Ah…doing a PhD is fun

I started my PhD in March, reorganised this website to remove all vestiges of my ill-fated attempt at a professional doctorate last year, and planned to write regularly. This blog is my reflective journal after all. It’s now December.

I have sat in front of my computer many times, and couldn’t write. I had things to reflect on, but I couldn’t write anything. Literally. Stared at the screen for 5 minutes and gave up. Several times. I’d given three presentations on my topic since May, but reflecting back on them, I probably wasn’t convinced then either.

Until today. I had a meeting with my supervisors in November. I had written a summary of sorts about where I was because I figured I had better produce something after 2 months, but even that that wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t know why. I walked away both engerised and worried. I had been given lots of ideas and leads, but what to do with them -how to fit them into my research plan? I tried a mindmap. Nope. I tried writing an outline. Nope. Something was wrong with the way I was approaching my PhD but I didn’t know what. I flicked back thought my PhD notebook and found this question:

How to let go of my persona as a university manager and accept practitioner status?

At the time I wrote this – shortly after the supervision meeting – it was more like a random thought. Now, however, I realised this was the issue. I was hanging on so tightly to my persona as university manager and my deeply held conviction that what really mattered was the relationship between academics and administrators in the management context, that I’d missed the point of a practice based PhD and really, the point that I was trying to make. I was seeing the trees but not the forest. I then wrote:

I came to the PhD because I had a point to prove. I lived the life of a university manager for almost 30 years and I know there is an issue here worthy of exploring because I have seen and felt the dysfunction a bad academic-administrator relationship causes in practice. Why care if I am no longer a university manager? Because universities were my work environment for almost 30 years, I grew up in them in many ways, and I care deeply about the future of the university and its current and potential role in society.

My practice now though is as a strategic foresight practitioner. It is the future of university management that is my forest, not the trees created by the interface between academics and administrators. The latter is an important element of the former, but it isn’t the story that needs to be told. My contribution is around how universities will be managed in the future, and who will manage them. 

I needed to let go of my past as a manager to be able to position my PhD in my current practice as a foresight practitioner. Suddenly, all the things we talked about at the November supervision meeting fell into place.  I still want the research to focus on the people doing the managing today but it now will not be the primary focus. Somewhat of a breakthrough I think! :)

I had another supervision meeting yesterday where I conveyed this thinking, and I have a new title: Who manages future universities? Onwards!

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