Textiles & academic writing: Material, process, product


This post, which could also be titled ‘remembering my 1990s feminist self’ is a re-emergence of some thinking I did a long time ago in my early years at university. After leaving school, I completed a Fine Art degree, followed by an Honours year. I’m writing this post as a way into self-inquiry, a way to write myself towards my hunch that my early days as a feminist-textile-artist-writer have underscored my more recent PhD work and academic writing. Big thanks to Katie Collins whose wonderful blog post on subversive material metaphors in academic writing sparked my thinking.

I was a painter from a young age, thanks to my artist mother, but I chose to study textiles as a major in my undergraduate Fine Art degree, rather than painting. This choice was due to the meanings inherent in textile materials, processes and products. A textile artist can weave in metal or print on latex. They can make work in the blacksmith forge or the sculpture studio. They can work with cardboard or furniture or paint or dye or thread or canvas or wire or plastic or found objects. The visceral and sensory experience of working with materials is central to the artistic process.

The materials a textile artist chooses, and the scale at which they magnify or miniaturise those materials, are deliberate meaning-making choices. The artist can choose needlework and hand-dying, or industrial Warhol-esque mass printing. They can applique or cut away. They can build or melt. They can assemble or destroy. They can stitch or slice. They can focus on the macro or the micro, staggering their viewer with enormous size or encouraging the viewer to come in, up close and personal.

Textiles is personal and political. It is also a subversive arena for artists, and often a feminist one. It pushes or rails against the stratification of ‘Art’, which has often meant the dichotomising of cerebral, thinking highbrow Art (upper-case ‘A’, often seen as done by men), and functional or decorative art (lower-case ‘a’, often associated with women and femininity). Historically, women were objects of art: she the body to be gazed at and sculpted. Or objects of art were personified as women: she the landscape to be scrutinised and painted.

The art historical devaluing of textiles pivots on its early treatment by critics, galleries and institutions. Aesthetic disciplines depend on recognised ‘powers that be’ to promote and uphold them. Early galleries and history books excluded textiles. Unlike painting and sculpture, textiles was historically seen as an unimportant discipline, undeserving of discussion, not worth deconstructing for message or meaning. The association of textiles with the devalued domestic space of the home, the opposite of the glorified public space of the art gallery, contributes to its dismissal.

So, why am I back here, thinking about textiles as feminist discourse or subversive act? Because Katie Collins’ post brought memories of my past self bubbling to the surface. And I am wondering to what extent my long-ago thinking and artistic practice, around the meanings inherent in working in and writing about textiles, has influenced my current and recent research and academic writing. On reflection, my PhD incorporated disruptive elements. While fitting largely within an accepted academic paradigm, it quietly challenged the ways that knowledge is traditionally written about. I used narrative method, literary metaphor and created three multimedia illustrations for the thesis, corporeal expressions of my thinking.

Now that I’m back in the eye of this needle, I need to think further about how textiles might provide a metaphor for research and academic writing.

In the meantime, below I will type an extract from a paper that won me the Allport Writing Award in 1998, and was published in Textile Fibre Forum. It was an analysis of Vivienne Binns’ artwork Mrs Cook’s Waistcoat. The piece gives a sense of where my thinking was around textiles as feminist activism in the late 1990s. I have deliberately omitted an image of the artwork as I’m wondering if the text itself can paint the picture for you.

(For non-Australian readers, Captain James Cook was a British explorer who claimed to ‘discover’ the south eastern coast of Australia in 1770.)

_________________________________________

Extract from ‘Mrs Cook’s Waistcoat: Rewriting history through cloth’

by Deborah M. Netolicky (1998), Textile Fibre Forum, Volume 53.

Mrs Cook’s Waistcoat may be read as one woman’s attempt to rewrite and reinterpret human history. Here Vivienne Binns contributes to the discourse on journey, adventure, and historical significance, telling the pain-filled woman’s story of discovery and adventure—the burden of waiting and worrying, as opposed to doing and dying. Through this work she questions platitudes of the day, such as “men work and women weep”. Binns demonstrates that women were not passive, but were actively working contributing, storytelling, and recording their own histories, written in needlework.

