A week in the life of the Dissertating: Scottish Summer edition

by Anna Blanch on June 5, 2012

Last time I wrote a week in the life of the dissertating I was in Australia. This time I am in St Andrews, Scotland. Every week of this process is different. This was last week.

I Woke up late on Monday morning compared to lately at 6:30am. Spend some time writing about the week ahead: 4 weeks and 6 days. I have a sense of fear and weightiness I haven’t felt often during this process. It doesn’t feel good.

I head into the office around 9:30. A little later than usual, but the antibiotics I’m on are knocking me about a little. I drop into the St Mary’s College office to get an interlibrary loan request form signed (every single ILL request must be physically signed) by a departmental secretary. She photocopies the form for their records and I take the original (also signed by me) across town to the university library to hand it in. This is an article from march 2012 and it is pertinent to the final chapter so I’m really hoping that it come through in the next week.

I see a couple of colleagues in the almost deserted library. We have a quick chat about the library redevelopment. One colleague had asked for books to be removed from the stacks in the closed off area last Friday and was still waiting for them, the other was looking for the meaning of what appeared to be an archaic German word. I then headed up the street to the Roundel for a day of work.

Fueled by the shortbread our cleaner Rachel spirits to us every secondary Tuesday, large glasses of water and a large tray of Raspberries,  I wrote for about 6 hours. My day was interspersed with short visits with colleagues discussing the Transpositions schedule and possible future contributors.

Whenever I needed a 10 minute break I continued the cleaning up process and threw away some more paper.

It is memorial day in the US and my American colleagues have set up a beach bbq, American football etc on the beach in the late afternoon. I decided not to join them though it is sunny and the beach beckons. I decide to stay and work on chapter five. There are 8 days until my time here in on this trip is done and I’m feeling the weight of limited time.

I worked until 1830 feeling like I had gotten somewhere with incorporating some material I worked on last week into the draft – there is a bunch of pages with red pen all over them. Tomorrow will be about transferring the red pen to keystrokes.  I left the office and walked the ten minutes or so to the home of the friends who have been so hospitable to me.

I enjoyed supper with this lovely family. I was on the receiving end of baby smiles. Then there was washing up and putting away and some chatting about the second hunger games book….We like Katniss, for the record.

I retired very tired at 9pm.


Woke late at 6:30. My jaw is causing me all sorts of trouble so it’s probably good that I’m seeing  the dentist again today.

I spent time with my hosts this morning and enjoyed the baby exploring and playing.

I went into the office around 9:30 and worked solidly until around 1:30. There were distractions – people opening the door to the office I share with four others to see one of the four others. I really made good progress on the chapter draft though and at one point went over the 80,000 word mark for the first time. Thankfully, the revisions mean that I’m back in 79,000 word territory but I was, in all, disappointed to have to leave it to head to the Dentist (again)!

I’ve had lots of problems with a recurring infection in my jaw. I finally had a tooth removed last week, but that too has resulted in an infection and antibiotics. I’ve felt knocked about a bit.

Following the appointment I headed back to my friends’ house and took a rest with a view to finishing the chapter draft today. I was so close.

I typed up the rest of the edits and used lots of ice.

By 8:30 though I had crashed, unfortunately missing bible study.


Woke up at around 8am after a restless night. My jaw is causing all kinds of problems. I feel wiped out. After hanging out with Maria and the baby we walked into town together and I headed to the office, where I worked solidly until just before 2pm.

I wrote about the 79,800 words of draft I have now.

I printed out a copy of all five chapters as they stand with the introduction and conclusion. It feels hefty if nothing else.

I headed home early around 2:30, and worked on chapter five some more, but eventually decided an early night was best crashing out around 8:30pm.


Started writing at 6 this morning. Working on this chapter five that I’d like to have in a decent place before my meeting because I know my head will be dragged elsewhere by my advisors’ comments. I walked in to the Roundel via Argos so i could buy a £2.99 replacement for my failed (much more expensive) earbuds. I ran into a colleague in the store. St Andrews is like that – it’s a small town and you can’t help but run into people whereever you go.

I worked on moving this chapter five forward for a few more hours. I printed out an uptodate version of chapter five and updated the word counts and the top pages of my research priorities document with the questions I really wanted to ask my advisers so I didn’t forget them.

I admit that I was very nervous.

