Does outside research get in the way of the PhD?

You betcha! Although, in my case, my outside research is directly relevant to my studies. I am co-editing a book on singing teaching, which should be published in July 2013. I have to co-write the first and last chapters and also write my own. This, while directly relating to my studies, reduces by a month the time to work on my own thesis.

I am also doing a study on assessment practices, for which I am the project manager. I am also the main analyst – through a grounded study – so I’m the one who has to sit with the data and analyse all the interviews. And we’re presenting the findings in October, so I have to get cracking with that. This is about 5 hours a week of work, for which I only get about $40 an hour, but because my stipend runs out at the end of June, I have to do the work to stay fed.

And of course, now that I have no stipend, I have no visible means of support. I have to make the hard decision about whether to stay full time or to go part time on the PhD. Either way I hope to submit at the end of the year, so it’s no skin off my nose, but it will allow me to justify why I’m going full time with work commitments.

I have a few small commitments that, while only lasting a few hours, still take up precious time. Such as doing a critical reading for someone’s PhD; singing workshops and vocal health lectures. That sort of thing. Should I be employed full time at a university? I’m not sure. I’ve seen how hard my husband works, and I don’t think I want that. On the other hand, I’d love a few more teaching hours and then if you chuck in some lecturing and research – well, it all adds up. One can only hope. Anyway, I will certainly be applying for any gig that comes up at Uni over the next 12 months in research and project management, 2 things I thought I’d never do.

But do all these things impact on my study? Yes, they do. The learning from each of these endeavours enriches my knowledge about singing, about how to do research, about what is needed in a decent PhD, and about how to make the most out of my time. These activities might get in the way, but only in a good sense.

Getting published: the great publish or perish conundrum begins!

I’ve been working on a publication with my husband and some other researchers over the last few days, reporting on some research I conducted at a university last year. Now we are in the write up phase of the work – well overdue, as my report went in last June. I am really thrilled that my husband has fought to have my name included in the authorship, as I actually did the research. I interviewed the participants, I created the report (such as it was), I analysed the themes, and I still have all the interview transcripts and video data. One of the academics has been arguing that my name ought not to appear on anything as I was merely a gun hired to do the work. However, my husband has been pretty pugnacious about defending my involvement and actually sought advice from the ethics division at the university, and they made the position clear: if I have been involved in the work, then my name goes on the paper. I cannot understand why my name should not have been part of the authorship and I do not understand why the academic opposed to my inclusion was so vociferous in his opposition. He chose to have his name removed from the research. I am glad the issue was resolved. Another of the authors also (surprisingly) defended my involvement, stating that when checking the paper in “track changes” mode, my edits were all over it. Yep. I spent about 10 hours on the paper. A good way to haul myself out of a little low patch and I am proud of the work I did on that research study.

The paper is going to a major journal this week, and we should find out pretty soon whether it has been accepted for publication. With all the other well-published authors on the paper, it should get up, but one never knows. It will probably need substantial revision – I think it is a little long, and I think we could successfully edit it to a more reasonable length: at present it is about 7000 words long, and the preferred word length for the journal is about 5000.

Apart from reporting on the study, publications are vital to academics. Regular publishing in journals and books maintains one’s standing in academia, publishing provides valuable research points for universities and for a young researcher (sic) like me, it is a vital aspect of my development as an academic that I publish articles prior to my PhD being awarded. As I have written before, I hope to have at least four publications prior to my PhD being awarded. I am working on a paper about vocal identity for a major journal; there are two arising from the (separate) research done last year, and I hope to prepare a few more for various other journals as the opportunity arises. This is part of the great frustration of working as an academic in the modern Australian institution: publish or perish. To be honest, I see the point of publishing. It clarifies one’s thoughts, it publishes results from the study for other researchers; it shows work being done in the field. But I dislike that universities are making it an indispensable part of the work one does as an academic. Some people are just better suited to teaching and service, and research should probably not be included in their work load. I know plenty of lecturers and academics who are not suited to research, who rarely publish in their field, yet they are great teachers and administrators. The university system does not always recognise this. And of course it is not the fault of the universities that they are making research track record so important: it is vital for their standing in the academic community that they show research outputs. It is also to maintain government funding that they insist their academics publish. Rather product driven, I fear.

This paper, should it get up, will be my second publication since I began my PhD in 2009. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. In the meantime, though, time to see my supervisor and discuss my first draft of one of my chapters.

And of course, keep working at the others.

