Today’s featured member profile comes from the brilliant Ashleigh Haw. Take it away Ashleigh!
Member: Ashleigh Haw
I have combined an Audience Reception framework with Critical Discourse Analysis to examine how Australian media audiences evaluate and conceptualise news discourses about asylum seekers.
What drew you to this topic?
My father was a journalist in Australia for over 30 years, so I grew up watching his reports, visiting his newsroom, and hearing his ‘war’ stories. At some point I started to become hyper-aware of how the media would construct certain issues – I remember seeing news coverage involving marginalised groups when I was really young, and being confused about how differently these groups seemed to be portrayed in comparison to their more privileged counterparts. It seemed like certain people (e.g. migrants, refugees, sex workers, and homeless populations) were either ‘invisible’ in the media, or they were framed as ‘worthy victims’. After I completed my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Criminology, I started working and volunteering with refugees and women affected by family violence. It was during this time that I started becoming more aware of how polarising both topics were within Australia’s public, political, and media discourse. I always wanted to know if (and how) media constructions of these issues could impact public opinion, but there were evident gaps in the literature and the more digging I did, the more questions I had. Skip forward a few years and here I am, just submitting PhD thesis!
What have been the highlights of your RhD journey?
I think connecting with interesting and like-minded people at varying stages of their academic careers (either through attending conferences/seminars/workshops, being part of a sessional tutoring team, or taking part in events aimed at supporting postgraduates throughout their candidature) stands out the most for me. Admittedly, I wasn’t great at this in the early days, as I often felt overwhelmed by the amount of work I had to do on my thesis, especially when juggling my research with teaching and marking demands! Somewhere towards the second half of my candidature, I started getting out of my comfort zone a bit more and I honestly wish I had been more of a ‘social butterfly’ in those earlier stages because I soon discovered how valuable those experiences could be. We constantly learn from our peers and I have been lucky enough to meet, and in some cases work with, some pretty fantastic established and emerging scholars. Another highlight worth mentioning is that I was never entirely sure I could complete a PhD – in high school I had a very small attention span and some of my teachers discouraged me from taking subjects that would allow me to pursue university studies. One of them said I was “very smart, but just not university material”. I genuinely believed this in the few years that followed, so it feels pretty great to be able to say to myself “see, you were cut out for this!”
What do you wish you had known before you started?
That even when you are genuinely passionate about your topic, you can still hit brick walls and experience some pretty debilitating doubts about whether this path is for you. I used to hear a lot of advice like “if you love the topic enough, it won’t feel like work, so make sure you pick something you’ll be motivated enough to dedicate 3-5 years to” – while this was true to a certain extent, I found some aspects of the research process so daunting at times that I started to question my ability to get through the program. I think it’s important to be candid about the fact that completing a PhD, like most career choices, will inevitably unlock some feelings of self-doubt. I think it is perfectly acceptable to acknowledge when this is happening, take a step back to re-assess everything, and practice some much-needed self-care before trying to pick up where you left off. When I started spending more time talking to other researchers and postgraduates about their experiences, I found out just how common these self-doubts and periods of fluctuating motivation were – this was incredibly comforting and really helped snapped back into a more excited and driven mindset.
What advice would you give to others who are either just beginning, or contemplating starting postgraduate study?
For those contemplating a PhD: Do it for yourself, and don’t let white noise such as titles and “earning potential” drive your decision. Instead, let yourself be motivated by your curiosity for a topic area you genuinely care about. Spend some time really thinking about, and reflecting on, the issue you’d like to investigate. When I got my first tattoo, a couple of my friends tried to talk me out of it and said “just wait and if you still want it in a couple of years, you’ll know it was the right choice”. I ignored this advice, and I now I wish I had put more thought into it. I feel like similar logic applies when contemplating a PhD (minus the permanent scarring to your body): Make sure your topic is meaningful to you and be clear about what it is that you hope to get out of it before you commit.
For those just beginning a PhD: 1) Be a sponge – go to conferences, seminars, lectures, writing workshops, and networking events. Even if you don’t speak to many people (or anyone for that matter) there is so much you can learn and you can gain an extremely valuable support network; 2) you can say no – you can’t take on every opportunity that presents itself and you will never please everyone. Sometimes it is essential for preserving our own sanity to just let some things go so we can focus on more important aspects of our lives. Keep this in mind and try to prioritise the aspects of your work that will enable you to grow (and that you genuinely enjoy doing); and 3) be adaptable – things will go wrong, timelines will get blown out, and you’ll probably need to continuously tweak your research approach. Make sure you are prepared for these inevitabilities so you can manage them accordingly.
What do you do when you aren’t working on your research?
Over the past few months I have been juggling part-time work, two international conference presentations, teaching, and putting the finishing touches on my thesis, so my time for anything else has been very limited. Generally though, I love visual and performing arts, so I like to immerse myself in as much of this as possible whenever I get the chance. I have taught, produced and performed burlesque and cabaret for the past 10 years and this has enabled me to work with and form lifelong friendships with some of the most amazing, clever and inspiring people you could ever meet. I’m someone who needs a lot of down time, so I also love to read for pleasure and I have dabbled with more creative forms of writing.
Thanks Ashleigh! If you think you could answer our 6 quick questions, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org