Latest update

Much has happened since I last wrote!  The publication that I had madly been editing last time, needed more editing.  Writing for publication is incredibly difficult and time consuming.  The end product however, is something to be appreciated.  When I think about the time the three reviewers took to send me quality feedback, the time the special issue editor took to proof my work and then the very detailed editions required by the journal’s chief editor, I am in awe of how much time each of them spent pushing and challenging me to strive for excellence.  Writing may seem to be a solo journey, but around us and beside us are those who teach, mentor, push and challenge.

Most recently I was accepted to attend a Thesis Boot Camp – yes a weekend by the beach on the NSW coastline – writing intensively!  Funnily enough – the only time we get to walk down along the beach is at 7.00am for a walk and half an hour when it is time to pack up to leave.  The rest of the time is taken up with intensive writing sessions.  We are very privileged, though to have Inger Mewburn, the Thesis Whisperer with us.  Dr Mewburn is also the Director of Research Training at ANU.  I am very excited about participating in this weekend, but I must admit, I am feeling anxious about how I will go.  Then I tell myself, well even if I only achieve half of what I had hoped, then I have achieved more than I would staying at home!  Mind you, I do love the place that we are going to – Kioloa.  I went there a couple of years ago in my first year at ANU.  It was beautiful!


As to writing my thesis, I have taken up the 500 words a day mantra and this month I can report being successful, four days out of the 11.  However, I must admit in that time I have marked 17 undergraduate 1,500 word essays, marked the tutorial discussion board and today I have focused on developing the structure of my thesis and planning for the thesis boot camp. I am feeling rather excited with where I am at with my thesis as I can finally see it taking shape and am feeling confident that I can write a good thesis.  Much of the journey this year has been about facing the thesis itself.  Knowing that I have read enough and committing to writing it up, has been excruciatingly difficult.  It is an emotional and mental battle that has taken a toll, but finally the glimmer of ability to succeed as an academic is beginning to take hold.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

What did you have in mind?

Nearly a week later, I have attempted to edit a paper, submitted an abstract to an international conference and been distracted!  Procrastinating again; well that’s what I had assumed.  This morning, however, I woke up asking myself, ‘What is my goal?’  I must confess, I have forgotten.

Earlier this semester when I attending a ‘newbies’ seminar for postgraduate students starting out on their doctoral studies, one point mentioned was to keep an eye on your goal.  At the time I remembered thinking that was a good point because the vision of walking into the graduation ceremony wearing a floppy hat was just not enough to cut it; plus three years down the track it still seemed a long way off.  This morning, however, I am asking myself, what is my goal?  What do I want to achieve?  Why did I set out on this journey to research this topic?  Do I really have to keep writing the same thing over and over again?  Do I really need to find that reference when I know this stuff like the back of my hand?

The answer is yes.  I do need to define my goal and what I want to achieve, if I want it to be of substance.

Maybe falling back on being a procrastinator is really a cop out for not defining or keeping my eye on the goal.  Maybe in part, it is the realisation that I am not going to solve all the problems of the world with my PhD journey, but that I am simply contributing a small plate for tasting to a smorgasbord of knowledge that is already out there.  Maybe my tendency to procrastinate is about losing sight of my goal and what I set out to achieve.  You know to this day, I have still not written the final version of the question for which I am spending all this time researching and writing!  Although, again, as I was going to sleep, a question came to mind.  It was simple and it was obvious, but was it enough?

Initially I was inspired to undertake this research because of a meeting I had with a small group of farming women.  This meeting was held during the first six months of my role at Greater Shepparton City Council where I was employed part-time for six months to work as a Drought Recovery Officer.  During the meeting, one of the women turned to me and said that the problem with my role is that they were tired of helping contract workers to meet key people and access appropriate local knowledge when they were only employed for the short-term and kept changing all the time.  Every time a contract finished, local knowledge and local history for that role was lost.  This was repeated to me on numerous occasions and it made sense.  Also, after each report I wrote for the council about the role of the Drought Recovery Officer, noting that some kind of ongoing rural community development position needed to be created, I felt that there was little to no recognition given to what the people in the region wanted.  My goal for my honor’s thesis and this thesis was to capture some of that history and local knowledge so that it would not be lost forever. Inspiration, however, is only a starting point, although the inspiration of those farming women remains to this day a key driver that keeps me researching and writing.

