Saturday, January 23, 2010

PhD Dropout

After over a year of talking to myself and burying my head in the sand I have withdrawn from my PhD at the University of Queensland. This isn't a decision I have taken lightly but it is one that I feel comfortable about now that it is made.

Making the decision
A number of factors influenced my decision including difficulties of being a distance student; a project that failed spectacularly for various reasons; a miss-match of methodology to topic; a lack of knowledge on my part when I started out; a miss-match of supervisor and department within the university. And other factors.

Having said that, the last few years have not been a waste of time. A number of research outputs have resulted from the work I did.

I was commissioned and funded by New Zealand College Of Midwives in 2004/2005 to carry out a national survey of midwives to find out their experiences and thoughts of mentoring. The resulting report has been used extensively to inform the NZCOM and NZ Ministry of Health national mentoring framework for midwives.
  • Stewart, S. & Wootton, R. 2005. Mentoring and New Zealand midwives: a survey of mentoring practice amongst registered midwives who are members of the New Zealand College of Midwives. NZCOM: Christchurch.
I have also published several articles about the eMentoring project.
  • Stewart, S. Computer‐Mediated Social Networking for Mentoring of Health Professionals. Computer-mediated social networking. Eds: Maryam Purvis and Bastion Tony Roy Savarimuthu. Springer-Verlag: Berlin.
  • Stewart, S. (2008). CMC and mentoring in the health professions. Handbook of Research on Computer Mediated Communication. Eds: Sigrid Kelsey & Kirk St. Amont. Publisher: Idea Group Reference.
  • Caffery, L; Stewart, S; Smith, A. (2007). An analysis of the security and privacy of email messages used in e-mentoring. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, Vol. 13, Supp. 3, Dec. 2007 , pp. 24-26(3)
  • Stewart, S. & McLoughlin, C. (2007). Design features of an e-mentoring system for the health professionals: Choosing to learn in partnership. In ICT:Providing choices for learners and learning. Proceedings ascilite Singapore 2007.
  • Stewart, S. (2006). A pilot study of email in an e-mentoring relationship. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 12, (3): 83-85.
  • Stewart, S & Wootton, R. (2005). The practice and potential of e-mentoring for New Zealand midwives. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 11(Suppl. 2). S2: 90–92.
I have presented at a number of conferences and the eMentoring project I carried out with Aged Care Queensland last year came about because of my work.

What I have learned during this time
I have learned that my interests, skills and expertise lie across health education, professional development and informal learning, not clinical practice. Now that my career has changed direction from undergraduate midwifery education into education and consulting, I feel I need to focus my research and personal learning on how to teach and learn....specializing in open education, eLearning, informal and life-long learning.

What I have learned about doing a PhD is coming up in my next blog post.

As to what I do next...who knows...any suggestions?

Image: 'It is a Wonderful World' ecstaticist


Anne Marie Cunningham said...

As somebody on day 3 of their doctorate I can't wait for your next post. I don't have to commit to a thesis for another year or so although have tentative supervisors already!
It sounds like you have made the right decision, and have gained a lot overall.
Wishing you all the best with the future as always,

Sarah Stewart said...

To be honest, Anne Marie, I'm playing wit the idea of starting again with another university, or doing a Master of the end it will depend on what I can afford..or who will have me.

Good luck with yours - what will your dissertation topic be, do you think?

Kate Foy said...

You know what Sarah ... it's often about the timing. The timing was not right for you. When it is, you will know, and will WANT to jump in and do it. Meantime, continue what you are enjoying doing, and build up that store of knowledge for the day when ..

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks for that, Kate. On the one hand, I am conscious that time is running out for me. I always said I wanted my PhD by the time I was 50 (in just over 2 years) so I still had time to develop an academic career at a higher level. At the same time, because my carer direction is changing, I am not so sure a PhD is necessary. But I do feel I have 'failed' and that does not sit well, so I think that may well be my justification to go back to it in the end.

Anne Marie Cunningham said...

Honestly don't know about thesis yet. Just thinking about first module on 'new modes of professionalism' at moment:) Back in there in a few hours.
It's interesting to be in a social science department. I'm very glad about that. I love the stretch this will give me with regards to literature etc.
5-7 years until I finish feels a long time. It is a long time. But I hope I can just keep my eye on what I am learning as I go along. I've certainly learnt a lot in the first few days and look forward to sharing my first assignment when completed:)

Anonymous said...

Sincere congratulations!!
A lot of things in this world happen thanks to PhD dropouts. In fact, though lots has changed since William James published the PhD Octopus, there's something to be said about recontextualizing these three letters. One thing many people have to keep in mind is that the degree doesn't make the person. In fact, there is no direct correlation between one's degrees (or "lack" thereof) and almost anything else, apart from tenure-track positions (and even then). In other words, not only is having a PhD in hand not a guarantee of finding appropriate employment but the lack of a PhD doesn't imply the impossibility to do interesting work, including important academic research.
I want to write a lot more about this, partly for personal reasons. I may end up writing a blogpost.

Nitya Saxena said...

