Research Pathways and the Humble PDF

There’s joke among fellow researchers that mocks the interest others have in their PhD thesis – a sustained piece of writing and investigation that cements a pathway into the academic world.  When submitting a hardbound copy to the university library, authors are advised to slip a $50 note into the pages of their work. If, in twenty or so year’s time, the money is still there, they will know that no one has even looked at it. While this might give rise to further laughter in the digital age, email, Google, forums and Adobe are making the research of many more accessible than ever before.

Since finishing my own thesis, the advice I keep receiving is to network: to build relationships with other like-minded scholars here in Australia and, importantly, overseas.  Conferences, seminars, visits, cold calls – privately funding your own research agenda is, within the culture of academia, a worthwhile investment as developing scholars continue to chase a job that always seems like it is five years away.

Quite the pile.

In contrast to the above advice the quick, electronic transferability of the humble PDF has meant that already my research has brought me into contact with people from further afield. Requests for this type of work are fairly unusual, but the bike racing case studies of my own thesis seems to be giving people an ‘in’. One of the work’s biggest strengths is that it travels through multiple areas of interest beyond the subject matter itself: psychology, philosophy, cognitive science, cycling history, cultural anthropology, studies of mobility, sports studies, theatre studies and my own home field: performance.

There have also been a few other “doesn’t happen oftens” that have been an exciting part of the journey so far. For one, it passed the examination process with a couple of typos being the only thing that needed a fix. The comments I received pointed to the appeal of this research across multiple disciplinary boundaries and what it gives back to Performance Studies was also recognised and praised. I was looking forward to the part where a hard-bound copy joins those of my teachers, colleagues and mentors in the Department of Performance Studies archive room, but another rare event, a flood that has caused a six month evacuation of the building, put a temporary hold on that.

Robin Dixon, Ian Maxwell and Glen McGillivray: part of a great crew to work with and learn from.

Most exciting for me are the emails that have come alongside the requests to read this work. I’m learning about conferences, journals, new research unfolding, existing collections, other passionate scholars and different areas of interest and applicability for studies like my own. If research in the humanities is about dialogues and collaborative engagement within the world of ideas, the internet – as a vehicle – is certainly driving a shift in how these dialogues develop.  This is not to say it replaces real-life contact, but it certainly helps with knowing where to set the GPS.

The post-PhD period of networking and job-hunting is referred to as a transition. One of the reasons for writing here now is to encourage further dialogues if you come across this or similar collections of ideas. While the library copy of my thesis may remain clean, my hope is that my own PDF printout gets fingerprints all over it as I look back on the ride so far and scribble down ideas for where to push it next.

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