Struggling to be more productive? Maybe this book can help?



A Book Review by Claire Aitchison

Newport, Cal (2016). Deep work: rules for focused success in a distracted world London. Piatkus

“You need to read this!” said my colleague as she handed me this book. She’d heard of my struggles to survive in my new open plan office and she’d seen me sweat and strain under the daily tsunami of emails.

But I’ve never been a fan of the self-help genre, and besides that, I don’t have time to read for pleasure! So it sat around in my lounge room until, spurred on by guilt, I picked it up with the aim of reading just enough to politely return it. However, I found that, despite myself, I enjoyed it – enough to encourage doctoral students and academic friends to have a look for themselves. Continue reading


Writing and time-scheduling: How long does it take to write that thesis?



By Claire Aitchison

This question comes up frequently for students and their supervisors as they try to plan for timely completion of the PhD. And we’ve written about it before.

We all acknowledge that writing productivity is more complex than any formula. But it is possible to make a reasonably accurate ‘guess-timate’ by adopting practices that increase productivity in combination with output calculations that are based on project targets, writing tasks, and real, personal circumstances. Continue reading

‘Impact’ is important for published researchers, but what does it mean for doctoral writers?



By Claire Aitchison

These days there is an increasing expectation that research has ‘impact’. There is more to this than government policy (such as Australia’s Engagement and Impact Assessment). The impact agenda has particular resonance in a world where research funding is increasingly constrained and universities compete for influence and reputation in order to attract funding. ‘Impact’ also connects to quality, and accountability.

Impact is sometimes narrowly conceived of as countable measures of the uptake of research (ie publications, citations and grants) but it also includes less easily quantifiable things like influence on practice, resultant applications, the generation of new ideas and outcomes, and longer-term subtle change. This perspective relates to ideas about the public good and the public intellectual – in other words, it is about being connected to, and giving back to, society.

But how does this impact agenda affect doctoral research and writing?

I think there might be a number of ways. Firstly, considerations of ‘impact’ can constrain or influence the choice of doctoral research topic. For example, an aspiring doctoral candidate may have a personal passion or interest in floral art – but is this alone worthy of 4 years of public funding? If, however, their research concerns the re-imagination of the cultural aesthetic, an exploration of commercial value, or the preservation of endangered flora for floristry, the potential impact becomes clear because the benefit of the research is clear. Continue reading

Getting graduates to publish from their theses – an online Writing Bootcamp


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This week’s guest bloggers are based in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Peter Rule is an associate professor at the Centre for Higher and Adult Education in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University. Liezel Frick is an associate professor and director of the Centre. Magda Fourie-Malherbe is a professor at the Centre.

By Peter Rule, Liezel Frick & Magda Fourie-Malherbe

Encouraging graduates to publish from their theses, and so share their findings with a wider audience, can be a challenge. While universities encourage such publication, Anthony Paré (2010) notes that the kind of pedagogical work needed to support student (co-)publication is often not well understood or supported within institutions. The challenge is even greater when graduates have left their alma mater and are enjoying the relief and normality of ‘a life after the thesis’.

Some students do manage to publish from their theses, before or after graduation. However, we have also seen many of our graduates’ theses disappear into libraries or repositories, even though we felt they had something to contribute more widely. While graduates might intend to publish from their theses, it often does not happen because of loss of support and momentum, and because life just ‘takes over’. With this in mind, we decided to initiate an online ‘writing bootcamp’ to facilitate the writing and publication of graduates’ work. Here we share research in progress on the writing bootcamp process. Continue reading

Learning how to theorise data in doctoral writing


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In this post our guest blogger, Kirstin Wilmot, explains how her research into thesis writing provides insights into how students can learn to move effectively between concrete data and abstract theorising. She uses the concept of ‘semantic gravity’ from Legitimation Code Theory to explore this movement in doctoral theses. Kirstin is a final year PhD student in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney.

By Kirstin Wilmot

Theorising data in PhD research is a daunting task. It’s easy to get lost in the wilderness of data, and when the commonly given advice is to just ‘apply theory to your data’, it’s easy to see where anxiety creeps in. What does ‘theorising’ even involve?

There is little consensus on how to theorise. Most studies tend to adopt a focus on the importance of using theory in research, but don’t provide much guidance on how to actually apply theory to data.

I have used ‘semantic gravity’ from Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) to better understand the theorising process. Continue reading

How many chapters and pages are there in a doctoral thesis?


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In a follow up to his post on ‘When is enough reading enough for a doctoral thesis’, Ian Brailsford provides some fascinating metrics on the size of doctoral theses. Ian is Postgraduate Learning Adviser in the Libraries and Learning Services at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. 

By Ian Brailsford

The digitisation of doctoral theses is a great boon to current doctoral candidates: reviewing recent examples of doctoral work in their institution is only a few clicks away. New candidates can appraise doctoral work done by former scholars in their department to get a feel for aspects such as chapter structure, page length, academic writing style, and referencing conventions: reading a thesis to write a thesis as Cally Guerin recently advised. Moreover, they can readily access doctoral work globally and, with a bit of research savvy, probably locate a PDF copy of their supervisor’s doctoral thesis!

As a postgraduate learning adviser one of my regular weekly routines has been to check our digital repository to see which new doctoral theses have been uploaded. This reconnaissance is a nice way to see who has finished, who has been thanked in the acknowledgements, whether or not the thesis includes publications, and if I’m able to understand the abstract. Although a few new doctoral theses are embargoed, there are usually six or seven new ones to scan through each week.

Just over three years ago I started keeping an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of how many pages there were in each thesis and the number of chapters. Once I got a sample of 100 theses from 2015 I began looking for patterns in the data. Continue reading