It was all my own fault. I was winding down before bed, reading Twitter on my phone. I follow the PsyPAG tweets because they’re a brilliant resource for psychology post-graduates but lately I’ve been finding some of the #phdchat items a little hard to read because I’m in an odd place with my thesis at the moment: technically on hold, actually trying to work as much as possible as insurance against events later in the year which are going to limit my time for study. And always, always the nagging sense that I’m not doing enough, not writing enough, not reading enough – and even when I do, the stuff I’m producing feels amateurish, plodding, dull. So, clicking on an item titled ‘How not to write a PhD thesis’ was a fantastic idea… I was almost in tears by the end of it and the next morning I’m still feeling frantic and miserable.
It’s not that the article is bad – it’s really not! It’s a sensibly written practical piece containing a wealth of tips that I will genuinely use when I get to writing my abstract and drawing together my conclusions. It’s written with a stern but friendly tone that I appreciate and I think the author would make a brilliant examiner, shame she’s not in my field. But… but.
Examining PhDs is both a pleasure and a curse. It is a joy to nurture, support and help the academy’s next generation, but it is a dreadful moment when an examiner realises that a script is so below international standards of scholarship that there are three options: straight fail, award an MPhil or hope that the student shows enough spark in the viva voce so that it may be possible to skid through to major corrections and a full re-examination in 18 months.
I actually felt sick reading that. This is going to sound arrogant but bear with me – I’ve blocked the possibility to failing from my mind: my ‘worst-case’ has always been that I’ll get myself into such a pickle with my research that I have no choice but to withdraw. (And trust me, that’s been on my mind a lot over the last year.) I’ve pretended to myself that as long as I get to the point of submitting a thesis, the problems and mistakes and glaring holes in my arguments will have been dealt with and I’d be ok. There’s a very real chance that might not be the case and I am back to being absolutely terrified. I’m on study leave for the next couple of days and I just cannot settle to reading or writing anything without listening to the great, yammering panic in the back of my mind screaming at me that it’s all pointless and I’m going to fail anyway.
Spiced Citrus Carrot Cake Muffins
Do you remember Boaster biscuits? They were like hobnobs but with orange, lemon and lime flavours. They did horrible things to your tea if you dunked them, but they tasted fantastic. And that’s the flavour I’m trying to evoke here with the lemon and lime zest plus lemon and orange extract in the cakes and orange spice topping.
For 6 cupcakes
- 80g brown muscovado sugar
- 100g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 100g sultanas
- Zest of 1 lemon and one lime
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 tsp each orange and lemon extract
- 1 egg
- 75ml vegetable oil
- 100g carrots, grated
- 50g butter, softened
- 100g soft cheese
- 75g icing sugar, sifted
- 1 drop orange extract
- Cinnamon for dusting
- Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and line a 6-hole muffin tin with cases. (I’m using those beautiful silicone ones up above.)
- In a large mixing bowl, mix the sugar, flours, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice, extracts and zest/juices.
- Whisk together the egg and oil, then stir into the dry ingredients with the grated carrot and sultanas.
- Divide the mixture between cases and bake for 20-22 mins until a skewer poked in comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before icing
- For the icing, beat the butter until really soft, then beat in the soft cheese, icing sugar and extract.
- Use a palette or cutlery knife to swirl the icing on top of the cakes, then dust with the mixed spice.
(Original recipe here.)