Last year I came across ‘Fragment of a Queen’s Face’ in New York. It’s what it’s called – part an ancient Egyptian bust sculpture. The upper portions broke off due to an accident(s), presumably. All that remains is the chin, the mouth and some of the cheeks and neck. Of all the artefacts I have come across over the years, this is especially intriguing. A few years ago, I would’ve tried hard to find out why; i.e., some effort to rationalise the attraction. I’d have thought that, beyond the fact it’s around 3,500 old, it must be part of some wider extraordinary story. Why else does it take pride of place in the, renowned, Metropolitan Museum of Art?
In recent years, I’ve learned to enjoy certain elements of life without feeling self-compelled to justify why. Fragment of a Queen’s Face is a good example. I gain much pleasure from this, arguably, imperfect artefact; maybe, because it gives me a break from the mundanity of the rational world for a little while. Looking at it and thinking about it stirs my imagination; e.g. the many ways it could’ve broken, how they managed to get it so smooth, what the whole face might’ve looked like, etc.
I have always been a bit of a dreamer, or somebody that reflects a lot about a lot. For most of my life, I thought that this was an affliction. The more formal education I endured growing up, the more I became convinced that thinking in a clear, rational, and logical way is always best. However, something deep within me doesn’t fully trust this worldview. Since my teens, I have wondered if our decisions and behaviours are as much, if not more, influenced by intuition than rationality. Over the years, my growing interest in the interplay between rationality and intuition led to me starting a Doctorate of Management degree two years ago – a Professional Doctorate (ProfD) programme, which equates to a PhD. Here I have an opportunity to channel many of my curiosities though a research process in a way that, I hope, will contribute to my development as a person and, in some small way, to that of others.
It was during the first/taught phase of this ProfD that we had to write a reflective essay on an aspect of my professional practice. I especially enjoyed this challenge. It was refreshing to dedicate time to an effort in articulating my thought processes and the knowledge generated by the particular experience. While I enjoy meeting the demands of formal academic writing, I also get a kick out of the freedom that comes with reflective writing; the chance to create and explore my thoughts and feelings in the wider context of the ProfD, and related matters, in a less formal and structured way. I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember, especially creative and reflective writing. So, as I enter the winter of my thirties, I have worked up the confidence to act upon this passion by starting to blog.
A good a reason as any to start blogging is because I can. I have the health and desire to write blog-posts. I’m privileged to live in a society that embraces freedom of expression. I live in a country (Ireland) that facilitated my education so that I can read and write at an adequate level, and which also provides access to the necessity infrastructure (e.g. electricity, the internet, etc.). I am also a management practitioner, with over twelve years’ experience. I’d like to write blog-posts about why I’m doing the ProfD. I’d like to share to share my experiences of juggling full-time employment, family commitments and completing this degree on part-time/spare-time basis through a University in a different country.
I don’t see my blog as a ‘how to’ guide for doctoral students. I’d prefer to share some stories on how I managed the day-to-day challenges; e.g. reading and data overload, staying focussed, etc. I am underwhelmed by the lack of information online about what it’s like to be doctoral student, especially for those who combine this full-time employment. I’d like to think that my blog-posts would inspire others to consider doing a doctoral degree, and inform current students to overcome some of the challenges that affect their progress. Completing a doctoral degree is often one of the most rewarding and, at the same time, challenging experiences a person could have in her/his life. Getting there can be a very long and lonely pursuit. So, if my blog achieves nothing else, I intend for it to be of some reassurance to other doctoral students (albeit a few), that you are, indeed, not alone.
As the years roll by, I find myself becoming slightly more introverted and intrinsically motivated. At the same time, there’s little that beats a good old chat with family or friends. I find it difficult, however, to discuss my ProfD issues with almost all of them. Thankfully, I have many other interests and hobbies, however the the ProfD has become the dominant one. The problem is that, understandably, most of my family and friends have no interest in discussing, for example, the difference between a theoretical and a conceptual framework. As a doctoral student, you have little choice but to immerse yourself in your thesis and having conversations about it are desirable. If I was doing the ProfD on a full-time basis, I think it would be much easier to manage this, as I’d probably be on campus in an academic environment, surrounded by others who have completed, or are completing a doctoral degree programme. Also, I’d have more time to spend at my other hobbies in the evening. This is one of the many reasons why doing a PhD / ProfD while in full-time employment can be a particularly isolating experience.
Possibly, this blog could be a conduit for engaging with other students in the same boat, and act as a catalyst for related conversations. If this doesn’t happen, at least I’ll be expressing thoughts and feelings about elements of my doctoral pursuit. Also, the blog could become a repository for some of my ideas that, otherwise, may be forgotten. One of the differences between a ProfD and a PhD is an emphasis on the impact that your research will have on professional practice (as well as theory). In terms of impact, I wonder if my blog could have as much external impact as my thesis. I read somewhere that an average of eight people read a doctoral thesis, and half of them are paid to do so. I’m hoping that a greater number of people will read my blog-posts and that it could influence their decisions as potential or practicing doctoral students.
I believe that writing these blog-posts will help me to maintain a discourse that is understandable to most. Writing at doctoral level demands an academic rigour that, unfortunately, is not comfortably grasped by many readers. I appreciate that academic writing has its place, however, it’s important for my development as a management practitioner that I maintain a balanced approach to how I communicate. I do not want to end up in a thesis bubble talking only to myself.
Another motive to blog is that I find the process of reflective writing to be mindful. This contradicts a general assumption that peoples’ increasing engagement with modern technology/the internet is encouraging mindless behaviour and decreasing attention spans. It would be mindless or distracting if I was drafting blog-posts while having dinner with my family, for example. This is and will not be the case. Like drafting this post, I’ll set aside dedicated time to reflect and try to translate relevant experiences, thoughts, etc. into meaningful articles. There is nothing more I value than time spent with family and friends; where you give them your time and attention; i.e., not being on your phone/laptop. For those working full-time, these opportunities are the smaller fractions of the week/month we have to enjoy their company.
Presuming the blog takes off (to whatever level), I don’t intend on looking back in years to come and cringing at my innocence, lack of knowledge or conceptual vagueness. I find it a little sad when people do this; e.g. looking at photos of themselves when they were younger in embarrassment. This blog-post is the best I can put together today, and I am committed to getting better at it in time.
At the moment, I’m incapable of putting into words all the reasons why I have decided to become a blogger. I’m confident that, in time, I will discover more of these reasons and, ultimately, more about myself. Maybe after years of blogging, I’ll be able to clearly articulate why I’m passionate about it, like Phillippe de Montebello can about his love for ‘Fragment of a Queen’s Face’, as follows. For the time being, though, it just feels right. So, I’m happy to trust my intuition and to start blogging, wherever it may take me…
‘If you told me you’d found the top of the head, I’m not sure l would be thrilled because I am so focused, so absorbed and captivated by the perfection of what is there; that my pleasure – and it is intense pleasure – is marveling at what my eye sees, not some abstraction that, in a more art historical mode, l might conjure up. It’s like a book that you love, and you simply don’t want to see the movie. You’ve already imagined the hero or the heroine in a certain way. In truth, with the yellow jasper lips, I have never really tried to imagine the missing parts’. Phillippe de Montebello was Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from 1977-2008. This is an extract from:
Gayford, M. & Montello, P. (2014) Rendez-vous with Art. Thames & Hudson Inc., New York