Chugging along

I’ve just finished week two of my newly instigated work plan and it’s worth taking some time to reflect on the experience to date.  Like many weeks within a PhD it’s been the topsy-turvy, rollercoaster of emotions and sometimes you just want to lie down and not get up again.

On the positive side I am really enjoying my new job.  I’ve made a few mistakes, as you do, but when you have the huge monolithic PhD process hanging over your head you learn that saying the wrong thing to a team member is not something you can sweat over for long.  Perspective, it’s a beautiful thing.  The fact I have two mid-week days away from the house, interacting with others in a creative space, but one that doesn’t relate to my PhD topic, is both exhausting and energising.  It made me realise that as much as I loved teaching, the fact I taught subjects so close to my PhD meant I never took any thinking time away from my research and this probably made me less productive.  I will admit that I’ve tended to collapse on the one ‘free’ day I now have, falling asleep on the couch out of sheer exhaustion.  This has been exacerbated by the fact I seem to have developed insomnia at night – yay me.  So while it’s a tad physically challenging it’s also been good for my productivity. With less time to mess around there has been indeed less messing around and my writing days have been very business like.

I’ve achieved what I had hoped in the last two weeks, though I’m struggling to reduce my literature review sections to the word count I wanted.  I’ve also begun what feels like the 756th draft of a journal article. My quest for publication is starting to take on Twilight Zone like qualities where I’m trapped in a never-ending cycle of writing and editing the same document in different ways. Maybe Groundhog Day  is a better analogy.

Publication struggles brings up the issue of peer comparison.  I met up with a friend from UTS, though in a different area, last week who showed surprise at my not yet having undertaken then stage 2 assessment process, but who has recently had a) a journal article under review and b) two book chapters in the works.

What was that about lying on the floor and not getting up?

From a thesis perspective she is yet to start writing.  I’m left with the feeling of complete inadequacy mixed with the comfort of knowing I’ve written about 30,000 words of my actual thesis. But nothing I’ve done in three years is technically finished.

Which led to a small meltdown over the fact that maybe I’m not intellectually capable of finishing an academic piece of writing.  Work ethic, check.  Motivation, sure.  But what if I am not actually good enough?  Now this is not impostor syndrome, because impostor syndrome implies you’re doing something but you don’t feel worthy of doing it.  Technically I haven’t actually DONE anything.  At this stage the whole ‘fake it until you make it’ thing feels like a step up.

My ever wise supervisor has a different perspective.  And while I didn’t come out and ask “do you think I’m too dumb to complete this PhD?” I did ask that if I was in trouble would she tell me*.  She takes the view that there’s lot of writing coagulating (and I like that word) and that it will all come together on mass near the end.  Which does sound like what’s happening.  I do have four chapters at between 50 – 75% right now.  And it does align to my briefly met second supervisor who says “just write the best f-ing thesis possible and THEN worry about publishing.” All good but there’s no validation along the way that helps you believe you can actually do this.

Then today I met with a twitter friend who I’ve been engaging with for what seems like years but never met.  We got talking about what’s needed in art schools from a careers perspective and she said that where she works needs a cross-disciplinary subject on career/leadership capabilities.  HELLO? This is exactly what I do and want to do post-PhD.  I just need to convince the institutions of the relevancy.

The post PhD future seems to be hurtling toward me. I do hope I can keep this job longer than the initial 6-month period, but I know the decision is not in my hands.  But that is not going to be enough to live on, financially and intellectually.  I was very pleased to receive an invitation to apply to the Australia Council for the Arts preferred provider panel on leadership facilitation, this could be not only great fun but a nice supplement to the income.  While my long-held plans involved a book on leadership in the creative industries the horror that is writing the thesis means I may never want to put fingers to keyboard again.

For now I’ll keep chugging along.  Write my weekly target, redraft my journal article again and again, go to yoga, cycle to dance class and keep inspecting unaffordable real estate. Life, just live it.


*She said yes.

Structuring my literature review

This morning, after a nice 10 day PhD break, starting my new job and a week in Bali, I sat down to map out the next 8 months of work.  That is one scary proposition.  As I’m now working two weekdays, I have set myself weekly and monthly goals which I think are achievable but leaves little room for stuff like reading new articles or networking with other researchers.

