PhD Journey #4 – Herd Immunity

It’s 4 in the morning when the doubts wake you and the birds don’t yet sing and you think to yourself – I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing. The doubt is like an infection, attacking your sense of perspective and self-confidence and even the passion for your work, until the final state of paralysis occurs. Four in the morning is a terrible time.

When you think of a biological contagion, like measles or TB or whooping cough, you’ll likely be familiar with the term “herd immunity” – the protective embrace of a largely immune, vaccinated community that protects those within it too young or too immuno-compromised to be vaccinated themselves.

How do you apply these principles to that 4 in the morning feeling of doubt, to protect yourself from the paralysis of worry?

You find a herd of archaeologists and enthusiasts just as into old rocks as you, go on a road trip to Wales, bomb around some back roads with an OS map, and let the warm glow of a sense of community wash over you.

Obligatory group shot at Presaddfed chambered tombs, taken Helen S.

Last weekend was the Spring meeting of the Neolithic Studies Group, a band of incredibly diverse individuals brought together by our over-enthusiasm for all things Neolithic. It started with cheese and wine and ended with sunburn and long drives home; what came between was a brief but brilliant sense of community.


Moonrise over archaeologists at Barclodiad y Gawres.

It was slightly daunting – on the first night I quickly realised my fellow attendees were basically a who’s who of my literature review, and I was concerned that being so early in my career I would not be able to contribute to the conversation. I needn’t have worried – this group come from all walks and all levels of study, or no study at all; it’s all about a shared interest, and is basically a social gathering with some magnificent sites and interesting lectures thrown in for good measure.

The weather confounded all Welsh stereotypes and the sun blazed, which naturally meant we had to make an ice cream stop at Barclodiad y Gawres, and that several of us glowed with a little more than enthusiasm at the end of the weekend. The sun made for stunning photographs.

I got to clamber into a tomb that, previously, I had not managed to get permission to work at, which was nice. Thankfully as far as I am aware, no photographs of my somewhat undignified entrance exist.

I learned that rebellious archaeologists really like climbing onto and into places.

The tweaks on my colour sensor work! I’ve upped the gain which is giving me a much cleaner reading and solving the “muddy”colour issue I was having. It is, however, currently residing in a Ferrero Rocher box until I can make something a little more custom and a little less Heath Robinson.

Sadly I did not teach anyone to pronounce Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in the pub.

I did, however, have a lot of wonderful conversations, about my work, about their work, about theory in general, about the Neolithic. I’ve had my dose of peer support. At least for now, I’m immune to those 4 in the morning feelings.


No squirrels were harmed, or indeed even seen, during the making of this blog post.


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