New directions

28 10 2013

Writing a doctoral thesis can be a long and lonely test of endurance and confidence. I’ve spent the last three years starting and stopping this particular dance. Things I’ve learned along the way are that:

1. The biggest of feats can only be accomplished by the successive and persistent completion of small goals. The scale of a PhD project is by no means a lifetime’s amount of work, but before you’ve crossed the threshold of a complete and solid draft, the 200,000 words or more (plus art in my case) can seem daunting. My struggle has been to stay motivated but I’ve found breaking down the project into bite-sized pieces has helped me to deal.

2. Plans are meant to be changed. As I reach another crossroad in my research I’m finding that I have to pair the project down again. I started things with big dreams to create a project that connected Philippine digital artists, visually represented the diaspora community in real-time, and spoke to a greater trend of open sharing facilitated by the internet and ICTs. Rather lofty aspirations which are all entirely valid and attainable however maybe not realistic for one mere PhD Project. Maybe so if I wanted to complete my PhD in 20 years but as it stands I know of know of no post-graduate program or funding body that will support such work from a PhD candidate ūüėČ Garnering support is a process and for now it is essential that I pair the work down to a scale that fits my current time and financial restrictions. This in fact makes the project more focussed and valid and most importantly more able to see the light of day.

3. Stay focussed. Don’t take on too much. In the course of doing this research, as it is with most eager and able post-graduate researchers exciting opportunities perpetually dangle within your field of view. I have designed and taught a digital humanities course about networked communities, I have presented my papers at exciting conferences in the UK and Canada and have initiated several research projects one of which perpetuated dialogue between scholars in OCAD University and Goldsmiths. All of these are important to the larger picture of a healthy and vibrant academic career, but none of these are as important as getting the PhD done.

And so I am here. I have officially completed 2 years and am currently in my second year of ‘official interruption’. I started the ¬†project in the 2010-11 academic year. Took leave 2011-12 for the birth of my beautiful daughter (the second of my little monsters). Returned for furiously fast year 2012-13 where I taught, wrote, initiated projects, bought a house, watched my eldest start school and my dad start dialysis treatments for his renal failure. And now, 2013-14, I am on leave again recovering from a badly broken collarbone that required the surgical implant of substantial piece of metal in my shoulder (I have a medical note for metal detectors and I can forecast the onset of a storm better than my iPhone). While I heal my broken wing, I will make art, write, make art, write and write some more. ¬†My plan is to get this PhD done within two years.

One significant shift that has occurred is that I am consciously putting ‘the practice’ back into the ‘practice-based PhD’. ¬†Somewhere along the way I got lost in the engagement of literature and conferences and writing and I am trying to tie this all into to my art practice. I of course have the work I have done with the data set of images in the colonial archives in Seville, Spain but I am currently looking into a project a came across several years ago spear-headed by Lev Manovich. Manovich’s Cultural Analytics project hacks a medical visualization program initially meant for (MRIs?) ¬†called ImageJ to create visualizations that explore the large data sets of images being generated by social media, film, design, etc. The project is open source so welcomes public exploration into newer avenues. In fact, in a talk by Manovich at OCAD University in 2011, he was hoping to encourage public adoption of this project to possibly deepen and widen the scope of this method of cultural analysis.

I aim to use this method to visualize the presence of the Filipina online. A large part of the current Philippine diaspora has started from the initial casting of women as domestic labourers along foreign shores to work as care givers in the homes of young families and the elderly. ¬†These women save a potion of their wages to send back ‘home’ to their children and families and they are leaving a digital trail in online communications as they work to stay in connected with the lives they left behind.

I hope to embark on this project as a continuation of my initial visual exploration of the archives in Seville. Both these initiatives help to define and visualize the Philippine diaspora.

Life is a rich and exciting journey. While I am healing my broken wing I am working on completing the little things, staying flexible and maintaining focus.

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