WIP: Glass-blowing (sort-of)

This week’s WIP: Applying for jobs. This requires a lot of tea.


If I ever get in a position in which I can influence the content on a university department’s web page, I would include a “fast facts” page that includes which of the many faculty in the department is Head of School or Chair of the Department. Then maybe it will catch on and other universities will do it, too, and thus save poor job searchers from having to visit every single faculty profile page in search of to whom to address their cover letter.

Applying for jobs as a just-completed-PhD also feels like being stranded on a deserted island, tossing out messages in the bottles you’ve taught yourself how to make into the sea and hoping someday one will be picked up. And in the meantime, you keep at your forge, glass-blowing bottles because you’ve got sand and time to spare, and maybe, just maybe, someone will appreciate your glass-blowing abilities.

A note to self

This might sound like a bragging post. I assure you, it is not. Rather, I am struggling quite a lot with confidence about my abilities right now, and writing all of this down is to prove to myself that I can and have succeeded at life and I can succeed again.

I wanted to be home schooled because school was too boring for me. I wasn’t being challenged. But when I applied and got accepted into a new programme at one of the local high schools, I went. I was in the pioneer class of the Design and Technology Academy. In addition to the core high school classes, I learned mechanical engineering, interior design, graphic design, web site design, computer programming, 3D-modeling, and more. I taught myself geometry so I could skip ahead a year to learn Calculus my final year.

Meanwhile, I rode horses and did Tae Kwon Do. I was in Girl Scouts. It was during this time I first started writing fiction: I wrote an 800-page novel during my high school years, and my final project was to demonstrate how I would self-publish it. I was highly active in my church: I sang in the high school choir and the ensemble, I led Bible studies, I served on both the choir council and the youth group council. With all this, I managed to make straight-A’s at school (except for the occasional B in Calculus).

In university, I double majored in English and History with a minor in Cultural Anthropology. I took enough classes for my minor that if I had stayed an extra semester, I would have had three majors. I took twice as many core curriculum classes as I needed to because the administration was unclear whether I had to or not for the double major. I took classes every summer during my undergraduate years. Although I wasn’t in the honours programme officially, I achieved honours by studying abroad my junior year (3.5 months at Oxford, 3 months in Barcelona, with 3 weeks of traveling Europe in between) and by writing an honours thesis on Chaucer.

I sang in the women’s chorus and co-founded the Amnesty International club on campus. I worked part-time as a student computer tech (the only girl), a switchboard operator, assistant to two different history professors, and assistant to the secretary for the history department. I wrote a weekly column for the school newspaper during my final year. I continued to write novels (I wrote two or three during this time), I taught myself how to knit so that my hands would be doing something while I watched TV as study breaks. I graduated magna cum laude.

Right before my final year of university, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. In addition to everything else I was doing, I was trying out various cocktails of drugs to get the RA to slow down and I was in pain all the time.

I supposedly took a year “off” after college. I worked three part-time jobs to make ends meet: I was secretary for the English department at OBU, a barista at Starbucks, and a collections assistant at the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art. I read voraciously, wrote another novel, started swimming, and learned how to cook. I applied to 10 graduate programmes and was accepted into three.

So I packed up and moved to St Andrews in Scotland. (It was actually a several-month process, during which I worked full time as an assistant to the senior property manager at a corporate realtor firm.) My master’s programme was an an intense one-year programme in medieval English literature; naturally, I joined a choir upon my first week arriving and audited medieval Latin because I could. I also co-wrote a novel during this year with my friend Kelly and travelled to London, Oxford, Rome, Lisbon, and Inverness.

And then I started my PhD. The PhD programme itself is a full-time job plus some, consuming your mind and giving your life purpose. I changed topics during my first year, from working on medieval vernacular theology to the supernatural in Middle English romances. I had an office, I kept regular hours, and there was no such thing as “spring break” or “summer vacation” or bank holidays.

