Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Swing of Things

This week I returned to the University after my 2 ½ week self-appointed holiday. On Monday, I still wasn’t fully well, but I was determined to turn up and sit at my desk to mark my official return to thesis work. No sooner had I sat at my desk when a whole host of doubts assailed me. Before I went away, I had reached a point of peace where I’d realised that I had a great deal of basic research to do in the form of watching a lot of television, taking notes and reading, reading, reading so as to thoroughly acquaint myself with the field of television studies. I had accepted that I would just have to chip away at the mountain before me.

Upon my return to work I began to worry that I didn’t have a clear idea of my project. Instead of simply resuming work on the mountain, I began to wonder how to connect the idea that had originally instigated the research project with the concepts that I was encountering through my reading. I am really interested in the relationship between particular production contexts and narrative forms, and then there’s the relatively recent developments in viewing platforms for television that in turn have an impact on various things at the production level. But what does any of that have to do with ‘representations of psychotherapy in quality television drama’?

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you will by now be well and truly bored with my references to my Master’s thesis, but as an experience it looms large in terms of the hopes and fears, especially the fears, that I bring to the doctoral project. I guess my anxiety about ‘not being focussed’ arises because for so long during my Master’s I was unfocussed during stages when I should have been far more organised than I was. That’s putting in mildly. Oh help, I can’t take twice the allocated time to do this thesis, as well!

After a day of running around in circles and going off on random walks to buy absolutely necessary stationery products—because all my pens had decided to stop working, through lack of use I suppose—I finally stopped to remind myself that I have only been enrolled for just over three months. I decided to email my supervisor to set up a meeting for next week, because knowing that I’m having a meeting with him seems to miraculously calm me down and allow me to become focussed on what is possible. Arranging the meeting had the desired effect. I was able to remind myself of my supervisor’s very sage advice that at this stage I should be keeping my thoughts open rather than narrowing them down and attempting to come up with the last word in a thesis statement.

Another beneficial development arose out of having lunch with a friend. It’s hard to trace the genesis of the connection I ended up making. We were having a conversation about ‘benign racism’—if there’s such a thing. Someone I know frustrates the hell out of me when she repeats ridiculous things such as ‘I don’t like Chinese people’ without thinking that someone very close to her by marriage is in fact Chinese Malaysian. I don’t think she even believes what she’s saying, but maybe someone said something like it where she works, so she brings it up in conversation. What the f—! Somehow this conversation segued into a discussion of literary criticism à la Harold Bloom, which then turned into a discussion about the relationship between ideology and aesthetics, and when you’re doing a thesis everything is connected to it in some way, so I decided I would have to embark on some intensive reading about the visual aesthetics of television, which I sort of already knew I had to do, but the thought wasn’t concrete until that moment. After that I went to the library twice and I placed a whole stack of interlibrary loan requests, as well. I felt relieved that I’d have something to babble on about at my forthcoming supervision meeting.

With my thesis anxieties allayed for the moment, I decided I could afford to indulge in some collegial activity and went along to a newly formed reading group. I had worried (yes, again) that getting too involved in tangential activities would be counter-productive to the progress of my thesis. At this point, even I want to shout at myself. Relax!

Finally, today, the final day of my first week back, I was able to calm down. I allowed myself to sleep in because my cold is still lingering, and what do you know, all this anxiety has given me a sore shoulder and neck. Go figure. I decided to give myself permission to only go in to the University to attend a presentation by my supervisor about research contexts for the Humanities. He addressed various issues, including those he described as ‘gossip from Canberra’. On matters related to all the pressure that postgraduate students and early career researchers have assumed in our quest for those elusive jobs, he essentially encouraged everyone to revel in the experience of doing a doctorate. He said that if we’re any good, then our doctorate is probably the worst thing we’ll ever write, so we don’t really want to get any more than an article or two out of it. While that isn’t perhaps the greatest thought to contemplate while you’re writing a thesis, it made sense to me. When you think about it, a doctorate is like grade four in an academic career, so who wants to put their primary school work out en masse? He also said something that recalled a question posed by Tseen about the professionalisation of the postgraduate experience. Tseen had wondered what GT thought about this development in postgraduate life. I can report that he thinks it’s inappropriate for the publishing and other demands which are placed on academics at the middle and top of the hierarchy to be expected from those at the postgraduate and early career levels.

All in all, the presentation was just so level-headed and without the usual hysterical demands upon postgraduates and early career researchers to publish, publish, publish, all while writing a thesis/book and doing acrobatics as well, that everyone just about collapsed on the floor in relief. And then we all went off to a late lunch, where we pronounced to all who enquired that we were engaged in the practice of appreciating our postgraduate lives.


Anonymous said...

Stop. Worrying. Have. Fun. Joy is the answer.

One thing I do suggest: representations of psychoanalysis on television in the english speaking world are probably dire. Look further afield.

Anyway, who am I to pontificate? I dropped my PhD to stop my head exploding.

- barista

Galaxy said...

Thanks Barista, upon reflection I really don't know how we all got into this state. We're intelligent, right? How could we be so hoodwinked into such putting such ridiculous pressure on ourselves? No one would ask an apprentice fitter and turner to engineer a bridge would they? Why are we being asked to write books?

On the psychotherapy/analysis thing, well really I just chose this topic so I could watch The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, maybe a bit of Cracker, and I wanted to resurrect the reputation of CrashBurn. I would be willing to look at Danish television though, what with all those evil doctors they have.

Tseen said...

Thanks for the report re GT's talk - I would've love to be there to have a dose of that practical, no-bullshit expertise. There's not enough of that in any university these days, as far as I'm concerned. Good to hear that he said those things. I just wish more were of that understanding. We're just undertaking a "mock RQF" exercise at the moment and it's...much with the mock. :P

Galaxy said...

GT was quite reassuring about RQF (Research Quality Framework) as well. He did say that while the Humanities Academy had been consulted as the sector's representative body, the rank and file hadn't been. Whether this is an oversight that will mean there are unacceptable aspects of the RQF... He did reassure people that it wouldn't be as scary as they imagined, and he personally thought it avoided the pitfalls of the British equivalent. He described the proposed assessment process (a panel of reviewers that will assess publications or subcontract the assessment to people who are more qualified) , but noted that at the moment it was unworkable--it would almost certainly undergo some refinement because it would be far too expensive to have every publication gone over with a fine-tooth comb. He noted that with the change of minister, instead of the RQF being implemented as the current panel was supposed to be doing, it was now being reviewed.

Generally, GT was more optimistic about the new minister noting she was unlikely to veto ARC decisions as her predecessor was wont to do.