Updates in Doctoral Ed

10/16/17 PHD comic: 'Confusing Malaise'

PhD Comics - October 18, 2017 - 7:02pm
Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com title: "Confusing Malaise" - originally published 10/16/2017

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How successful academics write

Latest from the Thesis Whisperer - October 18, 2017 - 4:00am

Helen Sword is, hands down, one of the best writers on academic writing working today. The difference between Sword and other people working the writing advice patch is that she uses an interesting range of research approaches to inform her work. A new book from Sword is a nerdishly exciting moment for research educators like me and always an automatic buy. This time I was lucky enough to get a review copy of “Air and Light and Time and Space: how successful academics write” in the post.

In the interest of full disclosure, I know Helen professionally and admire her as a generous and talented senior colleague. I am one of the people interviewed during Sword’s research process for this book. I read the book with interest, but I threw out my review when Dr Amani Bell, a fellow higher education researcher, contacted me to ask if she could do one for me.

Dr Bell is a Senior Lecturer, Educational Innovation, and Honorary Senior Lecturer in the Sydney School of Education and Social Work, at the University of Sydney. Her main research focus is exploring student-staff partnerships to enhance higher education. She tweets at @AmaniBell. Take it away Amani!

How’s your writing going? If you’d like to reflect on your behavioral, artisanal, social, and emotional writing habits, try Helen Sword’s BASE quiz (background info here). It’s only four questions, so it’s pretty quick. Just drag the sliders to see the range of possible responses, admire the shape it creates, and then click on ‘see my profile’.

My profile is, rather delightfully, called the ‘seabird’. It brings into focus what I already know – that I ‘struggle to write as productively as [I] would like to’ and suggests that I ‘establish a more productive daily routine: for example, by joining with other writers to start an accountability group or a weekly write-on-site meet-up.’ I’m directed to the relevant section of Sword’s new book – Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write – for further suggestions, examples, and readings.

I am a longtime fan of Helen Sword’s work on academic writing. I first came across her lovely piece in Studies in Higher Education on Writing higher education differentlySword writes the first part of the paper in a conventional way, and then the second part in a more daring, direct and elegant way. This paper really transformed my thinking about how to write about my research.

A side note – I didn’t know Sword at that time, but I sent her a quick email saying how much I appreciated her paper. She ended up mentioning me in the acknowledgements of her 2012 book Stylish Academic Writing, which goes to show that a short note of thanks can mean a lot to an author.

Air & Light & Time & Space builds on Stylish Academic Writing to focus not so much on writing but on writers.  As Sword says on the first page:

…whenever I was invited to talk about [my books on academic writing] with faculty and graduate students, I noticed how quickly our conversations about sentence structure and style strayed to other writing-related issues: for example, work-life balance…or power dynamics…or emotion. …Gradually my scholarly gaze began to lift from the words on the page to the people who put them there…

So over a period of four years, Sword interviewed 100 academics writers and surveyed a further 1,223, including PhD students. From this impressive data-set, Sword has drawn out many different ways to approach academic writing. This is a welcome relief from the message that there are only certain ways one can be a successful writer, such as writing a certain number of words every day, or writing at a particular time of day. Sword showcases the writing habits of her research participants ‘in all their messiness, contradiction and variety’.

Each chapter contains many brief excepts from Sword’s interviewees, as well as page-long interludes that provide deeper insights into the practices of academic writers. One featured writer is the Thesis Whisperer herself (see page 143), who also gets an index entry, which is surely something to tick off the academic bucket list! The chapters conclude with a ‘Things to try’ section, so that you can apply the chapter’s findings to your own writing.

Air & Light & Time & Space busts the myth that skilled academic writers easily and quickly churn out perfectly formed prose. Describing academic writing as artisanal means viewing writing as a craft, a painstaking and time-consuming path towards making something beautiful. While I have been working to write more stylishly since first reading Sword, I see this process as a lifelong journey.

As you’d expect, the book is beautifully written. I liked that at the beginning of Part 2: Artisanal habits Sword shares with us six ‘false starts’ to the section, giving us a rare and welcome glimpse into the writing and editing processes. Sword also shares stories about the places in which she writes, and the people she writes with. In that spirit, I wrote this blog post in various ways and venues. I made hand written notes on the bus, jotted down notes in emails to myself, let things dwell in the subconscious a while, and then pulled it all together in Word. I found that writing with a glass of wine in hand at an airport bar wasn’t as effective as with a cup of coffee in my office! One of the main themes of Air & Light & Time & Space is to experiment with writing in different situations to find out what works best for you. For me it’s deadlines, travel, retreats, and Shut Up and Write. For you, it may be a completely different set of conditions.

What emotions do you feel about your writing? Frustration? Anxiety? Pleasure? Satisfaction? These are some of the emotions most commonly reported by participants in Sword’s study. Most participants reported a mix a positive and negative emotions about writing: ‘an indication that emotional ambivalence is the norm rather than the exception’ (p153). Of particular interest to readers of this blog is Sword’s finding that female PhD students are three times more likely than male PhD students to report wholly negative emotions about writing. Sword felt that this was likely due to the tendency of women to underestimate their abilities – imposter syndrome strikes again – and that ‘only after academic women have finished their PhDs and moved into academic positions does this emotion gap begin to narrow, although the prevalence of negative-only over positive-only emotions persists until retirement age’ (p154-5).

I enjoyed the details of Sword’s research study in the appendix, and it’s good example of how to write up research methods clearly and elegantly. Her very extensive and generous acknowledgements section is also a pleasure to read, and the bibliography – well let’s just say I have major bookshelf envy and would love to see Sword’s bookshelves!

