First week!

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.

First week learningThis 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?

12 thoughts on “First week!

  1. Colette

    Hi, great blog. I’m impressed that you have taken the plunge. It is something that I am currently thinking about but not had the time, guts and inspiration to instigate.

    I love your mind map and would like to do something similar for a year long NHS leadership development programme that I have just started which will be using lots of reflective learning. What programme did you use to draw it?

    Good luck with your course and keep up with the inspirational writing.
    Colette x

    1. stephenj Post author

      Hi Colette, thanks for the feedback. I had quite a long lead time between my initial thoughts and taking the plunge, and it was difficult because there is so much about the NHS that I enjoyed and that I’m missing.
      The mind map is from an app called SimpleMind that is available for iPad/iPhone and Mac, I’m not sure about Windows or Linux versions. I find it really intuitive and you can output as PDF. I upgraded from the free version very quickly.
      I’m interested to know about the leadership programme, let me know how it goes, and keep in touch anyway!

  2. Tony

    Still, today, when I am put in student accommodation at a conference, I am that overwhelmed 19 year old for a few seconds after the door to my room shuts. But it taught us we can leave everything and it is not the end of the world. [PS Don’t use mind maps to plan essays: my heart sinks when I see one in a student’s notes – it is an almost faultless guarantee that the structure and argument will be deranged]

    1. stephenj Post author

      Thanks, Tony, it’s good to hear that these feelings aren’t just mine alone. I didn’t talk about how lucky I am to be living at home with a supportive and tolerant partner who is coping very well with a Fresher in the house. That transition on top of everything else would be very tricky: there is enough going on as it is…
      … which is why I added the mind map. I wanted to illustrate the complexity of first week without having to go through all the detail. I actually don’t use mind maps as essay plans, but to help me understand my thoughts so far and make connections. I find this makes for a more ordered plan when I get there, and it also helps to decide what needs to stay in and what can be junked.

  3. Redge

    Ignorance is bliss! A little learning goes a long way! So many cliches, so little time… I use the competency model with trainees who are smart intelligent people, but find themselves at the bottom of a very steep learning curve – one that they didn’t entirely anticipate.
    This website has a good diagram of it – more geared to a business model, but I think it still applies in any kind of learning environment

    For me, it’s very helpful to know that feelings of ignorance and inadequacy are normal and temporary. Revisit this post in a couple of months and I’m sure you’ll have a different perspective.

    What I found most interesting about your post was the comment about over-using what you already know. I’d never really thought about this before. Care to expand? I guess that we all use certain crutches to hang new information onto what we already know until that new information has settled into our minds. In what way do you think this then becomes detrimental?

    And remember, it’s only week one…

    1. stephenj Post author

      Thank you! You must be coming across this all the time. I’ve used the competency model as well, they seem closely related.
      When I said “over-using knowledge”, I meant the temptation to compensate for feeling ignorant on a particular topic by throwing in everything about that topic that I’m halfway comfortable with. Of course, this runs the risk of further exposing ignorance, or of setting up a competitive spiral with other people playing the same game. Not good. A better way forward is to ask questions and listen, but that requires awareness of and comfort with my own ignorance. I’m getting better at resisting the temptation, but it’s always there.
      Does that make sense?

      1. Redge

        Makes complete sense.
        I think it’s also detrimental in that we tend to go off topic into (related) we feel more comfortable talking about, thereby taking the discussion off-topic.
        Mindfulness in all things (easy to say, hard to do!).

  4. Jules

    Meeting you as our images were immortalised forever immediately after our rite of passage into this wonderful (and at times strange) new country … I had a thought; admittedly not a particularly lucid thought – but what would you expect standing next to a psychiatrist?!

    However, what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in the depths of its cliche: If you don’t get lost, how can you ever hope to find yourself? I offer it up in humility and gratitude. :)

    1. stephenj Post author

      Thanks, Jules. The ‘loss’ bit is interesting. I’ve certainly given up many of the roles I had in my paid work, and I’m missing lots of them. I think that some of this term will be about discovering how many of the roles were solely about the job and so have gone (for the time being?) and how many of them were about the way in which I did the job. For the latter, I need to work out how they might be relevant to study and how I could carry on with them.
      And now I’m girding my loins for second week.

  5. Jules

    As you start your second week, some words to ponder from the great man, himself,
    Mr Shakespeare:

    To unpath’d waters,
    undream’d shores;

    (Camillo: The Winter’s Tale. IV:iv)

  6. Dorothy Jones

    You were always a brave explorer, from the park to the bridges of Paris. I look forward to following the footprints.

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