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?

Sharing the Literature

I attended a seminar last week organised by my faculty on literature review and approaches. It was quite interesting and a nice way to think about literature. The idea of drawing it in pictures and tables hadn’t really occurred to me before but Marjan shared her thesis work and I can see how it was useful for her. She was able to pictorially show her literature:

And I got a bit excited. I thought I might be able to do something similar as I’ve done this type of mapping for myself but hadn’t thought to include in my thesis. She also used tables to show how she’d analysed the literature in relation to how different literature defines concepts differently and how she chose to adopt her definitions. Again I think this could be useful for me as I too am using definitions. Although I’m thinking a table format might detract from my narrative approach to the whole discourse concept. I see my thesis as being an embodiment of the concepts themselves. If I’m positioning my thesis to argue language is important and how we use it impacts the perceptions we create, by using tables in place of prose I alter my own meaning. But then again I could be modelling clarity of communication through tables in a way people hadn’t previously considered. This would perhaps make my thesis a model of good practice for education communication. But then again am I sending the message prose is too hard and inaccessible in today’s world? Or am I recognising in this Information Revolution we are in, that language should be presented in many forms to increase its value to others? Hmmm….obviously a good seminar as it got me thinking!

Also of interest in the seminar was the issues people were having with their own literature reviews. Insights into the struggles of others enables me to understand and  contextualise my own approaches. I’m starting to see why working around other HDR students would be useful. Maybe  I need to be more sociable and talk to people.

And a big thank you to the neoliberal Diane!

Today I went to an awesome presentation held by Prof. Raewyn Connell called “Intellectuals and Universities in Neoliberal Times”. I only went because the wonderful Diane said she couldn’t make it and would I mind given it’s in my field. Oh wow!

There are moments were things line up, become clear, the clouds part, it is so obvious why didn’t I see it before. This presentation was this moment.

She wasn’t saying anything I didn’t really already know but she did have a cool slant to take which is always nice. And her presentation style was really good. She used people images to tell the story and for me that was something I’d not seen before. A clever approach. However, it was at the end when she started to talk solutions. What can be done? That’s where I realised the point of my thesis is to provide information so people can seek change. Prof Connell said she’d tried economic rational discussions to attempt change but this doesn’t really work with university management, in her experience. This resonated as I had often tried to use logic in the face of university management only to be met with blank stares and power struggles. What Prof Connell suggested was activism. And what activism needs is a catalyst.

Now if Laclau and Mouffe have taught me anything, it’s that revolution is an organic process where a range of factors combine together in a way that can’t really be planned. What is needed though is antagonism and logics of equivalence and difference existing at the same time. My thesis will show the logics and will hopefully provide understanding for possible leverages to use to become active in changing the direction of university education in Australia, because quite frankly, the picture painted today was very grim indeed.

Thank you Diane – I owe you!

Attainment of Wisdom Methodology

The title of this post comes from my new post. We were discussing zones of uniqueness as Denise talks about how this is how you make money – by operating in your zone of uniqueness. I wasn’t sure I had as I’ve been a jack of all trades all my life.  My lovely boss then highlighted my ability to listen, gathering information, consider, and then understand in a way that a useful decision can be made. She then labelled it the Attainment of Wisdom Methodology (AOWM).

I have thought about this perspective in relation to APIRA and have realised she’s kind of right (she usually is) because a lot of the value from APIRA is coming to me the further away I get from the sessions and it relates to how my brain is piecing together the information from the sessions – which was great – with the people I met in the breaks. My last post referred to two, but there were so many people with so many perspectives and ideas, and slowly my brain is working out to apply all this to my thesis. In fact I started re-writing a chapter today based on APIRA ideas. That’s a pretty incredible impact.

Today has also been a day of decision. For my undergraduate degree, I drafted my essays by hand (partially because there were so few computers in those days) and this process of writing by hand changes how I think. As such, today I bought a notepad and have decided to try a system of Scrivener notes open on the lap top, mind mapping in my note pad and then writing the chapter the old school way. It might become a waste of time, in which case I’ll revisit, but I really feel like this chapter needs some hand written thinking.

As with APSA I’m hoping to post about some of the sessions I attended at APIRA, however I notice I didn’t go back to the APSA notes at all. I think this tells me something…..not sure what yet, but I’ll apply the AOWM and come up with something!

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

Back in the saddle – apparently

I type this with my new glasses on that make me want to vomit when I move my head too fast or look out the window to think, but apparently they help with reading. Funny how glasses are plural when there is only one. Anyway, off topic.

Since my last post I went a great session on methodology on 10 May. It was interesting but like a lot of these sessions, we start with positivism and end up talking about it for far too long for my interests. Given so few people use it in my faculty it seems weird how long we spend on in it. Anyway, the session was inspiring enough for me to start my methodology chapter based on the work I’d done for my proposal as well as some additional research. Another reason this session was good was because it was after hours so lots of part time people there so it felt like more people understood my pain. Being part time is stupid. I didn’t realise how stupid until my confirmation. Then a whole lot of stupid became apparent including being part time. Anyway, it was really nice to feel a different mood in the room. People in a boat of no time, no scholarship and no desk on site. It was nice. I hope there are more like it.

At my work someone is doing a science thesis and when I was talking about post-structuralism she was open enough to ask “what’s that?”. It wasn’t that she didn’t know the details of post-structuralism (hell – does anyone?) but she really didn’t know the term. This made me value the session on methodology even more, because I realised how much work the faculty does in helping us understand what a thesis is in relation to how it alters how you think. We learn about all theories, not just the one we want to use, and while this is painful and at a times arouses a murderous rage, I can really see now how important it is that I understand basic concepts to know why I am choosing the theory I am. It was cool to talk to someone completely fresh to the idea of post-structuralism. Made me really stop and think about how to make it seem like a good idea and a good basis for research.

