[csaa-forum] October Monthly MACS Report

Melissa Gregg m.gregg at uq.edu.au
Thu Oct 7 11:40:20 CST 2004

Last Friday afternoon the Monthly MACS meeting at the CCCS (for
background see
0.html>) focused on the transitions involved in PhD research. The idea
was to talk about some of the challenges that can arise when undertaking
research in a new field. For instance, media and cultural studies  PhDs
often have a background that is different from the discipline they were
trained in or the kinds of work they have been used to. The journey from
that background to the completion of the PhD can be a difficult one, and
often students think that they are the only ones who undertake it. Yet
there's hardly a typical model for approaching or completing a PhD, and
some of our discussion tried to assess whether undergraduate training in
cultural studies prepares students for the requirements of this longer
project. Interdisciplinarity brings particular challenges in that it's
hard to be certain when a chosen methodology is the right one. 

Introducing the theme and the speakers, I sought to raise for discussion
some of the many factors that can affect the growing expectation of
completion within 3 years, ranging from personal issues (the
considerations of a partner, family illness or childcare for instance)
to practical considerations like the availability of employment or
changing motivations for the PhD itself over the number of years it
takes to write. I also drew attention to examples of the incidental
shifts that can happen during candidature and that can be impossible to
predict, eg. trends in popular culture like reality TV or celebrity
chefs (which had consequences for one of our speakers), or wider
political developments like the current 'war on terror' which may have
changed dominant ideas about the political landscape in a short space of
time; but also theoretical fashions - will Deleuze or Agamben or Certeau
be in vogue three years after I submit? So at the same time as there are
periods of personal transition involved in research it's also important
to think about the wider shifts in intellectual culture of which a
thesis can be symptomatic.

John Gunders, PhD student at UQ, made the point that during candidature
'we all write a number of theses', and that the final form it takes
often has to respond to work being produced by others who might be seen
as 'muscling in' on your turf. John also suggested that even those
decisions taken during candidature that seem the most pragmatic - for
instance, re-training to fill in an area of knowledge to which you 'came
late' - can still eventually prove unhelpful. This raised an interesting
point about the difficulty of firstly knowing about, and then gaining
access to a history of debates over a topic proposed for study.

Stuart Glover, who works at QUT and is enrolled as a PhD candidate at
UQ, began with a hybridised rendition of a Neil Murray song, ie. 'my
disciplinary home is waiting for me...' Stuart's talk described the
motivations for his research in relation to the history of policy
debates in Australian cultural studies - debates that tended to overlook
literary culture and policy. He also outlined the different competencies
involved in his extensive experience in industry and the problem of
translating these knowledges to the thesis genre. Stuart maintained that
his disciplinary infidelity has been productive in the sense that it has
given him a perspective on cultural studies as a set of tools that are
useful to employ depending on context. He also speculated whether the
expediences of the Creative Industries environment where he works gives
a different view on debates about disciplinarity.

Rea Turner, who works and studies at Griffith Uni, spoke about some of
the negotiations involved in gaining employment when moving to a new
country, as well as the different temporalities of working in a
commercial context. Tight turnarounds in an employment situation rely on
skills that differ from the protracted bouts of research involved in a
PhD. This led to a discussion as to whether there is too much or too
little time for PhD research at the moment, and how this might affect
the standard of work produced. Rea also pointed out that the significant
difference between working in the commercial sector is the degree of
control allowed: academic work allows you to develop your own questions
to investigate, whereas in commercial contexts, input is encouraged but
it's not often possible to change the investigation itself. 

This month's attendance was greatly boosted by participants from
Southern Cross as well as more new faces from the three Brisbane
universities. It was also great that grad students from disciplines
across the humanities - in particular sociology and history - also came
along. Please feel free to contribute further to any of these points of
discussion. We'd particularly like to hear other researchers'
reflections on how prior knowledge and background can benefit or hinder
current work. 

The next MACS will be on November 19. Leading up to the Perth CSAA
conference, we will talk about academic associations and networks and
their usefulness for early career researchers.

Melissa Gregg
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies
4th Floor, Forgan Smith Tower
University of Queensland Australia 4072
CRICOS provider number: 00025B

ph     61 7 3346 9762
mob    61 4 1116 5706
fax    61 7 3365 7184

More information about the csaa-forum mailing list