It’s been a long time…

Well, first off, it’s been quite a while since I’ve even looked at this blog, let alone thought about posting anything.  On the off-chance you are even remotely interested as to why, I’ll elucidate about that a bit more below.  But first, I’d just like to say, well, sorry about that.  Part of my PhD process was a promise to self and others that results from the study would get back to not only the participants, but also the public at large – needless to say, something of a fail on that one.  The reasons are complex, tied in with why there have been no blogs in general, and may come as something of a surprise to some of you. So, let’s start at the beginning. What on earth have I been doing?  Since finishing my PhD, I’ve been working as a research associate/assistant/project officer/tutor/whateverthehellyouwanttocallitforthepurposesofmyworkcontract at an Australian university.  With, I must add, some pretty amazing academics, in the diversities field – mainly sexualities and race, with some gender in there too.  It’s been pretty great, and I am very very lucky to be employed in my field when most graduates end up in admin if they work at a uni, or as tutors working across institutions, trying to keep afloat on multiple casual contracts.  Which is actually what I am doing, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have those contracts be in research and at one uni – a real novelty in Australia, apparently. You’d think this would have put me in the perfect position to be writing and posting about my research, and the stuff I’m involved with.  Not so much.  Partially because in order to stay afloat financially, casual contracts come in multiples – last year I held 12 contracts, at least half of those simultaneously.  Doesn’t leave a lot of time for concentrated thinking, and certainly not on my own work.  The upside on this, a tremendous learning curve.  Steep, dense, but good. The downside, the constant realisation that, to quote my favourite wildling, ‘you know nothing, Jon Snow’… wait… I’m not Jon … I think…?   This is a common problem for academics, feelings of inadequacy and fakery, that any moment you’re going to get found out as someone who has faked their way into their position, and yes, actually has no clue what they are talking about.  (Yes, you could say that many have internalised the public’s opinion of academics in general…).  Apparently narcissism is an excellent trait to have as an academic, comes with thick skin and feelings of awesomeness… missed out on that one. After three months in the job, I pretty much realised I had no clue, and really should just be quiet, not make too much of a show of it, and keep at it, least I be discovered, outed, and banished from the tower.  You’re probably thinking, banishment probably doesn’t sound too bad if that’s the environment.  And seriously, you’re probably right.  But the problem with eroded confidence, and what we now get to name as impostor syndrome – yes, it is an actual thing whoopee! – is that wherever you go, it goes too.   So yay for me.  Now where did I put that bottle of narcissism and/or expert fakery? As a result, I haven’t written anything since the completion of the thesis.  Principally because writing stresses me out to the point where I literally cannot even sit at my computer.  Ridic-u-lous! Really.  And I know that.  We all have our dragons, apparently this is mine. Bear in mind that there are only two kinds of discursive positions for those in the academy – tenured academics who have the merit to have their position, and everyone else, who is either too green or too crap to have tenure.  (Evidenced by my institution classifying researchers like me as general staff (along with cleaners, baristas and the like) – not a classest statement, just a reflection on the institution’s conceptualisation of us – service providers), rather than as academic staff who do work with books and research and such.) Bear in mind too that neither of these discursive positions is accurate, but it does present a bit of a challenge about how to conceptualise yourself when there is no right-fitting space for you to locate yourself in.   It has taken a while to get my head out of framing myself as a student let alone anything else – so where I go from here is, well, a bit of a mystery. So, there we have it,  a complicated intersection of working with tenured giants, no discursive space to occupy, a need to make an income in a crazy work culture, and feelings of fakery that are fed by this intersection.  Yeah, no blogging, no brainer.  As for publications… really?  Whoa there young-un. So, sorry about that.   Doing my best to get over myself. Hence, a post. And an endeavour to start talking more. But with some caveats.  Some stuff may be on topic, off topic, no topic, huh? topic.  And I may talk out my ear.  Part of the academic fiction is expertise.  As much as some people may know more on some things than others, expertise… yeah, that’s problematic – I am not going to try and occupy that space.  I am going to talk through ideas, be wrong, get close to an insight, share some others thoughts, ask some questions, share some experiences, some theory, some research (mine and others) in an endeavour to engage in some knowledge transfer.  But expertise… yeah no.  I may be at the bottom of the academic ladder, but I know enough to recognise that expertise is contingent and context-specific, transitory.  But I also know that that shouldn’t stop any of us from talking. So, some blogs, and as part of the updates will be on where I’m at with getting results published in academic journals, and where you can find that material (open access where possible, drafts where not), in case you’re interested.  Be patient, this stuff takes time. Here’s hoping this actually results in something worth reading.  I make no promises!  But maybe we can get a conversation started.

