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.

What does reluctancy look like

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I’ve started examining my answers to the question “Do you consider yourself a leader?” I’m trying to create a visual representation of the key themes expressed by my central participants, as shown above.  I have a long way to go clearly.

What is interesting, however, is the logic behind some of these statements, there’s almost a spectrum of reasons behind the reluctancy. I’ve tried to demonstrate the breadth of issues by examining key statements in the table below.

Discipline Key statement Reasoning
Media and Events “Yes, absolutely” Only unequivocal answer
Theatre “I consider myself a collaborative leader” Not a ‘boss’

Non-hierarchical.

Music “I feel kind of sheepish saying I’m a leader, god no man would say that.”

“It’s an outward expression of ambition that makes me uncomfortable.”

Gender

Ambition

Advertising “I’m a reluctant leader”

“Winning stuff means you back yourself”

“I think I’m already doing it, I just don’t recognise it.”

Validation

Confidence

Digital Design “I consider myself a leader…in my formative years”

“Within my discipline I am, not a business leader”

“I still feel like a kid in the room”

Confidence

Impostor syndrome

Disciplinary boundaries

Design/

Galleries

“I’m working on it”

“I have the capacity”

“I’ve done the learning, but I’m not leading.”

Confidence

 

Visual arts “In some ways I do, I advocate, champion, comment”

“But I’m not senior enough”

“I don’t feel paternal”

Seniority

Influence

Hierarchical

 

Film “Yeah I think I do now”

“Not on set as I don’t make films that often”

“I feel I have a voice out of proportion with what I’m actually doing”

Unearned reputation

Humility

Non-organisational

Fashion/

media

“I don’t want to be up myself”

“I’m gaining traction, I see my influence and inspiration and I think maybe I am”

“I want to remain humble and not be a maniac”

Tall poppy syndrome

Humility

There’s no gender correlation to willingness to embrace leadership identity, but one female participant did acknowledge that a man would less likely to demonstrate reluctance.  Those outside Melbourne and Sydney were more willing to be seen as leaders, and I wonder if the sometimes supportive nature of smaller arts communities influences this, but I suspect it actually has to do with the strong communities of practice these subjects work within.

Lots to play with here.

 

Where leadership resides in my thesis

My research question is “How do practitioners in the Australian creative industries develop their leadership skills? And what is their relationship to leadership?”  Clearly leadership is central to the whole shebang, but where it actually resides is becoming less clear to me.

If you’ve read my themes, posted through August, there was little talk about leadership within it. It was more about environment and how this influenced communities of practice and learning.  The current paper I’m writing on is a bit the same.  Leadership has been lost a little through the cracks. I’m wondering if this is a mistake on my behalf, as the idea of defining a creative industries based concept of leadership has always been in the back of my head (aligned to the idea of a book post PhD.)

I’m currently transcribing an interview conducted in Melbourne in August.  And it specifically brings up a leadership idea that I haven’t touched on: the idea of the organisational/taste gatekeeper. The positions of power in the arts scene that control most of the power, often most of the money. My interview subject talks about how power lists published in the press always show the same people, often related, often married, who all come from the same schools. There’s a perception that if you “didn’t go to Scotch and play the cello” you want get the key fellowships (and by extension jobs and positions of power.

While I don’t want to swell on gatekeepers as subjects, and I don’t think I have many in my subjects (maybe one or two) I am talking to a lot of those who are bouncing up against them.

The same interviewee says that those who are emerging are doing something exciting, they are playing in the spaces between organisations and power. The operate in the margins, and they demonstrate the power of networks and distributed leadership.  This is something I have seen, even in organisational practice (like theatre.)

My comparison between visual arts and theatre, the subject of my current conference paper, may not only demonstrate the power of environment to shape leadership identity (I argue theatre practitioners lean toward a distributed concept of leadership given their collaborative approach while visual arts people tend to have a more hierarchical old school view) but also show how networked leadership evolves amongst some (theatre) but maybe not so much in visual arts  – where the gatekeepers are strong and prominent.  Or, and I’m ‘typing out loud’ here, the networked leaders in visual arts are not yet seeing the power of what they do, or calling it leadership, in the shadow of the gatekeepers?

Either way I need to ensure that the definition of leadership doesn’t get lost in the learning concepts.

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.

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?

No.

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.