In Defence of 2016

2016 was a pretty good year. Yes, it was shit politically in the USA and the Brits lost their senses. Lots of cool people died this year. Women’s and LGBTQ rights likely took a giant leap backwards and race relations are abysmal — if they were every improved from the days of slavery.

But for me, personally, 2016 was pretty good. This is the year that for me, things have started to come together, where all my wandering paths are merging.  Bear with, or not, in the stream-of-consciousness rambling that is to come.

I am an age that 20 years ago would have scared me to think I would ever be this old, and I know from years of nursing that I’m not remotely close to being old yet. I have enjoyed my 40s, with 4 and a bit years of them left. My 40s have allowed me to be who I was always meant to be without feeling pressured to keep up with some feminine so-called ideal. I don’t have to feel like I should keep quiet when I have something to say, or when some injustice needs to be corrected.  People have listened to me in my 40s. What was, in my 20s, labeled as rudeness or negativity is now called directness and criticism. Strangely, I don’t feel how I say things is different, but the perception and reception of what I say has changed. I choose my battles more carefully, perhaps, but I’m also less willing to back down when I take on a battle. It’s a trade off.

Academically, I’m hitting my stride and everything is coming together. I’m not your typical PhD student who hopped from undergrad, to masters, to doctorate.  In many ways, this route to higher education has likely been a benefit to my confidence. My path has been more meandering. I started with an undergrad in English lit (mostly the classics, Victorian, Romantic, Canadian lit, and creative writing) with a minor in History (mostly white man’s Canadian history and American history — I didn’t choose white man perspectives by choice. The white man part is just how it was taught back then). I was right out of high school, when I started university, with the intention of getting an education degree afterward. A plan I abandoned after volunteering in an elementary school and realizing what hell teaching that age group was.

So I followed up the English degree with a nursing degree. And nursing degrees demand practice experience if you wish to have any shred of credibility. Nevertheless, I was working in a hospital less than 3 months when I realized I couldn’t do that work for the rest of my life. The practice side of nursing carries an inferiority complex. The bullying behaviour is everywhere. And the practice community is anti-academic, and I’ve talked like an academic without knowing it before I became an academic. I did not fit in with my practice colleagues who had different values.

I began my Master’s a year and a half later. It took me 3.3 years to finish. I explored waiting for cardiac surgery as my thesis research project. I published everything I wrote in that program. I gave birth to child #1, 6 months before I defended my thesis. That child is now 15.5 years old. I began teaching nursing at a non-tenured college 6 months after graduating from my Master’s. Child #2 came 2.5 years after child #1. This is where the gap in my scholarship started. But to me it feels as if there was no gap at all.

Editorial Aside

Here marks the just over 500-word point of this blog. That’s exactly the length an editor gave me to write an editorial about writing in nursing education. This is one of the reasons why 2016 has been good to me. Pockets of my profession value my work. (Pockets of it doesn’t value my work and I’ll give examples of that too.) I’ve just awakened to how difficult 500 words will be on this topic. As the editor said:

screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-11-16-26-am

I am wondering how this editor might feel when my editorial says that the problem with student writing is far bigger than basic skills and grammar which is what the bemoaning is usually about at faculty meetings. The problem is with how we teach writing and how we nurture it across a curriculum. The problem is with our outdated beliefs that writing instruction ends at one introductory course or, worse, sometime back in high school.

End of Aside

I looked into starting my doctoral degree in spring of 2005 but there was no local nursing doctorate back then and the alternative non-nursing local program I looked into was going to essentially make me re-take all my master’s coursework. No thanks. I decided to write a novel instead. Then I got divorced. Then I did the carpe diem thing for a while. This is the rest of my gap in my scholarship. Then sometime around 2011 I started coming back to my academic ways.

The years 2006-2010 were not good years. That’s all I’ll say about that. 2011 is the year I turned 40. It was also the year I met my current partner, but we wouldn’t get together for another year and a half. 2011 is also the year I started planning my first writing self-efficacy study. I suppose it takes 5 years to settle into a new area of research because the article I wrote describing that study is due to be published in spring of 2017. In 2016, I did the project on writing self-efficacy instruments (which is a damn fine project if I don’t say so myself) with 2 colleagues — a close friend, and the professor who would eventually consent to be my PhD advisor. That project is getting published in summer 2017 and it is also the project that got me the invited editorial.

In September 2016 I started my PhD studies  at the same institution in the same nursing faculty where I did my undergraduate and my master’s. Familiarity is kind, but I can see in my 15 year absence from that faculty that not much has changed culturally around the building. The faces have changed somewhat… they are a little older, a little more experienced …. but so am I. I was told when I applied that I had experience that most other applicants do not have. I can see, three months into the program, that this is true. I am older than most of my classmates. I am much further ahead in my thinking about where I am going with  my studies than most of my cohort and perhaps the cohort a year ahead of me too. This is despite the fact that my first PhD course was something I had no experience with — philosophy. We went around the table the first class and were asked to discuss what theoretical/philosophical lens we applied to our focus area and everyone had a ready answer except me — 15 years out of my masters and I had no hot clue about theory/philosophy anything. Till the prof, who is also my advisor, prompted me with post-positivism — OooohKaaay — maybe it is? All I needed to do to catch up was read and read and read and read. I’m still reading. I am post-positivist. I’m also post modernist. My classmates, who appeared more philosophically grounded than me at the start, are all extremely smart women who amaze me everyday, but they are plagued with more uncertainty than I have about what they are doing and where they might end up in this program.

