What a little 'coming together' can do...

I've been working on this degree for about 16 months now. I'm almost half way through. It was only in the past two or three months that I started to meet up with other research candidates and was able to share the experience of being a PhD student or candidate with peers. Finding these other students has made a big difference to my experience of doing the degree.

If you read blog or journal articles about being a candidate, you will have come across (probably many) references to the sense of isolation doing this kind of work brings. Even if you do know other research students, they are often doing a very different field of research, using different methodologies, and having different kinds of issues with their research. So, even when I did find peers on campus, only one or two of them were writing peers, and none of them were doing the kind of writing I'm doing.

For the past couple of days I've been attending a symposium of arts and education research students. There were between 20-25 of us in all, and with those kinds of numbers I was able to find people doing similar kinds of work to me. It was bloody brilliant!

Everything about attending the symposium was pretty awesome. Talking about writing and the challenges writers face, but even more so, hearing about all the very varied research topics was very exciting (there were research topic I would NEVER have been able to dream up, including one on dream based writing). But most beneficial was the emphasis on collaboration.

I knew I was going to the symposium to meet other researchers, and possibly, maybe make a connection with someone and maybe even consider collaborating on a paper with that someone, but honestly, with my social ineptitude, I wasn't holding out much hope of that happening.

Getting published is imperative to gaining employment in academia. I know I need to have research papers published in peer reviewed journal, and I want to do this, but it is a daunting task. I have almost no experience with doing this (I have only just submitted my very first paper for peer review). So, with almost half of my degree done, I've been panicking a little about how to achieve the holy grail of publication - what to write about, where to submit, and most importantly how to write in a way to make publication happen.

In the past two days we had several rounds of presenting papers. In each round, there were 2 or 3 presenters, and at the conclusion of the presentations the audience was asked to choose a presenter whose presentation inspired them in some way and sit at a round table with them, and at the end of the discussion each of the audience had to present the researcher they had chosen with a suggested title of a paper they could collaborate with that researcher on. Then the researcher would choose the title which most appealed to them and would pair off with the other person to write an abstract together for a paper they would work on in the next year or so!

From this process, I now have two papers to work on with two new collaborators! This is so exciting to me, I can't even express how I feel about it. Not only do I have two I will definitely be working on (two inspiring projects to work on), but I have several other potential papers in the form of titles I can go over (once I get my breath back) and then contact those people in turn to see if they would still be interested in collaborating in the future.

When the symposium ended yesterday, I also felt as if I had made a whole bunch of new friends and contacts. Some of these people will be attending the conference in Wellington in November, which makes going to the conference a lot less intimidating to me. I was able to practice my presentation on them, and got a thumbs up from one of the people who is managing and reviewing the peer reviewed papers for the presentation (I don't think they have seen my paper - it was only submitted a week before -, but gave me a thumbs up for the presentation, saying I should definitely present it at the conference).

I was on a high last night. I'm feeling very wrung out today. Of course, being back in my office, and back to being alone, is quite jarring but hey, what a wonderful gift this symposium was!