Why the hell am I doing a PhD?

16693191307_ce583223d5_n

No entry, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

Did I mention that I’ve enrolled in a Masters by Research, looking at crowdfunding? No? It must’ve slipped my mind.

Actually, I’m a bit shy about talking about it. I don’t want to jinx it.

I want to upgrade to a PhD, if all goes well. But I’m scared it won’t go well. All my hopes and fears sit within it. I want it to go well, and I believe that I can do it, but I’m still scared.

I’m scared for a lot of reasons. I watched my partner take five years to do her PhD. Five years! She spent a whole year on one chapter. It almost broke her. A lot of my friends have done PhDs and only one of them had a good time. Everybody else hated it, and some of them never finished. So, I swore that I’d never do one.

From past experience, I know that I am, at best, an average student. I love the idea of studying; I just don’t like doing the work. It took me five years to struggle through my undergraduate degree. Too much time playing, not enough time studying! Having no clue why I was there didn’t help either!

My previous efforts to get a PhD didn’t get past the ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I had a PhD?’ burst of enthusiasm.

Oh yes, I’ve been down this road before. More than once, actually. I work in a university. I work with researchers every single day. There seemed to be a million reasons why I should do a PhD.

Nowadays, not so much. There seem to be a million reasons not to do a PhD. Read more of this post

One research whisperer’s career so far (Tseen Khoo)

Last year, the indefatigable Angela Dobele interviewed me for her Women and Research newsletter (Issue 2, 2015, pp. 7-8). The interview, with some minor updates, appears below. You can find the original version, and previous newsletter issues, at Angela’s website (angeladobele.com) under “Networking Business Education”. Many thanks to Angela for allowing me to share my interview here! 

I wanted to share it on Research Whisperer because, of late, I’ve listened to several academics on panels talking about their research trajectories. These participants – whether they’re established professors, Mid, or Early Career Researchers – are almost always apologetic about the fact that they haven’t had a straightforward progression through an academic career. Very few scholars I know HAVE had what they think of as a straightforward trajectory.

For me, when looking at how others have travelled and the experience they bring, I find it more meaningful to consider what people have managed to create or invest their time in, rather than a clinical view of what jobs they’ve held. But before I wander too far off on that topic, here’s my 2015 interview with Angela: 

Asian Australian public history project: Hou Wang Temple (Atherton, Qld) | Photo by Tseen Khoo

From my Asian Australian public history project files: The Hou Wang Temple (Atherton, Qld) | Photo by Tseen Khoo

1) What is the best piece of advice you have received so far and why?

The best piece of research advice I’ve ever received (and try really hard to follow) is ‘Done is better than perfect’.

Perfectionism is a procrastinating behaviour and, in many cases, an excuse not to follow through on the risk of submitting that journal paper, or grant application, or conference abstract.

If you never feel it’s just perfect, then you can’t hand it over, so never completing anything is a sign of what a quality scholar you are, right? So wrong! Read more of this post

Mixed-up methods

A street sign leading to five different destinations, in Chinese and English.

Where to?, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr.

I’ve been seeing a lot of applications lately where the methods section starts something like this:

In this project, we adopt a mixed methods approach…

It is a statement that I’m coming to loathe, because the author is generally saying:

Warning: muddled thinking ahead.
In the following section, we are going to provide a grab-bag of methods. Their connection to the research question will be weak, at best. Hell, they probably won’t even be well linked to each other…

There are no mixed methods

In a grant application, the purpose of the methods section is to show how you’re going to answer your research question. Not explore the question. Not interrogate the space. Not flail about without a clue.

Your methods should present a road-map from not-knowing to knowing. If you are using more than one method (and, let’s face it, who isn’t?), you need to show that your methods will:

  1. Work (get you to your goal); and
  2. Link together (be greater than the sum of their parts).

You need to show me both of those things, not just one of them (or, as is sometimes the case, neither of them).

Read more of this post

When word counts count: Responses to last week’s post from @thesiswhisperer and @katrinafee

Photo by Jonas Vincent | unsplash.com

Photo by Jonas Vincent | unsplash.com

My post last week – “Your word count means nothing to me” – generated a lot of agreement and some high-fiving about raising the issue of obsessing about word counts.

