Doctorado: the First Semester

With the holiday break coming up, and an extremely early flight to Copenhagen booked in the morning, I figured I can just about call this the last day of the first term of my PhD.  Because that’s what I’m doing now.  Because I am a masochist.

I’m going to keep this brief, because there are at least in theory slightly more important things I should be writing.  So, here we have it in numbers:Since mid-September, I have done 437 hours of productive work.  I’m in the habit of timing everything thanks to doing freelance work, and have applied that to my research; thus, if I stop working for even a minute, or if I get up to do something else, I stop the timer.  Of that 437 hours, 259:55:18 have been PhD-related, and the rest have been client and volunteer work.

My five main tasks at the current time are teaching, training, researching, planning, and admin.  Here’s what the breakdown looks like (‘breakdown’ being an entirely appropriate word choice):

You should not have been expecting a consistent colour scheme.

Teaching takes a big chunk due to attending lectures, meeting with students, and moreover, making sure I’ve done all the readings…!  This past semester I’ve TA’d for IR Theory and for Negotiation and Mediation, as well as done a few other one-off things.

‘Admin’ is also quite a big category, though that includes a weekly ‘research table’ with faculty and the other PhD students, supervisor meetings, abstract preparation etc.  I was also attending 3.5 hours of Spanish classes a week for the first ~6 weeks, not included in the above, before dropping it due to aggravated boredom.  I’m instead off to Madrid for two weeks in January to do some intensive classes.

Other than that, ‘research’ so far has been entirely passive, with topic development coming under ‘planning’.  Given I’m about to start pulling my literature review together, using actual words, this will soon shift from constantly reading, one slow paragraph at a time, to writing, aka staring at the screen and thinking about my choices in this life.

More generally, the challenge so far has been personal: I’m a pretty social creature, and sitting down all day inside my head is like a slow death.  As such, I’ve been making an effort to counteract it by going out every single night, as far as I possibly can, and thus have had quite a few interesting experiences thus far.  There has been a quick Sunday night trip to Antwerp to go to a punk gig, pulling an all-nighter to go to a house party in Bruges (after being invited by a girl I met one time, over one glass of wine, 18 months ago…!), listening to jazz records in a pitch-black theatre while sitting atop speakers, mild windmill trespass, and attending impro comedy theatre.  Between those and the upcoming trips and concerts I have booked, hopefully my sanity will remain (?) more-or-less (?) intact*.


* Every word here is obviously up for dispute.

Grad School

Well, I am currently in Russian class, which is today being exceptionally and exclusively delivered in Dutch.  Needless to say, I have no idea what’s going on—so after a rather protracted break, voici—a blog post!

I handed in my final piece of work for my Masters course nearly a month ago now.  Already.  I don’t even know how that happened.  It seems max four months ago that I was sitting in my course convenor’s office, giggling uncontrollably because I was so excited to start!!  (Yup, I’m that student.)  The last six months in particular were spectacular—in terms of my subjects, in terms of writing my papers, and in terms of writing my dissertation as an experience.  Plus, I’ve been lucky enough to have some truly awesome professors at the school.

Grad school is very different in Europe to in Australia, I think.  I don’t know that many people who have done it in Australia, for a start.  It’s not really necessary.  But here, everyone gets their Masters—there’s no question about it; it’s a market necessity.  In countries such as Germany you can do it for free, and here in Belgium it’s 800 euro a year (if you’re not at a British university, which I am).  This leads to a couple of peculiarities.  For one, a huge number of people seem to do their Masters without any actual interest in the subject area whatsoever.  It’s not about ‘mastering’ something, it’s about getting a piece of paper in order to start life.  To me this seems problematic for several reasons—firstly, people are expending a lot of time and capital in getting a qualification which they are not interested in, while simultaneously ‘education inflation’ means that a Masters degree will lead only to a couple of years of free internships before being considered for a paid job.  It becomes an entry-level qualification, or even a sub-entry qualification.  Secondly (thirdly?), there’s this idea of ‘paying for a piece of paper’.  Even though my school is way more expensive than the others in the region (again, British university :/), this is something which has been said to me a few times.  I have one guy in mind, who during his first semester bragged about not doing a single reading, didn’t participate in class (when he showed up at all), and just wants to ‘scrape through’ like he ‘did in his undergrad’, because at the end of the day the bit of paper is all that matters.  What kind of heresy is that?!  And yet these are the people with whom I am competing in the jobs market—and in fact they, in many if not all cases, have an advantage, because while they may not have actually learned anything, they are EU citizens and usually at least bilingual.  But they just don’t care !!!  Aaaagh!!!

