From Birmingham New Street station, trains to Hereford, Redditch or Longbridge stop at University train station after a short 10-minute ride. Once there, at a very short distance to the left from the little station, two fairly new buildings, and a modern-looking statue, mark the West entrance to the university campus. One of the two buildings is my department. On the first floor, room 117 is my office. From what I have seen, I think the building is most decidedly above the average for university standards.
Here is a picture of my department.
Office 117, I should mention, is the best student office in the building. It used to be even better once, when we had a small, round coffee table in the centre of it. By a swift rotation of my office chair, I could forsake my work for a while and easily land my feet on the coffee table. From such position, I could address my office mates with confidence. In that way, we often held ernest speeches on the importance of being Teaching Assistants—a sub-category of Ph.D. students with certain teaching duties; once a prestigious position, it has recently fell out of fashion due to threats from above to make us pay income tax on the extra money we earn from the teaching. Anyway, we did knock a few cups of coffee on the carpet, and now that the table is gone to some meeting room upstairs, only the brown stains linger unperturbed in the middle of office. Yet office 117 remains, in my view, the master Ph.D. office.
What has my office, or my department, to do with my essay on Ph.D.? Perhaps not a great deal, but surely my office and department are important in my Ph.D. experience. More than my office, my entire life-setting is playing an important role in biasing, as I will point out in a future post, my considerations, analysis and moods on my experience. So why not to indulge for a moment on some aspects of the environment where the author lives.
When I moved to Birmingham, after a depressing period in the dingy Selly Oak—an area of Birmingham that never inspired my imagination, though inhabited mainly by students—I moved to the sparkling city centre. Perhaps too sparking at times: I do have reasons to complain, but in general, my mood and general state of mind have improved considerably.
From my flat just behind Sherborne Wharf (here is a picture of the living room), I have measured the average time I take to walk to a number of useful places.
- 1 minute and 40 seconds to the Crescent Theatre, a lovely, cosy theatre.
- 2 minutes and 40 seconds to Broad Street (see on wiki), the kitsch capital of entertainment of the whole West Midlands region.
- 3 minutes and 50 seconds to Cineworld.
- 6 minutes to AMC, another cinema.
- 5 minutes to the big Tesco superstore, open until midnight nearly everyday.
- 4 minutes to Saintsbury, open 7-11 everyday.
- 5 minutes or less to reach any location in the whole Brindley Place, a new development of restaurants and bars, and more.
- 4 minutes and 45 seconds to the Symphony Hall. For the important concerts, I usually leave from home ten minutes before the start, so to have the necessary time to leave my coat in the cloak room, and find my seat without haste.
- The Hippodrome, the most important opera theatre in Birmingham, unfortunately is not very close. Perhaps it takes 25 minutes by foot. But the tickets are so expensive that when I go there, I call a taxi, and in total is nearly the same price. The Bull Ring also, a world-famous shopping centre, is more than 20 minutes walking, but I guess I can live with that.
Here is a picture from the inside of the Symphony Hall.
I was nearly forgetting, behind the Symphony Hall there is a little pub, the Prince of Wales. Every Sunday afternoon, live music is played by rocking bands like Pete Hyde and Friends, the Juke Joint Jammers and many others. If I can help it, I won’t miss good music, a pint of Deuchars, my favourite ale from Edinburgh, and a chat with the cheerful lot of habitual visitors, Mike Holyoak the ever young and tireless dancer from Sutton Coldfield, Fitz Yeaboah in his gangster-like attire, Larry, the baker from the Mapleleaf in Walshall, and so many others.
There would be more than that to say about my life, but I guess this would do for the moment to give the idea that I am indeed pretty comfortable at present. I do not feel the strain, nor the need to write long philosophical considerations on my misfortunes, nor to linger on the reasons of hypothetical frustrations and unstable moods. I cannot think of anyone who has done me much wrong, nor anything I’m dreadfully annoyed or discontent about. Perhaps the worst thing that happened to me were two bicycles stolen at a distance of few weeks, which made me give up altogether the idea of biking to work. But that twist of fate might have save me from a deadly accident on the roads… who knows. In conclusion, my life is fine without unleashing hidden feelings on an internet blog. I want to make this clear because I know some colleagues of mine who struggled during their Ph.D and their accounts are inevitably tainted by bad feelings.
So why am I not enjoying the dashing concerts and theatres, and instead choose to ramble about my work? No matter how good things are, there is something that bothers me. Something that pushed me to get this all down in writing. Something that occupies my mind even when I stroll along the canals on a Sunday afternoon. I should confess I am no entirely settled. I’m not perfectly tranquil. I feel I’m in transient period, on the go, and that my Ph.D., no matter how happy, gratifying, or maybe disappointing at times, will lead me elsewhere. But before I grow old and tired of all that, I shall endeavour to recount my Ph.D. considerations.