What I learnt in the first year of my PhD

Exciting news! It’s one year since I commenced my PhD research: Queering Australian Screens, exploring how LGBTIQ+ characters end up in Australian scripted television programs. There have been ups-and-downs; great moments of realisation, and moments of self-pitying despair.

But, I made it to my one year anniversary and have achieved a lot! Here’s just a few wins:

  • I landed the best supervisors I could have hoped for, who get my project and click with the way I work
  • I have identified a clear gap in the knowledge where I can begin to add something new
  • I’m building a new community and network with others who are keen to learn more about how LGBTIQ+ representation works practically, at an industry level
  • after just eight months (of very hard work) I was confirmed as a PhD Candidate
  • my ethics application has been approved
  • I have started data collection, interviewing amazing Aussie television professionals about their experience in getting LGBTIQ+ characters on our screens!

I feel like I learnt a lot in the past 12 months about doing a PhD, about how I work, and about what I want to do with my career. Here are five key lessons I think you should consider if starting your own PhD journey!

1. Reading matters

The best piece of advice I received (from more than a few people) was to read at least one paper every day. It might be a book chapter, a journal article, an industry report, or something else relevant to your research. But I can’t stress this enough, reading matters!

Reading was almost always the solution to problems I ran into along the way. When something didn’t make sense, or when I felt like my topic was stupid and I would never make it work, reading was the answer. Reading helped me understand where my work fits.

My approach was to make reading a journal article or a book chapter as my first task every morning. I’d read it, write an initial summary in my notes and then revisit the reading again after making some breakfast to make some more detailed notes, including any particular points I might need.

There will be days where you read five journal articles and make notes on all of them. There will be other days where reading one paper is a struggle. But, if you read one paper, then you’ve achieved something for that day.

2. Be prepared to feel completely out of your depth

The first few months, where I was trying to narrow my topic to something manageable, I had a daily moment of despair. There are countless scholars taking varying positions all on the same topic. I felt like a fraud most days for that first three months.

When I said reading was almost always a solution to a problem, I’m not kidding. Feeling overwhelmed is part of the process of becoming familiar with the literature. You have to get through a lot of reading to gain that familiarity. Getting comfortable with feeling overwhelmed is going to become a requirement of completing your PhD. There will always be new ideas, new positions, new perspectives, and as you become more familiar and knowledgable, you will engage with those differently.

3. Talk to your supervisors

Supervisors are the incredible people who take time to understand what you’re doing and provide ideas, approaches and advice to keep you moving forward. While reading might be a solution to many problems, often it is a reading that your supervisor recommends that is the missing link you need.

Have regular contact with your supervisors (within reason) and prepare a structured agenda to update them on what you’re doing and what they need to know.

If you’re struggling with a concept or feeling overwhelmed, raise it in your supervision meeting and see what they have to say.

4. Project manage your PhD

I came to a PhD with an advantage, I have a decade of project management behind me. Turns out, project management is where a lot of PhDs fall down. As students, we’re thinking about a massive goal of hitting submit in three years. But there are hundreds of little milestones, both those set by the university and those we set for ourselves.

No one is going to drive your project, but you. You need to plan out your milestones and work to deliver them. Your supervisors are there to advise you, but you need to present them with how you want to go about things, so that they can advise on that approach.

5. Manage your relationship with your supervisors

Along with project managing your PhD, you also need to be the one that manages your relationship with your supervisors. Your supervisors are there to advise you through the process of completing a PhD. However, supervisors are not there to manage you.

The person who is responsible for remembering your milestones and deadlines is you. The person responsible for setting meetings to talk through approaches, questions and challenges is you. A supervisor will have teaching, research and supervision responsibilities and it would be impossible to be across your work and timeline.

Again, coming from a decade in industry was an advantage. Just like when dealing with an executive in a big organisation, it is up to the people leading the project to provide context and background so others are able to engage with what’s in front of them.

One of the first things you should do is set a meeting with your supervisors and have a chat about what a reasonable meeting schedule will be. Once set, you send the calendar invitation and set up the meeting location (in my case, Zoom). You send an agenda and any reading ahead of the meeting (and be reasonable, if they need to read a draft chapter then send it with enough time for them to read). And importantly, you need to remind supervisors when milestones are approaching and if you need something from them to make it happen. You are leading the project, so never put it on your supervisors to have to manage your time.

Looking to the future

These are just five of many lessons I’ve learnt in the first year of my PhD research. If you are considering a PhD, I hope these lessons help you with thinking about your own approach.