If you’re looking for a quick fix, this ain’t it. As Sword says in the preface, Air & Light & Time & Space: ‘offers no ready-made blueprint for academic success…[i]nstead you will find here a flexible, customizable building plan intended to help you design your own writing practice from the ground up.’  If you’re looking for inspiration, and for guidance about writing that will keep you company throughout your PhD and beyond, then I highly recommend this book.

Disclaimer: I have met Helen and am an admirer of her work, but purchased the book from my own funds and was not solicited to write this review.

Thanks Amani! Yes – I was thrilled to be in the index #bucketlist. In my opinion, if you are seriously interested in improving your writing – or teaching others, this book is an essential buy. Did you do the quiz? What’s your BASE profile, and did you find the quiz helpful? Did anyone get the coveted ‘rock’? Let us know in the comments section.

Other books by Helen Sword (if you buy these using the link your purchase supports the Whisperer)

Stylish Academic Writing

The writer’s diet: a guide to fit prose

Recent book reviews on the Whisperer

The Professor is IN

Critical thinking – the hardest doctoral skill of all?

Will my children be damaged by my PhD?

10/09/17 PHD comic: 'Lab Business'

PhD Comics - October 12, 2017 - 4:58am
Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com title: "Lab Business" - originally published 10/9/2017

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I call bullshit on pointless ‘hope labour’

Latest from the Thesis Whisperer - October 11, 2017 - 4:00am

About 30% of my work week is classified as ‘service’: work that supports others in the community, such as sitting on committees, writing reviews and references, consulting on problems and so on. As a result of this higher than usual level of service work, the sheer number and range of things I do in a day can be bewildering.

Sometimes I feel like I work behind the counter at an academic delicatessen serving an endless line of hungry customers. Three thin slices of policy analysis? No problem. 100 grams of soothing hurt feelings about the feedback your supervisor gave you on that draft? I can do that for you – and I’ll throw in a book recommendation too. A medium size container of problem solving? How about a large one with a hand full of diplomacy? It’s on special this week!

Keeping up with all the multiple, sometimes conflicting demands is hard. Unfortunately all the people standing in the line at my academic delicatessen are invisible to each other and have no idea how busy I am. Sometimes I feel like I am flinging packages of intellectual cheese and salami at people at random. Then, into all this frantic motion, walks in that one customer. If you’ve worked in retail you know the sort. Their demand to be served right now seems thoughtlessly entitled given how many other customers are waiting for service.

This week that customer was a journal publisher asking for yet another peer review. “Can’t you SEE I’m busy!” I yelled at the screen.

To give you some context to my annoyance, in case you didn’t know already, the conventional academic publishing system is seriously flawed. Many academic journals are owned by corporations that leverage the free labour of academics into ‘share holder value’. This is a way of privatising public money that has many ramifications for our universities, as I have written about at more length elsewhere (see “The academic writer’s strike”).

I’m conflicted about publishing in journals because the system seems so broken. So I approach the problem using a simple formula. For every submission to a journal, regardless of whether it gets accepted or not, I do at least two reviews. In this way, in theory, I give back pretty much what I ask. But somehow it never works out that way – I always do more peer reviews than I planned.

So, despite my annoyance, I read this peer review request carefully. Unlike most of the requests I get, the paper was about research students. So I asked myself a harder question: does the paper actually look important? A quick read of the abstract indicated it was about supervision. There is a lot – I mean a LOT – published about research supervision. This one would have to be something special to convince me to spend time on it and unfortunately it wasn’t. Yet another, very small scale institutional case study. I’ve read masses of these and in my opinion, they don’t offer much more than what we already know, so I pressed ‘decline’.

So far, so normal, but the link in the email immediately redirected to a request for me to refer the paper on to a colleague. This is when I got cranky at my demanding customer. Please bear in mind, I was tired. It was 11pm and I had been working in my academic delicatessen since 10am. For some reason the immediate request that I pass this on to yet another over worked colleague rubbed me the wrong way. I wrote a rather snippy reply, which you can see in the image below:

In case you can’t read it, my response was as follows:

“(the reason I declined is) The burden of reviewing, frankly. I have a policy of only performing the same number of reviews that I ask from the community. I have submitted 4 papers for peer review this year and therefore was planning to do 8 (assuming there are two reviewers on each paper). However, I’ve already 18 this year and it’s only July. By the by, I have noticed the quality of reviews of my papers are dropping, which suggests more and more inexperienced academis are taking up the slack – probably without adequate support and mentoring. If the system is to survive, the business model really needs to be addressed. This is not a problem specific to your journal, but I thought I would point it out since you asked”

To be clear my comment wasn’t meant to infer that people who are inexperienced are always bad reviewers, or that experienced academics are necessarily great at it, but the overall drop in quality needs some explanation. That more inexperienced academics are being drawn into reviewing seems as good a reason as any; at least, it’s consistent with the general culture in academia of pushing un-wanted work onto junior colleagues.

I posted my rant to Twitter and Facebook and got a deluge of responses. Most people agreed with my sentiments, but some took issue with my interpretation and even called me selfish – a charge I reject whole-heartedly. Some people on editorial boards told me they had already reviewed 40 or 50 papers because people like me were hitting the ‘decline’ button more and more. Others told me that the reviews they got were dropping in quality too (a memorable line from a review received by a colleague in statistics was “what is this p-value thingy?”).

Look – I could be wrong. If anyone has any evidence that something else is going on, I’d love to hear it in the comments, but let’s assume for a moment that more and more junior colleagues are being asked to provide journals with peer reviews because senior people like me are not contributing enough anymore. What is the problem here really?

With my fulltime wage comes the expectation I will give back to my community and that my employer will be supportive. However, many early career academics have insecure employment and PhD candidates are on very low incomes. If these less advantaged academics are being asked to take up the slack, they are effectively being asked to prop up a disintergrating publishing system with their free labour. A system, I might add, that is also experiencing enormous growth due to pressure by our employers to have ‘outputs’ and, presumably, the publishing company share holders, who want to pocket the profits.

