A very belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! It’s nice to be back after a break, although the end of the year was so busy that it left me virtually no chance to pause, take a deep breath in and reflect back on what 2014 has brought. So I feel a short reflective piece is due before I come back to populating my blog with more reflections on my academic pursuits.
2014 was eventful. My schedule was tight and pressing, my to-do list – long and growing. After I successfully passed my upgrade in January, the real PhD saga started to unfold. Spring was full of paperwork. Applications to fill in, interview schedules and participant consent forms to devise, study flyers and posters to design, recruitment emails to be sent… By June, most of the targets were achieved – ethical approval for my project received, a pile of sleek study flyers distributed, a satisfactory number of participants secured and, as an amazing bonus, a grant for a 3 months research visit to the Penn State University won.
Summer, unusually – almost abnormally – warm, proved ideal for fieldwork. The first couple of meetings with participants were scary, the rest – full of discoveries, excitement and joy. I met 11 fascinating persons whose consumption routines I studied in minute detail. But it was much more than simply going shopping with people and looking into their food-loaded baskets. I got to know their unique life stories and distinct personalities, got immersed into their moral worlds, and had my eyes open to a lot of things that never crossed my mind before (and yes, I had lots of fun too!). No two shopping trips were the same – I’ve been to all of the UK major supermarkets from low-cost Aldi to high-end Waitrose, got introduced to the Headingley’s vibrant farmer’s market, paid visits to the participants’ allotments and accompanied them on meetings with co-housing communities (it is during those days that I got to know a well-established and flourishing Lilac as well as an incipient Chaco – an already conceived but yet to be born co-housing project in Leeds’ Chapel Town). A pile of books on my work desk got dusty and I haven’t paid a single visit to the university library during the summer, but talking to people was like reading multiple books at the same time – each telling a unique story based on real life events and non-fictional characters, teaching important moral lessons, and offering new frames of looking at the world.
Autumn brought diversity. A long-awaited move to a newly refurbished Social Sciences building was a little bit disruptive, yet refreshing, and we managed to settle right in time before the start of the new academic year, which has brought an end to the somewhat awkward quietness of an empty campus, abandoned for the entire summer, but quickly filled with buzzing voices of new and returning students. Along with this, my focus shifted from research to teaching – this not-to-be-neglected aspect of a successful academic career. Enrolling on an ULTA (University of Leeds Teaching Award) course and starting to work towards the first level of professional recognition as an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy has set yet another target to be achieved in the new year.
Finally, 2014 has witnessed my debut as a presenter on a number of international academic conferences – starting with the Foodscapes Conference in Graz and on to a series of scholarly gatherings and workshops in Porto (ESA Consumption Conference), Prato (International Conference on Food Studies) and, finally, Lausanne (SCORAI Europe workshop on Sustainable Consumption). The first experience was frightening, but as my confidence started to build up with each subsequent presentation, I gradually learned how to manage tension and stress, I began to anticipate the questions instead of trying to vanish from the podium before any was raised, and stopped dreading challenging comments and criticisms – in fact, those proved to be my most useful take-aways.
2015 is a promising year. My biggest academic trip ever – a 3 months research visit to the Penn State University is just over a month and a couple of bureaucratic procedures away. No doubts, there is a lot of work to be done, but there is also a lot to look forward to, and there will be a lot to blog about, I am sure.
P.S. I don’t make any New Year resolutions this time. The only one I made last year (to keep my blog posts under the 500 words limit) didn’t work anyway.