Melbourne feelings

I’m on my second day of a six day trip to Melbourne.  It fills a variety of needs:

  • I’m conducting five interviews for the PhD, one completing my ‘festivals’ group and another four on the advertising sector,
  • I’m meeting with two people from Melbourne Universities, one of whom is the editor of the journal I submitted to in June (and am yet to hear anything back.)
  • I’m meant to be writing my paper for the December conference,which I need to have drafted in two weeks and submitted in four,
  • I’m getting my Melbourne groove back, knowing we’ll be living here again in three months.

I’m doing all of these things to varying degrees of success. All the advertising interviews are done, more on that below, and they were different to what was expected.  The University meetings are tomorrow and I am less concerned about these now I know that I don’t really care if I get an academic job, or teach next year.  They were important when I was considering changing university, but as I realise that was a bloody stupid idea, now they are just a nice chance to drink more Melbourne coffee. (Got to stop drinking so much Melbourne coffee as I think I might have heart palpitations.)

My paper….yeah that hasn’t happened.  All the hours, or the few hours, I’ve had between interviews have been spent a) seeing friends, b) getting my Melbourne groove back, c) drinking coffee, d) eating too much.  But tomorrow IT’S ON. (Aside from the three meetings/coffees I have in Brunetti’s cake shop in Carlton.)

I can hand on heart say I have achieved the last point. There’s been some collective worry, on my part and by others, about how we might go settling back in to Melbourne, but the moment I arrived yesterday it was like I exhaled for the first time in months.  As my best friend says: these are my people.  I cannot wait to be home again.

Back to my interviews.  I feel I owe the advertising sector an apology.  I had preconceived ideas about the how these participants would be, full of swagger and bravado, bluster and self-confidence.  But I think I underestimated them.

The primary participant was a crazily successful 27 year old, doing some amazing stuff and winning international awards, who still wont embrace the title leader. Those around him said he was in many ways unique in the sector, which is not ideal for me in the fact he isn’t necessarily representative, but that he has an extraordinary brain and creative capacity.

I had expected to find a very individualised culture, with little evidence of social learning.  In some cases that was true, but in some cases not.  What I found was that advertising tends to pair up copywriters and art directors, like a marriage (a descriptor everyone has used) and they work together, but it is not necessarily a community of practice approach.  Many still prefer to undertake creative work alone.

There was still the same level of ambiguity with regard to leadership, but in discussions there was an agreement that a ‘new definition of leadership’ is required. One participant even sent me an email that said:

I think we need a new word or phrase to encapsulate this role for the future.  ‘Leadership’ seems too top down and hierarchical to me, which goes against the notion  of collaboration. Don’t have an answer, but I think if it could be done, it would allow people to take ownership of the role.

Which is really my thinking as well.  I had expected advertising to be much more ‘corporate’ in it’s approach and thinking, when it is actually more aligned to the arts world.

One thing that is sticking in my mind, however, is the high level of outside interests discussed.  Every participant in this group mentioned their (often creative) practice outside of advertising – music, business/product development, art, not for profit work.  If you look at the labour market statistics in the creative industries there is a high proportion that work multiple jobs – mainly because of freelance work or economic necessity as being an artist doesn’t pay the bills.  But these advertising guys aren’t doing it for the money or the job. They all work full time and admit to being paid very well.  The said they do it for perspective and creative outlet (even though their day jobs are creative too.)

They also contemplated, in some cases, that these outside work creative endeavours are their places of leadership and learning.  They are their communities of practice. Despite spending 10 hours a day, 5 (often more) days a week with their creative agency colleagues they are not necessarily considering them as their creative learning peers.

One senior leader in an agency did talk about the difference between a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ agency.  A good one is open to collaboration and works collectively, a bad one is more competitive.  As there are many scholars that say communities of practice cannot be created in an organisational context, there may be some truth in this. And others argue organisation is the enemy of creativity, but by definition advertising agencies are ideas generating organisations.

I don’t have it all worked out, I’m over tired, a little frazzled from everything going on in my life right now, and have drunk WAY too much coffee.  But it’s more food for thought.

