I graduated!

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On Wednesday, I graduated from UCL with my PhD! This felt weirdly ceremonial and unreal, particularly as I officially received my degree at the end of February and got my certificate in the post several months ago. Also, because UCL is massive, they don’t even read out the title of your thesis; when I graduated from Royal Holloway with my BA, I remember the one PhD student graduating getting a brief description of her research read aloud. As it was, I was in the middle of a parade of maybe 25 Arts and Humanities PhDs, and not even next to my colleagues, who were classified under C for Classics while I was under G for Greek. I chose bad shoes, which were hurting already by the time I had to walk across the stage, and I was convinced I’d fall/lose a shoe/limp. But in spite of all that, it was a pretty wonderful day. My parents and friends whooped for me as I crossed the stage (as was encouraged by the Vice-Provost); my mum said afterwards she was about to cry, but turned it into a cheer. My Nanny, well into her 80s, was there along with my parents and my partner – I know it’s a cliché, but I really couldn’t have done it without all their support. In that spirit, I’ll close this brief post by reproducing my thesis acknowledgements – it’s strange to think it’s really, officially finished, but I’m excited for all the next steps.


First and foremost, my thanks go to my supervisor Chris Carey, who has been an unfailing guide as I wrote this thesis. When I began, I hardly knew where I was going with it, and it would not have grown into the shape that it did without our discussions and good-natured arguments. I also thank the staff of the Greek and Latin Department at UCL for their support and the opportunities they have offered me; particular thanks go to Peter Agocs, David Alabaster, Dimitra Kokkini, and Antony Makrinos.

            Spending three months working at Yale University was a great privilege, which could not have occurred without the support of the Yale UCL Collaborative Exchange Programme and the UCL Doctoral School. I am very grateful to Victor Bers for his warm welcome, insightful comments, and continued support. My thanks also go to the graduate students of the Yale Department of Classics for making me feel so welcome, particularly Rachel Love and Jennifer Weintritt, and Bryant Kirkland for allowing me to speak at the Work-in-Progress seminar. I am also grateful to Adriaan Lanni for meeting with me while I was in America, and for her supportive and constructive comments.

For advising on the workings of the modern UK legal system and providing the highest level of specialist knowledge, my thanks go to John Lafferty. My proofreaders were invaluable: David Bullen, Emily Chow-Kambitsch, Joe Dodd, Tzu-I Liao, Rebecca Payne, and Andreas Serafim, who together caught my very glaring and amusing typos and offered helpful comments and essential moral support. I am also grateful for the support of my other colleagues and former colleagues in the department at UCL: Manuela dal Borgo, Emma Cole, Manuela Irarrazabal Elliott, Ioannis Lambrou, Victoria McVicar, and Oliver Schwazer, who have made my time at UCL so enjoyable and the process of writing the PhD far less daunting. And thanks to my friends – Hattie Kassner, Laura Sowman, and Kat Thompson – who have been there through thick and thin.

I really could not have done any of this without the support of my family: my Mum and Dad, Susan and David, who have supported me in every sense of the word at every stage of the process, and who I cannot thank enough for letting me pursue my dream. Thanks to my grandparents, who may not have always understood why I was doing it, but were always proud of me anyway. A special mention should go to Dada, who would have loved all of this Greek. This thesis is dedicated to my Grannie – here’s one for the boasting book.

Above all, thanks to Alex Burnett, who has seen me through the toughest times and brought me out of them laughing. Thank you for writing the soundtrack to this project, and to my life.

Project planning

I have a confession: I’m a terrible project planner.

Or I have been up until this point, at least in formalised terms. I’m a very organised person – I tend to know what needs to be done and when, but the information is all held in my head, combine with some skeletal to-do lists in the form of things to do this week, this month, and this year. These lists were managed in Evernote, which as an app is basically fine, except that I never learned to use any of the features beyond making checklists and notebooks, and is really a better notetaking app than a planning one. Besides that, I tend to just think about what needs to be done in the next month or so, and then… do it.

