An Open Letter to the Top – from a concerned & at times bewildered PhD Candidate – what we go through…

With names exempt and all others, with various multiplications of letters in place, this is a letter I recently hit ‘send’ on and thought it was worthy (I hope) to share. Why? In the hope that other researchers out there, no matter if you are a student, or one that is long gone, that there are students/candidates that do in fact know what’s “really” going on. So, for the students – this stuff can actually happen, and it does, so when and if it does, don’t let them feed you to the…lost property basket – and for those who’ve been and gone, know that there are students/candidates out there that ‘get it’ and that will say what needs to be said if supported and when necessary…and when gone through the ring-roll one too many times; some things are not acceptable, even if it is within a university framework.

Dear XXX

I hope this email finds you well and that 2014 has so far been a great year.

My name is ZZZ and I emailed you back in 2012 about commencing my PhD at YYY. You may remember the complications back then and what proceeded – you had VVV help out and I eventually became a PhD student to my utter excitement mid that year. I’m happy to say that VVV is now a supervisor of mine and has provided great guidance for myself as a candidate (confirmed last year). In addition, the supervisor VVV ‘found’ at the initial time of my enrolment has been an absolute godsend – BBB. I wouldn’t be at this stage of my thesis without all of BBB help and I find myself so very fortunate to have such an exceptional supervisor. I do not think words can do her justice with all the help, time and effort she’s put into supervising me (mostly single handed) and getting me to this stage in my candidature.

I’m writing to you XXX as I have a few challenges that have happened throughout 2014 and my candidature that no one is willing to either help or take responsibility. I find myself in an odd position that as a student, I have limited help available and feel as though it is my responsibility to let that be known.

YYY is ‘my’ University and I am proud to be a YYY student/alumni (for the most part). Throughout all my degrees at YYY, I have been taught to be different, to challenge the status quo, and with my research I continue to do just that – being between two Schools (NMN). However, it saddens me that when I’m asked about the help available to researchers at YYY, and more so specifically the help I’ve received and if I’d recommend doing a PhD or transferring to ZZZ on this basis – due to my experience this year, I’ve had to say no – on multiple occasions.

I’ll do my best to get you up to date XXX.

I started in August 2012 and by December 2012 had to find a new supervisor – the Head of School seemed to refuse to give me feedback. The paperwork for this took months, and by months I mean over 6 months. I had ethical clearance by November 2012 and it was an actual effort to get this name removed – it still isn’t. By February 2013 I’d collected 50% of my data. By April 2013 I’d been accepted to my first Conference (GGG), however was told I was unable to go by the School as I was too early on in my candidature. Around this time I was told I had to leave my ‘then’ office in Health as I’d wanted the Head of School off my supervisory list since I was getting no help (still) and consequently had to move to an office in Education (since this is where my primary supervisor was based). By August 2013 I was a confirmed candidate. At this stage I had just the one supervisor still however was fortunate to get ZZZ as a secondary supervisor for ZZZ continued support.

At this stage I’d completed my first four chapters. My data analysis took up the rest of 2013 as I aimed at starting my result chapters. Come November 2013 I was told I had to move offices in Education – which I did (again – my third move). At this time of year I went to take a few weeks off (Christmas time etc) and get ready for my next data collection period (later December, early January). I keep (now kept) all of my data collection tools (recruitment cards especially designed for my survey and ease of recruiting participants), hard drives, spare glasses, my thesis and so forth in a filing cabinet in this new office – locked (the same I am also in now). I was the only one with a key to this cabinet, and the person I shared the office with rarely came in and always locked the door (we are/were a little pedantic like that). I came into my office at this time, after a few weeks off and the filing cabinet was gone. Yes, the one with my thesis in it, the one with what I came to collect – my data collection tools (and all else). This is still late December 2013 and because of the holidays no one was around to help – I had to wait a week until someone would be back to assist. Multiple frantic emails ensued, however meanwhile I attempted to collect my data to limited success.

About another week later I got a call from someone disposing of a filing cabinet (VVV), however they’d found my business cards I kept in there and called me since they found hard drives, glasses, and my thesis. Although, I am sure this may not of happened if one of my emails, forwarded back then, did not ask these persons to look for a thrown out thesis. To my dismay, shock, and disbelief – no one took responsibility. Someone let these people (I’m assuming IT helpers at VVV) into my locked office and allowed them to take my things (and my thesis, valued well over a thousand dollars). The School CCC let them in (I later found) and when asking where my filing cabinet was (or why it’d happened), the HDR DDD, EEE, accused myself of misplacing it and that it was moved to my ‘new’ room. You can see why I would be so taken aback and shocked that the one person that is meant to ‘help’ HDR students opted to accuse myself of the later. This obviously was completely false and at not any time was an apology given. No one to date has taken accountability for this. Emails later pursued to others, and my supervisor even said that an apology would go along way (with those she emailed) – it would have; whilst getting a reply that I’d taken up enough resources. Yes. This finally ended mid January 2014 with myself having my belongings back. However, no one would take, nor took, responsibility or accountability. Not one single apology.

I continued on and by February 2014 had finished the first part of my results chapter. By March 2014 a good indent had been made into the second half [I have two halves as, being in between Schools I opted to use both qualitative and quantitative methods to achieve the best results for my research topic]. April 2014 I was accepted into the same conference (AAA) again and was excited I’d be able to go this time around. However, after applying for a scholarship (travel grant), since HHH did not have the same funding for PhD students/candidates as JJJ, I was dismayed after being knocked back – not being able to attend a conference, network with some of the world’s best in my field and then realise that as a PhD student/candidate this is something I’ll never get to do (as a PhD candidate) since I’m in the homestretch of my thesis.

April 2014 came and all of a sudden I found myself in hospital. And three months later, continue to see a neurologist for something they’re unsure what it is, however the latest is NDPH syndrome with no explanations. Prior to this in hospital I’d been found to have low CSF pressure. Yes, this is personal, however to be fair I’d like to give you the full story and as clear as I can XXX. I’m a healthy SSS year old, I was running marathons near every week back then and am only slowly being able to run again.

Only recently, June 2014 I was told (thanks to my supervisor) that I could apply for sick leave. So I did. However I continued to follow up and was told by administration that the HDR FFF was yet to send in the form. That is now over 3 weeks ago. I also found out that the supervisor change (in respect to load) is still yet to be processed (this was handed in February 2014 for a KKK split again, as in the beginning). It has become apparent to me that anything to do with paperwork and myself trying to get it in as soon as possible and processed – takes a very long time. Whether that has to do with the HDR KKK holding this up, I’m not 100% sure, however I do know from past emails KKK is one of the most un-empathetic academics at ZZZ I have met at my entire time, on and off over near ten years, at the university. What also saddens me is that as the HDR CCC, someone who is meant to know their HDR students, be there for them, help them when needed, be another level of support (so on and so forth) – does not exist.

Social media is a great tool I’ve come to find due to this lack of help. There are hundreds, if not thousands of students from all over the world on Twitter, as well as academics from all universities across the globe. Help is on hand. Not only that, but ‘twitter’ allows myself to see the help on hand and available for students at other universities. And I am sad to say, that I am envious. The help open to HDR students at other Australian universities is utterly amazing, I am missing out – this is how I feel. There are actual writing bootcamps. We’re not talking the “59 minute writing groups” that are organised by CCC HDR GGG at 7am in the morning (that go for 59 minutes). I’m not sure about other students (as the interaction aspect is nil also in this area), but I’m not one to blast out a thousand words or so at 7am on a Friday morning. This is just one example to show how not ‘in-touch’ this HDR GGG is and how lacking, lagging and inattentive the help is for PhD students at the university. In addition, not to mention that the only person that knew I was and have been (and continue to be) unwell, is my primary supervisor YYY and at no time have I received any form of help from any kind/type of GGG that would of been not only welcome, but comforting at this stage in my thesis after being thrown a curve ball, so to speak.

