Not very good

This is not a content post.  Because I have no content to write about.  It is a excuses post.  A life post.

Just over two weeks ago, though it feels like an age, I was asked to step in an take over teaching a Masters course for a colleague and friend who is unwell.  It is a subject I’m very familiar with, and I wanted to help, so I agreed.  I was left with 6 lectures to prepare and a semester of marking to catch up on.  Plus the conclusion of my original class. On Thursday I teach 6 hours back to back.

It’s been really hard work.

Then, just to add chaos into the mix, I went to Shanghai for a week to celebrate/avoid my 40th birthday. This as a long standing plan, decided before I knew I was teaching ANY classes.  Turned out to be at the least opportune time possible. (But was fantastic.)

It means, as of today, I have completely avoided by PhD work for nearly three weeks.  And I’m horrified/terrified.  I have so much to catch up on a can’t think straight.  I’m at the point where I don’t even know where to start. It’s like starting from scratch again.

In addition, the night before I left for Shanghai I had dinner with a friend, who is my kind of academic mentor.  A lecturer and PhD from UniSyd he has provided me guidance and advice and has been instrumental in me getting to this point.

He chose this night to get stuck into me over publication, or lack there of.  I have justified all the reasons why I don’t want to focus on publication (lack of primary material, need to focus on my core goal) and he basically called it all bullshit and said I was just avoiding the hard work.

I claim I don’t know how to write an academic article. Which is largely true, but I don’t know how to do a PhD either and I’m working that out.

I argue that I am unlikely to ever get an academic job in this market. Which also is likely true, but if I never publish I’m guaranteed of that fact.

I say I don’t want to spend a year working on something that goes nowhere, gets rejected.  But how will I know unless I try?

It’s done my head in and I was really angry for him pushing me. And publicly, in front of his wife and my husband.

But he’s probably right.

Where am I? (And thinking about methodologies)

I can’t believe it has been three weeks since my last post (sounds like I should have started that with “Dear Diary…”)  It hasn’t been a completely unproductive period.  As I mentioned in April I was heading off to actually write my literature review (or the first half anyhow.)  I spent two weeks putting together 13,000 words on leadership theory.  I am amazed at how valuable this blog, and the posts on it, were in the process.  They helped clarify my thinking, create structure and contributed to content.  The good news in my supervisor was very impressed with the breadth and quality of the work (and then she gave me home-made soap-  love her.)  I’m to put this aside for the time being (likely a year) and to start work on my methodology and maybe ethics approval before I dive into leadership development processes for the second half of my lit review. The beginnings of my research will then help me determine where I need to go deeper, and I can revisit this writing. One key point – PRACTICE.  I do not consider myself a naturally good writer. But I have worked really hard at it, the basics like paragraph structures.  This work is paying off. Not only is it easier to write but I am writing stronger at first pass.  So my tip of the day is PRACTICE and WRITE.

This week has not been the productive one I hoped it to be.  I have done a fair bit of thinking (but I tend to discount thinking time) and a little bit of reading, which I shall discuss below, but I have also done a lot of wallowing and self indulging.  A few reasons for this.  1. My best friend had heart surgery (she’s going to be fine), 2. Another friend was diagnosed with cancer (prognosis good), 3. I was told that one of my arm bones is in the wrong spot (I broke my wrist 6 months ago when in Rwanda and have been in rehab ever since) and no amount of physio, yoga or positive thinking will get it back to where it is meant to be.  This is quite a blow to me.  4. Someone accidentally poisoned my do, by feeding him macadamia nuts (he’s fine but it was a scare.)  So I have been pretty flat, and consequently indulged in all my favourite indulgences – cooking (hand-made pasta), eating (said pasta and cronuts), shopping (UNIQLO), reading (not thesis reading.)  Funnily enough what brought me out of my funk was actually my Thursday teaching.  I had such a great class on cultural policy and social inclusion that I feel more energised.  So it’s back to work…

When I started this process, in my head many years ago, I had extremely clear plans on how it would work and what I was investigating.  To a large extent these ideas haven’t shifted too much (I say ‘too’ as they have, and are, shifting a little.) I want to know how leaders in the creative industries develop, and to do that I need to know what a leader in the creative industries is.

My first or second meeting with S1 she asked how I planned on researching.  “Interviews” I replied, with what was probably a smirk that implied “what else?”  She, knowing a lot better than I, suggested my thoughts on this may change and asked how I would get objective data on leadership development. “Pfft” was probably my mental response.

Over the past 5 months I have thought about my process a bit and realised that just interviews with leaders may not provide the perspective I need.  I considered an organisational case study to add this perspective. And then considered analysis of grant recipients and their careers.  Suddenly it was getting very big.

Then, this week, I started reading Doing Qualitative Research: A Practical Handbook by David Silverman and by Wednesday I had thrown out ALL my ideas and had no concept of how I would undertake this research.  I’m sure S1 smiled when I told her that.  Some of the 16 or so questions I’ve written down this week:

  • How do I not lead the interviews by asking about certain activities (mentoring for example?)
  • How do I remove the interviewer (me) from the process, and do I need to?
  • Interviews will have subjects looking back over their career and development and constructive a narrative as to what has happened. How do I know this is reliable? (It wont be.)
  • How do you isolate what really made leaders leaders? (You can’t.)
  • How do I know they are even good leaders? (I’ve worked for some that would be described as leaders but actually they are terrible.)
  • What techniques will I use to analyse the interview data? How do I learn these techniques?

Probably my key challenge is one of objectivity.  When I started I was extremely positivist in my thinking. I believed this was an almost scientific process to isolate the best development options.  However, the more I’ve read the more frustrated I was with most arts management/administration thinking that applied this logic.  It felt old and outdated.  I thank S2 for opening my eyes a lot in this area.

So I’m now pondering this idea of narrative, around the construction of leadership identity (or rejection of it) and how this can play a part in my research.  This moves me into areas that are very new to me theory wise, but aligns me more closely with the communications (where I sit in UTS) than the arts administration area (in the business school.)  It takes me out of my comfort zone, but leads me more into the realm of writers like Amanda Sinclair who I have enjoyed reading so much.

Process wise it returns me to the interview idea.  But potentially extends it to interviewing others around my subject, not just the leaders themselves. This 360 degree approach was one I had thought of, and rejected, very early and I’m really excited to potentially have it back on the radar.  And now I’m thinking of story telling, an area I have really been interested in from a leadership perspective since the 90s.

Suddenly my dry thesis is feeling a bit more creative, and this is a place I am happy to be.