At many points during your PhD you have to go through box ticking exercises. These exist to make sure that you are doing something that is along the University’s right track. I hate these exercises because at this point I start to realise that I am although I have read, written and coded things. I still don’t have an idea where I am heading. The exercise is an attempt to give you an idea where you are heading, you write down on a form what you have done, what you plan to do and a group of people sign it off. The worst part of the process is the corrections, the reviewers tell you to change certain sentences or remove / add bits to the form. I hate the process because by the end of the exercise the work doesn’t feel like my own, I’ll change the sentences because I will play the game, in fact I think I can get the form passed by simply reordering the content and without actually adding anything to it. It makes you really think about how we judge research.

One of the most frustrating comments I am currently battling is to ‘add references on politics and ethics’. This frustrates me because I have added many references on politics and ethics, they just: 1. Weren’t obvious under the politics and ethics header – meaning I will have to move my writing around to make it more obvious. 2. Not the references that the group wanted. This second point frustrates me, if a different group of people were sat around the table I’d have different points to address, I guess they would want different references. Should the direction of my research really be at the whim of who can make it in on a certain day to review my forms? The good thing about these forms is that it sends me off on a rant at one of my supervisors. The supervisor does a good job at concentrating the angry energy in to inquiry of some kind.

After my angry discussion with said supervisor about knowledge silos and PhDs being at the mercy of the whim of a random group I somehow found myself looking in to the Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice and decision making’ in what the model calls decision making by “organized anarchies”, a confusing term that somehow feels familiar to those employed by a University and described here as:

Problems, solutions, and decision makers move from one choice to another depending on the mix of recognized problems, the choices available, the mix of solutions available for problems, and outside influences on the decision makers. In short, problems are uncoupled from choices giving an image of “rummaging around” inside a garbage can. Problems are addressed based on a solution choice, but choices are made based on shifting combinations of problems, solutions, and decision makers. In this sense, decision-making appears “pathological” instead of rational.

Sounds familiar. One of the best ways to get your head around something is to play with a simulation, so it’s a good job that Guido Fioretti created a Netlogo model of it.

Categories: PhD


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