Binns uses journey as metaphor, identifying with Mrs Cook’s expedition as expressed through the waistcoat for Mr Cook. She challenges the value placed on women’s histories and women’s work by challenging the notion that Mrs Cook’s journey was insignificant in terms of human history. She has chosen to elevate its significance, giving it voice, implanting it in the discourse of high art.

… Captain Cook’s wife is the “Mrs Cook” referred to by the title of the work which tells the story of her laboring over a waistcoat for her husband while he is away on a long voyage. The waistcoat mapnel is larger-than-life, describing the legendary reputation of Captain Cook in Australian myth-making, and the amplified importance that Binns intends to give to the making of the waistcoat.

Binns connects the historical representation and exploration of Cook’s journey with issues of women’s value, women’s history, and the construction of gender. In her version of this story, the ocean water is a metaphor for a bewitching, intoxicating vacillating, unpredictable femininity and female identity … Cook, the white, middle-class male, is discovering, navigating, defining, and fixing the limits of the Pacific Ocean. He is writing the experiences, histories, and memories of and for the water, which has no voice. It is formless, restless, intuitive, irrational, and passive, in need of taming, subjugating, explaining and defining by the rational, scientific logic of male discourse.

Nature is tamed by culture. Binns places herself in the middle ground. She associates herself as water, as a woman employing subconscious, intuitive processes – her own emotions, remembrances, and ideas about certain colours, materials, and ways of working. On the other hand, she calmly calculates, selects, and constructs her images, associating herself with the heroic explorer, just as the artist does on a continuous intellectual journey to discover new meanings. This marriage of antithetical metaphors reflects Binns’ concerns with shaping perceptions of women’s ways of knowing, living, researching, remembering, experiencing, and making. By yoking the two ways of working, she gives equal value to each.

…The waistcoat can be seen as a woman’s way of writing and recording history. Women write history in fabric, men write history in text. Binns makes Mrs Cook’s journey of waiting, sewing, and weeping, as valid as Captain Cook’s journey. The labour and time involved in making this waistcoat explain the wife’s dedication and devotion to her far-away husband. Binns questions the trivialisation of women’s roles surrounding issues of the domestic and ‘crafty’. … She uses the processes, materials, and experiences of women—traditional metaphors of women’s work—to weave a myth about women’s forgotten places in history.

Penetrated openings are created by slicing, cutting, and scarring the fabric, fabric that represents flesh as well a material. … Rolled up papers (the stuff of men’s work) penetrate exposed fabric (the stuff of women’s work); paper penetrates fabric; men’s work penetrates women’s work; culture penetrates nature. The slits in the fabric are peeled back like open sores, mirroring the multiple stab wounds that were the cause of Cook’s death. The ultimate satire of the story is that while Mrs Cook is lovingly creating the waistcoat for her husband, he is already dead, his stab wounds mirrored in her handiwork. This is reflected in the typed and hand-written text, which permeates through a layer of white paint: “Mrs Cook embroidered… this time the Captain did not return and the waistcoat remains unfinished”. This irony elevates her personal anguish, and points to the difference in men’s discourses and women’s ways of speaking through needlework.

…Binns … uses traditionally female and domestic techniques of women’s work: embroidery, pattern-cutting, and sewing. There is a sense of Mrs Cook’s physical involvement in this garment, her time, effort, and care. It is stitched, cut, glued. Elements, images, textures, and metaphors are exposed, denied, revealed, concealed, constructed, deconstructed, veiled, disguised, patterned, decorated slashed, sliced, torn, ripped, reconstructed. The piece is layered with the corporeal stuff of memory.

… Binns does not create a new reality, but reflects and reinterprets the existing one in a way that gives it new meaning. She puts one moment in one woman’s life under the microscope until it boils, making her audience reconsider women’s lives, women’s history and women’s art.

Advertisements

Harvesting good work: Reap what you sow

I’m not a farmer, not even a green thumb really. While I quite enjoy gardening and have a composter, I’ve learned to populate my garden with plants that survive on a healthy dose of neglect. (Side note on the composter: there is something joyful about shredding old copies of my PhD thesis drafts and feeding them to the worms.) Despite my lack of horticultural know-how, I’ve recently been considering the farming—and biblical—metaphor that you reap what you sow.

