This is something of a displacement activity - I've set myself a target of adding 3,000 words to the PhD by the end of the kids' Christmas Holidays - and have so far managed to read one and a half relevant books instead.
Actually, such displacement has been indicative of 2012 as far as my PhD has gone - this has been the year it got hard.
In terms of displacement activities, most have been excellent - I've taught for most of the year at Brunel, City Lit and latterly at Reading University - all of which has been good for the academic CV. But research has been tough with most of my focus being on earning enough income to keep my head above water. That income comes not from academia but from corporate communications related work. I've had to spend much more time on that this year just to keep up a reasonably similar earning stream.
I managed an excellent research trip to Boston and Abilene in April - but this time it all came out of my pocket - I didn't land a single £ of grant funding this year, despite half a dozen solid applications (certainly no worse than the ones that unlocked £2,000 of funding in 2010). While the documents I unearthed and assessed made the trip absolutely worthwhile, I feel like I've been playing catch-up ever since.
In terms of positives on the year, I now have a structure for the PhD and have significant progress on two chapters - I probably have 10,000+ usable words, with a target of doubling that by April, and adding a further 20,000 by August. Beyond the thesis, I made a great contact in Dave Nichols, a truly nice man and a pleasure to work alongside in Abilene back in the Spring. Dave was immensely generous with his time and encouraged me greatly in my writing - to the extent that he recommended me for the Ike Reconsidered conference that Hunter College is hosting in New York in March. I've had a paper accepted, and now find myself due to present alongside the great and the good in the Eisenhower scholarship field. Am I up to it? Time will tell and I suspect a couple of hours alongside one of my heroes, Fred Greenstein, as well as Eisenhower's most recent biographer Jim Newton and Yanek Mieczkowski who's about to publish a book right bang smack in the middle of my research field and, of course, Dave himself. I suspect that over a couple of days I'll be made very aware whether or not my thesis holds water.
At the moment, as well as the challenge of pulling a paper together (and it will be based strongly on an updated and expanded version of last year's 240,000 mile cul de sac piece), there's the simple challenge of getting to the US to present. Hunter College are covering my costs while on US soil (and many thanks to them for that), but flights and a few days associated research before the conference will leave me with a bill close to £1,000 on top of this year's fees and all the usual costs - the application writing starts here!
My year's negative is the new bureaucracy imposed by my School within the University which I've finding hinders my progress rather than aiding it. My tactic at the moment is ignoring it as much as possible. However, being disgruntled by a process that is beginning to feel like a sausage machine focused on Brunel's REF rather than the individual needs of each research student.
Anyway, I can't afford to dwell on that - not when there's 3,000 PhD words to be corralled from notes and documents; a presentation to be built and scripted and at least two grant applications to be written.
2013 will be a big year....it has to be.