The economics of research

I just received an email from our Graduate Research School.  I had applied for, and been approved for, funding to support my attendance at a conference in China in a few weeks.  The funding wont cover the whole trip, mainly my airfare, but it was a reasonable level of support.  I consider this conference my potential academic swan-song.

It turns out, which I probably should have known, that you cannot receive funding if you are in the examination period. This means I will not receive the support that I had expected and budgeted for.  This isn’t a criticism of the Uni/Faculty, I should have realised, by reading the fine print, that this would be the case and based my application to attend an international conference on a realistic financial picture. I have finally got the time and the content to really showcase the outcomes of my research but ironically I lose the support I had relied on to go because I’m too far into my degree (it’s 2 weeks away so I can hardly withdraw now.)

All this has me thinking about the economics of undertaking a research degree. Other than my scholarship (which covered 2.5 years of a 4 year degree) I haven’t had any financial support from the government or University. I’m very grateful for this support, don’t get me wrong. Unlike many, I did a Masters by coursework that cost under $10,000 (significantly less), but most of the courses I see know in arts management are well in excess of $30,000.  My PhD technically cost me $300 per year (UTS admin fees.) I’ve personally paid to attend two conferences prior to this, one international and one interstate. It was through those events that I managed to secure contacts here in Melbourne that lead to a research assistant gig.

During the past 4 years, however, I was not supposed to work more than 8 hours a week.  I was fortunate enough to have a casual teaching position which gave me $10,000 a year (which I worked out equated to $5 per hour given the workload) , 2-day a week part time job for 6 months that paid less than what I earned when I went to Uni the first time (and that was the early 90s) and a RA contract that I’m still working on even though the money stopped in February.

Yet I’m in a very fortunate position.  I’ve had a secure career outside the arts/academia for a number of years and this has provided me with a buffer.  I’m also married to someone who works a corporate job. We are very privileged.  It is that privilege that has allowed me to spend 4 years doing this.

But now that my PhD is almost over (let’s not discuss results and revisions as I’m currently in a state of peak anxiety) I’m contemplating my future – vocationally, academically and financially.  The Uni that I have been engaged with here in Melbourne has expressed the idea I should apply for a post-doc.  Leaving aside the question as to whether this is something I want to do (and I’m not sure I do), it means I need to spend at least 12 months attempting to get solid publications out of my thesis in the hope I can then obtain a grant for a post-doc place.  That’s 12 months of work with no salary or wage of any kind and no guarantee of a job at the end of it. I’m not academically strong, I’ve worked damn hard to get this far, but I don’t see myself as having the stamina to aim for an academic career long term.

To build an academic career you need to publish.  You need to go to conferences.  You need to work outside your PhD (unless independently wealthy).  But even for someone as secure as myself this is a huge financial ask. For those who do not come from the same social-economic background as myself it is basically untenable (and I know the people in my cohort, so I know how narrow the economic background is.)

Being in the arts makes this even more challenging.  In this excellent article Becca Varcoe discusses the privilege of “doing what you love” and the impact economics has on the make up of arts organisations.  I know that gaining a PhD  in the arts has probably decreased my earning potential, not opened the door to a whole new career like it might if I’d been in business or technology. But at the same time the arts has to STOP EMPLOYING PEOPLE LIKE ME as the last thing it needs it another middle-class, white, middle-aged, Gorman wearing, statement jewellery buying person with a higher degree.

The system is just wrong. And the impact it has is broad.  Not only does academia suffer, students suffer for lack of good teachers, the arts suffers as it doesn’t reflect the community in which it operates, those in the system suffer economically and, increasingly, psychologically.

I don’t have the answers, other than to stop cutting higher education and a complete economic overhaul to reduce precarity of employment (a strong creative sector union option for those not in secure employment would be nice.)

I’ll just go back to writing my journal article that one day might secure me a job…..

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Hallelujah: PhD Submission thoughts

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So there you have it.  3 years, 9 months (which I believe is pretty much average.)

I’m very conscious that it is far from over.  Every day I fluctuate in terms of my expected examiner mark, but I hope for 2 or 3 deep in my heart.  It would be great to be able to graduate this year, but I suspect, as graduations are in September/October, that I will end up graduating in 2018.  Which might be better, as those I am closest with at UTS will also likely be in that group. As I have 6 months on them (at another Uni) I was the first to submit.

