• Abbie Tibbott

Friday Special: My 2021 in Review

You’ve made it to my last blog of the year, and what a whirlwind of a year it’s been. This time last year I was in the final stages of writing and editing my MA dissertation, and now I’m a PhD student chasing funding and loving being back on campus. It hasn’t been easy, but I feel like I’m finally in the place I was meant to be a year ago, and I’m weirdly thankful of the growth I’ve had over the past twelve months, so I thought I’d reflect on that for a bit here.

Not getting the PhD funding was a big blow in a period of turbulence for me, and I’m so thankful for my amazing friends for reassuring me that it wasn’t a reflection of my abilities or my intelligence. If anything, the whole experience made me appreciate the fragility of academic funding and contracts especially in the Arts and Humanities. Being able to return to Reading to start my PhD was made possible only by the sad loss of a loved one, and it can be a struggle at times to deal with the pressure that brings. My gran would have wanted me to go as far as I can, and I carry her memory and humour with me every day. I’m extremely lucky, and definitely feel like an outsider at times, but self-funding has been the only way to make my dream come true, and I’ll never be ungrateful for it.

Settling into PhD life hasn’t been the most difficult of transitions, but the element I find most difficult is the issue of funding. I’m working on a funding application now, and sometimes I wonder if it will be a waste of time, but I have to apply anyway to be in with a chance. The Humanities has so much to offer students in the way of research, critical thinking and interdisciplinary opportunities, but the sector feels side-tracked more than ever at the moment. I’m staying positive by knowing that my situation can only get better, and I’m working hard to be the best researcher I can be.

Being back in Reading since September has shown me that a long-distance relationship with Dan had been completely worth it, and I’m so proud of how we’ve grown together while being apart. As a PhD student himself, Dan has encountered lots of challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but he kept me linked with university life whilst I took my gap year, and I’m happy to say that we are looking forward to finding a home together next year, and celebrated our two-year anniversary back in October.

I haven’t encountered the lonely side of PhD life as yet, as I’m surrounded by such a great community. I’m doing a bit of teaching in December, and I’ve been doing lots of training and development sessions to help me grow as a researcher. Spending time in the library and in the office has assured me that I made the right decision in coming back, but I’ve also had lots of fun times with friends over the past three months.

This summer was a weird period for me, even more so as I look back on it now. It felt odd to go back to a hospitality job for ten weeks, even if it did earn me some money towards my living costs. I have a lot of respect for people who work jobs like that, and it definitely dragged at times, especially when people were rude or impatient. A lot of people said that the lockdowns and restrictions would make us value each other and be kinder, but I’ve seen the ugly side of people this summer, so I don’t think that’s the case. No matter my skill in a particular field, to employers I’m still a body to fetch and carry, wash up and make pots of tea, and that has helped to normalise my life, especially as the rest of my employment over the past four years has been mainly focused on recruitment, interspersed with cleaning jobs. I’m not sad to be leaving those jobs behind, and this summer showed me how pathetic the minimum wage is, which only fuels my desire to make a difference in the world somehow.

Now I’m wrapped up in my winter jumper, the hot weather of Gibraltar seems a lifetime away, but I am glad we got to go and spend some time out there with my Dad. A change of scenery was needed after working at my summer job, and it helped to refresh me before coming back to Reading. It seems weird that I have several places I call home, but my student accommodation this year has been pleasantly good, with nice flatmates and a quiet environment to relax in. I do miss my home, but I’ve had chance to go back this semester and see my parents a few times, more so than I did at undergrad, so that’s even better.

The nights have drawn in, and productivity was a struggle at the beginning of the year, and now it is starting to be an issue again, but I’m plodding on and doing as much as I feel like I can every day, which includes right now, so go me! After my dissertation was finished, it took me about a month to recover from burnout and feel semi-normal again, which in hindsight showed that maybe I was putting a bit too much pressure on myself. Writing content for my website really helped me enjoy my laptop again, and I’m glad to say that I’ve kept up with my blogs for the entirety of this year. Going up to six posts a month was a push when I was working, but it really gave me an element of structure whilst I was deciding what to do next, and has been a nice space to write non-academic content since September.

If you need a sign to create a website or start writing blogs, here it is! With all that has gone on this year, my content has been a source of regular brain-activity for me, even when life didn’t feel good earlier this year. In March, I started my #studygram on Instagram, and have enjoyed posting there too. Over the past month I definitely stepped back from it as my commitments rose up, but it’s a nice casual platform that I can fully control, so it wasn’t hard to get back to posting again. Creating an online portfolio for myself has been such a rewarding experience, and I’d encourage anyone to give it a go if they want to.

Since becoming a blogger, I’ve also enjoyed reading them, especially those about cooking and mental health. I’ve been making the effort to check in with my mental well-being, and have enjoyed writing about it, so reading more content has definitely helped in my understanding of how crucial our mental health is.

Anyway, I’d say that 2021 has been a year of personal growth away from academia. I’ve managed a long-distance relationship, become unafraid of independence and become aware of my mental health and the importance of looking after my own interests. Being there for others is important for me, but I’ve learned that you can’t pour from an empty cup, so by looking after myself, I can continue to care for others too.

For 2022, I’m hoping to secure some funding and continue to work on my academic projects, as well as enjoy time with friends and family. I’d love to go abroad again next year to catch some sun, or maybe visit some historical sights of interests in Europe. Getting some experiences under my belt might help make up for the last couple of years, and I’d like life to feel even more normal as we go into 2022.

It’s been a long blog, but thank you again for hanging out with me this year. Take care of yourself over Christmas, and try and get some work done! This will be my last post of the year, as I’m taking some time away to work on other projects and to relax over Christmas with my friends and family.

See you in 2022!