Many thanks to Rosie, Tony and Joh for commenting on my last post. It’s great to get feedback and your comments were really helpful. The essence of what I took from the comments is: the focus of the blog is fine, and I need to worry less for blog posts about perfect content or fully-developed ideas. So here goes with my second post.
This is a mind map capturing some of my reflections at the end of the first week of term, seven whole days of transition! As you can see, there’s been quite a lot going on. (Click on the picture to see the original pdf). As I was drawing it, two themes stood out for me in particular so I’ll expand on them here a bit.
The first theme is ignorance. I’ve had a massive wobble over the past couple of weeks as it has become clear to me just how much I don’t know. This includes things I wasn’t aware of (painful but exciting), and also things that I thought I knew but in fact I don’t (painful and embarrassing). I was kind of expecting it, but it’s always a disconcerting experience. The temptation to over-use what I do know has been strong, and I’ve given in to it a few times more than I would have liked. I think that’s probably a universal temptation, I just hope for the sake of my classmates that I haven’t been spouting absolute bullshit.
Digging around on the net I’ve found a couple of resources which I think explain the phenomenon really well: James Atherton’s Doceo blog and the University of Arizona Medical School’s Q-Cubed micro-site , in particular their splendid Ignorance Map. Acknowledging ignorance is an necessary part of increasing knowledge: painful but unavoidable. In other words, if I can stick with the discomfort and embarrassment, they will point me in the right direction. This is much easier at 46 than it was at 18 – hooray! But that lurch on moving into conscious ignorance never goes away.
The second theme is belonging. My starting point is that we humans are hard-wired to be tribal and territorial. I don’t think I’m alone in this, Edmund Burke noticed it also (half way down para 75 – thanks for the tip, Tony). Being tribeless is not an easy place to be, and since I left paid work in July I’ve been feeling a bit adrift. I’m extraverted and gregarious by nature and I miss being part of an organisation. And so I was impatient for the start of term, so that I would have somewhere to fit in. Of course, life isn’t quite like that.
Starting a new job, there is a formal organisational structure, an explicit and an unwritten culture to engage with, and sometimes even a formal induction programme to help you find your feet. Starting at university gives you some of that, and everyone at both Kellogg and Ling/Phil has worked hard to ensure that students feel welcome. This is much appreciated, and I hope that I can contribute to my college and department as well as receive. But I guess one of the advantages of being a student is the freedom to create my own social space and tribe. Some of the people I met in my first freshers’ week in 1985 are still close friends now, and with luck that will happen this time around too.
My personal challenge is that I’m a past master of the ambitious deadline. Part of me would like all my social stuff to be sorted now, and so I am working hard to remember that actually I haven’t had time to build the relationships and I need to go with the flow. My unaware-unknowns in this case are the thousands of people across the university that I haven’t yet met. A great evening yesterday with the OULGBTQ-Graduates (it’s not just the NHS that does crazy initialisms!) was a good reminder that I need to keep creating opportunities and making space to build networks. This particular literature search never ends. There’s something here about parallels between EndNote and Facebook but I’ll think about that another time.
As before, your thoughts, comments and feedback are most welcome. I’m particularly interested in two questions. How does this match or differ from your experience in similar situations? What have I missed?