The role of the organisation

It’s the last day of my five-day thematic writing exercise and it’s achieved a number of things. Firstly, it has got me writing again. I’ve had a break from writing since I finished my paper in late June.  Next week, as I go into the context chapter, it won’t feel so foreign to me. Though the style, and the references, will be very different. And I’m be back in Scrivener not here.

Additionally it has me thinking more about the structure of my thesis, and planning out the ideas in a more cohesive way.  So I’d highly recommend the activity.

The last theme I am thinking of exploring is that of the role of the organisation.  I have two distinct groups of participants in my study, and it will likely be an almost 50/50 split when I’m done (couldn’t have planned it better.)  The first have the more ‘traditional’ experience of working within an organisational structure.  And most of these have moved from organisation to organisation in their career.  They have bosses and colleagues, team days and training. Most are from the cultural sector, but I have one or two from outside who are influencers.  It’s the cultural sector ones I’m focussing on. The second are the freelancers, entrepreneurs and volunteers. These are those that run their own businesses, cobble together multiple jobs to stay afloat or are not yet employed in the sector they want to be (only one or two fall into this space.)  Of the freelancers they are either moving from job to job as their environment dictates, or building their own business models.

This latter group are the ones a lot of creative industries literature talks about.  Those with a (potentially) precarious nature of employment. While this is not my focus you can’t escape the comments from participants about the challenge of survival without a regular income.  For those in digital media there was sometimes a conscious choice to freelance (with contracts that were between one and three months in length) to build a ‘brand’ and get big names on the resume, but once they had established themselves, got a bit older, and needed to settle down because of family responsibilities, then the lure of an organisation become stronger.

For those outside the organisational dynamic there was little expectation of career or leadership development, when you were entering into an organisation for a one-month stint there is little time for an orientation. Here is where the cooperation model (from Tuesdays‘s post) kicks in, when everyone knows their roles there is no need to team development.

For those inside organisations, however, I am interested in what role they play in facilitating staff leadership development. And it is a bit of a mixed bag.  There are two or three sectors where the organisation plays an active role, theatre being the most obvious, but I’d also say design.  In some other cases, such as music, there was money being spent on staff development or at least time being given away from the workplace, but it was more to attend externally run courses, not an in house development approach.  Here is where there is a difference between leader and leadership development – sending a manager off to attend an external leadership course probably benefits them, and the flow on may benefit the organisation through better management, achievement of goals and staff retention.  But putting that money toward staff development in house, that focuses on leadership (not leaders) would benefit the whole organisation, and the flow on would be greater long term (IMHO.)  Interestingly I’ve heard that a lot of those who go through leadership programs end up leaving their organisation – which is the same in other sectors, so it can also become a disincentive to send high potential individuals out.  Maybe an organisation approach would have the reverse effect retention wise?  So maybe I am calling for more organisationally focussed training?

The second issue with regard to the organisation is an attitudinal one by the individuals within it.  While there are those who see development as essential for the sector, there are also those that see their leadership roles are having a staff development aspect to them.  But, unfortunately, not all.  I come from corporate companies where managers were sometimes assessed and rewarded by how well they did in developing staff, this is definitely not the case in the creative sector.  I think there are a few factors involved:

  • Lack of knowledge.  Those managing staff in small arts/cultural organisation have little experience or understanding of the importance of staff development.
  • Lack of care. In an industry where interns are junior staff are lining up for jobs there is the assumption that there will always be someone to take their place. And the idea of retaining staff and organisational knowledge is not really on the radar. I was told in the interview for my last job that my next step with out outside the organisation as they had no development or progression. And they were right, I lasted less time than I’d hoped to as their lack of care in this area made it an unpleasant place to be.
  • Lack of time/resources.  This is a week excuse, as it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time to meet with staff, develop a coaching plan, set goals and the rewards are great.

The first two here are what I think the sector needs to change. How much of this is this creeping neo-liberalism though? Organisations do not see themselves as responsible fro provision of development as we live in an individualised economy where career success was all on you. The course I participated in, and later taught, at COFA was all about making better managers/leaders in the arts space and I hope that all the students who went through it at least had more knowledge and realised that it is an important area.  I am still staggered by the comment I got in one interview that a new staff member’s arrival was a chance for him to ‘sink or swim’, rather than a chance for the organisation to develop his capabilities to mutual benefit.

