PhD and me – which conversation

🗣Lesson #2. the conversation you’re in👀

A blog to briefly declare something I did not know, I did not know. A truth of academic research that is perhaps true of many exchanges, except in academic conversations only the words need to be alive…

Have you ever observed two people who are evidently having different conversations with each other? Each exchange appearing to further distance one from the other, but both using the same phrases whilst meaning quite contextually different things. Both are people you wish to converse with, but what conversation are they actually having? And what are you to add to such confused disagreement between friends?

As the observer you initially just note disagreement. Only by listening a while, and understanding the friends wider positional norms, does the disconnect become heard. You note it first, because you have tried to ground both sets of comments. But soon one or both talkers note it too. One space of discourse, but three people with three ideas of what conversation is being had, or what arena it is sitting within.

This is lesson #2 of my PhD journey – second lesson of so very many. Lesson #2, entitled “know what conversation you are in”. Lesson #1 {here}

🔎Finding the right conversation📚📕📗📘📙

This notion of academic discourse as a conversation is from chapter 1, of Anne Sigismund Huff (2009) “Designing Research for Publication”. This seems such an obvious insight once pointed out, but one I have been blind to up to now – it is key to understanding what it is I am really engaged with. A better way to explain what academic writing is, and the role the scholarly contributors represent.

As my supervisor explained last week, “we are not seeking problems to solve, we are advancing what was until now partially unknown”. Or as was observed when comparing notes on presenting in conference settings, in an academic conference you are presenting to the experts, and who is not nervous in doing that? Expect those experts to engage from the last thing or the better thing already said. Put another way, the scholar finds themselves in the middle of an ongoing conversation, and we are expected to have heard all that has been said despite not being there.

That is in essence what my first month of a PhD has taught me. That not only am I yet to elucidate my problem, but even as that now emerges, I am yet to even know the conversation I am joining – and which ones I am not.

🙋🏻‍♀️🤦🏽🙇🏼‍♂️Scholars collectively converse – intellectuals individually know💁‍♂️

A second part to this lesson is the reorientation of my assumed role. This PhD is not about becoming the intellectual, but about the scholarly pursuit. In the same way that the problem solving is the consulting role. Problem clarity is the role, and the understanding that emerges is all.

Huff (2009) explains this both as the conversation we are engaging in, and that the scholarly role is both as sense-maker and as sense-giver. We are contributing to the advancement of the knowledge, but we are also restating clearly what has been said before. We are conversing, and revisiting the discourse that has been had. The reader of our work is both being offered what is new, but being given a chance afresh to validate what understanding it adds to. And by extension, to have clarity of the many other conversation it could be, but is intentionally not.

⏰time you need x3📆🔍🧮📚

So here I am, the scholarly wannabe. Not yet able to articulate my problem. Still shaking off the default setting of problem solving, not defining. Not yet familiar with where the one conversation runs parallel to the next. Not even close to the understandings which oppose, which align, or how conversations may intersect or just confuse. Already a month into speaking with my peers and my supervisors. Yet with each new guide I read; with every re-reading and new connection found to academic work; all these conversations are going on – and for me now just the first hint of a whisper as toward what grounding all their words juxtapose.

It matters that I still know what it is to listen. And why it matters so much to follow the conversation a while, and not simply try to jump in. Landing knowingly and landing well, but first working out the next conversation to read. And of my planning, as a peer said today, “...whatever time you think each activity will be, multiply it by three…

Recognisable language from understood ground. All necessarily a means to listen better, long before seeking to be heard. Another lesson found.

…to be continued

blind to omens

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. An hour in mourning, or a longer PM?

If omens are your thing maybe you have noted a partial solar eclipse over Westminster today.

The photo image is a lunar eclipse 28th September 2015, but the eclipse effect similar to that seen today.

If celebrations are your thing, maybe you noted a festival that celebrates good conquering evil the day Rishi Sunak was announced our next PM.

If fiction is your thing, then at 42 years old, his age happens to be Douglas Adams’ Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy answer to “life, the universe and everything”.

close up shot of lighted candles during diwali
Photo by Ravi Roshan on

If concern for others is your thing, then perhaps it is to such coincidence that one must turn. Symbols of hope, when symbols are all that is left to present reason to think the change coming next is better than of recent past.

