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?

How do the professionals do it?

Hats off to every academic out there. You are incredible. How you sustain any mental health normality on the roller coaster that is publishing is beyond my understanding. Today it is official. Leo and I made it. From an initial chat in September 2015 we are now a paper in January 2017. I mean I thought the APS was slow, but this has been a mind blowing experience and a roller coaster of emotions.

First the research doesn’t do what you expect (took us three different approaches to the data to get it to work) then there is the writing, editing, clarification, editing, rewriting (and that’s just Leo and I). Then comes the rejection, then the acceptance with edits, then the extra edits and then the publication. I’m tired just writing this.

So, kudos to you academics. You are awe inspiring (awesome).

On a different note, I had a thought last night about my title. I know I get hung up on it (see here and here and here and here and others…..) but for some reason having a title is really important. Anyway, I realised yesterday while doing my literature review for what feels like the 100th time, accounting is about giving an account. An account is like a story, which is a narrative, which is a discourse. This led to a title of:

A critique using accounts of Australian university education from those involved in a Bachelor of Accounting

This won’t be my last title, but I like it. It has a simplicity I’ve been missing and basically says what I’m doing. I want to bring simplicity back, I lost it a bit last year, but it’s mine if I want it. Comments on the title more than welcome! Writing is a lonely business and I’m an extroverted thinker.


Frank and fearless advice

Back in the good old days of the Australian Public Service (APS), there was a clause in the legislation under which public servants are engaged. It was something like, “…the provision of frank and fearless advice…”. I like this expression. Frank means clear and true (well at least to me) and fearless, well, it means that anyone in the APS providing advice to the Government of the day should be fearless. There should be no dynamic preventing honesty in the advice being provided. They change the legislation and removed the word fearless. I have no idea what it says now as I’m so disheartened by Australian politicisation of the APS I no longer read the legislation. (Yes, I used to read the legislation for fun.)

Yesterday I had a meeting with David in which there was much frank and fearless advice – on both sides. It was while in this exchange I realised something. As tricky and complicated as the relationship with my supervisors is, there is just so much value and trust. This makes the relationship important to my thesis. Without the ability to be fearless David, and Linda, will not be able to provide me important ideas and feedback, but if I can’t be fearless, my thesis will become theirs, not mine. The fact we can all be frank and fearless is sometimes painful – we hear things we don’t necessarily care to – but there is great value for me and my thesis will be stronger for the experience.

As I said in my last post, I actually wrote theory content and this is what David and I discussed yesterday. We have agreed it’s a basis from which to move forward. I also mentioned in the post the work with Leo. We’ve met and have altered my proposal to a point where we think we’ve got a good paper. So, I now have a lot of work to do. A methodology chapter (not yet started), refinement of the Change Chapter (about 65% of the way there) and completion of the theory chapter (about 30% there) as well as data analysis for thesis and for the paper with Leo. All before 31 December. Good thing I quit my full time job yesterday! (Yes – I know rent will need to be paid……I’m sure there’s a job I can find…..anyone hiring?)

As a side note – I’m blaming Bruce again today. Even though I quit my job and have very limited income stream I spent money at Amazon today! I thought I could use the e-book for Logics of Critical Explanation for research, but Bruce spoilt me with all these beautiful books I can hold in my hands, flick through, visualise the page with the information, scribble in and tag up with post-it notes. Damn you Bruce for showing me such beauty!

Silence is not golden – but maybe the end is shiny

It’s been a very long time since I posted and that’s not a great sign. In fact even that post was depressing too. This is a really handy insight into my journey and I’m really glad it’s here to remind me how bad it’s been for so long. Of course bad is relative – I’m not starving, I’m not homeless and I’m warm (I currently have two heaters running). Bad for my thesis has been no writing in almost two months and total frustration with theory (again).

There’s the summary, now what’s the detail? Well, as can be seen in my last post the literature review was not ideal. Of course what happened was I sucked it up and gave it to my supervisors anyway because horrible feedback is better than nothing, and is considerably better than me sulking in a hole about how awful it is. Turns out, both supervisors weren’t too unhappy. They aren’t in love with it or anything, but they had constructive feedback and there was no suggestion of binning the whole lot. What did this teach me? Well, that maybe my bad is not the same as everyone else’s.

