Author: mellgrim

Timing is everything

For my proposal I have to give them a project timeline so I’ve just spent time updating an old one (Draft of thesis timeline – 1 April 2017). It has reminded me how much I hate it when technology doesn’t work as expected and how much time is wasted trying to get things to ‘look right’. I think I need to revert to the 80/20 rule at some point…..


Groundhog day

As I sit here writing yet another proposal I feel as though I’ve made no progress in three years (well three and a half, but if I count the half I get nervous). But then as I write I can physically feel the progress I have made. I can feel my brain thinking differently about the world. I can feel my fingers typing words I didn’t know about three years ago with ease and eloquence (well, they make sense in context….). And I feel proud of how far I have come. I am okay with the fact I’m doing yet another proposal. I am okay with the choices I am making. I wasn’t, but now I am.

I wasn’t okay with the choices because they have been hard. I have been hurt, and have hurt others, through my choices. Doing a thesis is, for me, the most life changing experience I have ever had. I know some people just get in there and do it and then move on and nothing in their soul is really different. But that’s not me. This thesis changes my thinking, my passions, my reactions to others, my energy levels, well, and my soul. The world is a different place because of my thesis.

So why the title Groundhog Day? Well, because it’s a lot like the movie. The same day over and over again, but the actions I take impact the outcome. Yes I’m writing yet another proposal, but this one is different. It is stronger, better, I actually even like it. My thesis is Groundhog Day, the same actions to be taken (research, writing, analysis, stressing) but the way I take those actions alter how I see the world. I feel privileged to have this experience and feel sympathy for those students who just rocket through the thesis, focussed on the end game. Stop, enjoy the journey. You will only do this once (twice would probably kill you – I know it would kill me!).

Knowing what I don’t know is a comfort

I’ve had conversations with various people over the last week about my thesis, it’s direction and what I want to achieve. I’ve also been working on my proposal. Now my degree of comfort has increased with Weber, I’m at that glorious stage of knowing what I don’t know. It’s glorious because it’s comfortable. I am comfortable in not knowing. It simply means I must continue to explore so I can know.

Part of the conversations I’ve had have been about exactly what I want from the supervisor and university relationship. At this stage of my thesis I want people to read my research, critique, and send back to me in a timely fashion. At least that’s what I think I want. I also want an administration that is functional. Not fancy, just basically functional would be great.

In relation to supervisors, I think it’s unfair in a thesis to start out with supervisors you will finish with because that’s just not realistic. I’ve changed. My research has changed. How could I think my supervisors would stay the same? Perhaps it’s like a marriage. Unless both parties are willing to reflect and grow together, the relationship can’t be sustained. And of course, like a marriage communication is key.

I used to think I was a good communicator, but that’s now one of my known unknowns. I know I suck at it. Not just for my thesis, but generally. I’m working at getting better at it, and I wonder if I had been better three years ago if I would have had a more constructive relationship with my university and my supervisors and wouldn’t be looking to move. But the past is the past and I can’t change it. What I can change is how I make meaning in the future.

Meaning is key for my thesis now. It’s the foundation of empirical, theoretical and methodological thought in my thesis. Maybe it always, but I didn’t know it then. I know it now. I also know having it as the key idea, the essence, is making my proposal a lot easier to write than any previous proposal! So maybe now I know that I don’t know, I can actually research. That’s not a bad place to be.

Pressing Pause

I know I just posted on AARE but this needs to be separate for the record of my thesis. This week I applied, and it was approved, for a six month hiatus from January to June next year. I did this because I need time to think about where I want my thesis to be located within the myriad of field of research codes (FoR) and of course which university I want to have on the piece of paper at the end.

Given I’m not going into academia it doesn’t really in relation to reputation where I end up institution wise, however, it does matter the ‘personality’ of the university. My current institution and I have a personality clash. So now I have six months to find a place I can, well, not belong, but a place where I feel welcome. Wish me luck.

Finding the right sand pit, but do I want to play with others?

AARE 2017 is done and it was so good I’ve actually joined the organisation. Again, like APSA and APIRA and the Colloquiums, I’m not sure the people are my people but the content is certainly my content. Although I think it’s not that the people of these disciplines aren’t my people I think it’s more that academics aren’t my people. The reason I’ve come to this point is because I met some incredible people at this conference and even two I’m really keen to collaborate with, but on the whole I found myself at breaks talking to people thinking, “Why are you so focussed on the achievement and not engaged with the ideas?”.