I walked down the street from the Roundel to St Mary’s College around a quarter to 2. The day was rainy and overcast. I climbed the stairs to my supervisor’s office and waited in the alcove by his office until my other supervisor arrived for the meeting. The meeting lasted a little over two hours. I have comments on one of the chapters and a schedule for the work to be getting on with this summer. I am looking forward to comments on other sections and chapters and hopefully they will come in due course. There are little glimpses of light at the end of a long dark and difficult to navigate tunnel.

I also received an email from the library saying they had my inter-library loan request and that they would get back to me when they heard anything. I really need this article for the 5th chapter. Otherwise, my email was being really difficult and not receiving or sending.

I set off early to do errands this morning before planning to head to the Roundel for a few hours before meeting some friends from church for lunch and a few hours of sight seeing. And then I was reminded that nothing institutional opens in Scotland before 9:30. There goes my early morning Errand plan. So, the library beckoned. I met a colleague at the front door waiting for it to open. We talked about submission and moving countries and the uncertainty of the job market and the writing of book proposals. I will miss these conversations and competent and generous colleagues like this one.

It was a beautiful sunny day in St Andrews.

At around a quarter to ten I started on the errands and by 10:30 I was back in the roundel having procured a new introduction letter from the University registry and having unsuccessfully attempted to try and get the bank to hold my new card in the branch until I return from the US. One would think that I would not be the only person to have made this kind of request…but it seems that the UK’s different ways of doing things would strike again.

Somewhere in the midst of this day It seemed right to reflect on the glimpses of grace that “daily” life offers up.

I did make it back to the Roundel to work for an hour. Then I joined with some friends for an afternoon of sightseeing the fife coastal  fishing villages.

Not to be outdone, I joined another friend and her daughter for a trip to the park (and much excitement over riding those bouncy animals on her own) before dinner. Finally, I headed off to local pub that the divinity PhD students frequent for some drinks for a colleague leaving. I guess i made up for the complete lack of a social life for the past couple of months in one afternoon.

Exhausted and though the time with friends was much needed, I feel like I didn’t work enough today.

I woke up around 6. But, I was very tired. Did some reading and admin and was reminded that it is very difficult to do admin from a distance sometimes…

Feeling alot of pressure about how much I need to work today. Booked train tickets for next week. Trying to get my head around being in California in just 5 days from now. Started the packing process and wrote a post on packing and travelling light!

I edited 3 or 4 pages of chapter five but though the mind was possessed of the will, I just couldn’t get think clearly enough to get work done on it.

In the end with a joyful heart I joined my friends for a walk to Alanhill Farm. It was a lovely afternoon.

The baby had a rough night and thus so did the adults in the house – me less of course than his parents. Awake at 7.

writing, editing on chapter five

Wrote a reflection on the jubilee and a little on the snake handling post.

Talked with my mum on skype before walking in to the office at 11am.

Stayed until 12:30pm tidying and  writing before walking down the street to the Jubilee street party being held by Holy Trinity, St Andrews.

There was much merriment and hats and good cheer and a minister playing the bagpipes.

Later that afternoon I went to the park with friends — and read a little (a book that relates to the final chapter of course).

The I headed back to Church for Trinity with Hans Bayer from covenant speaking about prayer, Daniel 9 and Jeremiah.

I can’t believe I’m leaving Scotland again in just two days.

Every week is different. This was a productive one, but I’m tired and in desperate need of a few days completely off, which thankfully are on the horizon — If I can send off the chapter five draft I’ll even be able to have them with a clear conscience!

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  • Annice

    Rather like the piper!

    • http://www.goannatree.com/ Goannatree

       I’d rather hope so! 🙂

  • http://jonnymccormick.wordpress.com/ @jonnymccormick

    Thanks for taking the time to write these posts.  As someone who is still relatively early on in the PhD process it gives an important glimpse into what it’s like to see the light at the end of the tunnel (and everything that it entails!).

    • http://www.goannatree.com/ Goannatree

       I’m glad Jonny! Everybody’s experience is different and everybody’s way of working is different – so my experience (even week to week) is going to be different from anybody else’s. I work best in the early morning for instance. But the experience of the hard slog and the months of work with little break seem to be common. It’s important to get into a rhythm that affords you some rest and relaxation at opportune times!  What are you working on your phd in?

      • http://jonnymccormick.wordpress.com/ @jonnymccormick

        I’m in Political Science at Queen’s University Belfast.  It’s going well so far.  But the last semester has been a write off almost with a number of personal and work related situations popping up unexpectedly. But, I have been afforded a sabbatical from work for a month – so I’m hoping to be putting in some long slog days to try and get caught up.

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