• Denby Weller

The PhD journey begins!

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

Weirdly, the first week of my PhD has passed, and I've spent a lot of wakeful hours in the middle of the night thinking about research design, following the simplest comment by @heatherfordsa – "I'm not convinced about the experimental design..."

This is a bitter pill to swallow, after agonising over the experimental concept for so long, but also a bit of a relief. The notion of conducting an experiment has been worrying me since I started to develop an appreciation of how inexperienced I am in experimental design.

Yesterday's yarning session during the first Academic Research Practices block was also food for thought. Glimmering ideas of interviews that are more authentic and conversational.

But I digress. This week's question:

Journal Prompt 1:

Think about a difficult time from your past, something you may have felt at the time that it would be hard to get through. Write a letter to yourself in that moment in the past. What would you say to your self back then? How would you reassure them? How would help them see the strengths they didn't know they had? How can you articulate what they are learning then (that you can only see now, in hindsight). How can you reassure them "You will get through this!"

Dear Denby, You're lying in a bed under two doonas in a room with stucco walls and no electricity or water. The cup for tipping down the toilet in the corner is empty, but getting up and going out into the gloomy, wet chill might start the coughing again. Maybe someone will come and fill it up. Tomorrow's climb now seems like it's somewhere between a bad idea and totally impossible. But you are actually about to go on a life-changing journey. It's not going to be the glamorous adventure that you've imagined from all those mountaineering books. There will be no summit views, you camera equipment will all fail, and you'll stagger over a 5,400m mountain pass with a broken rib and a heavy heart. It's going to be gruelling and uncomfortable beyond anything you've ever done. You will doubt that you're up to it, just as you are now. When you finish tomorrow night, you'll feel that the whole trip has been a failure, and that you've let down your editor. But there will be a moment that you'll keep coming back to. It'll be a little thing, early in the afternoon, when a mule driver passes you going back down the road. And Brinley will whisper, "This is your last chance for a ride." In that moment, you'll make the decision to go on, even though you could so easily just climb onto that mule's back and catch a ride.

That is a formative moment for you, and something that would mean so little if it wasn't for the discomfort, the cold, the failing gear and your emotional stress. That's the moment when you discover that being strong or able to persevere is not a shiny, boastful thing. It's gritty and dirty and at times you'll look back on it with a sense of awkwardness that is nothing like the pride you imagined yesterday.

But it's real, and it's a dependable characteristic that will get you through not just this struggle, but also far bigger ones that are around the corner for you. So as you lie in your squalid guesthouse bed, cuddling your batteries (which will go flat anyway), know that what you learn about yourself tomorrow is something that you will draw on in years to come. Yours, Future Denby.

In a house made of tarpaulin and corrugated iron sheeting, in a slum called Big Mama in Bangalore, a ten year old boy who told me his name was 'Daniel like Daniel Craig' reads to some of the kids who live nearby. They are sharing his school book, and the younger kids all know the words by rote.

This is their nightly routine since Daniel's mum got a light in the house. It's part of a project by UTS and Pollinate, a local NGO that finances families in Bangalore's slums to install solar power and lighting.

Before they got the light, these kids couldn't do their homework on rainy days, as it's too dark in the houses with no windows.

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