Last week was the Australian National University’s research festival week. The ‘Research fest’, as it is know to ANU’ers, is like an orientation week for research students (MPhil and PhD candidates) where research and teaching life is celebrated. In addition to seminars on “thesis writing” for new students and “strategies for completion” for more advanced students, the University holds a series of social and creative activities including competitions for a research note, presentation of a thesis, acting in skits or presenting a short film clip.
The creative part of university life is something I was loved in my undergraduate years, but unfortunately in the four years that I have been enrolled at ANU for my PhD, I have never been able to attend this Research festival because of the demands of my fieldwork in Sri Lanka. This year was no exception, but this time it was because I am back in New Zealand writing up my thesis, and I am presently on quite a tight schedule to complete this! However, I did enter two competitions ‘on-line’ despite the mounting pressures.
For the “Research Note” competition I wrote a Poem synopsis about my research experience that was titled “Going ‘beyond’ the endpoints!”. This is about an aspect of research that I discovered along the way and is something that I feel strongly about (ie. that life is more about the journey than the destination).
Going “beyond” the Endpoints!
Beyond the endpoints are the bits that are not seen,
The thoughts and emotions that lie behind the PhD’s sheen,
And whilst they will not appear in the final binding,
They are the reminders of how the road was so very winding.
Research is more about the journey than its destination,
It is to respect the ‘process’ as well as the final creation,
And the process lies within the changes we experience in “ourself”,
Which sometimes speaks more than that book up on the shelf.
My story is long, but I’ll try and keep it short,
It won’t be like some kind of scientific report!
For this is about a journey of mind and soul,
How this process has helped me feel whole.
I collected data in the depths of Sri Lanka,
Amongst my very own first culture,
Where beautiful rivers flow, and green paddy fields glow,
With coconut trees that surround, where wild elephants can easily be found.
I studied suicidal poisoning and its medical cure,
In villagers who drank pesticides when they felt desperate and insecure.
Some would say it was a cry for help,
Either way, they did not do well.
We tried to understand how to ease the terrible prognosis,
By studying a portable machine that could help in treatment and diagnosis,
But whilst collecting this data, an additional vision was to develop,
Another study – “training doctors in resuscitation”- was soon to envelope.
Whilst in Sri Lanka my mind expanded more than I would have believed,
Working with different cultures and systems into which I’d soon be weaved.
And with this I began to see my thesis as more than a mere ‘cog in a wheel’,
For perhaps, it may bring about change in the world, in a way that is real.
I also put together a 5 minute short film (see below) which is a story along the same theme titled :-
“Beyond the Endpoints – sights, sounds and emotions of the international journey of research”.
I didn’t want to let the movie get in the way of my thesis write-up, because I know that whilst film making and photography are a real passion of mine, they are also a huge consumer of time. However, to overcome this challenge I had a plan of waiting until the day before the film clip deadline before I started to put something together, and in the end I managed to come up with an entry! Nevertheless, it was still an incredibly difficult task for sentimental reasons.
All I could think about when creating this film clip was, “there are just so many people to honour and thank for this incredible journey”, “where do I begin?”.
I also kept thinking to myself “this isn’t ‘my’ project, it belongs to everyone who helped me along the way”, and it really is, including the patients we were trying to help. For without the help of everyone involved in this research I would not have been able to have carried it out, and I wouldn’t have been able to have learnt as much as I did during those years.
I guess really wanted to write this blog entry in honour of these people. Rather than publish a long list of names of people whom I feel indebted to for helping me get even this far, I thought a better approach is to bring back the poem I wrote not too long ago called “An Ode to my friends” (see below). Please have a read of this Poem, it’s a favourite of mine because it seems to achieve the difficult task of expressing the magnitude of appreciation I have towards so many people who have helped and supported me through these incredible years.
