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by Claire Aitchison

Prof Alison Lee, the Director of the Centre for Research in Learning and Change at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, passed away on 4 September, 2012. That sentence falls so short. Nevertheless, it is the fact that impelled this post.

Why am I finding it so hard to write about Alison Lee? I wish to mark her parting in words that are public; after all, that is what we did together. We wrote together. To be published. To be read by others. Although, in truth, for much of the writing, for much of the time, we didn’t worry so much about our readers – our work seemed more intimate, more inward-looking. Personal, not public. Our writing was a matter of shifting ideas, of toing and froing, one minute at odds – one idea struggling for ascendancy – the next minute in agreement: ‘Yep, that’s it!’ Our text was the product of the intimacy of laughing, talking, of being intensely caught up in debating points, feeding off each other in the endeavour to create one fixed piece from so many possibilities. Co-authoring is a special relationship. Pat Thompson wrote about it recently http://patthomson.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/a-reflection-on-working-collaboratively/ but I’m trying to block that out as I gather my own thoughts.

I have known Alison just short of a decade. I was tentatively ‘coming out’ as an academic, seeking a home in academia where I felt comfortable. We’d both been in the university sector for some years dabbling in Education and writing support and academic development of various kinds. We’d also both once been secondary school teachers. We were introduced by Janne Malfroy who knew we shared an interest in writing groups. I knew of Alison from the article she wrote with Carolyn William: ‘Forged in Fire: Narratives of trauma in PhD supervision’ (1999). She didn’t know me from a bar of soap. We discovered a shared concern about the lack of attention to writing and writing pedagogy in higher education and the institutional marginalisation of those whose work was writing development.  Our first collaboration was the article ‘Research Writing: Problems and Pedagogies’ (2006). Our writing collaborations centred on the themes of writing pedagogy, doctoral writing and writing for publication. Even when Alison’s career demanded significant slabs of her time and energy for institutional matters and her interests took her in new directions, she retained a great commitment to these themes.

Alison’s energy for ideas and for turning those ideas into text was legendary. Many people including new scholars owe a debt of gratitude to Alison for her capacity to make one believe in oneself. She gave people the courage and skills to bring thoughts to the page – and, to take it to the public. Alison had a great commitment to bringing ideas to print and many of her enduring friendships evolved and revolved around intellectual conversations carried out in the public domain. She thrived on writing with, and for others, for the dissemination of knowledge and the building of community. She was a true public intellectual.

As an emerging scholar Alison not only taught me about my writerly selves and about ways of writing, she also introduced me to a world of scholars. I remember one conference where Alison spotted a group and said ‘Come on, I’ll introduce you to the big girls’. She had a great sense of humour.  Alison’s bravery was instructive. She believed in going beyond one’s comfort zone, her own included. She took me to places I would never have gone – she stimulated my reading and my thinking, and sometimes she terrified me as she signed us up for conference presentations, symposiums, workshops and any number of opportunities to go public. It was an incredible privilege to be with Alison during those years.

There are many people who attribute their scholarly advancement to Alison. I am certainly one. She supervised scores of research students, many of whom sought her out specifically, but she also helped ‘lost souls’: doctoral candidates whose supervisors had moved on, students and colleagues who were stalled or experiencing other difficulties. She was extraordinarily caring. Numerous doctoral candidates (me included) consulted her for advice and for her good counsel.  And she delivered. In spades.

The realisation that Alison would not be accompanying me in the journey of a new book was a source of great sadness – but I will treasure our conversations, her advice and contributions as we shaped the book proposal over chemo. Even as her life was slipping away Alison lived for words to be public.

Vale Alison.

Some other tributes to Alison Lee:




Some of Alison’s publications on doctoral writing and pedagogy:

Aitchison, C., B. Kamler, A. Lee, Eds. (2010). Publishing Pedagogies for the Doctorate and Beyond. London, Routledge.

Aitchison, C. and A. Lee (2006). “Research Writing: Problems and Pedagogies.” Teaching in Higher Education 11(3): 265-278.

Aitchison, C. and A. Lee (2010). Writing in, writing out: doctoral writing as peer work. The Routledge Doctoral Supervisor’s Companion. M. Walker and P. Thomson. Oxon, UK, Routledge.

Lee, A. and C. Aitchison (2009). Writing for the doctorate and beyond. Changing Practices of Doctoral Education. D. Boud and A. Lee. London, Routledge: 87 – 99.

Lee, A. and C. Aitchison (2011). Working with tensions: writing for publication during your doctorate. The Handbook of scholarly writing and publishing. T. S. Rocco and T. Hatcher. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Lee, A. and D. Boud (2003). Writing groups, change and academic identity: Research development as local practice. Studies in Higher Education 28(2): 187 – 200.

Lee, A., M. Brennan, et al. (2009). Re-Imagining Doctoral Education: Professional Doctorates and Beyond.

Lee, A. and S. Danby, Eds. (2012). Reshaping doctoral education: International approaches and pedagogies. London, Routledge.

Lee, A. and B. Green (2009). Supervision as Metaphor. Studies in Higher Education 34(6): 615-630.

Lee, A. and B. Kamler (2008). Bringing pedagogy to doctoral publishing. Teaching in Higher Education 13(5): 511 – 523.

Lee, A. and C. Williams (1999). Forged in Fire: Narratives of Trauma in Postgraduate Research Education. Southern Review 32(1): 6 – 26.