The PhD journey – life over 3,399 days


On March 29th, 2017 I was awarded my Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of South


Dr David Sweet with my ‘mate’ and special associate supervisor, Dr Nigel Starck.

Australia at the Graduating Ceremony.  The official conferral was in October 2016.  This higher degree research journey had numerous twists and turns, became frustrating, a joy (often in a few hours of each other), was challenging and above all I learnt so much.  I completed the PhD part-time, which prolonged the agony and the pleasure.  Probably the biggest learning curve has been accepting how little I know.  However, that understanding only opens up the options for further challenges in the realm of research.  Following are some of the (edited) highlights and challenges of my epic journey.

The journey

  • 3,399 days from start to completion
  • Started as a two volume Professional Doctorate
  • 83+ versions written
  • Wrote 230,000 words
  • Final version as a PhD is 109,728 words (inc footnotes and Reference List)
  • 52 people interviewed
  • 57 photographs used
  • 798 references
  • 230 other books devoured
  • Thesis examined by one Australian and one Canadian academic

Allied activities

  • 47 sessions with a PhD reading group
  • 6 papers accepted and published
  • 28 presentations delivered
  • 5 international conferences attended and papers presented
  • 182 books added to my own library
  • 2 bureaucratic challenges with the University
  • only spat the dummy a few times


  • 11 undergraduate Courses/Subjects taught
  • 5 Post Grad subjects taught
  • 1 honours supervised student to completion
  • 1 honours student advised to reconsider
  • 7 years teaching off-shore
  • 11 teaching trips to Hong Kong and Singapore
  • Mentored 7 students (2 international)

The Family

  • 2 more grandchildren – 5 in total
  • 4 weddings (3 as the photographer)
  • 2 – 90th birthdays celebrated
  • 1 Golden wedding anniversary celebrated (not mine)
  • 4 deaths, my 2 sisters, 1 brother-in-law, 1 19 year-old nephew
  • 5 hospital admissions for me
  • 10 days in ICU at Modbury hospital
  • 2010 – 7.5 hours of micro-surgery for cancer on my face
  • many other highs and lows of life as well
  • Produced 5 photo-books
  • Completed 10.5 hours of oral history interviews in addition to my PhD interviews

There is life after a PhD

  • Traded a caravan, purchased a Motor Home
  • Reduced teaching to 2-3 subjects
  • Working on 5 research projects
  • Research-Study tour to Berkeley (California), Concordia and Western Universities (Canada) is set for August 2017.

A rocky start to this trip

Follow: My Indian experience on this link.

It has been a while since my last post.  Frustrations of finalising the PhD, buying a motor-home, a bit of local travel and of course, teaching and marking assignments.  Today I’m off to India via Dubai to present a paper on a part of my research at the International Oral History Association (IOHA) conference in Bangalore, India.  Getting a conference Visa for India has been an experience.  Three letters of approval, my own university plus an abstract of my paper to start with.  Naturally these things were not coordinated and there were last-minute delays.  The online Visa experience is challenging and the applications form is also a bit of a nightmare.  Then $180 poorer (well $360) as I got double billed the Visa arrived.

Now let’s not get confused over the Visa Card, which is a must for travelling.  On Friday my Visa Card was swallowed by an ATM.  No chance of recovery.  I didn’t realist how much the card was used for regular payment of bills.  NAB could not have been more helpful and arranged a Travel Card for me post-haste.  Then Visa Global has been exceptional.  It has arranged a temporary card for the duration of my travelling and a new card will be sent to my home.  However, the temporary card cannot reach me today, before I fly out tonight.  Not only will the temporary card be delivered to me at my hotel in Dubai, but they have specified the time so that I can sign for it.  Now that is customer service.  Kudos to NAB and Visa.

Oh and my flight was changed, but after all the other challenges, this was just the icing on the cake.  Next stop the Adelaide airport.

Almost there

About thirty minutes ago I submitted my thesis for examination.  Given the challenge to get this tome submitted before Christmas, ‘blogging’ has been a somewhat  poor relation in the past couple of months.  Marking student assignments, writing, toss in two presentations as well as the thesis, there was little time, or desire left to blog.

I have discovered that submitting a thesis for examination is a challenge as well.  It is a process of bureaucracy, getting it approved firstly by my supervisor(s), soft bound copies printed, paper-work, always the paper-work, filled out and signed and then physically depositing the three copies for examination.  Then it disappears in to the mysterious world of the Graduate Research Centre.

