“Writing doctoral research”: Learning through peer critique and feedback


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Our guest blogger today is Pia Lappalainen. She has a PhD in Science (Technology) and an M.A in English and French Philology, Communications and Pedagogics. Currently a lecturer at Aalto University in Finland, she pursues new pedagogy promoting doctoral-level curriculum design.

By Pia Lappalainen

If doctoral candidates are pained by various aspects of their research process, so are their supervising faculty! While pressure is accumulating for expediting thesis completion and for increasing high impact factor publications, universities everywhere are feeling the strain of fewer resources to support those outcomes. Higher engineering institutions in Finland, too, are struggling with fiercer competition for state- and private-sector funding and the subsequently tighter finances. To survive, Aalto University has taken some drastic decisions, cutting down on post-graduate course supply and contact hours in those courses that survived a recent downsizing. This forces pedagogues to re-think their pedagogical approaches to the already dwarfed course foci and contents. I’d like to share here how we harnessed peer critique as an instrument ensuring sufficient feedback while shrinking teacher contact hours.  Continue reading


Managing feedback on writing in team supervision



By Cally Guerin

Team supervision has many advantages for doctoral candidates and supervisors, as demonstrated in the emerging literature on this topic (see, for example, Guerin & Green 2013; Kobayashi, Grout & Rump 2015; Lee 2008; Manathunga 2012; Robertson 2016). But it can also bring some challenges, not least of which is how to handle the feedback from two or more supervisors who may not always completely agree on what the writing needs. This can become a source of anxiety for the student, and can also create tension between supervisors themselves. In some research I undertook with Ian Green and Wendy Bastalich, we talked to PhD candidates about the logistics of managing feedback from a team of supervisors. We called the paper “Big Love”, since it seemed that part of the task was to keep everyone in the supervision team happy, much like the husband with multiple wives in the TV show of the same name.

Supervisors can offer all sorts of advice on writing, from the big picture issues around structuring the material to the sentence-level details of grammar and word choice. When those comments are in conflict, students can feel torn between whose ideas they ought to follow: the principal supervisor? The advice that makes most sense to the student? Find some middle path that may not really address any of the divergent opinions? Continue reading

Helping students write a literature review – Part II


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This is Part II of the guest post by Cecile Badenhorst of Memorial University in Canada. For an extended discussion of these ideas, go to her article on “Literature reviews, citations and intertextuality in graduate student writing”

In the first part of this blog post, I suggested that explicitly teaching students the genre of literature reviews and the many ways experienced academic writers use citation practices can help students understand this challenging genre. In this post, I want to focus on complexity in literature reviews. These papers require complex higher order thinking skills and the ability to critique, evaluate and review knowledge in sophisticated ways. Reproducing this complexity is often the most challenging for students. It is even more challenging for those of us involved in teaching this genre: How do we make the complexity more visible and accessible? Continue reading

Helping students write a literature review – Part I


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Cecile Badenhorst MA (UBC), PhD (Queen’s) is an Associate Professor in the Adult Education/Post-Secondary program in the Faculty of Education at Memorial University.  Her research interests are post-secondary, higher education and adult learning experiences, particularly graduate research writing, academic literacies and qualitative research methodologies. In this 2-part guest post she explains her approach to teaching postgraduates about literature reviews.

By Cecile Badenhorst

After many years of running workshops on “How to write literature reviews”, I realized that postgraduate students often left with a few useful tools but without that deep understanding of what was required. Without a doubt, the literature review is one of the most challenging genres students face. It is also one of the most challenging genres to teach. How do you explain in an hour or two a process that takes years of practice, feedback and revision to hone and refine? Recently, I conducted research on literature reviews with the specific aim of helping me to teach this genre to postgraduate students (Badenhorst, 2017; forthcoming). In this and the following blog post, I will explain what I’ve learned. In Part I, I’ll explain the useful tools and in Part II, I’ll explain what’s missing from most pedagogies on literature reviews. Continue reading

What makes our writing ‘academic’?


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Our guest blogger this week, Julia Molinari, is an EAP (English for Academic Purposes) Tutor and PhD Researcher at the University of Nottingham in the UK. She is bilingual English/Italian and teaches academic writing to Home and International undergraduate and postgraduate students. Her PhD research focuses on ‘what makes writing academic’ and is supervised by the School of Education and the Department of Philosophy. She blogs at https://academicemergence.wordpress.com/ and tweets @serenissimaj and @EAPTutorJM.

By Julia Molinari

When you ask anyone this question—be they initiated or not—their answers will roughly cluster around the following features: its formality, linearity, clarity, lexical density, grammatical complexity, micro-macro structure (i.e., from paragraphs to whole-text organisation), intertextuality and citation, objectivity, meta-discursivity (Learnhigher; Bennett 2009; Bennett 2015, 6-8).

As someone who teaches academic writing to undergraduates and postgraduates with English as a first or additional language, I hear such answers all the time. And it’s clear why these beliefs persist. They persist because that is what we’ve all been taught.

But there are instances of academic writing that don’t tally with the above. Continue reading

Mental health, doctoral study and supervision: Can ‘troubles with writing’ mask other problems?



By Claire Aitchison

Corridor conversations often reflect problems more widely felt. Recently a friend, just back from dealing with a particularly difficult student-supervisor issue, revealed how concerned she was about the mental health of both parties. She had been called in to help because the student reportedly was having ‘trouble with her writing’.

For those of us who regularly work in the space between supervisor and student, being called in to help is likely to expose us to a disproportionate number of ‘troubles’. Whether identified by supervisors, research committees or students, I have come to expect a relatively predictable range of ‘troubles with writing’. These ‘troubles’ can often be sheeted back to the following:

  • unhelpful feedback (typically inconsistent, contradictory, incorrect, uninformative, inappropriately delivered);
  • neglect (typically little or no feedback, no formative feedback, feedback too late to be developmental);
  • student resistance to taking advice;
  • writers’ block.

As a literacy adviser and/or academic developer across different institutions over many years, I have also learned that such ‘writing troubles’ often coexist with intensified emotional states. Writing is a deeply personal and emotional activity – and doctoral writing is particularly fraught because the stakes are so high. For supervisors and students alike, much is riding on the ability to explain one’s work eloquently and to argue convincingly for significance. The research has to be sound, but so does the medium for conveying this good work: the writing.

But I am interested here in the co-existence of ‘writing problems’ and mental health. Continue reading