Leave a comment

Filed under Post-grad life

Dying of shame

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard about the tragic suicide of a nurse after 2Day FM DJs prank called her about the British Royals.

We as a public have an intuition that we need to be punishing someone for what happened. And as a result there’s a lot of debate about blame and vulnerability going on, but I think a lot of it misses a very important point. At present the focus is on either whether the actions of the DJs were the actual cause of this tragedy, or if the nurse had mental health issues (to coin a diminishing phrase). What is not being discussed is the context in which these events took place.

In the past – five, ten years ago – pranking someone (as bullying as it can sometimes be) had a small ripple effect with respect to the audience. But now the globe is our stage. Do something local and it can quickly become global. Social media and the current appetite for low quality shock news means events like the prank hospital call can become global very quickly. What might have been an embarrassment that might have been ok to handle as a local event now turns into a global mockery. When we think about it, it’s actually not that surprising that such a terrible turn of events occurred – how many of us could really handle the scrutiny of billions of judging strangers and the constant meming and viral spread of a mistake that suddenly calls your mental and professional competency into question.

What we do in public, in our surveillance society, has the potential to spread like wild fire and become uncontrollable in an instant. This is the point that is lost on those that undertake this kind of humor work without considering the consequences of just what can unfold.

Are the DJs to blame? Sure, but not in the ways the public is trying to blame them. Was the nurse simply vulnerable? Yes, but only in the same way we all are vulnerable to a disproportionate public response to a mistake.

What do we do then? We change our behavior about how we publicize others and think about the weight of audience on individuals we highlight.

Leave a comment

Filed under Making the news

Moral panics everywhere

One of the interesting things to come out of my research was the snapshot of the tone of moral panics in New Zealand pertaining to women’s sexuality, and how the media chooses to frame it (reflecting  political editorial agendas).

A pertinent example is the media coverage of Dr Albert Makaray, an Egyptian-Christian gynecologist who has had considerable airtime from the media.  His most classic description of young women analogises them to paddock-mating sheep.    In this video ( , he talks mostly about the problem of promiscuity and alcohol as related to female subjects – women are the most promiscuous, the most at risk.  What he doesn’t consider is the cultural discourse we have around teaching women that they have to protect themselves from being sexually assaulted, and not our young men about not sexually assaulting, and how New Zealand drinking cultural performances are particular to us as a country (and therefore not solely determined by chemistry and physiology).   What he is not referencing are the realities of the drink/sex culture, and how they are taken up by young people, beyond the ones he sees in his clinic.  Makary’s opinions are inaccurate and extreme fear-mongering: for example, he says that young people get drunk and have sex with whoever is beside them at the time.  If this was the case the the number of lifetime partners New Zealanders would have would far outstrip the 20 reported by Durex (whose survey may not necessarily represent a fair sampling of the nation).   And the young women I talked to would have had hundreds more sexual partners than they reported, as many were out drinking most weekends.

Beyond what he is saying, the fact is, he is quickly being picked up by the media and his voice disseminated through the social discourse as an attractor point of conversation.  A quick Google search of his name brings back over 100,000 results, highlighting the amount of media airtime he receives, and the number of those who are in some way engaged either in propagating his opinions (and using him as (what I consider to be) an ill-qualified expert (he is a practitioner, not a researcher)), or attempting to talk back to him/his proponents.

