Tag Archives: Research

Canberra Research Trip

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So last week I spent some time up in Canberra conducting some research for my thesis. I split my time between the National Archives and the National Library, as I went through some documents that mainly dealt with Australian aid policy in the last 1940s and early 1950s.

I enjoy travelling to Canberra, as it is a very pretty city, and I generally stay at a hotel in Barton, which is really close to the archive and the Parliamentary Zone. It’s a lovely place to walk around, and the weather was absolutely perfect up there last week. Perfect conditions to sit inside an archive all day and look at 60-year-old documents.

I managed to find some good stuff during the week, and I took a ton of photos that I will now have to go through and read. At the archives I mainly focused on External Affairs papers that should help me to develop my ideas regarding Australian attitudes towards economic development and Southeast Asia during the early Cold War.

The National Library was also full of good stuff, and I worked through parts of the Percy Spender and Arthur Tange collections there. It was the first time I’d used the manuscript collections there, and I look forward to going back and seeing what else I can find.

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It’s funny when I go on these quick research trips, as I spend most of the time photographing documents for later reference, which means I still have a lot of work to do with them. It reminds me of when I was an undergraduate and would photocopy all of my readings and feel as if I’d done some work. In fact the real work is still to come.

I’m still working on developing a routine for archival trips, as I haven’t been on many yet. It’s difficult to spend a full day in a reading room and then try to get some other work done.

One of the important things for me is to find a decent cup of coffee, which is not always easy. I found a good café in Manuka, which was 5 minutes drive from my hotel that did the trick, but I’ll keep looking on future visits.

Another issue with being alone on a research trip is finding things to do in the evening. Canberra is a pretty place, but I struggle to find ways to entertain myself after I’ve spent a day in the archive. I found myself kind of bored at nights, which is something I need to work on in the future.

I’m going back to Canberra for a couple of weeks in January for more archival work, so I’ll need to plan ahead to find ways to keep myself entertained. There are only so many movies a person can watch on a laptop before getting sick of it. I guess the more time I spend in Canberra the more things I will find to do.

At the end of the day I had a successful trip, and I still get that addictive feeling when looking at documents from the past that very few people have looked at. Every historian knows that the archive is the fun (and often frustrating) part of the job, with the search for that crucial document that can make your project.

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5 Positive Effects Teaching Has On My PhD

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Last week was the final week of the undergraduate semester here in Australia, and there was a general sigh of relief going around the History Department here at Monash. I mean, there is still a lot of essay marking to do, but no longer would our weeks be taken over by the preparation and teaching of classes!

Implicit in this way of thinking is the idea that teaching is some kind of obstacle to completing a PhD. It consumes precious time and energy, and the financial rewards are not at all sufficient to make up for this.

I disagree with this position, and have come with five reasons why every PhD student in the humanities should do some teaching during their candidature.

1.     Teaching forces you to use time wisely

Teaching undergraduate classes requires a great deal of preparation. One must complete the readings for the week, attend the lecture, and then plan for the actual teaching of the class. This all happens while trying to continue working on a thesis, and heaven forbid, enjoy some kind of social life. And then the marking arrives.

It is impossible to maintain sanity in this kind of environment without a clear idea of how you use your time. Putting aside a couple of hours a day to write/read thesis stuff during semester is super important. On the flipside, setting clear limits as to how much time is given to preparing for class is also essential.

2.     Teaching outside your research topic can be liberating

One thing about a PhD thesis in history is that it is very easy to become focused solely on your one little topic. I can honestly say that I would goinsane if the only things I read/wrote for four years were about Australian and American policies towards Southeast Asia following World War II. Teaching acts an escape from my research topic.

I’ve been fortunate enough to teach in units close to my research topic. However, I’ve also taught in units that dealt with the aftermath of genocide or that look at globalisation. I’ve learned as much, if not more, than my students, and had an extremely rewarding experience teaching those subjects.

