on home and place

Kylie Budge is a PhD student in art/design education at the University of Melbourne in Australia. She is also the co-editor of a new blog, the theteachingtomtom, in her role at RMIT University as a Learning and Teaching Advisor.

What do place and home mean to you? This topic has been swimming around in my head quite a bit recently. I’ve been preoccupied on two levels: in a physical sense and on a more figurative level in relation to the idea of academic discipline. This post has come about because I’m curious to see if others immersed in doing a PhD experience anything like this when they think about ‘home’ and ‘place’.

Firstly, on a physical level, I simply have too many places. By this I mean, during any given working week I have 4 physical places I use for PhD work and my part-time employment. For the PhD I have both a home study space and a space recently provided for me by my university, which you think would be ideal. I mean isn’t it good to have to have options? However, what I’ve found is it can also be somewhat confusing and disorienting. Questions like, what day is it? and, where am I going? frequently pop into my head. And not to mention the myriad of data storage questions it can generate!

I value my home study space for the quiet and solitude it provides. But, quite frankly, on some days both the fridge and the couch are just too enticing. And it’s begun to feel a wee bit isolating. This last part is a surprise to me. Going from full-time work (from years and years of teaching and working in busy, people-centred workplaces) to full-time study I thought I’d never be sick of the quiet and sense of being alone that comes with studying from home. I thought I’d be reveling in it, to be quite frank. And most days I do enjoy it.

But recently I started to feel very isolated and actually began to crave seeing people on my part-time work days. I never expected that to happen! So when my university recently offered a study space I tentatively said yes, and am presently trialling it to see if it will work. On my first day there I met 5 new people and was quite pleasantly overwhelmed. It’s too soon yet to say how that space will pan out.

My other two ‘places’ or ‘homes’ during the week are 2 different campuses at the university where I am employed part-time. So, together I have 4 physical places for study/work. Some people might find this too fracturing or to use my favourite word, discombobulating. What I’ve recently realised is that I thrive in the dynamism that all these different physical places provide. Well, for now I do. Ask me in 12 months and we’ll see if I have a different opinion.

The more figurative aspect of ‘home’ or ‘place’ I’ve been tinkering with is in the context of academic discipline. Caroline Kreber writes on the topic of academic disciplines and their role, meaning and power in universities. She highlights how much discipline matters to academics and the profound role they play in university pedagogy.

My PhD topic (creative practice and teaching of art/design in universities) perches me squarely on the fence of two (if not three) quite different disciplines. And while I understand that I’m not alone in this situation, it often provokes questions for me about where my disciplinary home might be. Or even if I have one.

Before enrolling, I went through quite a tricky period searching for supervisors because I (and my topic) didn’t fit neatly into most ways universities organise their disciplines and their academics. This created lots of days when I wondered if there was something wrong with my topic. Surely the fact that there is no easy or natural home for me is an indicator that something is not quite right, I thought (and sometimes still do).

I view with envy students who have a PhD topic which centres them squarely in a discipline without question. Such a disciplinary home must feel safe and warm and nurturing I imagine. Academically, you must know where to call ‘home’ and where you envisage working (in a disciplinary sense) once the PhD is done.

The strange truth is, I like both of my possible disciplinary homes and can feel quite comfortable in either – even if I often have this sense that I’m not going to be there for long. In a disciplinary sense, I feel very transient. Interestingly I’m starting to get used to this and it’s beginning to feel alright. Bourdieu wrote a lot about ‘field’ or ‘habitus’ and the play of power and agency, and the resulting anxieties when we have to navigate a range of these.

I think I know what he means in a disciplinary sense. However, I’ve also realised I don’t have to feel like a visitor in either discipline but can benefit from being able to move between and work within both disciplinary homes. It’s made me think that perhaps universities should start softening those disciplinary boundaries for those of us who don’t quite fit into one in particular. Who knows what creative outcomes might flow from such new spaces and places? What do you think?