In this case there needs to be more sectoral support in a) basic management of staff, but also b) the understanding that participating in leadership development is not all about you. It’s about how you learn to develop others. Because without the ‘others’ you ain’t got nothing.

Geography and space

Day four of my thematic free writing and I’ve been so pleased with the way it’s been going. Now if I can just extend these 900 words posts to 5,000 word posts then the thesis will write itself!

Before I get started on today’s theme, how many big idea do I need? Is it really one big idea (communities of practice as leadership development tool) with a number of little ideas under it? At the moment I have the big idea (CoP) and five potential sub-ideas (collaboration v cooperation, individual v collective, failure & confidence, geography & space, luck & humility in career entrepreneurism) and maybe I can’t escape acknowledging gender. I’m sure this will change. After writing these five I am returning to write my context chapter (really) and a conference paper before I start real data analysis at later in the semester.  I’ve locked in another 5 interviews, which will bring me to about 43.  This is more than enough, but I really want to include film animation, because I have a very opinionated friend in the sector, but he’s currently living overseas and not sure when he will return.  May have to make a judgement call on this.  But I’m confident I’ll go into 2016 with a whole year with nothing to do but write. (Oh god.) Draft complete by end of the year, with submission early 2017. That’s the plan.

Back to geography and space.

I’m sort of combining two themes, that I haven’t completely thought out yet, into one section.  The first is the impact of geography.  My participants come from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart with the odd individual in rural NSW, Gold Coast and soon two international contributions (Australians based internationally.) The vast majority are in Sydney, which should be about 55% by the end of the study.

So my first question is how has geography impacted development of communities of practice and leadership capability? It probably isn’t surprising to suggest that the smaller cities, Adelaide and Hobart, were more open about being collectively developmental and supportive of their sector.  They saw their role as helping their industry to flourish and build audiences when the market was not as big.  This flowed on to the more prominent idea of a community of practice for my emerging leaders, which then lead to a willingness to be seen as a leader.  And potentially in both cases the primary subjects recognised that they were, or were becoming, a relatively ‘big fish in a little pond’. (In no way is this said in a derogatory or ego driven fashion.)

Compare this to Sydney and the common theme was one of movement, competition and, honestly, a bit of a ‘sink or swim’ attitude.  I’m probably reading my own experience a little into this, as I’ve always found Sydney workplaces to be more aggressive and less supportive than Melbourne ones.  There was a more obvious ambition and conscious career climbing demonstrated in Sydney, and less of a community of practice feeling.  Thinking back to some of my very early interviews there is a stronger sense of individualism and individual career responsibility.  But this is something I need to explore in more depth. What’s interesting is there was a lesser tendency to embrace leadership amongst my Sydney participants, and I wonder if that is based on the idea of seeming unworthy in a competitive market? More ability to compare yourself to lots of other self promoters?

The role of geography can lead back, theoretically, to the role of cultural geography and the idea of creative clusters. Creative industries economists, and cultural geographers like the often ridiculed Richard Florida, explore the sustainability of creative sectors and how they draw people to them. There appears to be a level required to be sustainable, and maybe only Sydney and Melbourne really achieve this on a large scale.

The second part of this theme is that of space.  And this is a very new idea I’m considering and I may only explore it if I can throw in a new interview specifically looking at this area.   If communities of practice cannot form due to shared participation driven through undertaking work projects together, can it develop in other ways, such as a shared use of space?

Take visual artists. The group of participants I have from visual arts seemed to be the most individualistic and least developmental of all my participants.  Even though some shared organisations.  But, I had an off-hand conversation with a different, very successful, visual artist at the Surry Hills market one morning, as you do, who told me he’d recently moved into a shared studio space, with a group of (also very successful and well-known) visual artists and how it had changed his practice and outlook. All of these were individual practitioners, but he said that it was a much better working experience sharing space with others.  I’ve literally just reached out to him this morning with the idea of conducting a short interview exploring this.  That and I want to buy one of his paintings before I leave Sydney 🙂

There’s a lot of consulting work going on in the social learning space that looks at the role of online in facilitating peer learning. This is not an area I want to go into, though my meeting with the Australia Council last week we did explore the under utilised online space which is not enthusiastically embraced by the arts community. Maybe next project.  But I think there may be opportunity to link leadership – learning  – space – urban creative clusters from cultural policy perspective. (Or maybe this is too big and is a secondary research idea too.)