I’m very aware, though, that it could also have alienated some readers and, indeed, friends.

For this reason, I ran the post past Inger Mewburn (The Thesis Whisperer and thesis bootcamp devotee; @thesiswhisperer) and Katherine Firth (Research Degree Voodoo and one of the thesis bootcamp creators from University of Melbourne; @katrinafee) before I published the piece last week.

Inger and Katherine are people I like, trust, and admire. I wouldn’t be comfortable with offending them in the interests of a bloggy rant.

They both responded with typical honesty, warmth, and generosity.

I really wanted to have their voices in on the conversation, and they’ve very kindly allowed me to post their feedback in full in this follow-up post. Thank you, Inger and Katherine, for your considered comments and insight! Read more of this post

Your word count means nothing to me

A “sadistic” writing app, The Most Dangerous Writing App, recently appeared on my social media feed. It registers when you’re not writing – 5 seconds of no typing – and starts deleting what you’ve already written.

At first, I laughed and moved on. I thought it was a bit of a joke, that no-one would really use it for academic work or their thesis. If anything, I thought that people would see it as a critique of being blinkered to anything but words on the page and other ‘writing productivity’ ridiculousness.

I was wrong.

People started talking about wanting to use it at their next #shutupandwrite session, to see how it ‘might whip them into shape’. They felt they needed something to make them take their academic writing more seriously, and this app might be it.

I went a little #headasplodey.

Read more of this post

An open letter to the ultimate imposter

Belinda Cash - smallBelinda Cash is a social worker with a background in disability services and clinical mental health. She completed a Master of Mental Health in 2009, which began the adventure into research as a tool for social change.

Belinda is in the final stages of her PhD researching the experience of choice for older spousal caregivers. Her research and teaching interests include mental health, ageing, social policy, service provision in rural areas, and informal caregiving.

She works full-time at Charles Sturt University, teaching in the social work and gerontology programs. Belinda tweets from @pinkbellee.


Image by Bernard Laguerre | www.flickr.com/photos/aldor

Image by Bernard Laguerre | http://www.flickr.com/photos/aldor

Dear You,

I had the good fortune recently to work with you in an academic training workshop. Just for the record, I thought you were great.

I guess that’s why I was so surprised on Day Two to hear you hadn’t slept well.

You said to me, “Whenever I present in person, my head likes to spend all night chewing over every little thing I stuffed up”.

Wait… WHAT?!

Were you even THERE while I watched your smooth crowd control (academics are a seriously hard-to-wrangle bunch)? Did you not hear your seamless presentation of interesting and engaging material? Did you miss the artful way you navigated relentless and tricky questions?

As all of this was about to spill forth in a vain attempt to allay your doubts, I stopped. Suddenly, I recognised something all too familiar.

Of course, you don’t see any of that. You felt every tiny moment of hesitation acutely. You noticed every less than perfect word choice as it slipped out. You felt your mind whirring ahead of itself, desperate not to stuff up whatever was coming next, unable to enjoy the moments of success as they passed. Read more of this post

Are my publications any good?

A pile of theses in a skip.

All that work! by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

The Journal Impact Factor may not be dead, but it is looking pretty ill. When a relatively conservative body like the Australian Research Council (ARC) says:

“The ARC is not prescriptive about what can be included [in a publication list], but applicants should be aware of the widely held view that journal impact factors are a poor measure of an individual’s research performance.” – ARC Frequently Asked Questions for Discovery Projects commencing in 2017, question 4.11

If journal impact factor is a poor measure, what is a good measure of “an individual’s research performance”? How do you know that your publications are any good?

You just know

I get asked this by new academics a lot. The question comes in many forms: “What measures can I use?” “How will people know?” “Where should I publish?”

The unspoken question often revolves around an uncertainty about, or a fear of, the value of their own work. Don’t do that.  Don’t pin the value of your work to the judgement of your peers, your promotion committee, or your grant assessors. That way, madness lies.

You know when you have written a good paper. You know when you have, through the pressure of deadlines, or the tragedy of lost data, written a not-so-good paper. Hold onto those feelings, that sense of judgement. It will sustain you.

Knowing that, here are some practical answers to this question.

Read more of this post

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27,822 other followers