Magpie tendencies

Instead of what I should have been thinking about – my PhD and how professional identity affects the development of the BIM specialist role – I have been thinking some more about the idea of the PhD and personal identity, provoked by a series of tweets by Jennifer Polk last week (@FromPhDtoLife). Unfortunately what I have come up with is a better description of what I am not…

I don’t think of myself as a “researcher”; I like to acquire knowledge, but research is just one way of doing that. I do not feel like a specialist in my subject, despite the time I have spent working on it, so “scholar” is not the thing either. I work in a tertiary institution, so in one sense I am an “academic”, but I don’t really feel that I am part of the academy as such. I also like to share the knowledge I acquire, so “perpetual student” doesn’t quite cover it (despite what friends and family believe!).

Dilettante is a good term, though I have to admit it applies not just in the traditional sense (“lover of the arts”), but is also quite apt in the modern one (“a person who cultivates an area of interest, without real commitment or knowledge.”) I delight in dabbling, learning snippets and samples, in acquiring bits of knowledge and making connections. I am a knowledge magpie (ooh, shiny!) and mastery is not my goal.

Which currently has me questioning why exactly I am doing a PhD, since mastery of a subject might be seen as a central aim of a PhD. It is not the subject that fascinates me though, it is the process of learning about my subject.

My PhD is a reflection of that dabbler’s mind, as I have a variety of disparate pieces: partially articulated thoughts; several different data collection approaches resulting in different sets of data; ongoing experimentation using half a dozen data analysis approaches, none of which I have taken to their conclusions; 10 (ten!) articles in various states of completeness, from just title and abstract, to outline, to blocks and pieces, through to waiting on revisions for journal acceptance. I have got far enough on each line of thought to talk with great amounts of hand-waving on any of them, though not far enough to have the confidence to commit to them in my thesis. I have presented papers at conferences and seminars, had many fascinating and even exciting conversations and discussions, and now have all of the pieces whirling in a disconnected way in my head, which on the inside sounds a lot like the birds in Denis Glover’s classic NZ poem !

Now I am approaching my 3 year PhD anniversary, which I had previously been determined was my hard deadline – but I have just enrolled for another six months… What I want to do is pull the threads together into something passingly coherent and hand it in; to commit to either putting my papers out for scrutiny and submitting my PhD by publications (the original idea), or come up with a cogent argument that will allow me to turn my hesitant drafts into a ‘proper’ thesis (Plan B). Either way, the magpies will have to stop scrapping for new and prettier objects to chase, and my fledgling ideas will have to grow up and leave the nest (to mix my metaphors slightly!)

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About Kathryn

PhD student; lecturer. Wife; mother; daughter; friend. Reader; photographer; traveller; arts consumer. Hedonist and eudaimonist (and lover of big words).
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