This experience – and I can’t stress this enough – has been the best decision I ever made. While it has never been easy, it has been challenging and rewarding, and I can’t wait to see what my second year brings.

Of course, if you’re working in Australia’s television industry and you’re thinking you might have something to add to my research project, get in touch! I’d love to hear from you.

Coronavirus Murderous Attack

Listen to Lowbrow Lowdown’s latest episode reviewing Michael Koglin’s Coronavirus Murderous Attack.

Natasha and Damien dive into the crime(?)/thriller(?) and honestly become a bit delirious. Michael Koglin’s Coronavirus Murderous Attack moves so fast you can barely follow, punctuated with painfully detailed Wikipedia entries on the history and architecture of Barcelona and Hamburg. I know I would become a spy if my boyfriend broke up with me and the only reason could be… espionage.

Join Natasha and Damien for wheeze-laughing that requires medical attention.

Rating out of five masks:

Natasha: 😷😷

Damien: 😷😷 (and a half)

Do you have questions, comments or want to share your thoughts on what we’re reading? Email us at lowbrowlowdown@gmail.com.

Music from the Youtube Audio LibraryBook Bag by E’s Jammy Jams

Reading: White masculinity in contemporary Australia

Andrea Waling’s recent book White masculinity in contemporary Australia: the good ol’ Aussie bloke explores the historic development and contemporary understanding of hegemonic ideals of Australian masculinity. There is an experience in my own PhD (so far) of finding a book or a journal article right when you need it – and Waling’s book came about at just the right time for me.

When exploring queer identity within a culture, masculinity is going to come up. And in Australia the domination of white ideals of masculinity is ever-present. Waling discusses the history of Australian masculinity as it was formed to differentiate (white) Australian men from their colonial motherland, right through to contemporary masculinity and the tension between historic and modern ideals. Masculinity, as with gender, is performative and ideals are rooted on propagandist approaches to influence the masses.

The experience and performance of masculinity for gay cisgender men in regional Victoria was the focus of my master’s writing. I wrote a young adult novella to explore the tension I felt between performative masculinity and my queer identity as a teenager growing up in small-town regional Victoria. The piece was rooted in auto-ethnography and utilised themes from Banjo Paterson’s poem With the cattle throughout as the influence of masculine expectation that men in regional Australia still feel. Of course, I realise now that my understanding of masculinity, gender and culture were in their infancy. My understanding of the concepts and theories that underpin my research has grown significantly and will grow further over the coming years.

Where I stand right now is that I see Australian culture as organised around hegemonic masculine ideals. The dominant influences of masculinity are still evident in Australian television, and not just in how straight men are portrayed. Just as straight women are seen in the role and relationship to men, queer people juxtapose and heighten historic masculine ideals. Not to say that representation isn’t changing – Australian television representation is lightyears from where it was even ten years ago. However, the influence of the dominant ideology is still evident – and perhaps that’s because we all live within the culture and reflect it in our work. I guess I’ll find out.

The COVID Killer

Well, a content warning for our review of a super racist and somewhat sexist book.

You know that sense that you are being punished, but you don’t know exactly why, that’s what it feels like reading The COVID Killer. We feel bad, but the author who uses the Twitter handle @SuspenseWriter7 (at the time of posting, a suspended account) did not deliver any suspense! I’d say The COVID Killer was missing an editor, but I don’t even know if an editor could save this book.

It had, what I imagine is, the energy of a Chip Driver mystery (a The Good Place reference for those of you playing at home).

Join Natasha and Damien for bad motives and abysmal police work in The COVID Killer.

Rating out of five masks: Natasha and Damien: 😷 (combined, they gave half a mask each).

Do you have questions, comments or want to share your thoughts on what we’re reading? Email us at lowbrowlowdown@gmail.com.

Music from the Youtube Audio LibraryBook Bag by E’s Jammy Jams

My arts degree is my professional reputation

Hi, I’m Damien and I hold two arts degrees – and apparently this means I’m unemployable. Despite this, I have found myself a highly-sought-after employee throughout my career.

While reading Julian Meyrick’s essay Drama in hell in The Monthly today, I was thinking about just how critical my arts degrees have been to my career. Meyrick’s piece is about the decline in drama departments in universities across Australia. He argues that drama provides “a rough indicator of the health of creative arts teaching in. universities.”

This post isn’t about my wild (albeit non-existent) success as an author, rather it’s about how my creative writing degree is at the core of why people want to hire me.

