Losing the -ly

I have a deadline of 30 April for this chapter to my supervisors and it’s been problematic. I have had the basics of this chapter for about three years but trying to put it together in a way that made sense proved more than I could handle. And then as always happens when you play with words for long enough – the breakthrough.

I’m not convinced this is going to survive contact with the supervisors as I’ve done something a bit brazen. However, for my way of thinking about the thesis and how it’s coming together with the data I actually think this is not a bad way to go.

I am suggesting my whole context chapter (literature review) is about setting university education up as a ‘good’ and universities as the business selling. I’ve ended up here because every time I tried to do a history section and then the funding section and then the policy section and so on, it all became a mess. Everything in university education is connected to everything else. Making university education the good to be bought and sold centred all the rest of the ideas and made the literature tell a story. I think it works – but only time will tell (and the proof reading which I’ve not done and we all know how wrong that can go).

I’ve also done something I’ve not done before with this chapter. I searched for words with -ly. I did this because one supervisor doesn’t like adverbs and -ly is the easiest way to find them as it is often at the end. Turns out I do use them a lot! Also turns out removing them tightens up the language no end and makes a stronger point. There are occasions where I’ve kept them for emphasis, but it turns out listening to supervisors is a good idea!

Even when it’s good it’s complicated

I had a meeting with my supervisors on the 25th of March (I suppose I should have posted about that before now) to discuss my theory chapter. Turns out it wasn’t too bad. Let’s not say good, but the feedback was much less critical than I expected. What did raise its head again was this bloody field of research (FoR) code. Because I’ve used Weber substantially as my theoretical base, apparently I am no longer cross-disciplinary I’m sociology only. I can see the point about not being cross-disciplinary because of theory, but I’m not actually sociology either. So now the simple feedback I thought was manageable is actually complicated.

On top of this I need to do my work in progress seminar (WIP). When I asked David about it he asked to which School I wanted to present. In our Faculty each School runs their own presentations for research students. So even though I’m in the Business School and the School of Government and Policy, I have to choose. Well, this morning I made up my mind. I’m going to run my own session. I’ll book a room over the Winter Term, invite the Faculty and see who wants to come along. After all if the whole point of my thesis is that university education can’t be discussed in one discipline alone if there are going to be positive changes, then what message do I send by only presenting to one School? The fact I fight against the system I research is tiring. I think it’s time I really looked at the FoR codes and started making some choices.

Excitement is new!

I’ve had an odd experience over the last couple of weeks, I’ve got lost in my writing. I actually almost missed a tutorial last Tuesday because I was so sucked into my chapter and I hadn’t set the timer for the 25 minutes like normal. All turned out okay but still, it was a new feeling.

Part of the excitement I believe is linked to the data. It’s great to be in the data and seeing the patterns and building my understanding of what I’m actually going to say. It’s also interestingĀ  I’m more able to articulate where I’m going and what I’m actually trying to achieve because I have data.

I was with Michael for breakfast and we were talking about my thesis and I put a sentence together about what it was about and he expressed how that was the first time I’d been able to put something coherent together that sounded like a plausible thesis. His words were kinder than that because he’s nicer than me, but that was the general gist.

I was then having breakfast with Jason (I have a lot of breakfasts out) and mentioned how I think it’s mean to ask people about their thesis until they are in data collection because it’s only then that you actually know what you’re doing. He commented that surely you must know what your thesis is about all the time. I realised then that I didn’t really. I had a gut feeling for where I wanted to go and an idea about how to get there, but until I got my hands on the data I was lost. I was drowning in the concept of research – the theory, the methodology the literature. The data has given me the excitement. It has tethered me to the idea of what I’m trying to achieve.

And what I’m trying to achieve is a shift in the debate on university education. There is so much complaining about university education and the way it is delivered, but the data shows me that what we have is actually what we want. So everyone needs to stop complaining about university education and how bad it is and actually ask, what is the university education we need? So much effort in research and media and people generally is going towards complaining about what we have. If we, as a society, policy makers, academics, education administrators, put that effort into discussing what we need rather than what we have, well, then we might get the university education we both want and need. Until then we’re all just whining. My thesis is showing people there is no value in whining. The data shows us we have what we want. You can’t complain about that!

