Saturday, October 18, 2008

Progress? What progress?

Being a PhD student contains many inherent contradictions, or mental struggles, that one must face in order to create meaning in the experience. The first of these is the debunking of "science" and the tearing down of the walls of academic hubris that seem to stand between the novice and the doctoral title. I, possibly along with many others, still feel the esoteric awe and draw of the PhD - that my aim should be as high and as noble as those people whose academic papers I am constantly asked to refer to, and that my scope can only be all-encompassing in order to say anything worthwhile.

There are many hints as one travels along this path, however, that this is actually not "rocket science" (I'm not including PhDs in Rocket Science, of course) and that you are being asked to learn the craft, not show complete mastery in it. This realisation is a beautiful thing for the novice, even when it leaves you no further up the mountain.

Another real issue for the person pursuing this study part-time yet working, somewhat paradoxically (given the finite number of hours in a day), full-time is the sinking feeling that you are making no headway. It's not that you are working on it but getting nowhere, it's just that you are not working on it at all - doing no reading and even less writing. This has been true for me in October and much of September, and although you may need to be quite selfish and ruthless about blocking out time for PhD progress, I am glad to have found that it hasn't stopped me thinking about it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could knock out a semi-coherent abstract for Lancaster about my title and intended study, which I reproduce below and which I note has changed significantly since the beginning of the year.

'Title: The impact of a Systemic, Transgenerational view of a learner's family-of-origin on Critical Reflection for higher levels of learning in post-experience Management Education.

Personal Development has become a widely used term to describe learning in an individual and organizational setting, yet many attempts at change seem to fail and truly transformational personal development remains illusive.

One of the criticisms that may be leveled at Management Education, arguably true of the 'Anglo-Saxon' business ethic also, is that it has preferred the simple solution to the complex one, even when the complex is the more insightful. Equally, as the question "am I doing the thing right?" should really be preceded by the question "am I doing the right thing?", so the commonly stated starting point in management development of "what is my goal?" might usefully be preceded by "who am I?". An unconscious understanding of self develops forcefully and early in our family system, which can include complex relationships and stories from previous generations.

By revisiting the common intellectual ancestry typified by general systems theory, circular causality and cybernetics shared between systemic family therapists and management educators who adopt experiential learning methods or view organisations as complex adaptive systems, this study will explore, over a period of two years, the effect of deliberate Critical Reflection on family-of-origin on managers who are simultaneously engaged in a professional development process.

The framework used will draw on the epistemological approach of Gregory Bateson who sought “the pattern that connects”, and whose theory of communication and model of hierarchical levels of learning have in turn influenced many in the fields of clinical and development psychology, as well as practitioners in Management Learning. Field work will encourage questioning and reflection of habitual 'taken-for-granteds' inherent in family history and development, and will investigate whether a holistic and systemic understanding of self equips managers in attaining higher levels of learning in the sphere of business and career.'

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