So you’re pursuing a PhD, what is your thesis about?

The bitter-sweet question of questions. I welcome it, I dread it, and lately I’ve found myself trying to plan for it. Friends, family and fellow-academics are naturally interested in the work I’m doing and that’s a wonderful thing. The problem is, I’m still getting clear about my research. It’s a process that seems to change more often than a shape-shifting extraterrestrial. This is normal I’m told. I remind myself of this in the wake of yet another incoherent account of my work. On one hand, I’m not expected to have a water-tight plan at this early stage (as a junior grad student). On the other, my ego would much rather like to be in control and in the know.

 It’s really been in the last few months that my clarity has waned a bit. I’ve found through my reading of the literature that so many theories, concepts and methodologies seem important and worthy of being included in the design of my research. Again, something that is par for the course. Nonetheless, my messy explanations mirror my current feeling about the literature which results in me sounding unclear and uninformed to listeners. I don’t actually plan to include everything but the kitchen sink. In addition to this not being practical or manageable it simply wouldn’t yield a very strong piece of work. I’m just working ‘out loud’ the architecture of my research (as my supervisor calls it).

 Those explanations of our work, stumbling, bumbling or otherwise are valuable opportunities to craft an account that is concise and accessible not only to others but to ourselves. This is especially so when people outside of academia inquire. When we have to explain what we’re doing to friends and family we’re forced to keep it real and keep it simple. When they get it you know you’re on the right track. So I say, invite questions and embrace talk. Use the process of discussing your work to think through and get clear about aims and objectives and to determine what’s important and relevant to your research and what can be set aside.

 Talking about our work doesn’t have to be scary, besides it’s good academic practice since it’s something we’ll be expected to do a lot of as professionals. In the meantime I’m certain about the significance of my subject and the contribution it will make when finished. This is something I know I can talk about with confidence and passion.

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