When I enrolled in this long slog of a PhD, in 2005, I had both a supervisor and an assistant supervisor. The supervisor was inspirational but rather distant, and the assistant supervisor (not my choice but appointed by the institution) was uninterested and also distant. Don't get me wrong: I didn't need handholding or close supervision; I needed inspiration and encouragement. But sometimes I would feel like no-one really cared much about what I was doing. At that time I didn't have any contact with other PhD students - twitter hadn't been invented and most of the the few PhD blogs I could find weren't in my area of interest. By mid-2006 I had set up what would eventually become my main data source - a group of students who could blog their PhDs. In the meantime I was reading and thinking and taking notes and sometimes blogging here. Two of the seminal articles I discovered, that I still return to, were "Forged in Fire: Narratives of Trauma in PhD Supervision Pedagogy" (Lee & Williams 1999) and "The PhD and the Autonomous Self: Gender, Rationality and Postgraduate Pedagogy" (Johnson, Lee & Green 2000). In mid-December of 2006 I wrote this (in which I was astounded that someone could write about PhD in Australia without referring to the work of Alison Lee), and a month later I was able to write this, a short report on a meeting that Alison initiated - she came to meet me at my campus - to talk about my work, which as the post shows, boosted my confidence greatly.
This meeting was typically generous of Alison. A few weeks later she invited me to talk to her newly enrolled doctoral students about blogging. I'm not sure how good I was that day - I was recovering from an achilles tendon repair. But she gave me the chance. We communicated occasionally, and caught up at the QPR conferences in 2008 and 2010 - in 2010 it was a pleasure to be able to congratulate her on 'making prof'. I continued to follow her work - she has now been the driving force behind three edited books on PhD theory and practice: Changing Practices of Doctoral Education (2008), Reshaping Doctoral Education (2009), and Publishing Pedagogies for the Doctorate and Beyond (2010) Her name is on more publications in my Endnote library than any other. Her latest book is about professional and practice education, a subject she told me in 2010 that she was moving on to consider. From the UTS website, this is one of her latest projects.
I know other PhD students whom she has encouraged and supported to join the small but vibrant Australian research community on doctoral theory and practice. She wasn't at QPR in April this year, because, Inger told me, she had pancreatic cancer. I was saddened and horrified that she would have to face this illness. This week she passed away and I am now so sad that she won't be contributing any more to our understanding of PhD process, boldly theorising and writing clearly from a pedagogical base in an environment where managerial considerations are paramount. She has inspired me now over seven years and will continue to inspire me with her courage and her rare ability to theorise, while always relating her thinking to actual practice and real experience. There seems to me no higher aim for someone doing academic work, and she achieved it.
Thank you, Alison. Thank you for encouraging me when I was green and uncertain, and for shaping my thinking in the biggest thing I have ever attempted.