What also needs to be referenced is the use of his voice by the media and its moral/political agenda .  Media is a mechanism for shaping social discourses and they do so in a number of particular ways.  Because we as individuals often have no experience of the many of the events happening in the world we rely on stories from others and frequently use media sources to fill information gaps(1), often with an idea that there is a knowingness that presents information in a way superior to our own individual analyses – they are after all the experts/professionals, and we accept what they present as such.  What is, however, often washed out of the presentation of news events is the atypical nature of stories that make it to the headlines.  They are headlines because they are unusual, not common events. To make these suitable for inclusion in the drive to present more in less time, stories are cleaved of that very important point, along with other contextual information that would allow the judging/viewing public to make better assessments of the salience of stories, their reflections of the commonly lived experience, and their bearing on personal realities.

These issues are made more problematic when we consider how the media frames story-kinds.  Examination of, for example, how media frames stories of crime points to a predominance of punitive and individualist slants that place the cause of crime at the feet of the individual rather than examining its broader social issues (2). Framing of feminism and feminist activities also shows negative framing, away from the positive social impacts to a reduction of feminist agents/agency to harpies making mountains out of molehills.   These frames reflect political agendas – moral panics focus on risk towards political ends, and risk-focus always reflects a politics of social control and political investment.  When we hear about risk, we should ask ourselves, if we comply with risk-averse behaviour such as that being suggested, what does that mean in terms of broader social outcomes?

In this regard, what can we say about the over-representation of Makary in the media, especially in formal news sources, in comparison to those voices that would refute his claims, or argue differently regarding social issues?   The preference for sensationalising stories is obvious – headlines that describe young New Zealand women as mating in paddocks like sheep is bound to capture anyone’s attention.  Makary is aware of this – as a professional he does not use the language of his cohort, but chooses to use terms that will inflame and negatively frame in an attention-seeking way.  As do all of those with a cause.  His framing of young women reflects a highly vocal and powerful conservative politics in New Zealand that is very interested in maintaining a status quo of power differentials that locate efficacious social power and control primarily not in the hands of minority groups such as Maori, those with disabilities,  those in lower socio-economic bands, women, LGBTIQ,and so on, but in the hands of (most often) white, educated conservatives (usually men).  This political context provides significant privileges attached with not belonging to a minority, even if those that access those privileges are not active in enforcing them.

What is Makary supporting then?  He is not talking about a general adjustment of society – he is talking about a behavioural adjustment of one section of the population.  In his 2010 interview he noted that young women needed to return to their roles as sexual gatekeepers to keep a sexually uncontrolled male population in control. That promiscuity is the moral and social responsibility of women, in curbing their own sexual access and as a result curbing men’s.   To do this he stokes the moral panic that suggests young women have declining morals and self esteem, that they are promiscuous (doesn’t it take two people to have heterosex that results in unwanted pregnancy??).  Where in the past the moral panics around male sexuality and STIs put the onus on prostitutes as the source of the moral scourge, now Makary’s comments suggest that the problem of promiscuity is all about young women to the exclusion of young men – men now are less promiscuous – suggesting that instead of a few women servicing many men we now have a small number of men servicing many women.  Lucky chaps.  But more importantly, what this discourse suggests is a population of young women who are out of control.

We conceive of male sexuality as a biological drive that can be difficult for men to handle – it takes a strong and rational man not to succumb to his sexual urges, the dominant discourse goes.  But our discourse also places women as in control of a sexuality that is not as rampant and biologically driven – it is not obsessional or overwhelming and once it is turned on it it is not seen as a foregone conclusion that something must be done about it.  How then to account for these rampantly promiscuous women if they have no recourse to biology?  The evils of alcohol, lack of morality, low self-esteem, poor values system, lack of agency.  The list goes on.  Very few conversations come back to women wanting to have sex as rational agents.  Rather their many partners is a kind of moral or psychological pathology.  We don’t talk about those 20 partners as chosen, but only as the result of drunken one-night stands.   Needless to say, I didn’t talk to anyone who thought that their wanting to sleep with a variety of different men made them psychologically unwell, though many were aware that they may be judged that way.

What Makary is wanting is to curb the behaviour of young women and return us to a society where fewer people crossed his office threshold with STIs and unplanned pregnancies.  (Fair enough.)  And the way to do this is to reduce the number of people we sleep with.  I doubt the young woman who catches an STI from her first and only sexual partner would think that this strategy is of much help to her, however.  What Makary should be pushing for is a greater level of education about self-care and self-protection in sexual encounters.  And equally importantly he needs to push for education that teaches people how to care for and about those they are sleeping with.  When we consider that a large majority of negative complaints from young women regarding casual sex outcomes are to do with being poorly treated by either their casual sex partner, or their peer group (or fear of these things), it would suggest that how we treat people as experiencing ‘others’ is of primary importance.

