A Warm Welcome
Director at Pax Leader Labs
Assoc. Lecturer, Macquarie University.
Assoc. Lecturer, Macquarie University.
Awarded one of the top 100 sustainability leaders in the world.
In 2007 I made the crazy decision to start my PhD, and only a few days ago (four years later - working full time and studying part time) it was sent off to external examiners, done, all done and I am so relieved!
When I first submitted my application to do the PhD I really only had a vague idea of what I wanted to do. Something on leadership and something on sustainability? Luckily the people who read my application didn't take offence to my lack of clarity. I think they looked at my existing qualifications and just thought I was likely to make it through to the end. Application stamped: accepted, and there I was stuck with a mountain to climb.
The first thing I did was buy three thick exercise books. In these I planned to write all my references as well as how I thought about them and all my ideas on theory and what I planned and... and... and... Good plan. I ended up using just three pages in each book. As it turns out taking the time to write notes by hand wasn't my cup of tea. I preferred a slightly chaotic, by the seat of my pants approach to writing which wasn't always fun for my supervisors!
In the end I had three supervisors over the four years. The first was a nightmare. He wanted me to do his research for him and couldn't have cared less about what I wanted to investigate. The second was a dream come true. She was wise and kind and very patient with me. She taught me about wisdom and humility, lessons I never thought I would learn while I was writing my great tome. Amazing woman. The third was a knight in shining armour.
My perfect second supervisor was offered her perfect job at another University and of course she went. I put in all the proper paper work to follow her, but by that time I had been a little too successful and my University said no, I was worth too much to them. This meant I had to complete my great tome on my own. The substitute supervisor I was given courageously took over, knowing nothing of my topic, but he was brave and dedicated and, somehow, we got through the final part of the journey.
Done, submitted, finished, complete. Strange words when you spend four years working on something every day (actually it was every night after work...)
I suppose I thought the final moment would feel like an elation. I picked up the big box of printing and took it back to my office at the Uni, split it open and there it was, beautifully 'soft' bound for the examiners. It was nearly ten centimetres thick at the spine. I expected to be thrilled but it just seemed alien. This was the first time I had seen it outside of my computer and I discovered that I had bonded with the digital version, the hard copy just didn't seem to belong to me, despite my name being emblazoned across it.
So that was it. Mountain climbed.
Upon reflection, it was the journey that I loved, much more than the summit. I went to three amazing conferences, met incredibly important thinkers in my area and published two papers in the highest tier of science. Each step left me wondering of what else I was capable of and my wonderful supervisor just kept encouraging me. Looking back it was an incredibly personal journey where each small achievement became a very important base camp for the next part of the climb. I definitely surprised myself!
Writing of all kinds is deeply personal I find. Before I started my PhD I wrote fiction, terrible stories of apocalyptic fiction, all of which are yet to be published in any significant way. When I write fiction I write my nightmares, the flipside to the PhD. My PhD was on sustainability, my fiction writing is on what happens if we fail.
It amazes me that anyone can be in denial about climate change or dwindling resources. As a psychologist I am used to denial. My favourite joke is: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? One. But the light bulb has to want to change! And I always laugh at my own jokes (you need a good sense of humour if you are psychologist!) But how can people deny that our lifestyle, our world really, is ending when there are massive floods, fires, earthquakes and tsunamis?
I heard the other day that there is only ten years of Helium left in the world. So, yes, only ten years of party balloons left in the world. But also, only ten years for MRI's, ultrasounds and many other kinds of medical instruments to work. These instruments rely on helium to cool them, no helium, no testing for so many deadly illnesses and no help for unborn children. And yet, right now, we use 16% of this dwindling resource for party balloons and air-ships that sail over sporting events.
Some say that technology will save us, that we will adapt. It's a nice idea, however we have been unable to do that ALL times in the past. Read Jared Diamond's "Collapse" where civilisation collapse is recorded very eloquently, and you will see that human beings don't save their civilisations through technology, they simply use up all the resources and fail. The reason technology fails is because it takes resources to make resources. In the case of Helium, it would take a nuclear explosion to make a surprisingly small amount. We aren't as clever as we think we are. Not yet.
Can we beat our horrible history? I don't know. I do know that we have to think very differently from our ancestors to do it, and that's what my work, my research is striving toward. I believe that human beings can be great, but we have to get past denial first.
Life is a journey. Nothing surer than that. We all have to walk our own road and those who avoid it end their lives with regrets. I believe that is true of us a species too. We are on a journey. We want to be wise, we want to be good people, but that takes courage.
My hope is that we have the courage to truly love each other and the world we live on. I believe we can. It just takes courage.
*Footnote... the examiners may want me to make changes so this PhD summit may yet to be reached! But it will, nothing surer, and then I will get to see it in hard bound which may be more impressive than the soft bound one was, I may yet bond with the hard copy!
Louise Metcalf, guest blogger