Catching a Break

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Graffiti from the Streets of Barcelona

Check this out – a second blog post in one month, that hasn’t happened for a while!

Since my last post I’ve been away to Barcelona, had a quick trip to Bournemouth University, been on hockey tour, attended a workshop on object handling and did my first bit of teaching to children! And in between doing the usual PhD work – so I’ve been busy!

First off Barcelona. It was beautiful. A lovely city with amazing architecture, history and somewhere I intend to visit again. My boyfriend and I went to celebrate his birthday and used it as a chance to get a break away from our work and spend some time with each other. It was absolutely lovely and perfect. We walked a lot but it was worth it to see so much of the city (plus it gave us the excuse to sit in many bars to have a rest and a drink!). We visited the typical tourist spots including La Rambla, Sagrada Familia and the Cathedral. Plus we wondered through the winding streets of the Gothic Quarter. It was incredible, especially Sagrada Familia. I honestly haven’t been in a building that was quite so spectacular! The design and architecture were stunning and the colours created by the stained glass windows were magnificent. I’m not a religious or particularly spiritual person but this was an awe-inspiring place! A must see if you are ever in Barcelona! It was a lovely few days, getting away and getting some head space – and of course the food was incredible! But it definitely reminded me that it’s important to take time for yourself and switch off from daily work life.

So what else? Oh yeah a brief to Bournemouth University to look at some Bronze Age juveniles. There were only a few individuals in their collection, but enough to complete my sample for this time period! This makes me very happy as it’s something tangible that I can tick off as ‘done’. It definitely helps towards the feeling of moving forward and making progress. Now to start looking at the data!

A good week of PhD work the occurred ending with a weekend away on hockey tour! Those who are not familiar with this is a weekend of playing social hockey (i.e. not that serious!) and meeting different players and clubs. It’s a great way to meet other people and to get to know the players on your team better. It was the first tour I’ve been on with Guildford hockey club and was a good laugh! I even saw a friend from Uni which was a lovely surprise. I bump into him randomly now and then so it was great having a catch up – the world of hockey can be a small place!

Moving to this week I’ve tried some new things! The first was attending a CDP (Collaborative Doctoral Partnership – my PhD funding scheme) workshop on object handling. This included going to the V&A (Victoria & Albert Museum) in London to discuss how people (including other CDP students and V&A staff) learn from objects within a collection. Part of the day included short presentations by CDP students about objects or collections involved in their research. Originally, I had not intended to go to the workshop but at the training days the other week I met the student organisers who asked me to present. I agreed and instead of discussing some of the skeletal collections or a particular object I took a different route – to discuss how attitudes towards excavation and reconstruction of human skulls has changed over time. In summary, during my PhD data collection, I came across particular collections (excavated during the late 1800s/early 1900s) that only consisted of skulls – almost all of which had been reconstructed. These reconstructions were made using troublesome materials, such as clay, metal and heavy glues, causing damage to the bones and preventing future research. This of course does not happen today. Guidelines produced by the British Museum and Department of Culture, Media and Sport now recommend excavation and conservation practices and state that conservation/reconstruction should only take place when necessary and by a trained professionals. It is interesting to consider how objects (including human remains) can be used to inform us just of past individuals or populations but also about the collectors and attitudes of the time. This was reflected and considered in talks by other students, as well as other common themes spanning different types of collections and objects. It was a very interesting session and a great chance to meet new people outside the world or bio-archaeaology! It was also great to gain more insight into attitudes of museums and how they look at objects. hopefully there will be more of these sessions in the future!

Finally, this week I had my first experience of teaching children. Yesterday I helped a friend who does some outreach within Southampton University. This included teaching classes 10 year-olds a little about archaeology and burials. Basically, the idea to get the kids to put together a small model of a skeleton then bury it with objects that may tell us about that person. It was quite fun and certainly a new experience for me! I’m glad that I get the chance to do some teaching, there’s a few more coming up next month so we’ll see how I get on then!

So over the last 3 weeks I’ve been quite busy. It’s all good though and I like the variety – it stops me getting stuck or bored!

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Oops I Did it Again…

oops i did it again memeI’ve left it a while since writing a blog post! Sorry the PhD took over my life for a while there (a bit more than usual!).

So what have I been doing? Well there has been some more data collecting, more writing, more hockey and the upgrade. For those of you who don’t know about the PhD process some universities conduct upgrades during the PhD. This is an examination type meeting where a couple of lecturers (most likely within the same department as you) question the PhD student on a piece of written work and assess whether they a) have a project that can stand and process onto a PhD and 2) that the student knows what they are doing?!

To be honest mine feels like a bit of a blur and it is quite an odd experience! However, I came through it and received some great advice that I will be using to refine, restructure and focus my project. I’m hoping that I’ll continue my PhD with a slightly new perspective and with the knowledge that it is going well (although I will have to remind my self that constantly. It’s the nature of the beast!).

Please note that for each university this process is different and has different requirements. When I talk about my upgrade it only relates to my experience. I highly recommend attending any training events relating to the upgrade and/or talk to your supervisors and fellow students who have gone through it. I was told that this is to help prepare you for the final viva so it is going to be tough – but worth it in the end! 

So what else have I been doing? Well more data collection for a start. I’ve visited a couple more museums including Cheltenham Museum and a small collection held by the University of Bristol Spelaeologial Society (which also hosts the brilliant cave Gazetteers website that I mention on my British Osteologial Collections page). But I guess the one I would like to brag about is the Natural History Museum! Yup I was lucky enough to carry out a weeks data collection at the NHM London.

The NHM is one of my favourite museums, I went there a number of times and now that I live near London I can go as often as I like. But it was such a great opportunity to go and use some of their collection in my research. The lovely Curatorial Assistant was on hand to help with any questions and queries and it was great getting to chat to her. I hope to see her again at BABAO 2017 where we both hope to present a poster. It was a privilege to work there and can even say that I met the curator of the human remains collections (who was also our first key note speaker at our SSSB conference – see previous post). In addition, as part of the agreement to collect data I carried out some basic osteological curation work on the specimens I examined by completing an inventory sheet of the remains. It may sound like a small thing but it will allow for easier and more efficient inventorying and assessment for future researches and curators – and hey every little helps!

What else is there…Oh yeah I’ve just come off from two excellent training days organised by the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP), who fund my PhD. These two days talked about life after the PhD, getting and applying for funding grants and things to consider when applying for jobs. Even though I am only in my 2nd year to was a great thing to attend. It means I can start thinking about what I want to do now, and start preparing my CV, skills and research so I can look for work/funding efficiently and productively when the time comes. It was also great to meet some of the other CDP students, it’s always nice to hear about their experiences and learn about their research. Through this I was asked if I would like to do a small presentation about object handling at another CDP event coming up in a few weeks (check out those networking skills lol!). They haven’t got anyone talking about human remains so I think I will take them up on their offer. Plus it will give me another chance to practice my presentation skills! I’ll report back in a few weeks to let you know how it went!

Anyway, I hope this gives you a little idea of what I’ve been up to. Next week I’m away in Barcelona (it’s the boyfriend’s birthday treat) and will come back refreshed and relaxed ready to hit the ground running with the PhD. Until then…adios!