Pilates/Yoga and Helping Students Write



By Heather Campbell

Heather Campbell has a PhD in History and has studied and worked at Queen Mary University of London for a number of years. As a Learning Developer she now works with undergraduate and postgraduate students helping them develop insights and practices that will contribute to their success at university. As part of this role she helps to organise and run the ‘Thinking Writing’ PhD and staff events which include retreats, workshops, reading groups and Thesis Boot Camps. For more about the work of Thinking Writing, you can take a look at the website: www.thinkingwriting.qmul.ac.uk.

For the past three years Thinking Writing at Queen Mary University of London has been running a Thesis Boot Camp for late stage PhD students. We style our events after the award-winning program developed at the University of Melbourne, in order to help PhD students get over the final hurdle of ‘writing up’.[i]As part of this intensive weekend, we offer students the chance to take part in a brief pilates/yoga class. More recently, we have discussed offering this type of activity at our one-day writing retreats, which has prompted us to question what our overall purpose is with our events. What are we trying to do? If it is only to help students get words down on the pages of their theses, should we take away writing time by offering a pilates/yoga sessions? On the other hand, if it is to enable students to better cope with the demands of a PhD in general, perhaps pilates/yoga has a role? Continue reading


Seven things to think about when organising a writing retreat/group/boot camp


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By Alice Hague

Alice Hague recently submitted her PhD at the University of Edinburgh, UK. She is interested in faith-based engagement in politics and the public sphere, and her thesis investigates faith communities and environmental activism. Earlier, Alice described how she set up a variety of social writing supports. In this post, she provides some great advice about light and space, time and co-hosting – perfect tips for anyone wishing to DIY their own writing event. 

Alice Hague

When I started my PhD, I had never heard of writing retreats or writing groups. I certainly never expected to find myself co-leading residential and non-residential writing retreats and a monthly writing group at my university. Yet, as I started to come across resources like @DocwritingSIG, I increasingly felt that my thesis-writing would benefit from some form of structured, communal writing experience. I was struggling to find opportunities however, and eventually came together with a friend and colleague, to try and create something.

The writing group that followed became an important part of my PhD experience. It contributed not only to words on the page, but also to a sense of community, something that was critical in helping me to turn pages of field notes and interview transcripts into a completed thesis. So, if you feel that a writing group might help you make progress, I encourage you to try it out. Even if it is just commitment to a morning writing session with a friend, give it a go – you never know where it might lead. Here are a few things to think about, as you try and find what works for you. Continue reading

What’s the best way to get writing done?


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By Alice Hague

Alice Hague recently submitted her PhD at the University of Edinburgh, UK. She is interested in faith-based engagement in politics and the public sphere, and her thesis investigates faith communities and environmental activism. This is the first of two posts from Alice, and here she describes her own challenges with writing, and her moves to do something about them.

I had heard all the advice: write 500 words a day (but what about?); find a writing group (how?); go on a writing retreat (where? And yikes, they’re expensive!). I started following twitter accounts that seem to know what they were talking about (thanks @thesiswhisperer, @DocwritingSIG and @researchwhisperer). Heck, I even read books about writing (Helen Sword’s Stylish Academic Writing; Robert Boice’s Professors as Writers, and Kamler and Thomson’s Helping Doctoral Students Write among others), as if I didn’t have enough reading to be doing for my PhD itself. But I was still waiting for the magic to happen. I felt I needed to find the right space. Or needed the right desk set-up. And I needed to find the time to write: there was always something else going on – another paper to read; coursework to be done; teaching to be prepared; a twitter feed to scroll through…

Photo: Alice Hague

And so I decided to stop looking elsewhere for spark of inspiration, and make something happen. Along with a colleague, Coree Brown Swan (@Coree_Brown), I applied for, and received, a grant from the University of Edinburgh’s “Researcher Initiative Fund” to organise two residential writing boot camps – one in the fall semester; one in the spring of the second year of my PhD. We built our case for funding on evidence that shows the benefits of social writing (Murray and Newton, 2009), and set about booking a retreat centre in the middle of the countryside, organising transportation, and trying to recruit participants from across the school. We charged a small deposit to ensure people were committed to attending and to try and avoid no-shows or late drop-outs, and successfully ran two, three-day boot camps, each with sixteen attendees from across the university. The residential part of the plan was important: we brought unfinished chapters and articles, notes and outlines, and found the time to focus on writing away from the concerns of everyday life. Writing sessions were interspersed with relaxing walks in the forest, and catered meals meant we could focus on our work. Continue reading

“The world is larger and more connected”: experiences of an online Thesis Writing Group


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By Dr Susan Mowbray with Christina Green and Rachel Westcott

In last week’s post about a virtual writing group, participants were self-managing regular opportunities to do writing together – this week’s post describes a regular online writing group where participants do their writing separately and then come together to discuss their writing.