Unfortunately care for the other directly contradicts moral panics and risk-culture propagation  where we are taught to consider the ‘other’ not as someone to be cared about but as someone who is a potential danger, a risk-vector of disproportionate negative consequences, that is it best to practice risk avoidance altogether than reap (disproportionately) negative outcomes.  So, don’t sleep with non-relationship partners, because he or she may have an STI, may not use protection, may sexually assault you, may negatively talk about you, may …. this is a very long list of cons.  The reality of course not so horrific.  Yes we do need to be mindful of our own safety, and that of others.  But to live in a culture of fear is to close down avenues of education and learning, of experience and enjoyment, of agency  action, response, evaluation, criticality, and common sense.  There is not room to care when fear is the disproportional emotional state.  And care, ethical self-care and care of the other, seems to me a much better solution to the problems inherent in contemporary western sexual culture than running around, drecying women who like to have sex with someone who isn’t a relationship partner.

Refs on request: Beale (2006);  (Green, 2009).

Leave a comment

Filed under Making the news, Research Results


Well, finally, a return to the net.  You could be excused for thinking I’d run off somewhere to never return, but have no fear, I have only been suffering from a reasonably common academic malaise that I like to call ‘thesis aversion’.  Apparently many PhD writers go through this, where the idea of even looking at our research makes us run faster than a certain Mr Bolt in the other direction.  This is for no other reason than that we have been ‘eating’ intellectual cereal without milk for 4 or more years.  No matter how interesting it is to someone else, to us it is like reading Fifty Shades of Grey over, and over, and over ..

Never fear however, although many of us run, it is often  only in circles.  Thus we find ourselves back where we began …

Like all humble returns, this will be short and sweet, because I know I have to write something, but I just don’t know what that is.   So the easiest way to get out of doing anything substantive is just to go: Taadaaaaah! Here’s the link to the thesis if you want to take a look:

Look at that! I’ve put up 100,000 words in the blink of an eye!  Now why couldn’t the writing process have been this easy?

For those of you sensible enough not to click through to my swipe at academic credibility a.k.a. thesis, stay tuned, results discussions are coming  Thanks for your patience.

Leave a comment

Filed under Post-grad life, Research Results

Going by the numbers

Finally, something more about the research!

I’m currently reading some work from a wonderful researcher in my field, discussing the difficulties of recruitment.  For researchers in fields looking at what is called sensitive topic research, it can be a real dilemma to get enough people together to talk to you about what is going on for them in the topic area.  The irony about this is that getting people talking about sensitive topics is a big inroad into improving people’s lives in these kinds of areas.  For example, no one likes to talk about domestic violence, but talking about it makes it visible, assessable, and then a proper target for social interventions at whatever level to help reduce this social blight can be found.   Which is why so many researchers focus on sensitive topics – these are often at the core of social issues and problems that greatly affect individuals.

I certainly didn’t expect my recruitment process to be easy.  Other researchers in the area of sex and sexuality have discussed how difficult it can be to get participants to interview, and to keep participating throughout the research.  The rate of attrition of participants can be quite high.  And not uncommon.

What surprised me most about my own research was the overwhelming response I had to my own recruitment process.  My expectations were far exceeded with respect to how long it would take for me to get the number of survey responses I needed, and the number of young women who would want to participate further.   The question I guess comes down to why on earth I had an easier time of it than some other researchers I have come across.

Really I have no definitive answers to that, but I think perhaps some of it comes down to a culture of lack of space for women to talk about sex.  Now, I think some of you will shake your heads here, and tell me that young women are talking about sex a lot.  A participant related to me overhearing a group of high school girls talking about the taste of semen in a public area.  This would suggest that there is little issue about talking about sex for women these days.  But what I want to suggest here is whether that is actually talking about sex, or engaging in a public performance that places the speaker as sexually experienced, and therefore, in today’s parlance, as ‘cool’/fashionable/knowing/etc.   Today’s culture is big on the idea that being sexually active is part of being a well-rounded and mature individual – sex is a necessary part of a healthy life, an adventurous life, an uninhibited life, shows you as skilled and capable and so on.  No  one wants to be thought of as a prude!  So talking about the taste of cum, yip, that situates you as sexually experienced,  but does it mean that you are talking about sex?  I’m not so sure on that.