I often see others I admire reaping the rewards of their work. These people aren’t slaves to the performative measures of a neoliberal system, or narcissists seeking the spotlight of social media celebrity. They are humans–professionals, thinkers, theorists and practitioners–dedicated to work they believe is important. To doing it, sharing it, making a difference.

Since the final throes of my PhD in March, things have been happening in seemingly organic ways. Of course the PhD got done-and-fairy-dusted, and the thesis published online. The first paper from my PhD has since been published: ‘Coaching for professional growth in one Australian school: “oil in water”’, in the International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education. I have another paper in press, due out next month. Two more are sitting on editors’ or reviewers’ desks. Two drafts are on the desk of a co-author. I have been interviewed on the Teachers’ Education Review podcast and on 2SER Sydney community radio. I had a piece published in The Conversation this week, about the dangers of pursuing performance pay for teachers. I am in discussions about bookish things, too.

And I’ve been on some kind of accidental-on-purpose conference circuit. AERA in DC in April. researchED in Melbourne in May. The International Symposium for Coaching and Positive Psychology in Education in Sydney in June (this Thursday and Friday). Heroism Science in Perth in July. For (little old) me, alongside my work at my school, all this seems like armfuls of hand-picked produce.

I’m not sure why I’m surprised at the pace of my recent schedule of outside-of-work commitments (also known as the unpaid-but-rewarding work that is academic writing and presenting), and the fact that I’ve started to be approached, rather than doing the approaching myself. But I am quietly bemused that I seem to be in a harvesting part of a cycle, even though I know that this is actually the result of hard and persistent work. The seeds for the current abundance were selected, sown and tended a while ago. Papers were written and reviewed (and reviewed and reviewed). Abstracts were drafted and submitted. Relationships were formed and cultivated. Presentations were prepared. Work was done. A lot of it. In my evenings and on my weekends and in my down time, and in all the little nooks and crannies of my life where I could fit reading, writing, collaborating, learning and connecting. Thank goodness for the wonderful people who support me, from my family and friends, to my colleagues and professional learning network, the Twitterati and my Voxer Squad.

I believe in doing good work. For me this is enacted in ways that are without a linear frame. I’m never quite sure where I’ll end up, or even where exactly I’m intending to go. It’s about doing work that I’m passionate about and feel is important, whether in service of my students, my coachees, my school, or knowledge in the world. In my writing, too, I often try things out, head down trails unsure of where they lead, double back, try again.

So, for now I continue to sow seeds I think are worth sowing. Write and research those things I think are worth writing and researching. Say things I think are worth saying. Teach what I think is worth teaching, in ways I think are most worth doing. Seek to learn those things I think are most worth learning.

The fun thing about this kind of sowing is that it’s like planting mystery seeds. I never quite know what influences or impacts something I do now might have in the future. It’s why the reaping feels like Christmas morning.

The best bit is how rewarding all the persistent and consistent hard work is. I like the work itself. I love the struggle and the triumph. I love the connections and the relationships that bubble up and take form. I love the unexpected rhizomatic results. A failed planting. A teeny green seedling reaching up from damp dark earth. A basketful of glossy fruit. A knotted beanstalk reaching up to the clouds.

Academic activism: Scholars, let your moral passion drive you #aera16

Iwo Jima at sunrise

Iwo Jima at sunrise

The theme of much of my day at the AERA conference yesterday was around scholarly activism. This post, which also shares a few of my photo snaps from DC, reflects on what yesterday’s sessions had to teach me about being a scholar. This comes at an important point in my journey. Now that the PhD is done, I’m thinking about what work I’ll do next in my school, my research and my academic writing.

In one roundtable session, a paper by Stefani Relles and Randy Clemens used the metaphor of punk rock for academics who use DIY scholarship in their quest for social justice. They theorized punk rock scholarship as grounded, activist and disruptive, using comparisons to skateboarders, graffiti artists and musicians of the punk movement. I reflected that a punk rock scholar might circumvent or disrupt traditional academic practices by self-publishing, using social media, blogging, or embracing open access and saying no to pay-walled publishing. But there was discussion at the roundtable about the extent to which an academic can be an outlaw. How disruptive can one be within the system, which places particular norms, pressures and metrics on those working within the academy? How might academics navigate the need for a pay check and tenure with their passion for social justice? Is it a case of corporate Bruce Wayne by day and vigilante Batman by night?

