Higher Degrees are Broken

Causative Correlation

I’m in the middle of my PhD. About two months ago, I cried inconsolably for two hours because I felt I wasn’t good enough. I would never finish my degree, disappoint everyone around me, and bring shame on my family.

Many of my friends are currently pursuing or have recently completed higher degrees. Some have quit PhDs because of mental illness, taken months or years off, developed insomnia or night terrors, and almost all of us have had a meltdown. Most have depression, anxiety, or some combination of the two. Many are medicated.  We’re one failed experiment or bad meeting away from a total nervous breakdown.

All of this is expected and accepted as part of a higher degree.

It was reassuring to tell people I had my first PhD meltdown and hear that it was due about now. Isolation is terrible. But we need to take a step back and realize that if this is typical…

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A General Update

It has been a fair while since I have updated this blog, but for good reason. March and April were both crazy, crazy months, in which I finished my second round of participant interviews, edited the transcripts, got through a PhD milestone ‘progress review’ seminar, wrote a journal article draft, organised an overseas conference trip, all while teaching/tutoring for the first time for a sociology of education subject! This was the most stressful professional period of my life by far and consequently I spent most of May recovering.

The good news is that I passed my progress review and got really great, positive feedback. Also, other than a few minor dramas and the excessive stress of dealing with so many things at once, everything is actually going fairly well. I feel like since I survived March and April, I can survive anything this PhD journey can throw at me.

I’m really looking forward to presenting at the Gender and Education Association conference in London in a couple of weeks. My presentation will be examining how new materialist theories offer something different in theorising about gender-sex, and I’ll be relating this of course to the context of science education and ethics. Hopefully I can also get some more data analysis done before then to add that to the presentation. In July, I’ll then be able to do more intense data analysis and begin writing my analysis chapters! I wouldn’t say the end is in sight as yet, considering there is a lot of work, and specifically writing, to be done but at least I am feeling more than less on track.

2015 Conferences

This is a brief post about the conferences I am – and hope to be – attending this year.

The one that I have so far been accepted to present at is the Gender and Education Association conference in London, 24-26 of June. It will be my first time overseas since I was 16 and first time in that part of the world!

This is the abstract for my paper (keeping in mind of course what I actually present will likely be somewhat different):

Keywords: Barad; Haraway; new materialism; science education; teacher education

Ethico-Onto-Epistemological Entanglements of Gender-Sex and Science


Feminist interrogations of the relationships between gender and science education have addressed issues of inequality, perceptions of science, as well as the masculinised foundations of science/knowledge. The two prevailing ways of understanding these issues rely on poststructuralist and constructionist frameworks. The emerging framework of ‘new materialism’ offers an additional interpretation that argues that in addition to discourse, matter and biology are important in holistically understanding reality. By way of this framework, matter is understood as agentic, emergent and dynamic rather than passive or essentialist. New materialism also prompts reconsideration of many other subjects; refusing, for instance, the Cartesian split between mind and matter, or nature and culture, and instead arguing that these concepts are inherently entangled into ‘onto-epistemologies’ and ‘naturecultures’.

Specifically, for my research project, I draw from feminist scientists Donna Haraway and Karen Barad to understand ‘gender-sex’ as a non-binary, non-essentialist and ‘material-discursive’ phenomenon. This interpretation is then applied to analyse power-knowledge relationships in science education. Within this framework science education is understood as inherently ethical, as well as epistemologically entangled with social phenomena (such as gender-sex). For example, there is the argument that ‘socioscientific issues’ remain marginalised against the traditional and masculinised core of science teaching (Hughes, 2000).

My preliminary research, which includes qualitative in-depth interviews, investigates and identifies the assemblages constitutive of Australian pre-service teachers’ views of science and ethics. There is a particular focus on the possible entanglements between the development of their views and knowledge with gender-sex and other phenomena. The inclusion of ethics, along with considerations of what kind of ethics, in science education is a primary concern. This is in light of the increasing effects of scientific and technological developments on the world. Consequently, my research considers the connections between gendered influences and an ethical science education, not only for primary and secondary students but also in teacher education.

Hughes, G. (2000). “Marginalization of Socioscientific Material in Science-Technology-Society Science Curricula: Some Implications for Gender Inclusivity and Curriculum Reform.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching 37(5): 426-440.

I’m also hoping to attend, and present (if I’m accepted) [Update: I was not accepted :/], at the ‘VI Conference on New Materialisms: Transversal Practices: Matter, Ecology and Relationality’, which is at the University of Melbourne, 27-29 of September.

The latest one I’m interested in attending and presenting at, but unsure about at this point, is The Australian Sociological Association conference in Cairns, 23-26 of November.

Academia and Gender Neutral Pronouns

Reading this article got me thinking again about gender neutral pronouns and academia, something that has come up for me previously while reading journal articles, especially those that use the awkward ‘he/she’ or even ‘she’ as a non-specific pronoun. Some might have a feminist argument for using ‘she’ in this way but I see it as only reinforcing the gender-sex binary and as alienating as the universal ‘he’. The cause of feminism is not to just reverse gendered binary power … er … right?

As the article points out, while language constantly evolves over time, actually aiming to introduce something new into language is extremely difficult. But if there’s one space where I would think such an undertaking could be well-received it’s in academic articles/journals; most particularly of course those concerned with sociology/gender. So far I haven’t read one such article that employs gender neutral pronouns (not including they/them/theirs) but of course I have only read so many articles in particular research fields so I can’t be sure if there are or aren’t. I would be very surprised, however, if there are many such articles that don’t specifically address such topics like transgender or non-binary people out there that do use gender neutral pronouns. The point is, regardless, that I have read many articles that could well have employed a gender neutral pronoun but did not do so.

