Academics get to travel a lot. Its one of the perks of the job I guess, but it only becomes a perk if you actually work at it. A lot of the time we collectively don’t. In fact we travel somewhere, do whatever it is – a conference, a viva, a seminar, a meeting – and then head home. And not only do we not take the time to see the sights, but the truth is that we use the travelling time to do all the work that we can’t find time to do normally.
Like most of my colleagues I find that travel creates a good time/space to get into those things that require sustained attention. For me this is reading time. Two hours on the train to London and two hours back means I can get a good three or four chapters read in one stretch. Even better is the long plane flight. It’s possible to read an entire book provided there aren’t any good movies to distract you.
And best of all is the stop over – a whole day in a hotel room to do nothing but work. And that’s me. On the road and working.
So here I am in Dubai in a hotel room.
• Early access to room? Check. Bonus points for this. I’ve been left sitting in the foyer before today waiting for a room to be cleaned, desperate for a shower and a bit of privacy after a 12 hour flight. So early check in is great.
• Aircon? Check. It’s a bit cold and I can’t seem to turn the temperature up. But better cold than hot. I can put on a cardigan.
• Ipod dock. Check. Having my own music makes the anonymous hotel room experience seem a bit less so.
• Plenty of tea bags? No. Only three. I’ll need more than three cups of tea in a day so I’ll have to be out in the corridor pleading with the housekeeping staff sometime later. Milk? UHT, well that’s better than the powdered stuff but still not the best.
• Internet access? Well yes – sort of. An expensive plan unless I’m prepared to put up with really, really, really slow free access, or I have a data port cable. Who has a data port these days? The minimac only knows wireless. Get with it, big chain hotel!!
So I’m here, online, and I have about eight hours to kill – and nothing to do but read a thesis. Yes, this is the dirty secret. The thesis examiner reads the big book that has taken someone three, four or five years of their life to produce … on trains and planes. But fear not thesis writers. The travel read is actually better than the examiner trying to get through the text as part of the day job, when it’s well nigh impossible to find blocks of time to read, think and respond.
But it does mean that, on the stop-over, the thesis competes with sleep, the tele and the possibility of going off to wander through the giant mall next door. But it’s easy to resist these distractions if the thesis is lively and well-written and it’s genuinely trying to grapple with an important question. But if it’s plodding and stodgy, sleep might just win.
The worst part of travel thesis marking however is not resisting temptation(s) if the text leaves a bit to be desired. No, it’s the dead weight in the hand luggage. For some reason universities generally still insist on sending theses as hard copy. Large tomes. Big bulky books where pages are double-spaced and single sided and weigh rather a lot.
I suppose at some point graduate administrators will wake up to the fact that if they send a pdf then the examiner can take it with them as an e-book. Since we all carry computers and/or ipads then a pdf thesis would not add any weight and would be just as accessible…
And I guess eventually someone will perfect a cheap thesis app, one where the pdf text can be annotated and the annotations automatically exported to the report document. Until then, its hard copy, one of those three tea bags and a full day in the room with half a thesis left to read.