Getting Gritty with it: the real thing

So here’s a thing. I’ve begun some long overdue editing work. It’s kinda boring, because it’s editing, y’all, but I discovered something. In doing this, I want to start writing again. The editor of the book is a personal friend and writing colleague, and the book is about a particular form of qualitative research called Narrative Inquiry, which is my thing.

Narrative Inquiry methods “story” the data and findings. In lay terms, we make meaning of social science research by putting raw data into a readily readable narrative for humans to connect to. In true terms it’s of course a rather messy and frustrating approach to analyse data but in meaning-making it beats most quantitative studies in the social sciences, because in the end quantitative researchers, with all their numbers, still have to put their discussions of the findings in ways that make it meaningful to humans. In narrative form. Often in the form of storied case studies, that sort of thing. Which Narrative Inquiry does from the get-go. Does it make the research any less rigorous? No, however, there may be ways of interpreting the research that quantitative researchers find using other means. Now, remember folks, I said the SOCIAL SCIENCES. NOT medical or earth sciences, or biotech or any kind of tech, really. Medicine and biological sciences need quantitative data much more than, arguably, the social sciences do.

As I’m sitting here doing the editing (which has to be done in little increments because it’s impossible to focus for more than an hour at a time on the stuff without losing the will to live), I’m all fired up and excited about writing again. I’ve offered to write a chapter in the book – according to my friend the volume’s a little short, so I’ve taken the bait. I had originally offered to write something about 100 years ago but I wasn’t in a good emotional space to be doing that, so I never submitted an abstract. I’ve given myself a 2 week turnaround for a rough draft of 8000 words. This doesn’t seem overly onerous, but there’s a whole heap of extra research and reading to do.

For every article I reference, there’s about 5 I read and discard. So if I include 50 references then I’ll need to read up to 250 articles for this chapter. Luckily I already know the field so more than half of the references are stored away in my brain somewhere, to be dragged out as a hoarder drags out his favourite rusting, teensy doo-dad from under the piles of equally rusting detritus, which he kept just in case. I’m going to send my friend the rough draft in early March and she can make the decision as to whether it’s good enough for inclusion. It’s a tight turn-around but it’s doable. The review process might be problematic because it’s usually very slow but the editors will no doubt send it to someone in the field who is known to do things quickly.

Seriously. It’s not as if I have better things to do with my time.

On the the Live Below the Line thing. I’ve been having another think about my starchy foods, and I’ve taken a little inventory of the food I usually eat on a normal day. Toast, eggs, sandwiches, pasta. I’m thinking I could buy a loaf of day-old bread from the bakery (cheap as chips), and some ready-made pasta, and this will do me just fine for 5 days with the other things. I’ll need to get fighting fit for the challenge. Perhaps a 2-day challenge to see how I cope with no coffee and wine? Not that this will hurt me, as my girth is back to its old chubster state.

I’m thinking on it. As you may have noticed, I’m a problem solver and this problem is rather delicious to play with. Also worthy. And as a cis-heteronormative white woman living near the 1% dream, I have very few excuses to shirk my duty as concerned world citizen. ūüėČ



Submission feels good, m’kay?

Hah! Got you there. You thought it was a BDSM site. Nah, I’m not into that kind of submission. Ew. Each to their own. Aaaanyhoo.

I submitted my Post Doc application today. The first of many, probably. But I got it signed off by my Research Centre Director, so that’s just the first step of joy in a long, long, long process that will probably be ultimately unsuccessful. And it’s the first independent study I’ve had an idea about since I had the aha moment to begin the PhD.

Why would I want to do any more study, my mother asks. Well, mum, I say, vaguely annoyed that she thinks that research is about studying when clearly to her I’ve been a “doing” person all my life (singing, teaching, NOT studying or writing down stuff or learning stuff). Um. Because I like learning about stuff, mum? And it’s an interesting job?