Somehow, in spite of this aversion to Gantt charts, bullet journals, Trello, and the other tools of the project planning trade, I managed to write a PhD, while working various part time jobs, in just over three years. That sounds like a brag, but really I’m trying to say that I think this was a fluke – and, in fact, I know there are some areas of my thesis that would have greatly benefited from more formal project planning from the beginning – not least the bibliography, which was a little bit all over the place during my final edits, and ending up lacking a couple of major sources (because I was terrible at keeping up with recent publications).

So, my new academic year’s resolution is to learn how to do project planning properly. Now is the ideal time, as I’m embarking on the first section of my career where I’ll be juggling numerous ‘projects’ at once: teaching work, my new research project on Space and Place in the Attic Orators (more on that in another post), and (hopefully!) my thesis book. All this on top of the daily projects of life, like keeping my house from running into complete disarray, trying to keep up some reading for pleasure, and trying not to be so terrible at running.

Today I embarked on the first two steps of this journey, and signed up to Asana and Mendeley. I like Asana already, despite the fact that it’s really designed for team work rather than solo projects. The lists of sections and tasks and sub-tasks appeal to my tickbox-oriented mind, and it was satisfying to lay out deadlines for a whole project over the next three years. I’ve set up some home tasks to be completed over the weekend, so I’m hoping that’ll give me a chance to actually test the functionality (of the phone app, as well as the programme more generally). If anyone has any tips on how to use it successfully for this kind of planning, I’d love to hear them – please tweet me @chrissieplastow.

Mendeley I’m not so certain about. I have a vague idea of how the interface works, but little to test it out on properly yet. It doesn’t strike me as particularly intuitive, and the layout is rather Windows Explorer-esque, which makes me less inclined to use it for some reason. Still, I’ll give it a chance in the initial stages of my new project, and see how it works in practice. Again, if anyone has any tips, or any other reference management software recommendations, let me know.

I expect that I’ll continue using Evernote, as I do like the system, but that I’ll transition to using it more for actual note-taking on sources etc than for planning. I’m also a devil for failing to keep all of my analytical notes in one place, so there’s another hurdle to jump there.

(Perhaps a note on why I’m doing all of this digitally – I love the aesthetic of bullet journals and handwritten notes in moleskine notebooks, and my ideas do tend to flow more freely on paper – all of my structural planning is done that way first, and then transferred to digital means. Unfortunately I don’t have the creative inclination to set up a bullet journal successfully, much as I’d like to. But the more pressing issue is how heavy all of those notebooks are to carry around. My laptop is a reasonably cheap thing, and therefore much heavier than the Macbooks and similar used by many of my colleagues. As a result, I try not to carry too much additional weight alongside it in my bag – especially as I gave myself back problems in the first year of my PhD, essentially by being too sedentary – so physical notebooks just aren’t the best option.)

I’m excited about taking control of this kind of planning and doing it the ‘proper’* way. Hopefully it’ll result in several successful end products. Onto the brave new frontier of not winging it!

*there’s no ‘proper’ way to plan; it’s ok to do whatever works for you!

Conference summer (plus bonus job news)

I probably made a bit of an error in launching my website and intending to keep it reasonably up to date immediately before I embarked on a long period of conference-going and other activities. It seems that this June and July has been chock full of conference activity relevant to my research in Athenian oratory. I’ve attended four conferences in the last seven weeks (plus had a week’s holiday and taught a two-week summer school, so it’s been pretty full on), with two being abroad, presenting papers at two, and chairing a panel at one.

Firstly, I spoke at a three-day conference on Linguistic Representations of Identity in Rhetoric Ancient and Modern at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. The conference was a nice mix of people working on different kinds of rhetoric – primarily Greek and Roman for the ancient side, and Polish and American for the modern. I spoke on jury identity in cases involving homicide in the Athenian courts, specifically looking at how speakers compared dikastic juries with the Areopagus jury in both derogatory and aspirational ways. The paper pulled together a few disparate points from my thesis; it’s unlikely to appear as a paper in its own right, as I wasn’t overly excited by it, but hopefully the points will be made in the thesis book (which I’ll be working on the proposal for throughout August).