Then sometime later my two examiners will each have a copy posted to them, hopefully early in the new year.  One is here in Adelaide and the other in Canada.  All I know about them is what I have read of their CVs and the recommendation from my associate supervisor.  The reading and grading process can take three months.  The thesis is 90,000 words, plus the reference list, so it is not a short novel to read at leisure.  After the examiners have submitted their grade I then have about six weeks to reply to their comments (and modify the thesis) before it goes the the university academic board for confirmation.  So if all goes well I will be awarded my PhD later in 2016.

As for an update on my other research projects, the blogs will follow shortly.

Out of the ordinary

The saying goes something like this: ‘expect the unexpected’.  This past week of travel has certainly dished up the different and the interesting.  In my earlier post I wrote of my Monday in Cebu and the Cebu University.  By Tuesday I had an attack of the ‘guilts’ so I put a concerted effort in to editing the final chapter of the thesis.  Sitting at the Henry Hotel, by the pool, bottomless cup of coffee, cool water on request and the time slipped past.  No distractions – emails, texts, phone calls – then a reward at the end, a big ice-cold beer.  Around four in the afternoon I re-joined the world and walked through the back streets of downtown Cebu.  Life here in the Philippines is certainly different to that of Australia and I’m sure I’d struggle to adapt.  Tuesday night I had dinner in the hotel.

This is the Church and Convent of Santo Nino, in uptown Cebu.  First erected in 1565.  I did not realise that this was a funeral until I downloaded the photographs.  I have probably breached a protocol, although with social media now, maybe not.

This is the Church and Convent of Santo Nino, in uptown Cebu. First erected in 1565. I did not realise that this was a funeral until I downloaded the photographs. I have probably breached a protocol, although with social media now, maybe not.

While Cebu is great for some adventure tourism, diving, climbing and para-sailing the more traditional venues of museums, art-galleries, and street architecture is not high on the list of things to do here.  However, with local friends a new world opens up.  I will write this up in a more detailed segment to these blogs in the next day or so when I get all my photos organised as well.  We visited the uptown area of Cebu, looked through malls, walked the avenues, visited churches that date back to the first Spanish settlement (invasion) and then took a ferry ride across the harbour to Lapu Lapu – Mactan island.

Row upon row of candles available to light for the Catholic rite.

Row upon row of candles available to light for the Catholic rite.

Another church and so many candle sellers, and candles, which are lit at almost every shrine. We took a stroll through the attached high school (to this specific church) and then into the totally confusing labyrinth of traffic congested streets.  I didn’t notice any public transport.

There are taxis, jeeps (partially covered vans where the passenger hops on and off at their leisure) and then the trikes – motor-bike and sidecar is a lose description and pedal power.  We used them all.

A typical bike/trike.  They are often loaded with a couple of people and a pile of goods.

A typical bike/trike. They are often loaded with a couple of people and a pile of goods.

I was privileged to visit a local government office where (Vicki) the mother of my colleague and guide is the office manager and secretary to the Mayor.  Her role is a complex arrangement of formality, minute-taking, welfare, assisting tourists in difficulties and helping the local community navigate their way through the complexities of the legal system.

The 'Local Government' offices I visited and where the mother of my friend, colleague and guide, Cathy, is the office manager of the 'Barangay Buaya'.

The ‘Local Government’ offices I visited and where, Vicki, the mother of my colleague and guide, Cathy, is the office manager of the ‘Barangay Buaya’.

While her position is a normal office hour role she is well known in the community and often people will call on her at home.   I will end this blog on the mention of their home.  Vicki invited me to visit their home later that evening and to meet all of the family.  This was a surprise and I understand the importance that is placed on this offer, which I graciously accepted.

History is all around us – we just have to open our eyes

Queen Adelaide (from the publication: The story of Adelaide)

Queen Adelaide
(from the publication: The story of Adelaide)

It is four weeks since I last posted anything on my blog.  It is not because I haven’t done anything interesting, but I like to keep my posts different to the mundane activities of daily life.  My PhD writing is in the final stages – I know I keep saying that – with my new supervisor reading the thesis for the first time.  While there are suggestions and recommendations to ‘tighten up’ some of the language and add a few more references in a few places, overall he seems satisfied.  I’m treating his review as the independent examination before it goes out to the two official independent examiners – one in Australia and one overseas.

