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!

Where I am in the literature

Yesterday there was a great session where Ben and Doug spoke about how to situate research within the literature using the work of Locke and Golden-Biddle. Fortunately Doug had given me a copy of the article so I knew where they were going (in fact I’ve used it as a reference in my thesis already!). the presentations were great because they showed thinking. They showed how other people consider the options for their research and how they build their understanding of their research problem. I also have an idea for structuring my literature review. Bonus!

I also liked the forum because I asked basic questions and people were really informative and patient with their responses. Additionally I got to thank Bruce publicly for the amazing support he’s given me and continues to do so.

What made me sad was at the end in casual chat I was reminded how academics are their own worst enemy. Ben mentioned how he had been nervous and I asked why, given his presentation was so good. Another academic remarked that it’s always scary presenting to colleagues because you’re exposing your research to your peers and that can be really bad. I was reminded how some people do not know the line of critique and being critical. I hope I never lose the courage I have to talk about my research, anywhere, to anyone. I know I almost lost it after my confirmation, but I held onto it, and will now nurture the courage more than ever.

Seriously, who knew??

Today I have a whole day by myself working on my PhD. It’s amazing. This is the first time this has happened. Yes I’ve had weekends and basically spent whole days researching but there was always that hang up that it was a weekend and I really wanted to be doing something else.

Today is different. Today is a work day and I’m working – hard. But it’s my work, not working for the man! Although I have to thank ‘the man’ for giving me research time – so, thanks, man! (You know who you are)

The other amazing thing today is I’m opening old Scrivener files as I’m moving from literature review which is my main file, into other spaces. When I first got Scrivener I set up various files for my thesis as I though I was ready. I was arrogant. I was not. But you know something? It’s amazing seeing where I was and where I am today. It’s exhilarating. Seriously, who knew I would actually have come so far?

Doing a PhD is isolating. You do it alone – really. You have no regular assessment telling you how you’re going, you have no cohort for comparison (and if you do, it’s a slippery slope as each thesis is different so each experience is different and then you’re comparing apple with oranges) and so the only comparison you have is you. Wonderful people have been telling me lately to be confident. Well, you know what, after seeing what I was writing and thinking eight months ago compared to today, I am confident. I am confident in another eight months I will have moved forward again. And this gives me confidence I am doing the right thing at the right time. Yes I’m a bit slower than others, but the nature of my thesis is one of a lot of thought. And who knew? I’ve been thinking! *excited dance*

Now, back to work.

Every conversation brings me closer

I had a great week last week on the topic discovery front. I spoke to Patrick who gave me one set of ideas that I hadn’t considered. I attended a session on qualitative data where I started to think about other things and then I spoke to Jenny who made me think differently again. It’s like every time I talk to someone they help put some of my reading into context, or they trigger a thought I’d not had before, or they push me in a direction with the reading that I hadn’t considered and I think about it all in a different way again. As I said, last week was a good week!

The place all these conversations and thoughts and readings have brought me is this:

  • Commodification of HE has altered the educational outputs because it’s altered the inputs
  • Business has expectations of the outputs of HE
  • Individuals have expectations of the outputs of HE
  • Society has expectations
  • Policy has expectations
  • Universities have expectations.

My problem that I am going to examine, is “Does commodification of HE meet the expectations of policy and business?” the question of individuals, universities and society I think are out of scope. I might argue that the policy expectation is that of society as we have a representative government, but I’m not actually sure that’s the case. Maybe I’ll find out as I go. The beauty of this problem is that it’s taking me back to where all this started for me in 1997 where I was reliably informed in an innovation policy context that the skills gap for industry would be met by higher education. Seemed odd to me then and seems odd to me now.

I think I’m getting closer to my final topic (I know, I’ve said that before……)

The story

Joelle constantly tells us about the story you have to thread your thesis. It’s about the narrative, the experience of the thesis, even when it’s straight out positivism, there’s just more numbers in that story!

Today I finally got why. I watch two HDR presentations and they didn’t have a story. Well, they did, I’m sure, it’s just it wasn’t told. I sat through the both presentations not really getting it. Now, it could be the content, but I sat through a presentation before that made no sense content wise but I understood his story. I got the message he was conveying. The data was six feet over my head, but I understood what he was saying.

