What do I want out of a PhD?

Today I’m responding to Dr Dickson Despommier’s question in response to my email – what are my learning objectives? Having had a look at what learning objectives for a PhD typically look like I thought I would break the mould on this and try to express more frankly what I am trying to get out of this PhD. This isn’t a new question for me. A few weeks ago I spent time thinking about the types of feelings I would like to experience during this PhD. I came up with some feelings words:

Authentic, Connection, Congruent, Creative, Devotion, Flow, Engaged, Freedom, Playful, Seen, Gratitude, Inspired, Pioneering, Integrity, Intuitive, Supported, Meaning, Purpose

I’ve come to see any endeavour in my life as an opportunity to develop my character. In this aspect, a lot of the things I want to develop in myself (listed below) might seem a little counter intuitive for a PhD student, and yet I consider that the persuit of these can help me become a better researcher and person. I continue to feel pained at a lot of the things I want to ‘release’ or move away from!

Things I want to Release

  • Fixating on the Future
  • Righteous Zealotry
  • Being Jack of all trades
  • Biting off more than I can chew
  • Speaking without facts
  • Getting lost in theory
  • Arrogance, hedonism, coarseness
  • Opinionatedness, boreishness
  • Being overwhelmed by options
  • Ungrounded Wanderlust

Things I want to Embrace

  • Being here now
  • Playful Exploration
  • Doing one thing at a time
  • Dialogue and active listening
  • Collaborations / dynamic duos
  • Community Activism
  • Local activities and hobbies

More directly there are specific things I want to learn during this PhD.

I want to catch-up with and contribute to the state-of-the-art – I absolutely love this stuff right from tech to philosophy of how we do food. When I was running my business more-than-full-time the luxury of time to read and think really eluded me. I think my knowledge was so 2012.  A huge amount has changed (we weren’t even sure about LED technology back then).

I can already draw – I want to develop a visual communication style for my thinking (something uniquely possible within a school of architecture – and a part of what attracted me to this research).

I want to get to grips with grounded theory as a research method that applies a systems approach to researching that takes into account the entire research process. I’ve never used it before.

A big motivation for me is to help agritecture in it’s transition from niche to norm. Most of my (few) clients with Bristol Fish Project were Architects or Investors – some of the concepts I was seeing were architecturally speaking – inspiring and beautiful, whilst ludicrous from the perspective of farm viability (where are you going to get your return on 2 billion £ invested when a head of lettuce wholesales at 15 pence? Who is going to own this? Run this? What about automation?)*. Meanwhile in practice – in the UK most of the first soilless farms didn’t make it beyond a few years – in some cases because these really could have done with design input to help them think through things like – how are you going to move in this space. What are the zones for different processes? How do these flow into one another? Turning to a school of architecture represents a deliberate move in order to develop my skills to navigate between these different worlds.

On the same vein – there are very few gatekeepers of knowledge who communicate effectively across the academic disciplines associated with argritecture. As a network and knowledge owner myself – if I want to make a real contribution, I need learn to do this better.

Finally – full disclosure here – I have some more mechanistic aims for this PhD – I want to finish this PhD with a few publications under my belt – because I’d like to be able to apply for jobs in Universities. This comes from a motivation to find security of income in future – I can’t be as risk-taking and experimental now I’m pregnant. I see academia as a great space to work on an interesting career, in something I am passionate about whilst also being a mum. I think – unless you’ve been a labourer, you won’t really understand the physical cost of that type of work and unless you’ve been a business owner – those pressures might also be alien to you. I’m no stranger to pressure, stress and physical labour – and I think that whilst this baby is young, that I would do better to reduce those types of stresses in my life for a few years.

*I just want to add a disclaimer that my experience of working with Flanagan Lawrence and Expedition Engineering was a radiant exception to this trend and they in part influenced my research direction!