Next, I attended just a day of the Rhetoric Society of Europe Conference at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. This is an even more broad-ranging conference, and the panel I chaired – on rhetorics of laughter in Greek literature – was one of the only ones (that day at least) on ancient Greek rhetoric, so I felt a bit out of my depth. The panel was a success, though, and I met some new colleagues as well as seeing some familiar faces.

Then, the showpiece of the summer: a panel on Identity in Greek Oratory at the Celtic Conference in Classics at McGill University/University de Montreal in Montreal, Canada. This was only my second time (in my memory) crossing the Atlantic, and I’m a bit of a nervous flier, so the trip stood out a bit in the calendar. It was also a longer paper than that I delivered in Poland – the Celtic Conference is designed to host a number of long panels spanning the several days of the conference, with 35-40 minutes for each paper, rather than the more common 20. And on top of all that, it was my first time presenting new research that’s entirely unrelated to my thesis, and that hadn’t been looked over by any supervisors or senior academics. Happily, my talk – on space, place, and identity in Antiphon 5 – was well received, and gave me a boost in continuing to pursue the project despite it having been rejected for Leverhulme funding earlier in the year.

That confidence was bolstered by my final conference of the summer, the International Society for the History of Rhetoric conference at Queen Mary, University of London. It was a relief not to speak, particularly as the ISHR conference began on the day I returned from Montreal, and jetlag was taking its toll. The theme of the conference was spaces of rhetoric, though, which in part served to reaffirm my belief that spatial methods are useful for reading rhetoric. The conference, being broad-ranging again, also allowed me to explore some additional and new interests, as I attended a panel on early modern, particularly Shakespearean, rhetoric (my undergraduate degree was joint honours Classics and English Literature) and a paper on procedural rhetoric and empathy in video games (turning a hobby of mine into work!)

The results of all this conferencing: I feel (re)determined in terms of disseminating my research, both old and new, to the academic community; I’ve seen (almost) every one of my valued colleagues in a short space of time; I’m absolutely exhausted and rather sick of travelling. Luckily for me, I’ve now got six weeks of time entirely on my own terms, in which I tend to work on the book proposal as well as finish up an article that’s been hanging around for a couple of months.

And what happens in six weeks? There’s my final piece of good news: in September I join the Open University as a part-time Lecturer in Classical Studies for two years. I’m really excited about this new opportunity, the first post-PhD step in my career. Onward!

Why have a website? Why have a blog? (A first post)

Hello! On this momentous occasion of my first blog post on my new personal website, I thought I’d share a few reflections on why I have a website at all, and what this blog might consist of.

My primary reason for having a personal website is to have a space for my professional presence online – and a space that’s my own, rather than governed by Several colleagues on Twitter have discussed moving off the platform recently, for reasons that I have to agree with – namely, the lack of open access. I’m strongly in favour of open access publishing where possible, and although I’m early on in my career, I’m looking to start out the right way.

Connected to this, blogging is a nice way of informally sharing the research I’m doing. I’m in the beginning stages of a new research project, leading out of my PhD, which looked at Athenian homicide rhetoric in context. Now, I want to examine how spaces and places figure in all kinds of rhetoric in Athens. I’ll be exploring some of my initial thoughts here, as a way of cataloguing my progress as well as sharing my work with the world.

I also hope that another aspect of the blog might be geared towards holding myself accountable to running. I started exercising regularly at the beginning of 2017 for the first time (more on this in a later post); I started running about 8 weeks ago, having always hated it. This is something I’ll go into more detail about in future posts, but I’m finding the journey interesting if challenging, and am hopeful that writing about it will make that challenge a positive one.

Thirdly, I’d like to use this blog as a place to share aspects of my general everyday life, and particularly my culinary life. I’m a keen but broke home chef; I cook a meal from scratch most nights. I don’t think this is all that unusual, but I’ve heard differently. I like experimenting with recipes, and sharing them when they work out well, so that’s something you can expect here too.

I’ll file all of this as best I can, so those of you interested in my research don’t have to trawl through posts about how I make chilli con carne! 

I’m looking forward to seeing how this website project grows, develops, and changes. Thanks for reading!