Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Current research

Many of you do not know but over the past year, I've gone back to studies. I'm in the second year of a PhD (English Studies/Creative Writing) at Durham University in the UK. (Please hold your congratulations until I've actually finished doing this; send good luck and fortitude instead). It has been over two decades since I was a scholar and I was rather nervous about my own aptitude viz academic reading and writing. I am mainly a practitioner and a background in journalism teaches you something about research but it does not involve quite the same degree of immersion in one topic and any analysis you offer doesn't have to be supported/evidenced to the same extent. Doctoral research, even if you do it via artistic practice, is different. I've made it past the one year mark, so I thought I should let more people know. Some of you have been reaching out, inviting me to places and events now that things are opening up again after the Covid-19 situation. Or asking me to read and review or blurb books and I have not been able to do much because there is SO MUCH reading to do towards my own research.

In case you're wondering, I'm looking at the figure of the witch in contemporary South Asian fiction, and starting to feel like I do know something about it. In case you're also wondering, unlike an MFA, a creative writing PhD is not geared towards the production of a novel or a collection of poetry. One submits some creative work but it is research based, AND a critical thesis that contextualizes the research, provides a theoretical framework for it either within the field or across disciplines where necessary.

When I started to apply, someone had asked me: why do you need to do this? Need is the wrong word, of course. I want to do this. I've just never been able to afford it before. I have applied and been accepted twice before, at a Masters' programme in the UK when I was in my early 20s and then an MFA programme in the USA in my late 20s. But there was no money, not even enough money to defer admission and to reapply the next year for more scholarships, or to take a year off just to build a stronger application. I was determined not to ask anyone else, not even my own family, for that much money. So it took me much longer. It was during the pandemic that I finally began to clear my head and think about how far I've come and how much further I want to go, and what kinds of things I want to work on in the future.

A PhD is very hard work; it is not the same as starting a new literary project. There are days when I am physically exhausted from trying to understand yet another chapter or theory. However, if you want to go back to studies after a long break, I recommend you do so. Here, I am relieved to notice some grey heads and harried parents of teenagers at conferences and seminars. It is good to be free of that nonsense about 'Why are they still in university?' Education is for everyone and research especially (in my view) gets more interesting when you have some experience of the world. I feel better prepared to undertake my research now, with more confidence and curiosity than when I was in my 20s.

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