Reflections 5 – The Internal Dialogue of a PhD Student Abroad

From the beginning of my PhD dissertation, I knew it would be likely that I would need to spend a significant amount of the project in Germany. There are simply not enough available sources in the UK on the particular esoteric area of East- and West-German art music in the years following the Second World War which I am researching. A few weeks’ worth of fruitless library searches for necessary volumes – WHICH MOSTLY TURNED OUT TO BE AVAILABLE IN ONLY ONE LOCATION IN THE UK, OFTEN QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY BELFAST FOR SOME REASON, AND RARELY INTRA-LIBRARY LOANABLE – made the need for a research placement not only clear, but imperative. As such, AND AFTER A HEFTY AMOUNT OF BUREAUCRATIC INSTITUTIONAL PAPERWORK ON BOTH ENDS, I find myself now roughly half-way through a year-long research placement at the Humboldt in Berlin, and now with access to a body of relevant literature that is sufficiently comprehensive to rival those institutions found in the UK (EVEN QUEEN’S BELFAST).

There is an element of pressure which comes with the time frame of my placement; there are sources, archives, potential interviewees and other resources available to me in Berlin to which I will only have access for this set period. As such, this time is precious and there is often the feeling that my schedule here should be more exciting, or at least different from what I have so far experienced as a PhD student. I SHOULD BE IN SOME MUSTY ARCHIVE OR ELDERLY GERMAN’S EQUALLY MUSTY ATTIC SEARCHING FOR A UNIQUE COPY OF A PARTICULAR DOCUMENT NO ONE HAS EVER SEEN BEFORE. More often than not, however, the reality is that I am simply working in the University or State Library. All those books which I couldn’t find in the UK are now available for my mundane perusal, meaning that my working patterns and habits here are more or less like they were in the first year of my project in London. There is also (WOE IS ME!) the need to balance the imperative to conduct as much research as possible with a desire to partake in as many of the vast cultural activities Berlin has to offer, ARGUABLY MORE COPIOUS AND DIVERSE THAN IN LONDON, before my year here is over. Continue reading