My Academic Diary: Jon Rainford

Jon Rainford 
Doctoral researcher
School of Education 
Staffordshire University

Sitting in the canteen of the University that employs me, I begin to write this diary entry. It is not yet 8:30 and I haven’t started work officially and yet today, as most days I have been on campus for the past two hours. My usual company during this time is the often invisible inhabitants of the institution, the cleaners, and stewards. Today is different, we are in peak hand in and exam time so there are more hustle and bustle than normal. I notice many faces around me that were previously in the library, occupying the workstations and pods working in proximity but distinct isolation. Working early is my choice, I am far more productive in the hours before breakfast than the twilight hours. As a part-time doctoral researcher, these are my options, that and the inevitable weekend hours. Today’s focus has been on a paper for a conference next month. The deadline in some ways seems so far and yet, in my mind, it is very close. You see, when you are juggling full-time work, life, and a part-time PhD, things often get in the way. This means that my deadlines in my head are often many weeks before something is due in order to ensure that I can cope with the shifting demands of work. As I look down at my watch, it is now time to head up to my office to begin the day job.

I walked past the library later in the day on my way back from lunch and some of the faces from this morning are still there, not looking back at me, just gazing into the distance, thinking, looking for that missing word, the key to their next sentence. In many ways I feel that this is one of the great joys of a part-time PhD, the fact that often the times I am thinking are filled with other tasks, be it driving, working through emails or collating resources for activities I am running. In fact, I never stop thinking about my research and yet, I rarely feel like I am wasting time, awaiting those thoughts. It is much like an analogy of baking bread, the dough gets needed in my early morning hours and proves throughout the day. It is on my phone that I am continuing this diary entry, on my way to the fourth meeting of my day. I work within a professional services department in a university so have very different demands on my time. My research is useful to my work in many ways, yet it is not always viewed as having a central role and is often seen as something extraneous to my role which I suppose is why those precious few hours before my day officially begin to feel like they are my own and not simply an extension of the day job. Something to which I am being drawn back to.

At the end of the formal working day, as I walked from the office back up to my car, my thoughts turn back to the PhD. Thinking of another useful question to add to my interview schedule I noted it down in my phone before beginning the hour-long commute home. It is in the car I often do much of my thinking, today has involved quite a lot of demands on my thoughts from the day job so instead I decide to tune into Radio 1 on unwinding with some inane chatter and pop music. I am certainly not in the space to engage with the intellectual engagement needed for Radio 4. Despite the attempted detachment, the thinking never stops.

Normally in the evenings, I sit catching up on the day’s posts on Twitter with the hum of the TV in the background punctuated with occasional conversation with my partner. Tonight, however, I have decided to finish this diary entry. I am lucky to have my own space in the house for studying. As I look around, the blackboard in front of me reminds me of the impending paper I should be writing, that I need to finish editing the podcasts from a recent study day and that I need to work on the consent forms for my fieldwork. There is also a stack of expenses to file, another pile of papers printed out that I need to read and a multitude of post-it notes and cards of varied colours overlapping and interlocking like poorly fitted tiles. This haphazard wallpaper of half-formed thoughts, leads to follow up and questions yet to answer from my data epitomizes the piecemeal formation of my ideas, thoughts formed in a small gap of time here and there, that again are added to the proving mix which hopefully eventually will become a perfect loaf, well hopefully one day anyway!

Originally posted 7th June 2016

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