Leap Of Faith 

For those that know me, I am the epitome of weird fears. I suffer from acute Potamophobia and Gephyrophobia. To save you reaching for Google and a handy bit of copy and paste that is the fear of (canal) bridges and canals. These fears have plagued me since I was 12 (along with (mostly cured) fear of all things associated with the industrial revolution) and can reduce me to panic attacks, breathlessness and heart palpitations. I. Kid. You. Not.

Well, a while back Twitter aficionado Lawie Phipps took a tour of the canal system on his boat. Scrolling through Twitter became like emersion therapy (no pun intended) and after flinging my phone across the room a few times (thank crunchie it’s an android) I was soon able to view the photos through my veiled fingers. I can’t say I will be hiring a narrow boat anytime soon (though my rescue adventure hound would find it marvellous) it made me think of what else I fear and how I can overcome it.

It is at this point dear readers that I divulge my confession. I am in many ways a shamdemic. I talk the talk, I read academic papers, I walk amongst you, yet before I began working at the OU 12 years ago this June I had never stepped one fairy footstep onto another campus as a student. 

Yes, it is true. So how you may ask am I blogging to you as a doctorate student if I never studied at a university prior to employed tax paying life? Well I joined the OU so I could study with the OU as I was never in the position previously to finance my own studies in the traditional manner. So with my 12 years at the OU I will have spent almost 9 of them studying whilst working full time with a U/G, 3 P/Gs and hopefully soon, a doctorate under my belt and after my name. 

I’m immensely proud of my achievements whilst climbing the career ladder at the OU as I started out on the lowest grade at the lowest pay when I joined, but I always feel slightly outside of the academic community (lovely though you guys are). To the point that this blog post as been sitting in my drafts now for quite some time, and holding up others, until I could remedy myself to complete it.

Then two pieces of advice came within days of each other that reframed my mindset. Firstly at my final doctorate residential school last weekend we were told that our doctorates make us an expert on our research. That may sound obvious to some, but it’s true. My doctorate is on why learners become engaged with MOOCs and the impact on design. Now there are plenty of people out there that can talk about MOOCs  (and we definitely have they really are the marmite of academia) but I have a working knowledge of 58 MOOCs with in excess of 120 presentations over 4 years from conception, through to design, production, presentation, and review. All by the OU. For my doctorate I’m reviewing 19 of them. I can’t say that I know of that many people that have been involved with MOOCs to that volume, to that detail, for that number of presentations, and for that length of time. So does this make me an expert? I guess it does. 

The second piece of advice came today, in the form of an amazing female colleague on campus that I’m very sad to see leave, Rachel Cragg. She told me that I should be unapologetic in who I am, because it makes me, me. And that being me is bloody marvellous. 

Combined together these are most useful pieces of advice. The biggest battle with my doctorate has been the confidence to know what I am doing is enough. I’ve spent the last two years asking my supervisors is what I’m doing enough fearing I will fall short (it seems my data collated is more than enough). A confidence issue that sits juxta to my usually confident, sassy, outspoken self. I have absolutely no issue in walking into a room filled with hundreds of people and given a presentation on my day job complete with dry wit, humorous anecdotes, and pictures of my dog. I have even delivered presentations with concussion, on crutches, and without power delivering only from memory (thankfully not all at the same time). This is what I love, live, and breathe for. 

So what’s the problem I hear you ponder? I freeze up when it comes to presentations or publications on my research. I live in fear of my unique academic record being exposed. Though hundreds of thousands of people study with the OU every year, I can’t say I know of many/or any others like me that have studied for their entire academic career with the OU from undergraduate through to doctorate. Usually at some point they have studied elsewhere even if it’s for a year. I fear that an academic that may know less than me about MOOCs will out me for not having a traditional academic record and therefore void my research. 

So sod it, here is me, outing myself. I haven’t studied at any other university than the OU, I haven’t worked at any other university than the OU and if you snap me in half it says OU all the way through me. So what do I have? I have 12 years experience working in the largest university in a variety of roles and grades delivering in OER, social learning, accredited learning and MOOCs. I have 9 years experience of being an OU student from U/G through to doctorate and I have working knowledge both academically and professionally of one of the largest collections of MOOCs by a singular university. 

Not too shabby… 

From here on out, academic confidence is a go. I repeat, academic confidence is a go. 

*bookmarks narrow boat holidays*

Wrapped Up In Books 

Though I’m in my final year, today was my first time at a doctorate writing circle meet up. Prior to attending I spent time deliberating which 500 words of my research I should submit to my inner circle of the group for critique and discussion. 

I decided up my introduction and research questions as not only are they the foundations of my research but also useful for context for future work to submit to my group. The lucky things. 

In return I received work on Martian space dust with added terrestrial dust devil’s and the working context of teachers. It definitely made a pleasant change to be reading outside of my academic field and to see other research being conducted across campus.  

However, when the time came to attend, I was a bag of nerves. For the first time I would be sitting in a room of PhD students discussing research where I am an EdD. And the only EdD at that. I debated whether they’d spot me a mile off and whether my EdD would be viewed in a similar way to the PhD.

Thankfully the opening gambit was on the lack of biscuits, a topic I’m well versed due to the multitude of meetings I attend sans biscuits and from the occasional conference slide. I finally felt at ease, research chat a go-go.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are absolute bonuses to being in the EdD doctorate programme at The Open University. The way the programme dove tails with my work is exemplary, however it’s designed to be conducted at distant so my fellow EdD’s are scattered across the globe and see collectively once a year at Residential School. As Belle and Sebastian had put it, until now I had been wrapped up in books. 

The only downfall of the EdD programme is that even though I’m actually on campus I don’t feel part of the doctorate student community here. Recently the OU launched of our new Graduate School and though absolutely fantastic for our PhD doctorate students, the EdD wasn’t mentioned in any press release. Not once. *insert Mutley grumbling noises*
So, to the big question – how did it go? Well I had a great discussion with the session supervisor and also received some feedback from the other two students in my inner circle. All of which I put into practice straight away. In addition I saw how other doctorate students set about constructing their writing, the difference in styles, and to share our thoughts about the big push to thesis submission. It felt reassuring to hear that we all had the same concerns as we embark on our final year. Collective mutterings of ‘oh God’ and ‘holy crap’ were oddly comforting.

And next? The writing circles are held every month until June, so in the meantime I’m finishing my progress report due Monday and from that selecting my next 500 words to submit. I’m even looking forward to reading more about the micropolitics of the classroom and diurnal variations in dust devil’s activity. < I dream of the day a question on University Challenge comes up on this so I may impress my dog. He’s a tough audience though. 

Oh, and in the absence of biscuits I pledged to bake muffins for next time – I can’t give up on my Elle Woods persona entirely now can I? After all she is right, orange is not the new pink.
Until next time, I’m still…doctor in waiting 

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