Supervisor

So close you can taste it

Today I sent to my supervisors and a willing friend my thesis. Complete (minus conclusion). Once I get their feedback I’ll make changes, fix up my references including update the literature and then write the conclusion. Then a final look by the supervisors and the baby is done.

Of course that’s the dream. When I get my feedback I might be looking at a revisit of the data and all sorts of crap. Who can say?

I should feel good, relieved even. I don’t. The first version I sent had formatting issues so I feel like an idiot. I checked it yesterday, put page breaks in for each chapter and then every field updated to incorporate the page break. So random page breaks every time I’ve cross referenced a chapter title. Fixed now, but seriously. Feel like an idiot.

Let’s see how bad I feel in four weeks or so when I get the feedback. Maybe this is just the beginning of the disaster that is my thesis submission process! (Ah, so cheery)

Step by step

Today the world is COVID 19 mad. There is impulse buying (for no reason), rudeness beyond measure, scare mongering on a massive scale, and not one piece of good news reported ever, because bad news sells. People ask me how I’m going (which is lovely) but I have to answer, ‘no different’. I’m a PhD student who teaches. So I work at home like 80 percent of the time and have done so for four years. My life has no changes except my Dad now lives at his farm and requires food drops.

Based on this, you’d think my thesis was ripping along. But it isn’t and I’ve been thinking about this.

People, as a species, focus on the negatives. We are hard wired to worry about negative things because this is what kept us alive during cave days and beyond. In a world where we are (on the whole) safer, more well fed, more literate, and have greater access to information, we are still focused on the negatives. So I worry about money as I’m facing a massive shortfall in income. I also worry about the stupid. I also worry that people are behaving poorly. I worry about things I can’t control. And that makes me stupid.

So today I will do my marking, my thesis, and edit my paper with Leo (for the second time). I will stop sulking and stressing about things I cannot control and will rely on the kindness of my Dad and husband to ride out the financial difficulties. I am lucky to have these people to help me. Not everyone does, including the students I teach. And most of all I will focus on the positives as much as I can, otherwise this thesis will haunt me forever! And besides, Linda gave me some really helpful feedback on my draft so I owe it to her to get my shit together.

 

Here’s what was missed

It’s been too long, I know. I say often enough how valuable I find this site to go back and remember aspects of my thinking at various times but that only works if I post…anyway, this is sort of a catch up post in the vague hope I’ll be here more regularly. I’m not optimistic.

On 25 November last year, I had a meeting with my supervisors. I didn’t post at the time because I had been given a lot to think about. While positive and constructive with their feedback the basic take away message for me, intended or not, was that my thesis is too confusing and they can’t really remember what I’m doing so the analysis makes no sense. At the time I was a bit hurt but then I realised they were right. I still didn’t know what my thesis was, so how on earth could they?

This coincided with CPA Australia starting to help me out with data. In early October I had begun the reach out process with the help of my supervisor and on 21 January I was in the Melbourne offices of CPA going through archive material. It was wonderful. I really do love old documents. The history they tell you, the surprises they contain, the story they create.

Throughout December I had been busy pulling together the thesis in total on the request of my supervisors. They wanted a full draft in order to work out what the hell I was doing – fair call I think. This meant finalising the data analysis for the submissions and continuing the analysis of the Hansard. It is so boring to read Hansard. I have no words. Politicians are repetitive and stupid. 1988 was more interesting than 2014 simply because the party rhetoric wasn’t quite as prolific, however, boring is boring.

All of this work came to a head on a train back from Melbourne on 23 January when I realised the thesis I started in December, based on what I’ve been working on for five years, was flawed. It wasn’t my thesis. It was the product expected by the establishment and it didn’t work for my data. It didn’t work for my question. My problem is complex, murky, full of pluralities. The stock standard structure of a thesis doesn’t fit.

So I have a new structure. It uses literature and data in sections throughout the thesis. The story is the story and I use all the evidence I have to support the story as it unfolds rather than segmenting the actions of research by chapter. In adopting this approach writing is easy. I am finding it simple to pull together materials previously written with new content based on my analysis of my new data, and old, to tell the story of the problem in my research and then offer solutions. Even my theory has come together in a useful way because I combined it with my model of university education as a process, providing a clear link (for the first time) between my theory and problem. It’s like a switch has flicked. Finally I know what my thesis is.

