Grant-writing season

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By Cally Guerin

The annual research grant-writing season recently finished in Australia. It’s always timed to occur during the summer teaching break, so that instead of enjoying some well-deserved time off, academics are flat out putting together detailed proposals, competing for part of an ever-smaller pot of research money. As government funding has reduced and more academics put in applications, we engage in this hugely intensive and time-consuming activity in the full knowledge that there is only a very slim chance of success. Most universities run workshops where experienced researchers and successful grant winners offer advice. These workshops are invaluable. In this post, I’d like to add some of my own reflections on my experience this year, and share some useful tips for other grant writers and those helping them through the process. Continue reading

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Doctoral supervisors to mentor English as Second Language research students

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Oscar Odena is Reader in Education at the University of Glasgow, UK. Originally from Spain, he has conducted and supervised educational research in a range of contexts nationally and internationally. More information can be found on his Glasgow University webpage. This post is an updated version of a post previously published on the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change blog. Here Oscar writes about his research into writing development for ESL doctoral writers.

By Oscar Odena

The trend of English as Second Language (ESL) students coming to established English-speaking universities is on the increase, particularly to enrol in research degree programmes. With their new research skills many will aim to bring about educational change in their countries after completion. Developing academic writing is a crucial skill for completing a research degree. However, academic writing development is not a compulsory element across research degree programmes that often focus on subject-specific knowledge, leaving academic writing to be developed independently. Continue reading

Managing supervisors with doctoral writing: some advice for candidates

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By Susan Carter

The other day I attended a doctoral morning tea with a panel of two doctoral candidates and one supervisor giving advice on how to manage your supervisor. The chair probed with questions about different stages of doctoral writing. Some foundational advice came from the supervisor, who noted that human beings were all different (that is not too profound, yet advice on good practice often does not take account of individual difference). Her main point was that because of difference, clear communication was important. She had found that what worked well with one student did not work well with another, and that only open communication enables a good relationship. The doctoral candidates had some anecdotes of their own experience, and, by recounting them, showed that both they and their supervisors were indeed different in terms of work-protocol preference. One said that he hadn’t thought about managing his supervisor nor considered whether the relationship was okay until he heard his doctoral colleagues telling their tales and realised that he had a superb supervisor.

This post gives me a chance to give the advice to new doctoral students on managing their supervisors that I would have given had I been invited onto the panel. I’m keen to do this because having worked extensively with both doctoral students and supervisors, and researched doctoral writing exchanges, I know how important a good relationship is: it affects peresonal wellbeing over four years or so. And doctoral students have a part to play in figuring out the protocols for working together happily. Continue reading

How many hours writing for the doctorate?

By Ian Brailsford, Postgraduate learning adviser, Libraries and Learning Services, University of Auckland.

The rose-tinted view of the leisurely doctorate taking as long as it needed to complete (if it ever really existed) has been consigned to history with global drivers for ‘timely completions’. But it’s fair to say that doctoral candidates have more flexibility in determining their work schedules than most other ‘knowledge workers’. So, in determining this schedule, how much time should doctoral candidates devote to the business of writing a thesis? Continue reading

Precision with word choice in doctoral writing

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By Susan Carter

In the latest doctoral writing group, we blitzed words that were the cause of inaccuracy, often because the tone they added was too informal. This post gives our list of words that are treacherous. We welcome comments or offers of posts that identify more words that might be tricky. Here are words that we think should be used with caution by doctoral writers.

Firstly, ‘very’ probably does not have a place in a thesis. (Please add a comment if you disagree.) I’d recommend ‘significant’ as an alternative, one that may require a little rephrasing.

Myriad is a tricky word. My Shorter Oxford Dictionary (SOD) says that literally a myriad is ten thousand, and can also mean countless numbers, hordes. So whenever I read that there are myriads of challenges, I replace ‘myriads of’ with ‘many.’ So in that case, the problem is wild overstatement. Wild overstatement is acceptable in many circles, those inhabited by people who like to shriek “OMG!” often, and declare that they would die rather than revise their chapter again. However, the academic community tends not to be like that and can be disapproving. It is better to stay within the reality factor. Continue reading

The Perfect Coat: Form and Function in Thesis Writing

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By Dr Anaise Irvine (Auckland University of Technology) and Dr Ian Brailsford (University of Auckland)

Anaise works as a researcher development coordinator at Auckland University of Technology, ensuring that the university offers opportunities for researchers to develop their skills. She has been providing writing tips via AUT’s Thesislink blog for a few years, and gives writing feedback to all students who submit abstracts for AUT’s Postgraduate Symposium. Ian works as a postgraduate learning adviser at the University of Auckland, supporting postgraduate student learning. He has had a long career working with postgrad students in mostly workshop and orientation sessions.

In her new book Developing Research Writing: A Handbook for Supervisors and Advisors (co-edited with Susan Carter), Deborah Laurs points out that learning advisors like ourselves “see many more instances of postgraduate writing than any one supervisor” (p.43). While supervisors become well-versed in the writing standards of their discipline, we witness the writing struggles that occur across disciplines. This equips us to engage in ‘big picture’ thinking about principles of good academic writing that transcend disciplinary norms.

We find it useful to translate these big picture ideas into metaphors and heuristic techniques that enable students to process the discipline-specific advice they are already (hopefully) receiving from their supervisor/s. If supervisors are giving detailed feedback on thesis drafts, then these heuristic techniques can help students to make sense of details by understanding the general writing principles underpinning the feedback they receive.

Through recent collegial coffee conservations, we’ve devised a metaphor to help students grasp the fundamental notions of thesis form and thesis function. We offer it here, in the hope that it can be useful in our colleagues’ conversations with students. Continue reading