 

Learning from the master

On Monday I got my draft paper back from Leo. It’s the second time he’s seen it but it was version six for me. I hadn’t looked at my email but he had texted me. This is unusual. The text was prepping me for a bad situation because he’d said ‘great work’. Leo is one for being kind to be cruel, so I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t open the email until yesterday. His text in the email also prepared me for massive disappointment, and then I opened the document.

Leo had used track changes and every now and then there was a word in black, but not often. Mainly it was all the blue of edits with the boxes of blue on the side for deletions. I was not surprised. My academic writing is still in nappies.

I made a decision to learn, so rather than just accept all of Leo’s changes, I opened draft six, saved it as draft seven, and rekeyed all of Leo’s edits. This was the best idea I’ve ever had. His edits were amazing. His ability to write in academic ease is masterful. Also, I was able to see he had kept the ideas I had expressed, but it had put the ideas into words acceptable in the academic world. It also meant I could make small changes to Leo’s work and mark it up for us to discuss. If I had just accepted all the changes I would have learnt nothing. Instead I have learnt from the master.

I’ve just emailed him version seven. We will have a Skype and then I will move onto draft number eight. I’m hoping to submit before version 12, but we’ll see how quickly I can apply the lessons I been taught.

Now it’s just hard work

Had a meeting with my supervisors on Thursday. In that meeting I signed us all up to a timetable where, in theory, by the end of this year I should have draft one of a full thesis. I say all of us because a thesis, just like research papers done in collaboration, are a team effort. I will be drawing on the expertise of my supervisors to guide my thesis to a point where it can pass muster. I say pass because I want to get C’s. There will be three assessors and each will award a grade from A – D. I used to be aiming for A’s or B’s. Now I just want to pass. It’s not that I don’t want to do better, but it’s more that I just want to get it done. I don’t hate my research, if anything I’m more excited but it now than I have been, but I’m just ready for it to be done. It’s time for me to move onto the life post thesis.

People keep asking me what I’ll do when post-thesis arrives. I will do what I do now. Teach high school a little, tutor at university a little and research a little. I like the combination of work loads and I think they all support one another. But they are all hard work. Just like the next 12 months of life will be. If I want to get this done I have to work. A lot. I have developed a schedule and timetables and booked milestone meetings with my supervisors. This is getting real. The question is, can I actually do it? Only time will tell, and unsubscribing Netflix, that would help.

Won’t lie – I cried a little

I have data. Today I got to my boxes. The first file was, well, I could make it work. The second file. Perfect. Second and third followed suit.

I can now actually undertake my thesis. The relief is palpable. Of course, now I simply have to read the 400 pages of data I copied today, add it to the other several hundred I have and do a bit of analysis and then some thinking. What could possibly go wrong?

Christmas comes early

On Friday 7 December I got an email from the very kind and patient Bronwyn at the House of Representatives telling my I have my boxes! I can now go and see what they actually contain and if it’s useful for my research (here’s hoping!).

It has taken two years to get these boxes from my initial archives request. If they don’t contain what I hope they do, this thesis is going to become something different. Something containing no archival material at all!

Life is better with a friend

Today was presentation number two for AARE 2018. This time I had Steph and it was so much better. We were in a session with highly complementary papers and at the end of the two hours it felt like the whole room was happy to be there! The other presentations were interesting and will make good references for Steph and me. To add to the joy our presentation was well received with some good feedback and general consensus more research in this area is needed. What was great was how the room let us know what is important to them in our data so we will now focus a little more in those directions.

Also had more revelations about Monday. (Bit tired of continually thinking about my mistakes but I’m assuming once I get all the lessons I can from the experience the brain will put it into long term storage to be forgotten.) I think the key to balancing my additional research with my thesis is just use my papers with Leo as my case study in my thesis. There’s nothing to say I can’t do that and it will fit in nicely with a little tweaking in focus. So now I have data for Government and universities through parliamentary records and for industry from my own research. I won’t have the time comparison for the industry perspective but I’m not sure that will matter given it’s the case study. If this has legs (and I’ll need to confirm with the supervisors) then I might really be on track to have draft one complete next year! Now that would be grand.

Off to a celebratory dinner with Steph tonight. Pity our research really doesn’t align with my thesis otherwise I could use it too. Hmmm…I wonder if it could…..

Misspeaking leads to revelations

Yesterday I presented on my thesis in public for the first time (my confirmation doesn’t count as only those who had to be there were, yesterday people could have left!). It was a wonderful and horrifying experience with the later the greater emotion.

