Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Alex Page's Top 10 (or so) Tips for Doing A PhD

Alex garbing together a gang, Fadi and I  (Melbourne, for TASA2016)

A guest post from Alexander Page on 'doing a Phd'. Alex is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney looking into 
Indigenous community organisations in Western Sydney and their interactions with government. - Mathew. 

The Tips!

     You v The Thesis – it’s up to you to take control of your thesis, it’s a training period and it will be hard, but you’ve got that will power to get here – make sure you maintain it throughout)
     “What’s next?” – a key question to ask yourself at all times. You always need to keep moving forward in the PhD, otherwise you’ll not only feel worse, but you may drown! Ask yourself, “what’s next?” and then “how much can you do in 3.5 years?” – this will keep you moving, no matter how small
     Chip away / The Marathon Mentality – this is not a sprint, it’s a long slug. Chipping away, everyday, whether it be a book, 3 journals, 1000 words or whatever, just make sure you’re moving every single day
     Look for diamonds in everything / collect, don’t hoard – whether it is inside your field, in other areas of study, or through art, music, film, fiction whatever! Steal great ideas from everywhere, get creative, make them yours. Also, is reading all of Foucault totally necessary? Grab the diamonds.
     Recharge and recalibrate – while you might not guess it from my aura, it’s important to take the time to cool down, and let enough fuel build up for the following day. A journal rejection, a tough student, an idea that’s not getting into your brain fast enough – these will all take a toll. Make sure you give yourself the space to recharge and recalibrate when you need (and to let your family and friends know if necessary)
     Exercise, now – I’m not joking. Swimming, walking, jogging, power lifting, whatever. Keep your body moving so you don’t get a sore back, feel stuck, whatever – it’s interesting the way pushing a little thing in one direction a bunch of times will calm you down. It’s simple, and repetitive, and doesn’t require a detailed theory of action behind it (unless you’re a sports physicist, which you’re probably not). Clear the head.
     Healthy diet, lots of water – seems simple, but wait til you’re in 3rd year reaching for the free Tim Tams and wondering why your sugar crashes at 2pm, you losing a day with an impending due date. Be smart about it – the healthy body is not an obstacle, it’s another get recharger in the service of the mind. Also, water is key for all aspects of your health, and will help dilute the inhuman amounts of caffeine you’re about to consume.
     You Will Drown and This Is Good – you will feel overwhelmed at times. In the first year, heaps of my mates have described feeling totally adrift. Drowning. No land in sight. That’s great – that’s immersion. But what you have to do is swim, it doesn’t matter in what direction, but work through it and eventually you’ll hit land. If you accept drowning you won’t move.
     Family (chosen & biological) as vital for rest – your family and friends should get a PhD Program starter pack too – especially your partner if you’re that way inclined. Be as open in communicating about the process as possible, because time with them is invaluable for healing yourself up after a week of reading Foucault for 60 hours up in the theory clouds rather than in the ‘real world’. Your family will ground you and keep you on the path.
     Mental health (diarize, constant reflection; CAPS) – as a person who has had experience with the health of the mental, and the absence thereof, keeping yourself in reflection and check is vital. The PhD will be heavy weight for a few years (the feeling of ‘I haven’t done my homework, I haven’t read/written/listened to enough’ does not leave). Therefore, outputting through a research log/diary, outputting in different ways, and making sure you know the services on offer around you is important. CAPS is free on campus, and they’ve been amazing for myself and heaps of my friends and students – keep them in mind if you think someone could use a hand up and some strategies for dealing with the stress of the PhD.
     Communication with supervisor – be honest, succinct, clear
     Supervisors should be supportive, not competitive/combative – very simple. Supervisor relationships are messy, complex, and varied. The best are supportive, collaborative and hope-filled. However, there are a minority of cases where it can go the other way. The best advice I can give you here is to talk openly with your supervisor, and let people know if it’s not going the way you think it should be going, as early as possible. There is no award for surviving passive aggression.
     Budgeting $ – be smart with your money as best you can – libraries exist, free online PDFs exist, scanning and printing is free here. There’s also a student loan service on campus if you need.
     Write, write, write. Every single day, even 100w is good – get synthesizing early, and marinate those heavy ideas as quickly as you possibly can.
     Plan, plan, plan. What do you want? When? Why?
     File, file, file. What goes where? Why? Your admin is vital here. I can find my student feedback from 2013 in an instant, for example, along with my notes on the work of Giddens from Honours. However, make sure you back-up your material across 5 different sources! (The story of someone’s computer crashing and losing 6 months work is pure heartache I promise you)
     Time and how you use it – management and planning is key here. Break it down from year goals, to a monthly breakdown, into a week-by-week planner, which then gets broken down further into a daily timetable. With this, you can do any of those chapters, interviews, and publications with mental clarity, rather than feeling an immense pressure to do everything all at once all the time.
     Say yes to everything – journal invitations, conference, admin roles, speaking opportunities, collaboration; all of these are great, as long as you’re realistic about fitting them in…
     BUT have a ‘No Committee’ – people you trust that you can explain the opportunity to in a rational way, and then respect them if they say “No, don’t do that, stay on the path”. I cannot overemphasise this, and it leads to my next tip…
     Grab your people, start a gang, get tattoos – This is something I said to one of my best mates, another PhD here, in a moment of total success (they come rarely, so embrace them, trust me). He’d just secured a new teaching role in his second year, and his win felt like my win and vice versa. I highly recommend saying hello, reaching out, and meeting people you can hang out with. All wins are shared, all obstacles are shared, all challenges are discussed and reassessed and all success is glorious. Uglier hues in the tattoo the better.
     Teaching as learning/grounding – if you get the opportunity to do some teaching, I highly recommend you do so. It will not only teach you so much more about your own subject area, but will also remind you as to its importance. The moment a Youth pulls apart something recently in the news with the insight of a fellow PhD is a glorious one, and rejuvenating. Trust me.
     Six days a week / fluctuations in hours – sometimes 60 hours a week will be necessary. Sometimes 3 books need to be read this week. Othertimes you’ll have to mark 120 assignments, teach those 6 tutorials, and somehow hold together a relationship – there are fluctuations in having such a self-centred timetable, make sure you’re allocating your time and keeping on top of it. Weeks can fly by really quickly.
     Ethics application – a fantastic refinement process (can be arduous, but so important to both your participants, and your own research direction and clarity)
     Call/email your heroes – why not? How many times would some of your favourite academics get a lovely ‘thank you for the book’ note? Ten bucks it’s not very often. Give them a call!
     A bad first draft is still a first draft (edit, rather than perfect)
     Get as much feedback as possible (show your work) – send it to those people you are reading a lot of; all they can do is say no! Never be scared to show your work, nothing is every perfect and you’re training.
     Admin are saints – say hello, offer a hand
     Essential apps: Word v Scrivener; Endnote; Evernote; Hourglass; Google Scholar/alerts
     Essential ‘presence’: publish, conferences, online (Researchgate,, ORCID), uni website
FINAL TIP: START TODAY – No time to waste on this project, so maximise your days and get stuck into it. Feel free to email me any questions, see you in the trenches!

By Alexander Page. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Sam Harris by Zoe Young.

Sam Harris by Zoe Young.
The painting echoes the pose of Manet’s Olympia – but the subject is an indigenous Australian woman surrounded by European books, that comment on the European traditions of art, and perched underneath the leg of the day bed, holding it level, is a copy of John Berger's Ways of Seeing.  The symbolism of this was what first struck me when viewing the painting at the Archibald prize exhibition. It is not subtle. It offers continuity with a tradition and, at the same time, a re-contextualisation and critical comment on it.  The only analysis of the painting that I found so far identifies the reference Manet’s work but concludes that Young's painting is shallow and unconsidered: 
It’s a likeable, albeit lightweight work, but I don’t understand what Young is trying to tell us by putting so many books into the picture. Does she want us to know she is a good reader? Is she suggesting Harris is not just a pretty face? Either way, the gratuitous sprinkling of titles acts as a distraction, not an enhancement.
The titles aren't a distraction; they offer an interpretive lens to the entire composition.  I don't think Young merely wants to show that she is a good reader.  The allusion to Manet establishes continuity, the selection of books on European art and australiana reemphasises both continuity and recontexualization, and a book about the social context and purpose of art invites social comment  on the traditions of art in Australia and the representation of women in art and indigenous women in particular. How could an art critic miss these connections?  