What I’ve found, and continue to find as a student between Schools is quite clear. I am neglected. The paper trail is a nightmare. The support is nonexistent. The level of accountability doesn’t even exist; that in the ‘real world’ which I’ve been a part of now professionally for near on a decade, this wouldn’t be tolerable. Those on the higher end of the food chain are more concerned with ticking their boxes than actually understanding the student’s right in front of them. And sadly the politics. One School doesn’t want to help me too much as they won’t get all the ‘funding’ yet the other doesn’t want to help too much or at all as they aren’t getting all the funding. It’s a dollars game I’ve found and I’m on the losing end, although at the end of the day I chose to come to AAA, I basically pleaded with you over two years ago to start at AAA (which I am extremely thankful for), yet I am classed as a number that brings in funding and nothing more. It is sad. Especially when I’m close to the finish line and nothing has changed.

I’m at a stage now in my thesis, that I pray I can finish with all the problems I’m having (neurologically) and that I can start and finish my final chapter (this is what’s to go) and then edit my heart out to submit the best piece of work I promised I would. Yet, I have no one in my corner except my supervisor. And I feel sorry for other students who are stuck in this ring-role with no help, no guidance, no assistance other than their supervisor, which I’ve come to find I’ve got one in a million with many supervisors I’ve ‘tested’ not giving the courtesy, respect nor time of day for their students.

No one has listened to me XXX. I know I’ve about a dozen different issues here, but I’ve tried telling someone at some stage but nothing happens. Someone needs to know what’s really going on. I’m also aware that I am fortunate (in a way) not to be on a scholarship to be too scared to say otherwise – I feel sorry for my fellow students and candidates because this is what they also face and it seems to continuously go unnoticed and it seems to be acceptable for students to be treated in this manner – I believe otherwise.

The objective in doing my thesis was not only to contribute wholeheartedly to my topic and field, but to do so within a university environment. And if anything, I’ve been inspired to try and make that difference – as ZZZ taught be many years ago. I’m emailing you XXX in hope that maybe in some way you’ll have some answers for me, some help even, but most importantly, so things can be fixed and I can be proud to be a ZZZ student/alumni always, and to try and make that difference. And after all I’ve been through, and continue to go through, I’d welcome trying to make ZZZ a better place after I submit – [DELETED].

At the end of the day, doing a PhD is rigorous, it has its ups and downs – support is essential. Unfortunately, I’ve only had this in my supervisor, and I believe the student body as a whole deserves more and I’d like to do something about it – therefore, my first step is emailing you XXX – my second I hope to be as an academic within VVV that can make a difference, and develop world-class research – as after all, thanks to your belief in allowing myself to commence my PhD, I do in fact have world-class results that have the potential to impact the sports world and education sector.

…..

I hope that in some way and/or part that this goes to show what really is out there – from top supervisors to top universities, and also shows what you shouldn’t put up with. If something happens you don’t agree with, if something happens you do not think is fair or just, there is nothing wrong in saying so – after all, we all need feedback to improve; isn’t it the breakfast of champions? I hope so :)

AB

 

Fork in the Spokes!

This post has taken a long time coming and will be the first time in 9 WEEKS…yes, just over TWO entire MONTHS, that I’ve been able to write longer than…well let’s hope, an email.

Roughly seventeen weeks ago I set myself a timeline – a timeline until completion. Yes, as in completion = submission. As in, the be all and end all, for some time anyway, to sign off on my thesis which has taken over my life for the past two years. This ‘take-over’ however was fully intended and one that I was and am still excited to be a part of – I pinch myself sometimes to realise how fortunate I am to be in the position to research ‘something’ that I’m truly passionate about.

The premise of this post however is to cover some trials and tribulations that may happen – albeit unexpected, and unplanned, that may happen during the research process…and totally come out of the blue.

Back to seventeen weeks ago. Around this time I was following my timeline, I had discussed this with my supervisor – and although perhaps a little hesitant, went along with it! It’s not like I gave my supervisor a choice…I literally printed out the timeline and sat down with them to note each thing I needed to do – to submit at the end of the ‘then’ twenty weeks. And, all was going to plan. Sure, with the ups and downs of PhD life and the bits and bobs that happen as a result of constant editing and perhaps not enough editing. However, at this stage I’d found a happy medium. Around the seventeen week stage, my medium was going pretty great I even took FOUR straight days off. You see, managing your research is just as important as managing your sanity – it’s important to take time out to do, well nothing. And in an earlier post you would have noted a term likened to passive or invisible research – research we do when we’re doing nothing. Common, lets be honest, when you’re researching there isn’t a ‘time’ or ‘moment’ when you’re not thinking about in some respect your actual research and what you need to do next, what you need to do tomorrow, and what you need to do next week. It’s all part of the package – the journey.

So, what happened? I got to the seventeen weeks (thereabouts) and was going to be refreshed after my ‘long weekend’ of sorts. However, ironically the opposite happened. In Aussie cricketing terms, I was hit for six. Out of the blue, and I mean literally out of the blue, I couldn’t read – I couldn’t write. In the upcoming days, I couldn’t even run. Now for those of you who have may read some earlier posts, I am an avid runner – running keeps me grounded, it is my ‘destressor’ – we all have these and running is mine, the thing that gives me the moments of freedom we all seek. The point? When I tried to run, I’d almost fall over however progressed to running by looking at the ground. This was nine weeks ago. Then eight weeks ago this continued. My ability to process simple information was impeded. My ability to look at a computer, to write an email longer than a sentence or two without having to lay down and come back to it later. My memory – did I just do and or say that? [I'm still having issues here so am trying to, ironically, remember]. This was still the case seven weeks ago. And, a near perhaps nightmare for a researcher – was referred to a neurologist. After multiple doctors guessing what had happened, the neurologist was to ‘fix’ me. This was five weeks ago, four weeks after being debilitated in numerous ways. And yes, after all the scans one can think of, and then some more I was sent to hospital. I say sent as I was still able to walk and function like a normal person on the outside. The bright side, after a few days they found something (a result of a lumbar puncture…which don’t hurt as much as someone may say). Low CSF Pressure (I’ll let you goggle it). However, as no leak could be detected I was sent home – I wasn’t going to die so that was nice to hear. This was four weeks ago. What followed was consulting again with ‘my’ neurologist – a little odd having my own neurologist but this is how it works out I’ve found, however by listening to the neurologist two weeks ago, I am now waiting four weeks to ‘give it time’ to see if I’m making progress – which means at this stage, I have two more weeks of waiting and putting up with my symptoms etc. For those who didn’t google, symptoms are intracranial pressure – the fluid around the brain is low which causes a handful of side effects and I was appear to be the rare one to receive the side effects also of the medication. I should explain that this result is unexplained – no one can tell me how it happened and no one can give me a clear diagnosis as they’re still figuring it all out.

So, why am I sharing this with you? When I started my timeline now eleven weeks ago, not in my wildest dreams did I think I would be sidelined for nine weeks (and counting). Talk about a fork in the spokes! No way! I didn’t even think that I’d have to move back ‘home’ for safe measures. I didn’t think I’d have to be moving out of my apartment until I got better and back to being looked after just in case something happened. But, I took the sensible route and did what I ‘think’ the sensible would do, especially considering all the side effects I’ve been dealt and all the symptoms one can name.

