Weekend Reading: The Pain of Retraining



As I come, kicking and screaming, towards the end of Year 1 of a three-year doctorate in Education, I’ve been thinking a lot about what ‘retraining’ really means, from an insider perspective.

I came into Classics quite naturally. After ‘A’ level Latin at school (I was lucky to go to a school which taught Latin) I went to university to study for a degree in ‘Latin (with Greek)’. The Greek was new to me, but the framework for learning, the ideas and the expectations were all familiar. Then I did an MLitt in Latin and Greek literature, which led into a PhD on Tacitus. Each step built on the one before, and while none of those steps was particularly easy, there were no major shake-ups of my thought processes.

And then I started retraining in Education and Social Sciences, and my brain really started to hurt!

An Education doctorate is NOT like a Classics doctorate (well, it’s certainly not like my Classics doctorate was!). For one thing, there’s the paperwork. I’ve been mired for months in Ethics appraisals, consultation panel applications, and all kinds of authorisation requests which have to be completed and run past a committee before I’m even allowed to approach prospective participants in my study.

Then there’s the study itself. I have to collect my own data, which means designing my own instruments for data collection, which means creating a rationale for the design, which means… It’s a laborious process, and it’s one for which I have no blueprint. In my last doctorate I simply read a lot of Latin and wrote stuff about it.

Then there’s the theory. Yes, we have theory in Classics. But in Education we have ‘paradigm wars’. Education theory is a minefield! And it’s a minefield on the level of methodology, epistemology and most of all ontology: so before you do anything, you have to interrogate your own beliefs about what learning is and how people relate to the world around them.

On so many levels, Education research (and social sciences more generally) is not like Classics. My experience of Education research is that it’s very formalised: there are channels that must be gone through, fundamental considerations that have to be addressed, and numerous conventions to be followed. There are methodology camps: ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ are at the extremes, but there are lots of different camps within the ‘mixed methods’ fields, which all link to different theoretical perspectives or sub-perspectives. Social constructivists currently seem to have the higher ground, but their position is being challenged on several fronts. Big data and learning analytics are shifting the goalposts (yes, I’m mixing my metaphors, but I’m interdisciplinary so I’m allowed to do that). And the intersection between research and policy is an open sore.

But this isn’t meant to be a rant about Education research (although I’m happy to provide one upon request!). The point I want to make is that retraining in a new academic area is hard – far more difficult than simply following a straight path through school and university study. When you’ve studied in one area and grown up with particular conventions, vocabulary and rules, it’s extremely challenging to switch to a different area. You have to change the way you write, change the way you read and change the questions you ask: and nobody tells you this because they don’t understand how much conditioning you need to remove before you can start to think in the prescribed way.

So if you’ve studied in a different area and come to Classics by a convoluted route, you have my respect. There are so many elements of the discipline that are simply assumed, by people who’ve absorbed them over decades, that sometimes you must feel completely lost. The best tip I can give you is to ask questions. Ask a lot of questions! Ask other students how they do things: ask your tutors what they expect; ask how you could improve your style or do things differently. And read everything you can: there’s a ‘house style’ that you’re often expected to emulate, and you can find it in published work.

Finally, don’t give up! It’s very easy to think that everyone except you knows what’s going on: but a lot of us are frantically paddling below the water-line!




This week’s links from around the internet



Cambridge Schools Classics Project newsletter – CSCP 

Classical Reception seminars in London – ICS 

Gucci in the Capitoline Museums – Wanted in Rome 

Launching the Open Material Religion Centre – OU Religious Studies Blog  [Do book a place, if you’re free and can make it to London on March 25th. I’ll be there!]

Withdrawing Latin in Yorkshire – The Guardian


Comment and opinion

Fighting for Classics in Vermont – Society for Classical Studies 

Not-Thucydides on exile – The Sphinx 

‘Athena’s Owls’ project – Institute of Classical Studies 

Spring for the Greeks – Kosmos Society 

Digital votives – Society for Classical Studies

The Celts weren’t smelly – Ancient Origins

Coins of the Seleucids – Coin Week 

The future of Classics starts early – Sententiae Antiquae

Romans and chestnuts – Current Archaeology 

Sculptures of mourning women – The Iris 

In search of the truth about Eleusis – The New York Times

Illustrating the Iliad – Paste 

On being a collector – The New York Times 

Woman doctors from the Roman Empire – Sententiae Antiquae 

Introducing Tacitus’ AnnalsThe Conversation 

An introduction to Oscan – Katherine McDonald 

Galen and his codices – Larry Hurtado’s Blog 


Podcasts, video and other media

The career of Sejanus – Kings and Generals 

Hyperrealistic sculptures of the emperors – New York Post 

Caesar and the pirates – Ancient History Fangirl 

The breakdown of peace – The History of Ancient Greece 

The early history of Rome – The Hellenistic Age 

Crocodile hunting with Herodotus – SandRhoman 

Tiberius and the Partial Historians – The Life of the Caesars 

Narcissus and social media – TrueTube 

The Bronze Age Collapse – History of the World 

Interview with Joel Christensen – Itinera 

… and a related blogpost – Sententiae Antiquae 



Finally, Happy Ides of March everybody!



2 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: The Pain of Retraining

  1. I found that post interesting! How does your doctorate in education work then? Do you still need to have a specific research question?


    1. Oh yes! It has to be very specific, and achievable despite all the hoops we have to jump through. But it’s a pretty unusual set-up, because it’s a three-year part-time doctorate (whereas doctorates are normally three years full-time or five/six part-time), so the deadlines are frequent and strict!

      Liked by 2 people

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