What are the consequences for the individual and academia more generally? More importantly, as a PhD student, how should you respond to this pressure?

‘Service work’, such as peer reviewing, is often presented to our junior colleagues as an ‘opportunity’ to add to the CV, not what it really is: free labour in the expectation of some kind of other, unspecified reward later on. In a recent paper I wrote with colleagues we called this type of work ‘hope labour’ (following Kuehn & Corrigan, 2013 – reference at the end of this post).

Asking people to contribute hope labour walks a fine line between providing opportunity and exploitation. In my view, before a PhD student or a paid-by-the-hour (or ‘gigging’) academic says “yes” to any service work request, it’s worth asking a few questions:

  1. If you have not done this kind of service work before: is this a good opportunity to develop new skills?
  2. If you have done this kind of work, how exactly does doing more of it benefit you?
  3. Will the service work be recognised in some way?
  4. Does this service work help you build your network in such a way that might lead to future (paid) opportunities?

If you can confidentally answer “yes” any one of these questions, the service work is probably worth doing. Now, let’s subject peer review requests to this rubric.

Aside from (potentially) keeping you abreast of new developments in the field, after you have done enough peer reviewing to get a sense of it, I question whether most PhD students or gigging academics should do more. I think the time is better spent reading over your colleagues’ manuscripts instead. Providing helpful feedback to those around you is a way of building a community of support and collegiality that is of immediate benefit to everyone, including you (as the saying goes, you have to earn the right to ask a favour). So, unless the paper promises to be fascinating, after you’ve done four or five peer reviews you might want to start saying “no” more often than “yes”.

Recognition can take many forms other than money: a certificate, the right to claim an association, a free lunch – whatever. One of the key problems with peer reviewing is there is little or no recognition. Journals sometimes send form letters as a thank you – but most often you get nothing. If you review regularly with a particular journal it’s worth asking for a testimonial from the editor saying you did a good job. If they are not willing to do this, seriously consider a blanket “no” in the future. Trust me there will always be others asking for your time.

From the academic networking point of view, peer reviewing for a journal is virtually useless. The whole point of peer reviewing is to be invisible, so your work will go largely un-noticed as well as unrewarded. Unless you have some kind of ongoing relationship with a member of a journal’s editorial board, very few of the people who matter to your future career are seeing you work and, more importantly, getting to know what you can do. Why not volunteer to be on an organising committee for a conference instead? This enables you to meet people and work alongside them – crucial for building networks that might eventually lead to paid employment.

So I call bullshit on journal publishers’ endless demands for hope labour, especially from PhD students. I recognise that academia needs a gift economy to operate, but it should be full time academics like myself doing the lion’s share – and I should not have to work past 11pm at night to satisfy the demands of for-profit companies. If you’re a fulltime academic, or a member of an editorial board, I hope you think carefully about the opportunity you are really offering before you invite someone with less status and salary than yourself to do extra work. And seriously, if we can’t keep this shop open without people being decently compensated for their work, we might want to think about closing the doors on our current model of peer review publishing – for good.

What do you think? Maybe you disagree? Maybe you can shed some light on the problem? Or perhaps you want to share your experience of hope labour to help others work out what work to accept and which to reject. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Related posts

The academic writers’ strike


Kuhen, K & Corrigan TF 2013, ‘Hope labor: The role of employment prospects in online social production’, The Political Economy of Communication, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 9-25.

10/04/17 PHD comic: 'Signs you're ready to graduate'

PhD Comics - October 6, 2017 - 8:32am
Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com title: "Signs you're ready to graduate" - originally published 10/4/2017

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How doing an internship saved my PhD

Latest from the Thesis Whisperer - October 4, 2017 - 4:00am

This post is by Mia Tarp Hansen, a Danish third year PhD candidate in political science, enrolled at La Trobe University in Melbourne. Mia’s research is located in Kazakhstan and Central Asia, specifically focusing on civil society conditions and policy in the area. Mia has spent 1.5 years in the field, mostly in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, where she has worked closely together with diplomatic representations, NGOs and independent media in order to understand their experiences in the region. Her passion for the region started at age 12, when she first arrived in Kazakhstan to live in a completely alien place, which turned out to be home above anything else. She is currently writing up her thesis, expecting to submit shortly. You can follow Mia on Twitter at @AlmatinkaMia

It was a warm summer day in Kazakhstan. I was having a pretty tough time. Mid-thesis crisis. Emotionally demanding fieldwork in Central Asia, a break-up, and just the feeling that I didn’t succeed with my fieldwork, or my PhD. I was supposed to do productive fieldwork in the political sphere of Kazakhstan. Instead I felt that I spent a lot of time feeling frustrated about my interviews and my work.

I didn’t want to go on. I was tired of academia; tired of the advice we had received at my university. All the seminars were about how to build an academic career – but what if you don’t want that? What if you want to work in the field? I didn’t want to go back to my desk and my PhD. I felt that I was a failure. I felt that I wasn’t a good academic.

As a go-around solution I panicked, which turned out not to work. Then, my partner at the time gave me the best advice I received that year: to apply for an un-paid internship, relevant to my studies and expertise. He could see that I was burnt out, and that I didn’t know where I was going. I thought “what the heck”, and I decided to apply. I sent off a few applications to some diplomatic representations in Central Asia that use graduate students as unpaid slaves. I ended up getting two offers, hooray! I accepted the most convenient one. I was to work in a real diplomatic representation!