Yes, there is a big BUT. Although I’ve never been in a position likened to this in my life before, I think I’ve been very lucky. Not to mention becoming an auntie again (yes, my sister was in hospital when I was, however a different hospital on the other side of the world…giving birth to my nephew!) and having to visit the hospital a week later to see my Oma (she’s out now and okay), I’ve realised that by far, others are far worse off than myself, that others are going through the near same thing I am with their research, and that all researchers should realise that these things happen. Shit happens. It does. But hey, let’s be honest, its how you deal with it. Am I happy that this has happened? No way! Am I cranky that the doctors haven’t fixed me? Umm, yes! But then I look at the opportunity I have to actually complete and submit a thesis, something that not everyone gets to do, and some way – I’m not sure how at the moment, but I will finish it. This is a benefit of being stubborn. I like to think however this stubbornness can be linked to determination and when we set our mind to something, although we may hit countless road blocks, we’ll still find the finish line.

It’s important at this stage I think to mention the support I’ve had. And let me first tell you, this doesn’t come from the university. I don’t even think my university knows I’ve been unwell. I don’t even think the respective schools I’m enrolled in/between know – this is a very poor aspect of researching at ‘my’ university, however I won’t dwell on that…it is something however to be aware of; that is, do not expect support from your institution. However, who you should expect support from, and be given support by is your supervisor. You truly know you’re on the right page when this happens. Now, with all the pitfalls I’ve been through with my research – being ‘between’ schools (therefore disciplines), no ‘school’ wants to claim you nor responsibility unless they’re granted funding (it’s just the way it works). However, when look at my timeline with nine weeks gone and now eight remaining, I know I’m lucky to be so close to my goal. But, I wouldn’t be this close if it wasn’t for my supervisor. My principal supervisor has checked up on me weekly, my supervisor has still stayed on track with me and knows my timeline, they know my countdown. My supervisor has been supportive in every way (I think) you could ask a supervisor to be. Sure, although I couldn’t do much, I still pestered my supervisor for feedback. And I continued to do so throughout being unwell as I knew when I was able to again, I’d get back to it. Slow and steady this will happen. However, I’ve also realised a mutual understanding is important, as if you’ve a supervisor who understands you’re onto a great team. Although, even great teams need to be reminded of certain things – for me, letting my supervisor know (yes, constantly) that I want feedback, and potentially from my supervisor, that I’ve time and that I don’t need to rush things…which although hard to grasp and handle, I’m okay if I don’t submit in eight weeks, as I know I’ve lost the past nine and hopefully not too many more.

All said and done, now you (the reader) know why there have been no blog posts for near on/over nine weeks and why there now may be gaps between (I hope not). And I hope you’re able to understand that everyone’s research journey is unique, however a great team makes it easier. And, that unexpected things happen…even when you’ve planned things out to perfection, things will still happen – they will challenge you in every way possible, however if you’ve got a great supervisor, you’ll get through it…I know I will thanks to my team, and I know I wouldn’t be able to get back ‘to it’ without my supervisors’ understanding (and of course I’ll mention my mum…where would we be without them?).

So, here’s to realising forks may appear in your spokes (hopefully by now you know it’s a cycling analogy) and may you realise the importance of a great team. I hope to be ‘proof’ that a great team can accomplish what they set their minds to – nearly two years ago I told this same supervisor I wanted to submit in two years and this mark is now two months off; I was on track and I’ll get back on track and although I may not submit in exactly the said timeline, I know forks do appear unexpectedly, however thanks to my supervisors support, I’ll cross the finish line sooner or later.

May you find a supervisor like mine and their understanding, and may you achieve your timeline!

AB.Image

Question – but take a moment to realise

The irony of doing a PhD and seeking knowledge, seeking data, seeking something somehow that will answer the illusive question(s) you’ve set yourself the task of answering within the allocated timeframe.

Sometimes however, we end up looking in the wrong places.

It’s taken some time, and over that time I’ve come to realise a few things – and it is only towards the end of my research journey (all going well!) that I’ve come to realise that sometimes what we’re looking for, has always been there.

Umm?

I know, let me explain in the hope that you may come to this realisation sooner in your research journey opposed to myself. Now firstly, I want to make clear that I always knew, undoubtedly, what help I had on hand in terms of an absolutely superior supervisor – superior in the sense that they didn’t make me change my original research question(s). That, for starters is a winning factor I came to learn early on….as one (ex-supervisor) did try – they no longer are a part of ‘my’ team.

We’re encouraged from the get-go to ask questions. We need to ask questions to find our answers right? Sure, question…question…then more questions! The answers we seek come in many shapes and forms, different sizes (qualitative or quantitative) or different designs and areas (cross disciplinary research, for example). However, throughout the PhD process, we seek answers in the way of questioning what we’re doing. What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Are you sure that’s why? Is that really going to answer your question? And endless others.

More importantly however, is the guide we have to go by. After reading copious posts on the ‘simple’ things, for example, what goes into the literature review? Or, how should I start my methods chapter? Simple, by way of explanation – a starting point; however complex when you’re wanting detail…and more detail – you want a thorough explanation basically so you actually understand what is required of you. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I first started my research, I was looking for a rule book, a guide, a format to follow…anything, something, that would tell me step by step what I need to do so I could then follow that plan…step by step.

This doesn’t exist.

This inexistence however was confusing to say the least. How can you be expected to complete your research, let alone start, without knowing what you need to do…right? Well, it’s quite easy. And I for one would be lost without them. It’s your supervisor. A supervisor is a guide in more than one way. Many more. Throughout your research, you question by all means, nearly everything and anything! Why? Because, well that’s just a part of research – it comes with the territory. And yes, this does include questioning your supervisor, to an extent. And of late, reading so many posts I’ve lost count of, on all different forums (social media based), it was highlighted that so many researchers are in the same shoes, but don’t have that direction. They don’t have anyone to answer those questions. But, this doesn’t sound right? However, after experiencing the highs and lows of supervision, attempting to ‘recruit’ – I’ve lost count of how many, and having to say ‘no thank you’ to a few, I get it – I get that finding the right recipe isn’t easy – at all.

Why has it taken me this long? That’s easy. I’ve been embedded in this process now for quite some time, and I continue to read what other researchers are ‘missing’ – meanwhile, knowing that I’ve had that all along. I always knew I was onto a winner, so to speak, however did I question things from time to time, YES! It’s a necessity, however more so it was highlighted by seeing how other supervisors ‘operated’ and how important it is for the actual research process to have that winning factor.

Irrespective of what others say, supervisors are there to yes – supervise your research, but a good supervisor will guide you, and a superior supervisor will walk along that path with you inadvertently – making you still question (close to everything) to allow you the freedom to follow the path, but also make inroads if you feel fit. And, still be at the end of those inroads to lead you back onto the path if you get lost.

For example, I’ve had two supervisors now, and others I tried to bring on board, that just didn’t work, weren’t the best fit – but my supervisor let me experience this, they didn’t step in, however they always gave advice, irrespective if they agreed or disagreed. Some may say you learned the hard way, but I say the complete opposite – having those ‘others’ have come to show me even more what I’ve had all along and how lucky I am when I hear other ‘stories’ of being lost and without direction.

So, if I can impart any advice at all – find your match, find that guide that is going to work for you. You may question it, you may be unsure of it at times, and if you are – question it again! But, by the end of it, or close to it, you’ll know if you’ve hit the jackpot. Same goes if things are going backwards, if you’re lost and need a light, you know you need to look elsewhere if your supervisor isn’t all that cracked up to be…well, a superior supervisor, let alone a good one!

They are out there, good and superior supervisors, and I strongly disagree with any academic who is anything less. As at the end of the day, they set the example for future research, for future expectations. At the end of the day, years down the track, it is ‘us’ who may very well be sitting in their shoes, and we’ll rely on our interactions as a researcher and how we were treated, how we were guided – and heaven forbid any poor supervisors impart their behaviour on ‘us’ now (as I came to find from someone recently), it not only diminishes someone else’s research journey, but your growth and potential to help another researcher grow and answer that inevitable research question(s)…and have a positive contribution to the world of academia.