My masters study was in writing and my focus right throughout was young adult fiction (mostly, but not always speculative fiction) – and very much embedded in my interest in creative arts. Admittedly, creative writing isn’t impacted in the same way as drama, which requires greater resources and facilities for fewer students. But the devaluation of creative writing is equally as short-sighted as it is for drama, music, film and television and the visual arts. While I may have only published a few short stories, I continue to work on independent writing when I have time. Of course, this post isn’t about my wild (albeit non-existent) success as an author, rather it’s about how my creative writing degree is at the core of why people want to hire me.

More than once in job interviews, I’ve been asked ‘How would you describe your professional reputation?’ I understand that a prospective manager is trying to gauge how I see myself and how I will fit with their team. My answer to this question about reputation might sound a little arrogant – although I can confidently say that it is 100% corroborated by former colleagues and managers. My professional reputation can best be described as highly ambitious and highly accountable. In more than a decade in the workplace, I am recognised as someone who can be dropped into any situation, and gets things done to a high quality, maintains integrity, and often in far-from-ideal circumstances.

Yep, cool, I hear you. Wow don’t I have tickets on myself. And you know what, I do. I’m really bloody good at making things happen. I also acknowledge that it’s only possible because I work with equally brilliant people, who all bring their own skills to the mix. Success does not exist in a vacuum and I am no exception.

This reputation – and literal job offers that come to me on a regular basis from people who have worked with me – is what you get from an arts degree.

My arts degree is where I built my problem solving skills. My arts degree saw me develop the critical and analytical ability to tackle new and difficult concepts, and find a solution. My arts degree is where I honed my project management skills. My arts degree is where I learnt how to think deeply and critically assess information in order to make the best decision. My arts degree taught me how to be accountable to myself and to others.

Most importantly, my arts degree was my passion. By going to university and studying something I loved, I was able to get the most out of the experience. This idea that people now have to choose a higher HELP debt to follow their passion suggests that the best degree for me, is actually reserved for the wealthy. Yet, a creative arts degree was my ticket to a successful career.

To devalue creative arts, and the arts more broadly, is to fail to see what creativity and critical thinking can do. In planning, structuring and executing a 20,000 word novella for my final MA (writing) submission, I held myself to a standard that has been the bedrock of my (quite successful) career.

Maybe one day I’ll publish my own novel. But to say my MA (writing) was not a great decision for my career is to admit that maybe you need an arts degree to build your critical and analytical ability.

Reading: The University of Google

Completing a first year unit at university can be an overwhelming experience. Our first year of university builds our understanding of the history and foundations of our field, and introduces the contemporary discussions that are relevant today. Perhaps most important, our first year of university is when we begin our journey towards competence in information literacy.

A disclaimer: I wasn’t a great student when I completed my undergraduate degree. I graduated my bachelor’s degree with a credit average, mostly because I was only scraping passes in my first year and didn’t secure my first HD until my third year. I recognise now that my information literacy in that first year was near non-existent. I also disengaged from some of the more challenging readings that come about in first year studies in media and culture. I could blame a lecturer assigning Foucault in my very first subject as much as I like, but I also didn’t seek out what contemporary scholarship was saying about Foucault – because I didn’t know I could (or in fact, I should).

When it comes to first year units (and in my case, first year units delivered online), there are more and more students who are starting out just like me: I was blindly stumbling into university; I didn’t know where to start; and I was prone to disengaging with the assigned readings when I felt overwelmed.

The ‘online’ arm of the university I’m working for is, in my opinion, the best online delivery of university education that I’ve ever seen. I say this having completed both my BComn (PR) and MA (writing) online. But I also acknowledge that in this constantly evolving field, I came to this teaching role in a very different environment to when I completed my undergraduate studies. Examples of rapid change in online education are constantly being updated. The ability for online collaboration alone has just seen a massive leap forward because of the pandemic.

Still, great online infrastructure and design also requires teachers who are aware of the challenges that students face.

My goal as a teacher in a first year media/culture/screen studies unit is to help students understand how to deliver on the expectations of university study. You may be thinking ‘shouldn’t the goal be to teach them the syllabus’, and it absolutely is my goal. But ‘just’ delivering syllabus assumes that students arrive at university with an equal level of experience. Just delivering the syllabus assumes every student has the privilege of generations of university study and knowing what is expected of them – this is rarely the case.

University is self-directed. The learning materials, readings, lectures and tutorials are your starting point. It is then up to the student to follow the thread and seek out answers to the questions these raise.

A good first year essay uses the assigned readings, while a great first year essay seeks a range of sources, including peer-reviewed sources found through the vast digital library now available to every student.

