Working on Campus

Well, my current strategy for not failing to work on my PhD is to just physically be on campus at my desk more often. As strategies go, at least it’s simple. I have a desk in a shared doctoral student space in the city campus of my University. It has what I call “river glimpses,” and gives me a nice spot to sit and procrastinate in new and exciting ways. Today I’m procrastinating by writing this blog, but I will (probably) IMG_1359update my Endnote citations next, and send some emails about my ethical clearance (epic) application later. Which I probably wouldn’t do from home.

I work fine at home if I’m doing a set thing, like writing a paper. I don’t do the other work very well, like reading or setting up meetings, or just thinking and organising it all. Being present. If I know what I need to do next, I can sit and write anywhere. If it’s a bit hard, or not quite there, or the next step isn’t obvious, I’ll do almost anything to avoid engaging with the work at the moment. Being on campus makes that harder, which is why I’m here, writing this, and thinking about maybe engaging with the work any minute now… I promise…

Ahem…

Well, I see through the harsh reality of post dating that it has been nearly a year since I wrote here. This partially reflects the state of my PhD, I say partially as I did get through my confirmation of candidature, which is kind of a big milestone, in April this year. Since then, though, other than some refiling, a VERY small bit of reading, and a lot of flailing around, I have not made solid progress on the beast at all.

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I did get through D’s NDIS intake and planning though, and with awesome results. That popped up in July, and I did a LOT of prep for it, including a 30 page document we submitted to her planner. I prepped for Review, basically, and told them so. We had a good planner, and got a good plan. Since then, we’ve been supported in ways we had only dreamed about before NDIS, we’ve had three weeks of full time carer support, every day!!! They change and shower her, and give her breakfast. It’s both awesome and difficult to relinquish that level of involvement in a child’s life (she’s 19 for those playing at home).

So there’s that. And given my topic, I’m counting the whole process as research. It’s been eye opening and I’ll be writing more as I warm up here again.

So, onwards, next my ethical clearance, which I’ll write more on soon.

It’s a fun job, and I enjoy it

I stole this slogan unashamedly from Happier in Hollywood, a fun podcast about life and work.  Their motto as writers in Hollywood is “It’s a fun job, and we enjoy it!”  It sums up a feeling I often have that doing PhD is an amazing privilege.  Sure, it’s a privilege that I actively despise a lot lately, but I should probably be more focussed on the good side not the dark side.  So in an effort at procrastinating positively, I made myself a happy squirrel reminder.  Seriously, a PhD is a great thing to be doing.  I’m so lucky to be able to give three years to a project this way (and not have to have higher paid work), I’ve got great hours so that I can be a stay at home parent (something super important to our family), I’m very interested in my topic, and I love “thinking about things” as my job.  If I could choose any job in the world and describe it, it would be a professional “thinker about things.”

It doesn’t help to actively remind myself of this most days of the week…

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The eye of a needle

My topic, it’s enormous.  I am still searching for exactness.  Like most PhD students, I have an enormous olympic pool of ideas, research, concepts, theories, but I’m cramming them into a wading pool that is my 3 year thesis.  It’s old hat to say that it’s a thesis, not a Nobel prize, but the reality of narrowing, effectively throwing out (for the next 3 years) ideas and theory and other work is a hard slog.

I’m finding the focusing stage a difficult time.  My topic is the transition to adulthood for people with severe cognitive impairment.  I do socio-legal work that looks at how law works in practice (on the ground, the interface between law and people), and what that might tell us about our society and ourselves.   So in my thesis, I’m interested in intersections between broad ideas (like what is an adult) as they intersect and are represented within regulatory systems.  An example: a person can vote when they turn 18. This is regulated by laws, and these laws are administered by the electoral commission.  All of this, the laws, the regulation, the institution, helps illustrate what we think being an adult IS exactly.  What is voting?  Why is it important?  What do we do when someone can’t vote?  Even more specific: We got a letter for Daelle about her reaching voting age and being registered.  There is a form you can fill out if someone isn’t capable of understanding voting to get an exemption, which means she won’t get fined.  This needs to be signed by a doctor.  So we (and Daelle) intersect with this system of law and regulation and bureaucracy about voting in a particular way.  All of this stuff is our society’s way of defining these bigger shared ideas and concepts.