And I think this is where I managed to have some success in recruitment, because I recruited young women on the proviso that they could talk about anything they liked about sex, but most importantly I wanted to hear their opinions on today’s sexual culture (for their age group).   I wanted to hear their gripes and insecurities and problems, and truimphs. I wanted to hear about all the things that it is not really that acceptable for them to talk about in a group – their virginities, their getting drunk and being taken advantage of, their flashing in public, their frustration at their partner’s lack of reciprocity in sex, that they were not sure what they wanted in bed, weren’t comfortable asking for what they wanted, had lousy sex but didn’t know how to fix it, and so on.

In an area where we are all supposed to have our shit together, talking about these things with our peers can sometimes be problematic.  One of the biggest factors participants of my research talked about as a factor that inhibits their sexual expression and experience was the wide range of stigma they could experience – from sexual partners, friends, family, work mates, religious leaders, medical practitioners.  And themselves.  Talking about our faults and insecurities in such a judgemental social context can therefore be a really big thing.   Talking about sex then can reduce to just talking about successes, rather than issues that once discussed can be normalised and examined and addressed.  Because no one wants to be judged.  At least not in a bad way.

Oh, and if you think this is a woman’s problem (which btw it kind of is, as the spaces available for women to be anything sexual let alone chatty have been very small for a very long time), just take a moment and try to recall the last time you heard a guy talk about not being able to get aroused, that he had lousy sex because it just felt mechanical and uncaring, or that he didn’t want to have sex with the girl at the bar he pulled becuase he actually liked/didn’t like/[insert reason here] her.  None of us are outside the social rules about talking about sex.

So when someone gives you the opportunity to talk about your insecurities and worries, well, particularly if its anonymous, I’d bet a lot of you would jump at it (and did).  Of course, there are a lot of other reasons young women participated, but considering what many of you had to say in reply to some very general questions, I’m guessing that this might have been a really good reason.

Which brings be to a larger point beyond how fortunate I was as a researcher to have so many wonderfully brave young women come forward to tell me about their experiences.  And that is the quality of conversations we as women have about our sex lives.  Now, you might think that as a researcher in the topic of sex I’d be a chatty Cathy about all things sexual.  And to be sure, that can be true, within particular contexts.  But that certainly wasn’t the case before I started my PhD.  It wasn’t until I was known as ‘the sex dr’ that my friends started talking to me about their sex lives in much more detail, and I started talking back.  Suddenly they (and I) had an excuse – asking me about the research presented opportunities for us to segue into their own sex lives.  It was great, and a good laugh, and comforting sometimes too.

These conversations are vitally important I think.  Sex is such a large part of our lives, in the contemporary context.  We are all beset by performance anxieties, pressures and fears, many of which could be reduced or removed if we sat and had a good conversation about things.  And not of the Cleo magazine kind – frankly talking about how to make ‘him’ cum does nothing for ‘your’ sex life.  We need to be having real conversations.  About things that really matter to us.  Because if the research is anything to go by, the issues are pretty homogeneous – we are all lamenting about the same stuff.  If we got talking, what we thought about ourselves that was worrisome of weird would probably turn out to be far more normal than we realise – giving us a chance to let ourselves off the hook, and move forward towards ways to resolve the issue for ourselves (which might go no further than simply realising that what you think is a problem isn’t one at all).

So here’s a little homework.  Have a ‘talk about sex’ night with friends – not one about how great Mr Y from Bar X was, but about all things real.  It may take a glass of wine to kick the conversation off, but I think it might be worth it.  And a lot less daunting that you think.  After all, sex is fun.  Talking about it, even the problematic, scary stuff, can be too.