And so, it’s time to talk about information literacy. The lack of which is not just a challenge for university students, but for society more broadly.

Since I started teaching four years ago, I have been constantly looking for new ways to both inform and inspire students about the importance of information literacy. Because even when a source is popular and holds the top Google ranking, that doesn’t mean its credible. Even peer reviewed journal articles will have questions raised and opposing positions published in journals to challenge the argument made. Arguments evolve and currency matters – arguing a position based solely on a 40 year old paper probably won’t hold up.

I would say I’ve had some success in building student interest in information literacy skills. However, I am swimming upstream against the current of the inflated value of personal opinion, ‘fake news’, conspiracy theories, and the ever increasing ease of publishing and disseminating anything we want in ways that appeal to existing biases.

In my ongoing search for ways to help students build information literacy skills, someone recommended I read The University of Google: education in the (post) information age, by Tara Brabazon. While The University of Google was originally published in 2007, which is perhaps a long time in the world of digital learning, the message feels as relevant today as it was then.

Early in the book, Brabazon raises a position, which mirrors where I think I am right now: “After surveying literacy theories for insight and assistance, I realized that there is a mismatch between my expectations of research and scholarship and what my students assume is university-level work.”

I’m still reading Brabazon’s book, so can’t draw any conclusions just yet. What reading the first section (of three) has shown is that there is a bigger conversation to be had.

What I’d love, is to find out what resources or approaches other teachers have found useful for scaffolding information literacy into their lessons.

What has worked for you when building information literacy skills for first year students?

What examples, analogies and interactive discussions have been effective to get first year students to consider the expectations of university study?

Reply with a comment if there’s are resources or ideas you think I should look into!

I’ve passed the first milestone: officially a PhD Candidate

In what is some wonderful personal news, today I passed my Confirmation of Candidature, which is the first major milestone of my PhD. Confirmation determines that there is a strong likelihood that this research will be significant and high quality enough to warrant moving forward. Confirmation is also the point that I transition from being a provisional candidate to a candidate. As such, I’ll be having a glass of bubbles tonight to celebrate.

While not about me personally, my PhD research proposal, ‘Queering Australian screens’ is deeply personal. I am exploring queer representation on Australian television and how queer characters make it on our screens.

So, what’s next for my PhD?

Well, this is where the work really begins. With confirmation, I’m officially a PhD Candidate and able to start collecting my own data.

There are some university processes I have to complete (ethics approval, anyone?) and then I’ll start interviews *nervous squeal*.

I can’t wait to tell you how it goes!

What to do with downtime… Nintendo Switch, anyone?

It’s time for an update on the PhD journey and how it’s progressing so far.

A quick recap: I started a PhD researching LGBTIQ+ representation on Australian television in February this year. And I’ve been busy working through this initial stage of exploring my field to understand where my own research will fit and finding that all important gap in knowledge.

This week marks an exciting moment. I have sent off my papers to the panel for my Confirmation of Candidature, the first major milestone of a PhD. While my panel reviews the documents and I wait for the meeting, I have found, for the first time since I started, that I am dealing with some downtime. Yes, there’s still things I can be doing, and I am doing them, but I’m also trying to take the break before things pick up again (assuming I progress at my confirmation).

The problem? I’m struggling to stop and relax. I’m finding myself searching for things to do and terrified I’ll lose momentum.

As a result of this struggle, I have been thinking about how I used to relax and if that could help now. Something I haven’t done in a long time is play video games. Fifteen years ago, immersing myself in an interactive world was just-the-ticket to switch off, so why not today?

And so here I am, a little late to the party, buying a Nintendo Switch and a few games that I know will hit those nostalgic strings: Mario Kart and The Legend of Zelda. I’ll need to stay disciplined and not let the excitement of a new toy take all my focus. But I am excited to distract my brain and hopefully get it in a good place for what comes next!

At the risk of creating a distraction for myself, I have to ask: What are your recommendations for Nintendo Switch games? What should I play? And what is just right for a bit of escapism in the midst of major PhD milestones, a pandemic and a continuing lockdown?

Lowbrow Lowdown E4: Kissing the Coronavirus 3 – The Mutant Strain

What happens when COVID strains meet in the night? The mutant strain? Look, the science is always a bit murky in these books, but Dr Amyson’s motivations are no secret.

It’s the final instalment of MJ Edwards’ Kissing the Coronavirus series, the mutant strain *ominous music plays*. Honestly, the whole idea of a mutant strain is traumatic as Delta sees Natasha and Damien stuck in a never-ending Melbourne lockdown. Of course, that means there’s no better time to record a podcast, because we literally have nothing else to do.

