Status update

I am at a significant milestone in my PhD candidature and my work life.

First my PhD. I recently submitted my Confirmation of Candidature (CoC). At my presentation the panel recommended minor modifications, which I made then resubmitted. My CoC is now finalised. I can progress with my PhD as proposed (hooray!). While the CoC was a substantial effort, the feedback was valuable and I am grateful for this process, which was lacking when I last started a PhD. Despite the relief Post-CoC, I am scrambling to regain my focus.

Having spent so much time finalising the CoC document and presentation I have really fallen behind in my reading. I have several library books on the shelf that I have had to re-borrow multiple times. I have books on waste, plastic, and Disney as well as actor-network theory and Foucault. The panel’s commentary at my CoC highlighted additional literature that I also need to get across. I need to broaden my reading into social practices, new materialism, detachment, plastics economy, and the power of global corporations. I am looking forward to getting back into the reading. While the texts can sometimes be dense, they always encourage me to expand my thinking.

I would like to be more efficient with my approach to reading. At the moment I take copious notes as I read and then I need to rely on my memory to find the relevant quote when I need it for a chapter. I feel like I should add notes and quotes to the relevant sections as I go. My chapters are clearer now that I have completed my CoC, so at least I have a framework that I can build upon, but I also need to be clear on what I am saying and what I am looking for in the texts. Sometimes I am not sure exactly what I am seeking from the reading material until I find it.

I would like to be more organised across all aspects of life from the state of my study, which suggests a cluttered mind, to the state of my electronic filing, which is atrociously inadequate. EndNote will hopefully help with maintaining my reference list but I also need to sort out a naming convention for my electronic files. I rarely allocate sufficient time to do these time consuming administrative tasks properly.

I have not written anything for my blog for a few months, and I have missed the freedom and enjoyment of the more casual writing style. I enjoy the creative process of writing. This post is the start of my road back to more regular writing; supported by a weekly writing session hosted by the school I am enrolled in. I do not always have a plan going into the writing sessions but at least it forces me to set aside a block of time in my diary specifically for writing and it makes me accountable, to show up and interact with other PhD candidates.

The next technical hurdle on my PhD path is ethics approval. There will be a fair amount of work required in detailing my methodological approach and submitting the necessary documentation. I am taking an auto-ethnographic approach, so much of the analysis will be of my own experiences but I will also be observing plastic and the behaviours it enables in order to consider how we might be able to detach from these plastic practices. This may raise concerns amongst the ethics committee.

Parallel to this, I will be doing a critical discourse analysis of related policies, legislation, media and articles. One of the benefits of doing my PhD part-time is that the timeframe for getting ethics approval is not as tight, since I do not plan to start fieldwork until next year. This is probably one of the factors contributing to my lack of motivation at the moment. Once I have ethics approval, I want to be able to travel internationally and, given the complexities of travel from Australia, it is good that I can leave my travel until next year in the hope that things settle down.

While I was completing my CoC and adjusting my study practices for the next stage of my PhD, I was also finishing up my role in the NSW Government after 13-years with the same organisation (albeit there were seven departmental organisation changes and 10 different Ministers). The effort to complete as much work as possible before I left and to provide a handover took up a lot of brain power that detracted from my capacity to concentrate on my PhD. It was also a big transition moving to a private consultancy, and ensuring I had all the necessary equipment and documentation.

My colleagues asked if I was having a break between roles, and the answer was no. I finished on Friday evening and started on Monday morning, and on the weekend in between I was training for a marathon, doing housework and laundry, hosting a family dinner, and working on my PhD. My head was absolutely spinning with all that was going on but my sense of overwhelm soon turned to gratitude when I realised how lucky I was to have:

  • the health and security to run safely outdoors
  • a house to clean
  • enough clothes that it did not matter that it had been raining for weeks and I only had half a functioning clothesline after the storms
  • sufficient food to feed my family
  • the time and opportunity to study
  • a job to go to.

Whilst comparison is rarely a healthy thing, perspective can be useful to recast perceived drudgery as privilege.

I am looking forward to the new role, with new content and a different way of working. I like new challenges and the consulting role should give me plenty of diversity. Over the last 13 years I have had experience across 13 roles. This included short-term acting opportunities and longer-term roles in new teams, sometimes at grade, above grade, or below grade, depending on my level of experience and desire to learn.

It is not important to always move up the career ladder. If you want to try something new, be willing to drop back to give yourself the opportunity to learn and earn respect before moving up. For me the most important thing is the personal growth that you get from these new experiences and the people you meet along the way. Hopefully my new role will allow me to better balance paid work with my part-time PhD, and all the other activities that make life meaningful.

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