Archive | October, 2012

The first assault…

9 Oct

“The PhD is an assault on your confidence…” I was told this on day one by a 3rd Year Ph.D student and didn’t doubt it, though I had expected to get a few more weeks under the belt before I felt it happen. Even the supervisors said this is normal process, another student insisted I’m still further along than most at this stage. But that doesn’t help when you’re used to achieving well, used to being capable of stringing more than three words together in sentences that make sense and possibly even sometimes create some logical, convincing and coherent argument. Not today.

After a week of exploring the proposal it seems like I’m being encouraged to step further away from the topic that drives my passion for the research and step into a territory that I think will pigeonhole me in a way that I don’t want. Whether it’s because I don’t feel any kind of confidence in that area or because I don’t want to feel like I’m allowing 10 years of expertise to just dissolve, I think today is my first experience of having to “push against it”, as fellow student C said. He said he wishes he pushed against the interests of his supervisor a bit more, after all it’s OUR three or four years and OUR chance to carve out the expertise in the topics we’re passionate about.  

But then it’s not like I’m not passionate about all aspects of the topic. Is this assault on the confidence actually related to wanting to stick to what I feel comfortable with, and if I do that am I actually selling myself out and not using the opportunity to get stuck into something so that I really learn and really grow? Is the Ph.D about learning how to research, how to ground research in theory so that it can be justified and respected, or just adding to what I’ve done already?

The first assault has resulted in the task of a month of reading around a topic I enjoy but not the central topic I am desperate to not leave behind… the battle lines are bound to change but they’re looking a little scary at the moment….

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The first meeting…

1 Oct

I am incredibly lucky to have two supervisors who have agreed they want to take an equal role in helping to shape my learning and the research experience. Despite this meaning twice the pressure to live up to, I class myself as lucky because they’re both influential and important in their respective fields and that and the end of the slog I’ll have had the experience of two great academics who will have pushed and pushed and probably wanted to throttle me to get the best work done.

But two supervisors makes for quite the first supervisory meeting. Gulp doesn’t quite cut it.

The first meeting is where we set the tone, the expectations, and the fear sets in. Despite one supervisor’s encouraging opening ditty (“I told other students they had to be incredibly passionate about their work and knew I didn’t have to say that to you… I’m so excited for you!”), I still felt the nerves trickle down my spine like drizzle on a drainpipe! The three of us sat around a small table, my original proposal winking from beneath a pile of forms to fill in and agendas, and got ready to set the ball rolling. Suddenly, the whole thing took on a reality that I don’t think I’d allowed myself to acknowledge.

We spent over an hour talking through the expectations they had of me and what I could expect from them. We talked about the process (and I internalised the fear!!), discussed the topic, explored my training and methodology, and agreed on next steps. Apparently, I am now a Ph.D researcher…. with a 1000 word piece of homework and a pretty huge dose of trepidation on one shoulder and excitement on the other.

The topic…

1 Oct

Passion and commitment to the topic must be central to any Ph.D, whether three, four or five years. Thankfully, I’m not short of either, though sometimes I know my passion can verge more towards over excitement and annoying exuberance!

My topic is current, political, potentially gendered, and based on my own belief in the power of education to shape and build better futures. But I have taken the difficult decision to step away from the practical, pedagogical application and take stock of all that comes before: how our understandings of the world and our place in it shapes our pedagogy and the type of education we promote.

I had arrived at the first meeting desperate to cling on to what I felt confident (*insert, comfortable) with – pedagogy and the role of the teacher. But four days around other Ph.D students must have had some kind of impact because as we discussed the purpose of any Ph.D I realised I had to cut the apron strings and step away from the comfort of pedagogy and push myself to somewhere new where other passions would have the opportunity to ignite and, hopefully, thrive.

The first week and first real discussions showed me that the Ph.D is about learning how to research, how to think and question and reflect in a whole new way, and then apply that practically. So the topic changed a little and morphed into a new shape; it has the same content and passions but has new edges, new dimensions and new opportunities. And new excitements.