A month later I flew to Tajikistan, a beautiful, poor, and wild Central Asian state. My university in Australia – somehow, and thank God – supported me, and decided to continue my scholarship, as I managed to convince them of the relevance of the internship. And it did in fact turn out to be invaluable for my PhD.

Working in the field instantly felt like the fix, which I had yearned for. I was able to get my hands on things. But interestingly, I felt how my research skills from my PhD applied exactly to the tasks we were doing – and how my knowledge on Central Asia really paid off here.

The first weeks were chaotic – the country went through some violent clashes in the capital, and the political situation in the country shifted quite dramatically as we watched. Later, we had a big earthquake, and one day my flat also went on fire… Plus the repeated food poisonings. But I also saw also the unbelievable beauty of Tajikistan, and the warmth of the people there. It was a pretty crazy time, and it was definitely chaotic, but life still had much more structure than my “PhD life” previously had.

I worked 9-5 every day at the diplomatic representation. It was my first structured life in years. Getting up early, doing the job. Guilt-free evenings (well, except for that PhD…). I loved it. The imposed structure of the day made me realise that I work better in the mornings and afternoons – before, I had spent days struggling to get my PhD work done in the late afternoon and evenings, battling procrastination and daily chores. Now, I found my personal work rhythm. But more importantly, I got to work in the field, so to say.

I found out that my skills were applicable. My colleagues highly appreciated my capacities and input, and I absolutely loved using my research skills and my expertise a place where they were needed, a place where they came of immediate use. And most of all I enjoyed feeling that I made a difference. One day my boss, a career diplomat with years of experience in Central Asia, told me: “Mia, you’re the best Central Asia analyst I have ever worked with.” That was kind of a turning point for me. It turned out I was not the failed student I thought I was!

After three months in Tajikistan, my contract ended and I had to fly back to Kazakhstan to commence my second round of fieldwork, getting the final interviews done. Unlike the previous round of fieldwork I had there, I got up in the morning, did interviews and transcribed them as soon as I got home. If I didn’t have interviews, I worked from 9-5 on my thesis, and got home and had a guilt-free evening, maybe a night out with friends. I managed to get more than thirty interviews and meetings done in a bit more than a month, in two different cities. And I had fun doing it.

Why this sudden efficiency?

First of all, I had learnt my work rhythm. I had also through my internship in Tajikistan acquired some solid networks in my field, which meant that doors that were previously closed to me for my interviews now were open. But most of all I had realised the importance and application of my PhD. That my work was important and that it did matter. I was eager to write my PhD and do it well, because I had gained the contacts and the experience in the field that means that I (hopefully) will be able to get a job, and apply my skills where I feel they can be of use.

Thanks Mia! What a great story. How about you? Have you found some way to apply your skills and knowledge ‘outside’ academia in a way that gave you fresh energy for your PhD? Love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

Related posts

Academic on the inside?

What do academic employers want?

10/02/17 PHD comic: 'Impostor, Pt. 4'

PhD Comics - October 3, 2017 - 9:19am
Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com title: "Impostor, Pt. 4" - originally published 10/2/2017

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09/27/17 PHD comic: 'Impostor, Pt. 3'

PhD Comics - September 29, 2017 - 6:07pm
Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com title: "Impostor, Pt. 3" - originally published 9/27/2017

For the latest news in PHD Comics, CLICK HERE!

Academic writing is like a painful, upper middle class dinner party

Latest from the Thesis Whisperer - September 27, 2017 - 4:00am

This blog post is part of a series dedicated to developing ideas for a new book I am writing with Shaun Lehmann (@painlessprose on Twitter) and Katherine Firth of the Research Voodoo blog. “Writing Trouble” will be a Swiss army knife of a book, containing range of strategies and tactics for fixing academic writing that is good, but not yet great.

We generated chapter titles from the bad feedback PhD students have told us about over the years. Parts of this post will end up in chapter two: “Your writing doesn’t sound very academic”: how to convince your reader you belong”. The book will be published by Open University Press and will hopefully be out in late 2018. If you’re interested in knowing more about the book before we publish, you can sign up for our writing trouble mailing list.

Although I got reasonable marks for my creative essays in high school,  literary criticism was never my strong suit. One of the issues with my analytical writing was that I didn’t really understand how to use verbs.  It wasn’t until I nearly finished my masters degree that I found out that verbs function in academic conversation much like table manners at a middle class dinner party.

Let me explain.

I owe much of my education in verbs to the good work of Pat Thomson and Barbara Kamler and their excellent book ‘Helping Doctoral Students Write’. This book was crucial for helping me understand that in humanities writing, the verb you use to describe someone else’s work indicates your feeling about the quality of the work. For instance, “Mewburn (2010) argues…” is kinder than “Mewburn (2010) asserts…”. By using the verb ‘argues’ I invite the reader to consider that what Mewburn is doing is actually arguing – a scholar who asserts is not really a scholar at all.

Looking up the verbs in a dictionary makes the difference quite plain. According to Google, the first definition of ‘argues’ is “give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one’s view.” By contrast, the definition for ‘asserts’ is “cause others to recognize (one’s authority or a right) by confident and forceful behavior”. In the humanities, at least these days, we are meant to make knowledge by persuasion, not through authority. Authority is used more often in political or religious arguments. If you read back into the history of Western academia, you will find examples of writing that seems very strange to contemporary eyes. The tone is much more commanding and confident – this was because the origins of Western universities were monastic and it was acceptable to make an argument on the grounds that God had ordained something.

Times have changed (despite what some Australian politicians would like to think). When you think about it, most academic writing is highly passive aggressive. By using a verb to express your evaluation of someone else’s work you avoid directly stating your opinion, leaving it up to the reader to infer what you think. To read between the lines if you like. In academic writing you would never, for example, write “Mewburn (2010) is shit – don’t bother reading this paper. She’s a rubbish scholar”. You’d say something like: “Mewburn (2010) relies on insufficient evidence”.

