My PhD – A process of transformation

Had I listened to my guidance counsellor at high school I wouldn’t be here doing a PhD. I told her I wanted to be a doctor or a teacher. Her advice was to be a hairdresser like my friends, so I gave it a go. The irony is soon I’ll be both. I’ve been teaching for 13 years now and have just started my PhD in March! This PhD has challenged me to step up and keep defining the next best version of myself! I realised that the 2014 version of me got me to this stage, was not going to get me through a PhD. I realised that I would have to pick up my game; improve time management, organisation and planning; read effectively to get through vast quantities of literature (an enormous task for someone who has struggled with reading and is learning to like it); act instead of procrastinate; think critically, hold information in my memory, analyse it and apply it; and then produce academic writing to PhD level that is coherent, supports my arguments, and makes a contribution to new knowledge. Not only that, but if it was to be truly a representation of me, it would have to be decolonising, transformational and empowering. Whew – no wonder I’ve been feeling a bit out of my depth and daunted by the enormity of this PhD. Then I remembered a mountain can be moved one pebble at a time therefore a PhD one word at a time.

According to a whakatauki Maunga Hikurangi my ancestral mountain, is one that doesn’t move instead stands strong where it is. I realise I don’t have to move a mountain one pebble at a time I have to move myself one belief and one action at a time. When I did my Honours degree it was like climbing Maunga Hikurangi, doable nevertheless a challenge for a hiker in my condition. Luckily enough I had a great team supporting me who got me to the last sheer cliff. From there it was up to me. I had to dig deep, and clinging on by my finger nails, hands and knees I made it, to stand on top and do my Rocky dance. Every big mountain that gets conquered is done so with a tight team.

What I didn’t realise was that getting up the mountain was only half the challenge. I also needed to get down the mountain to start up the next one and that required a whole new set of skills, discipline and endurance. From Maunga Hikurangi the next mountain beckoning was brother Aoraki our highest peak, and like the PhD it is a lofty mountain conquered one step at a time. My preparation for this mountain is slower and more thorough and with self-determination I’ll get me to the summit. For this mountain each pebble is like a word I craft, each small rock is like a book or article I read, and each boulder is like a personal barrier I overcome. For me, transforming myself to conquer each mountain is about tino rangatiratanga “self-determination, independence, and autonomy” (Durie, 1998).

Tino rangatiratanga, mahi rangatira (noble work led by chiefs), and entrepreneurship, are the central themes in my PhD, with research into entrepreneurs who work towards the realisation of tino rangatiratanga. Interviews will focus on the conscientisation and education process of those entrepreneurs who work “for the cause” or “on the kaupapa”, their learning process, why and how they teach others along the way, and how they balance these tensions whilst maintaining their businesses. This mountain too will be conquered because of the wonderful support team around me, including my whanau, supervisors Associate Professor Christine Woods and Dr Te Kawehau Hoskins, this K.I.N. whanau of fellow researchers alongside the rest of the Management and International Business department members, my Te Fale Pouāwhina colleagues and students, Whaene Research Whanau, Whatu Kākahu Auaha, and Manurewa Mana Matauranga research group. We are all research mountain climbers looking to “knock the bastard off”. More than that we help each other, build on pathways created by the pioneers before us, and blaze new trails for others to follow. I see that as mahi rangatira.

The PhD is important to help hone my skills, build courage and endurance for my larger mountain Everest, that is, to realise tino rangatiratanga in Aotearoa within my lifetime. That journey has already been a long one and will continue well past the PhD. For me tino rangatiratanga is an aim, the process, and the outcome interwoven. Aiming for a PhD is interwoven with my overall “aim” of tino rangatiratanga, in the process I learn about the “process” of both, and work towards the “outcome” of realising both.

Working through the process is where a new work initiative has led me. It’s called “Leadership through learning” and is going to help to develop both the academic and personal skills required for my PhD journey. I’ll be working collaboratively with young and vibrant tertiary students aiming for their degrees. Together we are willing to step into the centre of leadership, take initiative and attract followers. We are going to teach and learn, set challenges and face fears, work towards a personal vision, and show up as the next best version of ourselves. It’s a new tribe with a new vibe and I’m excited to transform and grow with these leaders. They too have their mountains to conquer, their journeys to follow and our paths have crossed to be part of each other’s journey. What transformations are we up for? Who are we willing to become in defining the next best version of ourselves?


    1. Rob McKay

      I remember the millenium year of 2000 when the people of Te Tairawhiti wanted to climb Mt Hikurangi to welcome the new millenium with the rising sun from the East. Instead what they got was a lot rain and mist.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Ruth

    Love the metaphor of the maunga and getting down only to start climbing all over again, you will have a few challenges and the trick is to keep your eye on the horizon, ko nga pae tawhiti, whaia kia tata, ko nga pae tata whakamaua kia tina.

    Liked by 1 person

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