Now get this. My sister (Australian Indigenous Rights lawyer) has been “studying” her whole adult life, because most of her work is doing stuff like looking up stuff and writing down stuff and that sort of thing, reports and such. She is also undertaking PhD studies (submitting hers 7 months after I submitted mine), and she just got a great new job at uni. Blessed mum has not said anything remotely like this about my sister’s new job at the university, which is also about research and teaching. And studying.

SIGH. Apparently being a teacher and singer means I don’t write down a thing. Um. Yes I do. It’s kind of amusing to wonder what my mum and dad think my job actually is. I co-edited a book with DH about teaching singing. My name was on the cover. I sent a photo of me holding my book pointing to my name. On the cover. My mum and dad thought my DH had written the book ON HIS OWN. Even though my NAME WAS ON THE COVER.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my mum and dad to bits, they are awesome, generous, kind, thoughtful, lovely people. They are sending me and the fam to France to spend 2 weeks together in a CHATEAU. They paid for the plane tickets. They lent me a lot of money to buy our house. They are AWESOME. But moments like that give me pause. I mean, c’mon! My NAME WAS ON THE COVER.

Anyway. Life is pretty good, actually, proofs have come for my journal article which I have to complete by this week because Spain, and my students all seem to think I’m ok. Which is good, I guess.

But I want that Post Doc. I really, really do.

Calling yourself Dr.

So, my immediate question to myself upon reading my awesome email from the Grad School was this: when do I get to call myself Dr?

This is only important for the three months prior to calling yourself Dr when you’re desperate to get the degree conferred and the year or so after getting the Dr tag when you’re desperate to show it off. In my case, I need to know when I can call myself Dr so when¬†I apply for loans, official documents, jobs, and other such nonsense people take me seriously. (As a 40-something-year-old woman, I am deeply distressed by the ongoing sexism inherent in our society which¬†invariably determines that¬†my husband’s sex, name and status is greater than my own, and that I have little to no legitimacy when buying a house or car, borrowing money or stating an opinion. Banks are particularly guilty¬†of this sexism, as are car people. Cars and houses are about the most expensive assets/liabilities you will own and them that run the banks and car yards still seem to think I am unable to manage 1/ a car, 2/ a budget, 3/ signing stuff. I’m not sure my status will change very much given that as a woman I’m still a second class citizen, but I’m willing to give it a red hot go. Let’s see if anything changes. I know my DH is dying to call me his partner Dr O’B. He has even started calling me his partner and colleague when in polite company. I like this, because it raises my status from wife to academic, and we all know this is really important, amirite?!)

Also, and I think every Dr of Philosophy (and other) would agree with this, the doctoral journey is¬†such a bloody hard one¬†that the title is¬†deserved in every way. But everyone else thinks the Dr title is a bit of a wank (everyone else who’s not working in academia¬†tends not to¬†appreciate the stupid amount of work that goes into getting this degree. Gardeners don’t get it. Chefs probably don’t get it. Certainly students don’t get it – they think it’s definitely a wank, but then they think everyone who is 5 years or more older than them is¬†ancient and near death).

Aaanyway, so I think to myself, I’m sure there’s an answer somewhere about this. I’ll Google it. But before I Google it (or Bing it), I think to myself, I might just check and see if my alma mater says anything about it. I don’t really think they will, but hey, it’s worth checking at the source. So I get onto the Grad School website, and lo and behold, there it is, clearly a FAQ at the bottom of the thesis examination information: When can I be called a Dr?

The¬†answer:¬†If you are a PhD candidate you are able to use “Dr” once your degree has been conferred by the university.¬† The conferral process generally occurs¬†within 10 days of receiving notification from the Graduate School that you have met degree requirements.

It’s still 2 weeks until I meet with my supervisors about my corrections (wot I have already done). I have a feeling they will sign off then and there as I meet this criteria:

Changes – Changes are required as indicated in examiners reports and are checked by the Chair of Examiners. Three (3) months are given for these changes to be made.

Then the thesis goes through this process:

If you are required to make changes to your thesis after its initial review, upload a copy of your corrected thesis to the university eSpace along with a list of the changes made. The Graduate School will forward these documents to your School/Institute for review by the Chair of Examiners, the Principal Advisor and the Postgraduate Coordinator. When the thesis has been reviewed and the revisions assessed as satisfactory, your School will forward a completed Recommendation to Confer Degree form to the Graduate School.

