Breaking my hiatus: PhD life and problems encountered so far.

I’ve finally picked up this blog again after a hiatus of almost two years! My last post was during my third year in undergraduate, and before I’d picked up my MA. I kept thinking that I should write something over the MA, but between reading, assignments and applying for a PhD/funding I simply did not have time. I was both privileged and lucky enough to be successful in my applications, and am now trying to find my feet in the world of PhD research!

The project I’m working on, titled Shared solutions to common problems: comparative study of Byzantine treaties and English treaties 900 – 1200, proposes to compare the treaties between two of the most bureaucratic states in the medieval world. This will highlight which goals medieval rulers pursued via diplomacy. So far my time has been largely spent on two things; working on my languages, and locating my sources. The former has been dominated by learning Ancient Greek, having picked up Latin in my MA. I’ve found Greek very tricky, although this may largely be due to the alphabet! Thankfully it’s starting to fall into place anyway. I can now read simple texts with the aid of a dictionary!

Its been very easy to become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of opportunity that comes attached to the PhD. I have already studied in multiple archives, and attended multiple talks. In February I’m traveling to Cambridge to improve my Greek, in March I’m visiting the British Library and in July I’ll be spending a month in Dublin’s Trinity College, again to improve my Greek. At times I find myself paralyzed by choice in terms of skills development opportunities, conferences and research trips that I am able to undertake. Indeed, it’s hard not to loose sight of what I’m being funded to research! Thankfully I meet with my supervisor fairly regularly, which keeps me on track.

Despite my initial bewilderment, and the occasional frustrating moment when you just cannot find the document/reference you’re looking for (I have legitimately lost weeks of my life to searching for the Byzantine-Bulgar treaty of 927), I’m still finding this experience enjoyable. My only prior research experience has only been that of my MA, and my CUROP project. While neither of those experiences had the attached opportunities, they did show me how research could be both incredibly rewarding and very exhausting. I suspect I’ll be feeling both of these states as I pursue this project, most likely much more intensely than before. For now, I’m somewhat reminded of an article I wrote on my CUROP project, where a second year undergraduate version of myself had the confidence to speculate on research life:

“There is no set road to research, but rather a jungle, and you’ve simply been handed a machete with which to cut through the undergrowth, in any direction you see fit”.

I fear I may have lost myself in the jungle already.


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