Leave a comment

Filed under Research Results

Something odd happened on the way to the tax office …

One of the things about doing post-graduate education is the moment when you come up against the reality of related future employment.  Education means a variety of things for us, from being a means to an end to a passion project.  If you’re a means-person the likelihood of you getting a job in your field is reasonably good – though not guaranteed – because the means is usually towards the end of employment so you’re crafting yourself to the market.   But if you’re a passsion-person like me, the prospect of finding work in your field when you have a set of acronyms after your name can prove to be down-right daunting.  Let’s face it, how many employers are looking for someone with extensive experience talking to people about sex … (excluding the sex industry)?

This isn’t to say that we should curb our passions in the face of narrow employment prospects.  Just that we have to be realistic about the intersection between the education and employment sectors as they move away from education for education’s sake (which illustrates intellectual capacity, capacity to stick with delineated tasks for prolonged periods, independent work ethic, and so on) towards a more pure profit model – what did you do that we as employers can actually capitalise on beyond your having learned to be a good worker.   You can see why passion-projects, despite their often adding greatly to the body of knowledge, can therefore be tricky with respect to future employment, because these things are not always (often!) transparent to employers.  This is exacerbated in todays quantifiable world when your passion is qualitative and social-science or humanities-based.  Try finding a job when you not only talked to people but listened to what they had to say, and didn’t count it.   Unless you’re in marketing, there are very few spaces available.

So, what do we do? Do we NOT do what we are passionate about? Of course, this is the tension. Within the academy one of the first things we are told, particularly at Masters or PhD level, is to ensure that we chose topics of research that we are passionate about.  The logic is that we are about to spend the next one to two to three to five to seven years smacking our heads up against said topic, and if we are going to do it we ought to at least enjoy the pain.  And the logic is sound.  Really, the P in PhD should stand for passion, because doing it for other reasons can really be a killer.  So here we have the tension: between passion projects that keep us alive and up the chances of our completing, versus a job market that is focused on your product-potential – how much useable knowledge and skill can you bring to a profit-making environment?   Hence why so many SS/H PhDs end up flipping burgers at Maccers.

One of the ways around this conundrum is to be aware of the international job market.  In good old NZ there is very little opportunity to work in my field, whether by discipline (Gender) or by thesis (sexuality).  The majority of universities there have cut their gender departments to save dollars and up profits (despite often high student uptake and overall popularity), favouring disciplines that get government and private sector funding, or have high international student demand – disciplines like the hard sciences, economics, marketing and so on.  As NZ unis move this way, the death of small knowledge-for-knowledge-sake disciplines like Latin, and social impact disciplines like mine, get disenfranchised.  Some of you may say, so what? Why keep a dept that researches Latin? Why keep Gender when NZ’s OECD rating for gender equality is so high?   Well, these topics have changed history and society, and their potential to keep doing so is still alive.  It does matter how accurate translations are, and understanding the etymology of language is extremely valuable.  And as for gender, NZ has some of the highest rates of sexual violence in the OECD right along our high equality rating, and one that is highly gendered.  Beyond their utility, closing down departments that broaden the knowledge pool regardless of their economics impoverishes society, and goes against the ethos of universities in general – ie to increase the body of knowledge.

OK, now that I’ve harped on, back on track.  So clearly employment prospects in my native country are not going to be great.  For many of us, this is the case.  And why so many academics don’t work in their country of origin. With a shrinking academic job market, one that is being narrowed by economic pressures, it’s becoming something of a scrap out there.  So we have to be prepared to chase the work.  By plane, train or automobile. Because here’s where the irony kicks in.  That passion project that can’t get you a job in so many places may be exactly the thing that gets you a job somewhere.  The great thing about passion is that it is usually shared, and someone, somewhere might actually want to pay you for it.  You just have to keep looking, and be prepared to move.

Of course, finding these jobs is really a bit of a rarity.  Honestly, getting a PhD in language etymology and then being employed by Websters Dictionary doesn’t happen to everyone – though I know someone it happened to, so there you go.   I’ve seen it, and  it just happened to me.  After 5 months of trawling through the job market (depressing) I got a job in my field.   Make no bones about it, I know how extremely lucky I am, that I was in the right place (Sydney) at the right time.  And that jobs like this only come around once in a galactic cycle.   But then,  my new boss was pretty pleased to have found me as apparently we gender grads are rare gems these days.   So everybody won.  Which just goes to show that that obscure thing you toiled over for years can actually prove to be productive, despite what economists and skeptics and nay-sayers may say.  Obscure jobs may be rare things, but so are the academics that study them – eventually every old sock will find its old shoe.

