realised what I had been missing. People were pointing me towards interesting articles and sharing their work. They had good advice, and provocative questions. And they wanted to interact. I was already interested in language, and spending increasing amounts of time reading around the subject. Blog posts and tweets brought the subject alive, and helped inspire and motivate me to take the plunge and move into full-time study.
Thus far, so good. But why a start a blog now, given everything else I’m taking on at the moment? I have to thank Tanya Golash-Boza, author of Get a Life, PhD, which is helping me build a bridge between my old life and my new one. She has written many helpful posts about personal effectiveness, time management, prioritisation and the like. These topics are familiar from the old life, and make a lot more sense now that I have more control over the shape of my working day. What’s new for me is the reflection on the skills and mind-set I will need as a baby academic, and that has been incredibly useful.
The message that comes through loud and clear from Get a Life, PhD is to write every day. Every day. There is no getting round it: writing is the crucial core skill for any academic. All those hours of reading, analysing, listening, thinking, that I’ll be putting in over the next two years, all those hours are going to be worth nothing if I can’t convert the results into a structured, compelling message, whether it’s in a peer-reviewed article or, more urgently, in a three-hour examination. It’s also a skill that has fallen away, rather than been honed, over the twenty-odd years of work since my MSc. In other words, it’s one of the biggest changes of emphasis that I’m facing.
So I need to practise: essays, outlines, articles, blog posts, anything that strengthens my writing muscles. And like any kind of exercise, a training programme and training buddies will help me keep disciplined. In this context, signing up to do the Bodleian’s 23 Things was a no-brainer.
Over the next term – and maybe longer – I will be using this blog as a place to reflect on the process of becoming a linguist, as a postgraduate, a mature student, and a returner to Oxford after a long gap. I hope to make contact with other people who share some, or all, or none of those characteristics. And I’m really interested in your responses to my reflections.