Author: mellgrim

Living the nightmare of perception

It is evident in my last few posts I’ve really not been working on my thesis enough and this week I worked out why. Unfortunately I didn’t come to a mature, reasoned position. It came to me while basically throwing a tantrum. Truth often appears in anger, and boy did it this week!

It turns out I really hate the way I am treated as a student. I’ve complained about part time before (Colloquium Write Up – July 2017 and Back in the saddle – apparently) well I’m going to complain again. It is just awful. All support and training events are held in work time slots so I can never go. It is really isolating and depressing. Especially when only a couple of months ago I attended a focus group (where only two people turned up) asking what support HDR students needed and Paula and I both stated how much part time students, or student with work commitments, needed events on after hours.

Additionally, in my last post when I expressed the idea of support and how it’s a complex thing and I wasn’t sure why students and academics seemed to be not supporting one another as much as I think they could (How’s it going?) two things happened.

  1. A friend on FB posted a response I thought was a little loaded in language as he’d called the 3MT “an embarrassing gimmick” and when I pointed this out he became so incensed he has de-friended me and removed the conversation we were having. See, I thought it was a conversation about the use of language, he thought it was about being attacked.
  2. Coincidentally, there came a barrage of advertising through email and twitter about me going to support members of the faulty competing in the pitch for funds. This made me a little annoyed as the 3MT had not been advertised or supported by the faculty.

Both of these events are about perception. I perceived the advertising as negative because “why didn’t the 3MT get the same support Wha!” (yes I know this a petty and childish perception, but it was my perception) and I perceived a conversation, a debate on FB, not a range of personal attacks.

All of this leads me to this week and how I’m sick of how I’m treated as a student. It’s about perception. I perceive the university doesn’t actually support my research. I research about how bad universities are these days, how it’s all about the money, and then I live it. I am not ever going to make money for the university and I’m costing them as a part time student because I want things out of hours and this costs more, so resources cannot be wasted on me. Worse, my perception of what personal support looks like from a supervisor is totally different to the perception of my supervisor. Although this has occurred before (It’s all about perspective) he and I never really addressed how to engage with one another as people and this week at a meeting I realised it was never going to work. It’s not his fault, it’s not mine. It just is.

We are two different people who are quite simply too different in how we engage with others. This leads to meetings where I feel stupid and he feels like progress has occurred. Progress has not happened from my perspective for twelve months. I am no further this time this year than I was this time last year except I really like Natalie at the House of Representatives.

This is why I’m living the nightmare. I’m living what I research – students are treated well when they make you money and treated badly when they don’t – and I’m living the PhD nightmare – the unproductive supervisor relationship.

All of this leads to ‘what now?’. Well, change. That’s where it leads. I have done some investigation on how to change universities. Everywhere else may be just as bad, but I think I’d like to try a different devil because the one I know is just too hard.

One amazing outcome from my tantrum, was someone gave me their perspective on the situation, “It can’t be all bad” and he was right. Being a sessional tutor at my university, and its college, is amazing. I am supported in my teaching, in the administrative process to get paid, the way I can get access to various sources and generally I have had the honour to work with some incredibly intuitive academics.  They are intuitive because they sense when the students need more or less support and because they alter their teaching approaches based on success or failure, not just year to year but moment to moment in tutorials. I am so lucky to have worked and currently work, with these people.

Well, at least that’s my perception. Their perception may be something entirely different.

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How’s it going?

This week in Australia we had an R U OK? day. In principle this is a really nice idea and I think is a really important message. However, over the last couple of weeks I’ve had a few people ask me how the thesis is going. This question is less ideal. Because the answer is it’s not. So today I decided I would be inspired and get back to my theoretical model. And because I’ve moved house and still have boxes I can’t find my book I did the planning in, even though I know I did it in this house.

It’s these seemingly small obstacles that mount and prevent people from progressing.

I did go to the archives again on the 29th of August, all excited because I got another folder released. Turns out I opened the folder to be told: A7916 control 20  (you will need to rotate to the right direction – sorry). The issue is I’d agreed with the amazing Natalie at the House of Representatives I didn’t need permission for this file because it would be public. Natalie got an email in the afternoon explaining how apparently I do need to ask for access and would she mind adding it to the already very long list. Archival research is time consuming. One lighter moment was when I returned the file to confirm my suspicions, I remarked to the Archives person I was coming up on a year trying to access documents. She laughed and said “That’s nothing, we have one person researching here who has been looking for three years”. I did not share her humour.