I have a couple of other projects running concurrently as well – in addition to teaching one undergraduate class (of 30 students) and stepping in for a Graduate Diploma subject whilst a colleague is overseas.  A few weeks ago I commenced the oral history research of my mother-in-law, Vida Liebelt.  The project is titled: Vida – a pastor’s wife.  So far there have been ten interviews and about eleven hours or recorded material.  Approximately six hours have been transcribed and I’m gradually undertaking the painstakingly detailed challenge of checking and correcting the transcripts against the voice.  I expect that there will be another two interviews, but I will conduct them once I have all the transcripts up to date and I can look for any gaps in the narrative.  More of this will evolve over the coming weeks and months.

About five weeks back I wrote a piece titled: Where are they now?  It was about discovering a 1965 order of service and dinner menue for 92 Queen’s Scout recipients – of whom I was one.  The research is slowly progressing.  I have met with two other Queen’s Scouts from that year and later this week I will be having lunch with one of the official party from the dinner.  While I am still unsure whether this will develop into a project or not, I’m certainly enjoying meeting with some of my fellow recipients.  There will be further updates on this as well.

During the week I heard a presentation from the Queen Adelaide Society Inc. and then on Friday (last) I visited the West Terrace Cemetary.  Both were interesting and offered some  opportunities for research community involvement as well.

The smells of summer

Brighton UK the English heatwave was only 28C

Brighton UK the English heatwave was only 28C

Yes it has been hot today – about 38C (100F for the peeps who are not metric). This morning it was nice and relaxing, sitting at the Uni cafe, marking and reading assignments. Then I wandered inside to our regular three weekly PhD reading group. That was enjoyable as always. A coffee afterwards and a non-academic chat went well also. This was followed by a 30 minute chat with a good student over her assignments and career directions.
Then I went outside and was hit with the very dry heat of an Adelaidian afternoon in summer. Walking through the stands of big river red gums and other native bush to get to my air conditioned car I was surrounded by the heady aromas of eucalypt and flowering bottle brush, some wattle and melaleuca flowers as well. Makes one happy to be is such beautiful surroundings.

Have a fun weekend – I intend to.

Oxford update

I’m starting this post with an apology. Between infrequent internet access and spending all my time exploring and experiencing the wonders of travel, my writing has not eventuated as planned. London was hectic, busy and no time to rest. However, more on this later. The train trip to Oxford was quick and without any trauma. Checked into the hotel and discovered it was 200  meters from the Wolfson College Oxford University from where I am now writing. It is a beautiful day, but the various papers are holding my interest and keeping me inside. I present tomorrow (Sunday) morning. I am prepared but have to check that it all works.  One more practice.  A formal dinner tonight after a day of presentations.  However, I will not be drinking too much – tempted though as my favorite Scotch is available.  Hopefully an update shortly and a catchup with the travels from Brighton to London and around Oxford.

Thesis Milestone — now what next?

Now I’m getting to the scary part of my thesis — the end.  I have produced the first completed draft of the research and early next week it will go to my supervisors for their critique.  Although others have read and commented on passages in the past, this is the first full review of my research, writing and arguments/theory.  There is still a long way to go and I expect it will be October or November before it is ready for submission to be marked.

That raises the next challenge, to find two suitable markers — one  Australian and another international academic.  I have some input to the list of possible markers, but no control or influence on the final selection.  Not only do these two people have to be experts in my field of research, but have the time (and desire) to mark my work.

While I have my own pile of undergraduate marking to wade through, I’m giving some thought to my next project.  The first priority will be to write, practice and polish my presentation for the conference at Wolfson College at Oxford University in July.  I’m starting to get excited over that.

As for my next ‘big’ project, I’m considering using my thesis research as a template to produce a comprehensive oral history and online photo-story of my 84 year-old mother-in-law.  Some mind-mapping on a similar project around my parents (both deceased) is possible, but a challenge.  I have a short voice recording of my mother when she was 90 (1994) so I will be looking to interview four to six of their grandchildren and calling on their memories.  So more on these projects in the coming weeks and months.

Welcome to a Baby Boomer’s Legacy

This site was created some years ago as part of a teaching exercise.  My students went on to publish great Blogs.  I spent my time reading their work and did nothing myself.  Over the coming weeks and months I hope to populate this site with comments on my interests, research, teaching and travel.  May be the odd comment on current events might surface as well.  However, it will not be a site for political ideology , or rants on other’s beliefs.