Am I relieved? Yes, but I’ve really just transferred my anxiety to new points of focus.  Will I pass? What will the examiners say? (I think this will be contingent on which of my four nominated take the gig, 2 are arts management and 2 are critical leadership scholars.) Will I ever get a paid job again? (I’ve been rejected for 2 roles in the last month, but timing is an issue as I’m heading overseas shortly.) Do I want to continue with academia at all? (I was asked about a post-doc application recently, but I need to get some strong publications out before that is even worth seriously thinking about.) Will I ever get published?

Today is the first day I’ve had a chance to stop and think, I went straight from submission to a weekend away (learning to bake leavened bread) then a frantic rush getting a conference paper in last night.  This week I’m back working on some research with my local contacts and my mother arrives on Thursday (!!!)  There’s no real holiday planned until I head overseas in July.  Until then it is all about publications and my presentation to AIMAC in Beijing in June.

But what are the initial thoughts about my PhD journey (sorry, I hate that word but it is apt.)

  • Everything I was told at the start, about the need for physical, mental and emotional wellbeing support, was true. Listen to that early advice.
  • The networks I made in my first year, through orientation and workshops, were crucial to survival through the process.
  • The period of completing the first draft, from July to December 2016, was probably the toughest period I’ve ever had psychologically. I questioned every life decision I ever made, from career choices to my marriage.  I was so lost in the process I couldn’t separate the PhD pain from any thing else. Having a counsellor through that time would have helped.
  • Comparatively my PhD experience to date has been easy.  I haven’t had to work significant hours to support myself (though the work I did do, teaching, research work and with arts organisations, helped bolster me intellectually, financially and creatively), my marriage is intact (and I can’t say the same for all my peers), my health is good (I need to lose 12kg but that’s not life threatening) and those closest to me are well.  Speaking to colleagues I know how lucky I have been.
  • The time from the end of draft one to submission was actually sort of nice. Hard work but you could see the end and the the progress you were making.
  • Having a tough editor was frustrating, in the sense it took forever, but it has turned a very average document into one I hope will pass and I learned from him.
  • Every time I re-read the final draft I made changes. And half of those changes ended up mucking something else up.  One <enter> and everything goes pear-shaped.  I found missing periods on the first page on the LAST DAY.  It will never be perfect.
  • There’s always a new avenue to take.  This morning I just came across a 2008 paper by one of my potential examiners that would have been a vital addition. I can’t believe I didn’t find it before.  I have a strong suspicion this will bite me in the a** if she (or her peer) are the ones examining.  Reading it I felt sick with all the potential arguments I have left unaddressed. But it is what it is, you have to stop at some point.

I’m preparing myself for 7 months of limbo.  Holiday, revisions, attempting to publish and really thinking about my next career.  I want to be creative in my job search, while I will have a crack at publications and post-doc work, I’m not setting my heart on it.  But I can’t go back to earning $20 an hour in an arts job I’m over qualified for.  The PhD has taught me so much, my skills are far more advanced than they were 4 years ago.  I want to be able to use them in a context that suits my values.  (I’m very fortunate to have space to look, I’m supported.)

I’ll be back for a few more posts to communicate how it all worked out…before I draw a line under PhD 2017.

Guess what?

I’m touching base here out of no purpose other than a bit of boasting.

As of today I am well into draft three of my thesis, have an abstract underway and even have a title that no one has complained about.

I’ve even locked in a submission date.  I feel terrified and joyous at the same time.

It’s worth mentioning here, that after 3 years and 3 months, I finally have a research question.

THAT IS PRETTY EXCITING GUYS.

For the record:

What role do communities of practice play in the social construction of leadership identity in Australian arts and cultural workers?

I’ve just sent off a few things to my potential editor for background, have about 3 more weeks of work, and I’m going to send it to a few friends to read.  A UTS peer was horrified when I told her this yesterday, she couldn’t imaging giving her thesis to non-academics.   But really, don’t you want to positively impact your industry outside of academia? I know I do (cause it’s highly unlikely I’ll be working IN academia.)

Anyhow, happy Friday.  I’m heading to Adelaide to drink wine and read fiction.

 

 

*head desk*

My inability to formulate a comprehensive research question is clearly indicative of my capacity to complete this PhD. Here’s my current thinking. Note, there is no one question.

The reluctant leaders: Constructing leadership identity in the Australian arts and cultural sector

My topic: The construction of leadership identity in the Australian arts and cultural sector.

My research problem:   As the arts and cultural sector has become a more visible contributor to the Australian economy there has been a renewed discussion about the importance of leadership within it.  While the organisational approaches to, and the relative effectiveness of, arts and cultural leadership have been debated both theoretically and within the media, we know little about how arts and cultural leaders construct their identity. Arts management approaches to leadership are built on functionalist assumptions of a positive relationship between individuals and leadership, but evidence suggests that this is not always the case.  Emerging leaders within the arts and cultural sector often have a complex, sometimes reluctant, relationship with their own leader identity and the concept of leadership.