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28 thoughts on “on home and place

  1. Hi Kylie,

    This was a great read. I too have several workstations (in fact, the other day while driving home I was thinking about my places and spaces and subconsciously started singing that old eighties Paul Young song “wherever I lay my hat”!!) I feel the same as you – some days I have to check a calender to know where I’m up to and where I should be! I have an office at my Uni that I share with 3 other PhDers and I love it – but, sometimes we chat too much and I neglect my work … on the other hand, there are some days that I deliberately go into my office just for the company. Because I live in North Queensland, it will soon be time to hang out in my office as much as possible to avoid the melting humidity at my home desk, but until then I am throughly enjoying the days I am at home! In the academic arena, I wholeheartedly agree that the disciplinary home should be a place of trans/inter/cross disciplines – I’m in the faculty of Arts – we have a subject that covers all disciplines in that area and it is my favorite teaching job. Even the subject itself has promoted collaborative research between disciplines … very exciting … but then, I’ve always been nomadic ;7)

    • Tania, it seems like we have a lot in common! And I know what you mean about deliberately going to your communal PhD study space for the company. Sometimes it’s just what we need to keep going.

  2. Thanks for this post. A surprisingly important topic for PhD work.

    I started my PhD loving my my at Uni desk, travelling to it most days & then enjoying breaks via home or a few favourite cafes. I like you found a change if scenery productive. Also I’ve been in one of those difficult situations where the department I am technically located in (due to my supervisor) is not strictly my own discipline. So networking across departments & campuses was important.

    However over the last year this happy multiple location arrangement has shifted to not-so-happy. This has coincided with a relationship break down & multiple living arrangements. I now long for one desk, one department, one campus for my work…. stability is what i need.

    And yes !!! – one with good social connections. I have let my PhD networks slide – perfectly understandable under the circumstances – which has led to isolation & massive decline in productivity. While social connections can distract, they also inspire & motivate, if cultivated well & based on mutual commitment to the work.

    So I think my preferences have changed, depending on personal circumstances and stage of PhD. It’s a long piece of work. What works at one stage may not at another.

    • Oh dear – that sounds quite a lot to manage. You’re right, we need a balance of both social and alone time to be really productive. I hope we provide some virtual community at least.

    • I so agree Lisa! And I can also see how with multiple living locations having one spot study right now is what you need. I imagine this is the kind of thing that will change with each of us as lives do.

  3. Thanks for your interesting post Kylie. In the last month of my PhD, I now work exclusively from home but previously when working between 2 uni workstations in addition to home, I found the change of computers and subsequent file organisation and syncing a more confusing challenge than the number of places I occupied. My confusion was minimised to some extent by carrying my own laptop and just the latest literature from place to place, while keeping everything else in one space at uni and one space at home.
    As for disciplinary spaces, it’s been said that the most creative spaces are between disciplines, but I’ve come to see that for writing a cross/trans/inter-disciplinary thesis (mine is supporting Aboriginal identity through learning for empowerment in technology transfer to participate in housing in remote desert settlements), it’s part of the “disciplining” process to learn how to navigate across disciplines but return “home” (which may be a different home from where you started!) to present your case/argument/thesis from that insight. The way I see it, what it all comes down to is that our theses need to be examined by experts located within a particular discipline. While it’s possible that they have gone through similar journies and will be sympathetic to the challenge, they have probably had to reconcile their work to accommodate their own examiners, hence earning their space within that disciplinary “place”, and expecting us to do similar. Good luck with your studies!

    • Thanks so much for these wise words Deb! It’s true that many of our supervisors/advisers/examiners will have also been through this interesting journey of inhabiting different disciplinary homes and spaces. Hopefully we can learn much from them.

  4. Thanks for this really interesting post!! I’ve been thinking about physical places a lot recently as I have finally organised my home workspace (see photo on my instagram at http://instagr.am/p/NDJz_/ ). Since I started my PhD in March, however, I have experienced too many times the lure of the couch, fridge and of course house work (so funny how studies – or more accurately, procrastination – have a tendency to turn one into a 1950s housewife). For this reason I sought out external workspaces to gratify the occasional need for some sort of human interaction. One phase had me going into uni to use the library, but this proved too bothersome because of where I live and the Sydney public transport system. Later, I was delighted to discover the quality of my local library as a workspace. An easy drive from where I live, it is ideal on the days when I need a bit of background noise to alleviate boredom without becoming distracted.