Last note: My second paper with Leo was submitted to a journal and they have asked for revisions which we are working on now. Looks like we might have win here, but too early to count chickens.

WiP is done – and another chapter meeting complete

On Tuesday 16 July I complete my work in progress seminar (WiP). It went well. I spoke okay (had a dreadful cold) but what was awesome was when I got asked questions I had answers. I know that my seem weird, but it was the first time I’ve been confident in my question, my data, my analysis, to the point I could answer questions. I mean, I’d always had a go before, but this time I actually could say “Oh yes, well as I show in the model here….” or “Yeah, I know what you’re saying. I’ve not had time today but there’s this reading…..” or “Interestingly the data is not going in that direction and my thoughts are….”. There is something empowering in knowing that you just know your shit!

Then today I had a supervisor meeting which went so well! Basically we all agree I’m on the right path, I just need to do more and find my voice. This is an interesting problem to have. After 13 years in the public service, changing my voice for whatever senior manager desired I’m not really sure I have a writing voice. What was more interesting is my supervisors said the way I presented at the WiP should actually be my voice in my thesis…now that’s food for thought. I’m being encouraged to write as me. For those who have ever been part of the government you will know that never happens! Anyway, deadlines are looming and I need to get more analysis done so no time to waste. I’m off to find my voice!

Omissions are painful

I met with my supervisors three weeks ago and haven’t posted about the meeting. It’s not that anything bad happened, in fact quite the opposite (I now have a little model I’ve built based on the feedback which is helping to form my problematisation chapter), I just have been short on time. The advice from my supervisors was useful and has helped shape some of my data analysis as well as totally restructured how I’m thinking about the Context Chapter. What has happened though is I’ve fallen into a hole.

To get out of the hole I thought I’d use my blog as I remembered putting my question here somewhere so I would be able to see it change over time. Only the problem is I haven’t. I have no tag of ‘question’ (well I do now because I created it). This has dug my hole deeper. I was hoping there would be a tether here to guide me back to the whole point of my thesis by showing how my thinking has progressed over time. Turns out I omitted it. The pain will continue. Stupid omission.

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!

Even when it’s good it’s complicated

I had a meeting with my supervisors on the 25th of March (I suppose I should have posted about that before now) to discuss my theory chapter. Turns out it wasn’t too bad. Let’s not say good, but the feedback was much less critical than I expected. What did raise its head again was this bloody field of research (FoR) code. Because I’ve used Weber substantially as my theoretical base, apparently I am no longer cross-disciplinary I’m sociology only. I can see the point about not being cross-disciplinary because of theory, but I’m not actually sociology either. So now the simple feedback I thought was manageable is actually complicated.

On top of this I need to do my work in progress seminar (WIP). When I asked David about it he asked to which School I wanted to present. In our Faculty each School runs their own presentations for research students. So even though I’m in the Business School and the School of Government and Policy, I have to choose. Well, this morning I made up my mind. I’m going to run my own session. I’ll book a room over the Winter Term, invite the Faculty and see who wants to come along. After all if the whole point of my thesis is that university education can’t be discussed in one discipline alone if there are going to be positive changes, then what message do I send by only presenting to one School? The fact I fight against the system I research is tiring. I think it’s time I really looked at the FoR codes and started making some choices.

Now it’s just hard work

Had a meeting with my supervisors on Thursday. In that meeting I signed us all up to a timetable where, in theory, by the end of this year I should have draft one of a full thesis. I say all of us because a thesis, just like research papers done in collaboration, are a team effort. I will be drawing on the expertise of my supervisors to guide my thesis to a point where it can pass muster. I say pass because I want to get C’s. There will be three assessors and each will award a grade from A – D. I used to be aiming for A’s or B’s. Now I just want to pass. It’s not that I don’t want to do better, but it’s more that I just want to get it done. I don’t hate my research, if anything I’m more excited but it now than I have been, but I’m just ready for it to be done. It’s time for me to move onto the life post thesis.

People keep asking me what I’ll do when post-thesis arrives. I will do what I do now. Teach high school a little, tutor at university a little and research a little. I like the combination of work loads and I think they all support one another. But they are all hard work. Just like the next 12 months of life will be. If I want to get this done I have to work. A lot. I have developed a schedule and timetables and booked milestone meetings with my supervisors. This is getting real. The question is, can I actually do it? Only time will tell, and unsubscribing Netflix, that would help.

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.

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.