The Circle of Knowledge

Behind every research journey is a story. These stories shape who we were and set the trajectory to whom we are becoming. Kharl Gilbert once said “look not at what someone has achieved, but what they aspire to;” which I believe is part in partial of the research process in itself.

People with the urge to expand their knowledge base commit to an undergraduate degree. Others go about it in a different way. These others however do not follow the same path and in the world of academia, may not come to the same conclusion – however these people challenge the existence of academic and allow it to surge forth.

Back to knowledge growth. Out of the select persons who choose to extend their knowledge base in a formalised structure*, not all cross the finish line. Some simply leave; others opt for a different path. The ones who stay however resonate with commitment, dedication, determination and discipline. As without it, the long road ahead doesn’t seem possible. With it, it surely does.

Those that cross the finish line a select few go on to another road – less structured, but by way of challenging the system*, a structure loosely set to see if the pursuer can begin to formalise their own path. Welcome postgraduate studies. These people are sometimes looked at in a ‘are you crazy’ type of way. They may be asked questions like (what I remember being asked) “what are you doing that for” and “where is it going to get you” or “is it going to pay you more money” and so forth.

The primary questioner in these instances is the one who chose a different path in the beginning, the one who didn’t see the value of the educational system, the one who opted not to go on their own quest for knowledge (the opposite to say Gates or Zuckerberg…. still amassing to utterly highly accomplished individuals, however seekers of knowledge elsewhere as the system of such wasn’t for them), the one who didn’t or doesn’t have a concept of knowledge that resonates with a contribution to knowledge in itself or a pursuer of facts, a pursuer of the how, or a pursuer of worldliness that desires an explanation for certain who, what, how’s and why’s.

Some people however are really, unequivocally determined to be of the position that what they’ve done and learned was all that was ‘needed’ – and that’s where the problem remains. The problem remains as they think no further – they see no reason for this extension of thought and thus cannot decipher the decision of extending this very knowledge in the first instance. Some however, although educated and exposed to the structured setting, also seem to ask questions that lack understanding of the very process. An explanation for this, potentially, is that due to stopping at the first stage and not having the desire to expand their knowledge base on a certain question of thought, they do not have the current capacity to understand the reasoning behind the decision to formally further ones knowledge base – and this results in a severe lack of understanding. For example, recently it was suggested that PhDers are on holidays – after all, although they commit to their research fifty towards seventy hours per week and at some times more (from experience and ongoing), you’re not in the real world – as although you’ve made the commitment to sacrifice your financial potential (scholarship holders partially excluded) due to a full-time study load (part-timers excluded) which may have included putting certain business and/or career progressions on hold, or family matters (beginning or expanding) however this appears to be an excuse, an excuse to walk away from the ‘real-world’ of knowledge under-seekers (for lack of a better term), in the chance to move towards knowledge-seekers.

I was reflecting today on the premise of further study, as I’m sure alike my fellow researchers or knowledge-seekers, there is a reason why we’re studying further in the first place. Albeit a deep and philosophical bound reasoning to the embedded actualities into the decision making process that pushed you towards not only expanding your knowledge, but to seek it out in the first place.

And that’s the next starting point.

Looking at the bigger picture, the world in its entirety wouldn’t be in the shape it is now without knowledge. And the backbone of knowledge starts with the sharing of information, the thinking about that information, and even further thinking of how to expand it, how to grow from it, and what can be answered in the first place from it, or what can’t be answered and how to go about creating an answer for that. Call it what you want, but I believe you don’t necessarily need to hold a piece of paper for it, but you need to understand the role of knowledge – and more importantly, how it’s created.

The PhD/research journey is about the creation of knowledge, whether that be an extension from an original work, or something that hasn’t been thought of to date, but it’s one person trying to make a difference in their field, irrespective how small, it’s about that person trying to, and contributing to the world of academia as we know it.

Now, for us researchers who are going through this process, I believe there is so much we can do not only during, but after, and those who are the result of ‘after’ are the ones who set that yellow brick road. Yes, some of these end up being supervisors, others end up enriched in their field so deeply that they’re contributing to knowledge on a wider scale.

But then I got thinking. How do you contribute towards the greatest spread or share of knowledge? Interaction. Now there are many forms of interaction, but let’s think big. What better means of interaction than a university presence and being able to share your knowledge in some respect to the eager minds of tomorrow – those who have chosen to commence undergraduate studies, and then maybe if you’re lucky, postgraduate so you’re able to delve deeper into the actual process of sorting knowledge and making a difference, and taking on views of those you’ve help guide all along. And then, we get to the PhDer.

I’ve come to this realisation as I head towards the end of my PhD journey – indeed I still have a few months up my sleeve, but my eyes have opened that tad bit wider. Why? Many reasons and one large reason that’s hit home of late is that of influence; not only as a researcher are we influenced by what we read, the results that we fine, the conversations we have, the differences in opinion we recognise and countless other influential factors, we are influenced by the process in itself. The process that shows us first-hand the impact that is possible through a simple conversation. The impact that is possible by sharing knowledge. The power of influence that is beckoning at your door by the very people you not only talk to, but the very people whom you share a common ground with.

These influences may come from experiences with certain people along your research journey, people who’ve been there from the get go or people who’ve only made an appearance. Influence may come from pure experiences, from people you’ve shared conversations with. Or, influence may come from someone you’ve come to realise resemble where you’re going, where you’re heading and that ‘that’ direction seems to fit the mold that you see your very contribution of knowledge heading – the same path. The path that fits yes, your research and your way of sharing and contributing towards the world of academia, but yourself as a person and the potential to shape yourself with influential figures in mind. These figures or figure of influence push you towards not only becoming a better researcher and knowledge-contributor and seeker, but a better person – that may grow to be and stand in similar shoes a decade down the track – following the yellow brick road to a similar design, yet unique to your knowledge-enraptured journey. And there we have the very Circle of Knowledge – from a former PhDer that has reached heights of their field, and in return, gaining the power of influence, influencing present PhDers whether by being a supervisor, a part of the system or influencing in an alternate environment on another scale, and setting an example for the heights that can be reached from the same starting point.

 

 

*system and structure interchanged to denote formalised education by way of university-educated, not to represent a rigid or closed system without freedom, rather to represent the process in itself as free but the path to follow one of structure in order to achieve an end-point i.e. graduate.

Thanks so much…but no thank you – saying No to a (really nice) Supervisor

I’m about to share with you a letter.

A letter I had to write to a supervisor to tell them that I could no longer have them as a supervisor for the sake of my thesis.

I’ve done it before – I had to do it about a year ago. But that time was EASY. And I mean easy! Why? Because that supervisor gave me no help at all….zip. ZILCH.

This time was hard. What was different? For starters, I was getting feedback – and regularly. Now that’s a plus! But largely, I came to really like this supervisor. I’d met them less than five weeks prior. I KNOW RIGHT – CRAZY! But. Bare with me.

This person – yes a supervisor all the same – I viewed differently. Why would I do that?

Have you ever met someone before that you just resonate with? That you see either characteristics in them that appeal to you, or characteristics in them that you know you have yourself? Most of the time, these people are those we can spend hours having a coffee with and chatting about endless nonsense, or quite the opposite.

Yes I know, after all, this person was a ‘supervisor’.

But. When you meet people like that, they have a certain influential characteristic that clearly appeals to you because you can almost see yourself in them, or qualities that you aspire towards. And lets remember this was only over a period of five weeks – that’s less than 8 meetings (probably even less).

I read the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand quite a few years back, so if you’ve read it, you understand the intrinsic causalities involved in the philosophical concepts of the mind and how we develop these notions of acceptance, traits we’re drawn towards inexplicably, and ultimately persons as a whole that resemble or have traits of those that encompass or embody this all-inbound process or purely being a representation of, just that thought.