Feeling like a fraud

Yesterday I had a very positive day of good, solid PhD transcription/analysis, and I ended up feeling a lot better. My panic usually stems from having procrastinated a little bit and then feeling like I am falling behind, and then feeling like a complete impostor because I am invariably then running on a wing and a prayer. I am beginning another transcription today and I have decided to follow the same song from its beginnings at the start of the learning process in week 4, to the end, in week 12. This will give my transcriptions some continuity, and will also show the development of one idea throughout the semester, and how a teacher and a student deals with that process. I am very excited by this decision. While it’s not really very innovative (we see it all the time in  movies about transformational learning, where student 1 has a problem with work piece 1 and then we see the transformation of the process and the end result is brilliant rendition of work piece 1 becoming a springboard for all sorts of other learning brilliance. A comical rendition of T.S. Elliot’s poem Tiger Tiger Burning Bright springs to mind here!), I think it is a rich way of transcribing the events in a way that pure dialogue cannot.

I was reminded by my good PhD friends of the “fraud” weeks, where one has the sensation that one is false, unfit, unsuited to this life of study. I am not an island here. It’s good to chat with others about one’s feelings of inadequacy, and for them to not only sympathise but also empathise with one’s feelings. It is a common syndrome for all of us in this study life.

My fraud feelings stemmed from teaching outside my field of expertise, and having to make connections with areas of research with which I am not yet fully comfortable. I am getting there, and I recently had (almost as if my boss felt my angst) a lovely comment about my teaching from one of the classes. I immediately felt SO much better!

So my days are improving again, and I have no new important family stuff to take care of for weeks and weeks – hopefully nothing until next year. From April 8 I am taking three weeks off singing teaching to focus on my writing, and I am really looking forward to this time. I have little teaching at Uni, too, so it’s all looking like a clean slate for working on my thesis. I am getting a little desperate to finish my data collection, so I am wondering if I should send out reminders to my teachers to locate some ex-students for me for interviewing. I also need to do my final interviews with my participants, and I suspect that is part of why I feel under pressure and fraudulent.

Developing skills in problem areas

Today I am giving the third lecture in a series of 12 on Score Reading, Structure and Analysis. I took on the course because it was a way of getting into teaching in universities, but I have to confess I have really struggled to teach it effectively, as it is certainly not my field of expertise. Today, though, I think I might be getting there. Today we are looking at Medieval and Renaissance music. I have chosen several works to analyse, from the lovely Hildegard, to the bright and cheerful Morley work My Bonny Lass she smileth. The one thing I HAVE managed to do quite successfully is to avoid all mention of the Mass. No, I haven’t really, but Masses are really too big to analyse when there are so many other works to look at. So we are having a little teaser with a medieval Kyrie, but mostly in the Renaissance we are looking at Chanson and Madrigal.

Of course, I have to mention the Mass as it is the most common form of music up to and including the 21st century, so the kiddies need to know WHAT it is, even if they don’t really need to know most of how it is made. The Kyrie will do.

But, typically, I have been panicking as I have needed to work on this for at least a week, and I have not had ANY time to do it. I am nearly crying with frustration and tiredness. I have to finish and send out the QLD Coo-ee (nearly done, hurrah), to keep working on my PhD (no time there), do the budget and my timesheets for the ARC, teach my singers, find an accompanist for my students’ exams, have a birthday, diet, exercise, AND try and find time to prepare my Introduction to Research 101 lectures for Mutechs 1 and 5. I am running backwards!

No time, no time.


Shooting down the deadlines, one by one!

So, I have an ARC proposal to submit to the Chief Investigator for editing; I am giving a 3 hour lecture/tutorial tomorrow afternoon; I have a meeting with my supervisor on my PhD project on Tuesday; I am teaching all  day Monday, Tuesday afternoon and all of Wednesday; and Friday morning I am heading south for my sister’s wedding. Too much. Too much. But, happy to say, I have now found all my songs for week 2 for my score reading and analysis course. Unfortunately, the students will just have to put up with them all being American songs performed by men, with the lonely exception of the lovely Miss Patsy Cline, who sings Crazy. Oh, ok, and Kylie Minogue, who sings Can’t get you out of my head. Oh! And also Mama Cass, who sings Dream a little dream of me. Otherwise, all the songs are sung by men. And written by men. Which is worse, in a way.

Tomorrow I hope to send through my agenda item (1 only) for my supervisor, and if I am really lucky, I may even have 30 minutes tomorrow night to finish my idea for her. Urgh. I have not had one minute to think about my own research this week. My fault – I don’t prioritize it enough. After next week, though, it’s all mine.

This week has been beastly, too. Not for fun stuff – my sisters came up to visit and I have enjoyed taking them around the place, exploring Brisbane, but I have had no time for my own work at all, and I’m panicking about what I need to do. It’s March already!

