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.

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.

End of part 1 2015

Well it’s been an interesting first semester. I’m tying up loose end at the moment, getting ready to head off to AIMAC 2015 in Aix-en-Provence next week.  While my presentation is prepared I haven’t even started my notes, which is sort of a worry but not really as I never use notes anyhow.

But this trip signals the end of a pretty good 6 months.  As far as my goals are concerns, here is the output:

1. I published on The Conversation in May and ArtsHub this week.

2. I’ve now completed 32 interviews AND transcribed them all. (Phew)

3. I sent off my paper “Career development through communities of practice in the South Australian Theatre sector” to a journal a few weeks ago, but no response to date (deadline for submission was June 30.)

4. I’ll present next week at a conference (see above.)

5. I’ve developed the content, and had it approved, for the new Cultural and Creative Industries leadership course at UNSW Art & Design.

I’m pretty happy with that outcome.  It’s been a strange semester, a little solitary compared to last year. Not as much engagement with my cohort.  Though UTS researcher development has continued to be outstanding.

Next semester I hope to achieve the following:

1. Conduct another 20-25 interviews and transcribe them. (With a focus on profit-making creative areas and MEN.) Already scheduled a week in Melbourne for two groups in August.

2. Deliver potentially my last teaching semester at UNSW (more on that to follow.)  This will be a new experience as I have lectures and tutorials this semester as opposed to just seminars.  And I have to brief tutors, when we confirm them!

3. Start writing my actual thesis.  I was going to aim for another journal article, as I have an idea brewing, but I want to see what happens with this one yet as there will be at least revisions or at most a complete rewrite for a new journal.  May keep my idea for 2016 and concentrate on writing the contextual chapter of my thesis.

4. Another piece for The Conversation and Arts Hub.  ArtsHub is not challenging to publish in, so that’s not an issue, but the The Conversation carries a bit more weight. Will depend on issues in the sector.

5. I’d like to give one sort of professional talk this year, through an arts organisation or event.

If I achieve all of this I will feel 2015 has been academically/professionally successful.

The big news, however, is that we are moving back to Melbourne.  Our apartment is up for sale and goes to auction in September. With a 90 day settlement it means we will be resettling in Melbourne in late November/early December.  This is HUGE. We made the decision in January, but to actually go through with it….well it’s an adjustment.  I’ve lived in this apartment longer than any other place in my life (I moved around a lot.)  And to be technically ‘homeless’ while we try to find a rental in Melbourne (with a dog) is a bit scary. But the time is right, and I can continue my PhD journey from a new locale in 2016. (No need to change Universities as I am spending next year writing anyhow, and will fly up for researcher development.)  I may be giving up/losing the amazing teaching opportunity I have had at UNSW Art & Design, but they have suggested we turn the leadership course into an intensive, which would be brilliant for me.

So I’m taking a couple of weeks away as of now (sort of, next week is all conference, then I have a week of holiday in Hong Kong) before I get stuck back into the second half of the year in mid-July.

Creating worry

Last week was good. After a really, really bad July (I was operated on and in a cast, feeling miserable and THEN I lost my wedding and engagement rings earning me the title of ‘worst wife ever’) I have found August to be golden. Couldn’t get much worse than July I suppose.

I have have finished a preliminary draft of my literature review, all 21,000 words (without a lot of the connecting paragraphs.) I also have a rough draft of my methodology chapter, but I’m finding this is a moving target as I’m still determining exactly how I’m going to approach things. 

Then my faculty had a HDR training day which gave me lots of new ideas and energy.

AND I got my ethics approval, so after I see my supervisor tomorrow I can start my first round of interviews. 

Today I’m mocking up my first draft of my doctoral assessment presentation. And I’m also presenting at the HDR conference in November, as a practise for potential conference papers and publications in 2015. Now I can start collecting data I feel I may have something to write about.

It’s all very exciting.

So why am I worried?

Last week when I caught up with my cohort many mentioned that I was much further along than they were. Admittedly I had 6 months last year to do preliminary reading and I feel that I’ve been mentally preparing for this experience for about 5 years. 

Most of my colleagues are planning to do their stage one assessment early next year, yet I want mine complete by October 31 (driven by the fact that’s when scholarship applications are due and I really, really need a scholarship for the remainder of my program and this is the last chance.)

To be so far ahead, not just in terms of reading an writing, but in terms of clarity of process and research question, makes me think I’m missing some major chunk of the process.

Don’t get me wrong, I hardly think I am speeding through this, but I do feel that it is progressing almost too closely to plan.  My supervisor, who is great, is so supportive, but I am waiting for the critical penny to drop.

Or am I just making worries for myself? Now I’m just worrying about worrying.