    In terms of disciplinary spaces, my PhD spans – and hopefully brings together – two primary fields: one which I am very comfortable with (having studied it as an undergrad); and one which I am becoming familiar with through literature. Although I am a little anxious about my lack of previous expertise in the latter, I am excited by the prospect of, as you put it so well, the “creative outcomes [that] might flow from such new spaces and places”.

    Again, thanks for the post – great read!

    • Samantha – besides the fridge and couch attractions I forgot to mention how addicted to do the washing I’ve become. Another reason to get out of the house!

  5. I am a masters research student in NQ. I have a study space at uni, as does Tania (Hi BTW) and my project, although nominally centred in policy, actually uses readings/research from several different disciplines – I am looking at how various factors interact to create a situation (as did my honours, where I made use of sociology, psychology, anthropology and social concepts in my lit review). I work from uni cos I know I can’t work from home – tried it, didn’t work for me, kept finding too much other stuff to do, like watch TV or read non-academic stuff, Coming into uni means I have to work – I tend to work better when I have everything compartmentalised into the different compartments – that way I can get get a good work/life balance.

    as for the whole thing of crossing disciplines – how much of that comes from our undergrad training where we are really expected to find the Theory of Everything that we work by? This is ludicrous when we know deep down that the one theory does not explain every thing, sometimes we need more than one theory th explain an event fully – this is the social scientist in me talking. I am a big beleiver in context – examinig events in the light of what else is happening around. I know I have had fun bridging these conceputal gaps,examinig how factors interact to produce untenable situations for individuals.

    Beth

    • Beth – thanks for this comment. Yes I think you’re right – influence from our UG training re academic discipline and the comfort we seek in that is something to keep in mind as we navigate new and exciting terrain in others.

  6. Loved this post, Kylie. When I was a research fellow, I was rather bad with having multiple working ‘homes’, and leaving detritus at each one. I twigged to my bad habits rather late and only had a portable HD in my last year or so (oy!). One temporary ‘home’ I had – ironically, as I started what was (they assured me) an extremely prestigious fellowship position – was the unit’s meeting room. Yes, they’re communal meeting room was my _office_ for 6 months. Note for The World: This not a great idea for making staff members feel valued or welcome!

    I hear your pain re multiple not-quite-fitting disciplinary homes. It was of great relief for me to feel like I didn’t have to fight for a disciplinary/dept space anymore now that I’m in a non-academic role. I will say one thing for being on the edge of disciplines, though: it certainly keeps you seeking, actively engaged, and wanting to make connections across fields. All very valuable; all potentially exhausting in the longer-term… ;)

    • Hey Tseen, we so need to meet up IRL some day! I’m starting to see what you mean about those of us working on the edges/boundaries of academic disciplines and how that can be an advantage in terms of access to information, ways of thinking,a good cross-section of folk. All good stuff really as you say.

    • e ma den e3igeis kai esy ti akrivws sebynei.kai giati to blog na min ginei sugramma;edw ego exw dei na idriontai panepistimiaka tmimata xwris programma,alla me ka8hgites panta wste na piasoun tis 8eseis kai na ta tsibisoun apo kana epeaek kai oi ergasies foithtwn polles fores na einai surafes epi surafwn.mesa se auth thn katastash arxisan na pernane kai oi metaru8miseis pou pernane proptuxiaka ma8hmata kai ta dinane sta metaptuxiaka ta opoia apaitousan didaktra.auta bebaia se oikonomika panepistimia opou to epistimoniko antikeimeno e3 orismou einai h af8eresia me daneika apo thn aiglh twn ari8mwn twn 8etikwn epistimwn ws epifash epistimonikothtas.min sou fanei toipota para3eno apo dw kai pera giati oti lew ego einai 3ina stafilia dekaetias.ton xwro ton apoxairetisa kai vriskomai se stadio ape3artishs apo tote.(kai mono pou skeftomai poioi apotous palious mou sumfoithtes pi8anon na kuvernane aurio me kanei na 8elw na paw na dw edw kai twra kamia kalh tainia tromou gia na iremisw)Agapith mou 8ea Cynical…(a + b^n)/z = x ,ara den uparxei 8eos – reply!