Today I found a website called ‘James Hayton, PhD‘.  James described an amazing doctoral journey where he ended up writing the final product in just three months.  He had some very interesting things to say about writing and the habit of writing and signing up to his email has provided me with a very interesting ‘Short guide to writing a thesis fast‘.

My aim is to finish this thesis by 1 February 2015 (or as I prefer to say, by the end of the year).  I did like the way James Hayton suggested that in the end the PhD journey was about completing his thesis to the best of his ability and knowing that he submitted work that he was proud of made the journey worthwhile.  For the time being there is merit in that and I am willing to write at a minimum 500 words each day.  Then at least I will achieve a sense of being productive and the fog will start to clear.

journey unclear

Writing and Procrastination

Writing can be an extremely slow process – especially when trying to write for a large project that requires a high level of research and formality.  Currently I am working on my PhD thesis and I am struggling.  Breaking the thesis down to bite sized chunks is really important but doing that and keeping the chunk within the framework of the big picture often brings out the worst acts of procrastination.  I seem to spend so much time thinking about what I want to write and planning when I am going to write that I forget, become distracted or run out of time to actually take up the task of writing.

Earlier this semester, having decided to end avoiding the inevitable, I reached out to the university’s research department and signed up to a couple of seminars.  As an external student, I felt that surrounding myself with other academically minded people would help to inspire me with purpose to take up writing – and it did, in a small way until I realised that the washing needed to be done, the boys picked up from school and I had to have coffee with my girlfriend.

I then followed up with some of the advice that was offered during the seminar:  the Pomodoro Technique and reading about writing a thesis starting out at The Thesis Whisperer‘s blog.  I bought myself an egg-timer to start implementing some discipline.  I confess I have not gotten too far, but I will, once I get started on my writing again!  Today, however, was my day to start writing a blog.  Another step along the procrastination journey?  Maybe, but it also means that I am writing.

This week gone, I started to say no to coffee – both in the literal sense and in the cultural sense.  I have started to say to myself, ‘no you are not texting your friends to tell them you are in town, nor are you popping in to the coffee shop to do some reading while you deep down hope a friend or two might interrupt you’.  I have a perfect home that is conducive to reading, writing and contemplation.  My discipline is starting with the concept of getting up every morning at 6.30am so that I am ready to start writing by 9.00am.  I still have days when I have to take my sons to school and spend the day in town, but I am beginning to avoid the coffee shops and am choosing to maximise an opportunity to read and write in a space a friend has offered for me to use.

Writing a thesis is a discipline and it requires the student to make that personal, academic journey with the utmost persistence and determination.  It can also be a lonely journey where I can pretend I am working, but then the only person I am truly deceiving is myself.  The honest truth is that I have spent hours avoiding writing because it means a commitment to my ideas; it means I might actually achieve my dream; it means turning my back on seeing myself as a failure and valuing the journey of achievement.  Yes, the PhD is more than an academic journey.  It is a spiritual and emotional journey that is taking me to a space where I must believe in my worth in order to achieve.  Knowing something and believing something can be two very different things, but having faith in my capacity to achieve requires inordinate strength, courage and persistence.

Around the 20 March 2014, I have to have completed a revision of a paper that has been accepted for publication later this year and I have to complete a near final draft of my methods chapter, so that when I go to Canberra, my supervisor and I can work together on the next step towards putting my thesis together.  Just thinking about it, raises my anxiety levels.  Can I really do that?  It’s too much, I can’t!  Then I tell myself, ‘I’ll just check Facebook…’.

Until next week…Happy reading!