“On the side”, I continued to sing in choir. I wrote four novels. I started knitting again after a forced hiatus due to RA, and learned how to crochet. I became an altar server at church. I went swimming, hiking, cycling. I cooked a lot and learned how to forage and make jam. I co-founded and co-led the Postgraduate Christian Forum. I co-founded and co-led the Medieval Reading Group. I took a year of French classes. I served on House Committee for the English PhD offices. I worked part-time at the Museum of the University of St Andrews. I attended and presented at conferences. I travelled to Cyprus, Italy (twice), Croatia, Turkey, Poland (twice), Austria, and Ireland, as well as all over the UK and to the U.S. And, you know, keeping up with life: I had a house that needed cleaning every so often and a garden that I would try to grow things in, and that sort of thing.

Meanwhile, I still had RA. I struggled with severe depression and anxiety. Migraines. Various other complaints. A friend told me she didn’t want to get a PhD because she saw how it “ruined my health”. She might have had a point.

And despite the hellish final months of my PhD, I passed my viva with very minor corrections.

I suppose, then, that it is no wonder that now I am exhausted. So exhausted that I’ve become clumsy, that any form of physical exertion tires me. (And yet I want to go swimming, cycling, walking, horseback riding.) I’m still dealing with reverse culture-shock. Also, it is no wonder that I feel useless and purposeless during this strange period of limbo and transition that comes from completing a PhD. The project that gave my life an overall purpose, that structured my days and defined who I was in society for the last five years, is finished. Now what?

Now I am forced to rest. To regain my strength. I am reading, knitting, co-creating another novel, and learning French. I’m slowly feeling out options for how to proceed. And, I suppose, that once I have chosen an option, I will seize it with all the tenacity I have that has gotten me this far.

Self, we’ve done a lot. We will again soon enough. Let’s try to remember that.

New Title

It snowed today. It was the universe tossing confetti at some very good news! You may now address me as Dr Chera. (And here I take a bow.)

I passed my viva with minor (mostly typographical) corrections and advice for further revision for future publication. I’ll rest for a couple of days, polish off the corrections in a day or two, and then it will be done and dusted. Huzzah!

Needless to say, after a two-hour defense, followed by a three-hour lunch with my examiners and supervisor, two hours of chatting and cake with colleagues, and an hour and a half choir rehearsal, I am exhausted. But I am also starting to feel pleased. I’m sure to feel even better once I’ve had a good sleep.

To tournament!

Today is my viva. For fun, I’m listening to the playlist I made for my Pooka novels — which were loosely inspired from my Ph.D. research. I’m going into the Viva with black owls with yellow eyes — the Pooka, surely, is going to help me with the task ahead.

This song is about the Pooka, of course. Commonly in the form of a black horse, but don’t forget to look for its gold eyes…

Off I go!

Let the Games begin

This article from The Chronicle of Higher Education has been making the rounds in my academic circles on Facebook. I share it here because my non-academic family and friends should read it too, especially as I begin my Academic Job Search.

The Odds Are Never in Your Favor: Why the academic job market is like the Hunger Games

“Doctoral students are usually type-A overachievers, and so your loved ones have faith that you’ll come out OK because, well, you always have.

But the academic job market is a process that necessitates failure.”


Dear readers, I volunteer as Tribute. “We who are about to die salute you.”

Well, I hope I don’t die, but I salute you nonetheless.

Murder she knit

IMG_9541I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been knitting. Part of my PhD Recovery Plan has been to spend hours watching Castle and Sherlock and knitting. In the last week I have knit one legwarmer and have started on its twin. (I have one episode of Castle left! How can I knit without a murder/detective mystery show? I guess Fringe or back issues of Doctor Who will have to suffice. Oh! I forgot about Silent Witness. More forensics, yay.)

Last night, my housemate, her boyfriend, and I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It turns out that it is (very) loosely based on the short story of the same name by James Thurber. “Oh!” I said, and stood up, pulled a book of the shelf, and proceeded to find the short story. It was short enough to read aloud. Living with me, it seems, provides for literary entertainment.