You mean the same thing, but it’s you know – polite. At least it’s polite according to dominant cultural norms in academia which, it’s important to recognise, are not ‘natural’. While some people struggle mightily with the idea that verbs are like manners at a middle class dinner party, Indigenous students, and people who are first in family to get to University, tend to get it straight away. When I shared this analogy with one Wiradjuri woman she laughed and said “Right, so to succeed in the academy I have to write like an uptight white person? That makes perfect sense. I’m surrounded by them all the time”.

Sadly true.

Kamler and Thomson were writing for humanities scholars, but their work led me to develop an interest in deep nerd grammar within the sciences. The most interesting difference between science writing and humanities writing is the use of verbs, or rather – the lack of them. When scientists are evaluating the work of other scientists they tend to drop the verb altogether. In the brilliant “Disciplinary Discourses: social interactions in academic writing” (told you it was nerdy) Ken Hyland points out that scientists will make a statement and then put the reference for the fact at the end of the sentence, like so (totally made up example):

“The molecules in saline solutions cluster together tightly (Mewburn et al, 2010)”.

By placing the reference at the end and not associating it with a verb, the scientist ‘imports’ this idea without comment and effectively expects the reader to accept the idea as fact. Even when they do include verbs, scientists do it in ‘sciencey’ ways. If the scientist was inclined to more ‘flowerly’ language, they might use a neutral verb, for instance:

“It has been shown that molecules in saline solutions cluster together tightly (Mewburn et al, 2010)”

In this sentence, the passsive voice functions to leave out the identity of the person who showed how the molecules cluster, that’s because, generally, in the sciences the identity of the person who did the work is irrelevant. Scientists are assumed to be identical to each other and employ scientific methods and procedures exactly the same way. This point of view has been questioned by some who argue that scientists are human like the rest of us, but that’s not a Pandora’s box that I need to open here. To complicate matters further, not all scientists use verbs in this way all the time. Hyland points out that Biologists are the outliers of the science world and tend to deploy verbs much more like humanities people. In other words, it’s complicated, but you need to know the norms of your ‘tribal dialect’ to fit in.

So how can you operationalise this knowledge? Well, unless you want to take a risk challenge academic norms (and hey – don’t let me stop you!), give your writing an ‘uptight white person’ make over. Grab a few papers from scholars you admire and make a list of the verbs they use. Then cluster the verbs into three columns based on a passive aggressive index: “this work is great”, “This work is fine” and “this work is terrible”. You can look at my own verb cheat sheet as a model, but you’re best advised to make your own.

When you’re finished, stick your cheat sheet to your wall. While you are doing your literature review, examine your feelings about the work you are reading, and then pick a verb from the list that fits your judgment. Varied verb use will make your writing more interesting and precise If you are a science student, closely examine your own verb placement and compare it to work in your discipline – could you afford to use a few more verbs? Or do you need to pare it back?

I hope that’s clear – I’ll be making edits when I put this post into the book, so your questions are helpful!

More Writing Trouble posts:

Don’t let those ‘sticky words’ confuse your examiners

The vagueness problem in academic writing

09/20/17 PHD comic: 'Your Social Parabola'

PhD Comics - September 21, 2017 - 4:06pm
Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com title: "Your Social Parabola" - originally published 9/20/2017

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Thoughts on ‘Deep Work’

Latest from the Thesis Whisperer - September 20, 2017 - 4:00am

Cal Newport’s previous book “So good they can’t ignore you” is my all time favourite book on career building. Newport is an academic in computer science, but has made a tidy little side career in writing productivity books. I bought ‘Deep Work’ as soon as it came out and enjoyed it, but was so busy being productive on other projects that I had not got around to doing a review when Imogen Matthews sent me hers. I liked her take, and it certainly aligned with my views, so I was thankful that someone had done the review for me!

Imogen Mathew is a PhD candidate in Australian Literature at the Australian National University. Her thesis explores how Anita Heiss’s chick lit creates a more diverse, inclusive and glamorous Australia. She tweets at @ImogenMathew.

In a recent blog post entitled “How to Stop Flipping”, the Thesis Whisperer outlined the dangers of flipping between tasks without progressing on any of them. Her suggestion was to write a detailed and time bound to-do list, using the example of the literature review. The second dot point advised students to “look in your diary for stretches of uninterrupted time of at least 2 hours, but not more than four. Mark them as dedicated to your literature review”. The phrase “deep reading” recurred often throughout her list.

The Thesis Whisperer’s focus on deep reading provides a neat segue into my discussion of Cal Newport’s recently published Deep Work. Newport is a highly successful computer scientist at Georgetown University. Alongside his academic work, he has written a number of self-help guides for students in secondary and tertiary education: How to Win at College, How to Become a Straight-A Student, How to Be a High School Superstar, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

Titles like these make me feel uncomfortable and reinforce my reservations about the genre as a whole: in my view, self-help books operate on the assumption of deficiency, they are prescriptive and often read as clumsy attempts to deal with complex problems. I probably wouldn’t have read Deep Work if a friend of mine hadn’t told me about it over lunch earlier this year.

Newport divides professional work into two categories: deep and shallow. Deep work encompasses “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate”. A PhD, in other words.

Newport presents deep work as a state under constant threat from its enemy, shallow work: “noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate”.

Shallow work could designate many different tasks: data-entry, committee work and time spent on network and social media applications (email, twitter, facebook etc.).

