Story of Dr Genine Hook
I had no intention of doing a PhD. I didn’t have an idea of what a PhD even was or meant as an undergraduate or even at the beginning of my Honours degree. In this regard I would have been a typical university student, aiming for a qualification that was employment orientated rather than looking past undergraduate level and beyond. This is one element of this Rising Stars project that I hope will have some impact; to think about ways to encourage and inform all undergraduates to project beyond an undergraduate degree. I think this is important because the ‘Rising Stars’ of Australia’s research community may be people who don’t understand themselves as potentially in this category; imposter syndrome is common in higher education.
I had a brief and unsatisfactory university experience as a 17 year old and after dropping out I had a sense that a degree was un-finished business, so when I was at home caring for my first child, I enrolled in an Arts degree at a regional university. Days before my first class, I became a sole parent which I feel shaped my determination and also the pressure I felt to complete a degree and get a good job to provide for my son on my own.
I cruised through my degree but wanted the opportunity to write something like the journal articles I began to read in a difficult social theory class I took in 3rd year. By then I was at Monash University, they offered me a scholarship so I asked my favourite academic to supervise my thesis. Monash upgraded my scholarship to a PhD level and I chased the ‘free’ money rather than the PhD itself.
My orientation toward postgraduate research was firmly embedded in my own experiences of being a sole parent-university student. I was personally angered that the institution seemed to have no idea that sole parents were even enrolled in PhD programs, much less providing for them. Night classes, no childcare and no funding that took into consideration caring responsibilities is an equity issue and one that I explored in my PhD research. I think universities still think students are young and unencumbered, living at home with part-time jobs, when in reality this is only the case for a very few privileged students.
I loved working through my thesis, I loved the theory, the reading, the writing and the arguing. I began with feminist theory, moved to gender theory and a Butlerian analysis and towards Queer theory and exploring alternatives ways of being and belonging. I don’t recall not enjoying doing my PhD, I loved it; I call it my purple patch. The thesis is now a book; Sole Parent Students and Higher Education: Gender, Policy and Widening Participation, published by Palgrave Macmillan, and I hope that other university student-parents and particularly sole parents will read it, or even just see it on the shelves of their university library and get a sense that university is for them and that they should persist.
I am now an ECR, an Early Career Researcher, fortunately I have a permanent full-time ongoing academic lecturing position. In a sector with 60% teaching delivered by sessional casual staff this is too rare. Post-PhD, to be ‘rising’ in academia is about chasing jobs, pushing out publications, honing teaching skills and worrying about student survey results. I have had three jobs at three different universities in three different states in three years post-PhD, it is exhausting and alienating. I would argue that a PhD rules you OUT of more jobs that it qualifies you for. This precarity is not something universities talk enough about and something I hope this project will explore is some detail. I feel the sector needs stronger ethics and discussions about the utility of PhD’s, what it costs and where it may get you. Now I’m on the other side of PhD-land, working as an academic, I have found that many academics are tired, stressed and grumpy. Good colleagues are hard to find, and there is a somewhat manic focus on workloads and union bargains rather than ideas and theory.
My research focus remains on promoting equity in higher education. I am writing about imposter syndrome, particularly for mature-aged female students who are too often undermined by their families and also lack institutional support. I am still interested in how students with caring responsibilities negotiate university education and what services and supports universities provide for this large and growing cohort of students.
I don’t have clear professional/academic/career goals. Just to keep doing what I’m doing, to improve my teaching practice and to make a small difference to my students. My aim is to teach them content but also to draw attention to the ‘rules of the game’, to learn how university systems work and to succeed within those conditions.
I would like to work overseas at some stage and collaborate with international academics in my field and see how student-parents are accommodated in other university systems.
My message would be – If I can do it, so can you.