Touch stones

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!

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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.

Are we there yet?

My last meeting with my supervisor (on 23 Dec) ended with him telling me not to work on Christmas day but instead to enjoy myself. Well, I did. It was great. I also met with my coach before the end of the year and he gave me some great advice including structure for my proposal which works for me much better than the one provided by the university. He also gave me a theory framework template which helped me make a leap forward in my understanding. It’s like every now and then someone tells you something or shares something and it’s like your brain grabs hold and goes “Oh! That makes all this other stuff make much more sense now!”. He also gave me a book on theory by Blaikie which really helped piece together missing links too. I don’t agree with his position on postmodernism (spoiler alert Blaikie doesn’t like it) as I think he’s making the complicated more complicated and not realising that by understanding post-modernism is about understanding not explaining, it actually works quite well.

See that’s the break through my brain has had (among others). I finally understand why I’m post-structural (which is not the same as post-modern).  I want to understand university education in the context of commodification by understanding the expectations of universities, Government and industry which requires me to understand the political, social and ideological relationships between them. I seek to understand through language, expectations, context and relationships. I don’t want to explain. This makes me post-structural. The language has meaning (hermeneutics) and context of the language in the text, of the text, of the author and reader provides more meaning (structural linguistics) and the social, political and ideological relationships provides more meaning again (post-structural). I will need to take all these steps to conduct my research but at the last, I am looking at the relationships and how they work with and against each other (hegemony).

In the mean time, over the last week I’m supposed to have done a stack of work I’ve not done…I’ve done other stuff which is good and I’ll send onto David for our meeting this week, but it’s not what I’m supposed to have done. Apparently we’re not there yet and confirmation seminar is getting closer….hmmmmm

So I don’t forget

I was thinking about doing an email for my supervisor and then thought stuff it I’ll put it here so I don’t lose and it forms part of the history. That means this post is rambling rather than anything useful so feel free to ignore (unless you’re David when we’re in our meeting).

When working on a question, how much can I assume? For example, can I ask “Is the commodification of HE due to policy decisions?” or do I have to ask “Has HE moved from being a public good to a private and if so, can that be linked to policy?”? In the first one I’m assuming everyone agrees that commodification is occurring. In the second I don’t. These are example questions, not real ones.

We have discussed the three lenses of the literature review being the Australian experience, the business course experience and then the politics. I don’t think this is working for me. I think the lit review needs to be about the global experience of HE, mainly the US and UK, then the Australian experience, then the expectation of HE from stakeholders. I think that I’m moving towards how everyone has an opinion and is angry about the HE legislation, but that no one agrees on what HE should actually be so commodification has become the main driver of HE by default. This means I don’t really want to look at business degrees at all. But I’m still looking at the business of HE. I think I’m heading to:

“How has the funding of HE in Australia over time changed and has this impacted on the educational purpose?”

This opens the door to different perspectives of HE from industry, ivory tower folks, citizen construction, policy makers and perhaps at some point people.

So for the lit review the rationale to get to discourse theory is that everyone has their position, but no one really knows what that is and while everyone is arguing over the same thing but not realising it, commodification is rolling through and becoming the main driver and maybe that’s okay. I need to do discourse theory as the answer lies in stopping people arguing over what their position is, and start talking about what is actually happening. Thoughts? Basically this is our March meeting as well as the unit requirements.

And it’s a pass!

The resubmit of the resubmit is a pass! Means a pass for this unit so the PhD journey continues.

I feel like I’ve let my supervisors down by only getting a pass grade, but I think given how badly I research, write and generally exist at the moment, I think a pass is something to be happy with.

Now for the second unit…….oh and the literature review, and the reading for the literature review, and the learning of writing skills to write the literature review……..oh it’s going to be a long eight years……

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?

The story rewritten

I’m doing an assignment for the seventh time. It’s actually how I work. When I was writing briefing papers and policy documents I would do about 20 versions. That was before I actually gave it to superiors to review so you can imagine with how many I would end up with!

I’ve worked out that it’s just how my brain likes to process ideas. Each time I write, I find something new. The process is the thinking itself. My problem is though, that I don’t have a story. I don’t know what my thesis story is. I have been reduced to my first paragraph being:

I am going to research how higher education policy choices throughout Australia’s history have led to today’s deregulated market and if this type of market has value for society or only for individuals. The purpose of this research is to: interrogate if it is possible to have an agreed meaning of higher education for policy development, or if it exists only as a hegemonic construct; examine the impacts of public policy decisions on higher education; and to facilitate future debate on the value and purpose of higher education today.

But that’s a different perspective from what I had yesterday and is also really shit writing. I opened with the those words because it was the only way I could think to articulate what I am actually doing. Words are failing me. I can do nothing clever, nothing smart. I can only put ‘i’ at the beginning of sentences. Look at this post for heaven’s sake.

The really depressing thing is my supervisor is amazing with words and the material he’s written for my assignment is perfect. The problem for me is that I’m not sure I understand it and/or that I agree. I don’t know because I don’t know. I feel stupid. It’s going to be a very long eight years.