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Juha Tolonen

PhD graduate
Faculty of Education & Arts

Research is a test of endurance

I recently completed my PhD thesis. There were many times, when I found myself in the depths of research, when I wondered what it would be like to utter these words legitimately.

I think undertaking a large research project like a PhD is largely a test of endurance. If you have earned the position of a PhD candidate, then presumably you have the intellectual capacity to do the research. The larger challenge seems to be whether the quality of your research can be matched by appropriate quantity. And, for me, this quantity is measured not just in the pages written, but also in days and years taken to complete the task.

After a couple of years, you feel that you are continually dragging your PhD around with you like a weight tied to your ankle. Not only does it start feeling heavier, but it also starts impacting upon everything else that you do. This was the test of endurance for me. How do you justify the time and energy spent on this lump of research, that doesn’t seem to be evolving into anything fruitful, especially when it is impacting negatively on other areas of your life?

Somewhere and sometime in the midst of the tumult, the product of my research started taking shape. My congealed mass of words and pictures eventually began to reveal meaning and significance. The final pieces of the puzzle then fell easily into place. And it seemed as if my thesis had formed rather quickly. However, that final phase is only highly productive, because of those years of effort spent in the daily grind of research, when nothing appears to be happening. Back then, there was little significant output, but a lot of mental activity. That’s when you have to trust yourself that there actually is plenty going on.

My thesis is now located in the ECU library (and the bookshelves of a few colleagues). Titled Wastelands: modernity, landscape, photography, it explores the ways in which we tend to deny the destructive elements, which are a necessary part of our contemporary world. I photographed numerous wastelands in Australia and Europe to compile a picture of the many ways we respond to signs of decay and dereliction in our urban environments. My thesis urged a more considered response to wastelands, one that allows these sites to become potential sites of improvisation.

And what is it like to be able to say ‘I have completed my PhD’? Well, the research never stops for an enquiring mind - the journey is never complete. So, enjoy the ride.
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