Doctoral writing 2023: Where’s this year heading?

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By Susan Carter

Somehow we’re in February and what was a nice new year to be celebrated a few weeks ago has cranked up into taking itself seriously and we are back at work in the wilds of doctoral pedagogy.

For many of us, that means we are back thinking of different ways to support doctoral writing strongly, so that authors can both crack through obstacles to doing it—Paul Silvia is a help with this—and clearly see what examiners are looking for and how the weird genre of the doctoral thesis works.

Claire, Cally and I would like to begin this year with an invitation by asking readers who routinely provide writing workshops for doctoral writers to consider offering this blog a post in 2023.

Make that asking you, dear reader….If you facilitate writing workshops for undergraduates, for academics, or for creative writers and can see how your session design could be adapted, we’d welcome new approaches. If you have advice or exercises you have developed as a supervisor, you could also consider sharing them. And if you are a candidate with insights into doctoral writing that you think are both fairly novel and distinctly useful, here’s an opportunity to contribute to colleagues. You could email us here with a rough idea for a post to kick it off.

You might find stimulation for thinking about doctoral writing practices amongst the doctoral writing discussions that Juliet Lum and Susan Mowbray coordinate—these occur live, and then Juliet and Susan report on what was covered. Towards the end of 2022 topics including how to see writing as healing, and how supervisors and academic developers can work together to support doctoral writing. The discussions have the vitality of a community with shared interests yarning together, taking a topic from different points of view and sharing experiences. That ability to share interests, empathy and strategies makes this blog and these conversations worth continuing into this new year.

Moving along from an invitation to publish a post with us, I’d like to post a provocation prompted by the last few traumatic years of a pandemic with subsequent lockdown and climate extremes that have devastated some regions and disrupted lives. There’s some good empirical evidence of this (e.g., Byron, 2020; Bukko & Dhesi, 2021; Levine et al., 2021), besides the videos on the news.

So yes, this is a newish year, but many of us feel less secure than we might have done a few years ago. It seems unrealistic to ignore what is happening outside of academia when much is so intrusive as to affect what happens within it.

So what do you think about this: Should the academic community encourage doctoral writers to include mentioning any external trauma that has affected their research in the same way that they would if experiments failed, or data proved unexpectedly impossible to get? Are some external disruptions as legitimate an aspect of doctoral research as internal disruption? Is how doctoral researchers handled such disruptions a vital part of demonstrating their development into independent researcher professionalism? Does this relate to discipline, with HASS more likely than STEM to see the epistemological relevance of contextualising research within the experience of doing it?

I’d like to do more on this on this blog, and I am wondering if there’s a research project on the issue of writing about personal trauma affecting research experience. Could we start a discussion on how that writing could be framed, and where in the thesis it might go, so that academic integrity is maintained? Susan would be pleased if you sent her an email with your thoughts on writing in the thesis about the impact of the pandemic or climate change on research experience and then if there’s interest, she will assemble ideas into a post to follow this one.

Meanwhile, over the break Cally, Claire and I have been putting together another book, this one a guide to editing a journal special issue or a monograph with chapters from different authors. It’s for a great Routledge series edited by Pat Thomson and Helen Kara that is aimed at early career academics perhaps including doctoral candidates and especially new graduates seeking an academic career: Insider guides to success in academia. These are little books where authors with experience offer suggestions that they hope will be helpful for those taking on work they haven’t done before. You may find something of interest amongst them.

For us, it took us back into the sharp reality of academic writing: producing academic writing to a deadline, writing in a slightly different genre than usual, and doing this over the summer break. Admittedly, it’s been a stormy summer down here in the Southern Hemisphere, rather denying the idyll of sunshine, beach, outdoor walks, so urgency at the computer has seemed appropriate. But thinking about how to keep at writing for longer than is quite comfortable, how to savour what works well while staying alert to what needs more clarity, and how to write within the genre is now alive in our minds. Sometimes the gap between experienced academics and doctoral novices is not too huge.  

References

Byrom, N. (2020). COVID-19 and the research community: The challenges of lockdown for early-career researchers. eLife , no page numbers. https://elifesciences.org/articles/59634

Bukko, D. & Dhesi, J. (2021). Doctoral students living, leading and learning during a pandemic. Impacting Education: Journal on Transforming Professional Practice, 6(2), 25-33. 

Levine, F. J., Nasire, N.S., Rios-aguilar, C., Gildersleeve, R. E., Rosich, K. J., Bang, M., Bell, N.E., & Holsapple, M. A. (2021). Voices from the field: The impact of COVID-19 on early career scholars and doctoral students (Focus Group Study Report). American Educational Research Association: Spencer Foundation. https://doi.org/10.3102/aera20211

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