When I was about half way through my Master’s thesis, I wished that I had kept a diary of the ups and downs of my research project. At the time I remember thinking that recording the trials and tribulations involved might have been quite a useful tool, a way of reflecting upon my methodology among other things. The question of methodology is, of course, always important for any research project, but if I felt that my circumstances were special then it was because the foremost ‘experts’ on zines were the very people who were the subjects of my thesis. Zine publishers, in addition to producing the publications I was researching, were also the principal theorists of their publishing practices. In any other area of research you might have a difference of opinion with another professional researcher, agree to disagree, and then continue researching and writing your project. On the topic of zines if you had a similar struggle over meaning then you risked alienating the very people whose advice you sought. Perhaps it is best that the minutiae of the sometimes vigorous exchanges were not preserved beyond the moment of their first expression, or reflected upon with a potentially more damaging outcome . The problems that this unique researcher-subject relationship raised was, in the end, the focus of an early chapter in my thesis. Beyond my personal experience, the issue had repercussions for the research methodology/ies of work on zines, more broadly. In all the academic work I had read on zines, no-one seemed to explore the nature of the resistance they encountered beyond a brief sentence, usually further delegated to parentheses, and the extent to which it was another expression of a particular individualistic, anti-institutional ideology at the basis of zine production. I suppose then it might have been a good thing that I didn’t vent elsewhere but articulated the issues in a professional manner that ultimately contributed to my thesis and, according to my examiners, the development of methodology in the field.
My discussion of the experience I had researching the Master’s would seem to lead to the conclusion that I should just keep the details of the forthcoming PhD experience to myself. That is probably a very wise conclusion, but at the moment, in the first flush of working on my Doctorate, I think it’s not too unwise a move to record the first giddy experiences of this professional beginning.
It’s been just over a week now since I officially started. I spent the first few days completing paper work and being allocated a room and the various keys, cards and pin numbers that will access the buildings, rooms, and computers you need to in this PhD caper. Then I turned my attention to defining my project. At the moment, it is true to say that I’m motivated by a healthy fear that I’ll repeat the mistakes of my previous degree (ie waste my scholarship; exceed the suggested time by years and years), so I’m formulating all these strategies to avoid my worst fears. You already know I’ve said no to tutoring in the first year and that I’ve been reading up on television drama. I’ve turned up to the University at a respectable time every day, except the day I did research work at the other university, for which I’ve allocated one full day a week. I’ve had How to get a PhD: A Handbook for Students and their Supervisors close at hand and will continue to refer to it throughout my degree because I need constant reminding of the various hints such books provide about these matters. I’ve been taking notes on my reading, entering them into endnote, and sitting down having brain-storming sessions at my computer, just trying to capture the thoughts sparked by my reading. The brain-storming has been quite productive. I came up with an idea for a chapter that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. And today in my first supervisor’s meeting with GT, as I talked him through the chapter outline (more like a random list than a plan in any coherent order) I had sent him beforehand, he seemed to be surprised, in a good way, about the thoughts contained in that suggested chapter.
The other thing that I’m determined to factor into everyday is a reward for myself, most likely in the form of lunch or coffee with fellow postgraduate students. I don’t work well if I threaten myself with name calling if I don’t write a certain amount of words or do a set amount of reading in so many hours. (I have seriously tried this approach and have never produced anything except paralysing self-hatred). But if I tell myself that I’m going to sit down and work for a certain amount of time and then go and have coffee and serendipitous conversation with my friends, then I’m productive and happy because I have something to look forward to. I hope all of this enthusiasm, planning and activity will see me through the duration of the degree.
Today in my meeting with GT, we discussed the mini-projects I can start to get underway. As well as general reading, the first task is an empirical one; I have to look through ten years worth of Australian television schedules and count the various types of programmes that have what I’m looking for in them to see if there has been an increase over the years. My thesis, as it currently stands, relies upon an increase. If there hasn’t been an increase, well, I’ll cross that bridge if I have to. Meanwhile, I’m trying to negotiate taking microfilm out of the library and back to the School so I can use the free printer attached to the viewing machine there. One of the librarians wavered, but another vetoed the idea. Clearly I’ll have to work out who I can bribe and go back with jelly beans when they’re alone. Perhaps I’ll ask GT if he will use his powers for good.