So what happened? Well, one meeting I got told some bad news. News that didn’t agree with the progress of my thesis. This was okay, it was feedback after all – however I knew that for that opinion to come about, surely my draft had not been read in its entirety. It hadn’t. But I didn’t realise till the following meeting. That meeting, well, although in conversation and although I sat back and took the feedback in, it was again bad news, but on another level. This time, I was taken aback on a few levels and fretted over the feedback for days until my next meeting with my other/primary supervisor.

I had made a mistake.

This is sometimes hard to admit, lets be honest, especially in this type of situation. Especially when I almost came running to this certain supervisor begging for them to be one of my supervisors. Yes, a little hard to swallow. And, to make it worse, they said yes, they were your ‘knight in shining armor’ in the supervisor world as far as you’re concerned. Yet, then you realise you made a mistake.

Crap!

Now coming back to what I said above, I wasn’t over exaggerating. This person, still unbeknownst to them I’m 99% certain, that they had an influential impact on me. I won’t disclose any details for the sake of privacy, but it was a hard decision to make. Sure, I was offended big time. But then I know feedback isn’t meant to be offensive, but there are different levels of offensive. Unfortunately, this met that level.

I was faced to confront this supervisor, which was my preferred method purely because I thought it was the ‘nicer’ thing to do opposed to sending an email. But then, I knew this supervisor was quite busy and the likelihood of myself getting to see them within a span of a few days was pretty small. And, sure I could of said ‘can I meet you for 15 minutes of your time’ and then get a response ‘what do you want to talk about’ – I didn’t want to answer that…I’m a bad fibber! (horrible trait!)

So, I emailed. I emailed because my primary supervisor was considering emailing the said supervisor. And, I knew it’d be best to come from me. This was tough. So tough it took me 2.5 pages to explain why.

Here’s what was written (some details have been deleted to maintain privacy and well…a little dignity if that):

“Dear ……..

Firstly, XYZ you are a phenomenal person and I hope you’re aware of that and you’re reminded frequently – if not, let me know and I’m more than happy to remind you.

I say this, after only knowing you for a short amount of time, and to have an influencing factor at all, is something unique from my perspective, so I think highly of you as a person. Please keep this in mind whilst reading.

You once said you saw yourself in me, however irrespective of age, I also see myself in you – which is rare, so when I say I think you are not only intriguing and fascinating as a person, you’re also an influential person.

This influence however momentarily blocked my view of what was best for my thesis.

I have been holding back on sending you this email and I wanted to say this to you in person, however I don’t think it’s fair if I wait any longer but I’d still prefer to talk to you in person – plus, this avoids you receiving an email from anyone else before me.

Since I think so highly of you XYZ, I know what you said last meeting was purely you trying to help my research progress. However, a few things did have me fretting for quite a few days until I had a 4-hour long meeting with XYX to discuss your feedback and where my thesis was heading (yes, four hours).

One, you questioned my intellect to be a PhD Candidate [DETAIL REMOVED] – and because I think so highly of you, that hit home and was quite unsettling.

Two, you mostly disregarded a theorised [DETAIL REMOVED]. Again, since I think so highly of you, I didn’t say anything, I tried to digest this feedback, and yes, I spent a good 5 days trying to digest it before I was able to meet with XYX to let me know all was not lost.

Three, you questioned my very ability to write and I was dumbfounded. [DETAIL REMOVED]. Again, because I think highly of you, I almost believed this and took a while to take it on board. I do however recognise I have room to improve by all means and did take on your feedback in this regard [DETAIL REMOVED]

Four, potentially unbeknownst to yourself, you were trying to fit me into a certain box [DETAIL REMOVED] However as for learning to understand your writing – that is not part of the PhD process [DETAIL REMOVED].

Five, yesterday I again met with XYX and the XXZ and expressed my concerns. [DETAIL REMOVED]. I think I would have absolutely loved to have had you as a supervisor when I first started [DETAIL REMOVED].

I wanted to say all of the above to you in person, and I still would like to in case what I’ve had to say has been interpreted in a different context. I actually explained to both XYX and XXZ that it is my own fault for being influenced by such a high calibre, fascinating and successful person, and not realising the potential influence ‘their’ background and expertise would have on my thesis, and that it really wasn’t the best fit in the first place – however I didn’t want to view it in that regard.

From the get-go I have viewed you as firstly a very influential person that potentially doesn’t realise her capacity to have such a profound and positive influence on others, although I do respect you for that and still maintain my view of you as a person. [DETAIL REMOVED]. Second to that, I viewed you as a highly successful academic and potentially I should have viewed it the other way around. However, sometimes you cannot help who you’re influenced by if they are that strong of character and you see in them characteristics that you resonate with a worthy person of influence to yourself. Not to mention recognising certain characteristics in another person as you would yourself, that is rare to find and all the more reason to be intrigued and drawn to the type of person that they are.

I hope I haven’t left this email too late and you didn’t have to hear any of the above from anyone else – this is only between myself, XYX and XXZ. And, for what its worth, I’ve been stewing over writing this now for over a week, and yes, avoiding it until I had the chance to speak with you in person – however I’ve opted to write in case XYX or XXZ sent through an email prior.

My view of you however XYZ has not changed. I still think you’re a phenomenal person, even though I’ve only known you around 5 weeks! I didn’t know the first time we met, but the second meeting we had, I recognised the type of influential person you are – if you’ve ever read Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) that’s the calibre I see you in (it’s all good in case you haven’t read it) – plus considering it’s one of the most influential books of all time, that may have something to do with it as well. [DETAIL REMOVED] Please don’t discount yourself though and your ability to influence. Irrespective of age, I think you’re a pretty great person, and university politics aside, if I met you under any other circumstance, I’d still think the same.

A quote I found this morning may sum some of this up:

“Everyone is my teacher. Some I seek. Some I subconsciously attract. Often I learn simply by observing others. Some may be completely unaware that I’m learning from them, yet I bow in deeply in gratitude.”

Therefore I’m grateful of my subconscious for recognising all your influential characteristics, and may you know I have learnt from you and I am thankful.

[DETAIL REMOVED]“

 

Okay, so you’ve read it and you’re either of the opinion that I’m crazy for sharing or potentially crazy for writing a letter like that to someone I’d known for only five weeks…or you get the why behind it. Hopefully there are a few with the later opinion.

So why’d I share this with you?

I know that I’m not the only one that has had supervisor ups and downs, so I’m sure many can relate.

But more importantly I think is that supervisors are human (I was reminded of that this week) and they do have their faults. They are not perfect. I almost thought some were and could be and write this with a tinge of sadness that I did press ‘send’ and have thought at least a dozen times today that I probably shouldn’t have and that I think this person could still be valuable. Then I remember what was said, then I also remember I may have been stubborn, or, that I didn’t want to be treated or spoken to in that light.

That aside.

This person was really great. Although the reply I got was about 20 words.

Yep, that’s it. I thought I’d been offensive so sent an email straight back apologising if I’d offended. No email reply. That’s a bit of a slap in the face. But then I guess I need to remind myself that they see themselves as a ‘supervisor’ whereas I saw them for more than just a supervisor and potentially they don’t know how to handle that. I know a lot of people who wouldn’t know how to handle ‘thanks’ and ‘compliments’ and so forth, but maybe I have a bit of old-school in me that says thank you’s are in order when you’re dished a bowl of ‘thanks’ or at least a recognition that you’re not ignoring the person or – that they didn’t offend you so that they aren’t staying awake at night thinking, geeschhh, I hope I didn’t upset them!

As this is getting quite long I’ll end it now – although summerised perfectly I thought in the quote mentioned, remember to thank your supervisors (yes, I do) and remember they are human too (I try to) and remember, they actually may not know their own potential to influence. So if you can, be careful who you’re influenced by so you don’t have to come to this same fork in the road that I did…months before I plan to submit!

 

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The Concept of Understanding – All in OR All out: Parts One & Two

Part 1

It’s come to my attention of late that the research process has more to offer than an end result.