Friday, May 20, 2016

First (Non-Self) Citation.

Extract from Sardamov's (2015: 92) "Out of Touch: The Analytic Misconstrual of Social Knowledge."
Rather than my first non-self citation coming from one of my academic publications it was actually a post on this blog that managed to attract some attention.  I don't mind that the sentence is embedded in a sequence of text that I don't think is a reasonable approximation of something I have argued.  But you can judge that for yourself. I'm just miffed that someone cited something I wrote. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Sailing Marrow.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life."  - Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods.

Sailing from Coal Point to Croudace Bay: 

Another day at Port Stephen heads: 

And earlier in the same day as the first video,  sailing from Dora Creek up toward Pulbah Island:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Theorising Digital Society: Symposium

Panel Discussion: Evelyn Honeywill, Nicola Johnson and myself. Chaired by Deborah Lupton
I attended a symposium convened by Deborah Lupton, Theorizing Digital Society, on Monday held at the University of Canberra. The twitter hashtag was #TDS15 for those who'd like to engage in the conversation around the symposium. Here is a collection of the tweets so far. There were a number of very interesting talks presented on the day. I particularly enjoyed the opening keynote speech by Susan Halford on the continuing importance of social theory in the world of big data and web science.  Evelyn Honeywill's paper on network character and broader psycho-social dynamics of  social media and Jean Burgess and Ariadna Matamoro's paper on issue-networks and mapping techniques applied to the #gamergate controversy were also highlights for me.  My paper applied Legitimation Code Theory to  the knowledge practices of climate sceptics bloggers and their framing of the 'climategate' controversy.  The presentation deviated from the abstract in one key respect, I decided that it would be more fruitful to apply the theoretical tools to a small preliminary case study than merely arguing from the existing literature for their efficacy.  Here is the title and abstract in any case: 

Title: Theorizing Digital Social Networksand the Problem of Knowledge-Blindness: The Case of the Climate ScepticBlogosphere.

Abstract: Rogers and Marres (2000) saw the World Wide Web as an important site for the discussion of science and technology.  Networks of issue based websites were argued to constitute socio-epistemic networks. Linking patterns between sites on climate change indicated a politics of association and a hierarchy of credibility.  Sites with the URL extension .org linked up the hierarchy to .gov; but .gov did not engage in reciprocal linking practices. Replicating the traditional hierarchy of credibility between official and non-official sources of information.  Recent events have demonstrated the ability of digital social networks to disrupt traditional hierarchies of credibility.  In 2009 emails stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit were published on four climate scepticism blogs and lead to a public controversy that strengthened the counter-movement against action on climate change.  The role of blogs in the ‘climategate’ controversy spurred the growth of literature concerned with the dynamics of climate scepticism on digital social networks.  This paper examines this emerging literature and identifies the need to combine social network theory and conceptualizations of knowledge practice to better understand counter-movements and the disruption of traditional hierarchies of credibility on digital social networks.


Rogers, R. and N. Marres (2000). "Landscaping Climate Change: A Mapping Technique for Understanding Science and Technology Debates on the World Wide Web." Public Understanding of Science 9(2): 141-163.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Presentation at the first Legitimation Code Theory Colloquium.

Post-conference, mostly Sydney people.
The first Legitimation Code Theory conference is being held in Cape Town Next week.  I'll be presenting at the conference.  Here is the title and abstract:

Title: 'Different Types of Legitimacy’:  University Students’ Recognition of the Organizing principles of Knowledge.


This paper employs the Specialization dimension of Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) and aspects of grammatical metaphor (agentive construction, nominalization and technicality) from Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) to understand how University students perceive the legitimacy of knowledge.  There is an emergent literature that employs concepts from LCT to examine knowledge structures and redress the problem of knowledge-blindness in the sociology of education and beyond.   There is also a problem of knower-blindness where “the study of knowers’ dispositions has been a longstanding area of relative neglect by code sociology and social realism” (Maton, 2014, p. 210).  This paper contributes to the visibility of knowers by presenting preliminary research conducted into University students’ perceptions of knowledge (Toll, 2014).