It’s like a little ray of sunshine on a crappy day, isn’t it?  To know that passion can still get you a job in today’s cynical market.

So next time someone rolls their eyes at you and asks you why they heck you would study that in todays’ world, have a wee smile.  You know exactly what you are doing, and eventually you’ll be paying taxes because of it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Post-grad life

Off topic … kind of.

One thing I have been hesitant to write and post about during my research has been the PhD process itself.  But what the hell, its a new year, and I’m feeling cathartic lol.  Which probably has to do with the unending nature of PhDs themselves.

I think that, among some of my friends/family/acquaintances/connections there has been the expectation that once I submitted my thesis and got through the oral examination, it was all done and dusted.  They could mockingly call me Dr (rightly so btw), and then mock me once more when I get a job flipping burgers at MacDonalds (quite likely), whilst talking crap that no one understands or is that interested in (PhD side-effect, rampant, long-lasting, thankfully not contagious).  But no, horror of horrors, like every step in the PhD process, although the oral examine was the end, it was only the end of the beginning (0r the beginning of another end … I’m not sure which way your that goes …).

Thesis submitted: check!  Oral examination: check (and slaughtered btw).  Graduation …. hmmmm ok.  So, when they tell you you’ve passed your PhD, there’s a catch.  This is to be expected, PhDs are full of catches.  There’s the catch that once you’re enrolled, you then have to been accepted to keep that enrolment, then you have to get through the ethics stuff, then you have to get through the regular reporting to the uni so you can keep doing what you are trying to do.  And beyond the official stuff, there’s dealing with all the internal stuff that tells you that there is no good reason for you to be getting through the official stuff: haven’t they worked out that you’re clueless and a faker and that your research is going to be crap, yet??   Yes, PhDs are full of catches – some official, and a lot that are self-made.  If you’ve never experienced self-doubt before, just do a PhD – it will reshape the most hardened of us.

With all that in mind you can imagine the horror of the ongoing PhD process – the catch being IT IS NEVER OVER.  Lol.  Of course, this is not all bad.  Well, its bad on the days when you’ve had a guts-full of it.  But on other days there’s the knowledge that you get to indulge your brain in stuff that’s (hopefully) still very interesting.  But here’s the big catch for those of us at this particular stage of the PhD process (oral passed, thesis conferred with X changes): if we are not careful, we can spend another 3.5 or however many years fixing the small changes suggested by your thesis examiners.  The battle then reduces to pragmatism v idealism/perfectionism.  What do to, what to do.

This is where I’m at.  I have a list of required changes, and a list of recommended changes.  The requireds are kind of interesting, but the recommended are REALLY interesting, but require more analysis, more reading, more writing, more drafting, more thinking … more time.  The question, where to draw the line.  How to say stop to a process that can be horrifyingly addictive.  PhDs are like sugar addictions – we know that they can do to us, but we do them anyway.

Of course, once the changes are done, there’s the NEXT phase: publication.  If you’re like me then the nature of your research means that part of the examiners’ recommendations included book publication and mainstream press publication.  So, along with journal articles, a book publication, and mainstream press articles and release notices you have to ask, when the hell do I find time to do anything other than PhD stuff?  Ah yes, PhDs, the gift that just keeps on giving.

So with all this in mind, you can understand why I have been reticent about blogging the PhD process – because once the lamentation/celebration begins, it, like the PhD process, never ends.

But that’s OK.  Life is life that.  The best most worthwhile things drive us nuts, and are always reaching forward into our lives, but we are always glad we’ve done them in the end (omg, PhD has made me into a life coach).

So, expect gluts and droughts in the writing process, as I cycle through the love-hate relationship most of us have with our research.  At least I can relax in the knowledge that I am not alone – most of my PhD friends are equally as angst-ridden.  So next time you see anyone who is doing or has one, remember to give the poor buggers a moment of sympathy lol.





Leave a comment

Filed under Post-grad life