Even with the strict schedule I still can’t see myself finishing a draft until mid-October.  That seems dangerously late if I want to hand it in before year’s end.  Knowing I will need time for rewriting, formatting and external editing.  I’m hoping that all the writing I’ve already done (a draft methodology, a draft introduction to case studies, a start on my literature review) means I might actually be ahead of the schedule. Fingers crossed.

  My challenge in March is to pull together my literature review.  In someways I’ve been looking forward to this, as the big themes of my research (leadership, development and identity) have never wavered, so I have a pretty good understanding of at least two of those three. Identity needs to be worked on and expanded (not just in thesis world believe me) but I’m pretty comfortable.

One thing I hadn’t though much about was the structure.  The work I’d done in me Stage 1 was pretty linear – chronological discussion of leadership theory, for example.  But what I hadn’t really done was a) thought about how they all connect together, and b) relate them back to the research question in a systematic fashion (the fact I still don’t have a true research question is still out there too of course.)  I’m struggling to define a question that doesn’t use ‘how’ in it.  In a nutshell it’s a comparison of the development of leadership identity, understanding and capability in different sectors within the Australian creative industries.

That’s why I was happy to come across these series of posts that were shared by UTS’s Nick Hopwood.  Today i’ve spent some time playing with the process to explain why I’m writing on what I will. If I take the key words in my research proposition, if not a question, above, you get development, leadership, identity and sectors within the creative industries (context). I know I need to explain the idea of understanding, capability and identity too, but I am choosing to bundle understanding and capability into the development of leadership capacity.


By starting with my themes I realised that something was missing – context.  Context is an incredibly important part of what I am examining.  In undertaking a comparison of the development of leadership identity, understanding and capability I am setting my study not only in the creative industries but within each examined sector. Does this mean that my writing on the creative industries needs to go in to the literature review? Not sure on that yet, but it is important.

Instead of writing on these four things, there need to be a relationship to between them and back to the research question. Wentzel describes this as identifying the assumptions.  My assumptions are:

  1. Leadership is important or valuable.
  2. There is no one right definition of leadership.
  3. Leaders can be developed.
  4. The what is leadership and the development process differs depending on context.
  5. Part of becoming a leader is embracing leadership identity.

What writing this down does is removes me from my half baked findings and take a step back.  My first (two, three) iterations of these were bogged down in the idea of the creative industries (not context) and I was trying to outline my argument, not what I needed to theorise.

The next step is to bring these all together into a flowing (maybe not) paragraph.

As leadership contributes to both organisational and individual success (1) so the development of leaders is seen to be of economic and societal value (3).   Part of the leadership development process  in creating successful future leaders is the construction of leadership identity (5), yet given the lack of a singular leadership definition of leadership (2) or a defined process in which it can be developed development actions vary contextually (4).

I’m not overly happy with that…..

But…to keep going, from here there is a grouping of assumptions:

  • The concept of leadership and why it is important within the (creative industries) context
  • How leadership development occurs with particular focus on social and contextual aspects
  • How is identity impacted by leadership/leadership development, especially if development is contextualised. Would different environments means different development which creates different types of leaders?

Which in someways brings be back to the three themes  – leadership, identity and development, but it highlights the importance of context at all levels.

Finally these is reduced to a ‘talk show script’ which highlights the need to investigate why each of these assumptions exist and their counterclaims as the literature review unfolds.

Claim Response (trigger question)
As leadership contributes to both organisational and individual success


How does it do that? Is it proven?
the development of leaders is seen to be of economic and societal value 


Is it? How is that demonstrated? And how are they developed?
Part of the leadership development process in creating successful future leaders is the construction of leadership identity


What constitutes a successful leader?

Why is leadership identity important? What happens if leadership identity isn’t embraced?

given the socially constructed nature of  leadership there is no singular definition of what leadership is


What are the definitions of leadership? How is leadership socially constructed?
defined process in which it can be developed development actions vary contextually.


How might environment or context change development? Is it a matter of resources? Is development a collective or singular activity? Is there no ‘right way’ to develop leaders? Is that even possible given there’s no definition?

Next week it’s on to the writing.