If I Were to Do My PhD Again …

Before 2011, I had never thought that one day I would choose to do a PhD. But I did it! I have not suffered from ‘Permanent Head Damage’, though it is true that I find it a ‘Probably Hard to Describe’ experience. What I hope to share with you are some of my thoughts when I look back on my journey 2 years after my PhD viva. I am not going to talk about the sacrifices that one has to make or the hardship that one has to endure (C’est la vie! Life is like a box of chocolate, and…

A Tiny Clinic for the Soul?

I visited the British Library in London a few evenings ago to listen to a talk given by Alberto Manguel, the author of The Library at Night and A History of Reading. Manguel, no stranger to poetic metaphor, described libraries as a “clinic for the soul” and spoke of learning to read as “akin to falling in love, like an epiphany or a contagion.” Listening to someone talking with passion and authority about the places and spaces where readers read is something that I treasure, partly because it is so rare to hear anyone mention the built environment in connection…

How to Manage Your Time During the PhD: Balancing the Thesis, Writing for Publications and Gaining Teaching Experience

During my PhD career at Cambridge (September 2012 to July 2016), I spent around 95 per cent of my time in a magical sphere called the University of Cambridge Writing Group. In this space, I wrote nearly my entire thesis, published three peer-reviewed journal articles, won a Best Paper Award and landed a job as Lecturer in Education immediately after graduation. I now have friends who write to me from time to time to get my advice on time management, on job hunting and on work-life balance. While I keep emphasising to them that publication is the most important, I…

On Being an Ethnographer

I’m writing in the arid, breezy shade outside my £10 per night hotel in northeastern Uganda. This weekend I’m taking a break from PhD life. Not really. I’m actually here to interview alumnae from the secondary school where my research is based. Being an ethnographer, everyday and every moment can be a research moment.  There is taking a break, but not turning off. My master’s supervisor, Dr. David Mills, with Morton, describe on the first page of their book that ethnography is ‘being, seeing, writing.  Simple participles that belie the complexity of their meanings.’ (Mills & Morton, 2013). They write…

The PhD and Reading in the Digital Age

My research focuses upon how we read on screens, compared to printed pages. It’s a topic I’m profoundly interested in because of how our reading habits are changing right under our fingertips — this is especially so at a time when it seems that printed books are surpassing ebooks in terms of our preferred reading medium. Digital Reading The topic of digital reading comes up quite a bit while doing PhD research. We all tend to read a lot of articles, often in PDF form, and if you are a tablet owner, a good PDF app is essential. (I’m constantly tinkering with apps but two favorites…

Finding My Research Interest

Graduate students learn very quickly how to perfect their elevator-pitch, the generally accessible, succinct description of their research. It is employed at conferences, social situations in college, and even family gatherings—Aunt Muriel always seems to ask, “Remind me again what exactly it is you do?” I usually say that I look at pre-service teachers’ (i.e. students studying to become teachers) epistemology (philosophy of knowledge, knowing, and learning) and beliefs about teaching. Aunt Muriel tends to respond by inquiring, “And how exactly did you decide to do that?” My research interests grew out of my own personal background as well as…

Historically Burdened Concepts in Education

My work focuses on four terms with burdened histories: intelligence, genetics, race, and socio-economic status. Broadly, I use mixed-methods and intersectionality theory to examine how genetics research into intelligence and educational attainment might affect the United States education system, where documented racial and socioeconomic disparities prevail and where teacher perceptions of student ability are known to affect student performance and referrals for gifted education programs (Elhoweris et al, 2005; Gillborn et al, 2012; Grissom, 2016; Slate et al, 1990). Intelligence is a highly charged word with ties to racist, classist, and eugenic narratives. As a highly valued quality, it has been used…