Similar issues emerged in a six-paper session about post-qualitative methodologies in which scholars were pushing at the boundaries of, dissolving, or letting go of, accepted Western ways of knowing and researching. Audience questions included those about how to exist within an academy while challenging or dismissing much of what it holds to be true or important.

Georgetown blossoms

Georgetown blossoms

Yesterday the notion of scholarly activism also emerged in a panel of what some might call superstar or celebrity academics. A discussion between Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, Linda Darling-Hammond and Diane Ravitch was moderated by Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss. One theme which emerged was the importance of researching and writing from a burning core of moral passion. In discussing their books, the authors talked about what had inspired and driven them to write. In each case it was a sense that a book needed to be written, an argument needed to be made, something had to be said, an idea or group needed to be mobilised. Their writing was framed as political activism and advocacy. It had an emotional and moral component. Andy Hargreaves noted that writing should be based on the nobility of an idea.

Diane Ravitch’s story pointed to the need for persistence with moral purpose. She told the audience that her best-selling, award-winning book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education was initially turned down by 15 publishers. At 77 years of age she is also an example of the power of social media and blogging. Her blog has more than 14,000 posts with more than 27 million page views. This speaks to the opportunities for scholars to leverage social media and the blogosphere to communicate their work and their messages to wide audiences. Tweeting and blogging can be scholarly writing practices.

Jefferson

Jefferson

I wonder about how much career stage and level of influence make a difference to the extent to which it is possible to disrupt the status quo. As a PhD candidate, I pushed at the boundaries of the traditional in my thesis, but I was also keenly aware of the need for my dissertation to be recognizable (by the all-important examiners) as an acceptable academic text. I pushed and agitated, but within the limits of what I thought I could get away with while still passing the PhD. Are those earlier in their careers, or in universities on contracts, less able to agitate, disrupt and advocate? Or is it again a case of Diana Prince sometimes, Wonder Woman at others? Clark Kent and Superman? The acceptable academic versus the one fighting for what they believe at their core to be the most important work?

The AERA conference itself is in some ways an exercise in homogeneity. While with about 18,000 in attendance, there is a wide range of topics being covered, most attending are dressed in variations of the same theme. Outwardly, there is an expectation of the academic, graduate student and educator. Do we wear our capes beneath our clothing? Is it our words and our work that are the heroes and the punk rockers?

Yesterday answered many of the questions I’ve been asking myself about what work to choose to do next. I think the answer might be simple. Do the work you believe at your core to be important. Say what needs to be said. Be guided by moral passion, social justice and fundamental purpose.

Folger Shakespeare Library

Folger Shakespeare Library

On writing: Is it dense to be complex?

writing is power (my image, of course!)

writing is power (my image, of course!)

Writing can be bold and dangerous and disruptive. It can be quiet and still and sneaky. It can be melodious and rhythmic and beautiful. It can be subversive and challenging and difficult to read. As a reader and a teacher of English and Literature, I am a believer in the power of language, of words, of literature, of story and of writing. To educate and to soothe. To challenge and to change. It’s why writing is so important for everyone. Writing – and being able to enact authorial intent, to release thought and emotion through words on a page or screen or device – is power.

I teach my students of English to write for audience and purpose. For whom are they writing? What is their purpose? To persuade, to shock, to inform, to inspire, to call to action, to explain, to intrigue? As authors, once they have identified for whom and why they are writing, they can make choices of form, structure and language. I teach them the ‘rules’ of various genres and forms so that they know how to use them, and how to deliberately break them. The same goes for any writer: know your game, how to play and conform, and how to challenge or subvert.

I find blogging an interesting form in the sense that the audience is sometimes unclear. In some ways I write it for myself – as a web log of reflections. Yet I write around particular topics, and I know that I have a readership of individuals and groups who are (it seems!) interested in what I have to say. In some ways I write to share my story so that others might glean something from it, in part because I get so much from others blogging their journeys or writing ‘aloud’ their thoughts and theories as they form. I like even more the collaborative nature of blogging; when it opens up conversation, in comments, on social media or in new blog posts. As Pat Thomson writes, writing can be identity work; it can be a way into being and into connection. And as author and self-publisher, a blogger is free to write how and about what they choose. It’s a kind of free writing.