So what’s the problem with just using they/them/theirs? There’s much debate out there about this and I’m certainly not against using this form but I’m not sure it always works. This article uses the example ‘Sam thought they were late to the party’ to illustrate some possible confusion: who is late to the party, Sam or someone else? Although I know it is some genderqueer/non-binary people’s pronoun of choice, I wonder if the use of a newer form is not only smoother for current English standards but also more political. Would it force people out of their comfort zones in regard to normative gender-sex?

The other main problem facing the use of gender-neutral pronouns is that there are a handful of newly invented ones (all language is invented!) and no clear winner. I’d argue, however, that there is actually no great problem with multiple gender-neutral pronouns (I currently prefer xie/xem/xyr myself). It should be fairly self-evident what they are, at least in writing. With journal articles, I’m sure a short footnote would more than suffice to explain whichever gender-neutral pronouns the author is using. Journals might also stipulate which neutral pronoun they go with in their submission style guides.

Beyond the argument that using gender-neutral pronouns is beneficial for being able to refer to people who identify as neither male or female, or who prefer gender neutral pronouns for whatever reason, or merely the argument for grammatical smoothness, the use of gender neutral pronouns might also have theoretical relevance.

For instance, it’s my aim in my data analysis to avoid pre-categorising my participants into the gender-sex binary. To refer to them with gender neutral pronouns before examining the complex assemblages around gender-sex they exist in could be one method to avoid the traps of essentialisms or binary logics. So of course it is my intention to use gender-neutral pronouns in journal articles when the time comes but I hope others might consider doing so as well, and not just to refer to non-binary people but as a matter of course.

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New Materialism and/or Post-Structuralism

An interesting summary of various ways in and out of New Materialism, its political potentials, and understanding how it relates to other frameworks.


Three weeks ago I went to a round table discussion at Sussex University on ‘New Materialism and/or Post-Structuralism’, which featured Timothy Murray (Cornell), Seb Franklin (KCL), Jussi Parikka (Anglia Ruskin), John David Rhodes (Sussex), and Michael Jonik (Sussex). As this was mostly a discussion, my notes underneath are a bit fragmented and as I only wrote them up three weeks later, they might not be really coherent at some places either, but there you go. The panel discussed ‘what is at stake in our current moment as the poststructuralist legacy encounters new thinking concerning materialism, embodiment, networks, art/technology, performance, and/or archives’. One of the main drawbacks of the event, which was duly noted by the speakers—but nonetheless—was the lack of female speakers, which is of course non-excusable for any academic event, but especially in this context one could argue, with respect to new materialism’s strong roots in the feminist tradition.


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What is New Materialism-Opening words from the event


As promised, please find below the opening words to the recent New Materialisms and Digital Culture-event by Milla Tiainen and me. The event was filled with great talks by a range of scholars with differing disciplinary backgrounds, and ended up with the dance/technology-performance Triggered (composed by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Tom Hall and Richard Hoadley, choreography by Jane Turner). In the midst of the text, images (taken by Tim Regan) from the performance and the conference. A warm thank you to all speakers, performers and our great audience in both parts of the day!

Anglia Ruskin University
CoDE: Cultures of the Digital Economy –research institute and Dept. of ECFM, convened by Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka
21-22 of June, 2010
Milla Tiainen and Jussi Parikka

Opening words: What is New Materialism?


As stated in the programme we’d…

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A New Year

I’ve almost reached the third year of my PhD; it’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this for two years. On the one hand it feels like I haven’t done much to reflect two years of work but on the other hand it feels like I’ve been working on this for many, many years. In any case, I ended 2014 on a good note by attending and presenting at the Gender and Education Association (GEA) interim conference held here in Melbourne. It was my first presentation at a conference but I believe it went very well, as indicated by the complimentary comments I received afterwards. A copy of my presentation slides can be found on my Academic.edu profile. The title is ‘Gender-Sex, Science and Ethics: The Provocation of New Materialism’ and, in basic summary, it’s about what I think new materialism has to offer generally and also specifically in terms of my research project. I argued that new materialism can and should be thought of as provocative rather than as ‘better’ than other frameworks. No doubt, a time will come when it will cease to be provocative and hopefully there’ll be then something else to use as a tool to challenge accepted knowledge. I do think that within my research field of gender and science education, frameworks such as poststructuralism and social constructionism have become overly dominant and entrenched to the point, in some instances at least, they stifle original thought or insights.

As for my general PhD progress, I am at the point now of attempting to use new materialism to analyse my interview data with ten pre-service teachers as well as considering what else I can do in terms of ‘assembling’ more data, and data that is not so human/individual centred. Not exactly easy to do! I had previously planned to do another interview with my participants but I’m not so sure at the moment this is the best thing to do, or if there is something else I could do other than another interview. Whatever I end up doing, this will no doubt take up the first quarter of the year and after that there will be more analysis before I get down to some more serious writing. I’m hoping this will also be the year that I get to go to a larger overseas international conference (potentially the next GEA conference in London) as well as gain some experience tutoring or lecturing and to publish a journal article. A big year, hopefully it will be a good and productive one with minimal disruptions (I won’t be silly enough to hope there won’t be any disruptions).