writing

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!

Excitement is new!

I’ve had an odd experience over the last couple of weeks, I’ve got lost in my writing. I actually almost missed a tutorial last Tuesday because I was so sucked into my chapter and I hadn’t set the timer for the 25 minutes like normal. All turned out okay but still, it was a new feeling.

Part of the excitement I believe is linked to the data. It’s great to be in the data and seeing the patterns and building my understanding of what I’m actually going to say. It’s also interesting  I’m more able to articulate where I’m going and what I’m actually trying to achieve because I have data.

I was with Michael for breakfast and we were talking about my thesis and I put a sentence together about what it was about and he expressed how that was the first time I’d been able to put something coherent together that sounded like a plausible thesis. His words were kinder than that because he’s nicer than me, but that was the general gist.

I was then having breakfast with Jason (I have a lot of breakfasts out) and mentioned how I think it’s mean to ask people about their thesis until they are in data collection because it’s only then that you actually know what you’re doing. He commented that surely you must know what your thesis is about all the time. I realised then that I didn’t really. I had a gut feeling for where I wanted to go and an idea about how to get there, but until I got my hands on the data I was lost. I was drowning in the concept of research – the theory, the methodology the literature. The data has given me the excitement. It has tethered me to the idea of what I’m trying to achieve.

And what I’m trying to achieve is a shift in the debate on university education. There is so much complaining about university education and the way it is delivered, but the data shows me that what we have is actually what we want. So everyone needs to stop complaining about university education and how bad it is and actually ask, what is the university education we need? So much effort in research and media and people generally is going towards complaining about what we have. If we, as a society, policy makers, academics, education administrators, put that effort into discussing what we need rather than what we have, well, then we might get the university education we both want and need. Until then we’re all just whining. My thesis is showing people there is no value in whining. The data shows us we have what we want. You can’t complain about that!

 

Learning from the master

On Monday I got my draft paper back from Leo. It’s the second time he’s seen it but it was version six for me. I hadn’t looked at my email but he had texted me. This is unusual. The text was prepping me for a bad situation because he’d said ‘great work’. Leo is one for being kind to be cruel, so I knew I was in trouble. I didn’t open the email until yesterday. His text in the email also prepared me for massive disappointment, and then I opened the document.

Leo had used track changes and every now and then there was a word in black, but not often. Mainly it was all the blue of edits with the boxes of blue on the side for deletions. I was not surprised. My academic writing is still in nappies.

I made a decision to learn, so rather than just accept all of Leo’s changes, I opened draft six, saved it as draft seven, and rekeyed all of Leo’s edits. This was the best idea I’ve ever had. His edits were amazing. His ability to write in academic ease is masterful. Also, I was able to see he had kept the ideas I had expressed, but it had put the ideas into words acceptable in the academic world. It also meant I could make small changes to Leo’s work and mark it up for us to discuss. If I had just accepted all the changes I would have learnt nothing. Instead I have learnt from the master.

I’ve just emailed him version seven. We will have a Skype and then I will move onto draft number eight. I’m hoping to submit before version 12, but we’ll see how quickly I can apply the lessons I been taught.

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.

The past is my future

Today I’ve been doing ethics. My god. Really? The form is insane when I’m not involving anything critical or sensitive. I just want to ask some people about accounting education. What’s the risk in that? Well apparently a lot. Like their office space….seriously there are some good things to think about and the form does let me put N/A a lot because I’m not drugging little children for fun. But it is still annoying.

So to minimise the pain I’ve been going back to old material to cut and paste to save time. This has been a good idea. Turns out all the historical stuff you write isn’t too bad. It really is a good idea to write lots and then revisit after time has past. I’ve been able to lift whole sections of my confirmation proposal which I thought at the time was pretty awful. So feeling not too unhappy today and I also am optimistic about my constant writing approach.

Sometimes people say I write too much as I do about 50 drafts of everything, however, today I’ve learnt by doing 50 drafts I get to pick and choose material on demand. Yes it is time consuming, but I think there might be something useful to come out of it all. And that’s no bad thing.

Another amazing thing today was to read the work of Doug. It’s lovely to read someone’s ideas after you’ve conversed on topics as you can see more fully how and why they are where they are. Hmmm, that’s not quite coherent. Doug – thank you for letting me read your draft on PAC (or as I say TPACK). I learnt stuff and I learnt a bit about your brain. And that’s a privilege for me. Thank you.

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!

Silence is not golden – but maybe the end is shiny

It’s been a very long time since I posted and that’s not a great sign. In fact even that post was depressing too. This is a really handy insight into my journey and I’m really glad it’s here to remind me how bad it’s been for so long. Of course bad is relative – I’m not starving, I’m not homeless and I’m warm (I currently have two heaters running). Bad for my thesis has been no writing in almost two months and total frustration with theory (again).

There’s the summary, now what’s the detail? Well, as can be seen in my last post the literature review was not ideal. Of course what happened was I sucked it up and gave it to my supervisors anyway because horrible feedback is better than nothing, and is considerably better than me sulking in a hole about how awful it is. Turns out, both supervisors weren’t too unhappy. They aren’t in love with it or anything, but they had constructive feedback and there was no suggestion of binning the whole lot. What did this teach me? Well, that maybe my bad is not the same as everyone else’s.

Other detail is David trying really hard to get me to write the theory and methodology chapters. He has given me structure, he has given me word limits for the structure, he has given me reading resources, he has guided, cajoled, prodded, advised, humoured and been patient. I repaid all this with an email to him expressing frustration and anger and stating how I was going to do what I was going to do and then we would talk about it.

Something amazing happened. As soon as I sent that email I started writing. A lot. And it wasn’t dreadful. I mean let’s not get delusion here, there’s still a very long way to go, but at least I can write about theory now without wanting to vomit. (That’s serious there people – theory made me actually want to throw up every time I tried to write.) My plan is to write as much as I can (with references and everything!) and then provide it to David so he can see my vision of theory rather than more conversations of me trying to explain what I mean, failing, getting frustrated and sulking.

The other amazing thing is back in July I met with Leo on our next collaboration and I promised him a proposal by the end of July. That didn’t happen and the guilt has been building. Today, I got it together, did the data analysis I needed to in order to draft the proposal and then drafted. It’s now with Leo for comment. I can see the next article in what I’ve written and more interestingly, the theory was also completely clear to me. I can see how discourse theory works in this next paper and how I would write it up. And so while the silence of the last two months has not been golden (teary, frustrated, complicated – but not golden) I think the results to come from the silence might just be a little shiny.