Frustrations aside however, my course has been absolutely fantastic.  In writing my last round of papers, I couldn’t help but think what an incredible privilege it is—to do nothing but study for a protracted period of time, and to conduct investigations and write papers on topics in which we’re interested.  I mean, how much further from subsistence living can you get?  Education is such a magical and rewarding thing, and I’m so glad (/amazed/in awe) that it’s something I’ve had access to.  As a woman particularly, there are so many times in human history in which this would not have been open to me—relatively recent times.  And even now, in countries all over the world, it’s not a possibility.  So yeah.  I feel lucky.  Really, really lucky.

As to what’s next, well—the eternal question!  I’m still flip-flopping between going straight on to do a PhD, and returning to work.  I think I’m tilting slightly towards the latter, but we’ll see.  And, after all, I have time to think about it: in the morning, I’m flying out of Bxl, and I’ll be spending the next few weeks walking 500km along the Spanish coast.  I’ll then be spending some time in Madrid with Nastya (who has now moved from Wales to Spain with her family), before coming back to start whatever it is I’m doing next.  Ah, how glad I am that ‘direction’ is over-rated…


A few days ago, Craig Steadman died.

This is not the start of a story, and it’s not some random celebrity or refugee or political figure that nobody has ever heard of.  This is a man I used to work with, and he’s dead now.  He was hit by a car and pronounced dead at the scene.

I haven’t experienced many deaths before.  There was Anjali when I was eight years old.  She was run over by the dad of another girl in my class.  I don’t remember much about her—she was quiet and mischievous, and I went to her birthday party once.  She was adopted from Sri Lanka, and she liked to listen to Enya.

Next was Jonathan, when I was in grade eight (fourteen years old).  He was popular, gorgeous, played the piano amazingly, and sailed even better.  Everybody said it was a suicide, while the official line was that he ‘just stopped breathing’ one day.  His brother used to sail with him, and we stopped seeing him at the yacht club.  Everything just kind of changed.

Next was Bevan, a couple of years after I left school.  He was bitten by a brown snake when out running, and decided to keep running home.  He died something like thirty metres from his house, as his running had forced the neurotoxins through his blood stream.  I remember more about him—he was in my pure math class.  He was training to be an engineer.  I bumped into him on a plane one day after leaving school.  He was quiet and nice, and had this sometimes ethereal look to him.

I remember when we’d all just turned eighteen, I ended up at a bar with Bevan one night.  It was a big deal for me, because I was extremely nerdy and unpopular, and here I was with this gorgeous guy.  I remember he offered to buy me a drink, and so I inadvertently ordered my first-ever shot.  It was a ‘squashed frog’, and it was goddamn delicious.  However having no idea of the protocol around shots, and given how delicious it was, I sipped it.  Yup, I was a cool chic.

Later that night we caught a taxi and his stop was first.  He leaned forward and… I don’t know, it was awkward.  He kissed sort of my half-mouth, half-cheek.  I still don’t know where it was meant to end up.  Yet the first thing I thought when I was sitting on the beach at a surfing comp in the Northern Beaches one day, and received a text with the news, was that I’d kissed him in year twelve and now he was dead.  He wouldn’t be kissing anybody anymore ever ever again and it was so shocking.

But Craig wasn’t some girl whose birthday party I went to, or a guy who I admired, or some guy who missed either my cheek or my mouth.  Craig was a guy that I knew.  We worked together at the Island Cruising Club, a sailing school based on a moored Mersey ferry in the Salcombe Estuary (‘but it’s actually a rhea!’—yes, thank you Nathan).  For my first season, I was working and living there from March til October, and the next year just June through August.  For that entire first season Craig and I were both there, at the start when there were only a couple of people, right through the summer when the staff got up to around 32 or 35.  We worked together, we lived together, we socialised together.

My first uncontrollable thought when Craig died was that at least he wasn’t one of my close friends—and he wasn’t.  We haven’t spoken in a couple of years (omg hadn’t), nor seen each other for around five.  And it’s true, we weren’t bosom buddies, but he was an important constant and important person in an important part of my life, and I just can’t quite believe that that and he are gone.

