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.

The past is a funny thing

I’m going through old emails (currently at September 2015 – and yes there were things I was supposed to have done). I hate email and as such, I don’t do it a lot, and then I find myself finding a whole range of research documents I emailed myself (and others have emailed me) and now I have 18 unread emails in my PhD folder which is about one week’s worth of work. And I worry there’s something awesome in there that would have kicked serious arse at my confirmation, but you know, spilt milk and all that.

Anyway, here is the gem I found: s2b21415091709150. This was my original proposal to the ANU probably about a decade ago now. There’s no date, but I do have a book somewhere with the notes I made when I met with a lovely academic at the Crawford School who basically said I didn’t have a thesis. It’s funny, looking at this document I can see how right he was. Looking at this document I also see how in all this time I’ve not really moved from my fundamental position. Education is flawed because of a failure in communication and incentives, not a failure of intent.

A timely reminder for me. The trimmings and theory may change, but the core, the whole point, is a constant.

There is only room for one thought at a time

One of the best training sessions I went last year was the one on how to manage time. The presenter was great, really good stuff. Actually I just checked through my older posts and can’t locate any reference. This is odd and indicates it must have been 2014…anyway I’ll trawl later.

At that session apart from teaching us really cool stuff about time management he said you shouldn’t work while doing your thesis and if you do you shouldn’t change jobs. At the time I remember being cranky because I was working and doing okay.

However, now I get it. I’ve changed jobs three times in the last six months and am now in an amazing role and am very excited and shouldn’t have to change again as it’s not a contract and it’s with a company I respect and working with people who are welcoming, caring and GSD (if you don’t know what that stands for read Room to Read). The thing is, all this change has come at a price. I’ve not done any thesis work for two weeks as I’ve got a conference presentation next week and spare brain space is going to that. Turns out my brain only holds one thought at a time. At the moment that thought is doing well in my job so I impress the new bosses and don’t get kicked at probation review. Next week it will be presentation and discussant role (never done either before). Maybe the week after will be thesis, but that’s the deadline I have for a chapter that is currently only 5000 words and needs some love.

On the upside, this is a pleasant realisation to come to, after all, I have years left ahead, and if I can understand and accept that it is one thought at a time, I will be able to focus better in the future and be less hard on myself when things take priority over the thesis. It also motivates me to make sure the thesis comes back as the priority. It is my passion. And if there is only thought at at time, I’d like it to be my passion. The other stuff is awesome and exciting, but passion is the great motivator and key to achievement. Now, to prove that presenter wrong, and get my thesis done on time while working for an amazing company with brilliant, dedicated people (or do I mean unicorns?).

Deadline missed…..

I just sent this email:

Dear David

I have been reviewing your notes on my proposal and the notes from our discussion yesterday.
I understand you would like only the addition of five things to the proposal however I can’t get past the rewrite of the description of the research. I know you said it didn’t need a rewrite, but it does in the context of the discussion yesterday and the direction I want my research to take.
As such, I am postponing my confirmation from February as I’m currently booked to April.
I’m really hoping you’re in the country that month!
Delaying is not making me happy as this is the first important deadline I’ve set myself and missed, however, I really am not confident in what I have down on paper, I’m not happy with the standard and it’s my reputation I want to make sure is not marred by me trying to make a deadline rather than making sure I understand what I’m doing.
I really thank you for the feedback as it has forced me to ensure I do know what I’m doing and highlighted the need for me to tighten my writing up. This has been a really constructive and useful learning process.
Thank you.
Please let me know if April will work for you, and Linda – are you available that month too?
Sue – would you mind removing me from February and slotting me into April if there’s space!
Kind regards
So, not ideal I’m missing the deadline, but I’d much rather like what I’ve got than feel like I did something less than my standards. This could mean this is going to be a long thesis……writing perfection has no space in research and I get that (just in you never really finish your thesis you just get to the deadline (not my quote)) but there has to be idea perfection and I just don’t have that squared away. I want to know when I face up for my confirmation I have a great handle on my ideas, my questions and purpose. Today, that’s just not there and it’s going to take time to get it back. I’d rather take the time than not, especially as I currently have time, and won’t at the end.

Anything other than research

Where have I been for the last three weeks? Well, there has been some research, but not a lot. There has been some writing though but only because there is a massive deadline I’m freaking out about.

What I have been doing is watching whales, (this video goes for six minutes but is pretty cool…..but I’m biased. It was also very cold and windy. You can hear the wind, but the cold is not evident except when I say we had been waiting about ten minutes, because that was really cold waiting!) visiting the Nuallarbor, seeing amazing country and drinking wine. All in all a great mental break which I really needed.

Interestingly I was travelling with my dad. For a man who claims to be stupid, talking to him about my thesis was brilliant. He asked all the right questions, sought great clarification and really made me think carefully about my message. Far from stupid in my opinion.

A bit more tricky…

As with last week, I’ve been lucky enough to have another study day. It’s been productive with slides drafted for introduction seminar, reading done for policy literature section and some revelations around how I might go about this. A bit more uphill today for a range of reasons, but what is interesting is the use of the timetable.

I was sceptical when I attended a session on how to do planning (after all I’m a project manager in my day job – seriously I’m all over plans!) but I went and the instructor said to start with your three years and then get it down to each day. I mocked. I did. I shouldn’t have. Planning my days at the start and then managing those times is perfect. It keeps me focussed and on track. Today it has also given me a bit of catch up space. A couple of things I planned didn’t pan out (I can’t get a thesis online – I have to go to a library – sigh) and some things went quicker than expected so I haven’t really followed the plan, but the plan gave me the next bit to get to. On top of that I have a task list attached to the plan so when I had ‘free’ time I was able to get to those.

On thing I did find today which was perfect for my job as well as the thesis (love this confluence of activities!) is this:

[courses in higher education today are]: “…(1) programs are not standardized, but vary sharply in character, funding, pedagogy, function and the like; (2) they are transitory, on trial, not firmly institutionalized; and (3) they are under continual assessment for their costs and effectiveness.”

Martin Trow Twentieth Century Higher Education: Elite to Mass to Universal (Page 540)

While Trow was referring to the US he is spot on the money about the universal aspects of higher education. To meet universal education the three elements above are necessary for success. The question is, who is providing universal education? Should every University? Should it be a different type of institution? Is it my University? All food for thought.