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HERDSA – another learning experience

Two weeks ago today I was at HERDSA with the wonderful Stephanie. I learnt an awful lot in one day.

Firstly I had a realisation of how I used to go to conferences thinking everyone is so incredible and perfect. Now I go and and can see gaps in how they did their research, or aspects I would have emphasised and they didn’t. I like to think this is my growth as a researcher. Again, I return to the not knowing to knowing process. I now know enough to be dangerous to myself and others because I don’t really know enough but I know something. Hmmm, okay, I’m referring to the Dunning-Kruger effect . When I started my thesis I was totally at 100% confidence. I knew what I wanted to do, how awesome it was going to be, and totally how I was going to do it. Then I spent the first two years plummeting into zero confidence as I learnt how little I knew. Now, my confidence is growing, but it is the confidence that comes with knowing how little I know, so I have lost a lot of that self-assuredness (cockiness even!) that comes with lack of experience confidence.

What I am doing now though is asking better questions. I even asked a key note speaker a question she thought was interesting and it gave her pause. It was about whether or not we should accept university education as it has become and embrace it in some way as academics, rather than fighting (it was a little more finessed than this, but that’s the gist). This shows me I’m on the right track. I’m still travelling, and have a long way to go, but I’m at least heading the in the right direction.

The session Stephanie and I ran together was amazing. We were expecting three people as we were the last session before the conference dinner and went for an hour and half. It was a workshop rather than academic presentation and we were not hopeful, especially when we had our three people two minutes before starting! However, we ended up with 16 people, an amazing amount of data, and all the indications we’re onto something. Feedback from a lovely woman called Michelle Picard who is doing some interesting research linked to the work of Stephanie and mine has really helped me shape some ideas around the literature. Meeting people like her at conferences is inspiring and depressing as I am getting most of my research support from people I meet outside my university! Although, the session I ran with with Steph told me if I want support I should get of my arse and organise it…

Lastly, I had an interesting experience where Steph and I had a drink after our session with one of the participants. She made the observation how well Steph and I had worked off one another in the session and asked how long we had been working together. She was shocked to find out it was only the second occasion we had met in person. I’ve been thinking about this comment and I think that’s why it’s taken so long to post about the conference. Teaching (which is what conferences are, researchers teaching other researchers about their research) is a very personal act. Team teaching (Steph and me running the session the together) is even more personal if it is to be effective. It must be done with someone with whom there is complete trust or it will become a contest of egos. Research collaboration is the same. It is effective only in trust. So, if that’s the case, how can governments and administrators measure success or failure of trust to measure effectiveness of teaching? That’s a KPI that’s impossible to measure. This is why I think more and more about performance frameworks in education and just how impossible they are. I fear I have found a rabbit hole I have no time to go down. Well, no time today, maybe tomorrow.

Side note: I have been informed by the House of Representatives I may have access to my data within the month! But she also said not to hold my breath…one and half years and counting…

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Un-pressing pause (this is not the research we are looking for)

It has happened. Someone has let me know my research is as meaningless as I think it is. To be fair they just said it wasn’t in line with their research requirements, but I do like to add some drama!

This rejection means I’m stuck at the University of Canberra. So, what to do? I’m at an institution who thinks my research is useless (but they accepted me when they thought it wasn’t – a change of VC does that) and who I think is useless because they (administrative types) treat part time social science students like scum.

I think, and I reserve the right to change my mind, I just suck it up, stop being a princess about it all (yes – totally gendered language and all you SJW’s can rant all you like), and just write the thesis. After all, I’ve been accepted at another conference, I’ve had one paper published, have another two in the pipeline, and have still managed to do some thesis work all while I’ve been pressing pause.

I think this should remind me that while I’ve been rejected (and painfully as I really wanted to be accepted and had found a really like minded, yet not, potential supervisor, who would have been great), I am actually okay. I can do research. I can write. And I’ve done all this while not being involved at the University of Canberra at all.

I now un-press pause and will get to work. After all I owe Steph at University of Adelaide some slides for our conference workshop!

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.