I swear, Craig was the grumpiest codger.  He had a semi-permanent black cloud, which he wore like his inevitably-too­-permeable waterproofs.  He was always pissed at Lee, because Lee kept stealing Craig’s girlfriends.  He was grumpy on the boat, grumpy at work, and occasionally even grumpy at the pub—where he would always go with everybody to socialise, to reminisce over past seasons, and to spend all his money on beer at the Fort.

But the thing is, black cloud aside, hey even black cloud included, Craig was a good guy.  He’d shout and kick up a storm, but I never ever saw him do anything wrong by anybody, not ever.  He’d do his work, he was reliable, he was loyal, he knew when to shut up and when to ask questions, he knew who to talk to and when.  It seems to me that he was often persecuted on the boat—and perhaps that’s part of what led him to drive for the Harbour in the second season instead.  But he himself wanted everybody to get along, and he wanted to be part of that.

Craig would always talk about ‘in Holyhead’, where he came from.  I’m glad to see that he returned there and was working with the life-boats, and it seems like he was finally in a relationship which Lee couldn’t tangle with.  It’s fucking tragic that he died, because he really was a good dude.

I just don’t know what to do with this information.

He’s going to be missed. 

Video of the Hunt for the Elusive Sea Badger.

News article.

Moscow Eve

Tomorrow morning I fly back to Russia, nearly two years to the day since I left.  I’m going for 5.5 weeks, and it should be…interesting.  Naturally I haven’t started to pack yet, but my room is getting extremely clean, so that’s good!

I have very, very mixed feelings about going back.  I guess the only thing that’s changed since my wrap-up love/hate post about Russia is time and perspective—and an annexation or so ;).  Everybody keeps telling me how I must be so excited, and looking forward to going back—but that’s not how I feel at all.  On the one hand, it’ll be great to hear and speak Russian again, to see my former students, friends and colleagues.  It’ll be interesting to see Russia in the summertime (which I’m pretty sure is some kind of oxymoronic impossibility), and to see what’s changed in the intervening two years.  Plus, let’s be honest, Red Square is kick-ass.

On the other hand, eugh.  I’m not looking forward to the stress of it all—the language barrier, given how much I’ve forgotten (cases?  What cases?!).  But far more than that, just the everyday nightmare of people being angry, yelling at each other, using each other, being cruel to one another.  I can never decide whether the dominant emotion in Russia is anger, hatred, despair, or apathy.  Obviously I didn’t have a great time last time, thanks in large part to the asshole company I was working for.  But gosh.  Going back to a country where I’m told to be quiet, because men are talking; where I’m told by strangers that I need to go and ‘fix’ myself to be prettier; where I’m ‘old and stupid‘ because I’m about to turn 30 and aren’t married with kids.  And the godawful food, of course.  So yeah, looking forward to it?  A difficult point to argue.

All the same, I’ve got a pretty fun weekend lined up: tomorrow night I’m going out with Jack, who I studied with in Prague; Saturday night I’m catching up with Hoos, who I worked with for the most epic class in St Petersburg; and then I’m spending Sunday with Artur, who was kind enough to show me around Moscow last time I was there.  From there I don’t know whether I’ll catch the overnight train straight up to Piter, where I’ll be staying with Naz and Mikita (expect a follow-up video with Naz), or go via Nizhniy Novgorod on the ‘mighty Volga’.  Either way, once I arrive I’ll be catching up with people, working on my Russian, and attending a conference at the end of June before flying back to Brussels on the 28th to start a quick summer school on post-Soviet conflict.  Haha.  I guess I can’t be accused of going off-theme.

Be prepared for imminent and inevitable mis-adventuring.


This is not going to be a jolly sort of post.  I’m also going to include a trigger warning.

It’s freaking 2am again, and I can’t stop thinking about an email I received two days ago.  I’ve been tossing and turning, needing to write about it, so figured I’d give up on sleep until it was done.

The email in question was from a book reviewer, who was requesting a copy of Pickles and Ponies to review.  He also mentioned that he’s compiled a book of reviews, and would appreciate my review of that in turn.  This is the pertinent part of my reply:

“Dear [Author], I downloaded and started reading your book this morning, and it was hilarious (though I’m concerned for your rage levels!) – right up until I reached the point where you said you hoped a 10-yo boy got raped.  Wtf is that?!  I mean seriously.  Rape jokes absolutely sicken me.”