My purpose: This research uses critical approaches to identity construction to examine nine disciplinary based communities of practice located within the Australian arts and cultural sector, analysing emerging leader identity development, identifying influences that contribute to identity work, exploring the issue of leadership reluctance and identifying the strategies that have emerged from within the communities that mitigate it.

My research questions:

  • What factors contribute to identity work of arts and cultural emerging leaders?
  • Are arts and cultural practitioners “reluctant leaders”, and if so why?
  • How do communities of practice contribute to positive construction of leadership identity?

Creative Labour and nearing the end (not that end, just 2016)

Today is likely to be the last (official) working day of 2016.  I’d like to say I’m in good shape for an early 2017 submission, but I suspect we’re talking the March/April range if I’m completely honest.  If things can be done and dusted by mid-year then I will be pretty happy.

It’s strange to think I’ve been doing nothing but working on this one piece of writing for a full 12-months.  I finished my transcription on January 2nd 2016 and here I am on December 22nd and it’s still a word salad of ideas.  80,000 coherent words doesn’t sounds like a lot, but damn it takes it out of you.

Today I need to write the last 1000 words or so of my ‘setting the scene’ or climate section.  This is a new addition that has taken me a lot longer than it should (as in a week), but yesterday I just fell into the zone and did 4,000 in a day (which I can honestly say has never, ever happened before.)  Today however….it’s 3:19pm and I haven’t started. To be fair I was at a funeral this morning.

Intellectually  I’m being spurred on by Angela McRobbie’s book Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries. I feel like this might be the missing piece of my larger puzzle.  McRobbie argues that the rise of the creative industries can be linked to the reduction of social democratic policies and focus on neo-liberalism of governments like the New Labour Blair government.  By encouraging the growth of creative labour, fuelled by increases in arts school intakes, the emergence of rave culture, technology change and globalisation governments essentially facilitated the destruction of collective approaches to labour (that is unions) by encouraging everyone individual to be creative AND entrepreneurial  and “follow their passion.” Studies have shown that managerial techniques aimed to increase worker satisfaction and engagement within organisations are used to decrease union membership, and what we are seeing in the flexible, gig or precariat economy is a similar thing.  Individual’s are encouraged to chase their creative dreams, start their own businesses, which leaves them not only 100% accountable for their own success or failure but removes any working welfare support they may have had.

While I’m not finished the book yet, it has made me very conscious of the the role that I have personally played in the similar structures emerging here in Australia.  Education providers are the starting point as they are encouraging entrepreneurship and the reality of the portfolio careers but teaching ‘creative skills’ without critiquing the system itself. I often despaired at the lack of politics in the art school I taught at, but didn’t really consider my own role in contributing to a system I increasingly don’t believe in.

Thesis wise it’s not only given me some good positioning data about the reality of creative work, but has provided some guts to my ideas about what communities of practice do for creative practitioners.  I have been arguing that communities of practice are not only sites of learning and identity formation for emerging leaders but that they provide psychosocial support and create a sense of career optimism.  Which they do, but it’s a bit theoretically light.  But taking MMcRobbie’s arguments I can see that communities of practice are also providing a barrier against the increasing neoliberal state of creative work.  They are, on a micro scale, a type of emotional welfare net.  So in effect they play two roles:

  1. For those in organisational settings they can be a buffer against identity regulation
  2. For those in the flexible gig economy they provide a type of support that is missing when there’s no collective body (like a union).

In both cases the coming together of like minded individuals to achieve a collective aim offers an antidote to the neoliberal ideas of individualism.

Yes I know this is a political stance, but I feel more energised when writing with a bit of politics behind me.  This is one of the problems I have with my thesis, I feel it lacks my voice.  I’m hoping that in this next re-write I can bring some passion to the project (even if readers don’t agree with me.)

Anyhow, off to write and I hope any readers have a good holiday season and a safe, productive new year.  Here’s to a successful, happy 2017 filled with Phd submissions and resulting graduations!

Two faces of a PhD

It’s worth prefacing this post by noting that I am on Day 26 of continuous writing, no respite.  That, and in my ‘spare time’, I’m undertaking another research job and grappling with a different university’s ethics process. Can I just say UTS was a DREAM compared to this one.

Last month I committed to having a first draft complete before I went on a short weekend break to Sydney, to see all my friends I haven’t seen since our move a year ago. A YEAR.  This week the whole trip fell to pieces because of poor planning and bad schedules. (Note: don’t let someone in their final stages of a Phd try and organise 15 people to do anything.)