Theoretical framework.

Maton’s (2014: 29) concept of Specialization codes provides a means to conceptualize knowledge practices and the basis of legitimate knowledge within different social fields of practice.  Specialisation codes conceptualize knowledge practices along two dimensions, “epistemic relations” (ER) and “social relations” (SR) recognising that knowledge practices entail both a statement about the nature of things and statements by someone who claims to know (Maton 2014: 29).  From Systemic Functional Linguistics, features of grammatical metaphor (agentive construction, nominalization and technicality) were drawn upon to model the textual production of Specialization Codes. Nominalization and technicality organize texts to place distance between the author and the statement, foregrounding the known (ER+); while agentive construction foregrounds the knower (SR+) (Eggins, 1994; Martin, 1993).  

Object of study and methods.

Sixteen semi-structured interviews with University students were conducted. Participants were drawn from a number of degree courses were represented, from Science and Engineering (4), combined Arts and Science (2) and Humanities, Law, and Social Science (10) degrees at various stages of completion ranging from 2nd year undergraduate to post-graduate masters students.  Each participant was given three sets of stimulus material that were constructed to show different Specialization Codes in context. The first set of stimulus material, ‘text and author’, comprised two text modified from Eggins (1994) that exemplified agentive language (a mother talking about her baby) and nominalization (a written text on the causes of infant’s distress). The second part, ‘agreement scenario’, had an interviewer and interviewee discussing an economic sector employing clashing specialization codes.  The final scenario, ‘teacher and student’, had a teacher engaging a student in a discussion of social media and social capital exhibiting a clash in specialization codes, technicality and non-technical language in a pedagogic context.  The interview schedule was designed to elicit students’ perceptions of knowledge practices and test if Specialization Codes were recognized as organizing knowledge.

Results and discussion.

Students recognized the different Specialization Codes which they deemed to confer profit relative to their employed context.  The legitimacy of knowledge was not completely captured by specialization codes, as demonstrated by student responses to the argument scenario.  This suggests that sociologists need to consider both the epistemological and axiological dispositions of knowers. Students in science and students in arts, social science, and humanities degree-courses had divergent conception of what types of knowledge practice were legitimate in pedagogic contexts; indicating that different types of knowers are attracted to and developed in these fields of higher education. Both groups of students viewed knowledge claims as irreducible to social power alone, and demonstrated a prioritising principle by discerning what knowledge claims are powerful and when. These results correspond to Holland’s (1981) study on social class and ‘orientations of meaning’ and middle class primary school students’ recognition of what coding orientations matched the dominant code.  Further investigation of knowers can overcome knower-blindness and provide insight into how different groups engage with knowledge practices.


Eggins, S. (1994), An Introduction to Systemic Functional Linguistics, London: Pinter Publishers.
Holland, J. (1981), “Social class and changes in orientation to meaning”, Sociology, 15(1), p. 1-18.
Martin, J.R. (1993), “Life as A Noun”, Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power, J.R. Martin and M.A.K. Halliday (Ed),   London: Flamer Press.
Maton, K. (2014), Knowledge and Knowers: Towards a Realist Sociology of Education, London: Routledge.
Toll, M. (2014), “Discerning knowers: Exploring university students’ perceptions of knowledge claims”, The Australian Sociological Association Conference Proceedings, University of South Australia, Adelaide, November.
The talk at #LCTC1

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

USYD Sociologists at TASA Conference 2014.

Talking about knowledge and education.
Mathew Toll is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.  He completed his BA (hons) in 2012. His current research is in digital sociology and the sociology of knowledge, looking at the deficit model of public understanding of science, political deliberation and knowledge formation online. 

