Again we have the pleasure of wrapping up another calendar year of the Doctoral Writing blog. As always, we note how quickly the year has passed – and 2022 is no exception.
This year Covid continued to dominate our lives despite the desire of our governments to ignore it, and, increasingly, we have seen the impacts of global warming on our everyday routines. In Australia, like elsewhere, weather events have caused great upheaval – following massive fires in previous years, in 2022 we’ve experienced devastating floods.
Few people will have escaped these momentous events and the associated personal, financial and emotional tolls. By and large ‘living with uncertainty’ is now how we do research and supervision. Doctoral supervisors, researchers and students operate with the ever-present threat of disruption in decision-making about what projects can be undertaken in the first instance, and what contingencies will be factored into research designs going forward.
Within our institutions and amongst our colleagues there is a genuine feeling of exhaustion – we hear it as people begin again to congregate at conferences, as people return to workplaces slowly (re)building human connections, seeking out old acquaintances and ways of working. Small rituals like meeting up for a coffee seem light years away from the virtual world of technology malfunctions and home-only dress codes. Claire recently attended her first ‘post-Covid’, in-person writing retreat where whiteboard markers and wipes had dried up; a small reminder of how precious – and precarious – our pleasures are. Susan ran an in-person writing retreat workshop where doctoral candidates sat around the room on cushions and were simply keen to share live space and talk to each other about their writing. Cally has focused on creating community online with regular ‘writing in company’ sessions that connect doctoral writers in their own workspace with others spread around the country and overseas.
Circumstances may have stalled projects and directions may have changed; but despite all this, the actual work of doctoral writing hasn’t gone away – research must still be rendered into text.
Other changes, accelerated by the global pandemic, have entered the doctoral space. Paper-based technologies are unlikely to be competitive ever again – where once it was routine to post a PhD thesis to the examiner, this now is well-nigh impossible. Libraries keep only virtual copies of doctoral theses.
Our communication modes have been impacted, including the recent buffering of Twitter. Within the supervisory team, doctoral writing is managed and exchanged via the cloud, candidate-supervisor relations and feedback on doctoral writing is routinely conducted virtually. Digital technologies allow doctoral research to reach broader audiences; traditional academic publication forms are increasingly giving way to podcasts and videos, text and images uploaded to the web. With advances in natural language processing tools and artificial intelligence, online technologies for immediate language correction, support and translation have altered our ways of working with language and writing.
What have we learned from living with and through crisis?
In some ways these changes seem extraordinary; in other ways, the business of doing and supporting doctoral writing has altered little. Where we can, we like to think there is scope for doctoral candidature to be an oasis from the uncertainty, pace and pressure of academic life.
At its heart, doctoral writing is a developmental process that takes time; it remains incremental, it is iterative, identity-forming and transformational. It is at times frustrating and demanding, endlessly complex and rewarding. It is to be celebrated.
At the end of 2022 we remind ourselves of how privileged we are to work with doctoral candidates, their supervisors, and supporters at the coal-face of creating knowledge and scholarship. And we celebrate the colleagues (especially Susan Mowbray and Juliet Lum who run our hugely successful Discussion series), plus the guest authors and readers who make this blog what is it!
May we all have a joyous break – we’ll see you again in the New Year.
Claire, Cally, Susan.