Supervisor

Living the nightmare of perception

It is evident in my last few posts I’ve really not been working on my thesis enough and this week I worked out why. Unfortunately I didn’t come to a mature, reasoned position. It came to me while basically throwing a tantrum. Truth often appears in anger, and boy did it this week!

It turns out I really hate the way I am treated as a student. I’ve complained about part time before (Colloquium Write Up – July 2017 and Back in the saddle – apparently) well I’m going to complain again. It is just awful. All support and training events are held in work time slots so I can never go. It is really isolating and depressing. Especially when only a couple of months ago I attended a focus group (where only two people turned up) asking what support HDR students needed and Paula and I both stated how much part time students, or student with work commitments, needed events on after hours.

Additionally, in my last post when I expressed the idea of support and how it’s a complex thing and I wasn’t sure why students and academics seemed to be not supporting one another as much as I think they could (How’s it going?) two things happened.

  1. A friend on FB posted a response I thought was a little loaded in language as he’d called the 3MT “an embarrassing gimmick” and when I pointed this out he became so incensed he has de-friended me and removed the conversation we were having. See, I thought it was a conversation about the use of language, he thought it was about being attacked.
  2. Coincidentally, there came a barrage of advertising through email and twitter about me going to support members of the faulty competing in the pitch for funds. This made me a little annoyed as the 3MT had not been advertised or supported by the faculty.

Both of these events are about perception. I perceived the advertising as negative because “why didn’t the 3MT get the same support Wha!” (yes I know this a petty and childish perception, but it was my perception) and I perceived a conversation, a debate on FB, not a range of personal attacks.

All of this leads me to this week and how I’m sick of how I’m treated as a student. It’s about perception. I perceive the university doesn’t actually support my research. I research about how bad universities are these days, how it’s all about the money, and then I live it. I am not ever going to make money for the university and I’m costing them as a part time student because I want things out of hours and this costs more, so resources cannot be wasted on me. Worse, my perception of what personal support looks like from a supervisor is totally different to the perception of my supervisor. Although this has occurred before (It’s all about perspective) he and I never really addressed how to engage with one another as people and this week at a meeting I realised it was never going to work. It’s not his fault, it’s not mine. It just is.

We are two different people who are quite simply too different in how we engage with others. This leads to meetings where I feel stupid and he feels like progress has occurred. Progress has not happened from my perspective for twelve months. I am no further this time this year than I was this time last year except I really like Natalie at the House of Representatives.

This is why I’m living the nightmare. I’m living what I research – students are treated well when they make you money and treated badly when they don’t – and I’m living the PhD nightmare – the unproductive supervisor relationship.

All of this leads to ‘what now?’. Well, change. That’s where it leads. I have done some investigation on how to change universities. Everywhere else may be just as bad, but I think I’d like to try a different devil because the one I know is just too hard.

One amazing outcome from my tantrum, was someone gave me their perspective on the situation, “It can’t be all bad” and he was right. Being a sessional tutor at my university, and its college, is amazing. I am supported in my teaching, in the administrative process to get paid, the way I can get access to various sources and generally I have had the honour to work with some incredibly intuitive academics.  They are intuitive because they sense when the students need more or less support and because they alter their teaching approaches based on success or failure, not just year to year but moment to moment in tutorials. I am so lucky to have worked and currently work, with these people.

Well, at least that’s my perception. Their perception may be something entirely different.

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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.

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!

David’s Title

There was agreement today with David on the title of this post and I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. And unusually I haven’t written it down….what I did write down was amazing stuff.

David and I had a supervisor meeting where we talked theory and I didn’t pout, sulk, get angry, teary or generally behave like a two year old. This is was we call progress. Conversation today was constructive, adult, informative, and I could keep up! Additionally, David suggested some direction and ideas and I was able to state that I’d actually adopted them already to a certain degree demonstrating our brains are finally vaguely on the same page.

The best thing about this same page concept, is that we have both moved. I don’t feel like my supervisor has told me I have to come to his idea of my thesis, and I haven’t dragged him to mine (wasn’t sure I had one to be honest…..). What we’ve done is had my two year old tantrums over theory and found a new page we can both share where we can both see the light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, David may state I have actually come to his page, and he knew I’d get here all along, but this isn’t his blog it’s mine so we’re going with my version of events. (How very post-structural, actually I think it’s post-modern).

