Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Phd journey - reflections

All good things come to an end :) although for me, the continuation of the researcher/academic journey now truly begins. I started tentatively on a Phd in mid-2003 with a preliminary meeting with my associate supervisor and my primary supervisor. After exploring the feasibility of investigating cognitive apprenticeships, I muddled through with the proposal to do a longitudinal study of apprentices. The proposal was accepted in 2005, with the thesis entitled - Belonging, becoming and being bakers: The role and processes of apprenticeship. Data collection began mid-year 2005 and continued to the beginning of 2008 as I collected data in the first, second and third year of apprenticeship. Then, over the next two summers and most Saturdays of 2009 and 2010, the dissertation writing proceeded, with my supervisor Stephen Billett, providing much support as I got to grips with academic writing. Over the beginning of 2011, the final edits were made, interrupted by the Christchurch earthquakes. I submitted in mid-July and the examiners reports, which are very supportive and positive, came through at the end of September. Revisions as required by the Griffith University Chair of examiners came through in October and I submitted these with the accompanying paperwork mid-October. This morning, an email from the post-graduate office confirms all revisions accepted and provided instructions for sending in bound copies of the thesis.

I now use the skills I have learnt over the Phd process on a daily basis. The transition from bakery tutor to researcher has been a long but mostly gradual learning curve. Many of the skills and dispositions of a baker have transported well into becoming a scholar. In particular, the need to

  • Complete adequate preparation – in baking to understand the function of ingredients and to plan the process flow before beginning . In academia, to have sufficient grasp of the relevant literature and to organise one’s argument.
  • Maintain momentum – in baking, many processes are required at timely intervals, hence the need to plan a workable workflow so that processes are spaced out through the shift. In research, there is still a need to establish a realistic timeline and to stick with it. Otherwise, other activities start to take precedent.
  • Keeping at it – diligence and attention to detail are important aspects of baking. This is required to keep track of all the nuances inherent in the baking process. In research, there is also a need carefully and reflectively collect and analyse data and to hone the craft of academic writing. The initial writing is not difficult if one is prepared but fine tuning a piece of writing does take dogged persistence and hard work.
  • Continual learning – consumer demands continually drive the craft of baking. Bakers have to meet ever changing customer demands and this along with the vagaries associated with working with ingredients like flour and yeast, lead to continual learning opportunities. In becoming a researcher, the demands for continual learning are also ever present. There is the need not only to keep up with the literature, but to learn new research methods as projects evolve and new ways have to be found to find answers to research questions. Added to this is the learning required to keep up with technology, including data analysis software and the many ways to now access, evaluate and archive digital literature.
For almost 30 years in baking and teaching baking, I learnt something new each and every day. In becoming a researcher, the same holds true. So the continual learning to meet various challenges are the things that enrich my life and in doing vocational education research, I hope to help contribute to the improvement in the lives of others. So my next goal is to focus on dissemination as research is not much use if only accessible to the few who read academic journals or attend presentations at discipline specific or academic conferences.

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