Make that Dr Shallowreader!

Dear readerly friends, a few weeks ago, I had my conferral (of sorts) and I am now a Doctor of Philosophy.

Back in 2012, I started in a Masters by research program at the University of Technology Sydney which is where I did my undergraduate degree. I then articulated it into a Doctoral program in 2013. It (only!) took 8 and a half years of part-time study, multiple part-time and casual jobs, some of the time daughtering and all of the time parenting to final complete my thesis. Like many researchers I have met, the PhD itself was not a lifelong dream that I had aimed to achieve. In actual fact, when I graduated with my Bachelor in Applied Science in 1992, I swore that there was nothing on earth that could ever coerce me to return to any formalised study ever again. And yet here I am. I want to write a few quick words about my studies.

I was incredibly fortunate that I had Dr Hilary Yerbury as my primary supervisor. Hilary saw me through my undergraduate degree as well as my doctoral research. She is an absolute goddess of a supervisor. As a former children’s librarian, she understood too well my absolute obsession with public libraries, with cataloguing and metadata, and with the crushing difficulty that comes from critiquing your own professional practices as well as the practices of your industry. But she also remembered my keystone project back as an undergraduate was an exploration of publishing and romance fiction. When I first approached her about conducting research back in 2011, I had a completely different research question in mind. It was Hilary who prompted me to consider researching my two deep interests – public libraries and romance fiction. I put forward my proposal and it was successful. I didn’t realise at the time of undertaking my research, that still being deeply interested in a similar research question as I had 20 years earlier was going to be pivotal to my research experience. If I was half-hearted about my research, there is no way I would have persisted when it became particularly difficult and complex.

My research not only took me down many incredible scholarly journeys, conferences, workshops, seminars, conventions and meetup but it also gave me the opportunity to travel to Greece, England, New Zealand, Canada, the USA as well as the East coast of Australia and throughout NSW to conduct my research. It was especially wonderful that my research gave me the opportunity to meet so many people with whom I tweet and blog alongside. I also made wonderful friends with many of the Arts and Social Sciences PhD cohort at my university.

When I started my studies, I would see doctoral students on their final day, dressing in their finery, carrying their bound thesis copies to the University research office, often accompanied by their supervisors, their actions steeped with symbolism and ceremony so that they could submit their research. There was always a buzz of excitement in our small research office when we would see one of our own submit their work, and then months later in their amazing graduation gowns heading to their conferral. One of these friends told me that her young son proclaimed it was a day for “many majesties”. Majesties!. Often we would celebrate, heading to a local bar for drinks, heading to dinner or just going for a long, celebratory lunch. Submission and conferral days were such important milestones and stood as an encouragement for those of us who had not yet finished our research.

However, in a thoroughly pandemic manner, my experience has been completely different. I spent the majority of the 2020 lockdown writing my thesis from my bed in the morning and my desk (right next to my bed) in the afternoon. For months on end, I only saw my husband, my sons, and Hilary over Skype, some days barely getting out of my jimmy jams but on all days keeping a neat bedroom (the pressure of my supervisor seeing my room kept made me a stickler).

I submitted my thesis as an emailed pdf from my bed on the morning of December 10, 2020. There was no symbolism, ceremony or celebration. Just me in my pyjamas with my husband beside me. It was an emotional moment for the two of us. My husband had worked in higher education since 2000, and had moved to work at my university in my first year of study. We would bump into each other around the campus, always travelling in together on my uni days, often meeting up for lunch or just sneaking out of our offices for a quick hug if we were in each other’s building. I realise that this is saccharine sweet yet so enamoured and thrilled that we could do this. Unfortunately, due to Covid, my husband took a redundancy and left the university only a few weeks before my submission date. I’m glad he got to be with me when I pressed Send.

I received my results on February 2, once again it was while lying on my bed checking my emails. I was astounded that I was awarded all firsts. I had prepared myself to put in anywhere from a month to six months of work for my revisions, but instead, I had a handful of grammar corrections and some style guide changes to my references which took me the best part of a morning to complete though I wasn’t able to do this immediately. It is odd that grief can sometimes overwhelm you in unexpected moments, and somehow, instead of being happy with my results, I spent two days sobbing in my bed, barely able to breathe, barely able to move. Exactly a year earlier, I’d had my last day of working as a librarian. My resignation was one of self-preservation and not something I had anticipated and is something I am still trying to come to terms with. That I received my results on the anniversary of that day just felt appropriately depressing. I let the grief take over and after wallowing for a few days, I submitted my corrections and had a back-and-forth exchange ensuring that I had met all the administrative requirements for my final submission, a pdf sent, of course, while wearing my pyjamas sitting on my bed. I then switched off my emails for a month. I needed recovery time.

After all that, it was apt that, with typical Covid fanfare, I was sitting on my bed when my conferral (and all its associated documents) was emailed to me on April 15, 2021. No merit-based majesties procession for me.

My university has decided to not hold graduations yet*. I am philosophical about my experience. This is a pandemic after all and I am not ruled by an egregious ego. I’m all on board for a tepid celebration. As I don’t own a floppy graduation hat, I donned my favourite tiara (yes I own more than one), my favourite conference dress and took some pics in front of my favourite romance fiction bookshelf (once again, yes I own more than one bookshelf full of romance fiction – everyone should). This of course being a perfect representation of my thesis titled What the Librarians Did: The Marginalisation of Romance Fiction Through the Practices of Public Librarianship.

I want to thank all the wonderful friends and readers of this blog, especially those who comment and those who took part in my ‘shallowreader bingo’ games and ‘sharing the shallows’. This blog predates my return to study by several years. I started it because I found Twitter’s then 140 character limit constrained my thoughts. I started this blog to write about romance reviews and library commentary with a smattering of smart-arse ideas that would pop into my head. This all snowballed. It wasn’t enough for me. Tweeting and blogging led me back to studying and conducting original research. Even though I was studying, I still managed to keep the blog. It was fun and a way to focus away from the pressures of my work and research, even though in the past five years I have not been able to write on a regular basis.

At this point, I don’t know what my future holds, I have no idea what direction I will take. But I do know that I still love this blog and will continue writing and sharing my Shallowreader thoughts here. After all, without this blog, I wouldn’t have a doctorate.

Thank you to all of you.

A photograph of me wearing a tiara, a black and white dress with daisies and a felt heart brooch. I am holding my laptop computer with an image of my esteemed PhD blurring the screen. Behind me is a bookcase filled with category romance fiction.

* Despite zero Covid community cases in Sydney**, Hamilton showing to full theatre capacity, tens of thousands attending football games in stadiums, with dancing and singing being allowed (I spent last Saturday at a karaoke bar!) and so many other venues being completely open, the university’s official line is that it is not holding graduations due to Covid risk. But let’s read between the lines and acknowledge that it is a result of the chronic defunding of Australian universities with the whole sector losing 17K staff last year.

** Well….it was zero cases when I wrote that sentence but as of a few hours ago we now have 2 community cases in all of NSW (and I believe in all of Australia).