So, I will be able to make some further minor corrections to the thesis when I see my supervisors, but I’m not sure it will be wanted. I’ve already ticked off all the boxes and done the revisions. It’s made the thesis better.

This means that on the 2nd February or near to it I will upload the amended thesis, the list of corrections, and I’m pretty sure forms will be signed as quickly as humanly possible so that the School of Music can be rid of me once and for all.

So I think I will be able to call myself Dr sometime in March. That’s my forecast. The most peculiar thing about this process is that over the years I’ve had an ongoing nightmare: what if I die and my thesis is unfinished, or I lose all my data, or I lose all my words, or I’m on a plane crash and have to try and save my computer because it has all my data on it? These nightmares are real: they have happened to people I know. Well, maybe not the plane crash, but it’s possible.

Now I have worked out many ways to save my data short of printing it out, and about 10 people have copies of my thesis. I have a DropBox account which I LOVE, and flash drives are still good in a pinch. But now, I don’t care as much about saving my Very Important Work. It’s just not important enough. I’ve moved on. Which means, I guess, I deserve the Dr title very much.

I’ve got it, by George!

My dissertation has passed with minor changes. Huzzah!!!!

Just thought you’d like to know. Got the news on Xmas eve, a fabulous gift if ever I’ve had one. I was at the South Melbourne Market with friends, idly reading my mail because I truly did NOT expect any news about my PhD until after New Year. It’s Xmas, after all. People go on holidays at Xmas, and some universities shut down all together for a week. South Melbourne Market is a fabulous, noisy, busy market, doubly so on Xmas eve at 3pm. I was standing near the Gozleme stall (mmm, yummy yummy Gozlemes….), contemplating a late lunch.

Aaaanyway. The email subject header was: Outcome of Thesis Examination. Gulp. With kerthudding heart and trembly hands I tried to open the email on my big new shiny iPhone 6+, fumbling with gifts and bags and the crush of too many people having a good time. Too much noise. Appetite gone. I sat down on a bench. Legs not working too well.

The first thing I read: the Graduate School has now reviewed the examiners’ reports on your thesis and is pleased to advise that you will be awarded the degree, subject to completion of the following to the satisfaction of your enrolling School/Institute and the Dean of the Graduate School.


That’s all I managed to read for a bit.

After what seemed like a LONG time¬†I read¬†the rest of the email and eventually found the examiner’s comments. Huzzah. Positive comments mostly. A few critiques of analysis approaches and some awkward juxtapositioning of methods I needed to fix. Some minor editing throughout, and a minor exhortation to be consistent with meanings.

Otherwise easy peasy. Hooray!

Last week I did the changes. I know, I know: people who get their theses back are often shocked by the amount of changes they are asked to make. Not me: I’ve already published. I’m used to being critiqued. Also, being a musician, we’re always critiqued – it’s part of the feedback loop. Sing for someone, they tell you what to change, you change it. Done. Plus, I work better with concrete suggestions. I spent a week crafting the edits in line with the reports, then sent it to my supervisors.¬†There are probably a couple more things I could do for added perfection, but I think I’m really done now.

In a few months, I will be a Doctor of Philosophy.

But don’t ask me to explain my thesis – I still can’t explain my study to the lay person without their eyes glazing over.

The NaNoWriMo experience

Nah, don’t be daft. There’s no way I’m doing this little exercise when I’ve just handed in my PhD. I’m exhausted and in no way ready to embrace the challenge of fiction just yet. But it got me to thinking. The National Novel Writing Month seems like a great opportunity to plan a future novel. Not this year, but certainly next year. I reckon if I plan my plot and my characters with enough detail, then next year will be a great writing opportunity. 50,000 words in a month? Sure. That’s less than 2000 words a day. And if a picture tells a thousand words, then what does a song count for? Cabaret, here I come.

Currently I’m resetting my brain to enjoy being quiet for a bit. Frankly, I’m so thoroughly depleted that I’m turning every day into a holiday when I can. If I’m not teaching in the afternoon I come home and veg out on the couch. I’ve been watching True Detective. A brilliant bit of work if ever I’ve seen it. Loving the great acting, scripts, cinematography, plot. Loving the way the writer creates tension and develops his characters. Wonderful, layered stuff. Anyway, I’ll enjoy being creative again in a year, I suspect.

But in the meantime, I’m creating a couple of book proposals for some big academic publishers. I’m keen to get on with this bit. There are a couple of days free in the next little while that look like possible prep days for my proposals, and then, New York.¬† !!!!

When the going gets tough, the tough go to the discussion chapter

Righto. I’m in that terrible non-sleeping place. Some might call it insomnia: I call it anxiety. I know exactly what’s causing it and there’s nothing to do but change my focus again.

Off to the discussion chapter I go. I knew it was nearly time to reshape it but as is normal my literature review has stumped me yet again. And as I don’t have the luxury of time to sit smelling the flowers I need to get on with another section, and my discussion chapter has been languishing semi-written in limbo land since January. It’s time.

I was hoping to spend another week on my literature review but I’m at the point where I don’t know what to leave in or take out. So it’s time to enter the world of meta-cognition and actually see where my substantive theory and theoretical underpinnings meet my findings.

After that I’m going to go through the whole thesis and see where the transitions need strengthening. Then it’s back to the literature I go, and make those final passes of literature or theory I’ve missed. I think for me the literature has been the hardest bit. Certainly the area I’ve put off the most!

Then I’ll go away for a few days with the whole thing printed out. I’ll read it out loud and see where it doesn’t make sense, and do the final pick up of grammar and spelling and in text citations before formatting and organising the appendices. Which are finished, by the way. A final fling of the introduction and conclusion to make sure I’ve not missed anything or made grandiose claims and there it is. Done.

4 1/2 weeks to go. With any luck I’ll get some sleep after that.

Thesis-baby is growing up. Sent her off to review-college.

On Friday I handed in my thesis for review. I am much closer than I thought to the end. In fact, I can see the end of the tunnel now. The light is there, shiny….

I’ve worked on my thesis all week including removing one of the research questions because, in the words of my supervisor, it is a rather circular question that is actually partly answered in the first two questions, and then part of it I can’t answer at all. So, take it out. Ok, quoth I. At this point, I’m not going to argue with the wisdom of someone who has done lots of these things. And I’m in need of an objective observer.

I wrote me an introduction on Wednesday and rearranged my discussion chapter. It’s looking better already. My friend (who got her PhD last year) texted me to ask what I was doing – nothing, quoth I, just sitting at home doing my thesis (and also looking at an old article that DH and I put on the back burner because I felt it was a bit too revealing and I needed time away from it. It was a good piece which I’ve sent to a friend for commentary prior to sending it to a journal). So I went into her work and we worked together. Just like old times. And it was great! Super productive and everything.

On Thursday I looked once again at my literature review and began to see a light where previously there was dark, dark swampy swamp. So on Friday I sat in my jimmy-jams and worked on the whole document, reading through each chapter and beginning to fix up bits that didn’t make sense.

And then I put it in one document. Yes, I’ve created a draft thesis. The whole thing. It’s 296 pages and some of it is substantially too long with not enough substantiation or in text citations. (I am a very wordy writer – could use some decent editing.) Other sections have no stuff at all. Including chapter 4, which is just a title. There is a ToC (table of contents). Whoa.

Now, of course, I’ve read it again. Blah. Sometimes I hate my writing. Other times I think it’s fantastic. Usually my writing is fantastic when I have to do it in a hurry. Guess what I’ll be doing in the next 2 months? Writing my thesis in a hurry.

And how did I feel, doing this? Well, DH was home when I sent it. I burst into tears. He laughed at me. He didn’t know why, but everyone cries when one waves the kid off to college. This felt like that – the beginning of the end of my thesis-baby.

And now I have no excuse to delay doing my personal tax.