Newport’s advances his argument along two, inter-related lines. The first relates to the impact of technology on the economy and the corresponding mechanisation of jobs: as machines learn to do an increasing number of tasks better than humans, employability becomes correspondingly specialised. As the capacity for deep work is not easily replicable by machines, humans who have this capacity will be well-placed for employment now and into the future. Deep work further advantages its adherents through an “ability to quickly master hard things” and “produce at an elite level in terms of both quality and speed”

Newport divides Deep Work into two parts, beginning with ‘The Idea’ (deep work is meaningful, valuable and rare) before elaborating on ‘The Rules’: work deeply, embrace boredom, quit social media and drain the shallows (be ruthless, in other words, in the amount of time allocated to admin, emails, meetings and social media). Deep work should be so cognitively demanding that it cannot be sustained longer than four hours – after that point, we head into brain mush. Those new to deep work may only manage one hour.

For regular readers of the Thesis Whisperer blog, this is not new advice. Shut Up and Write, the Pomodoro technique and Thesis Boot Camps are all built around these principles. If we know all of this already, it’s fair to ask what possible value there is in a book such as Deep Work.

Newport’s contribution is situating the ability to engage in cognitively demanding work within existing and future economies. Transposition of Newport’s argument to the world of the PhD candidate reads something like this: it’s worthwhile cultivating deep work habits not only because they will help you get things done, but also because they will be an asset in the post-PhD marketplace.

For me, Deep Work provided a welcome opportunity to review and refine my study skills. Newport’s demarcation of deep from shallow work functions as a convenient heuristic for categorising the different tasks involved in producing a doctoral thesis. I felt challenged, in a good way, to work on the knotty and demanding questions woven into my research and to do this in a disciplined, distraction-free state.

In my spare time I work as a gym instructor, and in much the same way that I encourage others to push beyond their limits (“you are stronger than you think!”), I felt that Newport pushed his readers to curb tendencies towards distraction and to engage in an intimate—not to mention uncomfortable—relationship with their intellectual potential.

Newport’s disdain for social media will not be for everyone, nor his advocacy of a purposefully distant approach to email and administration. He concedes that this type of shallow work is inescapable but urges readers to limit it to the absolute periphery of their schedule.

The strategies promoted by Newport may appear to contradict findings from the Thesis Whisperer on academic employability: that to be a successful academic today you need to be as strong in the ‘shallows’ as you are in the deep. And this means using social network tools to connect and engage within the academy and beyond. Yet these contradictions are not as worrying as they seem: Newport would likely respond that by committing to deep work (and remembering that this is never going to exceed a maximum of four out of eight working hours) PhD students can make time for the ‘other stuff’ too.

A far more disturbing element to the book for me was its gender politics. Almost every example featured a male protagonist to illustrate the virtues of deep work. Male scholars provided the primary theoretical ballast to Newport’s argument. I couldn’t help feeling that Newport had imbibed and regurgitated the unhelpful equation that deep work equals brilliance equals male. Women were present on the periphery, stranded in the shallows of Newport’s consciousness.

Thanks Imogen! A very thoughtful review I think you will agree. Have you read ‘Deep Work’? What do you think? How do you create distraction free time in your schedule?

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09/15/17 PHD comic: 'Inner Gollum'

PhD Comics - September 18, 2017 - 5:25am
Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com title: "Inner Gollum" - originally published 9/15/2017

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09/13/17 PHD comic: 'Impostor Attack'

PhD Comics - September 14, 2017 - 12:41pm
Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com title: "Impostor Attack" - originally published 9/13/2017

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09/06/17 PHD comic: 'Page Limits'

PhD Comics - September 7, 2017 - 10:09am
Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com title: "Page Limits" - originally published 9/6/2017

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09/01/17 PHD comic: 'Surveys'

PhD Comics - September 3, 2017 - 3:06am
Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com title: "Surveys" - originally published 9/1/2017

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08/28/17 PHD comic: 'Ritual'

PhD Comics - August 30, 2017 - 5:48pm
Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com title: "Ritual" - originally published 8/28/2017

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Conference small talk – the definitive guide

Latest from the Thesis Whisperer - August 30, 2017 - 4:00am

This post was originally published on the All things Linguistic blog about a year ago by Gretchen McCulloch. Gretchen started blogging as a linguistics grad student at McGill University, but is now a full-time pop linguist, bridging the gap between linguistics and the general public. She writes pop linguistics articles for various places and is currently writing a book about internet language for Penguin. She also cohosts Lingthusiasm, a podcast that’s enthusiastic about linguistics, with Lauren Gawne of the blog Superlinguo. I loved this post so much I asked if I could repost it for Thesis Whisperer readers who might have missed it.

The post tackles the tricky subject of making small talk with a speaker at a conference – a topic I’ve thought about writing, but never got to, so I was glad to find out that Gretchen had written a better one. As a regular guest speaker I know that many people eye you off at the conference morning tea, but don’t approach – making it a surprisingly lonely experience. Be kind to keynotes! Read this, muster up your courage and then start the conversation. Trust me, they will be grateful.

Making small talk with someone who’s just given a talk, whether at a conference or at a colloquium or invited talk, can feel intimidating, especially if you’re a student or early in your academic career. But as someone who’s currently spending a lot of time on the opposite side of that divide, I’ve realized that when I’m a speaker, I really really want people to come up and talk to me. So here’s your pep talk, and some tips on what to say.

The key thing to realize is that most of the time, you know more about the speaker than they know about you, so you need to start the conversation and you get to pick what it’s about.

Even before the talk, the speaker’s name and abstract has been emailed around the department or is in the conference booklet, and after the talk you’ve had somewhere between 20 minutes and an hour to hear them talk about what they’re interested in. If it’s a course, maybe you’ve even had weeks. Maybe you’ve googled them, maybe you’ve read their articles, maybe they’re your academic hero, maybe you just stumbled into the talk but now you find you’re enjoying it, whatever. You know something about them that makes them interesting to you.