Now I’m going to look at space and geography from a new perspective – trying to find rental properties in Melbourne.

Individual versus collective

I mentioned in yesterday’s thematic post that the idea of the individual versus the collective may be a big, politically charged theme that I don’t want to get into.

I’m not sure how I can avoid it though.

When I started this research I came at it from a positivist approach, as that was pretty much my default way of thinking when I hadn’t been exposed to research methodologies, epistemologies or any other ‘ologies.  My focus was on the individual emerging leader and what they did, learnt or experienced that helped them build leadership capability.

This started to change (surprise!) when I spent more time reading.  The first change was understanding that leadership related to more than just the leader – it includes the followers. A basic and fairly obvious thing to realise, but one that is an early on ‘aha’ moment, which I wrote about here. I watch my students go through this shift in thinking now as I teach.

The second, and more important to me, change is the one between leader and leadership. Which I’ve written about previously, but I can’t find the post.  Rost (1993) wrote about how most leadership development was actually leader development, focussing on the individual when it should be leadership development focussing on the all parties involved. This probably helped me progress to the methodological approach to include people around my emerging leader, not just talk to the leader themselves, but also pushed the notion of the collective.

Then,of course, I have the emergence of communities of practice as a central component of my research. By definition this is a collective or social learning process, which again shifts thinking away from the individual.

Linked to all this, however, is not only leadership development being individually focussed (which is actually less important for these participants are most have not attended leadership development programs) but career development and educational messages also being individually driven.

When delving into the worlds of career models, when thinking about my journal article that became something else, I read a lot about protean and boundaryless careers and how they are linked to the cultural and creative industries, particularly through writers such as Ruth Bridgstock.  The rhetoric here is one of the individual being in control of their own career, and decisions being made based on values as much as economic or status. Internal motivation as much as external.  I can see my own contribution to this dialogue in my teaching and discussions with creative industries students – you will likely be an entrepreneur, you will change jobs, you need to learn requisite skills, you likely wont be trained by your employers.

So there is this individual push toward learning, self-awareness, self-control of career, that contradicts with the notion that we still learn collectively outside the educational environment and a focus on individual learning responsibility may mean we miss the potential opportunity to facilitate social learning and communities of practice that are so valuable.

While leads to the inescapable notion of neo-liberalism and its pervasive influence in the educational and economic systems.   To paraphrase Angela McRobbie (2002), a scholar I’m very fond of:

Creative work increasingly follows a neo-liberal model, governed by the values of entrepreneurism, individualisation and reliance on commercial sponsorship. One consequence for the relatively youthful workforce is the decline of workplace democracy and its replacement by network sociality.

She claims that the notion of the auteur, traditionally associated with film, writing and fashion, has been extended across the creative sector in what is now a highly individuated workforce, and that is not just about the individual per se, but less permanent social relations that are characterised by a perception of freedom and choice. Universities and educational institutions, and teachers like me, support this through the promotion of entrepreneurial skills in courses.

From here I can’t help but leap back to some of the statics around the creative industries, in particular the precarious nature of employment.  One one had there are those like Hesmondhalgh who critique the creative world’s structure of short-term contracts, lack of unions and individual employment focus, while many from the creative industries camp, like those at QUT, say precarity is less of a problem and that as a sector the creative industries earns higher than average and has better psychological conditions.

It’s hard not to see the latter’s approach as one that supports this neo-liberal approach which places all career success, or failure, on the individual who has none of the traditional workplace support that may have existed in other sectors.

Which makes my communities of practice idea even more important. Many have spoken of how their community provides psychosocial support (echoed by Higgins 2010) in dealing with the tempestuous employment conditions they face.  Particularly women, who tend to, early in their career, internalise rejection as being their fault, not a result of the institutional arrangements they face. (Hey, sounds familiar!)