Academic writing is a different beast. Some academic writers work to make their writing accessible to a broader audience than the academe or a narrow field of scholars. Sometimes I use my thesaurus in reverse (‘What’s a simpler way of saying this?’). But often, as Greg Thompson and Linda Graham have suggested recently, academese can be complex, esoteric and hard to decode precisely because of the densities and intricacies of the ideas being tussled with. Readers and writers of academic prose need to work hard, grappling with words and concepts. Sometimes it seems that every third academic writer invents a new word just to sound more obtuse and scholarly than the next. Yet these discourse-specific terms can be the result of the sweat and tears of theorisation; ‘How do I best communicate this theory?’ Like literature, often celebrated for its multi-levelled complexity, academic texts often need to be read and re-read in order to be understood, and on different levels. Academic allegory. A journey into knowing.

One’s own writing, too, can involve struggle. Using big words isn’t necessarily gratuitous chest-beating in order to show off or project cleverness; it can be the result of ideas and words wrestled with, toiled over, written and re-written. Boundaries pushed at persistently. Knowledge formed or reimagined. I am a neophyte in the world of academia, but my PhD has taught me that writing in academia can mean taking one step forward to take ten steps back. Often I write my way into understanding, like Naomi Barnes who sees writing as inquiry and blogging as process.

my crude Venn diagram of the writing-reading process

my crude Venn diagram of the writing-reading process

Meaning is made at the junction between text (as performed by the writer) and reader. The writer brings themselves to the text, with all their own context, authorial processes, beliefs, assumptions, knowledge, gaps in knowledge and writerly decisions. The reader, too brings their self, context, beliefs, values, and skills of interpretation to the written piece. It’s in that zinging middle space – like in the tension between the fingers of Adam and God on the Sistine Chapel ceiling – that meaning is made. It’s why no reading of a text is ever the same, and why there can never be a ‘right’ interpretation, only perhaps a dominant one.

In today’s world there are a range of places and forms in which authors can communicate their work, theorise, research, think and write. Writers make decisions based on what they want to communicate and who they are reaching out to (or away from). They can choose big words, small words, combative words, inclusive words. They can simplify or complicate. They might write to situate themselves in a particular discourse, within a particular conversation, or with a particular group.

Readers, too, make choices. To read, engage, re-read, give up, struggle through. Or to respond and engage by writing, writing, writing.

‘WRITE ME’: Writing to be, writing to know, writing to connect

Round the keyboard was a paper label, with the words ‘WRITE ME’ beautifully printed on it in large letters. Alice ventured to touch the keys, and, finding the sensation to be addictive and quite wonderful in its staccato rhythm, very soon found she had written a page! Three pages! “What a curious feeling!” said Alice, “I must be becoming a writer.” And so it was indeed, for there were words on the screen and the pads of her fingers were singing with a kind of joy.

~ adapted from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

'WRITE ME'

‘WRITE ME’

It is coming to the end of #AcWriMo, ‘Academic Writing Month’, when, for the duration of November, academic writers take to social media with valiant goals of words written and writing tasks completed. I know how good it feels to watch the words grow. But writing is more than increasing words. It is reading. It is cutting out words. It is drafting words upon words that don’t work; words which are the evidence of problem-solving processes, etched onto white screens or into notebooks; for erasure or storage in shadowy places, not for publication.

In my PhD, and in this blog, I use writing as a medium of reflective and analytic thinking. ‘Writing aloud’ or ‘free writing’ is one way in which I sometimes see where the words take me and which surprising and non-linear burrows I might be catapulted through.

This post emerges out of a blog and Twitter conversation with three academics around writing and autoethnography: Helen Kara (who writes here about ‘showing her workings’ and revealing the personal), Naomi Barnes (who muses here about autoethnography as a vehicle between the personal and theoretical) and Katie Collins (who responds here with her thoughts about writing as thinking, as filter on reality and as power). Here, I offer my own thoughts to this conversation.

I was ushered into this conversation by Helen, but was already familiar with Katie’s work. Once Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was enmeshed into the fibres of my PhD thesis, I went looking for someone else who had done something similar (because surely I couldn’t be the first), and came across Katie’s then-recently-published dissertation. We had done different things with Alice, but the novel clearly resonated for both of us.