Wonderfully people seemed interested in my work. They nodded a appropriate times so either they though I had a good point, or were just feeling sorry for me, either way I’m taking it as a win!

Horrifyingly I tried to do too much in one presentation, it became too confusing and to top it all off I misspoke. Of course I didn’t realise it at the time, it dawned on me about an hour later. This meant I couldn’t fix it at the time and I can’t fix it now. For about 24 hours I was thinking about it over and over again feeling horrified and embarrassed, but then I realised what I could learn.

A thesis outside the natural sciences (and maybe within the natural sciences, I don’t know, but from the outside their work seems a lot more clear cut and exact so I’m assuming they don’t have this problem) must use language exactly. If a word is written or spoken, the author must be clear on the meaning for themselves and their audience. de Saussure tells us this is not actually possible but I really need to try to do better than I did yesterday.

I misspoke for two reasons. Firstly, I didn’t know what I meant because I’m no far enough into the thinking on my thesis. Secondly, I chose stupid words. The English language is diverse and fulsome. I could have chosen a whole range of words to better express my ideas. Better still, I could have shut up.

I have been careless with words. I recently submitted a draft of my theory chapter (again…..yes….again) and it was shit. I have chosen that word precisely. The reasons were exactly the same as above. My own thinking was falling short of my ability to express my ideas and my choice of language was inadequate. I am half way through this thesis and really want my first draft done by the end of next year. I can no longer be careless with my thinking or with my words.

This blog will the exception of course. Here I can just dump what’s in my brain and hope for the best. I see my last post was almost three months ago. A lot has happened on the thesis over that time and I’ve not been writing it here. I’ve been writing, just not here. The lovely AARE people reminded me on Sunday blogging can be a really interesting and important part of the thesis journey if you use it. And I know I’ve said this before, but I really think I need to put thoughts here more often. Especially if I’m going to start thinking more clearly and choosing better language elsewhere. I’ll need a place to ‘throw out the trash of my brain’. See, it’s already starting….

Thinking hurts in so many ways

Over the weekend I travelled to Armidale to work with Leo on our data. It was an incredible experience in a range of ways. The first was the experience of the Australian country side. It’s so easy to forget the majesty of our country in our day to day lives. There were dust storms and real storms with forests and agriculture passing by. And that was just the trip there!

Actual data analysis with another human being was a whole new experience. We had data on the wall (because I’m like that – cut up the interviews and stuck onto the big sticky notes for transport and coding collection), we had data on the lap top and then we had a white board. About three hours in I declared the need for a walk. The data was there, it was rich, we knew that, but we had basically nothing to be worthy of an academic paper. Leo kept asking “why do I care?” and we kept coming up with he didn’t.

A walk around some of the campus, a discussion about evolution, and we returned anew.

At the end of the day we have two papers with a definite amount of ‘Leo caring’ in them. We got to this point by letting the data talk to us. We used phrases like ‘but what’s the story here?’ ‘what’s this actually saying?’. By actually reading over and over again what we had, and moving some of the data around the coding, we identified an overarching narrative. In the end it was grouping data on the white board that made us realise the story. Learning outcomes as a data set didn’t link to anything else. That became our story.

However, amazing as it was it’s now Wednesday and I’ve only just recovered from the trip. Yes there was the drive, but it was the thinking that took energy. It was uplifting and depressing at the same time. It was energising and draining at the same time. It was an experience I’m keen to do again. Researching together is more fun than researching alone. Thank you Leo.

Now onto working with Steph – we’ve been accepted at AARE to present on data we’re collecting at the moment. It’s a lot harder than we thought. Getting a survey link out through official channels is not easy. However, we battle on and will have a story to tell at AARE and that’s all that matters.

I’ve also had my first paper on my thesis for a conference accepted by AARE so I’ll be doing two presentations in December. Bit excited and nervous. It’s one thing to present on work you share, another to present on your own work. See above, research is easier with a second brain. I’m still not sure my brain is good enough on its own. This is not imposter syndrome but years of experience where success is greater with others than by myself.

On a different note, the hunt for data release continues. I first reached out onĀ 14 April 2017 to the House of Representative and 12 February 2017 to the National Archives. I keep thinking it’s two years in November. Apparently I’m wrong. It just feels that way…archival research is a challenge.