Friday feminism and feeling flighty

Today was (is) meant to be about feminist reviews of leadership theory.  But I have been struggling all day.  I slept in, I keep getting interrupted by phone calls, and the drizzly weather makes me want to curl up under the quilt and finish Season 2 of Veronica Mars. After such a productive week it’s frustrating, but maybe not surprising.  I don’t have as much time next week to dedicate to long stretches of work, so I really should be making the most of this day. But at the same time I need to know when ‘it’s just not happening’ and cut my losses.  Before I do that I might just jot a few thoughts down.

When I first met with S1 she brought up the issue of gender with regard to my research.  “of course you will have a section on gender” she said.  Like I could not even consider writing about leadership development without it.  I bristled somewhat as I thought gender and leadership development is a whole other arena, one I know needs study, but an area I wasn’t all that interested in.  I didn’t want to include a section on gender to tick an academic box.

You have to acknowledge I was pretty naive.*

Having done just a tiny amount of reading on critical theory and feminist approaches I can see that it would be unthinkable for me not to include a comment about feminism in my thesis.

1. From a practical perspective the creative industries, and particularly the arts, has a female orientated reputation.  Now that means a number of things – one it’s seen as a feminised occupation (which is something I’ll write about later), two – there’s a preconceived view that more women work in the arts. Not necessarily true from the data I can find (which is limited.)  But from personal experience every arts organisation I’ve worked for was 100% female and my students are 100% female.  I haven’t found studies on gender in the creative industries as a whole, but I have to reference a Women in Theatre report written by my supervisor.  It does seem that despite the perceived dominance of women in the sector there is not any greater gender balance in leadership positions. I need to do a lot more research here of course.

2.  Even a small amount of reading on feminist review of theory opens your eyes to how your, and many theorists, work is coloured (pun intended) by a privileged male, white perspective.  This was raised in another context today in a fantastic opinion piece by Waleed Aly in The Age. While not only recognising that women may lead differently, or learn to lead differently, I need to consider how the whole western cannon of leadership theory has been dominated by a particular masculine perspective and way of researching/theorising.

What is interesting about this area is how recent it is.  I read a significant feminist review of leadership theory today that was published in 2010.  Only four years ago? No one thought to think about this sooner? I’m surprised.

So this is a brief post. I’m going back to reading and hopefully share more insights on Monday.

*This is not a question of the importance of feminism or my relationship to feminism.  I am undoubtedly a feminist. I’m constantly disappointed with the lack of understanding of that word and the unwillingness of many to use the label.


Let’s give this a try

So here’s the thing.  I’ve wanted to undertake a PhD since I was small.  Like 7 years old small.  I remember asking my father what a PhD was, and being enthralled, or as enthralled as a primary school kid can be, with the idea of creating new knowledge.  It sounded so monumental.

Here I am over 30 years later finally with my chance to undertake, and hopefully, achieve that dream.

But it is hard. I wont say harder than anticipated, but maybe more overwhelming.  I suffer crises of confidence on a weekly (or is that daily?) basis.  The magnitude of the task at hand, which at the moment is just writing my literature review and maybe the first three chapters, is so daunting.

Presenters from the University research school suggest that we need to read 300-400 pieces.  I have 350 in my database and I’m not yet halfway through my searching.

But finding them isn’t really the issue. I’m excellent and finding materials.  Reading them, well I like to delay but I slowly plug my way through. Where I am struggling is the writing.  Writing summaries of the articles, writing critical analysis, and, crucially, writing actual elements of the lit review.

“But it’s March 20” I think. Many people I’ve met haven’t really finalised their idea.

My concept, question or proposal was finalised in 2011. I have never deviated in what I want to write on (leadership development in the creative industries.)  But putting boundaries around that and actually reviewing all the associated literature?  *lies down for a minute*

I’m worried I’m developing a psychological barrier against writing anything.  So I told one of the research librarians this morning who suggested creating this blog as an outlet.  It’s a good suggestion, as I’m incredibly comfortable with blog writing.

This site, however, cannot just be a place where I moan about my terror surrounding the academic process.  It must be a place where I start exploring concepts and my ideas about the theories I’m reading.  Good sections or ideas may then be copies into Scrivener for actual consideration.

My target? 500-750 words five days a week.  That goes within the 6+ hours per day (30 hours a week) of work I need to be doing.  30 doesn’t sound like a lot, given we work 7.5 hours a day generally, but I don’t include lunch in this, or the coffee you drink under the auspices of ‘work meetings.’  Workplace studies show that most people really only work 3-4 hour hours in a business day. 6 hours is a long time to read and right intensely. And getting it done in 5 days is proving harder than I expected. To date this week I have done 16.5 hours. And that’s been a good week. I know I need to make some adjustments to my routine to free up more time to work, without sacrificing the exercise and the cooking that is my outlet to retain some form of sanity.

Tomorrow I am going to outline my current thoughts on the question “what is leadership?” and try to sort through the categories I have created and the concepts in my mind (map.)  This is a key thing that I hope will break down the writing into manageable chunks, allowing me to carve off sections and start to put ideas ‘on paper.’