Add to this I decided to give up sugar, carbs and all good naughty things and to exercise 5 times a week.

WHAT WAS I THINKING?

For the last week month I have been a complete basket case. I completely related to this post on The Thesis Whisperer as I a) love Never-ending Story  and b) had taken up residence in the swamp for the foreseeable future. To say I am not fun to be around is the understatement of 2016.  And the sadness and anxiety that I feel over my PhD has coloured every corner of my life.

Then  I got a dose of perspective.

Firstly, my best friend, who knew of my general pain through social media/text message/general BFF psychic link sent me a bunch of flowers.  There’s nothing like a bunch of flowers to make you feel better.

Then I spoke to another friend last night who is doing their Honours in Psychology.  I spoke about how badly it is all going.

“But you check in with someone right?” she said.

“Yes.”

“And they’re happy with what you’re doing?”

“Yes, I guess.”

“Then what’s your problem?”

And I thought about that a bit.  Every milestone I’ve had to meet with this PhD I have.  And the feedback has generally been constructive and positive.  Sure the last milestone was 6 months ago, but still. The only thing I haven’t achieved that I want (desperately) is to have something published. And maybe that won’t happen. Or maybe it won’t happen until after I submit the PhD.  But in the scheme of things it’s tolerable.

Today I had call with my supervisor.

“How’s it going?” she asks.

“Terrible.” I reply.

And we proceed to talk about how my theoretical and conceptual framework is pretty much where it needs to be and how the ideas have come together in my (very badly written but progressing) discussion chapter.

She didn’t, but could have added:

“Then what’s your problem?”

My problem is that I can’t see the wood from the trees.I’ve spent 26 days sitting at this desk thinking I’ve wasted 4 years of my life.

I have to separate the two faces of the PhD – the emotional and the intellectual. The intellectual knows I have 68,000 words and a few (maybe more than a few) chapters that are 90% done.  The intellectual knows that I just have to keep chipping away and in 2-3 weeks I’ll have a rough first draft.

The emotional thinks I’m never going to be accepted as a PhD. That the writing is rubbish and I’m sick of being cold (bloody Melbourne) and I can’t remember when I last laughed until I cried.  I’ve just cried.

This is the reality I exist within at the moment.  There’s no use pretending otherwise. And I’d like to say I can reconcile the two faces, but in the short term I can’t.  I just have to keep working. And maybe eat the occasional piece of chocolate.

 

Tying myself in knots

It’s been a rough couple of PhD weeks.  I’ve felt very stuck and inadequate.  While I have been plugging away at my word count (now about 60,000) I’ve been increasingly concerned that I haven’t yet hit on the conceptual ideas that hold my thesis together.  My ever calm supervisor suggests this will come, usually about 5 weeks from submission. But with 5 months before planned submission I’ve getting increasingly terrified.  I really hit a road block with my third data chapter, which really should hold it all together – be outlining my key theoretical contributions.  And they are just not there.  The feedback from AIMAC 2015 is echoing in my head “You are just writing a consulting report.”

I have these interconnecting themes – leadership theory, identity development, communities of practice and social learning, but I can’t seem to put them all together.

Despite being a bit behind schedule I’ve decided to do two things this week:

a) Take a step back and re-read/take notes on the intersection of leadership/development/identity theory.  This may lead to a few things including, a slight rework of my literature review, some changes to my methodology chapter and a centring of identity in my data chapters.

b) Have four days off. I’m finishing my job on Wednesday, and while I’m having an introductory meeting with my new job on Thursday I have decided to consider these days as holiday.  My husband and I are going away for two nights and I’m going to recalibrate.

Today, however, I’ve sat down and read.  A few lines within Carroll, B., & Levy, L. (2010)* stand out. They mention using identity as a theoretical and methodological frame to understand leadership development.  Which is pretty much what I’m doing.  Where they examine “future leaders” participating in leadership development programs, I’m examining “emerging leaders and their communities” within the cultural sector.  Where they consider the influence leadership development programs have on identity construction, I’m considering how participation in communities of practice informs identity development.

So my whole thesis becomes:

  • How do creative practitioners in Australia socially construct their leadership identity?

This research uses social constructionist concepts of identity as a theoretical and methodological lens to frame and understand leadership development within Australian Cultural Sector. The research demonstrates how communities of practices play a vital role in facilitating identity work for emerging cultural leaders. 

I’m not sure where this is going, but I’ll follow it and see.

*

Carroll, B., & Levy, L. (2010). Leadership development as identity construction. Management Communication Quarterly, 24(2), 211-231.