The PhD experience at Flinders University – Dr Gaylene Denford-Wood

Dr Gaylene Denford-Wood was a 2018 recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Doctoral Thesis Excellence. We asked Gaylene to share her thoughts about her PhD and what the experience was like at Flinders. 

Gaylene, what led you to want to undertake a PhD?

I had embarked before on a PhD. As a senior lecturer at the time, in another university with a multiplicity of ‘developmental’ balls in the air, my one-day-a-week designated research day evaporated and for a variety of reasons my PhD was abandoned. Even though I succeeded in bringing that work to a premature conclusion, I carried a sense of incompletion, thrilled nevertheless, with an unexpected invitation to write a chapter for a prestigious publication.

Then I took a break, re-evaluated everything and the next research question ‘found’ me as much as I found it. Paying careful attention to refine this new question, devoting time and consideration to it, I soon saw that this was the real PhD research I longed to do.

What are some of the most valuable things you got from the experience?

I learned how to hone my research skills, refine my writing, simplify complex ideas, micro-manage my time, say ‘No’ early and often to distractions, to not feel hard-done-by making many social sacrifices, discern which of the ‘small stuff’ was worth sweating – and I learned to live the methodology. Meeting the participants who became co-researchers in their own right and feeling inspired by the coherence of their highly individualised and nuanced narratives was like pure gold that gave me hope when occasionally the going got tough.

Looking back, what a luxury and a privilege it was to be able to immerse myself in the research question for three – four years. I felt, and still feel, enormous gratitude to those who made it all possible. Most significantly, I learned that by taking the road less travelled, I could create a unique SOCK – a Christmas stocking metaphor – (Significant Original Contribution to Knowledge) with its potential to be of service to others. 

Is there anything specific about your experience as a research student at Flinders that helped you succeed?

With postgraduate experience (staff and student) of five universities, I can say unequivocally that my Flinders experience was ‘head and shoulders’ above the rest. Simply put, a candidate might feel that their ‘stars have lined up’ and drives their will to succeed on the path of a PhD … but that has to be institutionally matched by the university in which they’re enrolled, being able to systemically join the dots. I could elaborate at length. Suffice to say that in my case Flinders University did it so well that a solitary student sitting in a shoebox study in another country felt more connected, more supported, and more research valued than another may feel right on campus with physical access to people and resources.

I was invited to join a SWAPv Research special interest group and Skyped into the meetings so I got to know other staff and PhD students in our shared field of endeavour.  My supervisors were genuinely interested in my work. Each was an expert in her own field of our common interest. They were consummate communicators – consistently encouraging, whilst not hesitating to demand more of me. From proposal stage to graduation, they stayed the distance! The Dean’s weekly Vlogs, often highly relevant to my stage of progress, provided further substance for self-review. The staff in the Office of Graduate Research were exemplary in their support at key points in my progress. I wear my alumni Flinders badge every day in gratitude and celebration!

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