I think you dance around too much

2015-09-29

Mr. Miyagi, to all outward appearances unfazed and unperturbed, suddenly throws a karate chop at Daniel. And without thinking how, Daniel’s hand automatically blocks it. Wax on. And Mr. Miyagi’s follow up kick is just as effortlessly blocked by a paint-long-stroke-down movement. Every blow Mr. Miyagi throws at Daniel, Daniel manages to block from what he learned doing Mr. Miyagi’s chores. All that time, Daniel had been learning karate, he just hadn’t realized it.

And just like Daniel, the doctoral student can have been learning ‘write-dissertation’ without realizing it.

Unfortunately, the doctoral student can share some other personality traits with Daniel, too.

“I think you should put forward your theory chapter for comments this spring,” the supervisor says at some point during the education.

“Okay,” the doctoral student thinks. “I can do that…” But writing a theory chapter is truly dull work. Really. And one knows it will have to be re-written anyway, so instead of writing a chapter that could eventually be part of a thesis, one can write a fun, little text that broaches the subjects to be covered in the theory chapter, but doesn’t really take the form of a dissertation chapter. And one’s seminar colleagues put up with this. They discuss it in a positive, helpful way. They talk about the text, but also the theories the doctoral student brings up. And the whole seminar is helpful.

What can a supervisor do in such a situation, with a doctoral student who obviously hasn’t understood that it’s time to start working on that big, dull text which will be a dissertation? She can take on a very pleasant attitude during the seminar, helpful and supportive… and gently let it show that somewhere, back behind the friendly façade, there is a Mr. Miyagi, who, when watching Daniel jump around and pathetically try to throw out poorly aimed karate kicks and blocks, couldn’t help but say, justifiably exasperated, “I think you dance around too much. I think you talk too much. Concentrate.”

But the thing about Mr. Miyagi is that, even though he gets frustrated sometimes, he helps Daniel, anyway. And he does this pointedly, through example. Daniel is observing peripherally, while Mr. Miyagi does the ‘real’ karate.

(Blog post 4 of 8 about being a PhD student in Sweden. Adapted from: Johnson, E. (2005) ‘Learning Karate, a metaphor for Ph.D. training’ in Mellström, Ulf (ed.) Kunskapens vägar och forskningens praktik Lund: Arkiv pp.87-96)

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