Other detail is David trying really hard to get me to write the theory and methodology chapters. He has given me structure, he has given me word limits for the structure, he has given me reading resources, he has guided, cajoled, prodded, advised, humoured and been patient. I repaid all this with an email to him expressing frustration and anger and stating how I was going to do what I was going to do and then we would talk about it.

Something amazing happened. As soon as I sent that email I started writing. A lot. And it wasn’t dreadful. I mean let’s not get delusion here, there’s still a very long way to go, but at least I can write about theory now without wanting to vomit. (That’s serious there people – theory made me actually want to throw up every time I tried to write.) My plan is to write as much as I can (with references and everything!) and then provide it to David so he can see my vision of theory rather than more conversations of me trying to explain what I mean, failing, getting frustrated and sulking.

The other amazing thing is back in July I met with Leo on our next collaboration and I promised him a proposal by the end of July. That didn’t happen and the guilt has been building. Today, I got it together, did the data analysis I needed to in order to draft the proposal and then drafted. It’s now with Leo for comment. I can see the next article in what I’ve written and more interestingly, the theory was also completely clear to me. I can see how discourse theory works in this next paper and how I would write it up. And so while the silence of the last two months has not been golden (teary, frustrated, complicated – but not golden) I think the results to come from the silence might just be a little shiny.

Another milestone day

Tonight I hope to be awake enough to post about my presentation, but in the meantime I’m putting the slides here so I can access today.

Presentation draft

Turns out I wasn’t awake enough! It was really great. I got solid feedback for the paper and met amazing people for my thesis. I met two incredible women, Meredith and Kathie, who have recently completed their PhDs. We got to talking about how to complete a thesis and came up with a range of issues I think everyone in the first year should have. Talking to them was like getting the real story instead of the waffle you usually get. It was warts and all. I’ve been to websites that offer support and ideas, got the books and they are all upbeat and positive about it all, while saying it does take hard work. These women were just like – this is reality, these are some tricks that worked for me, and in the end you write. The value of the conference has been met on the first day!

So what was the advice?

  • Project manage the thesis – the whole time period
  • Do a spreadsheet to manage your words for each chapter and stick to it. You can only add words if you’ve taken them away from somewhere else
  • Give yourself a buffer of words when you submit because if you have to edit you want room
  • Mange your supervisors – this means booking time and seeking clear instructions from them and agreement about turn arounds
  • If you aren’t passionate about it, don’t do it. A thesis is not just a piece of paper to get to be an academic. It’s a passion. If it’s not – go and get a job for a while and then come back.

Thanks APIRA – you rock

It’s all about perspective

This time last week I was still a mess. Since then it’s been interesting times!

Turns out, it’s all about your perspective. When David sent me an email saying “well done” after my confirmation, because of my perspective, I thought he was being sarcastic. No, he was genuine. For him my confirmation had gone as expected and there was nothing untoward and indeed it was all quite normal. He is not alone. I’ve spoken to many people now and all of them say that confirmations do tend to be blood baths. Why? Well because that’s academics for you. They are passionate about their personal positions and telling a HDR student how wrong they are is a way to build the character of the student and maybe help them towards the very important personal perspective. To be honest that’s what I saw at APSA where academics had goes at others for what seemed to be sport rather than testing of ideas. So I shouldn’t have been surprised. It helped to have people tell me everyone goes through this, however, why do they have to?

This brings me to my next point. The confirmation unearthed my FoR codes. Until now I didn’t really care. I’m not an academic, not going to be one, so it hasn’t really been an issue, until now. Seeing others grapple to assess my ideas made me realise I’m playing outside the sand pit. It’s hard to assess my thesis because I’m not in the box. I belong to three FoR codes, not two. Who do you get to assess me then? One person from each of the three but then they can’t understand two thirds of the thesis because it’s not in their sand pit but someone else’s? See, I don’t think that will happen. I think they will understand because of what I write, I just need to be very clever about it. I need to write a thesis that three different discipline academics will recognise as part of their sand pit (not sure that analogy is working). I don’t want to conform. I want to fight the system, after all that’s my whole thesis. Why would I choose one FoR as the dominant code for me when I’m a little bit of three? To make my life easy? Ha! Why start now?

On a happy note, I’m going to APIRA because not only did our paper get accepted at HERDSA, we’re also at APIRA. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.