So by taking an individual learning approach we are neglecting the benefits of the collective in not only development of capability but in filling the void in workplace support that used to come from organisations, professional association and unions. That said, McRobbie and scholars of her ilk argue that networking, or network sociality, has become required for career success and that this may be a challenge for many.  The way I’m thinking, however, is there is still a distinction between legitimate peripheral participation in communities of practice and networking for employment purposes, in the same way collaboration and cooperation are different, networking and social learning are different.

So a conclusion may be that we need to increase understanding of social learning and communities of practice within the educational curriculum of creative practitioners to help facilitate post-University learning.

Collaboration versus cooperation

Theme two in my exploration of the big ideas underpinning my research is probably the mother of them all….maybe. I’m toying with the idea of the individual versus the collective, which I’ll write about tomorrow, but this leads me into all sort of political areas that I know I’m interested in, but I’m not knowledgable enough on.

Collaboration became one of my most though about ideas after I visited Adelaide in March. I was so energised and excited about the interviews I conducted there.  Here was a group that were under-resourced, yet banded together to produce great work (I can only assume as I didn’t get time to see it) and, most importantly, valued the role of learning in their community.

From interview one I was intrigued by the idea that working collectively (and I use the different word on purpose) could be a critical factor in the development of leadership capability, and importantly for me, the willingness to embrace leadership identity.  Participants seemed to consciously draw together to achieve shared goals, which is obviously necessary to produce an art form that takes many people, but also recognised the learning they received from each other.

Institutionally, organisationally and academically this learning also seemed to be recognised and mechanisms were put in place to facilitate networks and shared practice. Coming after the final interviews in the visual arts arena, which were highly individualistic in nature, this was a massive difference.

This propelled me down the communities of practice path, an area of learning I had never come across before. To the point that I’m now writing a conference paper on it and in the recent FASS 3MT competition I proposed that this is a primary finding.

But then, in May, I went to Hobart to talk the film community there.  They have many similarities with Adelaide, in that they are a smaller city that requires a supportive community to survive (the role of geography and space is another theme I’m considering too. More on that later.)

The film work experience came up slightly in my Adelaide research, with participants suggesting it was very different and their experiences in the different sector were not positive.  I wanted to test this theory, both disciplines are collective in nature are they not? Surely the same learning would apply?


My primary participant in film told a fascinating story about their university experience, which contrasted incredibly with that of theatre.  (In a strange twist I actually knew this group at the Melbourne University they studied at way back in the 90s as I was a volunteer on some of their projects.)  There was no evidence, early on in this subject’s history, of the shared learning and confidence that developed through communities of practice and participation.  In fact almost the opposite occurred, early career development was stifled by a negative experience of collective learning.

A memory floated into my consciousness. Late last year I met a very successful cinematographer at a party (as you do, though it was probably the only party I went to last year.)  We got talking and he told me that film sets were an exercise in role understanding. Everyone knows their job and they can walk in on day one and produce because of the clear demarcation lines.

One Hobart subject (who predominantly works in film) explained to me took a role in a theatre production where they spent two weeks in a room brainstorming ideas and visiting the Botanic Gardens.  He thought “I’m getting paid for this?” The perceived ‘luxury’ of spending time together jointly producing the work was not something he experienced in his other jobs.

So we see that even though both of these art forms are collective, they are not necessarily collaborative.  Film is a sector I would describe as cooperative, not collaborative.  In the ‘award winning’ paper delivered at AIMAC 2015 Jyrämä and  Äyväri write:

“In order to create joint practice, or activity, for the intersection of communities of practice, it is noteworthy to make a distinction between cooperation and collaboration. Cooperation refers to tasks divided separately with defined responsibilities. Cooperation might occur at the intersection of communities of practice without any changes in respective values and norms. On the other hand collaboration refers to joint problem solving, building interaction, and understanding the others’ values and norms, in other words, creation of a sub- community, team or new joint practice. (Nissen et al., 2014.)”