Abstract: Sociologists often view the authority of knowledge as a reflection of social power. Educational research mirrors with theories that treat knowledge as primarily “knowledge of the powerful” (Young 2009:13).  This study employed conceptual tools from Legitimation Code Theory (Maton 2014) and Systemic Functional Linguistics (Eggins 1994; Martin 1993) to explore university student’s perceptions of knowledge claims and if knowledge is deemed to be shaped both by social relations and epistemic relations.  Sixteen semi-structured interviews were conducted in 2012 for an honours research project with participants from four Sydney based Universities.  Results indicated that students perceive knowledge to have its own organizing principles, its legitimacy and power not reducible to who have the social power to claim knowledge.
Alex 'talking back' to the settler state.
Alexander Page is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney. He completed a BSocSc Hons. (First Class) with a thesis titled “Indigenous Peoples and the Settler-State in Twenty First Century Australia” in 2012. His research focused on the dynamic between the Australian Settler-State and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activists/advocates in the regional city of Townsville, North Queensland. His current research embodies urban Aboriginal approaches to service delivery as resistance and reflexivity to the structures constructed by Australian governmentality. This project seeks to understand the role of Indigenous institutions and organisations as mediators; between state expectation and control on the one hand, and the needs of community on the other. Understanding such inter-relationships reveals the dynamics of power existing vertically and horizontally between the state, community organisations and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of Blacktown, Western-Sydney.  His blog can be found here.

Abstract: The positioning of sociology as a critical response to the continued unfolding of colonisation in Australia could not be more vital. The current climate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander politics demands that we take on the modern Settler-State and enduring structures of marginalisation with Indigenous peoples. This paper seeks to provide the reader with some theoretical foundations of a sociology for social justice. Using structures of the Australian Settler-State as the focus of the critique, this paper outlines a paradigm of a critical Indigenous research methodology to challenge state practice. It calls for continued assessment within the contemporary political arena of the Abbott Coalition Government. Such a research paradigm seeks to: critique structures by talking back to power; foster hope for alternate futures by highlighting the possibilities for change through community agency; and aims for research outcomes which provide practical value for Indigenous peoples and their communities in the self-determination movement. Sociologists have the unique research tools, the passion for social justice, and the prime position to speak back to power in a continued effort to change the world for the better.  

Jessica Richards’ research interests broadly focus on the sociology of sport, with a particular emphasis on sport fandom and spatial geography. After graduating from the University of Sydney with a B.A (First Class Hons), she was awarded an Australian Post-Graduate Award to pursue further study in the field of the sociology of sport. Following work experience at a research agency, Jessica is now working full-time on her PhD, and is currently living between England and Australia. In Australia, she tutors in the Sociology and Social Policy department at the University of Sydney. In England, Jessica works as an Honorary PhD Student in the Management School at the University of Liverpool. Twitter: @j_richo1990

Title: ‘Beers, Balls and Banter’: The Maintenance of Gender Boundaries in Sporting Spaces.

Abstract:  This paper argues that sports stadiums are inherently gendered spaces that celebrate and protect physical and cultural representations of masculinity. Although sports stadiums are often read as uncontested or innocent places, this paper considers how they are physically and socially constructed, rather than a void or empty ‘stage’ on which actors perform. Drawing on ethnographic data generated from participant observation and semi-structured interviews collected during observations on Everton football club during the 2012-2014 seasons of Premier League football, this paper explores how the physical and social environment influences and encourages various types of sports fans behaviour within particular locations. It draws its theoretical support from the work of Cohen and his symbolic construction of the ‘boundary’, where the powerful symbolism and collective identity of sport means that it has the potential to reinforce feelings of belonging, providing a source of stability and community. However, at the same time it is these symbolic and collective principals that also have the ability to segregate, exclude, and marginalise. Additionally, the boundaries that surfaced remained tied to wider issues, including how both sports communities internalised the debates surrounding authentic and inauthentic ‘types’ of fandom and sport culture. The importance of physical sporting spaces in maintaining and legitimising the social, cultural, and masculine histories of the localised community and sports team it represents are the focus of this paper. However, whilst sporting spaces reproduce and reinforce normative gendered discourses, this paper also considers how they can also create space for counter hegemonic and resistant practices.

Daniel HedlundJorquera is a PhD Candidate from the University of Stockholm who is a visiting postgraduate researcher at the University of Sydney.

