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!


Procrastination, my friend

It’s been school holidays, then several weeks where it was either a public holiday that week, or a pupil free day, and my brain is confused.  I appear to be lacking the basic motivation to work on my thesis at all, despite my most excellent reading plans.  I have ground to a halt!

I’m not really sure what it is, exactly.  I’m not really behind, I have a good plan, everything is set up and organised, I love my topic and find it all super interesting.  But opening files and writing, or getting out articles to read and make notes is just not appealing.


Instead, I am organising ALL THE THINGS in the rest of my life, which is fine I suppose but not conducive to being called Dr one day.  I have a bunch of admin for my oldest girl at the moment, and we also got a new giant turtle tank, which had a knock on effect of meaning we now have a new pet lizard, and all our fish tanks are getting makeovers because reasons.  So I find myself buying silkworm eggs and replacement impellers instead of being a good academic.  This too shall pass…right!?!

Must stick to reading goal this week, at least then I’ve got something nice a ticked off a list to point to.  Happy trails, all!!

Juggling, and Peppa Pig

I have kids.  It is school holidays here, and whenever this happens, I spend a little time lost.  My youngest is 9 now, so it’s not a onerous as it once was, but I still find working at home with kids a rough stretch.

I think it’s also the nature of the stage of the thesis that I’m at now.  I’m 8 months in, and still mostly reading and making mildly coherent notes.  My other main job in the first year is to write the confirmation document and presentation, which I’m starting to outline now (and when I say outline, I mean it: I have headings.  That’s it.).  So my work is a lot of thinking about stuff like the nature of being a person, what is an adult, or how complex social security administrative law works (I’ll have to get back to myself on that one!), and this is kind of hard, even if your kid is mostly self sufficient.  Even if she mostly does for her herself, she and her friends sure are noisy!  And seem to need food an awful lot.


Watching Peppa Pig after a seizure last week while I pretend to work on my thesis!

And if Daelle is home, it seems impossible!  There’s something about it that means I find it hard to divide my attention.  I’m not sure if it’s a something I should work on and try strategies to “fix”, or if it’s something that just IS and I should accept.  Having a profoundly disabled child is not just physical but is a mostly emotional labour, and maybe my thinking bits (a technical term) are too taken up with that and there’s no room for hard thinking too.

Of course, there’s the issue of my topic being at times very very close to home.  Which is another entry (or ten) to come…



Endnote Woes

My attempt to get around using two operating systems, Mac at home and Windows *shudder* at work, is not going as awesomely as I wasn’t expecting it to.  Endnote is giving me issues, refusing to sync either of my computer based libraries to the supposedly authoritative web version, causing many headaches and much swearing.  My iPad, for some reason, is syncing just fine.  download

Even my IT support guy (also known as Mr Shaggy Dog, and Husband-face) threw up his hands today amongst mutterings of metadata, reinstall, blah blah error…something something.  I’ve heroically decided to leave the problem to be Tuesday’s headache, which is when I’m next at my work desk.  It’s something to do with library locations, and by all that’s unholy, I will fix it!!

This is part of my “start as you mean to go on” project, which among other epic tasks, involves making sure my reference library is actually correct.  I also have to use a particular kind of legal citation, which has already caused a bit of fiddling around.  I’m sure I’ll get there, but they don’t advertise this stuff in the PhD brochure. I figure future me will be grateful when I’m putting in footnotes the night before drafts are due.  She better be!

Also, I should probably be reading more of the reference library, as well as ensuring the author field is correct and the title has all important words capitalised.  That’s a project for future me…

I feel I should note I did look hard at two other citation managers, Zotera, and Papers3, before sticking with Endnote.  Though other options are looking even more attractive at this point!

Starting out…

I’m in my sixth month of my PhD, and at my University we have to complete a proposal by the end of month 3, and a confirmation at the end of the first year.  So I’m halfway to that big milestone.  After getting the pesky (but slightly useful) proposal out of the way, I was sidelined by the main school holiday break, 6 weeks of kids at home.  My middle daughter finished school and started her day programs, which has been kind of a big deal round these parts.


Snorlax is my spirit Pokemon

Life is scoring, and thesis is losing!

Kids are back at school and programs, routine is trying to settle, and I’ve been wandering back to campus to see what’s what with this giant thing I’ve embarked on (again).

I’m not in what you might call an intellectual frame of mind yet, so I decided I’d “start as you mean to go on” by sorting out some serious admin.  Including this blog, citation management, word processing, trying to wrestle my Mac home into compatibility with the persistently unpleasant Windows workplace.  You know, the big issues.

As I’ve travelled around questing for solutions, blogs sure help.  And this is mine.  Here’s to Academic Me, version 2.0, in more ways than just web presence.

But as you can see, I did get youngest daughter to make my desk a sign!  That counts as PhD progress in my book.