I know, this is a little contradictory.

But, it’s okay…I think.

When I first heard this, I was like WO! Hold on…are you telling me I need to do more work? I mean, take more time to do what I’m already doing? Call me crazy, but that doesn’t make sense!

Alas, it seems to have come at an ideal time. I obviously didn’t realise this until the following day when I started on a re-vamp and major overhaul of my literature review. Well unno, because that’s what we do sometimes, right?

The concept of a process can be understood in a variety of ways, but what I’m going to try and get across, and what I understood, was the entirety of the research process and to take it, to nurture it, to care for it, to take it in, spill some crumbs over it…a bit of tea and coffee too…because at the end of the day, it means you’re making it a part of your research, it’s sitting in the back of your head, or on a sticky note on your computer (yes, that’s where mine now sits), or covering your notes with a highlighter…totally normal – I think!

Coming from a sports background, an analogy was given to me comparing the two – one that takes on board a process and one that doesn’t – they just concern themselves with the end result, with finishing the PhD. Now don’t get my wrong, this is still and always will be my goal, no way is that changing! However, the process part is more so taking on board what you’ve learned and trying to apply it – not just here and there, but hopefully learn from it so you understand it and can apply it later on. Everyone of course will have their own definition, but this is mine in respect to the research journey. I’m a big believer in goals, and always will be. But, I’m also a big believer in the process, and this seemed to neglect me these past few weeks/months – I’m not too sure.

My process comes from performance, from let’s say mastering a technique for two decades. And many of us have been through this is one form or another, so it was an interesting lesson to try and keep that process going.

Yes, it was a little bit of a slap in the…I’ll say arm, but it felt like something else. But, that wasn’t the intention (I don’t think) it was to remind me of what mastery is all about, and we want to become a master of our respective field, this can only help right?

And, after a bit of thinking, a little bit of being cranky, a little bit of thinking this is ridiculous…and so on and so forth, I looked back and noted two things. One, as hard as this was to swallow, I was being stubborn when someone was trying to, well, help me. And two, I learned something! Yes, shock horror I thought at this stage, but no, I did! Through the process and reflecting on it, I was given feedback on a style of writing that didn’t quite make sense upfront, really because it wasn’t as fun – but in retrospect, it’s actually quite fun to right in that manner because it’s challenging. Yes, it takes a little longer, but call be a this and that, but learning is still fun when it happens for me!

Part 2

Now. I did mention understanding. Understanding the process is one thing. However, understanding the persons intention and overall, is another thing. However, unless you understand the person, I don’t believe you can truly take what they have to say in the best, or intended context, all the time.

To give a little context, my thesis does involve aspects of understanding but this is a different type. The same, just a little different. Dare I say derived from a bit of philosophy? Can we say that when we’re doing a PhD…heck, I think we can!

Right, understanding. Some of you might find this as a foreign concept, and I was even talking to a fellow researcher, on the other side of the globe only yesterday about this so I thought I better share where I’m coming from. A lot of us have awkward supervisor relationships. A lot of supervisors I fear are use to these awkward type of relationships where it is teacher verse student. If there is one thing I’ve learned over my PhD journey, is that this doesn’t exist, and if it does, you need to do your best to change it!

What?!

That’s right, change it! You’re not an undergraduate, you’re not doing your honors or masters anymore, you’ve gotten to a stage where you’ve gained life experience (hopefully), you know quite a bit about what you’re doing (hopefully) that’s why you’re trying to fill the gap in the literature…so, a little more credit to you! Okay, I didn’t start off like this…a little hesitant, I’ll be honest. But if I’ve learned anything through analysing my data and knowing that I was right (yes, I think that may be the best definition of stubbornness), it’s knowing that it’s my PhD so I can speak freely about it. However, keep in mind that you still need to act appropriately and have your manners about you like any ordinary person, otherwise that’s not on.

So where does understanding come back into this? You’re at a stage where you understand to an extent what to do, but do you understand what you’re being told? But. Yes, but – how can you understand what you’re truly being told without understanding the persons pretext? So I’ll ask you now, do you know your supervisor? I mean, actually know a little bit about them…good things, not bad! Sure, there are supervisors out there you don’t want to know anything about. That’s okay, but I’ll tell you now, they’re going to make your research journey harder!

Back to the philosophy. So I have a tendency to ask myself, and I’ll challenge you to do the same, do you understand what the other person is saying from their view? Easier said then done. How can you actually understand a person’s words without understanding the person themself? Foreign concept? Maybe. But imagine how much you could learn and know from just one person if you endeavored to understand them, understand where they’re coming from, from what context and from what avenue. It doesn’t stop there. You want that person to understand you. You want them to understand all your directional changes and avenues so you’ve a better chance of understanding them! I know, a little foreign. But, I don’t care. What I care about is building a strong relationship that I know I’ll grow to respect and trust the person, as really, I’m putting my faith in them to help me get over the line. Fairs fair.

Okay, so now ask yourself – do you have this type of relationship? If so, how’s it working for you? If not, do you have a relationship that works for you? I’m intrigued. Now, given that I’ve read a lot on communication over the years and with that, understanding another for the entirety to truly get what they’re saying, I seem to think it works. But, it is a challenge! Some people don’t want to be understood, so it’s a slow progress. Some do, so it’s a breeze! With that said, yes it takes time, but imagine at the end of the road, when you submit, you can look back and say you understood not only the process, but the persons who helped you make it across the finish line – and in turn you got the biggest reward there was to achieve. You grew as a person yourself, internally you grew not only as a professional, but one with a stronger sense of individual understanding, you gained a sense of empathy, you broadened your ability to communicate whilst understanding, and you were able to allow others to understand you.

Therefore, a PhD is a process, a process of understanding ‘the’ process, but also a process of understanding those you’re seeking help from, so in return, you’re understood and ultimately your work.

Run Around Your Research

There is one thing in life. Just one. If you’re lucky, you might have a few. That one thing that fills you with life. That one things that challenges you. That one thing that inspires you. A one thing that makes you a better version of you. A thing that just is.

Whenever anybody asks you about this one thing, you light up. This one thing is your definition. It doesn’t define you, but it makes you. It contributes to who you are. It makes you the type of person you are. For better or worse. For sickness and health. This one thing gives you that sense, that feeling, that longing, that sense of being found.

Yes, this does have a research premise.

You’ve got this one thing. We all do. This one thing is a part of each and every one of us. And it is a ‘thing’ it is not a ‘person’ so its unique to each and every one of us. This thing however we may share with another, and another and so forth. Its meaning however remains the same – it remains the same to us, it remains unique to us, it is ours.

To all those active enthusiasts out there, we share something in common. That one thing that you itch to do. That one thing you don’t feel complete unless you’ve done it or are doing it. You feel a sense of freedom. You feel a sense of desire. You feel a sense of power. You feel a sense of purpose. You realise at these moments how lucky your are to be doing this one thing. How fortunate you are. How fortunate you are to have found this one – this thing, this all inspiring involving and revolving thing.

I have two. One I can do, one I use to do but had to stop, so the former is now the current. But, the initial is the one that draws me, that pulls me, that gives me that sense of belonging, that sense of feeling, that sense of knowing – yet all at the same time, thinking nothing. The second, and present – comes close. It comes so close that the only thing missing is the tangible, the belonging to something smaller – the present, belong to something bigger, something more vast, something more grand its hard to fathom.

Here is where we all insert what our ONE is. Where we insert what this one thing is that makes us who we are, this one thing we were somehow introduced to along our current journey and never wanted to let go. We didn’t want to let go because we didn’t have to, and because it became a part of us, who we are.

I’ll spill with the intention that if you cross paths with me, you need to tell me your one, or your former and now current. Or, if we don’t cross paths, perhaps you’ll leave a note saying which is what and how it has become a part of you.

