#JoDoesPhD part one

Earlier this year, I applied for a PhD. It was a spur of the moment thing.

A SCANZ email came through my inbox and there was a notice about a scholarship to work on a science communication focused PhD at Victoria University, a brisk 20 minutes from my current home at Massey’s School of Design.

It was fortuitous timing. I’d been thinking a bit about science communication. I’d had a really interesting conversation with Mike Joy (who is a bit of a hero in my eyes) about how it was incomprehensible (to us) that people could know about water quality issues (or for that matter, climate change) and for it not to galvanise them to do something. Mike does communication better than many – he’s vocal and passionate – and if he felt like he wasn’t getting traction, there was something wrong. On top of that, the world was going to hell in a handcart with a climate change denying orange in the White House, ‘alternative facts’, and experts held in increasing contempt. (Also as an aside, I (vainly) quite like the idea of being Dr Bailey to get round that annoying ‘Mrs or Miss?’ stuff that sometimes makes me momentarily livid.)

So I applied. I had an interview with Rebecca Priestley and Rhian Salmon and liked them instantly. There was a moment I knew we’d get on, though it had serious embarrassment potential! Somewhere in my submission, I’d used the word ‘praxis’. It’s one of those ‘kinda makes sense in my head, but google it before using it’ words. I distinctly remember reading up on it and I thought, yup, that’s the one! In the interview, Rebecca asked me what praxis meant. Stomach lurch! Mind freeze! Bluster it out or fess up? So I said, ‘you know what? I know it means what I want it to mean, because I had to google it’ (or something to that effect). Rebecca and Rhian have that skill of communicating complexity in an accessible way; no obfuscation with jargon. Though ‘praxis’ might not fall into the jargon camp for many, it was a great reminder that using language in an accessible way is always good. I really wanted to work with these people.

They offered me the scholarship. I flip-flopped between ‘this is awesome I’m so flattered!’ and ‘this is madness how can I crowbar another project into my life?!’ for a while. I got some great advice and affirming encouragement from Anna and Tristam and other friends. I had a frank and hilarious phone call with Rhian. I found my Massey directors Brian Lucid and Julieanna Preston super supportive. Eventually, I said yes.

So last week, I started my PhD journey. My project is based on a piece of work by my now-supervisors Rhian and Rebecca called ‘The reflexive scientist: an approach to transforming public engagement’. I’m going to attempt to chart this journey so that A) I can look back on it and laugh about how naive/stupid/optimistic/energetic I was at the start, and B) I might manage to catalogue some ideas that are, ultimately, useful. And perhaps a C). I’m not particularly unusual. If a PhD is accessible to me and I can be transparent about my experience  – the process, the pitfalls, the stupidity and the mistakes – and hopefully the highs and successes too, then perhaps it might seem like an option for some of the amazing students I get to teach, too. 

So here goes: #JoDoesPhD!




Thoughts > phDpart02


Thoughts > Those moments when you know it's worth it