My project is about where parents andneedle carers of people with severe cognitive impairments (who are transitioning to adulthood) bump up against regulatory systems and law, like social welfare systems, finance and banking, transport, education, healthcare, the NDIS, and guardianship.  I’m looking at severe cognitive impairment because it informs us all not only about the lived experience of their carers (as close as I can get to the person themselves) – which is not very much researched and super important – but also because looking at the “extreme” edges more clearly shows us the core of our ideas about what being an adult means, what being a citizen means, what being “disabled” means, and at some fundamental level, what being a person in our society means.

So yeah, like most people, I have some big ideas to wrestle into 100,000 words in a specific format that shows I deserve a doctorate.  Like everyone, it’s all about wresting the ideas into smaller shapes, that are still meaningful, and that still represent the big ideas, but that can fit into a PhD shaped box.  It’s a mental juggling act.  And my arms are tired!!

Networking, what is it good for?

This is rhetorical of course.  I have to push myself to reach out to other academics and students.  I have grand plans, and can even manage competent email contact, but when the fateful day to have coffee and a chat comes around, I am finding some large scale resistance in my brain.

I can tend to be an insular soul, so meeting new and interesting people and talking about myself in some way that makes my work sound scintillating can be a tad anxiety provoking (for all of us I figure, work with me here!).  But I’m soldiering on.

I set a goal this term to meet up with two women who do great work in my field and also happen to work right at my University, and I managed to actually follow through last week!  It doesn’t help that I had to reschedule twice because of a seizure day and a pupil free day/childcare fail.  These things do not instill one with confidence as one sails out into the big wide world.

Of course, the chat (eventually) went great.  Anxiety = nil; Awesomeness = 1.  I hereby award myself a networking gold star!

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Living it

Like a lot of people who research, I live my topic, it’s part of my own narrative.  This has, for me, a somewhat messy heap of benefits – including thinking of the topic in the first place, seeing that it’s an issue socially and legally, and being in the privileged position of being able to spend time thinking pretty deeply about all of this *stuff*, some of which is my own *stuff*.

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Daelle, refusing to fit into all kind of categories!

But it’s also hard.  Nearly everything I read and think about now is about profound disability.  I read articles about how we define people as “people” – as moral actors.  I read about horrific discrimination, or the lack of value of human rights, or about what on earth human rights (and humans!) are in the first place.  I read about programs for people with severe disability, and about the grief, despair, hope, and joy of their parents and carers.  I read about the nature of our laws of guardianship, our lack of human rights protections, our failures in social services and social administration.  And I am in all of those things I read, or at least a close neighbour.  Then, I think if I wasn’t in it, I would be missing an essential element, some intangible thing, that grounds it all and helps me see it.  I don’t have to hurdle the foreign language of a immersion in research area, I just have to see it when it’s all right there in front of me.

Having it all right there is also hard, I deal with some of the issues that prompted my topic nearly every week.  Our family moves through social welfare systems, financial systems, we make decisions all the time “for” Daelle, we share her care, so we have issues of disagreement and alternatives, we have funding, program choice, transport, therapy, aids and equipment, staffing, all this front and centre, every day.  The constant small hiccups and large catastrophes of having an adult person who can’t fulfill our system’s many criteria of being an adult person.  Where those criteria fall way, way down, how they hurt and harm, how they become endless exercises in bureaucracy, reporting, forms, how something essentially human is lost here….  At least through all this,  I get a constant parade of subject headings for my thesis!

This makes me think a lot about the nature of research, and how we see bias, what meaning we put on it.  I’m doing interviews later, too, and I think this will be interesting to share and think about as I go.  I’m planning on writing on all this in my methods section, maybe a paper too… Maybe!