The speaker, on the other hand, might not even know the names of anyone in the audience at all (at a conference) or might know only their one or two host(s) (at an invited talk). Or even if they know half the audience, if you’re one of the people they don’t know, then have no particular reason to want to talk with you. And even if they do have a general desire to meet people in their audience (and they probably do), all they have for small talk options with these unknown people are very general questions that can be asked of any linguist, like the classic academic icebreaker “So, what do you work on?” and its relatives “So, are you a student?” and “So, where are you from?” (Note that in an academic context, this means “What university(s) are you affiliated with?” and not “Where did you grow up?”)

Protip: if you’re new to academic conferences and want to seem like a srs linguist, make sure you have an answer to “So, what do you work on?” It’s acceptable to say “[phenomenon] in [language]” as a short answer, but it’s better to have a 30 second summary that gives the other person something more to hook onto, like “I’m looking at constructions like [Example McExampleface] in [language]. You might expect people to say [this thing], but in fact they say [other thing].” This gives them a couple of places to ask follow-up questions from if they’re interested. If someone gives you a “[phenomenon] in [language]” type answer though, a good way to continue the conversation is to ask “So what would that look like?/Do you have an example?/What have you been finding?” 

“What do you work on?” is a perfectly acceptable academic icebreaker for standing around the reception desk / coffee table / buffet line, but if you’ve just seen someone’s talk you can’t ask them what they work on – they just told you! If you hover around silently long enough, they might ask you instead, but you run the risk of someone who does know how to talk with speakers starting a conversation first. Of course, if you’re not actually interested in the speaker, you can leave without chatting, but if you are, there are better options than hovering around silently! Here are some of them:

Unlike the question period, you don’t have to have a formal “question” about the particular talk in order to go up to the speaker and talk with them afterwards. So instead think about how to start a conversation that will be interesting and relevant for both you and the speaker. A good way to think about this of options is to think about why you came to the talk and what you got out of it:

  • You like a particular article they’ve written or other thing they’ve done. If you know this in advance, you have time to work out some specific comment(s) or question(s) about it.
  • You’re working on or thinking about working on something that’s related to something they’re doing.
  • You’d like to ask some specific advice. (Not “how do I become you” but “I’ve done X and Y towards Goal. What would you suggest I do next?” Try not to ask things that are readily googlable.)
  • You work in Other Framework or with Other Language and you’d like to talk about how their thing might work with the thing you work on.
  • You know of a related study or data that they might find relevant. (Don’t frame this as accusatory “why didn’t you cite this??”, rather as helpful “there’s a paper that might be useful for you”.)
  • They mentioned something in the talk that you thought was interesting or got confused about, and you’re wondering if they could tell you a bit more about it. Not “please re-explain your entire talk to me” but “I’m wondering about what you said on slide 17.″ (Especially if they said “I’m not going into this in detail, but feel free to ask me about it later.” Take them up on this!)
  • You have some acquaintanceship in common, such as you’re working with their former supervisor or someone they went to grad school with. (”I just wanted to say hi – I work with Profy McProferson.”) You’ll probably still need to follow that up with one of the above topics though in order to turn into a real conversation.

It may feel self-promotional to go up to a speaker and say that you work on a similar area, but it’s actually a great idea, as long as you start with a quick version and let them ask questions as interested, don’t just jump right into an extended description. People do talks partly as a shortcut to networking – you could have a bunch of individual conversations with a roomful of people to see who has common research interests, or you could just give a talk and let them self-identify to you after. (Giving talks is, counter-intuitively, a great idea for introverts and socially awkward people! You get a defined role and a bunch of people wanting to start conversations with you about stuff you’re interested in.)

For example, I always want to hear from people who are working on internet language or public outreach projects, but same goes if you’re talking with a speaker about your mutual interest in split ergativity or Bantu languages or whatever. You’ll want to tailor this to what kind of conference you’re at though. If you’re at a big sociophonetics conference, it’s less interesting to come up to a speaker and say “I, like everyone else here, am a sociophonetician” than if you’re at a small general invited talk.

Here’s some more general tips, some of which are courtesy of twitter:

  • Several people mentioned that it can be a good idea to prepare a couple of potential questions or comments, especially if you’re worried about sounding more like a fan than a srs professional.
  • That said, as someone who has now been on the receiving end of occasional fangirling, I find it endearing but also I don’t always know what to do with it. It’s super helpful if you can set us on the course of having an actual conversation, rather than putting me into the weird position of “why yes, I agree, I am awesome.” It’s always nice and safe to start with “I enjoyed your talk” but follow that up with something concrete.
  • You know your own interests and also mine! I only know mine – tell me which of your interests matches mine and we can have a conversation about that. (”I really liked your thing about X, because I work on Y, and I think a Z approach can be useful for both of us/what we have in common is W/I was wondering how you deal with This Part.”)
  • Social awkwardness doesn’t evaporate when someone becomes a famous professor. They don’t hate you. In fact, for most professors, mentoring emerging scholars who are interested in similar topics is one of the highlights of the job.
  • Remember that the speaker was once a student just like you, and can remember what it was like to feel intimidated. And the further removed someone is from being a student, the more students they have interacted with along the way. They’re not expecting you to know all the things already. But they can’t read your mind to know that you’re wishing you could talk with them. You have to take that initial step and then they can meet you partway.
  • You know the speaker’s name, but they likely don’t know yours, if you’re worrying about whether to talk with them (especially at colloquia/invited talks where people aren’t wearing nametags). Feel free to introduce yourself by name and/or introduce anyone else you know who joins the conversation.