See, my people are not the people who want the academic position, the high reputation journal, or dropping the right name into conversation (I can’t remember names so no use for me there!). My people are the ones who want to change the world. Who can see the value in research for the advancement of education and society as a whole. These are the people I want to hang out with.

What was fascinating was every session I went to I could directly link to my practice as a teacher or my research. This meant there was not one session I attended where I felt disappointed. For regular conference goers you will know just how unusual this is. You usually land one session where you politely exit yourself half way through because it’s just that bad. Not this time! And that includes finding myself in sessions I didn’t plan to be in because a) I met someone in the break and went to see what they were saying and found all the other presenters were great too or b) changes in the conference schedule were so common you’d turn up for one session to find yourself in another.

The fact this occurred and I still feel as though not a session was wasted is a testament to how the content of AARE is totally a sand pit I can play in. I still might not want to play with others, but at least I’ve found my sand pit.

Listening to the wisdom of others

The title for this post was not what I originally intended. Last night I was at dinner with Linda and Michael and I told them the title I wanted and they questioned my motivations. From this gentle and very kind questioning I listened and understood what they were saying. (Or alternatively I’ve overlaid my own meaning and all they were really saying was it was a shit title and I should rethink.)

A thesis journey is all bout listening to the wisdom of others. Whether it’s the literature you read, the supervisor advice, the person at the random dinner party who knows more about your topic than you do, the web sites, the news articles and so on. The issue is when to take on the wisdom or not. All wisdom should be listened to, but some of it should then be ignored. This is my biggest failure over the last three years. I have not ignored enough. I have catered too much to others and as such have lost my way. I have also heard amazing ideas and directions which I’ve needed to get me where I am today, which is back on track. It’s an odd balance I’m trying to strike.

One group I listened to enough and not too much was the 3 MT folks. I do their process, but I don’t go to their sessions on what to say and how to act. I am selective about the wisdom I adopt. As such, this was the product this year. From this experience I have been able to modify my research question in such a way that I now feel comfortable with my ideas. I have a theoretical framework to support my data collection and I feel vaguely on top of what I’m trying to achieve. The rest of this post is about that process so unless you’re particularly keen I would stop reading now. I just wanted to record my wisdom so I can listen to it a bit and appreciate how the wisdom of others is present in this place I have reached. For all of you, I say thank you. Please don’t become concerned if I don’t adopt your wisdom, it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped listening.

Research Question (as at 10 November 2017):

How exploring changes in incentives and stated objectives since 1988 to today can articulate the meaning of university education to Australia.

Legend: red=verbs; purple=limiters; green=variables

Verbs = selected to align with the narrative analysis process (Czarniawska 2014) to be applied where the Hernadi triad of explication, explanation and exploration are used. As well as the process of articulation where there is recognition of construction of meaning by the researcher through a process of abduction.

Limiters = my question examines a set phenomena, it does not seek to understand what is but what the change has been. This is because much of existing literature addresses what is, but there is a lack clarity of the change itself. The difference is assumed in the literature, whereas it is possible the situation of today has always been, we have simply forgotten. 1988 was the beginning of massification of university education (Trow 2010) in Australia and taking it through to today is because changes are occurring in legislation to make university education universal.

Variables = incentives are outlined by the existing literature; stated objectives are from the original research I will conduct; meaning will be established  using sociological theory (Weber 1947) combined with Plato as a contrasting ideal; university education is described in legislation, specifically that of TEQSA; and Australia for my thesis is the Federal Government, the universities as listed in TEQSA legislation and the accounting professional bodies.

Taking this approach I can now clearly describe my problem – Australia is not providing quality university education according the literature, but the literature does not provide the meaning of university education it merely indicates there has been change and the change is not ideal. So my thesis will identify the change, through the literature – incentives – as well as the objectives of university education as stated by Australia. By exploring the similarities in changes and differences it will be possible to articulate the meaning of university education thereby demonstrating if Australia really is getting the university education it wants, or if it isn’t. This research will support policy makers, universities and the professional bodies better understand expectations associated with university education and either continue to deliver the status quo, or work for (further) change. The research will also inform other researchers in university education if the change regularly discussed, really is the issue it is indicated to be, or if it has been blown out of proportion.


Czarniawska, B. (2014). Narratives on Social Science Research. Great Britain, Sage Publications Ltd.

Trow, M. (2010). Twentieth-century higher education: Elite to mass to universal. Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press.

Weber, M. (1947). The theory of social and economic organization. USA, Martino Publishing.

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.