Doing a PhD in Kelly country (Margaret Hickey)

"Lots of holes"
Photo by Rob Patrick |
I like saying that I am doing a PhD.

It’s a bit like saying my husband looks like George Clooney. I say it modestly, but I know that the other person is going to be impressed.

The trouble is that there’s a big gap between saying you're doing a PhD and actually doing the PhD. It’s like the gap between what my husband actually looks like compared to George Clooney. Huge.

Where I come from, not many people have a PhD. A few of my friends are studying by distance, and some are considering a postgraduate course, but I can only think of one person in the Glenrowan region who is actually undertaking a PhD. A neighbour, who is a farmer from Glenrowan West, says that he already has a PhD: it’s in building fences, and called a ‘Post Hole Digger’. So, maybe that makes three of us.

In a way, our qualifications are not that different. I spend my evenings digging around for relevant findings; I create piles of references and sift through evidence. More often than not, I find myself in a big hole.

So, when I say that I am ‘doing’ my PhD, what I mean is I'm spending my time floundering around in different holes – bush narrative, feminist theory, post modernism, and ecology – and trying to dig myself out, or at least to begin the process of nailing some concepts down.

Writing a PhD can be a lonely process, but perhaps it's even more so when you live in a regional area.

The closest town near where I live is Glenrowan in Northeast Victoria. While Glenrowan boasts a 6-metre tall statue of Ned Kelly in the main street, a post office, pub, general store, primary school, and a footy oval (home to the Kelly Tigers, 2014 Premiers!), it isn't yet a hub of learning. La Trobe's Shepparton and Albury-Wodonga campuses are both one hour away, and I am fortunate enough to work at both as a Student Learning lecturer.

Without a bank of scholars nearby from whom I can draw inspiration, it can feel isolating.

As well as that, the workshops on writing, supervisors and academics in the field, and presentations and public forums relevant to my interests are most often held in Melbourne.

But, before you hear the violin strings start up, and the refrain of ‘poor me!’, I want to say that I chose to live in the bush. I simply wouldn’t have it any other way.

My PhD is in Creative Writing, and my exegesis focuses on connection to land in contemporary Australian literature. For the creative section, I am writing a novel about a family set in a small country town.

Sometimes, when I am feeling sorry for myself and cursing the decision to move back to the country, I look out my window at the canopy of gum trees and the sweeping views across the valley toward the Great Dividing Range, and I think, “I’m living my central thesis!”

It’s not a bad position to be in, and with online tools to facilitate and encourage research students (such as Twitter, RED program offerings, The Thesis Whisperer, and the Australasian Association of Writing Programs site), I think I’m about to start writing.

Maybe my husband looks a little like George Clooney after all?


Margaret Hickey is an Associate Lecturer in Student Learning. 

She grew up in country Victoria and is currently working on her PhD in Creative Writing and her second novel. She studied English Literature at Monash University, and has travelled extensively throughout the Middle East and Asia.

Margaret is a published playwright and her plays have been performed in Melbourne and New York. This October, her newest play, Us, will be performed at La Mama in Carlton.

She tweets at @mhickey2015.