Writing a Thesis

I am not a dedicated blogger. Every now-and-again I think of something interesting to say – but I don’t often follow through. Usually I think to myself, “more research needed before I post this”. Of course, this is a hangover from working for six-plus years on my doctoral thesis. Indeed, after my Scholarship finished, I had to work as well as complete the thesis. I have written about this before. My GP picked up on my listlessness/ennui and, without being patronising or mansplaining, suggested I take a look at the stages of chess. He pointed out that it seemed I was stuck in the Middle Game. I am not a chess player of any skill whatsoever, so he alerted me to the final step – the End Game. The comfort zone of ‘research’ must be concluded.

I considered his advice when I returned home. Among other things associated with research, I counted that I had 27 books from the University Library. OK! I decided to return all the books to the library – bar the two that I was actually using.

The next step was to consolidate all the chapters that were in separate documents on the computer. The Bibliography took more time and I was grateful for the Endnote referencing program. I was pleased that I had religiously listed every resource in the program so tidying up the Bibliography was not too arduous. Editing the thesis took time, I couldn’t believe how many times I repeated myself! Even so, one of the examiners pulled me up on repetitive phrases.

So, after six years of being fairly isolated from ‘real life’, I completed the final draft in six weeks. It was not all clear sailing after that. There are always a few glitches to contend with. One of them nearly broke my heart – but I’m over it now. Maybe I’ll write about that one day? Maybe not.

Submitting the work was a huge relief. Waiting for the examiners reports was deadly; like waiting for a bus that never arrives. Eventually the three reports came in. As is usual with my work the reports ranged from ‘excellent, no changes needed’ (I really liked that one) through to, ‘what a terrible thesis’. One of my mentors at Murdoch University defended my thesis to the examiner (who shall be nameless) and after some rewriting it was accepted.

I received notification that I had passed three days before my 60th birthday. I was now a fully fledged ‘Doctor of Philosophy’. Fat lot of good it did me. I never use my honorific – Aussies aren’t too taken with such things plus I’m always wary of being taken for a medical doctor.

C’est la vie

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Writing a Thesis

Writing and Research

Thinking about what to write in this week’s blog, I mull over the events at the Lessons with Persephone Retreat at the weekend. In the quiet of the Retreat, writing came easily. At the moment, this blog is going nowhere.

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When we were talking about if, and when, we had been published, I mentioned that I had only published in a couple of academic journals and one chapter in a book. This chapter was a shared enterprise with my PhD Supervisor, Prof. Jenny de Reuck, and a colleague who was also one of Jenny’s Post Grads, Sharifa Ahjum. The title of the chapter is “The Remembrance of Things Past”: Memory and Migration as Tropes in the Construction of Postgraduate Subjectivities. (You can see we didn’t resile from long and involved titles). When I reread it now, I am struck by the clarity of the writing and the sense of community we shared.

The book is Bartlett, A & Mercer G (Eds) (2001) Postgraduate Research Supervision: Transforming (R)Elations. New York. Peter Lang. pp 233-245.

book

The paragraphs that I want to bring to this blog are my own.

In the beginning my doctoral research was to follow my own background – about the women who went to Africa, not from England. That was the intention. In the event, I didn’t follow that research – a common enough story for any PhD Candidate.

In this essay, I moved to writing about Jenny, Sharifa and I – our positionality and affective ethnicity. This is what I wrote: “Where do I stand to Jenny? Where do I stand to Sharifa? How are we so inclusive of each other? It is our coming out of Africa that is our ‘affective ethnicity’. Our form of ethnicity is beyond blood and colour. We draw our connection from our African origins, shared memories of experiences from a country we have left. ‘Affective ethnicity’; meta-ethnicity! Affective pedagogy!” I drew on the work of Moshe Shokeid (‘An Anthropologist’s Work between Moving Genres’ in Ethnos. Vol 57, 1 – 4, 233- 44, 1992.)

Following this I bemoan the fact that I have such difficulty in understanding some of the texts such as Foucault and Bhabha. Sharifa can read and understand these but I battle to make sense of such abstract concepts. Here, again, I quote myself, “Is it my age that stands between me and truly understanding these readings? Has my mind closed the doors—atrophied in the cells? Am I trapped in ignorance? Sometimes I bang my fists against these closed doors, “Open up! Open up!” I call, then, “Think Woman! Think!” Who is the teacher who can lead me to comprehension? Where is the insight that I deny myself? Self-proscribed knowledge, self-proscribed wisdom.

Finally, back to the beginning.

The first entry in my PhD journal reads thus:

Some of the things I want to include:

The spiritual aspect.

The sense of self.

The sense of place.

Identity as a fragile, contextual thing … I worry about my rigidity.

Can I sustain the energy?

The essence is this, researching and writing a doctoral thesis is a lonely thing to do. It is atonement for curiosity; an exercise in humility; self-inflicted isolation. Nevertheless, this is my search for an identity in an alien space. I was never brought up to be an academic. I was never brought up to be an Australian. I catch a glimpse of myself and ask “Who are you?” or maybe, “Who do you think you are?” And then I continue—because what else is there to do?

So, I did continue and eventually, a couple of days before I turned 60, I was notified that I was through. I was now a bona fide doctor.

Writing and Research