While I didn’t use Deleuzian theory in my PhD, Deleuze’s 1990 Logic of Sense reflects some of my thinking of Alice as a novel of identity contestation, fluid becoming and un-becoming, through language. Carroll’s fantastical, imaginative world questions adult realities and plays with the power and (non)sense of words. Deleuze positions Alice at the borders. As a neophyte researcher who has made some non-traditional choices, I have felt that I have operated in some ways at the borders, questioning and pushing at the edge of where I am expected to be, what I’m expected to do and how I’m expected to do it. Being at once curious about, filled with wonder for, and at odds with, the world is an affinity I feel with Alice. (This week I will present on my use of the Alice metaphor in my PhD, at the Australian Association for Research in Education conference.)

crudely sketching Alice

crudely sketching Alice in my notebook

While for my PhD I didn’t adopt autoethnography per se, I did use the autoethnographer’s lens as part of my conceptual bricolage. That is, I saw myself as research instrument, self-conscious participant and immersed, self-identified insider member of my study. Michael Schwalbe’s 1996 metaphor resonated: reflections on my self were both door and mirror; a way in to others and a way back to self.

My PhD thesis self-story (I was interviewed as one of my own participants; but that’s another tale) had the purpose of making transparent my own worldview (along the lines of Helen’s ‘showing my workings’), but it also had another function: to help me know myself. As I worked to find the words to explore and articulate my own lived experiences of the phenomena I was studying, I found, as others have, that I wrote my way into knowing, wrote my world into a version of its reality and constructed my own story in new ways, through the talk-aloud experience of the interviews and the process of forming and finding the words to frame my narrative.

I wrote at one point about writing a PhD as like freeing a sculpture from stone, but I wonder if the process of writing is one in which we free what already exists within, or if it is more than this. Creation? Collage? Weaving? Moulding? None of these seems to adequately embody the process of writing which seems to come simultaneously from within and without; from past, present and future; from materials tangible and intangible. It is deliberate and intuitive; visible and invisible.

And so, I continue to welcome opportunities to write my way into being, to write my way into understanding and to connect my words and thoughts with those of others.

I came across this 'Pour Me' cocktail the night of this Twitter conversation. Coincidence?

I came across this ‘Pour Me’ cocktail the night of this Twitter conversation. Coincidence?

How to make your PhD seem like a holiday

This post is my homework this week from the How to Survive Your PhD MOOC in which we have been asked to illuminate an area of confusion through a ‘how to’ guide. While one of the things I found most difficult in my PhD was the discussion chapter (which I’ve talked about here), I thought I’d take a more light hearted approach to this task. One reason for that is that this week – in two sleeps! – I’ll be printing my thesis to be sent to the examiners. So I’m feeling all out of words and fairly brain fried.

I’ve previously asked the question: Can you love your PhD? Here I look at whether your PhD can seem like a holiday. So here’s my ‘how to’ for enjoying your PhD as though it’s an island getaway (more than a little tongue in cheek, but not entirely!).

*              *              *

a romantic night in with the thesis

a romantic night in with the thesis

Step 1: Make sure you’re over committed. This includes parenting, working, having a partner, caring for pets, dealing with life’s surprises. This way, whenever you steal time away to spend time with your PhD, it’ll feel special. Time, just the two of you, feels wonderful when it’s in the eye of a crazy life storm. Ah, special romantic PhD moments!

my kiddoes

my kiddoes

Step 2: Do your work in lovely places and comfy spaces. While a functional office might be great for productivity, there’s nothing like a gorgeous café for some academic writing or a sunny daybed for some literature reading. Cafés, as well as providing ambience for writing, have the bonus of caffeine and people, making you both energetic in your work and surrounded by fellow humans, a great antidote to feeling as though you’re working alone.

my fave #acwri daybed, with coffee

my fave #acwri daybed, with coffee

Step 3: Take a writing retreat. Take a LOT of writing retreats. While you don’t have to ‘retreat’ far (these can be close to home), they need to be in slightly unfamiliar places, preferably with great scenery and some outdoorsyness to get amongst when you’re taking breaks from the writing or revising.

