Role identity: Change, more change and role conflicts

About a year ago I wrote my last post in this site. Shame on me! So much change has taken place and capturing the change as it happened would have interesting – for me at least. However as the pace of change ramps up, and following the nudge of a post by Steve Wheeler on identity, I know the time has come to put together some reflections.

This time last year … I was working on my PhD post-viva amendments, preparing for a QAA review at my place of work, supporting my son with his school work (or trying to) and starting to see the way forward for the time when I would be leaving my professional role and working as an independent researcher. The role identities (Stryker, 2008) remained clear and distinct. Whilst each role would overlap the others, the degree of porosity of each role identity (Davis, 2013) was minimised and each would receive attention according to the salience of the role at any given point in time.

Not now though!

Having completed my PhD, the formal student role has dissolved, leaving in its place a far more rhizomatic approach to learning (Cormier, 2014) and a woollier understanding of the associated role – maybe this will come in time but the lack of institutional and societal constructions of the freely lifelong learner result in a happily uncomfortable blurring and fuzziness. I’m learning so much at the moment but it’s absolutely unquantifiable!

Having left my institutional role, I find the lack of formal affiliation challenging in the hierarchically charged HE sector. Whilst I have associate membership of my doctoral team at the University, my relationship with the University is tenuous. I have no virtual access to library or e-mail (though if I lived nearby I could access the library physically) and any mention of my associate status has to be indicated in full, to ensure that all realise I’m a either student nor faculty – a shame when I spent 5 years working towards my doctorate within the Centre (albeit as a distance learner). But I guess I’m not alone here. My role identity thus aligns with that of an independent researcher – another fuzzy ball of blurriness! I’m still working on that one too!

I recently made the decision to otherwise educate my autistic son from the end of this academic year, thus plunging him into the world of fuzzy, blurred, interesting end engaging world of rhizomatic learning. He needs to be de-schooled so that he can learn to love life and learning once more – and become the confident young man he so much deserves to be. Trying to fit with ‘the system’ has destroyed much of his confidence and led to high levels of anxiety. But … In doing this, I’m blurring my roles yet again. How will the mother role interact with the educator role? Are they the same? Should they be different? I’m not taking in the socially approved role of teacher (I used to be a teacher in school and college and am proud to have done so) but neither will I be in my usual role as ‘Mum’ – will I? How do I separate the mother role from the home educator role? And how do I separate this from my own activity as an independent researcher? This promises to be a challenge!

Sometimes I feel I’m drowning in uncertainty. Sometimes I revel in it – usually when I am on my own. I’m not even sure about my role as I write. I guess its a hybrid learner/researcher/educator mashup. Does any of thus sound familiar?

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A brief thought on roles and self-definition

As I near the end of my time in my current professional role, and move into a future of multiplicity and adventure (aka research, projects, consultancy etc), I’m finding myself or my-self rather unsettled.

If I contemplate my role identities in terms of Goffmans’s concept of framing and performativity, my present professional life is strongly mediated by my institutional role. My future not so. It’s an interesting place to be.

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What a year …

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted to this blog. Why? There have been changes both personal and professional that have seemed inappropriate to discuss online and yet change has snuck up on me and has started to give me new perspectives on my way forward.

The strange thing is that this time last year I was feeling that change was happening TO ME. Now I feel that change is happening with and FOR ME. Sorry for shouting, but the change of emphasis is of importance.

I have had the most amazing year as a PhD student/candidate. I have enjoyed incredible work with research participants who have trusted me with their narratives and provided incredibly rich data for my research. I have engaged enthusiastically with Barney Glaser’s principles for the grounded theory methodology and found this energising and exciting. I have been supported by two fantastic PhD communities, that of the #phdchat community and our own Lancaster TEL Cohort 1 learning community and my very good friend and fellow student Debbie.

My chronic health situation took a real nosedive through the summer and autumn (leading to a real sense of despair on my part – just thinking of my feelings then can bring tears to my eyes) but the support of my Rheumie nurse and her determination to turn things round for me and my decision to reduce my working hours have paid dividends. I’m financially poorer but so much richer in my life. Having reduced my working hours I can pace myself more effectively, give some time back to my very sweet autistic son and lovely husband, and look to develop my future identities.

Having spent years researching the issue of identity, it has been a revelation to understand the implications of my research on my own understandings and engagement with life. This may seem trite but until recently I had not considered fully the implications of life changing events on identity standards (Burke & Stets, 2009 I think) and identity salience (Stryker, 2008). It’s interesting to feel this, engage with its meaning, after hearing of the situation from my participants.

