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.

Milestone achieved – perhaps

Well, that’s the confirmation done. And it was bad. It was about as bad as you can get without it being a disaster. I believe I am confirmed but I haven’t seen anything in writing and I think there is going to be provisions made. Yes, despite thinking I was prepared, and having delayed to make sure I was prepared I still wasn’t good enough. No surprises there I suppose.

I realise success in a thesis is just being stubborn, that I understand. And I am stubborn. So now I wait for the report, read the comments and provisions, think about how to address them and move onwards. Some of the comments were really useful and I was able to enter into discussion of the ideas. This was very useful. Other comments were basically highlighting my ignorance of theory, my lack of academic understanding and what a general waste my thesis is.

I guess on the upside I now know what it is to be panned badly. I also know I have to be better than what I have been. All things are possible I suppose.

In sharp contrast my paper with Leo has been accepted at HERDSA. So, if we aren’t in at APIRA, I guess I use some research money to go to Fremantle! If we get APIRA Leo and I will share as he can’t make APIRA and they are on at similar times. Hooray!

Crying, again, but this time it’s cool!!!!

So, I just got an email saying I am a co-author on a paper submitted to APIRA. I cried because it’s my first foray into the research world and I had the honour and privilege of working with Leo who was kind, and forgiving and because I think the paper is pretty interesting and it’s something I’m proud of.

Even if we aren’t accepted, this is a big milestone for me and it’s just so wonderful! (so naturally I cried….sigh)

Now, back to my edits for my proposal…..ah, the sweet cycle of research.

And so it begins….again…..

Today I’ve prepared my final draft, draft. Yes, that’s right, a draft of my draft and it’s final. Tomorrow I begin my re-write. I’m actually excited. I would have thought all the months I’ve spent writing this stupid proposal I would be sick of it. But I’m not. I’m excited. For the first time in about two months I have a message I want to send. I get it. I know what I want to say, how I want to say it and my draft has all the bits I need. I’ve incorporated the comments I want from the feedback I’ve received, cut a lot out the crap and done a full restructure. And I’m excited.

Tomorrow morning I will get up, make some hot water, and have the draft, draft open and a blank document and I will write. I know this is slightly insane, why not just edit the draft, draft. Well, because my brain doesn’t work that way. It works with the blank supported by the prepared. By tomorrow night I will have a proposal I am confident in, that I would be happy to give to my dad to read, and clearly explains my research, how I will do it, and then what it will do. Yes that’s right, not what I hope to do. What it will do. That’s how confident I am in my draft, draft.

This has been a long journey so god knows how the thesis will be……for those of you who are lovely and support me on FB, thank you, but don’t feel obliged…..I know this is painful! It’s a long seven years, if you need to save your strength feel free. I know I’m not submitted, or even finished on this proposal, but I feel close.

Talking of submitting, a very dear friend of mine, Bilal, submitted his thesis this week. He sent me a photo to prove it (I’m not posting here as I’m technologically challenged across devices and with WordPress on the iPad…). I also saw a Bear deliver an inspiring final seminar. It’s these wonderful people who inspire me. Thanks to you both.

Oh, and the paper I thought my collaborator and I had bailed on appeared for final edit so we are submitting! And he is amazing. He has made a silk purse beyond my wildest dreams. It will have my name on the front but I feel slightly like a fraud….he did most of the work. However, for our next paper (I hope there will be one because our data rocks) I will do more (but maybe that’s what we all say!).

This isn’t fun anymore

I’m going through, in detail, feedback I received from my supervisor on my draft proposal. I’m really lucky to have a supervisor willing to provide constructive detailed comments. I know lots of students have a challenge of getting their supervisors to engage at all so I’m very thankful, and count myself lucky.

What it has done has highlighted I have no fucking idea. I think that’s the first time I’ve sworn in this blog and for those of you who know me personally understand how unusual that is (I swear in RL a lot). Research is fun when it’s on what I want to research, which is why I spent some time today also trying to get a paper for APIRA to have shape because I like it as an idea and Leo has found really cool data and analysis. That’s exciting research and it’s fun.

What is not fun is post-structural ideas. The more you read, the less you understand. The more you think you have an idea, the more it is apparent you do not. I also object to the expectation I will write like they do. I am not a post-structural philosopher, I am a researcher who needs a framework that enables multiple viewpoints to be considered, operates across disciplines, permits there to be more than one answer to the question and yet still gives sufficient structure the research is credible and valid. Post-structuralism, using discourse theory, does all these things. But apparently I need express my framework in the words and concepts of people who have spent their lives thinking about this concept. I have not.

So, where does this leave me? Well, stronger, because I understand weaknesses in my ideas and better yet know how I can address them. But it leaves me sad too. Sad because I will not make my confirmation deadline. Sad because I have to read yet more post-structural texts with their inaccessible language. Sad because I thought I understood, but I don’t. Lastly though, I feel happy. Happy because knowing I don’t understand is knowing that I’m learning. So while this might not be fun anymore, I’m actually happy because I’m learning. I really wish learning was fun…….

A FB friend (and old school friend – thanks Emma!) sent me this in response to this post. It’s gold.



Commodification, is it the key?

I’ve missed a deadline for the first time and it’s a biggie. David asked for theory and lit review sections and I’ve completely failed to deliver. I’ve learnt today that I may not have what it takes to pull this off. I’m not a writer. I can’t write well. I can drivel (the blog case in point!) but as for a coherent argument I’ve got nothing. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as I’ve always been bad at writing essays so why would this be different? Well, I’m passionate about it, I think it’s important and I really see a positive end. Essays, well, they are just essays.

Question is, can I cut it?

Well, I’ve got a plan now,and it involves commodification becoming central to my literature review. I didn’t really have a narrative for my review but if I focus on commodification I think I’ve got something. But of course, I might not and only the writing of more words will tell me. Of course as I write I learn I need to read more *sigh*. This really is never ending.

I wrote some words for Leo today and I hate those too. I hate them less so that’s a bonus and I’m hoping when I revisit tomorrow I will actually be able to craft something that makes sense and send it to him. It’s funny, if I didn’t have this side project I would be really giving up on my thesis. Working with someone on something different makes me believe in my own work. Also, I really love our project and see how it can be really good. That helps.

Oh, well, that helps…..

Theory. My Achilles heel. My nemesis. My sword of Damocles (hmmm not sure about that one). Seriously. How hard can it be?

On the upside, I emailed my David in panic and he was prompted in letting me know I had completely missed a point. Now while that sounds bad, it actually helped. I was trying to understand a square peg in a round context. David basically pointed out I can let the round context go. Once I did that, things started to make more sense. Not total sense and I still feel at see, but, at least I’m not feeling stupid. Today was also the acceptance I needed to go old school:mapping by hand

Yes – that’s a window with big sticky notes scribbled all over in whiteboard marker while I try and understand Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy.  I did get some good realisations today but it really did take me doing the post it notes and sitting on my chair looking at them. The most important lesson of the day is I need new markers.

Today also included more work with Leo Bayerlein to see if we can get a paper for APIRA. We’re using some of his existing work and the reason why we’re teaming up is he is already working in my research space with this great paper which complements my work really well. It’s really nice to have a different head space in research. I’m finding having a a research project aligning with my thesis but slightly different is helping my head generally. Although clearly not with theory. Stupid theory.