I guess there is really one group of people, apart from my family and friends, who I really want to thank at this stage, even before I’ve finished writing up my thesis, and that is the “SACTRC crew”. The South Asian Clinical Toxicology Research Collaboration (www.sactrc.org
) is the research collaboration between the Australian National University and University of Peradeniya (funded by the Wellcome Trust/NHMRC (GR071669), who provided my academic base and was the “lifeline” and the vision behind my work.
In addition to this I am really grateful for my two supervisors Professors Andrew Dawson and Nick Buckley, because without them none of this would be possible. Beyond this I have to thank “all” those people in Sri Lanka, and of course my family and friends, but the list really is too long, which is why I have left it to my poem to do the work J
Ode to my friends
This is an ode to my friends,
Those beautiful people who are like precious gems.
The ones who help me stay on track,
Who keep me together when I want to crack.
They are always ready to comfort me,
To give me sight when I just can’t see,
And give me might when I feel like a flea,
Yes these are my friends,
And if you think that I’m not talking about you
Well then – think again!
For when it comes to friends, each and every one counts, I truly believe this!
For we are all at different stages of different journeys.
And it is the togetherness and interaction itself,
That creates the movement,
That is necessary and bodes well for improvement,
And the sanctity of ‘what is’.
They say friends will come,
And friends will go,
But this doesn’t matter,
If our acquaintance is more than chatter!
For whether it is now, in the past, or perhaps in the future,
There will be a bend,
And I will see you beyond that my dear friend,
For, after all, there is no beginning and no end.
It is just an ever-growing flow,
Of love, energy. and much much more,
That lies here and also beyond this shore,
This is what we must grow!
And knead it like freshly made dough,
And bake a beautiful loaf of humankind,
One love, one world, and together – one mind!
With this, we leave all our troubles behind..
Thank you for your friendship.
I haven’t yet heard the results of the competition from last week, but for me it was not about winning, but rather about ‘participating’ in something that struck a chord with me, and provided another dimension to this work that has been a huge part of my life over the recent years.
Interestingly, both these competition entries have helped me in the daunting psychological task of ‘writing up’. One of the hardest things in writing up the thesis is dealing with the situation of feeling like there is ‘too much’ information to put into a logical linear format. I found the situation with the competition entries to be similar in that there appeared to be too much emotion, too many memories, and too much experience to be able to string together a concise videographic or poetic story. It was a daunting task… but I did it!
Similarly with regards to my current thesis write-up, it is daunting but I “AM” doing it, which feels good.
To me these competition entries were an example of the beauty and power that exists when ‘the arts’ are in support of ‘the sciences’, and where one of these two disciplines can help carry out the tasks of the other.
[Ed Note – in the end the Film ended up winning third prize in it’s category]
As always I would love to hear you feedback on the poems or the film clip. Regarding the film clip, I have been very selective and I do not think there is any footage that would breach confidentiality, or cause any embarrassment to anyone – even the elephants and monkeys who have been captured, (but please let me know if there are any concerns, and I will take note and action). Also, I want to make it clear (for the purposes of my own research integrity) that I have not included any of the study data from the actual studies that I conducted.
On the contrary, what I tried to do was present an overview of the four years that I had in Sri Lanka, and I think many of my Sri Lankan friends and colleagues will enjoy seeing this, even though by no means is this a comprehensive account. Hopefully, will be much more to come after I have finished this write up.
Anyway, I look forward to hearing your feedback.
Finally I have included a few photos of Sri Lanka below. I literally took thousands of photos in Sri Lanka during the past 4 years, and I plan to present these in some way of form after completing my PhD. However, for the moment I just to put together about 60 photos from the first half of the journey (most of these pics are of the early SACTRC days, a lot of them social pics, in honour of these people who made my stay there so nice.) This collection of pictures is by no means comprehensive, as there are so many other pictures that I would like to include, but for the moment perhaps this is something.
This is the motto I am using to get through the write up of my thesis chapters, when I feel like I don’t know where to begin because there is just so much i want to write about – and the answer that works for me is is “Sharing ‘something’ is better than sharing nothing”.