Title: Legislators’ Perceptions about Unaccompanied Minors.

Abstract: This study forms part of a larger PhD thesis project about perceptions about unaccompanied refugee minors in the asylum process in Sweden. The findings of this qualitative interview study is that chronological age becomes a key sign for how legislators understand the life situation, needs and best interests of unaccompanied refugee minors. Age was central for a legitimate asylum claim. Legislators’ strong differentiation between how to understand adolescents contributes to varying accounts interchanging between suspicion and protection. Contrary perceptions about unaccompanied minors depict them as either innocent or potentially threatening. Also, the findings from this study suggests that that the moralizing welfare ideology of the past is still present in political discourse and social planning, construing unaccompanied minors as an ambivalent category between civilization and savagery. The findings from this study indicate that legislators enact reforms of importance for unaccompanied children without considering them as agents of their own future, with their own motives and reasons to seek asylum.Thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006) was used in order to identify and analyse patterns in the interview data. The theoretical understanding of the identified themes and their meanings was informed by Willig’s (2012) insights on interpretation in qualitative analysis, with regards to how the findings were conceptualized and communicated, in particular interpretative phenomenology.

Natalia Maystorovich Chulio is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.  She completed her B Socio-Legal (hons) in 2012 and a BA in 2004. Her research interests include humanitarian and human rights law; transitional justice; the archaeological recovery of mass graves; and the capacity of social movements to elicit social, political and legal change as they seek justice for victims.  Her focus is on socio-legal research and qualitative methods in an attempt to merge her political and social interests with a scholarship which may enact social change. Since 2012 she has worked with the Asociación para la Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica (ARMH – Association for the Recovery of Historic Memory) in an attempt to draw attention to the difficulties experienced by victims and their relatives in the recuperation of their missing.

Abstract: The local exhumation movement to recover, identify and rebury victims of the Spanish Civil War and Franco Dictatorship has emerged as a challenge to the prevailing dominant discourses regarding the defeated victims.  The bodily recovery of victims and the public testimonies told at the gravesites provide stark imagery while incorporating a historical context of the past, which remains socially; politically; institutionally and legally silenced for almost 80 years.  This movement, initially a grass roots operation, commenced in response to the Spanish states failure to provide the necessary institutional and legal support to investigate past political crimes.  The social movements have utilised transitional justice discourses and mechanisms to challenge the states choice of impunity to manage the transition to democracy.  This has forced symbolic and legal changes, however, the recent global financial crisis coupled with a change in government to Partido Popular has severely hindered the expansion of the movement.  Given the contentious and disputed nature of the period, those undertaking the exhumation of mass graves encounter varying responses from support to outright hostility and institutional impediments.   This has been the experience of groups such as ARMH, in attempts to recuperate the missing and their personal histories during interactions with the social, political, institutional and legal fields. How successful has ARMH been in challenging the official narrative of the past?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

First Paper.

I've managed to get my first conference paper through the peer-review process and I'll be speaking at the Australian Sociological Associations annual conference hosted at the University of Adelaide this  November in the sociology of education stream. The paper is a condensed and sharpened version of my honours thesis.  The abstract is as follows: 

"Sociologists often view the authority of knowledge as a reflection of social power.  Educational research mirrors with theories that treat knowledge as primarily “knowledge of the powerful” (Young 2009:13).  This study employed conceptual tools from Legitimation Code Theory (Maton 2014) and Systemic Functional Linguistics (Eggins 1994; Martin 1993) to explore university student’s perceptions of knowledge claims and if knowledge is deemed to be shaped both by social relations and epistemic relations.  Sixteen semi-structured interviews were conducted in 2012 for an honours research project with participants from four Sydney based Universities.  Results indicated that students perceive knowledge to have its own organizing principles, its legitimacy and power not reducible to who has the social power to claim knowledge." 

The citation will end up being something like this:
Toll, M. (2014), “Discerning Knowers: Exploring University Students’ Perceptions of Knowledge Claims”, The Australian Sociological Association Conference Proceedings, University of South Australia,  Adelaide, November 24- 27.


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