So that got me to thinking about my story. My story is that for the last few decades higher education has been becoming more and more privately funding in relation to tuition for a whole range of reasons. The impacts of this change relate to the quality and type of education provided and demanded. The Australian experience is that substantial change has led to a loss of the purpose of universities to the point where no one is really clear anymore when they talk about higher education. This lack of clarity is not ideal moving forward as public funding should go to a clear outcome and if people are paying for a product, they really should know what they are getting. After all, higher education is our third largest export, we really should know what the product is. Alternatively, there might be multiple purposes for higher education, but again, it’s important to know what the purpose is for which eventuality.

I think that’s not a bad story. But is it a thesis?

Things I learnt this time and to follow up

From this assignment I’ve learnt that it’s better to get one lot of feedback and then send it off to the next person to get their views rather than doing both at the same time. Otherwise the feedback is confusing. This way makes heaps more sense.

I now have a question though about acronyms – should they be used in a thesis or not? I didn’t, one lot of feedback said to use them and the next lot is asking if it’s appropriate. I’m really kind of indifferent so any advice on this would be welcome.

I also learnt there is a lot of value in using sites containing expert language you can pinch. I found it not only helped my language but also to frame my thoughts a bit better. Tighter in some way.

Talking of tighter, the feedback I got from both sources was amazing. They really know how to use language with great affect. It is more powerful to remove ‘ing’ off words and makes it feel more, well, present somehow. Who knew doing a thesis would get me interested in the structure of language…..I can hear anyone who has ever done a thesis wondering how stupid I am with that sort of statement!

I also got asked, “why use however here?” This makes me think. I’m a lazy writer. I need to think more clearly about writing. (This post is a perfect example of rambling thoughts). So the main lesson from this assignment is I still have so much to learn….

It’s who you know

I had a wonderful meeting with Heather Davis from the LH Martin Institute on Friday. I’ve taken so long to mention to post about it because I’ve been at PAX. She was amazing. She is smart, informed, connected, curious and honest. She gave me lots of leads to follow up on for my research but she did more than that, she supported my waning confidence.

Everyone talks about how confidence comes and goes in a PhD, but it is so real. This process isn’t about documents, interviews, process, methodology. It’s about me. I was worried about the originality thing again (at least I’m consistent in my doubts!) and she said “Don’t worry about that because what you will bring to your research is you. That’s what is original.” She’s right. It ties in with what Joelle said about not wearing the jumper with your research theory (see previous post). Research is about who you are as a person. That’s why academics take the criticism personally. It’s not a debate of ideas and discussion, it’s a debate about their very identity.

Perhaps the role of honesty. If you’re honest about your identity in your research you can set aside that aspect and return to discussion of the issues. Heather and I talked about a range of issues in higher education but we did so expressing why we thought what we did. We were honest and explicit about our backgrounds and what brought us to the thoughts we had. Of course, this takes a high degree of self awareness and confidence. I feel privileged that Heather shared her thoughts and I feel more confidence from her words of wisdom. But most of all I feel lucky to have felt her honesty.

I posted previously about thanking people for putting me back on track, I think I need a new tag because it’s the people I know who are going to get me through the doubting days. I thank you all now (even though I don’t know who you are, and neither do you – yet!).

Today’s lesson comes from….

My supervisor said that I should learn three things every time I submit writing for comment. Well, I’ve submitted a bit lately and seem to have the same lessons to learn (but I’m slow).

The first is: Academic writing is a code. This is not unlike the public service where it took an amazing boss 18 months to beat good public service writing into me. Some days it was almost literally. Funnily enough, one of the best bosses I ever had. The issue I have right now is I don’t know the code. A site got recommended to me which I’ve found more helpful than I should. The reason why I’m surprised is because I read the material and it’s not exactly revolutionary, but when I put those phrases into my work it sort of comes together. The code really is hard to crack.

The second is: I need to increase my understanding of what the hell it is I’m doing. My supervisor wrote some words for me and I could have cut and paste to use, but I didn’t. I got what he was saying in general terms but I didn’t understand the nuance. For me language is important and if I don’t fully, 100% get it, I’m not going to use it. Funnily enough I think that’s one of the reasons I’m struggling with this unit. I don’t get it, not 100%, I have the sense but not the detail. It makes doing the assignments very hard.

Third: Proof read…..*sigh* it’s a basic skill I do every day at work and don’t do it here. I really need to. random letters in the middle of a sentence are not useful for anyone.

So that’s what I’ve learnt lately, I hope I’m not writing these lessons again after the next assignment, but I do refer to the first paragraph, I’m not that quick.