His reply?:

“I’m sorry, but that stupid kid in The Wasp Factory needed to be raped. Okay, rape jokes aren’t funny to those who’ve been raped, or to those who even know someone who’s been raped. I know this. But that kid needed to get raped, goddamnit. He was a filthy murderer. And he bored me to tears. And yes, rape jokes crack me the fuck up, even though I know it’s insensitive. But I really don’t care.”

…what a piece of shit, right?!

I once had a conversation with a friend where I pulled him up on his use of rape jokes.  I pointed out that they affect those who have been assaulted, they’re not funny, and they enable, you know, rapists.  Because it’s all in good fun, right?

Okay, seriously—last chance to turn back.  Things are only going to go downhill from here.


All right.  So I’ve alluded to it quite a few times (eg here), but fact of the matter is, I was raped by one of my best friends when I was 19.  And I don’t find these jokes funny at all.  And despite the red pill misogynistic bullshit which is associated with the word ‘trigger’, you know what?  People can be triggered.  And even if those millions of men and women who have been sexually assaulted and raped don’t suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and aren’t triggered by your ‘jokes’, you’re still fucking making light of the terrible things they’ve been through.  That’s sick.  It’s messed up.  It is not the fuck okay.

I’ve mentioned it before, but 1 in 3 Australian girls is sexually assaulted by the time she’s 18.  I don’t know the figures for other countries, but that is a lot.  That’s not funny.

In reading this author’s collection of reviews, the same complaints kept coming uphe wanted more torture porn, more rape, [I deleted the rest of this sentence because it was fucking abhorrent.  That bad].  He really seems to think that using the language of sexual violence is okay, is hilarious.

What is not hilarious is what I have to go through every day.  Honestly, the number of times I’ve wished I could just go back in time and not live through itthat’s how difficult this is.  You feel dirtied and broken and like it’s your fault.  The people I grew up with told me not to tell others, because I shouldn’t upset them.  I’m still incapable of having a normal relationship, or even of picking up, because it is terrifying.  One of the many of the ‘worst things’ of the whole situation was the way the guy was looking at me: adoringly, obsessively, like he cared about me.  Now, if a guy gets all googly-eyed, like he likes me, I feel panic.  I want to run away.  I do run away.  I leave the city, leave the state, leave the country.  Because this is something I associate with fear.  And yes, yes I’ve had therapy.

What else?  Well, there’s the part which a lot of people go through, where you start binging on self-destruction, drinking or drugs or whatever, sightlessly hooking up with anybody—because if it doesn’t mean anything, then what they did to you doesn’t matter.  It can all be undone.

There’s the part where, even if you’re with someone you trust, something you can’t even define happens, and you’re instantly back thereyou’re terrified, you don’t know where you are or who you’re with, and you’re trapped in this experience from which there’s no escape.  And you feel like a fucking crazy person, and on top of that, you feel bad for inconveniencing whomever you’re with.  It’s even more fun when they treat you like you’re making things up (“but were you really raped?  like [description]?”), or you should magically be over it, or like you have any control at all over what you’re going through.

There’s the part where, because you can’t handle these ‘nice guys’ who are into you, you instead date a string of cheating douchebagswhoohoo for avoidant behaviour!

There’s the part where you’ll be out with friends and they’ll joke that you should make out with whichever guy, and all you can feel is terror and loss of control.  Needless to say, I address this with friends, ie to never joke about or pressure me into hooking up with anybody.  It’s pretty great not being able to have the love/sex life you want, because it’s simultaneously the most terrifying thing you can think of.  Add in a couple of assaults and guys who don’t understand “no” on top of all of the former, and really, it’s a fucking struggle to keep going and not give up.

None of this is funny to me.  It’s pretty much the exact opposite of funny.  And then when I think of the statistically hundreds of millions of men and women who have been and continue to go through all of this, it just makes me so sad.  It’s not even slightly okay to me that rape or assault is something that somebody would joke about, or something they could say somebody ‘deserved’.

Okay, I think I’m all written out enough to sleep now.  But please oh please, next time you hear someone who thinks that our experiences are hilarious and should be repeated, pull them up on it.  Because rape jokes Are Not Funny.

Excellent argument at this link.