Welcome back 🙂

I decided the title ‘Ketchup’ for my second blog post whilst lying in bed this morning, trying to eeek out the last bit of duvet warmth before stepping into the chill of our money-saving-less-than-usually-centrally-heated house. I’d already decided this post would be a catch-up post – bringing me, and you (the reader) up to date on the PhD journey thus far.

Unexpectedly my brain pinged up a scene from Pulp Fiction, where Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) shares a joke with Vincent Vega (John Travolta). The joke is as follows: “One day there were three tomatoes walking down the street, a mama tomato, a daddy tomato and a baby tomato. Baby tomato is walking too slowly, so the daddy tomato goes back, steps on him and says ‘ketchup!’ ” The scene is better than the joke, so you can watch it here if you fancy. I’m going to attribute the brain ping (or is it brain fart nowadays? lol) to a weak triangulation of catching up, something food related, and something slightly left field to engage, and who knows, distract even… Perfect for a second blog post, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Finding the original email I received in April 2022 from the CHEFS email list took a bit of time, making me realise just how quickly and easily nuggets of digital gold are found, lost and found again. The moment I opened the email in April I know this was an opportunity I needed to act upon. It read:

Food events, ‘sustainability imaginaries’ and shaping consumer perceptions and behaviour

This project aims to improve the sustainability of regional food systems through the platform of food events (e.g. food festivals, farmers markets, agricultural shows), focusing on Yorkshire/Northern England. It explores the construction of food sustainability ‘imaginaries’ (Taylor 2004): normative conventions and expectations as to what constitutes sustainable food systems, and how people imagine everyday life (e.g., eating, purchasing, choosing, growing), and their roles, identities and relations to others in a sustainable food system. Building on previous examinations of food events as drivers of sustainability (Lin & Bestor 2020; Organ et al 2015; Star, Rolfe & Brown 2020; Williams et al 2015), the research will:

(1) generate a comprehensive account of how ‘food sustainability imaginaries’ are constructed through a food event’s experiential, material and communicative dimensions;
(2) devise and evaluate a food event-based intervention through which to enhance consumers’ practices and behaviours in relation to the environmental, socio-cultural and economic sustainability of food.

By May 2022 I had written a research proposal, secured two trusted academic peers (thank you Peter, thank you Jane) and got my application in by the deadline – phew! Receiving the interview invite was a GOOD THING, immediately followed by a visit to the pub to celebrate, and getting down to preparing my short presentation for the interview, which took place on 21st June 2022. The BIG NEWS of an unconditional offer arrived on 1st July, followed by another visit to the pub of course! Fast forward through the summer to October 2022 when ‘My PhD Journey’ embarked proper.

The full title of my post is ‘Graduate Teaching Assistant PhD Scholarship’, which I am undertaking on a part-time basis over 6-7 years. So, what does this mean? Broadly speaking it means I receive a scholarship payment to complete the PhD and to teach. The bureaucracy of enrolment was inevitable, but pretty painless – and various new PGR inductions into the Sheffield Hallam Doctoral School did exactly what they needed to do in terms of getting across all the key information in a timely manner. Thanks to the great support teams 🙂 whether it was filling in the correct forms, activating IT accounts, applying for SHU cards or getting access to the right rooms, everything that was needed has happened. I’ve also accessed a couple of really useful webinars delivered by the amazing Library Services.

In terms of teaching, the Doctoral School offered a ‘Teaching Skills for Doctoral Students’ course, for which I was eligible. However after speaking with the course leader and taking into consideration my previous teaching qualifications and 10 years + teaching experience (most of which has been here at SHU) I was able to decide that I didn’t need to attend the TSDS course. I felt well supported to make the right decision. Another positive in relation to teaching is that there is a block of time at the start and end of the PhD where I am not required to do any teaching. It’s not allowed in fact! This feature has created a very useful period of time for everything else to happen and to settle in, including speaking with my Subject Team Leader about what teaching I will be doing. More on teaching to come…

The first study block ‘Critical Thinking in Business Administration’ ran from 17th – 21st October covering a wide range of topics, including theories of truth and management research, ethics, ontology, epistemology, research philosophies and much more. The module was expertly co-delivered by Dr Richard Breese and Dr Fariba Darabi, with a great range of activities and guest lecturers, plus a welcome message by Professor Conor Moss, Dean of College Business, Technology and Engineering. The module assignment is a 5-7000 word essay due in February 2023, focusing on a critical exploration of the research aims and objectives I have developed. More on this assignment to come…

I reached a key milestone on 15th November with my first proper PhD supervision meeting with my Director of Studies Professor Jennifer Smith Maguire. The brief ahead of the session was to “revisit your proposal and try to pick out what’s likely to form part of your focus going forward”. This involved following up a couple of scribbled notes I made one afternoon during a group activity in the earlier study block. The keywords were ‘deliberative democracy’, and something about them resonated with me. So it was, towards the end of October, that  I embarked on what I now see as my first proper rounds of structured literature searches and reading. At the supervision session I shared my thinking with Jen, and what emerged was a scribbled venn diagram, and the sentence ‘food events as spaces for deliberation in support of values based food systems’. More on how this develops to come…

A key challenge I’ve encountered has been finding the time I want to dedicate to my PhD studies. My aim currently is a day a week. I’ve managed this most weeks so far, but not all weeks, and each day I have found has been disrupted in various ways by my work, by family matters and life in general, but on a positive note this disruption is happening less each week, which is good I think. I’m learning that I actually prefer having a few things on the go at any one time, and that it’s more about finding the right balance, rather than aiming for exclusivity of my time and attention on just one thing. We’ll see how I get on with that!

Finally, a quick note to self – as well as keeping this blog, I have a pen and paper notebook especially for the PhD. Like a first day at a new school, it felt right, and I’m already glad I did it. A quick flick through the pages allows me to reflect on what has already happened, and where I might need to go next. Where is next? A supervision session with Jen next week to share my progress on identifying literature topics. More on the next supervision session goes to come…

Thanks for reading, until next time…


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