That sinking feeling again

Just when I thought I had time to do my PhD, along comes some vital and sort of lucrative work lecturing, which means instead of spending Sunday doing my PhD work (I was hot and tired, too), I spent the afternoon preparing my first lecture. The first one always takes hours because it sets up the tone of the rest of the semester. I will be able to spend a lot less time in future preparing for the remainder of the lecture series, but the 1st one is always a killer!. Now I have a few minutes left to vacuum the downstairs floor before I got to work. It never ends. Then, of course, I am teaching for several hours this evening, so I will be totally buggered by Thursday – my teaching is getting busier despite keeping a tight lid on availability, and I am exhausted by Saturday, leaving Sunday a very half-hearted day for study.

This is a roller coaster of a year and I thought I was prepared for the work, but I am finding that my study is kind of losing out to the never ending stream of demands from students and institutions. Not that I am really complaining, it’s just that I want some time to do my stuff and the year is ZIPPING by. Will I ever finish my own work?!

I am the motormower! Koo-coo, coo-choo!

Or the Walrus, depending on one’s outlook. I am still struggling to be efficient in my time use when on the computer, but at last I feel like I am plowing through my work! Hence the motormower metaphor. This week I have been forced to abandon my own PhD work in favour of completing some work with the ARC grant I am managing. Today, at last, I feel like I am meeting some targets with this project, although the whole process has been a ring of fire. I guess after one has completed one ARC grant proposal the next time is easier, but at the moment I am swimming in uncharted waters, Walrus like, with no discernible result for my effort.

However, this afternoon, through the fog of government rhetoric and subsections A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and I, I finally began to understand where the gaps are in our current proposal, and what we need to do to fill those gaps. Or, more specifically, what I need to do. So, this whole process is like pulling a tooth, but a tooth that takes about 6 months to pull out. It’s slow, painful, and not like having a baby, in case you wondered where the birthing metaphors were, because at the end of this process there is always the possibility of the termination of the whole idea, when the government decides that this proposal is one of the 78% that doesn’t get through this round. Never mind we have spent about 6 months on it, lavishing attention on each word, on each delicate, flowering idea, nurturing the brainwaves of brilliant minds so that we can have some money to go do research on our chosen idea. If the government decides our project is not up to it, then it is OVAH!

I think I’d better stop before the metaphors take over.

The Christmas Madness descends

Yep, it begins. Monty’s birthday is early enough that we miss the worst of it, but from here on in I will have no solace until the New Year. I am supposed to be working today. This means that I am planning on spending some time doing the newsletter for ANATS (my final one); doing some work on the ARC, and planning my Xmas concert. The Xmas concert is the easy bit. Provide music for the accompanist, plan the rehearsal times before hand, ensure that there is afternoon tea and cake afterward. Plan the concert event, create a running sheet, print out the program. Super dooper easy. It’s all the other work that’s crapola hard thinking work. I have to get the ARC full first draft done this week. Why did I say I was going to do this??!!

Mum and dad are coming to Brissie on Friday. Thus, I need to prepare their room, plan the Xmas dinner being held here on Sunday night (same day as the concert – get it all over and done with at the same time, hence madness). I need to clean the house and buy Xmas gifts for the family: Haz and Adam. I need to buy gifts for my boys, although I have already bought them mock gifts.

And, then there’s Scott. What do I get for the man who wants for nothing, who is notoriously picky about clothing and who does not need stuff (except perhaps a new car)? I’m lost there. If I buy him something for the house he will accuse me of Indian giving. If I buy him clothes he will accuse me of trying to dress him in outfits that don’t work (and he’s right). I WAS going to buy him a desk but he has bought himself one already. He knows what to get me: I’ve been signposting for the last month. But him: urgh. I’m stuck.

And then, there is my work. My own work. My study, my lovely lovely data. Oh, forget about that – I don’t have time to even think of it! Next year, next year. Forget about December: too much happening.

Nime3 Conference

I have spent the last three days attending the Nime3 Narrative Soundings conference. I have found myself only partially attending to the very interesting presentations and I wonder: am I all conferenced out? Am I done going to conferences for anything other than the networking opportunities? While I have enjoyed listening to some of the presentations I have discovered that my mind wanders and I am drawn to attending to other things, like blogs, Facebook and online banking. Perhaps I need to confess: I am only interested in the work of Graham Welch and a few others in illuminating some of the work that they do. I am not really interested in Narrative Inquiry for its own sake as I have attended many workshops and talks already. Maybe I’m tired, too. I’m saying goodbye to my son tonight. He returns to Melbourne tonight and he’s leaving on a jetplane, don’t know when he’ll be back again. We took him out to dinner last night and then to a club where we listened to funk/jazz. I drank 1 too many glasses of champagne and I am old and tired today, sad and quiet.