These two events have helped me get back in the saddle. I have a new timetable on my wall (see below) and every day I can look to see how I’m doing. It’s keeping me on track so far (only two weeks in….) but more importantly I’m reading again, researching, and writing. I fell off, and have finally got back on. What’s most awesome is I’m reading theory and understanding how it applies to me. I no longer read for understanding, I read for usability and as a result, the stupid stuff makes sense. Thanks to Michael for putting me into this frame of mind with theory. I suppose it’s also worth mentioning my confirmation has come through. The reports from the assessors ended up being quite positive and supportive.

“There is little doubt in my mind that the candidate has recognised an important area for universities to be concerned about and one which has been generally overlooked by the research community.”

“Mel’s topic is important, timely and would contribute to filling clearly identified gaps in several literatures. ”

But they offered no specific direction for theory! Just that it was going to be tricky but they were confident I’ll work it out. Glad they’re confident!

Right, back in the saddle, means back to it I guess, but maybe I’ll bake some cookies first…..procrastination is still with me.



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.

Life post a PhD

Theory was going to be my topic today but while getting my notes from Evernote, I saw on FB a friend of mine just graduated with his PhD (looks very flash in the photos) and I remembered the PG session from the APSA conference and thought I’d go into the life post PhD instead.

The PG day of the conference was really interesting. There were presentations from Inger Mewburn; Kerry McCallum; Patrick Dunleavy and others. I’ll be honest, I’m not great at knowing who people are and so I’ll leave it to the great minds who know these amazing people to know what I’m talking about. I know they are amazing because I listened to their presentations. While I didn’t agree with all their points, there were some great insights into the world of academia. This included how to manage your identity online, use of social media and the changing nature of the academic. These days it does help to be a jack of all trades both in abilities and in research too, as cross disciplinary stuff can open doors for employment.

What I found personally interesting is when Kerry asked who was blogging their PhD, in a room of about 100 PhD students (a lot younger than me) I was the only who put up their hand. Now, two things: 1) People are embarrassed to own up to the fact that they blog or 2) I really was the only one…..This seems unlikely in this day and age so maybe 3) They thought she meant who is putting their whole PhD into a blog and so they just misunderstood the question. I have found my blog so useful as a memory trigger I can’t imagine living without it now. And in fact I tried looking for some old documents I know I have somewhere on the system and am struggling. Here – click on a tag and take a trip down memory lane and find some gold I had forgotten.

Patrick’s session was about methodology and was really interesting. He has five forms of scholarship: discovery, integration, application, praxis and bridging. He also talked about triangulation and getting the writing correct. A PhD should be read, so make it readable. What was frightening was his statistics on citation of the humanities. By discipline, the percentage of uncited papers are: Medicine=12% Natural Science=27% Social Science=32 and Humanities=82%. By a leap of logic, this means 82% of humanity research is useless…..surely this can’t be the case. It’s sad regardless.

I should include in this post I met with David on the literature review I’d submitted (see post Sense of Belonging) and the feedback I got was great. He provided really constructive feedback and advice, knowing full well he will never see that content again as I will be fully re-writing based on feedback because it wasn’t the best, but it wasn’t unusable either which was my greatest fear so all is well!

I’ve also lined up today a possible joint paper with an academic I met at the Colloquium. We are exploring the disconnect (or connection) between accounting accreditation and university interpretation as represented in the learning outcomes for the course. It’s only our first chat and we’ve got a bit of thinking to do to see how we move forward and if there are enough legs to this, but it was great to talk discourse analysis in a context other than my thesis and accounting language disconnect with a practitioner in another university. It’s always great to have insights into how other people think.

So, big post – but the next few might be like this as I work my way through the APSA conference content. I’m also feeling good after a productive research day (although I wish Id’ stop finding out how rubbery all the numbers are! One forgets when leaving government how extrapolation occurs to make ‘truth’). I really love my research days and really appreciate the boss who lets me have them. Thanks!

A sense of belonging

Big week……very big. Went to the APSA conference for four days and it just about killed me. It was a huge four days and a lot happened and I think I’m going to be doing some separate blogs on some of the sessions I went to but my brain is still recovering so it may take some time.

The most valuable lesson from the four days was the discovery that I’m not a political scientist. When I went to the accounting sessions I was not surprised I didn’t really belong, but I thought political scientists would be my people. They are not. And the interesting point is I know I’m not an education person either as I work with these people and I know I don’t belong there. So, where do I belong? My cross disciplinary thesis has three disciplines to choose from and yet I don’t belong anywhere.

But then I got to thinking. Maybe it’s not the disciplines I don’t belong in, but academia.

And then I have a day like today. I wrote words I was happy enough to send to my supervisor for comment (and if you’re really desperate you can see my attempt here: Literature Review 2 October 2015 but keep in mind, it’s incomplete and is just me having a go) and I did original research on the finances of universities and on graduate attributes and I got excited because I was learning new things and making steps forward in how these impact on my thesis. Additionally I have someone brave enough to think about doing a joint conference paper with me for next year. Nothing concrete, we’re going to share some ideas and see what happens.

All these things, the writing, the research the thought of collaboration, these are my sense of belonging. I don’t need a discipline. I need to be able to find me in my thesis and where I want my message to go. Someone last night asked me what I was going to do with my thesis. I said “I will create a one pager for policy makers, educators, university management and accountants outlining how important it is for there to be a clear understanding of university education to enable future growth in the accounting profession and society as a whole. But to get to that one page, I have to write many. Because that’s where the evidence will be.” That’s where I belong. In the building of that one page – albeit seven years away.