Hi Sarah,
I am really curious to bump into the discussion going on between brilliant brains!! Well I am a final year Bachelors of Technology student from India. At this point I am facing difficulty in choosing between MS and PhD.With little survey, I got inclined towards PhD. I encountered your blog while searching about "PhD scope".
After reading your blog, various thoughts are running into my mind. Thanks a ton for writing about your views and decisions. It will surely help me in making my decision for PhD. All the best!!

DaveB said...

You mentioned education. You could look at the Doctor of Education (EdD)

It is a doctorate completed by coursework, research, thesis and portfolio.

If it interests you then pop across the road and have a chat to Prof. Kwok-Wing Lai.

I suspect that even though you might not strictly have the entry requirements, your postgrad work would likely be regarded as a suitable "related field". The mentoring papers bang on for Ed' as are many things you've been doing that I've heard about (second life stuff). I suspect there's more I don't know.

Anyway - thought it worth pointing out as a possibility.

Sarah Stewart said...

Anne Marie: I look forward to following your learning journey on your blog - I'm sure I'll learn with/from you at the same time - the joys of blogging! :)

DaveB: You must have been reading my mind - I'll have a chat with the dept on Monday. I think Merrolee Penman is doing that program so will have a chat with her too.

Nitya: Thank you for dropping by, Nitya - always nice to 'meet' someone new. Good luck with your studies.

When I talk to people about doing a Masters or PhD, I usually suggest they go straight to a PhD -it saves time. But if you have had no research experience, you may be better off doing a Masters first. Here's my blog post with ideas and questions you should consider before applying for a PhD:
What I have learned about doing a PhD

enkerli: Thanks for your congratulations. In my head I know you are right. When I reflect on what I have achieved in terms of research, presentations and publications, I have much more than some people with PhDs have done. And, it is true I have to ask if a PhD is an appropriate qualification for the work I am doing now. the same time, I just can't get past the notion that more and people in our game have PhDs and I don't want to be left behind. But that is more about my vanity than about what good a PhD is to me. :)

Anonymous said...

Years ago, long before beginning my PhD coursework (but long after deciding that I would do a PhD; I made that decision as a teenager), I heard about an Italian singer who'd say that her PhD wasn't as useful as toilet paper.
It seemed extreme, of course, but there's something to the idea that the PhD itself isn't the main thing.
"The PhD" is the result of a very involved and involving process, including both the doctoral research and the coursework, along with those years spent with the "PhD candidate" status.
It's also a tool to get some things accomplished. Impress a potential client ("Google has so many PhDs..."), undertake a career in the "publish or perish" world of a formal academic institution, show off to your friends, empower your community. But it's still not the PhD itself. It's what you do with it.
As we probably all know, there are brilliant people without PhDs who accomplish a whole lot more than the majority of people with PhDs. And there are some PhD graduates who are deeply unhappy.
Life without a PhD can even be freeing, in some cases. Just like being part-time faculty is, in so many ways, less restrictive than the life of a tenured faculty member.

Sarah Stewart said...

enkerli: The flip side of the coin is as more people have a PhD it will lose its value as a academic status symbol.

Anonymous said...

Once it ceases being a status symbol, it may attract less people and/or become less of a "requirement."
At the same time, one thing which may happen, is a radical change in the structure of academia as a whole. Seems like only a distant possibility, but it can happen quickly.

Jeffrey Keefer said...

Sarah, having started and left more than one program over the years (I am quite happy with my program at Lancaster University right now; look into it!), this is never easy. I found that so much of my own identity and self-image was wrapped into my doctoral studies, and the fact that I told so many people about the programs while I was in them, made leaving such difficult experiences. It is easy now to see that such alignment issues would only lead to problems, and now I am happier for having had the experiences (though my student loans are quite large), yet I can't help but wonder what would have happened had I continued. While I would be done, I do not think I would be happy, and certainly know I would not be hear reading your blog or otherwise doing the many interesting things I find myself doing along the way.

See what musing you will ultimately be able to share!!

It will work out nicely, I have no doubt.


Sarah Stewart said...

I have to admit, Jeffrey, that I would have withdrawn at least a year ago if I hadn't worried about what others would think of me - that they would see me as a 'failure'. I certainly don't regret the work I did do, but if/when I start again, I shall make quite sure that I am happy with what and how I am doing it, and not do things just because I was told to - I'll be much more assertive & follow my instinct about what's right for me.

Anonymous said...

Sarah, I am so glad to read that you are happy with the decision you took, I think you were very brave on doing this. I myself have been thinking about dropping grad school for at least a year but was always nervous and scared about what other people would think... how stupid! Now I only have about 6 months to graduate, so I am gonna go ahead and finish, after all it will mostly include writing. However I am absolutely sure I want to do something completely different even after I graduate, and planning to go back to school and start a new career. I am still worried about everybody's expectations about postdoctoral positions, but reading about your experience makes me feel confident that I should do whatever makes me happy rather than just follow what it is expected from me... Thanks and good luck!!

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks anonymous...really glad you stuck at it. Ironically, I have re-enrolled in another program at another university so will get there in the end :)