I did compete in the 3MT which was great. Lovely audience really well organised and a credit to Melanie and her team at the university. What was sad was I am in a Faculty with over 100 students and I was the only one competing. In addition only two people from the faculty came to watch. I suppose one of those points leads to the other in a way. Without Faculty support students don’t push themselves and without students pushing themselves Faculty doesn’t see the point in offering support. Interestingly I was so sick on the night I didn’t care much about the process and I think this made me stronger! I didn’t win of course (social science never does – we can’t show how we’re medically saving lives or money) and also because the woman who won was simply incredible! She had strong research, amazing stage presence and a real story to tell. She was simply inspiring. This is also annoying. All the students in my Faculty should have been there to see her. To see how you can present your research and inspire people. It’s an amazing way to learn.

Interviews have been occurring slowly for our research paper and I’m learning to transcribe more effectively as we didn’t get our grant which means more work for me. I really love researching outside my thesis and I think it makes me stronger in my thesis…..if only I can manage my time.

My last thought today I am hesitant to put down but it was an event where I wondered if auto ethnography wasn’t a better theoretical choice after all. I subverted the university administrative system. Every six months we fill in administrative forms so everyone can be comfortable with ‘progress’ being made. My first time I was very serious. It took hours, I added files, I provided evidence and was very diligent. The next one I simply put links to my blog as I hold a lot of information here. This time, well, I simply said “No one reads this form so simply, my supervisor knows how I’m going, he’s okay with my progress, so all is well”. I then didn’t answer any of the other questions. Fortunately my supervisor backed me on my approach, although he did answer more of the questions. This week the university ‘powers that be’ approved my submission and have agreed to enrol me in 2018, proving my point no one actually reads the forms. It is process for process sake and will only be used if someone needs to sue someone else. Interesting fodder for my thesis, although not really applicable to my data set, unless I change to auto ethnographic.

Promotion time – 3MT

So, apparently I’m doing this: https://uc3mt2017.eventbrite.com.au/

For those interested in research it’s not a bad night. You learn some pretty interesting work people are doing. Also, you get to hear me rabbit on for three minutes about my thesis (non existent thesis…..but you know, the thought is there.)

One of the greatest values of the 3MT is not the night itself but the process I go through to think about my work in three minute block. What is my research actually about? What is the value? The approach? And above all, why should anyone care?

It’s a good discipline and this year I actually reframed my research questions based on the thinking I did for 3MT. I believe the best thing about my research and my approach is the way it makes my brain work in different ways. The exploration in my research is leading me to explore in life. The concise nature of 3MT is helping me refine and articulate my ideas, and in turn this helps me think about how I communicate more broadly with others.

Not sure I ever want to complete my thesis given how awesome this journey is!

Oh wait, the theoretical model I need to do…..yep, okay, it can finish now…..

Progress of a kind

As a high school teacher doing a PhD I thought school holidays would afford me the luxury of two weeks of writing, research and general activity. It did, but it related mainly to how to teach Year 9 and 10 in second semester, what car to buy and filling a skip full of rubbish accumulated over twenty years. Not quite the thesis productivity I was after.

I did achieve some……I met with my secondary supervisor who as always hit the key points right on the head making me come ever closer to my actual thesis question. I was proposing a whole ‘promise of university education’ clever theme for my 3MT and Linda pointed out it’s not really a promise, more of an objective. Promise, she pointed out, was a little vague. Government, universities and industry are anything but vague about what they want from a university education. They state it clearly in documents. The issue arises in the interpretation of these documents and the associated incentives. So basically my thesis is looking at the contrast between the stated objective and the alignment, or otherwise, with the incentives Government, universities and industry create. This is a much tighter idea than I’ve ever had and it means I can still do the historical comparison of documents I’ve been hanging out to do – so that’s progress!

Progress has also occurred with the document hunt of 1987-88. Lovely Natalie at the House of Representatives is totally on top of how to get the documents released. I had no idea how hard it would be. She has to write up a paper to the Speaker of the House who will then approve (or not) the release of the papers. Of course the interesting thing is we still don’t know if the papers are the right ones for me so this could be almost a year of work down the drain (I started this in November 2016).

During the two weeks I did conduct two interviews for my next paper with Leo. Was hoping to do a bit more but apparently universities were also having a break. It was exciting and interesting. I really cant thank the two people enough for their frank and fearless input. I have also been accepted to speak at a conference (if I make modifications to the paper) in November! So that’s progress too.

So while there was a dream of writing the next draft of the methodology chapter over the two weeks as well as the theory section for the paper with Leo, I think it’s okay the dream got diverted. At least I have a plan, I can see some progress and it’s not like I played Civ V non stop (although I really wanted to!). The last two weeks have seen progress. Not the kind I wanted, but progress non the less.