Sometimes my certainty in what I am doing makes me wonder what I am missing. I wonder if I am completely misguided and I’m not yet seeing it. If perhaps, I am really just an unworldly, simplistic, chump and no one has figured it out yet. I decided to try my hand at grant writing.  I had a brief moment of panic and almost didn’t go through with it, but the panic was allayed by a hallway conversation with my advisor. The grant application for this studentship required me to plan the design of my main PhD study — 3 months into my PhD I was required to be certain about how I would conduct my research. I think it turned out really well.

That may be naive. There is no way I’m getting out of this first draft of this grant without major revisions. Maybe I won’t get this grant, but I have a good start of a draft for all future grant submissions, assuming some of the other outdated assumptions of academia and doctoral studies don’t render me unfundable in the grant application process — e.g. that I didn’t bridge my PhD work from my Master’s, that all my publications are over 5 years old, and I have a full time academic job already 14 years in the making. Decision makers seem to assume a full time job means I am not dedicated to my studies. That I won’t finish as fast as others or be as productive.  It seems the expectation is that in order to qualify for grant money  I should drop my full time job, be supported by my spouse like many of my classmates have been able to do — which for me would mean needing to give up my house. Live in a tent, perhaps. Feed my children mush, maybe. Continuing to work full time seems to mean I shouldn’t need money. Yeah, I’ll be alright without grants to pay my tuition but likely my colleagues who can afford to be supported by their spouses could also be financially alright without scholarship money.  But they’ll still qualify for the money and the academic merits that come from being able to report winning that grant on their CV. I’ll get neither the money or the merits.  I have to accept the reality that granting bodies may deem me unqualified for student grants because of my employment status. No grant pays enough to give up my salary.  Maybe the solution is to just be better than the other applicants so that part of my CV is overlooked. Maybe there is no solution. Academia is what it is and what it will always be.

The not so good: My abstracted submission for a presentation was waitlisted for a conference I’ve attended and presented at every year for the past 4 years. My one-of-a-kind 3-year longitudinal study on writing self-efficacy and writing across the curriculum was waitlisted for a conference which tends to be weighted in anecdotal presentations about the “cool things we are doing in our classrooms.” I could take this personally but I know what I’ve produced with this data. The abstract did what it could with a 250 word limit. I’m trying to find out how they made decisions to accept or waitlist presentations (no rating criteria was posted as it is for most conferences) but I suspect, like most of my other emails to these organizers, I will be ignored or get some vague platitude as explanation. I declined the waitlist. I don’t need to be forced into last minute inconveniences, presentation prep, and travel planning. I can shoot for something better which will more benefit my learning. Maybe I’m arrogant and overconfident but… naaahh. There have been more things stroking my ego this year, than flattening it.

I wrote two amazing philosophy papers this term that have taken my thinking leaps and bounds from where I was when I started the year. The feedback from my first paper was encouraging and inflating and I’ve already submitted it for publication. I’m still waiting for feedback from the second paper, but this one will likely be the foundation for the design of the writing self-efficacy instrument I develop for nursing. Who knew I would come to think of the writing process as socially constructed? Maybe I did already but I just needed a label.

In July 2016, knowing I would be starting my PhD and wanting to document the process, I started this blog, and an account to participate in academic Twitter. I started it with nothing. I had no following and no plan. I just posted and people responded and retweeted and the followers came. I’ve been strategic about it. I am an astute observer. I learned what tricks worked to draw followers. Like all good academics, I also did some research to help my strategy.  I’m heading into the new year — a little over 5 months into participation — with just over 700 folk, most complete strangers, watching what I do every day. I’m doing something right, I suppose. The plan for the account is still evolving — I will always be “Academics Write” but my real name may start popping up here and there over the next year. I have connected well enough with a couple followers that I chose to voluntarily reveal who I am. I knew the account would be primarily about academic writing (and it is), but it was bound to turn personal as well (and it has). I have blogged before but I did it with high anxiety. I would post something I wrote, often about anxiety, divorce, or relationships, and immediately panic that people were seeing me. I eventually quit blogging because of the sleep I was losing and the worry about what people were thinking and saying about me behind my back in my real world. That I haven’t panicked about my writer here as of yet, may just be a function of anonymity, but so far so good.

If I had to sum up 2016, it would be that it is a turning point year where I have spent many moments looking back at how far I have come and the many things that have shaped my life to bring me to this moment. In many ways, 2016 has been great because of how I am coming to life, coming to know myself, and acting on my dreams and desires. That, more than anything, has made 2016 a great year.

 

 

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