Work time is no time at all

What’s a student to do? Since Christmas I have been filling time with having no time at all. So many jobs to do, there’s no time for any of them. Making a start on one, you’re behind on the last… and end up with eight problems and barely a touch made on any of them. In a working environment this is pretty easy to fix by collaborating (or – conspiring) with fellow workers: we used to spike the instruction manuals we wrote for leading, here-to-be-unnamed British mobile telephone company with pictures of family members’ cats and Electric Wizard lyricsBut as a student it’s tricky. We work in little invisible boxes. And the only way to escape, sometimes, is to break out. Play darts. Get food.

who would have thunk Beavis and Butthead would spin off a cartoon that was, like, good, and stuff

At least you get pizza when you stop to get pizza

I’ve made money from jobs on the side. It’s getting to the point where I want to cut everything out and focus on work. I want work to stop being work, and start being enjoyable again. There isn’t time for work.

Alone in the UK this Christmas

In-country visa applications should take about 20 days. UKBA are holding onto them for more than three months; leaving thousands of students stranded alone in Britain this Christmas.

UKBA’s poor service has left thousands of students stranded this Christmas

Sure, Britain isn’t perfect. But we do have things we do well, and university education is one of them. Our universities are among the best in the world, and according to UNESCO, somewhere near 400,000 students and researchers come to Britain every year to study with us.

If you’re an international student here and want to extend your visa – for example, if you are a Masters student beginning a research degree – the UK Border Agency accepts an “in-country application” for visa extensions. The procedure costs £394 and crucially, the UKBA requires every student to send all original documentation as well as their passport with the application. Documents are returned when the process is complete.

UKBA’s own target for returning a successful visa is 20 days. But UKBA isn’t doing what they promise. According to the Border Agency’s own independent inspector, only 12% of applications meet this target. A freedom of information request made in September found the average time for processing such a visa is currently 108 days.

The National Union of Students reports that thousands of international students are at risk of being held in the UK, unable to go home this Christmas because UKBA are holding onto their passports for – according to the Financial Times – between “four and seven months” (FT article here – £). At the University of Bath, of 151 students who submitted applications within the prescribed time – and paid the £394 fee – only 11 have received timely service from UKBA. Another international office responded to the NUS that of 300 visa applications made in September and October, only 30 have been processed.

This means that, if you have a university in your city, you can expect hundreds of international students to be stuck here this year through no fault of their own, having paid £394 to UKBA in the autumn, and often hundreds of pounds out of pocket on a return flight they can’t take, because their passport is being held by the Border Agency.

So whatever your political views on the matter do please remember: there are thousands of students, here, unable to see their families at Christmas this year, even though they have followed the proper procedures for visa applications, simply because UKBA can’t get their act together.

If you are running an event over the holiday period please let your local University’s students union know. They can forward details to those who may be here alone this Christmas.

The NUS is urging people to write to their local MP. Let’s make sure this level of terrible service isn’t suffered by international students again.

Conceptualizing Facebook as a city

As a visitor to Facebook and not a resident – I don’t maintain an account there myself – it’s been interesting to see how people interact with you when you say you’re not on the site. Usually they say “good on you” or “I will leave it myself, some day…”

What’s striking to me is that people say similar things about living in the countryside rather than the city. Leaving Facebook is a plan for the future, an idealistic thing, maybe something to do for your kids.

This got me thinking about conceptualizing Facebook as a city, and how it relates to that old dead metropolis Geocities. Urban planning isn’t something related to my research but the principles around identity and belonging are not far off, at least; and I found it an interesting thought experiment. We live online, with our friends and colleagues. What kind of a place is the internet – as an accumulation of people working and living together – turning into, should it follow Facebook’s model?

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Now this: this is a city.

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From the books to real life

This month I am running my first three focus groups – one with a team, and two alone for my PhD project – and it feels different to the way I expected it would. I am very nervous! To my imagination this step would be a peak of certainty, my head full of answers provided by scholars in their firmament and brilliant journals and this theory executed on willing volunteers with more answers to give, if only I pose the questions correctly.

Positivistic framework is positivistic

Positivistic framework is positivistic

Oy vey. Every suggestion in a journal leads to six more questions each of which point to this or that idea and – ack! more like a Looney Tunes character who runs off a cliff and legs spinning, is stuck in mid-air until he looks down to realize the ground has gone (and whhhhheeeeeeeooooo…. splat!) enthusiasm, and lurching at deadlines, has gathered me so many well informed uncertainties that the original truths show up diaphanous.

At the moment with the radio on sketching a blog post it seems clear. I hosted a pub quiz for postgraduates on Monday, up on a dais both thrilled by the game of it and embarrassed and wanting to disappear as I guess everyone feels on a microphone before a crowd. Afterwards with a(nother!) beer a PhD student recommended to me a yearly talk by “Hugh somebody, he’s  Australian” and told me this Hugh’s message was: I hardly ever meet a student who doesn’t have the capacity for it, maybe one in twenty, but the secret is that all of you especially the other nineteen will feel deep down like you’re too stupid to be a PhD student (all agreed: I hope that’s true!).

Well. So: the words are clear, that lacking confidence is fine. Deeper down, I wonder if our agreement on Hugh says, maybe, it’s OK to have little failures. It may be enough to keep hold of the questions, and not chase pure answers. In that case my reading isn’t in order to build, and complete, a great research method. It’s to improve my questions and stumble, hopefully, on something useful. I would like that. Because, according to Hugh Somebody, I will never know if I have a great research method because all students feel like idiots. I like that too.


I should say: I will be posting frequently to keep myself on course and in touch, and to meet great public demand (hello ma!) I will be attaching stupid pictures from my notebook to accompany my words as I go along. Keep in touch, all! Open comments below!

The Electric Ant

My research accelerates! So far I have been planning fieldwork in principle and now it’s time to take action. To have so many (and such complicated!) things to do, and a relatively comfortable time – six months – in which to do them is a challenge for me. I’m used to having a question given to me, and to be able to hammer out an essay to that question in some brief period, and seldom to have to organize anything outside pure research except a cloth to clean all the spilled tea from my keyboard.

muxtape was brilliant, wasn't it?

The Ant: an Introduction

I’m pleased to be doing an MRes for this reason. At first this extra preliminary year seemed like a logical way to build skills but essentially superfluous, an extra year to get through in order to keep my funding. Now it strikes me a wonderful opportunity to turn my preparation for my PhD project into a marathon rather than a sprint. Rather than hacking straight into the jungle the MRes has me on a well travelled path as I prepare my question and plot my methodology. This semester I’m running one project ostensibly as a pilot, although I am hoping to raise useful data from it, and I am thinking to beat my dissertation into a methodology chapter. In the long run how perfect if, instead of that old blighted and unpaid fourth year the students I meet dread filling with belated writing up, I instead have a productive MRes first year to put my hand steadily to the plough? Just as long as I work hard and get it done on time, I think I will look back and think this MRes a Good Thing.

Hey! I am also excited about something I thought would be a deadly bore – an independent research essay – having realized I can put it to work on some interesting topic I don’t usually tackle. Got the idea to look at science fiction… oh, or protest signs, that would be interesting! hm…