International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation (Seville, November 14-16, 2016)

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By Susan Carter

I had the privilege of attending the ICERI conference this year, a large international conference attended by mostly Europeans, but with most parts of the world represented. Perhaps influenced by the recent theatre of the American elections, approaches to education at this conference seemed to emphasise education’s political and social benefits, its potential to be an antidote to powerbrokers by merit of the changes that it makes to individual lives. This potential seems relevant to, and maybe even an inspiring reminder for, doctoral writing, a process that transforms many of our lives. Continue reading

Is doctoral writing doing you harm?

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By Claire Aitchison

Writing is a physical activity that subjects the body to specific routines and impositions – it wears on the body in particular ways. I recall the deformed fingers of my grandfather: he had callouses from holding a pen, the physical manifestation of a lifetime of writing. Writers these days wear different traces of their labouring.

It seems particularly pertinent to raise this question during AcWriMo – a month when all around the world doctoral students are busy pushing themselves to write, write, write. Writing is the business of doctoral scholarship, but not all doctoral students realise Continue reading

Reading and writing the thesis acknowledgement – support, people and identity

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by Lilia Mantai

This fabulous guest post about thesis acknowledgements comes from Lilia Mantai who settled in Australia after completing her teaching degree in Germany. For the last six years she has been working at Macquarie University, Sydney, in various roles (as tutor, research assistant, project officer and academic developer). She is now close to submitting her PhD on researcher identity development of doctoral students. Good luck Lilia!

Writing is personal. It is also social as it does not happen in isolation. Discussing and clarifying ideas with your colleagues, receiving and incorporating feedback from critical friends and reviewers are social acts that make writing collaborative. Yet the doctoral thesis comes across as a disembodied, de-personified and de-personalised product of doctoral ‘training’ – void of the emotions, typical PhD ups and downs, and identity crisis battled in the process. Until you read the thesis acknowledgements.

My PhD research looks at how doctoral students become researchers in the PhD journey.

While reading through various theses in the early stages of my PhD, it struck me that the acknowledgement section of the thesis was just oozing with personal and ‘behind-the-scenes’ stories. Continue reading

Done all that work – but has this thesis really got anything to say?!: Strategies to regain perspective on research contribution

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By Claire Aitchison

What have I got to say? This is the terror moment that strikes every doctoral student: the fear that perhaps there isn’t anything of worth to show for all the years of work.

I’ve never met a student who hasn’t experienced this kind of self-doubt – in part fuelled by exhaustion during the final stages, and in part this anxiety is an almost natural outcome of being too close, too fully immersed in the project to be able to objectively assess the merits of the work. However it is essential that researchers do make such judgements accurately since convention demands that the thesis clearly identifies the contribution and significance of the research.

Over the years I’ve collected a few strategies for helping students gain the perspective needed Continue reading

Balancing simplicity and complexity in doctoral writing

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By Cally Guerin

Many years ago, I wrote a PhD thesis that used French psychoanalytic and postmodern theory. It may have been the translation of the texts, but I found it necessary to read, and re-read and re-read again before I even began to understand the concepts, let alone learn how to work with them. Part of my difficulty was the cultural preference in those texts for long, convoluted sentence structures; another part was the slow process of becoming familiar with a new vocabulary.

However, it took many years before I started to recognise that sometimes when I couldn’t understand a piece of writing, the problem lay in the writing rather than me.

There are plenty of jokes about how obscure academic writing can be. Many readers will be familiar with the Bad Writing Contest from the 1990s; or have read Steven Pinker’s diatribe on how and why academic writing stinks. As Pat Thomson points out, this kind of writing is an easy target. But you undoutedly know what these critics mean – those sentences with very long noun groups, filled with abstract nouns or ‘nominalisations’ and lots of punctuation.

So, given the poor reputation of academic writing, how should we best advise doctoral candidates to strike the right balance in their writing? Continue reading

How long does it take to write a thesis?

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By Cally Guerin

The idea of being able to create a schedule to write a thesis seems pretty obvious, straight forward and achievable. If there are 80,000 words to be written over three years, where’s the problem? Assuming five-day weeks and one month for holidays each year, that makes for 720 work days. That’s just over 110 words per day. So why do doctoral writers struggle to get this done? Clearly, there’s a lot more to it.

When I meet with doctoral candidates who appear to be busy writing, they often disappointedly say they are still working on the task they were doing last week, and the week before, and the week before that. Many start out being very optimistic about how quickly they can write certain sections of the thesis. It seems that there is something here about time management related to habits of writing, and also understanding the size of each writing task.

Those doctoral writers who report feeling that their progress is slow are at a loss when it comes to strategies to speed up. Continue reading