Today also saw the return of narrative analysis into my thesis. I’ve been struggling with methodology and the LCE (logic of critical equivalence) but the missing piece of the puzzle came today when David stepped me through the ‘spine’ of my theoretical framework. All this time I’ve thought there was all these different theories I was using when in fact it’s just one – discourse – and everything else is the tools I need to do the research. The framework is the spine on which my research stems, but discourse is the theory, LCE, Laclau and Mouffe, narrative analysis are the way I use discourse theory in my research as the methodology. At least that’s how I understand it after today. Tomorrow might be different. That’s the joy of learning and growing – change is constant.

Excitement is weird

On 27 March 2016 I submitted my proposal for assessment. Since then I’ve supervisor meetings (two with each) and prepared my presentation speech and slides (and basically finished) and yet all these milestones I normally record here (so I can refer back and so I can prove I did have meetings with my supervisors) I haven’t.

Today, 8 April, I think I’ve worked it out. I’m ready to get going. I’m done with the preparation and I want to get into it. I’ve come to that conclusion because I’m reading Hansard in order to fix an error I’ve found in my proposal (yep already got it wrong!) and as I’m reading Hansard I’ve had to set up Scrivener properly to make sure I’ve got records and I’ve set up my folder for Hansard downloads and that’s made me excited. Not submitting my proposal, not awesome meetings with my supervisors (because they have been!) but the simple act of administration preparing for my real research. I literally have goosebumps. Of course that could because I like being organised and there’s nothing like setting up a new recording system to make me happy, but I also like to think it’s because I can see what I’m going to do.

It’s worth noting at this point two months ago I didn’t know what I was going to do and couldn’t see how to do it ( we all remember the pulling of the February date and my associated guilt – the blog was bad enough, imagine if you knew me in RL). But in a short time the support and care of my supervisors as well as some actual work on my part means I have clarity and can articulate that to others.

This process means I have a new title:

Understanding commodification in university education using the expectations of an undergraduate course in accounting as a case study

I like this title. For the first time I feel comfortable with it. That’s a feeling of excitement. So it’s not milestones like submitting my proposal, it’s little things like administration and titles. Beauty in the little things. Maybe I will make it through this journey!

PS Got knocked back on the journal article, but Leo says we rework a bit and go again! That’s exciting too!

Last minute

Tips for supervisor engagement:

  1. It’s your thesis
  2. Listen with respect and a critical perspective
  3. It’s your thesis

How do you achieve your thesis?

  • Engage your supervisors early and often
  • Don’t ever dismiss anything they tell you without going away, having a think and mounting your counter argument.
  • Have more than one, and difference can be constructive
  • Document everything (just in case)
  • Don’t leave it too late to ask for help
  • Never hide

Different world view

I had a meeting with my secondary supervisor on Monday night to establish firmer ground for me in relation to the process for the proposal in the policy space. As with all my meetings with supervisors it was great. I always learn something new and that’s what makes supervisors who are engaged in your work and who you are as a person amazing. Thanks to Linda I have a clear direction I want to take and this will make the next drafting of my proposal much easier.

This Wednesday I’m presenting for 10 minutes to the new HDR students on how to manage supervisors. Joelle asked me because I offered to help out rather than for any particular design, but I think I’m a good choice. I have the good news story to tell about engaged and supportive supervisors. I also have the story to tell about how important the choice is.

My supervisors have very different world views. I need them both. My thesis exists in a complicated landscape and only but constantly testing my ideas and theory and methodology will my thesis actually survive contact with the real world. It’s not always easy to manage different world views, but for me it is vital. On Wednesday I will share this perspective as well as the perspective I have from other HDR students who have less engaged supervisors and how hard that really is. The supervisor role is a trusted role. If you don’t trust one another then the thesis won’t live to see the real world let alone survive it.

Thanks David and Linda for your amazing, incredible, engaging and very different world views. I need and value you both.