This post is from Judith Newton, who has had an extensive career in emergency services, working for almost seventeen years in the areas of policy, community education and research for the former Department of Community Safety and Queensland Fire and Rescue Service. In 2013, she commenced her Master of Arts (Research) in Creative Industries to examine how social media is positioned and used in Australian Emergency Management Organisations and Local Governments. With her Masters now completed,in 2017 Judith is be undertaking her PhD in QUT’s Law Faculty looking at the impact of social media activism and communication on the Australian community’s awareness of and response to human exploitation and forced labour.
I started my Master of Arts (Research) at a time when I felt very lost. I’d recently been made redundant from my job in the Queensland Government after 17 years of service. It was a job on which I had based my security, my identity and my future. So my move into Higher Degree Research (HDR) was exciting and scary. In retrospect, I can now say that it has been an extremely rewarding journey, both professionally and personally.
As a mature-aged student (and for all students really), there is never the right time to undertake HDR studies. No matter what, life will get in the way and you just have navigate these challenges and keep on moving forward towards your goal. One step at a time as long as you keep on moving forward. Now as I embark on my PhD, I have spent some time reflecting on what I would do differently this time and would like to share these thoughts with you.
- Remove the word procrastination
First and foremost I would remove the word procrastination from my thinking and vocabulary. Sure you’ve got time to get this research done – what is it, 1.5 years for your Masters and 3 years for your PhD and DCI? All the time in the world…..! It’s amazing how quickly that time will pass and this time I’m going to start getting on to things like my literature review, my writing, as soon as I can because there is nothing more stressful than leaving things to the last days and hours before it is due.
For me, one of the reasons behind my procrastination (I said the word didn’t I?) is that I always want to have everything perfect before I start doing things. Just like my comment about there never being the right time to do your HDR studies, the same goes for perfection…..nothing wrong with aiming to have your thesis as perfect as it can be, but it probably won’t be perfect the first, second or third time you write and review it. It is a work in progress and the best thing you can do is to start writing and get something down on paper and go from there. QUT has some great workshops and writing circles that you can join to help get you writing – I’m definitely going to take more advantage of these this time round.
2. Get involved – look out for opportunities
Another thing I’m going to do is get more involved during my PhD studies. You will find that your Faculty, the Research Student Centre and Library have seminars and workshops that can help you with your research journey. Also if you are part of a Research Centre, there will probably be additional workshops and groups you can join. I also believe it is important to become involved with student life on campus as well, not only for yourself, but as a way of giving something back to the university. Look out for opportunities like serving on a committee, attending social activities within your Faculty.
3. Stay focused – work with the end in mind
Another things I would recommend is to work with the end in mind. What I mean by this is to think about what you are hoping to do post-HDR studies. Do you want to pursue an academic career or perhaps move into Industry? Identify early on in your HDR career what you need to do (e.g. network with Industry, raise your social media profile, attend conferences, publish) and start doing it. Once again, QUT have career counsellors and programs to help.
4. Look after yourself – HDR is a marathon, not a sprint
Finally, on a more personal level, you need to look after yourself. Think of your HDR studies as a marathon, not a sprint. You need to be kind to yourself and make the time to eat well and to exercise. Take the time out to relax, renew and refresh your mind. You can’t expect to work 24/7 on your studies without something giving. Take time to see family and friends, go to a movie, do something you love. I’ve spent the last few months in between finalising my Master’s thesis and getting ready to start my PhD by doing arts and crafts. I’ve made resin jewellery, hand-dyed scarves, and preserves. You see, I figure if I use my mind so much with my studies then I need to balance it by working with my hands on the weekends. Not only does this give me a sense of joy and accomplishment, I also feel ready to tackle the week ahead after having this important ‘me’ time.
Well, that’s about it for now. I’m sure I could think of more and more things I would do differently with my HDR studies this time and I’m sure they will come to me once I hit the submit button… I wish you all well as you undertake this amazing journey of transformation (the image, hand drawn by Judith, illustrates her focus on and journey of TRANSFORMATION in her Masters and PhD studies).
(Editor note, FYI Judith’s word of the year in 2017 was TRANSFORMATION)