Guest post from Danielle Ferndale who completed her PhD through the School of Psychology at The University of Queensland recently. Her work focuses on the area of critical health psychology and her main interests are deafness and hearing loss, qualitative methods and privilege (and oppression). Contact her at @deafresearchau Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Recently I was in a meeting talking about grants, and needing to find grant money to fund a follow-up project to the one we were currently working on. Except that’s not really how the discussion played out. Essentially, it became about identifying where the money’s at – e.g. breast cancer, diabetes etc. and how we can make the follow-up project suit the agenda of these funding bodies. This discussion went so far as to say, that while less prevalent diseases (or lesser known) or certain minority groups of people were fascinating, that’s not where the money is at. This is not the first time I’ve had this experience.
Logically, I understand that in order for any research to get done it needs money. And the people with the money want certain topics (or certain answers) or types of research to be explored. So naturally, we make compromises on the population we’re interested in, the methodology, little parts of our soul etc. to accommodate the focus of particular grants. I also understand, on a human level, researchers need an income in order to purchase food, afford healthcare, etc.
However, on a principle level, I find it problematic that funding bodies dictate what topics/types of research are interesting, valuable and fund worthy. Less attractive areas of research, projects with “difficult” interventions or projects with “not-readily-quantifiable” outcomes (e.g., mental health), fall by the wayside. The funding system as I understand it, and I’m a relatively new player in the game of academia, privileges certain types of knowledge over others.
As a newby in the game of academia and grants, I’m figuring out how to forge a career within which I can do “good” research, that doesn’t compromise the values of my population of interest, my principles (which I hold dear) but will also still be fundable and publishable. And I see a few options:
Quit academia and pick one of the many back-up careers I have identified (e.g. driving instructor, movie critic)
Suck it up and play the game by the current rules (pick ‘sexy’ research and adapt it to the trends, agenda of others) AKA, sell my soul
Learn how to sell my research or mask it so that it is appealing to funding bodies – only selling part of my soul, the part that was evil anyway.
Change the system from within, also implementing the ideals of ‘the slow scholarship movement’
However, I am yet to figure out, how does one change the system – what does this look like? Where do I need to go to see this in action? Who can I look up to and learn from? Is it possible for an early career researcher to survive within the system while at the same time changing it? I think it is imperative that discussions on this topic continue, not just within the ‘critical bubble’ but in mainstream contexts.
Over the last few years, I have become an ardent advocate of the SUSISD approach (Stand Up, Say It, Sit Down) for conference (and other) presentations, an advocate for short, sharp presentations that focus directly on the key message(s), never more than 3 or 4, that you want to get across. In short, I am a huge advocate for telling it briefly.
We have all been at conference presentations where we were bored by being told semi-irrelevant things, or worse, completely irrelevant things, or even worse again, where we were subjected to Powerpoint karaoke (why don’t some presenters realise that we can read faster than they can talk?). Longer conference presentations (and I mean the 15 minute variety) seem to force delivery of unnecessary or irrelevant content.
For example, someone who has done some great research into Type 1 diabetes and found some intriguing insights needs only to tell us about what they did, what they found, and what that means (the insights part). They do not need to tell us how widespread Type 1 diabetes is, what its long-term effects are, how it is treated, and so on. We only came to find out what is new and different, not what we already knew. Longer presentations (yes, even those 12 minute plus 3-for-questions ones) seem to promote such extraneous, scene-setting content. All reminiscent of a statement from Winston Churchill: “I’m going to make a long speech because I’ve not had time to prepare a short one.” In contrast, short presentations force direct and engaging accounts. Telling it briefly makes it more interesting and engaging.
Why is short and sharp better? Well, as Olivia Mitchell said several years ago (bit.ly/1UvhoXR), they force you to think hard about exactly what you want to say, to carefully plan what you want to say, and to have a clear focus for your presentation. They also force better advance preparation and they stay to time. Everyone in the audience gets the point(s) more easily and, a further bonus, they get to hear more presentations across a session. As Mark Dytham, one of the inventors of pecha kucha, argues, using these short formats for presentations has a liberating effect. “Suddenly, there’s no preciousness in people’s presentations. Just poetry.”
In running our Health Psychology Research Days at Massey University for the last two years, I have become completely dictatorial, and forced presenters to take on one or other one of two presentation
formats, both short; the 5 Minute Challenge or pecha kucha. We have used these presentation formats at our recent ISCHP conferences since Adelaide in 2011 and they have been very well received – who could forget Pedro Pinto’s presentation on puberty at Grahamstown last year, or Catherine Mackenzie’s presentation on deaths from domestic violence in Adelaide, just to take two of many that stand out. However, these formats have not always been taken up quite so well by our presenting attendees. but I hope to see a lot more people taking up the challenge and presenting in these ways at our next meeting in 2017.
So what are these short formats?
Five-minute challenge (5MC) is a format where you present for only five minutes, using only five slides (plus a title slide), and where all the slides are visual (words on slides should be non-existent, or part of the image, or perhaps part of the slide design – like you could have one lovely, lonely word per slide as an image). No animations, no video or sound files, simple transitions. Here, you select those aspects of your research that you consider particularly exciting, fascinating, earth-shattering in importance, and you communicate these and why you think that. For more information, see: www.inc.com/articles/2000/05/18605.html or sbinformation.about.com/od/marketingsales/a/fiveminuteprese.htm
Pecha Kucha (PK) is Japanese (ペチャクチャ) and often translated as chit-chat, but we want it to be a litle more formal than chitchat . In this option, you present for a little longer (6 minutes and 40 seconds), but the slide parameters are more controlled, and the pace is fast. You are allowed 20 slides (exactly), and each is shown for 20 seconds (exactly) – hence your presentation is 6’40” in total. Here too, slides must be visual – no words allowed unless they are included in the image. No animations, no video or sound files, transitions are set to time in advance.
It has been 1 month, 17 days, and 3 hours since I submitted my PhD thesis.
A PhD study involves an interesting and unexpectedly non-linear process. Non-linear, because it does not happen independently, in a vacuum; on the contrary, it happens while life unfolds with all its messiness. People move, die, give birth etc. whilst your PhD demands your time regardless.
The final stages of a PhD usually involve a ‘meta’ approach to everything. Everything you have discovered in order to not only synthesize, apply and polish the final product – the thesis, but also to make a contribution, to be able to answer the very first question that made you go for it in the first place: So what?
During the last month pre-submission, I played on repeat this song, “Technologic” by Daft Punk from their Human after All 2005 album. As I strangely spiraled down into the hypnotic tunes of command-like instructions, music kept me close to the fabric of the process and almost provided a sense of eternity. By the time I was swearing off Times New Roman, size 12, for life, I pressed SUBMIT. The 2 milliseconds of an action put an end to a 3 ½ years of a process. A gasp of relief, and a slight unfamiliar pain.
Oscar Wilde sums it up: “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it!”. This is also known as the Summit Syndrome (Parsons & Pascale, 2007) referring to the flatness and depression usually experienced after finally having achieved something. In my case it came when I was asked: So what’s next for you?