Once a wallflower

Emerging protea (Photo by Tseen Khoo)

I started this post wanting to write about the value of participating, and the context of not-participating.

It got a bit long.

When I was an undergraduate, meandering through my Arts degree and waiting for purpose to strike, I felt incapable of participating properly in tutorials. I hated them. I was happy to listen to the better lecturers and tutors discuss things about the subject, and I usually had no significant questions to ask during the smaller classes. If only there was more of an understanding of us introverted types (which seems all the vogue right now), and allowance for leveraging my listening skills as an introvert. Maybe I should’ve just faked it.

Dreading these forums for learning, and knowing that a percentage of marks were allocated to just showing up, my undergraduate years were conflicted. Being introduced to the scope of knowledge materials and the expert-led winnowing of topics (however biased) thrilled me, but the compulsory face-time that brought me very little insight and a lot of angst tempered my enthusiasm.

Conversely, I loved lectures. They required minimal engagement with the lecturer or your peers, and I could get excited or confused at my leisure. Excitement I’d channel through assignments and reading, confusion I’d address by visits to the library to read around topics or terms of which I was ignorant. This dynamic suited my learning style really well. Plus: double-bonus if there was no project work (yeah, not a fan of that either).

Thinking back on my earlier university experiences now, I think I would’ve thrived very happily if social media interaction was an option for discussion and presentation. That said, would I have completed my degree(s) with the siren-call of Twitter, blogging, and IM technology so loud and clear before me?

For many years after the chronic disengagement I had in undergrad tutes, I was convinced that I was just not a participator, not the kind of person who’d volunteer for projects, or put my name down for events (though this latter one may have something to do with the fact that I didn’t turn up to a highschool ‘meeting’ about Sports Day and ended up as a contestant in the 800m race…).

What I’ve come to realise – with that magical 20/20 hindsight – is that I’m actually a big participator. I’ll put myself forward to do things all the time, as long as they don’t involve taking the stage (I’d never volunteer to be a key speaker). Part of my steadily increasing level of participation in various academic and cultural things is due to a basic consolidation of self-confidence and experience, but it is also the recurrent realisation across the board that unless I’m willing to show some initiative and commitment to something, I won’t get much out of it.

I do kvetch at times about the AASRN and how much time/angst goes into it (it’s all true, though complaining about it sometimes appears unseemly), but I’ve had immeasurable benefits from the connections I’ve made, momentum in the field that was created, and feeling of an intellectual community that has accrued. There are elements of it that still make me want to punch a wall (not always metaphorically) but, overall, it has been fab. I’ve felt similarly during my shorter involvement with organisations like ACSANZ and INASA.

From working with each of these organisations, I’ve gained excellent academic buddies and, it has to be said, their company was a major reason for me to stay in academia proper for as long as I did. Similarly, their company is what makes me hanker for academia every once in a while, even though work/life balance and day-to-day wellbeing is much better served by my current situation.

The current job grants me freedom after-hours. I seem intent on filling those after-hours with overly ambitious writing outcomes, but it channels me into productivity from which I can gain concrete and satisfying results regularly.

I’m also already embedded in building a new professional network within research development work – the Research Whisperer has kickstarted this process like nothing else. As part of a member institution, we are considered part of ARMS. I’ve yet to attend one of their conferences, though, and am waiting to hear back about the abstract Jonathan and I have submitted to this year’s conference.

Now that I’m such a convert to participating, I look back on how I was as an undergrad and see so many missed opportunities. I hadn’t thought beyond what was on offer and, because I was disappointed and didn’t seem to mesh with what the standard format was, decided it was probably my fault for being incapable of participating in those ominously quiet tutorials. My current habit of collecting roles and extra-curricular doings may well be me trying to make up for many years of removing myself from anywhere near the stage, even the wings (which are where I’m most comfortable and do my best work).

About Tseen Khoo

Dr Tseen Khoo is a lecturer in research education and development in Melbourne. In previous incarnations, Tseen has been a research grant developer, and also a research fellow. She founded a national research network (AASRN), edited an academic journal for 5 years, and has been part of successful major competitive grants. Other than that, she can be quite normal.

One response to “Once a wallflower”

  1. fiajawhiteman says :

    kvetch is a Tseen word!

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