This explains to me why I saw evidence of leadership capability building and learning early on in the career of my theatre practitioners, but it was less evident at the same stage in film.  However, later on in the film subject’s career she actively created her own community, and credited it as being critical in her development.  It just wasn’t facilitated necessarily through University, institutional or organisational networks as it was in Adelaide and it was driven through activity on a film set, or even film production, it was a writing group.

So here I can use my interviews to illustrate that communities of practice can work in the creative sector to enhance learning, but only when they are collaborative in nature, not cooperative.  While there are authors who say such communities must develop organically, and cannot be facilitated by organisations, it is still beneficial to understand how they are more likely to emerge.

In my idealised career path I really wanted to explore the difference between film ways of working and theatre, as I think it could make a great project.  In the real world of my thesis, however, I can see this forming a key claim.

Failure and confidence

Sounds foreboding doesn’t it?  Am I about to write another one of those complaint based posts I seem to excel at? (Yes and no.)

I mentioned previously I’m going to write about the themes that are emerging from my research, and it’s worth noting this is based solely on collection and transcription of data. At this point I’ve made zero attempts at further analysis, be it coding or what not.  That’s to come in the next few months.

The word that jumped out at me right back in interview one (nearly a year ago now) was confidence.  Having the confidence to lead, and importantly, having the confidence to be seen as/labeled a leader.  These are two different things, but equally important.

Most of my subjects are ‘doing’ leadership.  From the outside I can see them managing projects, influencing others and running organisations. So most of them have the confidence to lead. When asked how they achieved this they generally say they had no choice, there was a gap, they filled it, or in the case of organisational leaders, they were thrown in the deep end.  No one said they were ready for the leadership experience… is anyone? They didn’t have time to consider their confidence or their ability, they just did it.

Their relationship to the label leader, however, is contradictory to the experience of leadership.  Most of the subjects are hesitant to embrace the term for themselves, and if they do they qualify it.  “I’m a leader in this way, but not that way” is a common response.  This is where the word confidence is used most often.  Participants say they are not yet confident to be a leader (regardless of what they are actually doing.)  They haven’t yet got the requisite skills, knowledge, abilities.  They haven’t yet earned their stripes. They aren’t yet a manager in an organisation, or they are a manager but not in a large enough organisation with a large enough team.  Maybe soon. Soon I’ll be there.

This makes me think about the instability of identity construction around leadership discussed in Ford, Harding & Learmonth’s book Leadership as Identity. The idealised construction of leadership we keep talking about (in popular and academic press) that no one can actually define means that no one ever feels confident enough to say ‘I am a leader.’  It’s an idealised state we can never reach, but we are pushed to continue the self contemplative journey as part of the neo-liberal economic careers model. (Phew.)

Where I disagree with these authors, and I’ve said it before, is that participation in leadership development programs can (not always, but can) offer an expansive look at leadership and help individuals reposition themselves to the concept of leader. When they see that it is something more than hierarchical, organisational, patriarchal then they sometime see that they are indeed leaders. In this way development can inspire confidence, not detract from it.

Confidence links to failure, or failure links to confidence.  Most creative practitioners have a good understanding of failure, and many of the participants acknowledge the role failure has in the creative process.  This is understood.  But failure in terms of leadership seems to be a harder experience to go through.

I position my research often with an anecdote about my first leadership experience, where I made a complete mess of leading a call centre team.  I joke it pushed me into study of the subject while making me want to avoid organisational leadership completely.  In many ways it is not a joke.

The psychological scars of attempting to lead and not being ‘liked’ as a leader still weigh heavy on me, and many of the participants I speak to.  Is this a female thing? Maybe, I’m not ready to make that call. But a concern about relationships and the interpersonal nature of leadership is one that does impact the shying away from embracing the role.

Those confident in their own position, knowledge, expertise, seem less likely to give a damn as to whether they are liked, or this type of failure. Knowing their reputation will stand for itself. Failure for them is not having a team that wasn’t a friend, failure was judged purely on the outcome of the organisation/project/endeavour.

In my last post I ended with the idea that I have to redefine my notion of failure.  I talking to my husband I said that “I was not used to failing.” In retrospect that’s not actually true.  My last 15 years is littered with failures, but in a different way.  I rarely fail to achieve a goal I set.  In fact I never fail to achieve a goal I set (except maybe to be 5′ 10″*) But I have failed at relationships, a lot. And this has a big impact on leadership confidence (for me.)

