Education is, by nature, cyclic. When talking to my students as they prepare to leave university to start their first jobs, I like to give them various pieces of advice. Apart from to make friends with the caretaker/cleaners and admin staff – the number of times this has ended up being beneficial to me is immeasurable – I tell them to have a career plan and work towards it. It is very easy, when working within education, to get permanently ‘stuck’ in the cycle of events and as Christmases, SATs and Sports Days roll pass you suddenly find yourself like me, old and grey and looking at the NQTs thinking how young they all look! When I moved to higher education I had great hopes for my career, one of which was to attain the accolade of my doctorate. However, as the years have gone by, I have realised that I have fallen into the cyclic chasm I frequently warn the departing students about and that my doctorate itself is becoming transparent, intangible and practical non-existent.
When I was looking back on my previous doctorate style posts, I get the feeling that they come across quite depressive and despondent in nature so I am determined not to make this one like that. Since working in higher education I have had several opportunities to start a PhD of some description but have never taken the step onto the journey, always coming up with several excuses why I was postponing the decision. As time has gone by, rather than mentally chastising myself for not starting on this qualification, I am now attempting to delve into the depths of my psyche to discover why I keep avoiding it. I have to start by saying that I would really like to have those two letters preceding my name as would my mum who always says – “it would be lovely to have a doctor in the family!” (- please attempt to say that sentence with the voice of a nearly 80 year old woman). I never shirk from hard work and, although my personal time is very precious, I would be willing to work hard in order to achieve the eventual qualification. So what are the barriers which are preventing me embarking on this journey to doctoratehood?
I’m just too late – We all have a very limited time on this planet and I am just now beginning to realise that that time is very quickly running out. For the first time in my life I am actually thinking about retirement and considering what I value in work and life. When I was younger I was one of those people who would never say no to anything. Despite teaching, working incredible hard on that, I would be involved in working groups and committees, always getting my name known and working to be recognised within my field of expertise – primary school teaching. Even when moving teaching jobs, it was possible to keep that reputation and continue to work with it. However, moving to higher education definitely put me down to the bottom rung of the ladder. Although I thought I knew a lot and was eager to share things, I very quickly became aware that I was no where near the top of anything and remember that moment of dreadful recognition that I was indeed at the bottom of the slippery ladder of academia. Looking back, I wish I had joined academia straight after my science degree, embarking on my masters and would now probably be sitting in a professor’s office enjoying furthering my own research. However I did not, and looking back on the things I have done, would definitely preferred the ‘road’ I did take rather than this hypothetical one. When you consider the amount of time to complete your PhD, I wonder whether it would be worth it. Why not leave it, enjoy doing what I am doing and then take the retirement bus when it arrives. At this point people might be saying that completing a PhD would be enjoyable and would be focusing on an area of new knowledge which I enjoyed – but that leads me into the second point I would like to make.
Everything has been done before – To coin a phrase of a popular song “If you don’t know me by now” I need to let you into a secret. I’m a bit of a techie! Despite working in the area of Primary Education, my discipline for research is firmly rooted in technology. To make matters worse, it is not even rooted in the use of technology within Primary School teaching, but in teaching in higher education. I am incredibly interested how technology can be used to support students’ learning and engagement and how it can benefit or hinder learning as a whole. Being a gamer in my ‘out of work’ life, I am interested how gamification and/or computer games themselves ‘cuddle up’ alongside learning. Being interested in technology as a whole brings me various currently inconsolable problems when thinking about my PhD. First, I’m in the wrong department at work! Nick named a ‘social butterfly’ I do like chatting and yes, as the name of this website would suggest, waffling as I flit around the department. There are so many interesting people to talk to whether this be to discuss creativity in education to research methods. But I do feel somewhat alone when it comes to technology. The other week I had a lengthy discussion about the use of technology within education and computer games to a masters level student. It was fantastic – actually being able to discuss my passion and the current theories and readings related to it. Too often I am met with either a negative attitude to technology – which is fine, I can discuss this, or other academics claiming quite openly to me that they know nothing about it. Although I am completely accepting of the latter it does mean that I find it difficult to exchange ideas and just indulge with idle chit-chat. Coupled with this is something which links to my first point about the lack of my doctorate studies. Technology is so quick at advancing I currently find that elements of it which I am just becoming engaged with and thinking I could explore at a doctorate level have already been scooped up and ‘done’. An example of this is the use of computer games to support learning within higher education – surely no-one has done that before! But a quick search on Google points to Professor Nicola Whitton’s work. I would definitely not be engaging in providing new knowledge to this area, probably just regurgitating what has already been achieved and done.
Jack of all trades master at… – I mentioned earlier that I was a bit of a social butterfly. Actually the word within this description which probably relates to me the most is the butterfly part. Now, before you jump to conclusions that I am beautiful, have a perfect element of symmetry or even a rather long tongue, I’m afraid it the ‘flitting’ nature of the butterflies flying which probably relates to my character the most. I always like to make the most of my time and after reading David Allen’s book – “Getting Things Done” I have developed my own way of achieving the aims of the title of the book. I know that my concentration span for completing tasks is short, I like variety and there are certain times in the day that I am motivated to do things and it is best to take advantage of this otherwise nothing will get done. I use Omnifocus as my choice of task management and I will look at it and consider what needs to be done, what do I have time to do and what do I feel like doing. Throughout any day I will flit from one job to another, getting loads done in short, focused sessions – for example writing this blog post. Although, with respect to working, this mode of organisation helps me a lot, it certainly does not help me decide how I would like to progress with my doctorate. My problem, and you might consider these to be many, is that I like doing so many things equally than to actually focus down on one area is completely impossible. I listen to other people’s doctorate titles and think -wow! How on earth did you decide on that! Many people would say that the steps to that would be that the idea and title develop and create themselves over time, but I can’t even think of a starting point! From the sub heading of this section, I am not suggesting that I am an expert in many different areas, far from it. What I am saying that apart from the word ‘technology’ I flit from so many aspects of it that actually deciding on a doctorate focus seems impossible! And, to put it rather bluntly, I’m not sure I want to. Having the choice to decide what I read about everyday has a wonderful appeal to it. Who wants to be a caterpillar munching along on one leaf when I have already metamorphosis-ed into a butterfly, being able to explore any leaf I want!
As age creeps up on me I am becoming more and more aware that I have to say good bye to some aims which I had in life which I am never going to achieve. I’m never going to feature in Swan Lake, I’m never going to impress people by back flipping down a corridor and the chance of me learning an instrument to a standard to actually play in the orchestra pit in a pantomime has long since gone. One thing I do keep in the forefront of my mind however, is that there is plenty still left for me to do which I can concentrate fully on until I retire and beyond. Although the dream of being a doctor might have existed for some time, I now recognise it as just that – a dream. I’m not disappointed, if anything I am resigned to the fact in a positive manner. I have come to realise that me and my often confused and befuddle brain and personality are not designed for doctorate level. This is nothing to be ashamed about or even resentful of. Yes, people around me will continue to flourish on their leaves and gain titles and gowns but I’ll be flitting off somewhere, learning something new and although I might not have the gown or title, I’ll be doing what I enjoy the most – no not flitting – being content.