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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.

Some have had financial support pulled from under them when partners lost jobs. Those with school-aged children have found themselves supervising schoolwork during lockdown, reducing the time and energy available for their own study. Doctoral work is commonly understood to be challenging, but the anxieties and impossibilities of this year have been a huge test of resilience for many candidates.

Work from home 2020

As well as the personal challenges COVID-19 has thrown at each of us this year, the higher education sector, and research in particular, has been hugely impacted. Many doctoral projects have had to be recalibrated in light of access and mobility restrictions, health and safety concerns, reduced or evaporated funding – and some projects have had to be stalled or cancelled altogether. Similarly, the impacts of the global pandemic have meant thousands of academic positions have been lost through downsizing and restructuring with impacts for doctoral supervision.  2021 will be significant for how research is revamped and reprioritised again.

And, yet through all this, candidates and supervisors continued to work and meet together, to face and solve issues as they arose. Doctoral students doing empirical or creative arts work were locked out of the laboratories or studios they needed; unable to continue data collection, many found themselves undertaking more theoretical engagement than was originally intended. Nevertheless, the writing continued, theses have been completed and submitted, and examiners continue to examine.

The challenges and affordances of remote support have been front of mind throughout 2020. We’ve seen the proliferation of online Shut Up and Write groups, all sorts of workshops being offered free of charge to doctoral candidates, and many conferences on doctoral education moved online. Mostly this has allowed more people to participate than if these sessions were to be held face to face, though internet accessibility and time zones have become more noticeable than some had previously recognised.

This year DoctoralWriting has slowed down the rate at which we publish new posts after 8 years of sharing ideas with our community, moving from weekly to more or less fortnightly publication. We’d decided on this before the emergence of COVID-19, but recognise the centrality of this digital environment for maintaining connections, pushing ideas forward, and swapping good tips. The face of our own computer has become something like the watering hole for many of us.

A satisfying achievement for us this year was the publication of our book, Doctoral Writing: Practices, Processes and Pleasures. We wanted to collect up the key ideas we have worked on in this blog and make them accessible to readers in a more organised format. Although the blog will continue to evolve, a curated selection of highlights was timely.

Special thanks to our guest bloggers in 2020 – your contributions to the discussion around doctoral writing is hugely appreciated. The list of contributors demonstrates what an international community we are.

Joan Woodhouse, University of Leicester, UK: Developing doctoral students’ critical writing skills through peer assessment and review

Fiona Lamont, University of Auckland, New Zealand: Creative arts and industries: The practice-based arts voice

Mary Jane Curry, University of Rochester, USA: Supporting students through the “messy times” of finishing the dissertation: Voices of completers

Sabrina Islam, University of Melbourne, Australia: Academic Writing: Perspective from an English as Second Language Speaker

Lyn Lavery, Academic Consulting, Auckland, New Zealand: World-wide kindness towards doctoral writing during Covid 19 lockdown: Shared resources

Kalypso Filippou, University of Turku, Finland: Writing a thesis by publication. Some reasons for and against

Michelle Jamieson, Macquarie University, Australia: Experience matters: Mindfulness and doctoral education

We have nearly 17,000 followers now, and hope this means that our work is being read by those who can benefit from the ideas we circulate on the site, whether they are supervisors, writing experts or doctoral candidates. If you have ideas for a post, please contact us via doctoralwriting@gmail.com. If this has been the strangest year ever, it may have also been a stimulating one in terms of what doctoral writing is and should be.

Our thoughts go out to all of you. We celebrate your achievements in these difficult circumstances and applaud each and every one of you who has managed to get through all the challenges thrown at us this year. Sending peace and goodwill to all of you, in both the cold dark winter of the northern hemisphere and the warmth and sunlight of the south. Be cosy or cool, whatever you need most at this moment. We’ll be back in February when the Australian academic year starts again.

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash