Erm, let’s try that again: Hello, November and PhD land!

I’m now in the throes of finishing my teaching for the year, marking, and working on my PhD. The teaching thing has become a bete noir, as it always does at this time of year, but I’ve carved out several hours per day for PhD land.

Planning study time for me is truly difficult. Not sure why. It’s not like I don’t like studying, but I DO procrastinate. So my latest trick to try and get around this is to plan my study in 2-hour increments. That way I will stay off social media and email for those 2 hours, then take a walking break for between 30 minutes and 1 hour when I get up, eat, do some housework, then settle back to work again. If I can plan 3 lots of these per day then that’s an amazing work day for me. Even 2 lots is extremely productive. Last Friday was a very productive day and I found I stuck to my 2 hourly limits, even as the boundaries of the time line slipped a little.

Of course, I’m re-reading all my literature and finding great gaps, as I thought, so the frustration levels may be high as I reacquaint myself with knowledge I never knew I was missing.

On the plus side, I’ve been reading a lot about Cultural Psychology, and I’m loving this approach to how we think about being in the world, how we live and learn, adapt and thrive in a dynamic and changing environment. Favourite authors this week include Heine, Bruner, Rogoff, Bronfenbrenner (at least, his ecological model) and Cole. That’s enough for now though. Back to the grind!

A favourite quote today comes from Bruner: “learning and thinking are always situated in a cultural setting and always dependent on the utilization of cultural resources” (Bruner, 1996, p.4). Yes, yes they are. So now, as I have built my cultural resources on a rather unstable foundation of sandy procrastination, bye bye again!



Bwahaha I am so funny!

Apologies to anyone who read my last post and thought I was serious about my PhD study plans on Wednesday and Friday.

I was yust yoking, folks. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself as I failed (yet again) to do any meaningful work on my literature review. Not from lack of trying, however. I DID manage to create a very pretty scroll outlining my topics:


Of course, as I was determining what was known and not known I realised there was plenty I still didn’t know about my research, never mind what the rest of the world doesn’t know about the work I am researching.

Worth doing the research to support my topic review? Hell, yes. Do I want to do the research? Hell, no. Am I lazy? No. Bored? A little. Does this part of the PhD feel rather like the homework I failed time and again to do when I was in secondary school? Why, yes, yes it does. Do I need a kick up the bum? Yes, yes I very much do. Am I procrastinating again? Yes, it looks like I am.

My last post promised to be assertive on time management and planning. This I clearly failed to achieve. But I will try, try and try again to plan this thing and do this thing. Because I am SICK TO DEATH OF THIS THING. So, this is what really happened on Wednesday:

10.10 arrive home from the gym, sweaty and hot. Put a load of washing on.

10.15 get out my Cultural Psychology books and open Michael Cole’s seminal 1996 publication “A Once and Future Discipline” (Belknap Press of Harvard Uni Press).

10.20 get mildly diverted by FB and email and just have to respond to a request for singing lessons.

10.40 play with the dog and decide to make a proper cooked breakfast. Shower and get dressed. Stack and turn on the dishwasher.

11.00 wash up remaining dishes and put on a load of washing.

11.30 get started on PhD after closing my internet browser. Look at a book on completing one’s PhD. Read the notes from last meeting about the literature review shape. Print out the current PhD literature review. Look up FB and email again. It’s a tic I can’t stop. Clearly I’m addicted.

12.30pm start to create the scroll of literature review – designed to hang on the wall and shame me into doing it. Write a few points down about how to shape the review, from a very good 2012 book called “Completing your qualitative dissertation” by Volpe and Bloomberg, Sage Publications. Get confused. Stop.

1.00pm hang clothes on the line. Remove dry clothes from line and fold. Clean house a bit. Read another bit of literature. Write several unsatisfactory lines about the history of Cultural Psychology and realise I don’t actually have to do that because it’s somewhat superfluous in an 80,000 word thesis, and besides, Cole has already done that for me.

2.00pm all over red rover – I have to teach.

Friday was a little better. While thinking and constructing ideas I often wander about the house cleaning and this is what I did, showering, dressing and eating before 8.30am and managing to start work by 9.00am. Nevertheless, I was coaxed into going shopping by my good friend and very bad influence Sharon from 1.00pm. Which is what I did – any excuse not to work is a good one, in my opinion.

So, I think for punishment and perhaps absolution (one can never really escape one’s Presbyterian past – guilt, flagellation and martyrdom run hand in hand) I will do some work this afternoon before taking the dog for a walk. And maybe on Sunday I’ll do the same.

I am SOOO funny. Ha ha bloody har.


I’ve been waking very early of late or in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep, and I wonder if it’s because of the ongoing low-level anxiety that writing one’s PhD seems to engender in me. 5 years of low-level anxiety – I wonder how I will feel once I’ve finished? I’ve read that people often feel emotionally exhausted and drained, and are beyond all point of caring about their research when they submit. My main desire is to stop the mental battle between doing my work and feeling like a stupid fraud for even trying. Or my early waking could just be that we live on a busy street and I’m waking to morning traffic noise. Yes. That’s it.

My worst enemy is still my busy schedule, but if I’m waking early why am I not doing a quick read of a research text or other light entertainment? I assume it’s because teaching is SO exhausting that I’m mentally wiped out by Friday. I’m teaching 33 hours per week, and half way through semester I’m feeling somewhat breathless and rushed and racing to the finish line. My private students are doing preparation for auditions, so it’s a busy time of year. There are organizational elements to my work that have always terrified me such as concert preparation – marshalling the troops causes me great anxiety. I’ve the end-of-year concert to plan and eisteddfods to prepare for and singing exams for my students to prepare as well. And that’s just my private practice. My uni work includes a bunch of other stuff that requires careful time management. No wonder my PhD gets pushed to the side! However, last Friday, when I could (and should) have stayed home and studied, I went shopping. Clothes shopping. What does this say about my priorities?! Still, I now have a decent wardrobe and only want for a few more things. Like another pair of black dress shoes, some new sunglasses (both fell victim to Poppy the dog), another black jacket, an opera jacket, more slim-line casual pants…summer outfits…another handbag… (oops, did I say I like clothes?)

So, today I checked my timetable. I have blocked 3 hours for PhD work today and on Friday I have the whole day blocked out for study. That makes it 10 hours this week. Ok. I can do this. Breathe.

My Literature chapter is open, and if I start at the very beginning, I can see there’s a section on Cultural Psychology I need to flesh out. That is today’s job. Yes. How am I going to plan this? Well, in about 5 minutes I’m going to do the following things in preparation:

  • Set my computer to hide FB and email.
  • get out my Cultural Psychology books and open them on the desk;
  • get dressed
  • eat breakfast
  • go to the gym
  • come back, shower, change and grab a coffee.
  • at 10.30am exactly, sit down and begin to read and take notes.
  • 3 hours later, at 1.30pm grab some lunch and prepare Friday’s PhD work.

I presume this is the best way to do this writing jag. Not sure, not really having prepared my study in this way before, although I’ve managed to write much of my PhD regardless. It’s an experiment to see if I can stay to task. If I can do this today and Friday, then it’s my approach for the next 6 months. Because if I can prioritise and manage my uni work, my private business and our finances, I can certainly manage my PhD.

So, breathless and a little afraid, here I go.



Oh no! $129 on one book and it’s NOT VERY GOOD.

So, as a singer and PhD candidate researching singing, I was deeply interested in the new Potter and Sorrell publication: A History of Singing, published only 2 weeks ago by Cambridge Uni Press. I stumped up $129 for the privilege to have it sent out and it arrived, parcel post, this week. $129 is a substantial amount for a book. I am always prepared to spend good money on books when they contain something I might find useful. Well. Ahem. I was a wee bit disappointed.

Not by the writing, which is fine. Not really by the content, which, when you add it to Potter’s other works about singing, is a useful addition to his oeuvre, but because there is nothing new in it for me. Bugger. The authors write about the history of the conservatoire and quote Burney. I’ve read Burney. Bugger, and more bugger. Luckily, they do make a pretty contentious argument about the conservatoire environment on page 215, which is about the most useful paragraph in the book.

And some of the chapters are just plain weird. Why name the chapter currently titled “A great tradition: singing through history – history through singing” when it’s really “Classical music of the Indian Subcontinent”? Obfuscation there, IMHO. And why is it in the section called Recorded Voices? The layout of this book makes no sense. And also, why a bloody apologia at the beginning of this chapter? What is there to defend? I’m not sure why the authors are defending a perfectly reasonable subsection in their book. No-one has offered up a kategoria as yet. Why jump the gun?

Anyway. I’m a bit grumpy about it. So I now have to wait for the Oxford Handbook on Singing. Which isn’t due for publication until I’m ready to submit, darn it. On the other hand, my reading of Richard Sennett’s excellent book “The Craftsman”, which cost me $14 including postage, is making up for my financial loss on the other book. There are lots of stickies in this book, and I’m only up to chapter 4. It’s great. This book, plus my books on Cultural Psychology are becoming very useful theoretical underpinnings for my study. Definitely.

Now. Back to work on my last narrative.

And, just for a change, I’ve got some Monteverdi madrigals (Book 3), recorded in 2002 by Delitiae Musicae, Marco Longhini conductor, (Naxos) playing in the background. I’ve missed my Renaissance/early music connections. Earlier, I listened to Canteloube’s Chants D’Auvergnes, sung by Veronica Gens. Amazing how soothing to the savage breast music can be. Especially this grieving one.


Book nerd alert.

I’m a sucker for Fishpond, Amazon (until they began charging like a wounded bull for their postage) and the Book Depository. There. Got the ads out. Now, why am I a sucker for these book distributors? Because I can find ANY book on them published in the last 30 years or so. And even books published much, much earlier. I put a regular maximum budget on my book buying because it is my one great vice after wine and food. And because I could easily spend thousands of dollars on the things. And because I can’t get the books I want anywhere else. Retail bookstores simply do not sell these types of books.

My most recent purchases over the last month include (I’ve got a little list):

Vygotsky’s Mind in Society

Wenger’s Communities of Practice

Rogoff’s The Cultural Nature of Human Development

The Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology

Cole’s Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline

Lehmann, Woody and Sloboda Psychology for Musicians

Kitayama and Cohen Handbook of Cultural Psychology

Some of these books I read last year or earlier and I’m sick of having to remove stickies from the books upon their return to the library, hence, I’ve bought them. I’ve seen a couple of other books just recently that I simply need to have: John Potter’s History of Singing, and the Oxford Handbook of Singing. They’re out soonish. Another book I’m tempted by is Music Education in the middle ages. Tempted, if only because it gives me an overview of early educative practices that might feed into my knowledge about the master-apprentice approach of opera singing from 1600 on.

Oh, and just a little plug for my OWN book on Singing. Co-edited with Scott Harrison, Springer are publishing our edited volume of Perspectives on Teaching Singing: a celebration of Singing Pedagogy in the twenty-first century. Due out July, 2013.

So, told you it was a book nerd alert.

Literature Reviews. Where to start?

I am currently in the throes of trying to put together a literature review, cobbled as it were from bits of my confirmation document that I submitted last year (thank Dog I worked so hard on it last year).

My theoretical framework has changed, unfortunately, so I’m a bit stuck on where to start. I’ve 10000-odd words, which is great, because I’ve not many more to put together – my supervisor and I discussed 15000 words total, but last year my framework was organised round Shulman’s Signature Pedagogy and now I’ve moved on to Cultural Psychology theories. These theories are so different as to be non viable, even though they pretty much cover the same ground, and I have to fit in all my thoughts on what makes a singer and what then makes singing teaching and learning unique. 15000 words? Could take a hundred, AND I’m not even looking closely at adult learning theories. I’m pretending they don’t exist.

I’ve had a bit of a squiz through my mid-candidature review, which was pretty good, I thought, but I am a little concerned about how to develop my literature review to succinctly and clearly encompass the research. How do I shape my framework? I’m mulling over this one at present.

3 hours later…Ah, it’s always helpful to have a recently PhD submitting friend tell you how to shape your literature review. Should remember this for future panics. So, my friend suggested that lo! behold! I should plan my review around my research questions. Well, der. Why didn’t I think of that?! This sage, seven word piece of advice makes my job a lot easier. Over the coming weeks I will be working on the chapter, hopefully submitting a halfway decent draft to my supervisor before the end of January.

In the meantime, I have another conference paper to write, a journal article to revise, and two or three book chapters to put together. Before April. That’s a lot of work!

With my resolutions underway, I am trying to plan my working week to be more productive. At present it simply isn’t. So, the plan is (we’ll see how it goes, har bloody har har) to be at the desk by 8.00 am and work through until 1pm, with a little bitsy morning tea break at 10.30. This will be the sum total of any meaningful work on my PhD, as I just can’t concentrate on anything more than 5 hours writing per day. Then the afternoon will be spent doing meaningless tasks such as lesson planning, singing, walking the dog, teaching, running a business and the household, you know, the stuff of life. Hopefully by quarantining the morning for writing will see me develop a stricter work policy to get me out of my sloth impasse.

I give myself two weeks.

Another book, another comment

Ok, so now I’m reading Michael Cole’s 1996 publication “Cultural Psychology” (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; Cambridge, Mass), which seems to me an eminently sensible articulation of the main themes and premises of Cultural Psychology. I’ve spent much of yesterday and today underlining and sticky noting its pages. He refers, amongst others, to Bruner, Rogoff, Shweder, Bronfenbrenner, Lave and Wenger, and Engestrom’s Activity Theory. I don’t like the diagram used by Engestrom – somehow it seems too bounded, but I am starting to see where it might be useful, as it refers to artifacts, scripts and schemas, and all of a sudden some obscure terms are becoming more clear to me now. It is beautifully, neatly written.

I’ve been also reading some Carl Ratner, whose book “Cultural Psychology”  (2006, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; London) is misnamed. He is actually positing a theory called Macro Cultural Psychology. And he is fervently “critically realist” in his epistemological position, which is different to social constructivism. He is clearly opposed to social constructivism, which he claims does not allow for hegemonic primacy and discussions thereof. He claims that social constructivism “precludes criticizing any paradigm because it rejects any objective world or standard beyond the paradigm itself that could be used to assess it” (p. 227). He claims too, that social constructivism is “a kind of cultism” (p. 226). I think he misses the point somewhat, but then, he has taken a critical realist perspective, which he has underpinned with a political and reform agenda. So, I now understand why Rogoff, Bruner and others do not refer to his writings at all – they are diametrically opposed, despite using the same term.

This is a bit of a revelation.

You want WHAT critical theory?

So, I decide to do a PhD. I have a hypothesis. I have a plan to research hypothesis. I could do a lovely scientificky one that does a lot of data analysis using stats, but no. I decide to go with a Narrative theorist, who then introduces me to cultural theories and critical theory, and now I am fooked. Fooked, I say. Completely confused and a bit annoyed that I have to keep fossicking around for the right theory to “fit” my research. Why oh why didn’t I choose the BLUE pill?

I’ve researched Deci and Ryan, and motivational theories, I’ve looked at Bruner and Clandinin and Lave and Wenger. I’ve begun to traverse the minefield of Nel Noddings, Shulman and other educational theorists and I’m even (tonight) looking at Deleuze! I’ve wandered through Bourdieu but found him impenetrable and frankly a wank, so where does this leave me? With a bunch of overly complex theories that essentially just confuse me and leave me feeling a bit stupid. I feel like my lovely, simple project has been hijacked and I’m annoyed that I can’t find my way. Urgh.