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