My voice as a researcher

So I am currently on a university writing retreat in a beautiful countryside location where the sun is shining and there is lots of lovely food. And here I am…doing writing… therefore my time has been used appropriately and I don’t need to feel guilty later on tonight about avoiding my lit review. I have been reflecting lately on how I feel about talking to people about my research, largely because I realised don’t really like talking to people about my research. Now I am well aware that I need to talk about my research, otherwise my supervisions are going to get hella awkward. Also conference season is approaching and I am planning to actually present for the first time (as opposed to doing a poster and then hanging around it awkwardly) so I need to be able to actually articulate what I am researching, my thought process etc. Upon reflection I have come to the conclusion that there are three main reasons why I don’t feel comfortable talking about it.

  1. I don’t feel like I have enough clarity in my thought process to confidently be able to succinctly and clearly articulate what I am doing without sounding like  I don’t really know what I am doing.
  2. I haven’t had much practice in holding my own in conversations where I have to justify my academic position.
  3. I feel like my voice and what I have to say isn’t valid and won’t be interesting to other people (this gets much worse when talking to people who I have cited in my work, I literally get starstruck and have nothing to say).

Now this isn’t an issue with my writing, in-fact I feel like the PhD has really empowered me to find a voice in my writing in the sense that I have the autonomy to be able to position myself and my study within the field and be critical within that. My problem is purely verbal, it’s like I have an academic speech impediment. I think a lot of this stems from the fact that deep down I am quite shy, particularly in situations where I feel inferior (which I do when surrounded by academics) and this makes me clam up because I don’t feel that my voice is legitimate. I don’t feel like people will be interested in what I have to say, or even if they were, that I would be able to articulate myself in an appropriate way. It’s like at conferences – at the end of presentations when people ask for questions. Firstly I can never think of a single question and secondly even if I can think of one I can never actually make myself put my hand up and ask it. I watch other conference delegates and I am amazed at how much confidence they have in what they are saying and with how much ease they just speak up.

Now I do recognise these feelings as being a gift from my old friend impostor syndrome and I know that the best way to counteract impostor syndrome is to call it out and reflect on it – which is what I am doing here. I also wonder if this is partly a ‘hidden injury of class’ as Sennet and Cobb (1993) might suggest (i.e. lacking in self-belief, never feeling good enough especially when often surrounded by confident, middle class colleagues). I used to be shy as an undergraduate too and I managed to overcome that, and I was petrified when I first started teaching and I overcame that too. It’s just that as a student I was surrounded by other students (therefore all on an even keel) and as a teacher I am legitimised by the fact I am teaching, which automatically gives my voice ‘value’. I know that to deal with this I need to push myself out of my comfort zone and instigate conversations with people but whenever I do this I find myself casually discussing the quality of the buffet (always a priority for me) as opposed to my actual PhD. So….I am going to set myself a challenge of approaching and talking to at least two people about my research at each event/conference that I attend from now on, practice makes perfect right?

Anyway I better carry on attempting to write some of my lit review, I’m not having a great time with it but that’s another blog…

Thanks for reading 🙂




This week I have started reading around the concept of identity, specifically student identity in relation to my thesis. I am beginning to realise that because I am focusing upon the individual narratives of students notions of identity underpins my entire thesis . To me  the construction and embodiment of students’ identity/ies forms a major concern in terms of examining their experiences of university study. I am interested in exploring students’ ‘trajectories of becoming’ and for me this is inextricably linked to notions of identity. This is a relatively new area of reading for me, and one that I am finding incredibly interesting. As I am taking an auto-ethnographic approach to this research this got me thinking about my own identity, and my ‘student’ identity in particular. I know that I agree with Vincent (2003:5) in that I see identity as “fluid, not fixed; multiple, not single; and transforming, not static” but why do I see it that way?

As an undergraduate student I remember keeping my ‘student-ness’ distinctly separate from my ‘home’ life (home, work, friends etc). I did this in quite a binary way, only checking uni emails at uni, and staying in the library to study rather than doing it at home. I talked about uni in my social circles in terms of how I was finding my course, but any conversations related to academic content or theoretical concepts were only for my university friends, who I saw only at uni. My academic identity was beginning to develop, but only felt ‘appropriate’ for the physical space of university. It lacked any congruence with my home life and as such as not allowed to infiltrate it.

Fast-forward five years and as PhD student my academic identity is still a bone of contention for me. As a consequence of so many years of academic study my sociological imagination now runs wild. I am reflectively aware of how I have changed as a thinker and as a person. I analyse and question almost everything without even realising that I do so. I am a constant source of irritation to my friends and my partner in particular, who is continually annoyed at my need to find a counter-argument for everything she says. Brexit was a nightmare. My academic/student identity has grown and is more powerful, it is no longer something that I can constrain and it claws and fights to get out. I am now conceptualise myself as what I like to call a ‘fledgling academic’. My academic identity is a huge part of me, yet it still lacks any congruence with my home life. I yearn for in-depth conversations about social policy, or about something I have read as part of my studying that day,  however I find myself coming home and watching Ex on the Beach so I have something in common to discuss with my friends. If anything the more developed and secure my academic identity has grown, the more aware I am of how uncomfortably it sits within my home life. So I guess this is why I conceptualise identity as fluid and changing according to spacial and time relations, because for me it is on a daily basis. I’m so interested to see how it is for the participants in my research.




I was in a research seminar at the university a few weeks after beginning to study for my PhD, and one of the lecturers began to talk about ‘troubling’. This is a term first coined by  Schön (1983) and refers to a feature of an individuals’ practice or profession that they feel is less than effective or equitable, and that essentially troubles them in some way. Many researchers use ‘troubling’ as the basis and driving force of their doctoral study . So I went away and thought about this, and came to the conclusion that yes I am troubling. I am troubling about a number of things, such as the increasing grip of marketisation on the HE sector, and the way that neo-liberal mechanisms mask social inequality. But mainly, I am troubling about the fact that an individual’s socio-economic background continues to affect their life chances. I am perpetually annoyed that since Lord Robbins stated in 1963 that universities had a responsibility to educate ‘all those that can benefit’ from higher education, some groups in society continue to benefit more than others.

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So…an introduction to me

I have started this blog primarily as a way of procrastinating without feeling guilty because technically this is related to my research. Also I thought this might be a good way to share both my research journey as a newby PhD student, and the ongoing process and findings of my research. I am hoping it will be cathartic to see my journey documented in this way, as opposed to my usual method of writing my thoughts on  on scraps of paper which I will subsequently lose.

I have never ever blogged before, so please forgive me if I display poor blogging etiquette. I guess I should start with a bit about me? Up Continue reading