Two participants and the group facilitator tell us how it works. Christina is a professional music therapist and composer, songwriter and performer based in Melbourne and working on her doctorate part-time. Rachel is a practising veterinarian and volunteer coordinator for South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management; she is based in Adelaide and is completing her PhD (by papers). As the Academic Literacy Advisor at Western Sydney University, Susan facilitates the group.

The Online Thesis Writing Group: practices and processes

Online Thesis Writing Group (TWG) members meet in virtual online spaces (via ZOOM) for up to two hours once a fortnight.  Groups are small and meetings are facilitated so that each piece of writing is allocated equal time for group discussion. Continue reading

Survival and solidarity: Virtual shut up and write, parents’ edition


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This guest post is written by Katrina McChesney from the Virtual Shut Up and Write Parents Edition Facebook group. Katrina has just finished her PhD through Curtin Universitys School of Education (Western Australia), researching teachers experiences of professional development within education reform.

There’s no easy way to get a PhD, but many doctoral students have learned the power of community for easing the journey in important ways – motivation, accountability, encouragement, celebration of milestones, support with questions that arise along the way.

Previous posts in this group and elsewhere have described various ways this community can look – bootcamps, AcWriMo, retreats, writing accountability meetups and hands-on ‘Shut up and write’ gatherings, either in person or online via social media or web conferencing.

For a large number of doctoral students, though, the tight time frames involved in many of the above activities are problematic. I am a survivor of that highly-frazzled, multi-tasking, socially-absent, time-poor, no-longer-master-of-our-own-time experience: parenting while PhD-ing. PhD parenting was described this way in a recent blog post:

“Whether it is a ‘solid’ work day squeezed into school hours, an important paragraph stopped in its tracks by the needs of a small person, or carefully laid fieldwork or lab plans scuppered by an unexpected dash to the doctor with a sick child, interruptions to schedules are the norm, not the exception. The flexibility of PhD time can be both a blessing as well a curse. Most parents would do anything to avoid having to drag a small child along to a medical appointment or grocery shopping. For a PhD parent fitting these things into your day becomes a breeze. A breeze that is, until you realize that school pick-up is only 45 minutes away and you haven’t written a sentence since 10am.”

In this context, it can be almost impossible to carve out a whole weekend for a bootcamp, or turn up on Twitter at just the right time for #SUAWTues. Instead, we PhD parents need a ‘tribe’ with a whole lot more flexibility and understanding – a place where we can access support, encouragement and accountability whenever we happen to have a few minutes available (without necessarily knowing in advance when this will be!).

Continue reading

Creating and sustaining #MelbWriteUp



As AcWriMo rolls into its second week, we expect this contribution from two incredibly productive bloggers -Tseen and Jason – will inspire you to arrange your own no-fuss, low cost writing retreat asap!

Tseen Khoo is a lecturer in research education and development at La Trobe University. She is one half of the Research Whisperer team.

Jason Murphy works as a communications professional at RMIT University and is a part-time PhD candidate at La Trobe University. He is the founder of #MelbWriteUp.


The first #MelbWriteUp started as an experiment, to see if momentum from a 3-day writing retreat at La Trobe University (where Jason is a PhD candidate) could be sustained.

In his own words, here is what #MelbWriteUp is, and what it’s for:

“An initiative of Jason Murphy, but founded on the power of writing socially, #MelbWriteUp is a monthly, intensive, weekend-based writing day that uses the pomodoro method. Researchers at all levels of experience and from many institutions are using #MelbWriteUp to work on book chapters, journal articles, conference presentations and doctoral theses.

Photo:Jason Murphy

While writing is the main focus of our activity, researchers are also using the event to perform any research related activity, such as coding, transcription and data analysis. The day gives you the opportunity to dedicate intense, distraction free focus to your research – and to meet other researchers during the breaks.”

Jason has written about the project twice in the Research Whisperer, from its early days 5 months after beginning (May 2016) and 18 months later (August 2017). Continue reading