    • Hi, I love the spice rack and was just wondering what the dnoeisimns of the box were. I haven’t been able to find one the right size and want to make one similar to yours.

  7. This is a really interesting post. I work full-time and do PhD part-time. At home I have a big desktop, and a little laptop. I use the little laptop for play and the big desktop for work. So when I sit down at the desk in front of the big screen I quickly get going, but when I sit down at the little laptop I can’t get my brain into gear. On the other hand, I was recently lucky enough to be able to work in another country for two weeks while my partner was teaching there, and I set myself up at the end of the dining table with the little laptop and worked away quite happily. However, I have tried to ‘do’ PhD stuff at my desk at work in lunch breaks etc, and just couldn’t do it.

    As for the disciplinary stuff, I have several pages in my thesis about this. Disciplines are still often treated as unproblematic in the literature on academia but, as we all seem to be aware, they are not. A careful study of the diagram for the Arts Faculty at the University of Sydney will reveal how arbitrary the groupings within the schools are. The way the disciplines are organised can only be explained by a detailed knowledge of personalities and the history of the Faculty.

    • M-H – fascinating stuff about your lap-top/desktop work/play connection and how it then changed when you took the laptop to a new location! Agree absolutely re academic disciplinary groupings and their haphazard clusterings etc in many universities. Happens in many places I’ve worked in.

  8. Pingback: A tale of three desks or more than just a room of one’s own. | Tortoise Tales

  9. I really identify with your post. My thesis was also not-quite-a-single-discipline, nominally engineering but really at the interface of anatomy-physics-engineering. I was doing a PhD at two locations (with an additional short stint overseas) and several freelance jobs, one of which involved 30+ locations in the one year (I counted around tax time).

    Most of my work and life outlook tend towards being at the intersection of multiple fields, and generally speaking, I love it; but it can get exhausting. It’s also a convenient way to stuff life so full that I avoid thinking about what I’m doing with it long term, or sometimes, avoid all the people at all the workplaces.

    One of the best things it’s given me is the chance to seriously consider where I belong. The most useful approach for me has been to assume that I belong everywhere. It’s also great for cross-pollinating ideas and systems across fields.

    • Sauramaia – I seriously love your approach – yes let’s assume we belong everywhere! It makes so much more sense than trying to fit into one small, neat, shiny box.

  10. I found this a really interesting post, thanks and discombobulating certainly covers it! I too have found myself divided across disciplines and so geographically to satisfy my research needs. I can visit up to 4 workplaces in a week, not including home, 5 at my peak, (not including a further 2 locations for PhD related extra-curricular activities). As a scientist my workspace is essentially doubled as there is also lab space to consider at each different location. I have always had a base office where I have primarily worked from but this itself has changed 4 times in the last 3 years, in the most part unofficially which has seen my lugging my books and other essential bits and bobs across town on a bus by myself. As quite a settled person I found this most disconcerting and it took me a long time to get to grips with the idea of moving around so much. However it wasn’t until I started to move freely between the different locations and disciplines that I started to feel comfortable with my PhD. Although at times confusing and disorienting as you say, in the long run I feel the benefit has outweighed the cost, not just in the freedom to take the odd long lunch on the way between offices! I am now writing my thesis and have looked to return ‘home’ to a more permanent base. I knew my home wasn’t the place for me but I have chosen, not the office with the most comfortable desk space, but the most supportive and stimulating environment, which I was surprised to find is not where geographically or discipline wise where I started out. Additionally I have learnt to plan with military precision, sometimes having to anticipate days in advance to get right assortment of me/work/notes/papers/samples in the right place at the right time. I was fortunate enough that the university provided me with a laptop rather than a desktop (initially a space saving measure) without which I’m not sure what I would have done; my other secret weapons have been a bus pass and an electronic diary. I now always carry a notebook and some easily accessible work for when the bus is late or stuck in traffic. It’s been hard work but rewarding at the same time, good luck and I hope you don’t get too ‘homesick’ in the meantime!