So … I’m sitting here, miles away from home and family, with the prospect of my doctoral viva before me. I am already feeling the adrenaline for the forthcoming exam and yet I am happier now than I have been for sometime. Opportunities are not what they were when I started this journey. They are more ethereal, more fluid and less certain. But they are opening new doors. I’m excited for change. I’m excited by change. And I have my family and friends to thank for supporting the change in me.

For me this is an important post and if encourages just one reader towards a change for the better then it has served it’s purpose.

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The Gremlins Strike Back (or so they think)

My last post, when read back could seem to some readers (especially those who are prone to perching in the shoulder of unsuspecting students) to be rather smug … And, oh wow, have I been made to regret the glee with which I wrote of my previous energetic disposal of the dreaded PhD Gremlin!

They got me back. Both last weekend and this. Horrors!

But I have a plan. And the plan is not to worry about my Plan A, but to have Plans B, C and if necessary D too. And then they will not have me foiled at all. Distracted, delayed, disgruntled maybe, but NOT foiled.

So if this weekend I can’t write, then maybe I should read, highlight and take the odd note or three. I shall take the advice of my good friend Debbie (very wise woman!) and set myself actions for all the little spaces I’ve previously considered too short and therefore unusable. I’m going to talk to my phone or my iPad in random moments or coffee breaks, over lunch and while cooking supper.

Those gremlins had better get their skates on …

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Gremlin avoidance

Some years ago, our PhD learning community (specifically Debbie) identified the species now known as the PhD Gremlin. These are unpleasant and disruptive beasties who will pounce unannounced on the unsuspecting PhD student, taking one of many different forms and turning up when least expected.

The Gremlin can impact on thought, motivation, direction/focus, technology, or even health – to name but a few of their activities. When in groups they have a particularly foul impact and can only be beaten off by the patented gremlin-swatter (Prescott, 2008) or avoided by physical escape by air or over water (and preferably with little opportunity for engagement with said PhD).

The unfortunate thing about gremlins is that left alone they wreak havoc and, when the unsuspecting researcher returns from their travels they may find depleted stores of #researchfood and #researchwine and gremlins so refuelled as to required the threat of ironing (sorry for the use of such awful language) or an overdose of the (self-perceived) neglected #phdcat. What they tend not to bank upon is the renewal of motivation and focus on the part of the newly rested PhD student. They forget that they may be spun several times above the head of the student and flung into the soggy outreaches of the garden, drowned in ‘ologies or fiercely (and with renewed vigour) swatted.

So here I am, celebrating the temporarily unconscious beings that have been and undoubtedly will be my PhD Gremlins and three whole hours of brain-achingly intriguing study activity, underpinned by the memories of 5 glorious days away from it all kindly orchestrated by my other half.

Feeling so very fortunate.

See you later gremlins!

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Matters of Self-esteem

Today I’ve been reflecting on self-esteem.

Burke & Stets(2009, p24) draw upon William James (1890, p310) and his assertion that ‘self-esteem is a function of both our achievements and our aspirations’.

This has become very pertinent as I consider two Twitter communities to which I contribute (#rheumchat and #phdchat) and also participants in my own research. Both communities share the facility to support the understanding of achievements and aspirations within and across the community and thus provide supportive social structures through ‘patterns of action'(p5). Such structures do not resolve the immediate dilemma or circumstance of the participant but work to support esteem through the modulation, understanding and recognition of stages of achievement – however small or large.

Most of the participants of my research enjoy(?) very different social structures and, while many have shared long term aspirations, their over-reliance (my view) on close ties can leave them vulnerable; such closely aligned supporters may not see the bigger picture.

Now there’s a proposition to be knocked down: loose ties in a wider community can provide more effective means of support for maintenance of self-esteem. What do you think?

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A few reflections

This post is mainly for me.

Looking back over the past few months, I can see that I have managed to progress my research considerably and have, indeed, learned much about my own use of grounded theory as a framework by just getting on and applying Glaser’s principles – though from an interpretivist perspective. The data has been incredibly rich and it has been that very richness that kept me moving forward.

Having captured emergent codes and developed conceptual categories, I am now at the difficult stage of trying to hear what they are saying to me. To clarify this I need to revisit the data yet again. It’s the revisiting that re-energises the analysis; a constant comparative revitalisation of emergent themes.

Reading back that last paragraph, it seems very pompous, very text bookish. But that’s how it works for me. I need to hear the voices of my participants and remember their emphases above my own. After all, a journey into the mists of the ‘invisible’ is not going to be of value if the fog comes back down again.

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