Something I struggle with is feeling like I’m not a ‘good enough’ critical researcher. I am constantly amazed and taught by amazing friends and peers that just seem to get what it means to be critical – they can integrate neoliberal or constructionist theory effortlessly and seamlessly into a conversation. I do okay if I’m in the ‘academic brain space’, but when it comes to casually referencing critical psychology in my day-to-day life, I find it a struggle. It usually goes something like this:
Me: (Sarcastically) Well, better get that cancer screening done so you can continue being a good neoliberal citizen.
Other: Why is that neoliberalism and not just plain sensible? I think you’re being a bit dramatic here.
Me: Uh, because if you don’t get the screening, you can be constructed as being to blame if you get cancer…I think…
Convincing, right? And that’s just within the health sphere.
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?
This is the second in our new series ProfFile: informal interviews with leading or under recognized critical health psychologists. For out first ProfFile see here. This month’s ProfFile is with Professor Catriona Macleoad at Rhodes University in South Africa. The lead organizer of the 2015 ISCHP conference , Catriona is a trailblazing academic who has helped bring feminist theory into critical health psychology. Her book ‘Adolescence’, pregnancy and abortion: constructing a threat of degeneration (published by Routledge) was awarded the Distinguished Publication Award by the Association for Women in Psychology, based in America.
What is your current position?
I am currently the SARChI Chair of Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction, Professor of Psychology at Rhodes University in South Africa, and editor-in-chief of the journal Feminism & Psychology.
Could you say a bit about your career trajectory so far?
I started off as a high school Mathematics teacher. While it was never my desire to be a Mathematics teacher for ever, it proved very useful in allowing me to work and save money in order to return to university and complete my post-graduate degrees. After my Master’s degree, I worked for an organisation called the Wits Rural Facility, which combined research and community –based interventions. I went on to work at the University of Zululand in the Educational Psychology Department, and completed my PhD at the same time. I then moved to East London in South Africa where I worked in the Psychology Department of Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare. Ten years ago, I moved to Grahamstown where I headed up the Psychology Department. I was appointed to the SARChI Chair at the beginning of 2014, and now devote all my time to research.
Recently, I wrote a blog about my experience writing an Early Career Fellowship for the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia. In the first blog, I told you about some lessons from this experience: follow your interests and don’t Google your ‘competitors’.
In this blog, I want to tell you about my final three lessons:
How did I spend the recent, beautiful Australian summer, you ask? Writing a grant application, of course! In fact, I was writing an Early Career Fellowship for our National Health and Medical Research Council. In this blog, I want to share with you what I learned through the process of writing this application. This is the first of two posts.
Let me first set the context.
This fellowship is designed to fund researchers who are less than 2 years out of their PhD. The selection criteria is weighted according to research output (50%), research proposal and environment (30%) and professional contribution (20%).
My fellowship is about smoking in the home. I’m interested in how we can support families to recognize that second-hand smoke is a problem and to take steps to reduce exposure.
Today and every March 31st is Transgender Day of Visibility (see TransStudent.org or here). This day is around 6 months away from Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is held on November 20th and memorialises transgender people whose lives have been cut short (http://tdor.info). Both days serve an important purpose in raising awareness of transgender issues. Both days are pertinent to health psychology, but transgender issues continue to have very little visibility in health psychology. This oversight of transgender issues is sometimes backed up with claims that transgender issues only need to be considered when a particular piece of research or a particular health service is specifically directed at transgender people. I argue that those claims should be contested.
Today is about celebrating the visibility of transgender people. As a gay person I feel a synergy with this day of pride in being visible. I also feel a pang of trepidation at sharing that sense of synergy because today isn’t about sexuality. At the same time, I recognise an opportunity to contribute to discussions about transgender visibility from the position of a transgender ally because I know I can submit this blog post and hopefully it will be up on the website before people living in the Americas wake up to Transgender Day of Visibility. For once I can benefit from living in Aotearoa/New Zealand’s timezone where it’s always closer to tomorrow and I usually hear about international days the day after they’ve happened. Continue reading →
For some time now I have been banging on about the limitations of the ways that psychologists approach their research uncritically, and lamenting the way that so many psychologists simply take up theoretical ideas and methodological approaches from others, often without providing any substantial argument in support of their choices other than to point at references to published work as a (very weak) attempt at authentication. Doing research this way serves to limit ownership of the research, restrict reflexivity, and constrain creativity around what might be done.
So it’s time to celebrate some of those people I have been fortunate enough to work with – Joanna, Dany, Helen, and Megan – who have been brave enough to go their own way, take chances, position themselves differently, and work creatively in developing and producing their theses. Continue reading →
As a graduate student, it can be tempting to hide behind an armoured cloak of protection, pretending that things like rejection – from peer-reviewed journals, from funding sources, from research assistantship positions – never happen. The face we want to show is a resilient one: a cheery, go-getter visage that shows the world (or at least your advisor) that you are eager and willing to put in the time and effort required to complete and excel in your postgraduate program.
Lately there seems to have been a turn toward recognizing the mental health issues that circulate in the academic world. The stress that can accompany hard work in academia or elsewhere manifests in myriad ways, from distress around food and exercise to despair and feeling immobilized and unable to do the work expected of you (and that you expect of yourself). I see this increasing openness as a step toward really addressing the structural issues that can lead to highly intelligent and motivated individuals bowing out of the academic rat race to pursue alternative options – but only if we move beyond an individualizing discourse that makes each of us responsible for pulling up our socks and stiffening our upper lips.
Despite increasing encouragement of openness and honesty about postgraduate mental health concerns, making oneself vulnerable remains the exception, rather than the rule. Our vulnerability is solicited out of one side of the policy mouthpiece, while those who outwardly express their emotions in academic spaces risk being labeled hysterical, somehow deficient, or otherwise not cut out for the rough and tumble world of academia.
The case for vulnerability in academia is a complex one. To truly let emotion into the academic arena, we need to build spaces where emotions are seen as generative of creativity and innovation. Unfortunately, such spaces require re-thinking a number of things that academia holds dear: the publish-or-perish mentality, the expectation of 24-hour availability, and even the rhetoric of “but you’re doing what you love!” In the face of the poor job prospects we’re repeatedly told that we’re facing, why would we want to lose face?