Social Theory, Politics and the Arts 2015

Note: I changed my title from Surry Hills PhD to the even more generic PhD 2017 as I’m not in Surry Hills anymore, Toto. But I still hope to finish my PhD by 2017, so there’s that. 

At AIMAC in June one of the loveliest people I met, Kathleen from Southern Methodist University, encouraged me to apply to present at STPA.  There’s not many chances to be involved in an international level academic arts orientated conference when you’re in Australia, so I thought why not?

Of course I knew going to Adelaide two weeks before Christmas and two weeks after we moved to Melbourne may have been stressful, but I only aliased how stressful whe I tried to change my flight to come home early (as I just couldn’t face going.)

Of course my paper was scheduled for the final session of the final day, thus ensuring I was not able to escape, forcing me to participate in the whole conference.  I should note, all this mental miserableness occurred before I actually made it to Adelaide.

What I did discover, within two hours of arriving, is that I knew a lot more people than I expected too. Which is always comforting.  People I’d met in France, people I’ve interviewed in Australia, and I few that are increasingly popping up on my social media feeds discussing cultural policy and the world of the arts. The second thing I discovered is, I’ve lost significant stamina in making polite, even academically polite, conversation. The downside of PhD life is the you forgot how to be in rooms full of people, as it’s usually just me and the dog.

But the conference itself. It kicked off with what has to be described as the rockstar dream team of David Throsby and Julian Meyrick. (The lack of women keynote speakers does have to be mentioned though, this is the second conference where there’s been no female plenary speakers. Come on guys, really?) Prof Throsby is undoubtedly a superstar in cultural economics and he rolled out all his hits in his keynote.  Prof Meyrick was a great theoretical counterpoint bringing his theatre driven charisma and style to discussions of cultural language. And he wore a good hat.

Paper sessions reminded me of a few things.  People still forget to present according to audience. Academics travel the world giving the same paper a lot (a few times I ended up seeing a presenter give exactly the same presentation they gave at AIMAC).  That it’s hard to pick what will be a fascinating presentation by the abstract.  (One of my favourite presentations from day one was an comparison of Indian and South Korean cultural policy, which I went to because I met the speaker previously. ) Storytelling, effective narrative, cannot be underestimated. Good storytellers are good presenters (And good leaders?) and panel sessions are never panel sessions but a series of short presentations.  The only panel sessions I’ve seen at any conference was a recent on at the Australia Council’s Arts Learning Forum where instead of a series of monologues the panel asked each other questions.  I’m stealing this idea, as it was great.

I was exceited that Prof Nancy Adler from Montreal was presenting (over lunch, which again pushed me #everydaysexism buttons.)  While she was lovely, and her presentation engaging, it wasn’t particularly useful and wasn’t really about leadership as I’d hoped.

More generally, I find the people at conferences are one of two types, overly generous and kind, sharing ideas and collaborating willingly or constantly looking past you to see who’s more important to talk to.  I hope I can be the former.

Research wise I find I’m still a little out there in my own. There’s very little work being done on how creative people learn. How arts education is taught maybe, but not practitioners themselves.  I was pleased to meet Dr Sheree Gordon from Western Sydney University who’s working on issues HR in the creative space, her research focussed on family balance and responsibility for actors and how that’s managed. Really interesting and I can see parallels in her finding to what I’m seeing.

I also caught up with someone I went to high school with, but a few years below, who happens to have the best job ever- head of research and policy for Screen Australia.  After I got over my extreme jealousy it was good to hear about her experience.

As to the reception of my paper, the feedback was pretty positive.  It was pleasing to have Ruth Rentschler come and see me present after providing me such guidance at AIMAC, and then tell me she thought I’ve come forward in leaps and bounds.  Each time I present I do get my ideas better formulated and more coherent.

Once again, however, I confirmed that academic life is not in my future. This wasn’t the tearing down of ideas type scenario, but more a confirmation of the logistics of academia being out of reach.  I can’t apply for fellowships or post docs in other cities when I’m done. The required mobile life of an academic, especially early in their career, is not achievable by a 40 something married to a lawyer aiming for partnership. And furthermore I could see how difficult this was for people, especially women, socially.

This does a couple of things, it removes my self inflicted anxiety about publication in academic journals (though I will still aim to next year.) It also has me planning again for life beyond the PhD. And to that end I’m reaching out to organisations with the aim of volunteering next year.  One, I want to return to community service, two, I want to build my Melbourne network towards a post academic career.  So let’s see how that goes.

But it has left me undecided about going to another conference in 2016.  I had thought maybe one would be on the cards, but maybe it will be hard to justify the expense when my scholarship runs out mid-year and we are about to buy a house.  I have to think honestly about this one.

Now I’m heading back to transcribe the last of my interviews, ending the year how I began I suspect.

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