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’ Annals – The 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!