The interview and academia

Image of a podcast microphone
Photo by Gene Jeter on Unsplash

I’m no stranger to conducting an interview – I feel like it comes with the territory of working in communications. Even though I’m not a journalist, I’ve been interviewing people all through my career.

There’s the obvious opportunities I’ve had to work with very talented videographers and editors, interviewing people to tell their story to add to advertising campaigns. But something that surprised me was how much interviewing was required for good internal leadership comms. Getting to sit down and interview a leader, then write a message from them using their answers creates effective and inspiring content. Often they say ‘I never would have thought to say it like that!’ and you play the recording back to show them it’s exactly how they said it.

All this to say that I understand how powerful an interview can be. It unearths and empowers people who don’t see themselves as great communicators.

My worlds are colliding at the moment. I’m teaching a group of excited first years all about the interview and sending them out into the world to capture interesting stories and practice their skills. And at the same time I’m delving into uncharted territory (for me, at least) of the semi-structured interview for academic research.

I’ve always looked at the importance of helping someone tell their story as a communications tool, relating to persuasive communications and emotional connection. And now I’m beginning to see the power of the interview as data.

Like all data, there are limitations. We have to interrogate the structures in which someone exists and the potential for that to limit their answers. This isn’t new to me, but perhaps the limitations will be more obvious and impactful as I delve into this different form of the discipline.

One thing I didn’t expect – perhaps naively – is how thankful I feel for putting off my PhD study until this point in my life.

There were many moments where I seriously considered the opportunity to pursue research. And something always held me back (mostly a lack of money).

Now I see that the time I spent building my career also built these skills. I don’t know how I would even start to approach this without that experience.

Why am I doing a PhD?

The most consistent advice I received when I set out to apply for a PhD was ‘Don’t do it!’

It stood out to me that successful academics, all of whom completed a PhD and are now working in various capacities in academia were so quick to discourage someone from pursuing the same path. And honestly, it got my back up a bit – it felt like gatekeeping from a sector that had been designed to keep someone like me out (not wealthy, grew up in regional Australia, not from an academic family – my dad being a first in family to get an undergraduate qualification and many of my siblings not having the opportunity to move to a city where university study was possible).

There were a few very encouraging people who helped me decipher and demystify the research degree.

As I persisted the discussion shifted: ‘Why do you want to do a PhD?’

It’s a good question. I’m under no illusion that I’ve made an easy career decision. I’ve left a successful communications career, where I was getting every opportunity I could have hoped for to take a big step down and into a new field. Add to that, I’m moving into arts and humanities education and research, a discipline that is under consistent and increasing pressure due to government funding cuts and universities that are suffering from a lack of support through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

So why am I studying a PhD.

There’s not just one reason and it’s impossible to say that one reason is more of a driving force than another. Instead, I’m outlining three reasons that I come back to consistently when I need motivation.

Passion

First up, passion. It seems pretty obvious, but I’m passionate about my own queer identity and how it is represented in media of all forms.

The world is changing and we are seeing LGBTIQ+ representation hit our screens in new and abundant ways. This is exciting – and I still get excited when I find a new show that provides another queer character for me to see, understand, connect with, critique, discuss with friends, challenge, celebrate – the list goes on.

When you get past the initial cry of ‘Don’t do it!’ from those already holding this form of cultural capital things quickly shift to the importance of passion. Even a few months in I have felt the loss of constant contact with colleagues and peers, to what is a lonely process of research. Passion has been something to hold on to when I’m frustrated or overwhelmed.

My passion has already been a driving force and I can see it will play a crucial role as I get deeper into the research process.

Making a difference

Second, any queer person will likely be able to tell you about a time when they were young and saw someone that resembled themselves on screen.

I know I’m not alone in sitting up late at night with the TV on the lowest possible volume and one finger hovering over the channel change button on the remote while I watched Queer As Folk on SBS. We can critique the monocultural and stereotyped representations – and we should. But as a terrified queer teen in a unwelcoming country town, I was able to recognise something of myself in the characters on screen for the first time.

This is why I think my research can make a difference. Because television has a relationship with, and influence within culture. In academia theorists such as John Fiske, Stuart Hall and Tom O’Regan have written extensively on this topic.

I want to continue delving into this for LGBTIQ+ people and help identify and empower representation on our screens. I believe I can do this through research.

Continue teaching and teaching more

Third, I’ve been so lucky to get to teach media studies, screen studies and communications through Swinburne Online Learning since 2017.

It has been an awesome component of my mix of work, while I’ve developed myself as a communications professional. Similar to students in the units I teach, I completed both my degrees online. As someone who’s supported themselves since they were 17, an online degree was the best option for me.

At first this started out as a way of giving something back. I understand what it’s like to study online and I could bring that understanding and my professional experience to give others a great online learning experience. What I found is that teaching is hugely rewarding. I love finding new and creative ways to help students engage with and understand concepts they’ll need for their future careers.

I want teaching to be a bigger part of my career. And I want to be able to contribute to the system in a way that will open it up to more people like me. A PhD will help me to make teaching a bigger part of my career and will be essential to being part of the solution.

I don’t know what the next three years will hold, but I’ll endeavour to share my journey whenever I get the chance.

And I hope that if an aspiring PhD candidate contacts me years down the track, that my response won’t be ‘Don’t do it!’ Though perhaps it will be about passion.