Image via BBC News

For me privilege begets privilege. I grew up in its light, and sit comfortably in my skin. For others this is a day of celebration because of the symbolism of a what, not a who, the door to No. 10 now lets in.

I too applaud what this symbolises, if such symbolism is what this day proves to become. But with a cautionary note that symbols reflect both belief from our past, and possibility of a future. Symbols quickly become whatever those empowering belief and possibility intend. So the talisman of hope anyone reads into symbolic interpretation, had better be backed up with future actions that suit.

I hope this one platform of personal change reflects more profound change, and is not simply further endorsing debate about Winchester vs Eton to get into Oxbridge. In the Rishi example, thereafter a means to study an MBA at Stanford, and experience the “real” world of work life from the walls of Goldman Sachs and various hedge funds. And the small matter of marriage into true wealth.

This could still yet just symbolise what the UK is perhaps most symbolic of. A dual society that continues to put the Masters of the Universe, as a them. Can we hope this is a perspective that can now quickly be set toward enabling the many to build just as capably too? Colour-blindness perhaps, or just further blind-eyes turned inward to the few.

Hardworking parents, sacrifice toward building a platform for the next. Symbolic perhaps of the role of us all, to the generations yet to come. As symbolism of today, perhaps this is a moment of eclipsing what has come before, and seeking new meaning of what is indeed good over evil. For me that is certainly the only choice of light over dark that should ever have been. But if this just becomes another shade of wealth privilege and the self-serving of the few, I fear for what more let down may symbolise for the many, and what they may next choose to do.

Good luck, Rishi. The latest unelected stewardship servant with much to do. Symbolism aside, it is in the belief and the intent of your next actions, to which we place all eyes upon you.

PhD and me – the problem

the pre-start start

A few weeks into my PhD, now. Still finding my way. I have prepared a detailed plan of a year ahead. However, beyond my detailed reading I remain blissfully ignorant of what is coming. This is preparing to report to my boss perhaps, but that is no-one but myself…

👀where to start🔜💬🏁

The truth is I find myself writing this blog as a procrastination. Much as such planning to extreme is another example. I know well how this goes. It is my weapon of choice when facing cognitive dissonance. That feeling of angst when upheaval is all around, and yet the revolution or evolution is happening without outward sound. And these are moments of great dissonance – for I sit upon a perch between two truths that cannot both be – truths that are only living internally within me. I perversely enjoy this feeling. I admit it. I delight in its possibility. I also know by experience the danger of forever pondering. It is time now to mobilise, and acknowledge distraction.

🆘What’s your problem?🆚🛅

The truth is I have a problem. Gloriously and beautifully so. It is all consuming, and lives with me night and day. Yet, despite its presence it is refusing to announce itself in any meaningful way. This, I am assured, is completely normal. It is also good discipline to be writing all this down. This blog therefore lives as a moment of learning, for me. One of the many I am signed up for, and am excited to see.

📖The brain-fart start🧠💨

The truth is I am my problem. At least that is how it presently feels to me. Another week begins in my PhD journey, and I am so very far yet from the start. I am being asked the most basic of questions about my idea, as a problem. And every answer I offer sounds and reads more like a brain fart [sic]. All completely normal I am assured.

📚learning to learn (again)🤹‍♂️🧩🎯

The truth I have learnt first is that initially “the problem is the problem” – a phrase I borrow gratefully from Steven Terrell, PhD (2016). His, one of many guides I have sought counsel from as I arrive and begin the process of trying to mentally unpack. Not only is the problem “the problem”, it is a nest of problems from which choices must be made and by which academia can prepare its many options in its attack. But that is much later. Right now, the problem is the problem. And as to its clarity: well it is contained deep inside somewhere – or living upon another’s page.

🔭Crack-up, to crack-down🔬

Truth be told, it’s been two weeks and if “the problem” – my research purpose – is opening up, it is only by the smallest of cracks. Which is just fine. More time to read, more time to write. This is all part of the careful preparation long before the real starting line.

…to be continued.