Something I need to explore is this relationship between failure and leadership.

*The comparison between failing to be tall/skinny and my perceived failure to break into academia is actually quite important. Both are due to factors potentially beyond my control – genetics, body type, height or intellectual ability and aptitude.

Now I’m off to yoga to explore all these things in one 60 minute package.

Life after PhD

I’m filled with words I want to write at the moment. Clearly not thesis words, don’t be ridiculous.

I am actually drafting my first real chapter.  I’ve got all my materials, testing out new reading/summary techniques using, and have planned out my chapter headings.  Actual writing starts in the next week, really it will.

I also have themes emerging as possible chapter headings or content within chapters.  I’m going to take some time next week to begin writing about what I mean on these issues.  It makes me happy to see it unfolding like this, though it’s the interweaving of my outcomes with theory that makes me nervous. 

Yesterday I conducted my first interview in 3 months.  Time flies.  And I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the process.  This was my first foray into real creative industries territory, speaking to someone in digital design.  It definitely added to my perspective and I will be interested to see if the themes that were raised continue as I meet more in this pod of people and are reflected in my advertising group who I meet in Melbourne in a few weeks.

This week also saw me meet with the Australia Council for the Arts, we cautiously sounded each other out about research and found that their’s and mine are producing some similar themes. This is comforting as it makes me think my perspectives are not unusual, but also opens up (hopefully) potential for collaboration in the future.  I’ve decided to skip my faculty HDR conference in November to attend the Australia Council’s Art and Education conference as long term this is more likely to offer me career prospects.

I have also been accepted into the Social Theory, Politics and the Arts Conference in Adelaide in December, which is good, but I think they might be struggling to get speakers, hence deadlines keep being bumped.  Still it’s an opportunity to present a paper in a real conference, as opposed to the doctoral symposium, and catch up with a few people I met in France.

Last night I competed in my faculty 3-minute thesis competition, and it has pre-empted some more consideration about my future.  I had had such a good day, meeting with OzCo, interviewing a practitioner, I was loving #phdlife.  Then I faced off in front of a panel of academics and it all comes crashing down to reality.  It was a 3 minute version of AIMAC, I’m just not ‘academic’ enough.

It’s not impostor syndrome, because imposter syndrome suggests you are ‘doing’ the task but don’t feel worthy.  When it comes to academia I’m not doing, I can’t get traction when speaking academically, and I’m not getting anywhere with publication.  It’s not through lack of trying, I promise. It is like I’m in a country with a different language, and despite 18 months of classes I cannot communicate with the locals. At best you get rejection, at worst (and most often) you get nothing at all.  It’s like throwing confetti to the wind.

The thesis whisperer is conducting a MOOC on resilience and the PhD and I’ve decided to do it, along with over 2600 others apparently.  Because I don’t think I’m resilient enough for academia, but I need to be resilient enough for the rest of the PhD. 

This has me thinking about life after PhD. I can’t help it, I have to plan that far ahead, I can’t stop myself. I have to acknowledge academic life isn’t going to happen, which is hard as that’s what I had hoped for many years.  But I also have to stop looking at it from the perspective of this being ‘the’ goal, all else being lesser.  The reality is I don’t think it s suits my personality, and my aptitudes.  This isn’t a bad thing, it just is.

There’s a certain irony about the things I am good at: communicating with others (non-academic), facilitation, helping others achieve goals, career development, leadership development.  It’s why I love teaching, but it’s also what I started doing in 1999 when I got involved in running the ANZ graduate program. The idea that I may go full circle and end up working in that space, maybe in a university careers office, it’s sort of terrifyingly disappointing.

Of course working in professional development within an arts organisation or state body is a dream that has even less chance than academia, thanks George Brandis, thanks.

So I’m going to change my language. When I’m asked “what’s next?” I’m no longer going today I’m aiming for an academic career, I’m going to say I hope to help creative practitioners achieve their career goals and leadership potential.  I just need to believe this doesn’t constitute failure.