data collection

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 interesting  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!

 

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!

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 on 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.

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.

Relativeness of happiness (or utility)

I realised it had been a while so I thought I’d read my last post before writing this one. It’s funny, the last post is so full of hope and optimism. This one, even though I’ve done a conference submission and finally submitted my ethics application is not so happy. It’s nothing major, it’s just, well the book didn’t have what I thought. It had some, but not all the submissions so I can work with what I’ve got but it means I’m still reliant on the NAA to finish moving buildings.

I’ve also been running myself short on time. I’ve not done all the analysis I was hoping to have done simply because, well, life. Someone asked me the other day why I wasn’t full time. At the time I was short on an answer. Now I know. I need time to think about what I read, I need time to write what I’m thinking, delete it, and write it again (and again). I will need all the eight years they gave me (well seven and now I’m down to three…..). I also want to have a life while I do my thesis because having space enables cogitation. I talk to people about my thesis all the time and everyone I speak to provides a new insight (except for a really annoying person at work who keeps telling me their experience is vital for my thesis, but really they are not even in the same space). Through these insights building and enhancing I change what I’m reading and exploring. All this leads me to the end (well the end that’s close enough when it comes time to submit).

Interestingly one path I’m now exploring is the utility of education, not the expectation. So instead of trying to understand what actors and institutions expect of university education I’m thinking of how what they say indicates utility. This is useful as it enables me to explore their motivation explicitly through a lens already recognised for its complexity. Utility is totally dependent on the individual’s perspective of what increases their wellbeing.

So, this post really should be happy because I’ve made some milestones, but it’s not simply because I don’t feel the progress and take the set backs too much to heart. Just like my thesis where education is relative, so is my happiness apparently. Maybe I just need to revaluate what increases my utility. Tonight it might be wine.

And……face palm!

For several months I have been chasing documents (see Research is a time sink) and today a miracle occurred. Well, that’s a bit far, but still something so cool. Although it is also a face palm moment as the document I needed was online the whole time…..

Someone sent me a document and a link. The first tells me the big piece of information I’ve been looking for (there are not 600 submissions to the 1988 inquiry so heavens know what the department is on about) and the link is to a book that has all the submissions! So today I joined the National Library and Friday I plan to get out there and borrow myself a book.

What all this has taught me is I’m not very good at research. Actually, I am good at analysis and synthesis but I am very bad at finding things. This reinforces how important Bruce has been to my thesis. Without him feeding me many good sources early on I would not have made any progress at all. It also has taught me I should rely more on others who are good at finding things. And this means reaching out more to ask for help. Something I’m not great at. But today, being sent this little gem, has made me think I should get better at it and fast!

So a big thank you to Natalie at the House of Representatives. You’re very good at finding things!