  11. Wow Chris! Your description of the number of places you work in each week makes mine seem so simple and straight forward (relatively). I’m fascinated with what you say about the PhD working better for you once you let go of your anxiety about not having one spot to do everything in. While your secret weapon is a bus pass mine has been my bicycle. Couldn’t be anywhere near as efficient about moving between all my spaces without it.

  12. Great post Kylie. It prompted me to finish a post on my workspaces: http://tortoisetales2.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/a-tale-of-three-desks-or-more-than-just-a-room-of-ones-own/

    But what I didn’t write about in my post was the social side of work and workspaces. As I contemplate returning to mostly working from home as a SAHM, I know this will be an issue for me. At work I often feel besieged by visitors and passing traffic, but at home I often feel isolated and crave some (adult) social interaction, even if it’s brief and ephemeral.

    Can’t win!

    • Loved the post on your blog about this TortoiseMum! You certainly do have a good set up in your uni study space.

      And yes, how do we strike that balance between being swamped by people in workplaces and having none at all when working from home? Tricky!

  13. As a geographer, this is a fascinating way to analyse the thesis writing process!! And I have been pleasantly surprised by how many of us have to manage this.

    During the course of my PhD I have lived in three countries and been at five universities (enrolled at two, worked at two, seconded to one for fieldwork). I have had nine offices, not including home offices. I currently work between two universities and home, although with a toddler and five year old at home I rarely get to much more than checking email after they go to bed. I hate the hulking bulk of my desk sitting in the lounge room reminding me of my work while I am too tired or too distracted by housework and/or my hubby with a good programme on his screen. But we don’t have the space for a separate office.

    When I started to use scrivener, I found file management much more difficult as it was no longer a matter of keeping track of a recent word file (whether by evernote, usb drive, or email) but a whole ‘project’. So I started using dropbox to manage my files. And that in turn has revolutionised my working life, since I no longer have to worry about it — I get home, and the most recent file of everything work or thesis related is already waiting for me on my computer! ANd I can access previous versions!

    I too love the social aspect of working in an office. I also like the ritual of separate spaces — getting up, putting on work clothes and make up, getting on the bus, buying coffee, begiining work. I keep short hours but do more than I would otherwise. At home, I am multitasking with the washing machine and I find it difficult to concentrate in mess or with kid-noise — I’m fine with other people’s kids, but I experience the noises of my children as demands for my attention even if they are in another room — finely honed mum instinct? My husband is currently SAHD but I think he also likes the ritual of separation because then he is ‘on duty’.

    When I was pregnant with my youngest I worked from home while the eldest was at preschool, and LOVED it… got so much done, and my husband was at home studying too so we would take breaks over a drink twice a day and talk about our work. Good times! That is the balance for me, with regular trips into uni for seminars and meetings, perfect!

  14. Hi Kelly, so much of what you say rings true for me! I’ve recently been pondering the drop box option as a solution to my file dilemmas resulting from the wandering office. And yes, there is something to be said for the ritual of getting up and going to a work location outside home. I’m glad you’ve found the balance. I think it takes a while to work that out. Lots of trial and error.

  15. 11’8 ?!? Holy Moly little mama!!! Congratulations! She’s abrladoe! Love the cheeks and nose!!!May she sleep well for you, and may the transition from 2 to 3 be smooth and sweet.Congrats!traceys last blog post..

  16. Pingback: The two body problem reconsidered (or what I learned while being a #fifoacademic) | The Thesis Whisperer

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