Monthly Archives: August 2016

One slave many masters

By Fiona Russo

My husband and I had a bit of a ‘discussion’ last week. Neither of us meant for it to happen, but we somehow got into one of those ‘my life is harder than yours’ competitions. I was lamenting the state of my calendar, complaining that I didn’t have a single day available for PhD work without some type of appointment or scheduling problem in the mix. I was trying to work out how I could pick up the two older children from opposite sides of the city just half an hour apart without leaving anyone stranded or unsafe. I had four very different articles due (as a freelance writer) by Friday, and only three half-days’ worth of child-free time.

He was lamenting his priority list at work, talking about how there were never enough hours in the day and he was going to have to forego some important tasks because he was too stretched to fit them in. I started to say (quite stupidly, I realise) how much I envied him the luxury of dropping some items off the list. ‘You know, since your single taskmaster [his employer] can obviously understand that you are but one man with a limited amount of resources at your disposal’. Ha!

I suppose I was looking for some understanding about how difficult it is to balance being one slave to many masters. I feel like I can’t afford to drop ANY balls, because each comes with reasonable demands that are equally important/urgent. My problem is that there are just too many of them. In return, Michael explained that he feels similarly at work, not because he has ‘many masters’, but because he feels the pressure of being our primary breadwinner. He feels that he has to overachieve and outperform everyone else all the time, more so because he wants to be available to the family in the evenings and at weekends.

Luckily, this potential pressure-cooker situation wasn’t so awful. We were both being very careful not to descend into argument territory, but it was a close thing. Sometimes it’s really tough to see each other’s perspective when we’re too busy keeping ourselves afloat.

This week, we had the chance for some role reversal. He had just finished a major project at work and had put in significant overtime. He was taking a well-earned couple of days off and had offered to facilitate the kids’ schedules so that I could spend some uninterrupted time in the office. This is an opportunity I don’t often have, so I gratefully downloaded the information he’d need:
“In the morning, Dylan feeds the cat and packs the snacks, Emily makes the sandwiches, and Susannah packs everyone’s bags. You’ll need to leave by 8.15am to drop off Susannah [6] by 8.30am. Dylan [12] and Emily [16] should be dropped off by 8.45am – they can’t catch a bus to school because there aren’t any at the right time in the mornings – they can bus home in the afternoon. Charlie[5]’s ECDP sessions [Early Childhood Development Program for children with disabilities] don’t start until 9am so you’ll have to double back for that drop-off – she’ll need to wear her Theratogs there, I’ll show you how to put them on later but factor in about fifteen extra minutes for that – Nanna does pick-up on Tuesdays so don’t forget to leave the wheelchair and parking pass. On Wednesday Charlie’s off to kindy but you’ll need to pick her up at 1pm and take her to the hospital to get her new AFOs [orthotics] fitted. You can drop her back at kindy after if you like. On Friday morning, she has speech and occupational therapy in Ipswich at 9.30am for an hour. Dylan should be home by 4pm every day – if you’re not home, ask him to text you to let you know that he got home safe, Susannah goes to after school care on Tuesday and Wednesday but needs to be picked up at 2.45pm on the other days, Emily has Music Extension on Tuesday afternoon until 5pm – she’ll ask if she wants a lift home – she’ll bus home around 5pm on Wednesday and then she’s going straight from school to work on Thursday and Friday so make sure she packs her uniform please…”

…I trailed off. Michael was looking at me with his mouth open, blinking rapidly.

“Are you okay? Is this too much? I can do some of the morning runs if you like – the timing takes some getting used to.”

“No, no, I just think we’d better write some of this down. I can’t believe you hold it all in your head.”

To add insult to injury, Michael’s week of ‘relaxation’ came with a side of nasty illness (always the way, isn’t it?). To his eternal credit, he didn’t succumb to the dreaded lurgy and did all of the running and ferrying and fetching and managing as promised, getting himself some antibiotics and snatching the odd micro-nap along the way. He made copious notes about schedules and appointments, and worried the whole time about the growing pile of work on his desk in the city as he deliberately avoided his phone and emails.

