Lessons from Teaching

I recently graduated from QUT for the second time. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been back to uni since I finished up my honours thesis. Having completed this first part of my career/learning journey (and being amidst the second phase with starting at a professional services firm as a graduate), I’ve had the opportunity to return to university. Not to be taught, but to teach.

Being provided the opportunity to teach was a big achievement for me. Being a student, I found my tutors inspiring. This is what I believe made me want to be able to teach. And I’m lucky to have the opportunity to teach.

But teaching is quite a different thing from being taught. It is a different experience. A different perspective. A new way of thinking.

Teaching makes you think twice.

More than once in my class have I had to pause to think carefully to answer a student’s question. This creates a bit of a tough situation. Having the responsibility of knowledge transfer means you need to know your stuff, and you need to know it well. Regardless of how trained you are, sometimes you are thrown a curveball. These times make you stand back and assess knowledge gaps and development opportunities. What feels like a tough situation turns into an opportunity to grow.

Teaching makes you think in more ways than one.

Oftentimes, the knowledge you take for granted as a professional is difficult to transfer. This isn’t because you don’t know your stuff. It is likely due to a gap in how you understand something and how your student is able to conceptualise the topic at hand. This scenario forces you to think in new ways to effectively explain content, in turn forcing you to reassess how the topic is structured. The imperative to explain the topic to your students turns into an opportunity to look at something in a new way, which leads to benefits in day-to-day professional practice.

Teaching makes you think more deeply.

In addition to what I mention in my first point, students often have surprising and unexpected questions. These questions challenge your current thinking. This need to assess what you know makes you reconsider what you know and how deeply you know it. These challenges and reassessments point out areas to explore topics further as both an educator and as a professional.

Teaching makes you appreciate what it is to be a student.

While you are a student, you know what it is like to be a student. Teaching makes you see what it is like to be a student. Standing at front-of-class gives you a perspective on how tough and exhausting it can be to study. It forces you to think “what is important as a student?”. Knowing the key points to get across is most of the battle of educating. Getting it right lightens the load for students, and reinforces one’s knowledge.

Teaching makes you appreciate what it is to teach.

This may sound like a recursive nonsense statement. But it is true. Teaching is the only way to really understand the rigour of tertiary pedagogy. Studying is one thing, teaching another. The two must go hand in hand to reinforce and develop the other.

What new perspectives have you gained when having to teach someone something new, in or out of the classroom?

On receiving a university medal

As some of you may know/have worked out, I’m a bit of a (self-confessed) nerd. I’m a stickler for correctness, I need to always be learning something new and I’m very specific about how things need to be (anyone that’s been in a university lecture with me knows I need to sit in a specific spot and my friends need to sit in a specific order, too). Even as a very proud nerd, one thing I don’t normally do is try to show off too much; I don’t think that (showiness) is a great trait. But in the interest of being a true inhabitant of the Internet, I’m going to be on this occasion.

Going on from the above, I was obsessed with getting straight High Distinctions for my entire degree. This fell down in only the second semester of my degree with Interaction Design. That didn’t stop me from trying to aim high for the rest of the degree, regardless of what people told me was impossible and what was realistic in terms of grades. Close friends know of a specific incident regarding someone telling me it was impossible to receive straight sevens. Didn’t I prove them wrong.

I graduated with First Class Honours from my B.InfoTech(Hons) degree this past July, being the only person to from this degree in that round of ceremonies. My final GPA for honours was 7 (how impossible is it now?!). But, that’s not all I achieved,or all the university bestowed upon me.

I was honoured with the award of a QUT Medal, which is the university’s most prestigious award for graduating bachelor students. Out of the 1,400 students graduating in the July round, just 7 were awarded with a medal. This represents the top 0.005% of students.

QUT Medal
Three years of hard work pays off. 

To say I am proud is an incredible understatement. I was lucky to have incredible family, friends and educators to get me to this pinnacle. Although it sounds cliché, I could not have done it without them.

Has someone ever told you that something was impossible? How did you prove them wrong?


A framework for managing multiple vendors in an outsourcing arrangement

I’m making this post short (unlike the post’s title). After roughly twelve months, I have completed honours. After four coursework units, four research units and acceleration over summer, my 210-page thesis is done and the marks are in. Done.