In Kissing the Coronavirus 3: The Mutant Strain, Dr Alexa Ashingtonford and Dr Kelly Cauldron are distant memories, as we meet Dr Amy Amyson, a microbiologist who knows human anatomy in the way only a microbiologist can. Look, we were puzzled by that too. Join us to find out all about the mind-bending sex of the world of microbiology. Oh! And don’t forget, the mutant strain of COVID that will change everything.

Join Natasha and Damien for mile-high antics, Big Momma’s House 2 and characters who are truly defined by their job in this parade of provocative pathogens.

Rating out of five masks:

Natasha: 😷😷😷

Damien: 😷😷

Do you have questions, comments or want to share your thoughts on what we’re reading? Email us at lowbrowlowdown@gmail.com.

Music from the Youtube Audio LibraryBook Bag by E’s Jammy Jams

Lowbrow Lowdown E3: Kissing the Coronavirus 2 – The Second Wave

Image is the cover art for Kissing the Coronavirus two. It includes a well-muscled green man covered in COVID-like spike proteins. An equally muscled blue man. And a woman in the middle being ravaged by these mutant men.
The cover of Kissing the Coronavirus 2: The Mutant Strain

Our promise of erotica continues with a review of Kissing the Coronavirus 2: The Second Wave. And boy does this book deliver, with smorgasbord of food analogies for the between-me-down-there. Maybe listen to this one after you’ve eaten your breakfast… Or maybe before.

MJ Edwards is back with a second instalment in her Kissing the Coronavirus chronicles. This book picks up a month after Dr Ashingtonford’s vaccine discovery and the vaccination effort is well underway.

In Episode 3 we follow Dr Kelly Cauldron as she plays her part in the vaccination drive against the coronavirus, giving out thousands of vaccines each day. Are they using the Pfizer? AstraZeneca? Moderna (the Dolly Parton one)? Who knows!

Join Natasha and Damien has they review this wild erotic tale of cool injections and even more hotdogs. Of course, it wouldn’t be an MJ Edwards novel without graphic and confusing sex scene. And the bulky, chonky, thicc boy, COVID from book one returns!

Covid Claus is Coming to Town (Kissing the Coronavirus Chronicles) Lowbrow Lowdown

In our season finale, Natasha and Damien return to the incredible mind of M.J. Edwards with Covid Claus is Coming to Town (Kissing the Coronavirus Chronicles). A wild tale of COVID, Christmas and erotica. Christmas will never be the same after reading this erotic tome.Rating out of five masks:Natasha: 3/5 😷Damien: 3/5 😷More importantly, we introduce our next season of the Lowbrow Lowdown: Unpacking the Undead.Season 2 of the Lowbrow Lowdown is all about zombies. We will explore the hypothesis that zombie movies, TV series and books provide us with a snapshot of culture and society at the time of their creation.Damien and Natasha will explore the zeitgeist, through a trashy, undead lens that touches mostly upon horror, but will cross over into action, comedy, sci-fi, dystopian and apocalypse sub-genres. We can’t wait to watch (and in Damien’s case, rewatch) lots and lots of zombie flicks. And to share our laughter-filled opinions with you. Do you have questions, comments or want to share your thoughts on what we're reading? Email us at lowbrowlowdown@gmail.com.Intro musicBook Bag by E's Jammy Jams is part of the YouTube Audio Library (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/&#8230😉 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/Artist: E's Jammy Jams – https://goo.gl/tuVmjdAlso includes music by:Christmas Village by Aaron Kenny is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjIy5VrVZYMArtist: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVAggfwI4hnkA2WO6-xC06QCarried by Lauren Duski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cm6pgaD2yigArtist: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtlICmXX_nrri2E8PlRoASQ See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
  1. Covid Claus is Coming to Town (Kissing the Coronavirus Chronicles)
  2. Coronavirus is Coming to Town: A Covid-19 Steamy Horror Story
  3. The Rotten Roots of Yggdrasil: Mythology meets reality in Sweden’s COVID19 pandemic
  4. Covid Cupid: Finding love in the new plague
  5. Co[r]vid: A novella (crows, crime, coronavirus)

Rating out of five masks:

Natasha: 😷😷😷😷

Damien: 😷😷😷😷

Do you have questions, comments or want to share your thoughts on what we’re reading? Email us at lowbrowlowdown@gmail.com.

Music from the Youtube Audio LibraryBook Bag by E’s Jammy Jams