It began with my reading the New Scientist's 'Nothing', a book that brings together the writings of more than 20 New Scientist writers around themes that have the idea of nothing at their heart. Topics included: the history of zero, the number; absolute zero, the temperature; the near-vacuum; zero gravity celestial pathways; the placebo effect; being idle for a purpose; (un)consciousness; the point of day-dreaming; the Big Bang and the end of it all; and more ... .
If you think that all this sounds a mishmash, you'd be wrong as the book is cleverly arranged in both themes and pathways. For example, you can read from start to finish (or finish to start, if you like), working through the 6 themes:
beginnings, mysteries, making sense of it all, surprises, voyages of discovery, conclusions
Or you can follow an idea through the themes, for example by
- starting at p. 16 with the secret life of the brain,
- going to p. 65 and wastes of space,
- then to p. 93, with busy doing nothing, and
- finally to putting the idle to work on p. 183.
It strikes me that this combination of paths and themes might be used more frequently in providing structure for readers. I learned a lot, and was held by good writing, so well done New Scientist for showing that there's more to nothing than you might at first think.
It ended, on the Friday evening, with the launch of a great book: Research Journeys: a collection of narratives of the doctoral experience, edited and written by real doctoral students from Bath. The publishers say:
"The aim of this book is to provide prospective and current doctoral students, and their supervisors, with a range of narratives of doctoral experiences. The book is an outcome of a conference where both academic and professional doctorate students at different stages of their research shared their experiences of the process of completing a doctorate. The ten candid accounts included in the volume provide a valuable insight into the kinds of challenges that arise and the ways in which these might (or might not) be overcome. In so doing, this book ‘lifts the lid’ on some of the hitherto concealed aspects of the doctoral process. The book also includes a chapter from an established academic with a record of writing about the doctoral student experience, as well as inserts from a doctoral programme leader and an experienced academic supervisor. In the Introduction, the editors review some of the current literature on experiences of the doctoral research journey and the research process. The book concludes with the editors’ reflections on both the unique nature of doctoral research for each individual and the common stages that students experience on the journey."
There was a good turnout with students, staff and some senior university folk pitching up, for standard issue canapés and wine, but for incisive comments, from book editors and contributors. A pity, though, about the WiFi un-connections. All told, a must read, I'd say, if you're a graduate student embarking on an EdD / PhD / DPhil. I'm looking forward to the next book – this time about the supervisor experience; the hardest thing an academic does.
In between times, there was time for a trip to the new Stonehenge visitor centre. The Centre, much loved by critics, fares less well with consumers, we are told. Too much queuing – indeed, too many queues to get to the queues for the too small and too slow road trains to reach the stones. Not everyone, it seems, is interested in the rather wonderful museum where we spent nearly all our time, not going to the stones at all. I suspect that English Heritage may have assumed that too many would be. It seems clear that visitors who are littering Trip Advisor with adverse comments cannot have spend enough time in that emporium of delights which is the shop.
There is surely everything here you could wish for; there are even books, though these are hard to find as you meander through the mead, mugs, mouse mats, scarves, engravings, necklaces, tea towels, scarves, hats, fridge magnets, tee shirts, wooly jumpers, scones, pencils, pens, postcards, pictures, paintings, photographs, wine, blankets, beer, broaches, – all of which is now part of the requisite National Heritage experience. I nearly bought this postcard of a pre-English Heritage scene when the A303 looked like a track and there was a sign saying "Fork Left for Exeter" in front of what looked like a road-side cafe with the stones in the background and an old bone-shaker car trundling down the hill.
Time, too, for a bit of ganderflanking. The weather was kind, the ground not too sodden, and the air, if not quite balmy, well, it wastn't arctic chill either. Mind you, our conversation was probably more purposeful than the notion of ganderflanking suggests, if wiltshire dialect glossaries are be relied on. And, finally, time to see the first primroses, once again on that sunny bank in Winsley. Where, I wonder, are the snowdrops?