My work was titled A framework for managing multiple vendors in an outsourcing arrangement, focused on IT multivendor/multisourcing practice. Rather than let twelve months and 210 pages or work sit idle, I wanted to share my work. I never wanted my work to be purely academic – it was designed with practice in mind. So here is a direct link to the work should you find yourself inclined to read an academic thesis (the chances are slim I know).

Thoughts on the work? I love comments.

On Submitting my Thesis

Eight months of painstaking work is nearly over. 51,000 words and 213 pages later, I am submitting my thesis A Framework for Managing Multiple Vendors in an Outsourcing Arrangement for examination at QUT. While I am (very openly) excited at the near completion of my second qualification (this thesis is for my honours degree), I think it is important to keep things in check.

So what did 32 weeks of hard work teach me? A lot, and that’s outside of what I learnt about IT multivendor outsourcing. While research has been an exhausting, stressful and exciting experience, I think there is a lot to learn from the experience before saying all is done and dusted.

The first thing I learnt is that you must always have a “Plan B” (and Plan C wouldn’t go astray either) research. Given the size and complexity of everything, it’s important to have a second way out. I must admit I’m not great at this: it’s often either my way works or it’s time to start a yelling match (always at my Mac that probably did nothing to deserve that kind of treatment). The one thing I’m going to take away from this is have someone else there to help you find Plan B; in my case it was my supervisors that did that. I’m thankful they had a Plan A and Plan B all along (I suspect they were both probably planned up to Plan X though).

Secondly, never trust Word. While I respect what Microsoft does in developing and supporting a gigantic, feature-packed office suite, Word’s performance and reliability starts to break down at around a 100-page document. When you’re working for hours on end on a 200+ page document, the last thing you want is a crash. I learnt that the best thing to do is create a template with all the layout, styles and bits and bobs you want, and then use it as a pseudo-template. Do things in bits (chapters for me, that is how serious things get). Save frequently. Backup often. Version. Just always do one thing: don’t trust your computer not to crash.

Some of the other things I learnt were small but valuable lessons. I really should know these things by now, but who has time to try and remember these sorts of things?

  • Have a plan and keep a journal. Do this from the beginning.
  • Ask for help (this is one of my biggest issues).
  • Use mind maps. A lot of them.
  • If something isn’t right the first time, iterate.
  • Know when to stop writing (this is a hard problem).
  • Don’t trust EndNote or any of the academic databases to get citations right automatically.
  • Get someone else to do your printing and binding (using Officeworks saved me a lot of time!).

The last thing I want to do is thank every single person who helped me. I must thank my supervisors or their support and interest in the project. Thanks to QUT for the scholarship that made it all possible. I want to thank every participant and supporter of the project for their ability to make things happen (especially data for the research). Thanks to my family that had to listen to constant complaining, put up without seeing me surface from my desk for hours at a time and for being there to provide much needed support. For my manager and co-workers at Tech-Knowledge, thanks for providing support in terms of study time off and for having someone to vent to. To my friends who were keen supporters of me, thanks for being supportive and hilarious at the same time. Every single person’s support was invaluable and I doubt I’d have gotten this far without you all!

Research Freak Out

Research is a bit of a stressful practice I am finding out. I’m partway through my honour degree so I’m talking about the original, academic flavour of research. Being in the applied field of information systems, the project I am working on is highly dependent on extensive practitioner-focused research. This means I need a lot of data from
industry. Getting data is much easier said than done…

I say research is stressful because it’s full of pressure. And gratification is extremely delayed. I started the data collection phase today; it’s a ver compressed timeline seeing its the festive season and my thesis is due in February. I’ve been working to get interviews (with help of course!) with relevant firms. It’s taking a long time. This stresses me out. Because gratification is delayed, some cognitive dissonance occurs (“Why am I even doing this?!”) and things don’t feel great. But then you get a break through and you feel great. Then the cycle of stress-concern-breakthrough repeats. It’s tumultuous.

Probably sounding whiny, but it’s a stress. Having support has become really important. Knowing that someone is there to guide and advise is incredibly important. I’ve also found focusing on the endpoints helped manage some of my concerns too. Of course you continue to hope that everything works out. That is really all I can do (apart from work hard).

I want to know what you do to manage the trials of research. I think I’d learn most from others rather than just guessing on my own!

What is your research experience? How do/did you manage stress and concern in your research project?