Fantastically interesting to experience a Viva two weeks ago. It lasted about 90 minutes and was characterised by polite if pointed questioning, useful feedback, and discussion of perspectives. I thought it might be similar to a high level public sector job interview, but it was nothing like that, being considerably more interactive and personalised. Having had a “mock viva” the previous week, where I was hit with some quite tricky questions, I expected more of the same, but my examiners were both kind and I thought generous to me.They seemed to have enjoyed the thesis, and in some respects, to have broadly agreed with its findings.
I’m still on a high from it. It’s a feeling composed of relief at having passed, enormous satisfaction at having completed a huge piece of work, and the confidence that comes from having a significant piece of work examined, taken seriously and validated by experienced senior colleagues and peers. For someone who is far more of an instigator than a completer-finisher, I’m pretty happy at having completed a body of research, interogation, analysis and thinking practice (to borrow a phrase from Mr Mark Robinson) and to have been able to narrate the process and my conclusions in what is effectively a 45,000 word academic book.
But I also have a tinge of sadness that it is now over. Because I was doing it part-time – very part-time as I fitted it in between and around the edges of a very busy work schedule – it doesn’t leave much of a gap in my life. I’m not sitting around wondering what to do next. My life goes on as usual and I know what projects I’ll be working on for the next year. But that slight sadness is there still. I enjoyed the research, and I enjoyed the analysis. I enjoyed coming to evidence based conclusions and tempering those with judgement, knowledge, nuance and experience. I enjoyed the process of creating robust but persuasive arguments, of being on top of the information and subject area, of having complete control over the project, of stretching myself academically and seeing how far I could go. I even enjoyed the writing up, despite the rigid format and requirement to strip colour, metaphor and imagery from the writing; and the fairly severe back and shoulder ache resulting from hours and days spent staring at the screen. I learned so much, in such great depth, intellectually and experientially. I remembered that I have always loved the type of learning that stretches ability and alters perception, the process of that results in significantly expanding my consciousness and understanding of the world, of being stimulated to make connections, and to think deeper and harder. But for the time being, this very focused type of digging, processing, synthesis and reporting will stop.
I’m even slightly regretful of the fairly tough decision I made 18 months ago to stop at MPhil level. Would I really want to spend another year on it to make it a PhD? Yes, I really would, if I could do this and nothing else. But the reality is that I need to work to earn a living, and with my other life committments, it would (continue to) put me under a type of time pressure and strain that became too demanding and uncomfortable. So I stick with my decision.
But it isn’t all over really. My external examiner, Professor Malcolm Miles of Plymouth University suggested that I submit a paper to the International Journal of Cultural Policy, and come 2015, I will explore other options for publication. The professionals who have seen the abstract all feedback that my research is relevant to them and the sector, and adds to the literature. More than this, I want to put this new expertise to work: I now know a huge amount about how biennials of art, cultural policy and the neo-liberal context work; and how they can work together to best effect.
So in a different form, the project will continue into 2015 and beyond. Watch this space for developments!