Also, isn’t the knitting needle case my mom made for me lovely? I really like it. I’d like it even more if I had more needles to put in it…

Little bears

Between the late sunrises, depression, and my own body clock, mornings have been increasingly difficult the past few weeks. Often I would get into the office in the late morning or at lunchtime and work into the evening. My mom would keep me company in my office in the evenings, after my office mates had left, the last week of editing and proofreading of my thesis, and she always made me leave the office before her when we left for the day.

IMG_9298 IMG_9300

(As always, click photos to enlarge.)

The next morning I would find a little bear with a note hidden somewhere around my desk. Then, on the morning I was going to submit my thesis, I found that my bedroom had been invaded…

IMG_9296…by miniature gingerbread men! That was certainly a surprise. Apparently my mom had conspired with one of the ladies at church to get the little gingerbread men and put them around to cheer me up.

it’s strange how one can complete and hand in a project that took four years (and a bit more) of work. I don’t quite feel celebratory — relieved, yes, that I finally finished and before my deadline, too. Just exhausted.

Besides, it feels odd to be celebrating when there’s still the viva (defense, for my non-UK friends) to come in a few months’ time. But maybe I will feel more celebratory once I’ve slept and rested a bit more…

It is Submitted

At 3.00 PM on Tuesday, 17th of December, I submitted my Ph.D. thesis.


Some statistics:

  • 5 chapters, plus an introduction and conclusion;
  • approximately 73,300 words;
  • 246 pages total;
  • 586 footnotes;
  • 47 page Bibliography;
  • 11 pages of primary sources;
  • 480 items in Bibliography;
  • 4 years and 3 months.

I would be lying if I said the two months were easy. In all honesty, the last eight weeks have been among the hardest in my life, probably the hardest — and friends and long-time readers of this blog will know that I am no stranger to difficulty. I could not have made it through these last eight weeks or have finished my PhD thesis on my own. It is only by the grace of God, the prayers and encouragement of friends, and the physical, in-person support of my mother that I have made it to today.

So thank you, you who have prayed for me, encouraged me, and helped me during this time.

I do not think it a coincidence that my morning Bible reading came from Isaiah 12 today:

Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my song;
    he has become my salvation.

I hope to return to regular blogging — however, for now, I think I will curl up in bed with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente — an early Christmas present, and very apt for this particular scholar.

Leave of Absence


Dear Readers,

Whether you are a long time reader or have just visited my blog, it won’t take you long to learn that I am a PhD student. I have written about the PhD process over the past few years and you will see that it is both a pleasure and a challenge. This latter part is especially the case now as I am in the final months of finishing my PhD thesis (‘dissertation’ to Americans).

I used to write book reviews, post recipes, pictures of favourite things about the place I live, updates about life, the news, anything. And you will have noticed that these things have trickled to a stop over the last few months. Anything that I feel ‘responsible’ for that isn’t absolutely necessary to life is being put on pause for the next couple of months, both online and offline.

So this post is to say that I am taking a Leave of Absence from this blog. Please be patient and check back in December.

Because I know some of my readers will be wondering, here are a few ideas if you want to know how to help me in the meantime: Please pray that I will have good health and energy and that my arthritis won’t flare up again. (This is very important. I suffer from headaches and fatigue enough that I don’t need my arthritis to flare up again, too.) Pray that what I need will be in the libraries I will be visiting and that I won’t have delays in doing last minute research. Pray that I won’t get too seasonally depressed by the coming dark, cold Scottish winter. And if you’re not the praying sort, then words of encouragement will help me a lot. If you’re someone who knows my actual snail mail address, then care packages with snacks and things that will make me happy will be most welcome. Thank you.

See you on the other side!

Kind regards,

Strange metaphors

A snippet of a recent conversation:

Chera: I submitted Elena’s thesis today. I feel like a thesis midwife. This is the third thesis I’ve helped deliver.

F.: Don’t worry. You’re pregnant now with your own thesis, and you will deliver it very soon.

Chera: Does this mean I can eat anything I want?

F.: Only what’s good for the thesis…

So far this includes dark chocolate Kit Kats, copious amounts of tea, and lots of yoghurt.