As for me, I was wracked with wife-and-mother guilt as I went to work in the morning without having changed a nappy or made a single breakfast. I tried madly to meet every goal I’d set for myself that week. I turned myself inside out trying to format my lit review without worrying about whether Dylan got home safely, or organise my reference material and not wonder whether Michael remembered to leave the parking pass at school for his Mum, or attend a meeting without feeling guilty that somewhere in the same building (I have a hospital-based supervisor) Charlie might be feeling scared as they plastered her little legs, or listen to a lecture and not feel anxious about Susannah forgetting to go to the front gate after school on Thursday.

I think we each got a good taste of life in the other’s shoes, and by Friday evening we were having a different kind of discussion.

“I’m completely knackered.”

“Me too.”

“Movie in bed?”


(five minutes later) “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz……”


By Susan Sharpe

I often ask myself why I enrolled in my PhD, what I am really doing and whether studying a PhD will change my life or other’s for the better. In such times, I find myself making lists, weighing options, lying awake all night, truly confused and sometimes doubting where I am heading. Two years gone and I do not feel that sense of purpose and sense of clarity I once had while writing my application. I feel stuck at the edge of my mind as I scroll through posts on social media or listen to my fellow students say, ‘It is a tough world!”

I struggle to understand this sense of loss – to understand why, after finally boarding what should feel like my ride to destination ‘Dream come true,’ my world seems out of sorts. Nothing is clear. Suddenly my sense of judgement and confidence, my hope, dreams and aspirations are crowded with such an unsettling speculation. ‘Will I make it? Will I not? When will it all make sense? When will I be at peace with this decision? What is the purpose? To what end? Why am I doing this? What was I thinking? – just a few of endless questions that swim through my head.

And as I regroup to re-frame my journey of inquiry, I see those faces, the ones I cannot accustom to. They show when I tell that I am studying my PhD. You should see these faces, on friends, colleagues, my bosses and all those who earn more money than me but have no postgraduate degrees. ‘You are crazy! You must be insane! I do not know how you do it!’ they say. Can’t say I blame them. After all, even in my day-to-day life and encounters, I feel like part of me is evolving and changing along with my doctoral journey.

Suddenly I feel this excitement about what I know, my topic, my literature review, and the passion to share it. What I could publish a paper or an article about what I have read so far. Perhaps that would help give me clarity. Where do I start from, who is my anchor? Suddenly I remember the stories of rejected drafts. Now I know why they say ‘It is a tough world.’ And as fear of the unknown engulfs me, I am suddenly reminded that it was never about landing a six figure job or a publication gig. That I may, for now, not be clear about my destination, but will one day. In a trice, a short spark of certitude, I know that in the middle of this PhD provoked equivocation about the future, I’m only experiencing my own very biased perception of this journey. This is especially obvious when I consider that I haven’t reached the destination yet.

Above all, I am certain that I am more than my PhD journey. I am not the degrees I have acquired or the one I am currently working toward. I don’t even have the desired research profile to land that dream job, but I am still me and it is up to me to chart my own path and remain my own advocate because I am me!

Wikipedia: the Original Virtual Makerspace

By Robyn Edmanson


The cover of the book commemorating Wikipedia’s 10th anniversary. Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Within research on the architecture of academic participatory libraries, there’s a worrisome discord between the rhetoric and reality of allowing library users to fully participate in library systems, particularly in terms of information seeking. An example is the reluctance of many academic librarians to acknowledge students’ research information seeking behaviours and the value of open source tools like Wikipedia.

Despite research showing 70 percent of students use Wikipedia as a kick-starter to research, some still equate openness with unreliability, mostly due to a persuasive argument almost a decade ago against it based on its perceived lack of authority, completeness and reliability. Until Nature compared the error rate of Wikipedia with Encyclopedia Britannica I would have agreed, however, take a look at the information architecture in most Wiki entries and I’m sure you’ll be as impressed as I am. The information is presented logically, comprehensively and with illustrations to aid understanding.  Wikis are now a valuable, freely accessible tool in students driving need for background information for their assignments. And the best part is Wikipedia’s collaborations with librarians and other ethical mavens to ensure accuracy.

