There are two themes running through this blog: malaria and my upcoming dissertation. Regular readers of this blog (yes, both of you) know that malaria constitutes the entirety of my working life, and frequently renders me incapable of doing anything but sweating and staring at the ceiling. The dissertation is a new facet of my life, but one which is set to dominate for several months.
Let’s get down to malarial shenanigans. In mid-August I departed Central African Republic for three weeks’ leave back in the UK. I arrived late one Saturday evening, driving up the M1 to the grim and dour backwater of Meltham sitting on the edge of Saddleworth Moor. I felt a little low, shivering occasionally. I can recognise malaria in myself immediately; this was pretty poor timing by any stretch of the imagination. I met my daughter the following day but by then, I knew it: I was in for a rough 48 hours. My job running a program on malaria management in a very remote region of Africa means that I can self-diagnose and self-treat without much fuss; the key is to keep it to yourself in the UK – otherwise there’ll be an ambulance outside your apartment with a doctor insisting that you present yourself to the Infectious Diseases Clinic at St. James in Leeds. I know this from experience. I have access to the world’s finest medication for malaria so I can look after myself when necessary – except when severe malaria knocks me over, everyone needs help at such times.
Long story short, 48 hours later I had my running shoes on and was out on Saddleworth Moor and no one was any the wiser – apart from my daughter who had, yet again, seen her father through malaria bout #8. She must find it odd that after three months of not seeing one another, our first conversations consist of me saying ‘I don’t feel good. I’m going to need your help.’ What a kid.
Having returned to Central African Republic in the first week of September, I enrolled for the final year of the MA International Policy and Diplomacy. Yep, the end is in sight. I’m excited, apprehensive, and – ultimately – sad at the thought that this journey will be over all too soon. During the break I received occasional emails from my Course Lead with links to various things I might want to read as I approached the dissertation, books as well as the dissertation module handbook. I’ve learned through experience (second time in this blog for that phrase) that faculty staff do know a thing or two about getting students through a Master’s. Reluctantly, I downloaded a handbook on how to do a Master’s dissertation, and reread the module handbook.
Now, I read a great deal every day (there’s nothing else to do when you’re stuck in a compound in the far north of Central African Republic. Alone.) so I had already read a lot and started to formulate ideas for a dissertation title, a research question, objectives of study, and methodology. Having read the aforementioned documents, I hastily deleted the utter garbage I had put together on my dissertation proposal form, and expunged from my brain the images of faculty staff in a common room somewhere, laughing at my amateurish efforts. It turns out that when you’re about to write a 15,000 word dissertation it really does pay to listen to those supervisors who have read innumerable dissertations, and those authors trying to help first-timers like me through the ordeal.
Am I ready for the module? Not quite. Am I organised and have my documentation in order? Absolutely. Am I excited about the research I will do and the knowledge to be gained on foreign affairs in the year to come? Those who know me know that I need hardly answer the question.
I am not quite at the stage of brazenly dancing across the virtual learning portal, laying open my nascent ideas to the criticisms of faculty staff and course mates, but I am eager to start. When I started module 1 of this Master’s in September 2014, I often wondered what it would feel like to have four modules under my belt and be staring down the barrel of a dissertation. I now know the answer to that: it’s not actually as daunting as I thought it would be back then. Sure, my supervisor will occasionally privately think ‘Dear me, Richard, haven’t you been listening to anything I’ve been saying for the last two years?’ but ultimately I hope to be presenting a document which makes both me and my supervisor mutter ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’