Moving on from the perfect bathroom...


I've started my PhD, and this is how my brain feels right now. In some ways, it's good because it means I'm shifting something in how I'm operating, but it sure is a painful process. Let me explain. I had the first PhD workshop on 22/23 May and the first PhD tutorial on 7 June.  And I have to say I'm very happy...and excited. When I realised I had started my first PhD in 1998, I was just a tad dismayed because that was soooooo long ago. But I've never forgotten the promise I made to myself after I withdrew in 2001 - that I would finish my PhD. After my disastrous and ill-informed attempt to do the online doctorate at the University of Liverpool last year, I was apprehensive but had that gut feeling that the Swinburne program would be a good fit for me. It is. I feel like I've found my intellectual home for the next four years.

My topic integrates two passions - university management and the future. The backgrounds and skills of my two supervisors - Eddie Blass and Peter Haywood will give me the integration and support I need to make this happen. The folks in the cohort I'm with are really diverse and the conversation so far has been excellent - open, welcoming and challenging. And no rules defining what I can say when!

What has also been happening in my brain though, is a re-orientation or re-adaptation of some sort - that's the painful bit. The letting go to let come as Theory U would have it. The health issues I have had over the past year have had me re-thinking my lifestyle and focusing on things that matter, not the things that - in the long term - don't really matter. I've often said I don't want my tombstone to read 'she worked really hard', and equally, I don't want it to read something like 'she had really clean bathrooms' which I realised I'd been obsessing over (who me, a perfectionist?). It's defining this new normal path, where I find myself after coming to terms with the reality of health frailties. That's a work in progress, but I am seeing the value of the Buddhist principle of non-attachment!

It's a nice place to be in though. My instinct is telling me I'm heading in the right direction and for me, that's always a good sign. The PhD is almost signifying a starting point for me - it's a signal I've started moving on, leaving the health stuff, the ill-fitting online doctorate, and the perfect bathrooms behind.

2012 Here I go again...


I started my PhD by Professional Practice this week at Swinburne University of Technology here in Melbourne. I've written about my PhD saga since 1998, with the last attempt in an online professional doctorate in 2011. The day I withdrew from my 2011 attempt was a sad day for me; I wrote about why and won't revisit that. Let's just say, before you start an online course, make sure you won't be treated like you are school, rather than a doctoral student.

As the universe is prone to do, the morning after I emailed the withdrawal form from the online course, I received an email from Swinburne, advising that the new PhD was approved, and inviting applications. I applied, got accepted, enrolled and had the first workshop Friday and Saturday this past week. Everything is looking good.

I walked away from the online program not completely empty handed since I gained a stronger appreciation about why I wanted to do a PhD, and what I wanted to get from it.  My fist PhD experience was very traditional and while the online one was more current in terms of using online technology to create an international learning group, for me it failed miserably in how it used that technology to engage doctoral students.  The Swinburne PhD is structured for the first few years with workshops to support us to refine/build research skills and get us writing chunks of the thesis.

Now, I know a bit about research skills and methodologies, so I wondered if the workshop approach would be more of the same and of not much use. It was the opposite. Yes, the content was familiar, but the approach and exercises we did to start us on the road to honing our research question were excellent. I walked away with a much clearer view of critical reading than I've ever had (and I've done a lot of that), and with a starter research question much clearer that it was before the workshop.

What's the difference? Not that it was face to face, because the best learning experience of my life was 100% online. In that case, and in my PhD so far, it's the approach and abilities of the people leading the group of students to engage us and make us feel like we are partners in the learning process. People fear what's coming in higher education because it will change the role of the academic in the learning process, but the academic will still be the most critical determinant of student learning success.

I walked away from the workshop feeling positive and already prepared for the work ahead. I have now read enough and talked to enough people to know that a PhD comes with much pain and anguish, but I do feel confident now that I'm on the road to completing what I started 14 years ago.

And that means that, finally, finally, after around 25 years, I'll be able to get this wretched topic out of my head and into a scholarly piece of work that will mean something to me and hopefully, to people working in universities. That I'm looking forward to.