Colloquium Write Up – July 2017

I have just returned from the RMIT Colloquium, and given it was my second time I went back in my blog to look at what I said last time. Apparently I was not inspired to be creative with the title so I thought I’d go the same way again!

Despite my lack luster title, the two days were incredible. Doris and Niamh were simply inspiring . Between them they have revolutionised how I plan to present my thesis. Theory became clear including how I might just be able to vertically integrate my theories (if I’m clever!). I also have ways to think about presenting my analysis and ‘operationalising’ aspects of my question. Precision was also discussed. Qualitative research needs precision to be believed. This was a new perspective, but one I will carry forward (may even become a banner on my wall!).

One of the most valuable experiences from these types of events is hearing about the research of other students and their struggles and victories. It is mainly at conferences I hear these stories simply because I’m a part time student and see no one from my university cohort. I have given up trying to find people locally to network and spend time with. It’s easier to meet amazing people at conferences!

I also spent time building networks for interviews as we got our ethics clearance. Very exciting. Means I need to get busy to meet my new timelines, but there’s nothing wrong with hard work.

One moment at the colloquium changed my world view through a subtle adjustment of my thoughts about people. At a break out session we were talking about why governance boards fail. Niamh simply asked, why does any group fail? We discussed group work at university and how you end up with all the different personalities doing battle. I tried to argue that members of boards are trained professionals and should work towards the benefit of the organisation, aware of managing their personalities. However, it was the wisdom of Niamh in which my moment of clarity arose. She didn’t say anything, she merely looked at me. The look was kindly, insightful, tinged with a little pity, and loaded with meaning. Something in my brain shifted.  Human nature is, simply, human nature. Boards are made up of humans, therefore they are bound by human nature and will succeed or fail based on the nature of the humans of which the board is composed. I have always ‘known’ this, but in Niamh’s look I ‘knew’ it. My thesis is about human nature. All it’s complexity, machinations, beauty, horror, manipulation, innocence, charm, strength and weakness. That makes it hard to complete. Hard, but not impossible. I simply have to be precise, clear and strong enough to make it meaningful to others. What could possibly go wrong?

Relativeness of happiness (or utility)

I realised it had been a while so I thought I’d read my last post before writing this one. It’s funny, the last post is so full of hope and optimism. This one, even though I’ve done a conference submission and finally submitted my ethics application is not so happy. It’s nothing major, it’s just, well the book didn’t have what I thought. It had some, but not all the submissions so I can work with what I’ve got but it means I’m still reliant on the NAA to finish moving buildings.

I’ve also been running myself short on time. I’ve not done all the analysis I was hoping to have done simply because, well, life. Someone asked me the other day why I wasn’t full time. At the time I was short on an answer. Now I know. I need time to think about what I read, I need time to write what I’m thinking, delete it, and write it again (and again). I will need all the eight years they gave me (well seven and now I’m down to three…..). I also want to have a life while I do my thesis because having space enables cogitation. I talk to people about my thesis all the time and everyone I speak to provides a new insight (except for a really annoying person at work who keeps telling me their experience is vital for my thesis, but really they are not even in the same space). Through these insights building and enhancing I change what I’m reading and exploring. All this leads me to the end (well the end that’s close enough when it comes time to submit).

Interestingly one path I’m now exploring is the utility of education, not the expectation. So instead of trying to understand what actors and institutions expect of university education I’m thinking of how what they say indicates utility. This is useful as it enables me to explore their motivation explicitly through a lens already recognised for its complexity. Utility is totally dependent on the individual’s perspective of what increases their wellbeing.

So, this post really should be happy because I’ve made some milestones, but it’s not simply because I don’t feel the progress and take the set backs too much to heart. Just like my thesis where education is relative, so is my happiness apparently. Maybe I just need to revaluate what increases my utility. Tonight it might be wine.

And……face palm!

For several months I have been chasing documents (see Research is a time sink) and today a miracle occurred. Well, that’s a bit far, but still something so cool. Although it is also a face palm moment as the document I needed was online the whole time…..

Someone sent me a document and a link. The first tells me the big piece of information I’ve been looking for (there are not 600 submissions to the 1988 inquiry so heavens know what the department is on about) and the link is to a book that has all the submissions! So today I joined the National Library and Friday I plan to get out there and borrow myself a book.

What all this has taught me is I’m not very good at research. Actually, I am good at analysis and synthesis but I am very bad at finding things. This reinforces how important Bruce has been to my thesis. Without him feeding me many good sources early on I would not have made any progress at all. It also has taught me I should rely more on others who are good at finding things. And this means reaching out more to ask for help. Something I’m not great at. But today, being sent this little gem, has made me think I should get better at it and fast!

So a big thank you to Natalie at the House of Representatives. You’re very good at finding things!