End of 2020 – thank goodness!

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by Claire, Susan and Cally

Looks like we’ve made it through to the end of 2020 – the strangest year many of us have ever experienced.

In this apocalyptic year, most people we know have been in lockdown at various times; some liked it and many hated it. Most supervisors and doctoral writers have found themselves working from home this year much more than they had planned. For some, this has been a bonus, making it easier to manage the complex matrix of family, work and study. They’ve saved time from not travelling to campus and the proliferation of online workshops has meant more ready access to community and professional development than they would usually enjoy.

For many others, especially for doctoral writers living on modest budgets, this has been hugely challenging: the routines of moving between work and other parts of life have dissolved; the loneliness of doctoral study has been exacerbated with even fewer opportunities to meet with peers; and the restrictions of living spaces and internet connection have been unavoidably confronting. Continue reading

Efficiency hacks for doctoral writers

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by Cally Guerin

AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month) is finished again for another year, and the concerted effort all around the academic world to focus on writing for one month has paid off for many researchers and doctoral writers. Conversations with my local AcWriMo group have reminded me how some doctoral candidates have really great ways of pushing their writing along step by step throughout their projects (what Rowena Murray calls ‘serial writing’ in How to Write a Thesis). It seems to me that the concept of ‘writing up’ at the end of the project is a very good way to make writing both stressful and boring. Not many people can sit at the computer and write effectively and productively for 8-12 hours a day, day in, day out! Instead, here are some ideas to help doctoral writers be more efficient in their writing. Continue reading

Developing doctoral students’ critical writing skills through peer assessment and review

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Our guest blogger this week is Dr Joan Woodhouse, Associate Professor of Education at the University of Leicester UK. She has been working with doctoral students for approximately thirteen years and has a keen interest in developing early career researchers’ academic writing skills. Her other research interests include teachers’ lives and careers, and in particular, women teachers’ lives and career experiences. She is currently engaged in collaborative research into the experiences of student teachers who are mothers, with a view to considering how providers of Initial Teacher Education might better support this group of women, who she sees as the ‘invisible statistic’ in the equality monitoring data.

By Joan Woodhouse

As Programme Director for the Doctorate of Education (EdD), I have worked with numerous full-time teachers and school leaders who combine their professional work with part-time study. The EdD students are typically mid- to late-career teachers, often occupying fairly senior positions in school. As doctoral students they can be rather isolated from other, often younger, full-time and campus-based postgraduates. Their main point of contact with the University is with their supervisor. So, it can be, at best, challenging for this group of students to feel a sense of belonging to the academic and research community. Many of the EdD students are also returning to academic study after a significant gap and can feel uncertain in navigating the unwritten rules and culture of academia. They are expected to read and write critically, often without any explicit guidance on what that means. They are given feedback on their work in which the weaknesses in their arguments are highlighted, their poor expression exposed and the gaps in their knowledge indicated. It can be hard to take the critical feedback: affective barriers can impede students’ ability to assimilate and act on the feedback, yet assimilation and action are vital if they are to progress. Learning to respond to feedback in ways that are pragmatic rather than emotional is a big part of developing resilience as a researcher. I have come to realise that as supervisors and tutors we need strategies to foster this resilience in our students if they are to become the critical thinkers, readers and writers we need them to be to succeed at doctoral level.

This post is about a project in which a colleague and I inducted doctoral students into peer review by (i) involving them in peer assessment activities and (ii) supporting them to set up and run a student journal. Our aim was to facilitate the development of students’ critical writing skills, by engaging them in giving and receiving critical feedback (both of which they were fairly anxious about at the start). Continue reading

International Doctoral Education Research Network (IDERN) Online Meeting, 26 Aug 2020

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By Cally Guerin

One activity of the DoctoralWriting blog is to report on conferences and events we’ve attended. Of course, this year that has been hugely disrupted: most of us have seen our favourite meetings cancelled and have consequently missed out on the interactions with our research community that are usually a source of inspiration and encouragement. Luckily, online alternatives are appearing to fill that gap.

On 26 August, the first online meeting was convened for IDERN, the International Doctoral Education Research Network (this group had previously planned to meet in Denmark in June 2020). The topic was “Distance supervision and its discontents: what do we need to understand?”, facilitated by Gina Wisker (University of Bath), Swapna Kumar (University of Florida) and me (Australian National University). We had about 60 attendees from 17 different countries around the world.

Any discussion of supervision inevitably touches upon issues around doctoral writing, and this meeting was the same, even though writing wasn’t our specific focus. The sudden shift to online supervision in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that many supervisors have been forced into developing different practices for working on writing with doctoral candidates. Continue reading

Should doctoral writers do free work for academic journals?

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By Cally Guerin

Doctoral writers are often keen to publish their work in highly ranked journals, thus entering the debate about whether or not academics should publish their work in journals run by the big publishing companies. This contention continues, especially with regard to COVID-related research. Those powerful academic publishers are accused of exploiting the voluntary work of researchers and scholars through the administrative and editorial load they undertake in organising and performing peer review, in making decisions about manuscripts, in corresponding with authors, and in finalising the published articles.

Even though I have many sympathies with the open access movement and applaud the efforts to make publicly funded research freely available to the public, I still do unpaid work for journals owned by big publishers. There’s value for me in reviewing submissions and in handling articles as an associate editor. I want to explain my reasons for doing this free work so that doctoral writers make informed decisions about what is right for them.  

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A, the, an or some? Articles with abstract nouns in doctoral writing

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By Susan Carter

Whenever I correct articles in doctoral writing, I get tangled trying to explain why, and often, like now, can only conclude that English is a sod of a language with tricky slithery rules that you simply have to learn and apply. Rules with English grammar do not always have an apparent logic. Those little prefixes to nouns, the troupe of articles, are as troublesome for many doctoral writers as getting journal articles published is for others.

It’s quite hard sometimes deciding whether a noun needs an article, and which one it might need. That is because many nouns in research writing are abstract, sometimes influenced by theory. It’s sometimes hard to tell whether abstracts are countable or uncountable, for example.  This post grapples with the task of suggesting how to make those ‘to article or not to article’ decisions. Continue reading