Yes, this does have a research premise.

The former – is tennis. Not only have I been fortunate to experience the sport and do some extraordinary things doing something I love, injuries put a stop to that. So I had to find another. Something else that could cater for all those arduous hours training, yet at the same time, so very worthy of the time and effort for what it has done for me. Look at what something can do for you, and then what you can do for it in return right? My research is my contribution. My thesis is my premise. My PhD is there to make a difference, in any way, big, small, minor, large, any which way I can. For something that gave me so much, I aim to give it just as much or more in return. Now ask yourself, is your research based on a premise? Trust me, if it is, the easier the journey, the easier the process, the easier the joy you will find in all those long hours, in all those missed moments, in all those neglected times, in all those times that you thought and questioned what you were really doing, why were you putting yourself through this, why are you putting yourself through it? Its rhetorical. You are because you are and it makes you feel how you feel, and because at the end of the day, its your contribution to that one thing.

That’s not my one thing. It hasn’t been my one thing for a while now. The reason why you can have more than one, if your lucky, is that one can fall almost in place of the other, yet this one thing makes such a big difference its mind boggling.

What’s that one thing? I run.

I run when I can.

I run in circles. I run half marathons. I run marathons (actually, only yesterday). I run only a few circles, then I run quite a few circles. Some people tell me to stop. Some people think it’s too much. But if you say something like that, you need to ask yourself have you tried it? Have you put in the effort to condition your body to be able to do it. And if it hurts you, if it injures you – are you going to stop if it’s your one thing? I don’t think so. You get back to it. It’s simple. But what does this one thing do for you? What does it do for me? I’ve already stated what this ONE thing can do for each and every one of us. For me, the one thing brings clarity, it brings a sense of balance, it brings something different, it brings consistency, it brings a challenge, and most of all, it brings happiness.

So where does this fit into your research. Simple. Find that one thing. And use it. Whatever it is. That one thing not only gives you balance throughout your research journey, it CONTRIBUTES to it. It allows you clarity. It allows you a sense of purpose. It allows you to think. It allows you that extra challenge (if you’re after it). It allows you to grow as a person from this ONE thing whilst growing as one and the same through your PhD.

That’s all. Find that one thing. I’d love to hear what your one thing is. If you’re not sure, it’s okay, it’s there – oh yes it is, you just need to think what makes you happy. This one thing is all on you, no one else, no relying on anyone else but you. Find that one thing, then go for it. Find that one that, and in the mean time, use it to your advantage to finish your research, your PhD, your contribution.

Not for the Faint Hearted – A Personal Story of a Researcher.

The personal. The personal side of anyone is so very unique, so very defiant, so very colourful, yet so very dark and hindered with their own battles – yet also their own victories, challenges that they’ve overcome, and most of all, people they’ve met along the way who have aided them in coming leaps and bounds, or a mere footstep, in front of their last hurdle.

At this moment, I’m going to place a ‘warning’ for the personal, to the confronting, so if you don’t wish to read then please don’t and go back.

Each person is on their own journey. This journey is the one they’ve chosen, however one that has been influenced by copious factors from everyday routine to personal inhibitors. These inhibitors however can be used against us, or for us. In times of need, they may work for us – or against us. With emotional attachment, it makes the journey even harder. This road then is made tougher by the emotional, attached to the personal.

Every person, every individual, no matter what path they’ve been or gone down, has used their personal to either jump a hurdle, or step back from the hurdle.  At this time in a research journey, the personal may have an influence, both for and against, both emotionally and personally – internally.

But what if you’d commenced this journey without your number one fan, what if this journey was made all the harder for that person not being there, yet made it easier because you knew it was an expectation of that person for you to continue, to go on, and to follow the path you’d set?

What if a year before you commenced you were confronted with the biggest challenge of your life to date. What if at that moment in time everything was going extraordinary, and then you lost your biggest fan?

If you were alone, confronted with a situation that your biggest fan was immobile, yet conscious – and asked for your help, however you knew you couldn’t and had to seek a higher help? If that fan was your father, and had had a stroke, and you were the one to find him, to comfort him, wait with him, and call for help, run for help, then return and wait for help to arrive. And, if you were alone, just you and him, waiting, not being able to do anything in fear that things would be made worse, except to try and make him a little more comfortable if that was remotely possible. Then, as a routine, pack an overnight bag as you were adamant things would be okay then bring it to his bedside in the hospital. But what if you also knew that he’d been like that for hours, nearly all day, until you’d popped around to check – then noticed the reason why he’d not answered any of your countless calls that day, was because he was laying less than a meter away from his phone, and couldn’t move – as he was immobile.

You’re confronted with decisions, from calling other personals to who were not around, not near, nor close. You’re confronted in letting them know if they should book their flight to say a goodbye. This wasn’t going to happen, things were going too well, things were okay, he was strong, he’d pull through. It was only two days away from a graduation that he was going to attend – the first in his life, your life. Mind you, it was only the same day that you’d also got rejected to commence your PhD.

You’re at the side of your number one fan, and although he’s asked you for help you know you can’t – that you’re not allowed in fear for making things worse. The phone goes again, and you’re the one to explain what’s happened, what you were confronted with, what you’re dealing with – with one of your best friends in a hospital bed whilst you sit by their side – waiting. You wait, then you come back the next day, and you wait again. You’re asked if you want him brought back to life if the inevitable happens. You know this won’t happen, you know it can’t happen, but you let them know your decision; after all, it’s just you, by yourself, no personal to turn to that isn’t within reach, it’s your decision and yours to make alone, right then and there.

You’re told he’s okay, he’ll be okay through the night, so you go and catch up on sleep. The phone rings in the middle of the night. Your other best friend (parent) answers the phone – your heart stops. Your heart skips a beat. It’s like only yesterday it happened, yet the memories are over two years old. You hear footsteps coming to your room, and your mother breaks the news. A best friend, your biggest fan, your biggest supporter, yet the one who always expected the best from you and nothing less – had been taken.

You arrive and see for yourself. One last hug. You take the jacket off him that you’d left to keep him warm that night. Your mum is there, but nothing can be said. You’re the one to close his eyes, you’re the one to pull the sheet up, you’re the one who has to eventually make the decision to turn away, to walk away, and leave your best friend right there – and remain numb, numb to the core, with only another parent to turn to who’s lost a best friend too.

Momentous occasions happen to all of us, but it’s up to us to how we let these events shape us. One of many that have happened since, one of many that have brought the numbness alive, and one of many that have kept one foot in front of the other. To mark this occasion, the commencement of the PhD started one year later – one year later after being rejected, one year later after realising you can’t stop pushing forward, and one year later till the next journey was to take place. This journey has encompassed everything from becoming an auntie, to hearing about a niece being taken away from their mother without any location or knowing, on several occasions, a time where a bone graft was required for health, a time that also saw a grandparent pass shortly after their son had gone, yet it has also been a time of great challenge, of running strengths of multiple ultra runs, and a time to sit down and achieve something, to put a business on hold, to start an artistic endeavour, then to recap and continue the academic journey that is being faced. In five months it will mark three years, in five months it will mark two years since this journey has started, and in five months it will mark an exit point acceptable for submission. Therefore, this is my goal.

No matter what we’re faced with in life, we all have our own challenges, we all have our own individual journeys and we all have our own personal to tell. This is my personal. I encourage all researchers alike to share their personal so each researcher knows that they aren’t alone in their journey, that others out there also battle with their personal, with the emotional, and surge through someone to continue along their PhD journey. And although these memories and experience are a part of us, although there are days made harder by these thoughts, and even if you’re reminded of this on a daily basis, you’ve got a journey to continue, you’ve got a thesis to write, and one to submit.

May my dad rest soundly in heaven and may he be proud of the mark I aim to contribute and leave within my field.

