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.

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.