Getting Started: the PhD thing

Getting Started illustration 12.32.49

So. It’s the 21st of December, which means I’ve been ‘doing this PhD thing’, as my housemates put it, for almost three months now.

I’ve just about pinned down my question into a neat sentence: ‘how do Anglo-Saxon things perform social, cultural, or political work today?’. I’ve scribbled that question on post it notes, each time with slightly different wording, and stuck them around my room, used them to save pages in my library books, and dreamt about them. I have the question, but what next?

After a summer worrying about not quite knowing where to begin, I’ve finally settled on a first primary source: the treasures of Sutton Hoo, and the burial site in Suffolk that gives the treasures their name. As well as visiting the site, and pressing my nose against the display cabinets at the British Museum, I’ve been exploring performance philosophy texts, art history, social theory, and thoroughly confusing myself with new languages and ways of thinking.

I don’t really know what I might find as I read poems, watch performances, and listen to music inspired by the story of the sixth-century burial and of its twentieth-century discovery. But for now, I am enjoying long train rides to Woodbridge, Googling unfamiliar philosophical concepts, and browsing sections of the library I’ve never been to before. I’m trying to enjoy this enforced floating, free thinking in unfamiliar territories.

But, amidst all this daydreaming wandering, I’ve sought reassurance with tangible deadlines and things that can be ticked off my to do list. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to join in with The Still Point, laying out the Issue #1 of the journal. The forced methodical processes of working with Adobe InDesign (oh, she’s a task master), indulging myself in playing with 0.5 differences in font sizes, and having fun working with artists and illustrators has all given me a sense of being more firmly anchored in space and time.

I’ve also started to produce a radio show, Footnotes, every 3 weeks with fellow medievalist Charlotte Rudman. We know how talking out loud about our research over a cup of coffee makes us fall in love with it all over again: so we would love to hear from fellow PhD and MA students. If you are working on any of the topics from our upcoming list please come and have a chat and an early morning cup of tea with us on the show!

I’m hoping these projects will help me keep a grip of the ‘work life’ balance that all the PhD induction sessions have told me is so elusive. So. Here’s to a first year embracing new things, inside and outside of the library.


Fran Allfrey is a first year PhD candidate at King’s College London, exploring medieval texts and objects in contemporary cultural and creative practices. Follow @francheskyia

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