AB.

Be Careful What You Wish For…in the PhD World

The PhD/Research journey is started in part with an idea – an idea that you wish to expand on. Everyone does this different from exploring derivatives of another person’s research, actually, essentially we all do this, but it’s of course in different extents…i.e. hypothesis or questions developed from a combination of research with a gap. Yes, of course there are so many more processes; my intention here is to highlight the variety and the different paths we all go down during the commencement of our PhD/Research journey.

Now, when we have that idea, we need help! Well, we hope to find help in a supervisor…we all have different experiences and expectations here, so we won’t address that, BUT it’s the hopeful part – the hopefulness of finding the right supervisor, wishful thinking perhaps of finding that niche – the collaboration that assists your research to a large extent, assists you as a person to understand what is required of you, assists you to follow a certain path – AND you trust this person so you’re okay with that…If you don’t, there is an immediate warning!

For most of us unfortunately, we find any-old supervisor, anyone willing to take us on so we can bloomin’ enrol in our research program of choice. Unfortunately, a lot of compromise goes on here in respect to topic of choice and the process and how you’re going to approach the hypothesis and/or questions and so forth and how this in turn affects your ability to collect data – and so on and so forth!

However, I’d like to encourage a little optimism.

I started with what I call a 50/50 – 50% of my supervision was close to a nightmare – the other 50% was a Godsend! This changed after a good 12 months and the Godsend came up to 90% and I then got an advisor of sorts to take up the 10%, however was it the ideal set-up? No. Why not? Well, in retrospect, I thought it wasn’t too bad BUT I found it wasn’t fair on ‘us’ as a team. Yes, TEAM. In a PhD you need to build a team, and that team consists of primarily yourself, your supervisors and any other persons assisting in your research journey. I found that this ‘spread’ wasn’t fair, I had all my balls in one basket so to speak and I’d been consumed by my research, and I’m sure the Godsend had as well – so, we agreed that a new perspective would be a good thing (effective communication between the researcher and supervisor is essential…we’ll chat about that another time!). The catch however with a new perspective is that you have to find it – AND, in your university to allow the ‘load’ to drop from one supervisor and be given to the other so they can share the work-load so to speak so no-one is being taken advantage of. I think too highly of my current team to want to take advantage, I want to ensure everything is okay with them, so in turn, I know they’ll help me!

Okay, the CATCH. As some may know from earlier posts, my research is quite mixed, so that means its between two Schools within the University environment – however now, three! Yes, I found that new perspective, that fresh look, and it was from another School. Hey, whatever works right? Kind of. The paperwork is a little bit of politics and policies in one, but we’ll make it happen. Yes, ‘we’ because we’re a team. Let me jump in here now and reference back to wishful thinking. Before I started my PhD I had enquired into this School and no one was available. This School was the last place I looked about a month or two ago when I started looking for that ‘fresh’ perspective. Let’s keep in mind here that they have to be able to HELP your research, so for me, this can be a little challenging. But…after all going well and being in the home stretch phase (now, when I say homestretch anywhere from 6-12mths) I’m pretty sure I’ve found what I’ve wished for (in the PhD sense!) – another supervisor to collaborate with, that has a new perspective and well, quite frankly, is a welcome to the team.

A PhD is about a thousand different things of course; however it’s also nurtured in a way if consideration is taken as to the process involved and most importantly, the team – the people you have around you academically, the ones providing you with feedback, the ones able to point you in the right direction, people you can trust and respect. So, with all said and done, be careful what you wish for in your PhD as heaven knows, it may very well come true!

Holiday Furore – University Politics

It seemed as though as I’d taken a little time away I feel somewhat obliged to make up for it…well, with a bit of university politics! As some research students know, and not enough, there is a world of politics encompassed within each university, and then, within each School, and then…within each Department. I’ll say now, if you have not experienced these politics, you are one lucky cookie! As earlier readers may have noticed, I’ve had a few brushes with university politics in my ‘short’ time as a PhD candidate – I say short due to this week counting as my 18 month mark – however, time within a university doesn’t necessarily mean the more you get with time, or the less! After changing Schools, and with that departments, and with that, certain supervisors only a few months ago, I was faced with a dilemma only a month ago. I went into my office during the holidays (when the university was closed) to collect some ‘tools’ from my office – by tools I’m referencing elements for my data collection process. These tools were to assist me to collect my data as I thought hey, even though I’m on holidays I still have an itch to do something! Upon entering my office, I had noticed something was missing – an entire filing cabinet – filled with my belongings AND the data collection tools. Shock horror hit me…kind of like an O.M.G moment, and with no one around, this was not only like a break-and-enter on a university campus, from a locked door, it was just…gobsmacking. Waiting days until someone would get back to my countless emails of where my belongings went, it turned out to be an administrative error. This now may make some people feel GREAT about their departments – others may relate (I hope not!). Firstly I should mention the value of contents in this cabinet was in the four digit category. Okay, so I got a phone call from a maintenance person from my university – they had opened the cabinet and found my details, and were about to chuck out…yes, dispose of, my belongings – but thought they’d call me first. Oh, did I mention my thesis was in here as well? The story goes someone, I don’t know, was allowed permission into my locked office – without my permission, and then, given permission to take the filing cabinet, again – without permission or consent. I’ll stop short there, but after talking with close to every person in my department, from being accused of not checking my email threads and that it had been moved to a new office (a little daft since I had moved offices a month prior) and then with no apology or responsibility for someones actions…I’m left with an experience as a PhD student – a student who brings in thousands of dollars to a university’s department upon successful submission, with the poorest standards of communication and accountability. Some people might go hey, a little over the top – but I say, if you had your belongings locked, oh yes, the cabinet was locked and I had the only key, and then someone took it, and you thought stole, your data, your thesis, your belongings (hard drives, glasses etc) and then found out that it was actually in fact given the go-ahead by someone in the administrative team, you’d probably be gobsmacked.

So, what does this have to do with university politics? This – that some departments, no matter what status of the personnel, are unwilling to take responsibility, are still treating PhD students/candidates like “students” and not adults from the real world, with real world experience, with real world understandings and morals and values and principles, and in return, these are not reciprocated nor acknowledged and puts a weaker shoe on students/candidates opposed to what they’ve set out to achieve, to accomplish and in some cases, to prove and contribute to the world of academia world-wide and to libraries around the world (online and physically) and perhaps one word comes to mind – respect. So what is the message? If you are treated like this, or close to this, which I hope you are not, remember your rights as an adult, as a human being, and what you are contributing to your university and School/Department and do not be afraid of using this is a bargaining tool, per sae, if you aren’t listened to – I for one, am in the process of doing just this. With no responsibility taken for what happened to my belongings, nor accountability or an apology, or an explanation for how this could happen, I’m taking my ‘funding’ elsewhere. What does this mean? It means that one School, due to their lack of professional conduct and ‘real world’ manners, they lose valuable research funding provided by the government whilst another School will gain this funding by myself signing some paperwork. I’ll mention now that this is no way, shape or form relates back to my awesome and super-brilliant supervisor, who has been batting on my team since day one and also is/was unable to get answers – I think if you could hand out medals for awesomeness and the bestest of empathetic and understanding supervisors, mine would get not only one…I’d want to bombard her with them! However, I am in the fortunate position to have a great supervisor, and also in the position where I’m looking for a ‘fresh’ set of eyes to join my supervisory team and it just so happens that today, without jinxing myself, I have potentially found that addition to my team to help me spit and polish a thesis to be proud of – therefore, what’s the message? Where there is a will, there is a way – the university heads do not always have to win, if you have a great team, a top supervisor, you’ll be okay, and even better, you my find more help along the way in places you didn’t expect, all for the better of your research! So, happy writing, and hopefully, less university politics!

ImageThe interlinking pattern of university politics maybe? (A.Berge)