This guest post is from Helen Hickson,  a Social Worker and PhD candidate at La Trobe University, Bendigo, Australia. Helen is currently about half way through a PhD exploring reflective practice with social workers. This piece was originally posted on her blog “Helen Through the Looking Glass“. In this post Helen wonders if doing a PhD makes you a good competitor in trivia nights… or not!

I went to a Trivia night last night with some colleagues at the University. I used to love Trivia nights, but I haven’t been to one for a long time.

They are different these days, with powerpoint slide shows and projectors, and last night I realised that I am different too.

There were six rounds of questions and we did well for the first two rounds – the general knowledge questions. We knew the chemical symbol for gold (it’s au in case you were wondering), the two highest grossing movies of all time (Titanic and Avatar) and we knew the names of all of the characters marooned on Gilligan’s Island.

We did particularly well in the third round when we had to identify international architecture, and as a table we chatted about the conferences that we had attended all over the world. But then things got harder and I realised that while I have focussed all of my attention on my PhD research topic the rest of the world has gone on without me.

We were stumped in the sports section. We couldn’t remember who won the 2010 Women’s Singles Title at the Australian Open (has it really been eight months since Kim Clijsters took home the trophy?), or the name of the person who won the Australian Ironman Championship six times (I will save you the trouble of Googling it – it’s Trevor Hendy).

We stumbled in the section where we had to identify cartoon characters – who has time to watch TV when you are busy writing a PhD? There are cartoons on TV that I haven’t heard of and some of them have been on TV for several years.

But the section where we failed in the most spectacular fashion was the flags section – we couldn’t remember if the stripes on the French flag were horizontal or vertical, and which country had the red stripe over white and which one has the white stripe over red.  Actually, I still don’t think I can explain the answers to that one.

As I drove home and contemplated our performance at the trivia night it occurred to me that as much as I have loved reading in the past, I don’t have time for it anymore.

Pre-Phd, I had one or two novels on the go at all times. I loved to read all kinds of books or to curl up on the couch with the newspaper on a rainy Saturday afternoon.  But today, I can’t even remember a time when I did more than glance at the front page and the employment section of the newspaper. 

I think I am craving a trashy novel.  It’s hard as a PhD student to contemplate using precious and valuable time to read something other than a journal article or text book, but I think that is exactly what I need to do. Maybe, I will even watch TV!

While I am absorbed in PhD research I am immersed in a place that is privileged and sheltered from the realities of what is happening in the rest of the world.  And maybe, from time to time, we should come up for air and check out what is happening in the rest of the world. Read a trashy novel, see a tacky movie at the cinema or watch a re-run of a long-forgotten comedy on TV.  Because while I have spent months reading, thinking and writing about qualitative research methodological approaches that have epistemological credibility, it is unlikely that there will be any questions about that at your nearest trivia night.

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