Getting into the swing of it. Again. And again. Aaaand… again.

Holidays, or PhD? PhD, or holidays? That is the conundrum pendulum for today. It’s a Saturday, after all, and Thursday I actually did 5 solid hours of work, but the rest of my family are on their summer break and the siren wail of long walks by the ocean, chippies and glasses of vino beckon, and it’s hard to get motivated when everyone else is lounging about!

Friday I couldn’t work as I was packing the car, driving the children of step to the beach house, shopping, and cleaning the house. So I have a deficit of 5 hours to make up next week. I am determined to make the time up, because it’s marching on and I’m getting antsy again. And as usual, getting started is ALWAYS the hardest part of the PhD work. Once I’m in, it’s much easier to stay there.

I’m aiming for 5 solid hours of study/ reading / writing per day, during the week, and time off for good behaviour on the weekend. I realistically won’t get any more time than this, because even if I start at 8, there’s lunch and walks to be had, dinner to make and time to be spent with my kids. But next week will be 6 hours a day – nearly full time! Gosh! But this makes up for the hopeless November studying, when I only did the equivalent of one week’s study for the whole month.

On the plus side, no more Facebook means much less procrastination. It’s been super hard to do, and I was trembling as I deactivated it, but already I feel less jumpy and disconnected and I’ve managed to stay on task much longer. If people want to get in contact with me, they can call me. If they don’t have my phone number, it’s readily available on the www. If it’s that important.

I am writing this blog from the relative difficulty of my internet dongle – it only has 2gig per month available to me, so I have to be a little circumspect about how much I use. But this is the moment – when I am away – when it comes most in handy. Most of the time I’m connected through work or home, so the dongle just gathers dust in its case. Just as well I’ve paid for it anyway. Sort of.

So, December will be the month to finish draft one of the literature review, which is currently about 14,000 words along. Then January will be writing my discussion chapter and finishing the introduction. February will be to look through the whole draft once again and put it into one single document – something I’ve not yet attempted. I have yet to make sense of my methods chapter because I’m so far removed from this that I’ve forgotten what I did and how I did it! But it’s getting there, slowly.

One thing I have yet to do is try and find the gaps in my work – what have I missed? One of the areas not really investigated is the current opera and concert stage world – the business of opera and how we perceive it when developing our students for a career in this industry. There is little actual research available – mostly the current work is about transitions OUT of the profession, so I have to glean information from anecdotal information including news articles, opinion pieces, interviews with professional singers and the like. Luckily, some clever folk have published books on the subject (purely journalistic) but I can extrapolate some of the better information which should help me build a case.

So, even though I’ve not done any study today or yesterday, my brain is percolating along. Again.

Literature Review looms

I’ve nearly finished my uni teaching for the semester and for at least 3 days per week I now have all day to work on my PhD. This month it’s the literature review. I wrote half the review 3 years ago when I did my confirmation, but now I have to go back and rewrite with brand new and exciting information. The methods chapter was hard. This will be harder. My previous lit review had used Shulman’s “signature pedagogy” to unpack the ideas. I’ve abandoned that theory and am instead more interested in looking at cultural psychology theories to underpin my review. So I have to go back to the old review and scrub away all the old theories and reshape. Plus add the new stuff. I like the new stuff better, anyway. Signature pedagogy is a limited theory when you are looking at relational theories in singing teaching and learning.

So today I’m planning my next 6 weeks of work – I don’t go back to full time teaching until late July, and I plan to spend most of my days henceforth doing this one, exciting job. I need to spend time doing this one, exciting job because I have no money left to spend. Buying a car tends to do that to you.

Of course, I’ve planned a couple of weeks to do fun things like ICVT 13 (an international congress for voice teachers being held here in Brisvegas in mid-July, in which I’m revisiting some data from my survey that I did in 2010); plus I’m running an Winter Audition workshop for aspiring musical theatre performers from the 1st July.

So, actually, when you look at it, I really only have a month. But it should be about right to get some of the work done. So, rather than sit here and write about it, I’d better get on with it!!!!