3.     Teaching helps to put your skills into perspective

I’ve lost count of the times throughout my postgraduate career where I have felt that I am in no way qualified to be doing what I’m doing. Whether it isafter a supervisor tears apart a chapter, or a colleague produce a brilliant presentation, that ‘imposter syndrome’ is never far from the surface.

That all melts away after reading the work of undergraduates. My students rarely replicate the care that I put into my own work. Even the strongest pieces of undergraduate work reinforce my own ability. Marking essays, as draining as it can be, can make me feel better about my own work.

4.     Teaching allows you to interact with other academics

I have never taught a unit with either my Master’s or Doctoral supervisors. This has meant that I’ve been exposed to new approaches to historical studies and also results in a stronger involvement in the department. Some co-ordinators are great and have taken an interest in my own research.

This has helped to make me feel more involved in the work of the faculty as well as to have another person to bounce ideas off. Without teaching, I would have far fewer contacts amongst the academic staff in my department.

5.     Teaching allows for greater contact with other postgraduates

To me, this is the most important benefit I’ve obtained from teaching at university. As the cliché goes, a PhD in history can be a lonely journey indeed. Being a tutor at university has enabled me to find a small group of colleagues with whom I can share issues with teaching as well as with my research.

I’ve been lucky to find such a close group of people who are now my friends, and I know not all postgrads are so lucky. All I know is that if I had solely focused on completing my research without also doing some sessional teaching, I wouldn’t have the support group I now rely on to get through my various responsibilities.

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Is it Worthwhile Beginning a History PhD in Australia?

In the immortal words of Reverend Lovejoy, “short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but…”

            Recent political developments have attracted a great deal of discussion amongst my postgrad/teaching associate colleagues and myself. At the top of the list has been the proposed intervention of politicians into the funding for research projects.

            We have been especially concerned about the statements made regarding ‘ridiculous’ projects that Liberal politicians have targeted for attack; projects that us humanities scholars actually feel are very important and worthwhile. It seems that the new government will take a deep interest in ensuring that research funding is not ‘wasted’. Who determines what ‘waste’ means (politicians) is the key issue.

            This led me to ponder the question as to whether in this funding environment it is worthwhile starting a doctoral project in the humanities. From one perspective, it could be suggested that this is a terrible time to begin a project, with the uncertainty of financial support making an already stressful project even worse.

            But after thinking about it for a little while, I believe that now is the most important time to conduct the kind of research done by historians and other humanities scholars.

            The kind of work done in the humanities leads us scholars to question, investigate and critically evaluate not only our specific topics but also the world around us. It seems that it is just this kind of approach that conservative elements in our society find most alarming. Academia is therefore a battleground upon which the ‘culture wars’ are going to be fought over the next few years.

            As such, it is more important than ever that the work of historians and other humanities scholars be continued and strengthened by new research projects. Whether the work being done looks at gender roles in the Middle East, the work of German intellectuals from the 18th and 19th centuries or the influence of the United States on Australian politics in the 1950s and 60s, it must continue.

            By rejecting the proposition that politicians can intervene in research funding (a concept I find absolutely offensive), new scholars can maintain a sense of independence in their work. In other words, now is the time to demonstrate that it is not only in science and medicine that ‘valuable’ research can be conducted. Now obviously the practicalities of this are not as simple as I’ve presented it, but a spirit of resistance needs to be harnessed in the current climate.

            I’ve been surprised by my own reaction to the statements of the Coalition, as there is a part of me that is convinced of the importance of my work. To be confronted with the view that a large segment of society views the kind of work that I do as ‘ridiculous’ is deeply concerning.

            It is mainly for this reason that I think now is the time for scholars in all areas of the humanities and social sciences to come together to show that what we do is just as important as what other academics do. With this in mind it is not only worthwhile for new students to commence a research degree in the history or some other area of the humanities, it is absolutely necessary. 

A link on The Conversation also deals with issue in an excellent way.

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