Beginnings, endings and lifetimes

The past few weeks have reminded me of the importance of rituals to mark beginnings, endings and the lifetimes in between.

At work, we have celebrated new jobs and roles, baby showers, reunions, farewells and retirements.

 

With family and friends, we have celebrated my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary (pictured below, the tie my father wore to get married in 1969), birthdays, winter solstice and 100 days of learning for the Kindergarten kids at school.

These celebrations has been a break from ordinary routines and an opportunity to acknowledge successes, transitions and milestones.

The event that sparked this post was the retirement of my PhD supervisor, Professor Nick Mansfield, who first taught me as an undergraduate student nearly 25 years ago. In the University’s recent Higher Degree Research newsletter, we reflected on our relationship (thanks to Sally Purcell for organising this):

HDR Dynamic Duos
Agnes Bosanquet

How did you come to know each other?

Nick taught me as an undergraduate student in Cultural Studies. I’m surprised to say that was over twenty years ago! He was an inspiring teacher, bringing complex theory to life in relatable ways – so much so I made Cultural Studies my major.

What was a particular hurdle you worked through, together?

In 2006, Nick became my third PhD supervisor. I had previously tutored on his units, but I think he was the Head of Department who took on the troublesome students. I had a sick baby and had gone AWOL from my thesis. Nick saved my thesis from what Inger Mewburn, the thesis whisperer, calls the valley of shit.

What do you appreciate most about Nick?

I had not realised supervision could be so engaging, generous, thoughtful, reliable and compassionate. My greatest obstacle to completion was my daughter’s illness. My thesis focussed on the philosophy of Luce Irigaray, and I wrote my experiences into the thesis. It became a way of testing the weight and resonance of feminist philosophies on motherhood, which I found wanting. I know the approach of my thesis was challenging at times – in fact, Nick annotated ‘This makes me very nervous!’ in the margin. We had wonderful conversations.

You have known each other for many years now. What have you learnt from Nick?

I have learned a lot from Nick. I submitted in 2009, and graduated in 2010 with my partner, daughter and parents in the audience. Nick wrote a reference for my first academic role, in the Learning and Teaching Centre at Macquarie. My manager at the time said it was one of the most well-written references he’d read. Many people told me I was committing career suicide by taking on a part-time, teaching-focussed academic role; Nick was positive and focussed on the possibilities.

I’m still at Macquarie, now Associate Dean (Curriculum) in the Faculty of Human Sciences. My daughter is now a teenager, and Nick has also trodden that ground before me. He told me of the many things he enjoyed about parenting teenagers, and some days I need to remind myself of these. Nick has been a role model for how I supervise my MRes and PhD students. In a way, the skill is similar to parenting teenagers – getting the balance right between providing support and encouraging independence. My slow PhD has been a useful learning experience to support others.

Nick Mansfield

How did you come to know each other?

I remembered Agnes from her undergraduate years and when she as a tutor so when she approached me to be her Supervisor, I felt that I knew her quite well already. I had already worked with a number of candidates who, through no fault of their own, had multiple supervisors and Agnes had the additional issue of an interrupted candidature because of her child’s illness. My first impressions of Agnes as a PhD candidate were that she was witty, reflective and a sophisticated thinker.

What was a particular hurdle you worked through, together?

There were a couple of hurdles that Agnes and I worked through together. Agnes had already done a significant amount of work when I became her Supervisor and her project was a very original take on a prominent and influential philosopher which was intellectually risky because it challenged the orthodox thinking. Additionally, Agnes also had to cope with her daughter’s serious and unpredictable illness. Agnes attended a conference led by the philosopher and raised views that were considered unorthodox. I was impressed with Agnes’ courage to pursue new ideas in the face of resistance.

What do you appreciate most about Agnes?

Her courage and her strength. I admired her perseverance to continue with her project when there were so many personal challenges. Agnes’ determination never faltered in pursuing her creative and inventive approach to her PhD project. The personal and intellectual excitement for her thesis meant that our discussions were buoyant, engaging and we were both passionate about her ideas.

You have known each other for many years now. What have you learnt from Agnes?

How to maintain composure in very trying circumstance. Often our meetings followed a period where Agnes had been at the hospital with her daughter and had meetings with Doctors and I was always impressed with Agnes’ capacity to reflect on the experiences and share anecdotes in an almost light-hearted way. I observed how Agnes continued to maintain her commitment to her PhD which is a difficult undertaking even when there are not additional challenges. The word resilience can be over-used and yet it describes Agnes well. Agnes has a mature attitude and has a great life-force. There is a lot to learn from Agnes’ natural wisdom and I enjoy her wit and openness.

Happy celebrating!

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