#acwri in the sun by the beach

#acwri in the sun by the beach

Step 4: Choose to research something you’re passionate about, and stay true to yourself in your method and writing. This way you’re following your own research dream and digging into a part of the knowledge landscape that sustains and inspires you. Take off your shoes and curl your toes in the rich earth!

glittery inspiration & your own special randomness

glittery inspiration & your own special randomness

Et voilà! The PhD seems like a holiday, not a torment. 🙂

 

Preparing the thesis for examination: Days until submission

A work is never completed except by some accident such as weariness, satisfaction, the need to deliver, or death: for, in relation to who or what is making it, it can only be one stage in a series of inner transformations.. ~ Paul Valery

by @debsnet

I have reached that point of the PhD which every candidate feels might never come … only days until submission. While I have been pushing to the end, it has not been a manic panic to a firm deadline. I will be submitting within three years from enrolling but there was no real reason to work to this submission date except that I had a personal goal of completing within three years, and the thesis played along so it became possible (yay!). I did have Plans B and C in the back of my mind in case it didn’t happen as I hoped it would. I considered pushing out my self-imposed deadline, or if I was really struggling, taking six months off work and applying for a completion scholarship. As it happened, I’ve managed to achieve my personal deadline while working, so I didn’t need to activate alternate plans.

In this last week, I’ll have no more meetings with supervisors. They have a new electronic copy of the thesis and will be giving me their final feedback by phone two days before I finalise the document. Then I will be sending the final copy electronically to my principal supervisor for sighting, before we both sign off on it, after which point I’ll walk my usb stick ceremoniously to the print shop, and ask for four copies of the thesis to be printed. Whenever the printing is done (I’m told it might be same-day, or up to two working days) I’ll submit it and receive … glory? champagne? fanfare? the sound of angels singing and unicorns galloping over shimmery rainbows? … a receipt of submission.

In this post, I’d like to share a couple of tech tools that I’ve found useful in this last few weeks to submission.

While I decided not to use a professional editor for my thesis (I’ll let you know how that goes!), I was so pleased when a comment on this blog led me to PerfectIt editing software, which has a 30 day free trial – just in time for me in the month before submission. PerfectIt checks for consistency of language such as hyphenated words, use of numerals and abbreviations. Just like a spell check, you need to consider each individual case rather than clicking ‘Fix All’. Finding this software was brilliant because it helped me look at what is a really big document with a view to ensuring my word choice was consistent from start to finish.

I was also delighted to discover, just yesterday, the free online tool Recite, which checks references, including between the reference list and the body of the document. So helpful for someone like me who has done manual referencing throughout!

So the thesis is feeling, not finished, but ready for examination. The above quote by Paul Valery is often misquoted as “art is never finished; it is abandoned”. The thesis is never finished, it is submitted. I think that’s different because I could keep reading (and reading and reading). I could keep editing over and over, although I’m finding mostly minor errors now. But it’s a little like renovating a house. Just as you improve one thing (replace the curtains!) you realise the next thing to be done (the walls need to be painted!). The layers of final thesis refinement go on and on as small iterations and improvements are made. The final formatting makes it feel like the real deal; a document coming together in readiness for a home open. Yet despite my best efforts, the observer-examiner coming through might think it needs a new bathroom or a different kind of flooring, no matter how much I’ve painted or polished.

As Valery says, it is finished because of the need to deliver. And it is one in a series of small transformations; not an end-of-the-road magnum opus but a beginning-of-being-a-researcher moment of identity formation. So it feels finished enough to take flight to be judged by those outside of myself and my supervisors. We think the thesis is at doctoral examinable quality, but I’ll be interested in what three external experts, each with their own lens, think about it. Perhaps they’ll have questions about theory or method. Perhaps corrections will be minor. Maybe there’ll be no corrections at all! Isn’t that the PhD dream?

I’m trying to look at examination through the rose-coloured lens that it is a process to improve and strengthen my work, so that, as one examiner in the Mullins and Kiley (2002) paper said, it ‘glows more brightly’ on the library shelf. Surely, I think, the examiners have agreed to examine my thesis because the abstract piqued their interest in some way? And surely they will approach it with a view to both recognising my work and giving feedback to make the thesis a better product. Right?