Yesterday I popped into our postgrad office to print up my thesis-in-progress. I’ve reasoned that I’ll find it easier to delete sections if I have a hard copy I can refer back to if I need to… and I can use it to mark up and review the follow-up notes I store in the comments to myself at the side of the page … and to check that the dreaded references are all in the proper format!
I’ve been working at home recently and although I was only in the postgrad office for a couple of hours, it felt good to be there and catch up with colleagues and friends. Although we are from a variety of disciplines and are undertaking often very different projects we are a close community. Sometimes I think that there aren’t many people who ‘get’ what it is like undertaking doctoral research. I don’t think any of my colleagues have said ‘why don’t you just sit down and write it’ or ‘how hard can it be’; instead there is support and a sense of camaraderie in our shared experiences of the ups-downs-highs-lows-miseries-and-celebrations as we carry out our research.
Yesterday, settled and working at my ‘hot desk’ in the comforting cocoon of the office, the fire alarm started to blare. There was a moment of waiting for it stop. Then there was a moment of exasperation as it kept going. Then there was a quick moment of clattering as fingers clicked keyboards to ensure documents were safely saved. Then – resigned to the situation – we were on our feet, coats grabbed, bags slung over shoulders and shuffling as quickly as we could down several flights of stairs, to stand – at first outside on the road immediately outside the building and then – after we were shooed along from our ‘ready-steady-waiting to get immediately back in’ position – to stand in the crisp chill of the Meadows.
Standing outside in a huddle, we laughed as we tutted about the disturbance oh for goodness sake… someone in the building has probably set the alarm off making toast…(again!!!)…we’ve got work to do… and then we laughed at ourselves as we were the first to be skipping happily back into the building the moment the fire brigade left and a fire officer signalled the all clear. Laughing, in the lift, on the way back to the top floor, we recognised most people would probably enjoy a moment away from their desks…but sometimes, when you are reading-writing intensely, any kind of disturbance disrupts the kind of continuous writing and focus that I know I so desperately seek when I’m writing up my thesis.
Today, I’ve worked at home at my PhD desk in my wee study. My desk is littered with books and papers and object that are relevant to my research – but it is a very tidy organised kind of chaos. I like to feel comfortable in my space. And I like to know that I know exactly where everything is – even if it looks untidy. Sitting with the thesis-in-progress I eventually got printed yesterday (along with a number of new articles (that I know I do not need to be reading!)) I hunted down my stapler and hole punch so I could organise and place them in a folder. The stapler in the postgrad office rarely works (if it can be found with staples in it) and I don’t think I’ve seen a hole punch in the office…which is why I just popped the papers in my bag yesterday ready to be stapled and filed at home… until I realised this morning – that I could not find either my stapler or hole punch in their designated locations on my desk… or accidentally popped in a drawer… or downstairs in the living room…
A quick visit to the shop and I am the happy owner of a new stapler and hole punch – which I have clearly labelled ‘Mum’s stapler’ and ‘Mum’s ring punch’. Look – I said to the kids – these are mine – these belong to me – and no-one is to touch them… and then I softened a wee bit – well if you touch them or borrow them (like the ones I suspect you have already borrowed from me and mislaid/lost-never-to-be-found somewhere in the depths of your untidy disorganised rooms!) then you ABSOLUTELY MUST RETURN THEM…OR ELSE!!!! – or else what…? They are disinterested as they shrug…. it’s only a stapler and hole punch. Less than half an hour later, my eldest returns to my wee study… You know Mum… he sagely says… you would be better spending your time concentrating on your thesis rather than going on about your stationery. And with these words of teenage wisdom bestowed upon me, he wanders out the room with my new hole punch in his hand.
And as one of my newly purchased belongings made its way out of my wee study (probably never to be seen again) it made me think about longing for ‘belonging’. And I realised how grateful I am for having a sense of belonging at home – with family and a sense of belonging at work – with my postgraduate office family.