Wikipedia has leapt mountains of intellectual scorn from some quarters to encourage collaborations between cultural institutions such as museums and libraries through initiatives such as #1lib1ref where one librarian added one reference to advocate through editing wikis on topics such as LGBT, Asia Pacific Art, Toowoomba and even the University of Southern Queensland. There aren’t many web sources to which librarians, or library users for that matter, can contribute, but Wikipedia is one of them, so embrace your inner intellectual maker and critically contribute to our collective intelligence or run the risk of being left behind.

Productivity in Backpacking: tips from a nomadic PhD student

By Madeleine Arber

I decided to contribute a blog post to ReDBlog about my time solo backpacking whilst continuing my research studies. I’m fortunate enough to have the ability to drop everything (apart from my studies) and travel anywhere I want whilst working, within reason of course! This isn’t my first time backpacking or travelling solo. I have fine-tuned the art of living as cheaply as possible in any region of the world over the years (sometimes this involves sleeping in a car on a secluded beach). But this trip I wanted a new challenge: to fine-tune the art of backpacking and working at the same time. This article may contain some tips which you can apply to everyday study or travel.

Initially I came over to Europe (where I am based now) for three months to conference-hop and complete a research collaboration, but after putting forward a strong case to my supervisor, I managed to extend those three months to six months to complete further research. The following are some working-while-travelling tips!

Your office – the thing I miss most (besides my dog):

  • Wifi – be prepared to give up all your details and your soul in order to connect to reasonable, sometimes incredibly slow wifi to check your emails to see if that thing has been processed yet.
  • Believe it or not Hostels are not the most productive of places. They may have wifi included, but your roomies will most likely want to party. Hopefully you can fall asleep in all kinds of environments! Instead head to a café and buy the cheapest thing on the menu then stay for HOURS at a time! Be prepared to listen to all types of music, from jazz to reggae. Bring your headphones if you need silence.
  • Don’t expect to get access to another university’s libraries. This is particularly common in the UK and Ireland. Access is allowed to the students who attend that university. You can apply for a week study pass if you have a letter from your university explaining why it would be beneficial for you to access their library. Unlike cafés, libraries don’t sell coffee though…
  • Know how you work best – not having an office means I don’t have easy access to printing/copying/paper in general. I’ve learnt to use ‘soft’ electronic copies on everything (including travel bookings). I found that sometimes I still need to jot notes down on paper or draw diagrams to fully understand things. This also goes for your most productive hours – are you a morning productive person? This means you get to explore the city by night!
  • Keep in contact with your supervisor! They may have no idea exactly where you are in the world, but you need to make sure you’re both on the same page in terms of timelines and work commitments. Don’t just send them holiday postcards through snail-mail, use your email, or your phone if you want a nice big bill! (Skype has affordable phone calls with skype-credit if necessary)
  • Remember to network, particularly at conferences, which are the perfect networking ground! Here you can corner the author of the research you’ve spent hours reading – think of future research opportunities it may lead to! It’s very important to also take full advantage of the conference’s food, wine, and coffee package.

Your backpack (the closest thing to home on your back):

  • Travel as lightly as you can – this means you won’t be carrying those references books you so dearly love around with you (you’ll be relying on pdfs from now on!), it also means if you are attending conferences or visiting research institutions while away, you may want to look presentable. Quick! Throw in a blazer and find clothes which don’t crush easily and dry quickly. Jeans are acceptable for most occasions.
  • Don’t move around too much and exhaust yourself trying to see everything and everyone! It is tiring enough switching between currencies, let alone travelling distances! It’s important to remember to treat yourself well – get enough good sleep, healthy food, and plenty of water.

General life advice (should you choose to accept it):

  • Be nice – most people are good human beings.
  • Try to learn your ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in each place you visit.
  • Experience the culture, but give yourself enough time to relax and every once in a while have some familiar treats to cure any homesickness (this is just an excuse to eat chocolate).
  • Remember to enjoy yourself. Your life isn’t just your PhD. You’ve earned some time off for yourself.

Time to go see the world!