Reflecting on the Honours experience

by stronged

Dear Ed,

From the beginning of Honours this year you were driven to create a product that would benefit others. Something that would unite communities and promote the education and compassion of others.

With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence in one’s ability, one can build a better world. – Dalai Lama

By working upon your own skills and knowledge as a filmmaker you hoped to contribute to society in some shape or form. At first you thought that by setting yourself the goal to learn about new media and pedagogical practices you would be able to go about mending the divide between elders and younger Indigenous Australians. A colossal ambition for a one-year Honours program, which obviously had to be rethought and revised to compensate for the limited timeframe and resources available.

Being immersed within this ambition and concept blinded you from the reality of the situation Ed. It was only when you presented this research question to your coordinator that you were shot down from the clouds. Having your goals and aspirations stripped from you was no easy thing to accept, yet was important in the overall process of your research. It would prove to be a reoccurring challenge for you as every new research question or concept you endeavoured to tackle was torn apart or shown to be wrong in some way or another by your supervisor. You soon learned to hold your ambitions lightly, so each time they would be brushed aside you would not be brushed aside with them.

So began a tumultuous relationship with your supervisor, Adrian. It was clear you did not see eye to eye on how the supervisor-student relationship should transpire, as Adrian’s use of his position of superiority to manipulate you into performing to your full capacity pushed and pulled your emotions and research practice rather than encouraged it. The anxiety caused by feeling inadequate and misunderstood every time you would leave a meeting with Adrian proved to be the most challenging aspect in your Honours experience. You could not help thinking how having a supervisor who gave you the time and respect to communicate your interests would have made the experience all the more rewarding and enjoyable. However, you kept reminding yourself to see the benefits in your relationship with Adrian, to endeavour to take the positives from it.

However, at times the anxiety and pressure you felt from Adrian and the tight deadlines within Honours rippled there way into the research process to cause problems. Feeling anxious and rushed in trying to get your research approved by the Design and Social Context College Human Ethics Advisory Network (CHEAN) so that you would be able to achieve your research task in time proved to slow the process down further. Rushing through reading the criteria you presumed too much and therefore did not adequately fill out the templates supplied by the CHEAN. Drafting the Participant Information and Consent Forms with Adrian proved to be a futile effort as the CHEAN preferred abiding by their own template. This small hiccup proved to be a major inconvenience as your production timetable had to be pushed further into the second semester calendar. Letting the production slide meant letting the writing of the exegesis slide, which meant an intense last few weeks of semester to pull the exegesis and documentaries together in time for submission. You now understand how you were the one at fault in this situation, yet still feel as though the system let you down as you were not guided by Adrian through the process nor found any of the CHEAN approachable to help with the application process. It was not until the final hour that Neal came through as an invaluable advisor in amending the application and additional documents.

This experience has taught you to seek help from other sources as well as to establish contingency plans from the beginning, as nothing is certain when dealing with institutional processes. It is difficult to generate more time for yourself yet is crucial when working towards tight turnaround times. Speaking with other lecturers (Linda Daley, Lucinda Strahan, Neal Haslem) and fellow students (Jason Tseng, Josh Nettheim, Simon Wood and Steve Rhall) has proved to be invaluable in your journey through Honours. The support and encouragement from these incredibly generous people has proved to be the precise element you required to motivate you in completing your Honours year.

The recommended reading from your peers also helped in providing a context and understanding of approaching project-lead research. Being in the World (2010), a documentary recommended by Jason, offered an introduction to continental philosophy that helped you find direction in your research and grapple post-structuralist views. Similarly, the ingenuity evident in the creative writing publications Ruby lent you also proved to inspire and enthuse your interest in project work.

Engaging in academic discourse through reading past exegeses and theses, as well as attending conferences and lectures proved to be important in adapting to tackling complex theories and project work. Hannah Brasier’s exegesis on ‘Noticing’ was particularly helpful in understanding how Korsakow works and how to marry complex theories to project-lead research. The ASPERA conference, talks on research strategies, ethnography and design all were highlights of your Honours journey, providing case examples of how useful project-lead research can be and how to translate acquired skills into the professional world.

By attending such events you soon learned how much of a small fish you were in a big pond. You could not shake the feeling of always being behind the eight-ball, as it seemed to be part and parcel of the research process. The anxiety it caused, propelling you to achieve greater and more extensive goals was not producing the results that you received in your undergraduate or advanced diploma programs. Instead, the pressure you placed upon yourself caused you to over-extend yourself and be continually unsatisfied with the work you were doing and thus manifest an unproductive and unhealthy lifestyle. Your aim was to cover all the bases and provide the most thoroughly researched works, yet all you came away with was a tip-toe approach across a wide range of loosely connected theories and topics. Adrian explained that you must research deeply as opposed to broadly; discuss the topics throughly, explaining how they relate to one another as opposed to jumping fleetingly from one to the next without context or justification. It became incredibly hard to reverse this habit of spending all of your time reading and finding yourself with little time to pull together a piece of quality writing.

This is what made project-lead research appeal to you the most. The chance to step away from the literature and create something. You knew that your approach to creativity needed to be worked on. Instead of taking everything so intensely seriously, you took your cue from Charlie Chaplin in the Unknown Chaplin (1983), approaching creativity with an element of fun and spontaneity in order to produce a result that you would be happy with. The project work became the antidote to the theory, allowing you a chance to engage your intuition in order to produce something that would resonate with you.

You began to understand that no matter what approach you took to research (whether project-lead or by reading and writing to concepts) it seemed to be about applying your own individual capabilities to understand something. The proactive engagement with a theoretical discourse or mode of expression opened up new associations between your own personal practice and the wider community, and in so doing broadened and deepened your knowledge and skills–base to benefit further practice and your overall approach to life.

Aside from learning more about interactive documentaries, what post-graduate research entails, and useful tools to manage your research practice, you now feel confident in your ability to learn and adapt to new experiences and accomplish a large project in a short period of time.

The 2013 Media and Communication Honours experience has been incredibly challenging and enriching due to the people who have helped shape it for you and the information and skills you have acquired from it. Now you are more the wiser to approach a career that you feel will contribute to the wider community.




An Observer.