Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Talking about hacking my PhD thesis for #clmooc

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Ok, I say “for” #clmooc, but of course it’s for myself inspired by #clmooc. I am inspired here by Michael Weller to write my reflections on this rather than produce a “make”. In my case, mainly because I don’t have time, plus O have a slight creativity block (not to be confused with writer’s block hehe), and thought writing it out might help and also get me some feedback.

Right. So when I found out this week would be a hacking our own writing week, I thought pretty quickly of the closest piece of writing to my heart, my PhD thesis. Well, ok, I like other stuff I have written, but the PhD thesis is the one I have a love-hate relationship with. I’m not really sure what it means to hack one’s writing, exactly, still figuring this out, and wanting to do it in meaningful ways (need to go watch those hangouts I missed this week; loved dipping into the twitter chat after it was over) but here is why I wanted to hack my thesis and how I thought to do it

Why I wanted to hack my thesis
First, because that thing where people ask what your PhD thesis was about? I never perfected the art of showing the highlight of it in a way that made me feel comfortable that I had done it justice. I don’t have a pre-set answer because it depends on the context and person asking me the question, and particularly if they are in my institution (AUC, which my research is about, and where I now work) it can get quite political (which I am ok with) and I often think of which parts to highlight to make an impact, make my research have value to others.

Second, and this relates to my previous point, I believe strongly in the importance of academic research/writing being accessible to wider audiences. It’s why I now blog, why I originally started writing articles for Al-Fanar. I guess the critical citizenship article (apologies for referring to this for the millionth time) is the closest I have come to presenting ideas in my own thesis to a wider public, but it’s only part of my thesis that’s there. When I submitted a book chapter on another aspect of my thesis, I was asked to write it in less academic writing. Strangely, though I have a naturally pretty informal blogging voice, years and years of my supervisor telling me to write my thesis more formally means it was very hard for me to then use the same ideas in my thesis and rewrite them with my blogging voice. This may be because I started blogging a couple of months after I defended my thesis, so they are almost two distinct parts of me. The reason the critical citizenship article is so readable is thanks to a lot of back and forth editing with Al-Fanar’s editor-in-chief (it is the only article I published with them that needed that much editing, which tells you something).

Third, I always felt uncomfortable with the necessary linearity of a thesis, when I always wanted to show my jumbled up thoughts that held connections all over the place, because I could not put my thoughts into neat linear things into the thesis. In my head, they were not. I am not a particularly visual person but I was still seeing my thesis that way.

Four, the love-hate thing: I wanted to be able to make fun of my thesis…

Five, I hope to someday soon present my thesis to the AUC audience. I don’t want to bore them to death. I want to really highlight what’s important but in an open way that invites criticism and even hacking from their side (hence point four above)

How I thought to hack my thesis
Idea #1: Newspaper/magazine headlines. Use key findings or analyses from my thesis chapters and make them like a magazine with catchy headings

Idea #2: some kind of visual that’s more than just a concept map, maybe an infographic or something? But it’s not gelling right now. Not a visual person, you know?

Idea #3: cartoons? Not sure I can make them funny enough but it would be cool… Maybe not even necessarily funny ones, maybe like the serious memes idea, so serious memes or cartoons, but something to get the message across faster

What I did try is to put my thesis abstract and acknowledgments into one of those online “word jumbler” things that mixes it up and of course it came out ridiculous looking, and I thought, “that’s a waste of everyone’s time, I want to so something meaningful”.

I gotta go now… Ideas?

17 Comments

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