And some advice about what happens once you’ve started that conversation:

  • Pay attention to your surroundings and the speaker’s level of interest. It’s great to engage a speaker in conversation but you’re probably not the only one who wants to do so.
  • If there are lots of people who want to talk to the person, keep your comments brief or try to convert things into a group conversation, not an extended monologue from you.
  • If it’s immediately after the speaker’s talk and they haven’t had time to get water/food/coffee/etc when such things are available, suggest walking to the appropriate location rather than trapping them in a corner without sustenance.
  • If you’re talking about your own research, don’t be self-deprecating about it (”Oh I’m working on X but it’s not nearly as cool as your thing”). Even if it’s not going so great right now, there must be some initial reason why you thought it was interesting enough to work on. Find that again.
  • If you’re seated next to each other at a dinner table, it’s appropriate to have a longer conversation than if you’re at a standing reception (or keeping the speaker from the reception!).
  • As with any conversation, keep an eye out for signs the other person is becoming bored or distracted – it’s better to leave the other person wishing you could have talked longer than to have them hunting for excuses to leave.
  • If the person gives you advice, take it! If you meet the person again in 6 months, you want to be able to say “I read that article you suggested and I have X question/it was super helpful/it wasn’t completely related but it did lead me to this other great article” not “oops I spent all this time getting advice from you and didn’t act on any of it.”

Anyone who’s been on either side of the speaker/audience divide want to chime in?

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Gretchen also suggests this post on how to talk to famous professors

Why you should blog during your PhD

Latest from the Thesis Whisperer - August 23, 2017 - 4:00am

I’m an advocate for blogging, obviously, but should you blog during your PhD? Will you have time? Will it be a distraction? I find it hard to answer those questions, but a growing number of people are doing it and I’m lucky enough that Gaia Cantelli wrote in to share her experience of blogging, which I think we can all learn from.

This post is by Gaia Cantelli, who is now a postdoctoral associate at Duke University, where she works on breast cancer and metastasis. She completed PhD from King’s College London, where she studied the molecular mechanisms driving melanoma metastasis. She is passionate about science communication and outreach, and you can find more of her writing at scienceblog.com and on her time4science site.  

This year, the PhD students of the Randall Division of Cell and Molecular Biophysics at KCL founded a collaborative PhD student blog. Here are a few of the reasons they feel writing and blogging in particular is a great opportunity for PhD students!

You get to explain what you love to the public

You got into your field because you love it and it’s only natural to want to understand why you do. A blog is a fantastic opportunity to explain to the general public how your area works and how your project is trying to make a difference. Explaining very complex concepts in a simple and accessible way can be much harder than to write them up for a bunch of academics. In fact, Richard Feynman reportedly once said that “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t really understand it”. That’s both a challenge to your understanding of your own work and to your writing skills!

 You get to practice your writing

No matter what stage of your PhD you are at, writing your thesis is always looming in the background! Writing is not something most PhD students will have practiced extensively before getting to the write-up stage (at least in the sciences!), which means most of us could probably use the practice! Brush up on your syntax and your grammar (can you remember the difference?), as well as your style and not least your typing skills! Come thesis time, you will be glad you’ve kept your writing muscles nice and toned. Plus, the writing practice you’ll get with blogging will pay off once you get a “real job” and have to deal with writing all day

You are free to express yourself

If you are a PhD student, it’s most likely that you’re very passionate and opinionated about your field. Sadly, it is also true that not many people might be agog to hear your two cents about it! A blog is a fantastic platform to express yourself and really get into the nitty-gritty of what bothers you or excites you about the hottest new development in your field. Plus, the Internet is a big place and it’s more than likely you’ll find other people (PhD students, other researchers or just enthusiasts) who agree with your opinions. Intellectual debate is always stimulating and fun (although the Internet is also full of not-so-nice people so be prepared for some not-so-nice comments if you post anything controversial!).

It’s good for your CV

Looming past your already looming thesis is your approaching need for employment. Whether you want to stay in academia or you want to explore your options in the private sector and beyond, employers always value writing experience – or so we’re told! Most jobs that are available to PhD graduates involve a huge percentage of writing, which is why it makes sense for employers to seek out people who not only can write but are passionate about writing!

 You work together with other PhD students!

Working on a cooperative blog with other PhD students from your area or department can be really fun as well as useful! After all, these are your peers and most likely your friends! Blogging is a great chance to work on a project together, bond and discover new sides of each other.

Thanks Gaia! Have you started a blog, or shared in the running of one? What advice do you have to share?

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08/21/17 PHD comic: 'Eclipse'

PhD Comics - August 21, 2017 - 9:10pm
Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham www.phdcomics.com title: "Eclipse" - originally published 8/21/2017

For the latest news in PHD Comics, CLICK HERE!

The principled PhD?

Latest from the Thesis Whisperer - August 9, 2017 - 4:00am

While PhD students can start at any time in some universities, in some there is a semester by semester intake. This means that some people will be starting their PhD this month. How should you approach this process to get the most out of it?

Judith Krauss, now Director of Studies for Sustainability, is still surprised she a) got through her PhD and b) had any friends left by the end of it. At the Global Development Institute (GDI), University of Manchester, she used in-depth fieldwork in Europe and Latin America to investigate cocoa sustainability initiatives and the environment, incorporating voices from cocoa producers via civil society to consumers and companies. Building bridges across constituencies partly stems from her background of working and volunteering e.g. in Morocco, South Africa, France and Germany in diverse private-sector, public-sector and civil-society settings, from a children’s safe house to the World Bank. As a post-doc, her focus in helping to establish GDI’s Brooks Doctoral College was on creating the best possible environment for PhDs, encouraging them to make their voices heard in academia and beyond. In all research, teaching and being, her aspiration is that people think for themselves and believe in themselves, extending also to volunteering e.g. for the Sustainability Challenge and Manchester Central Foodbank

After I passed my PhD defense in March 2016 (thank you God), friends in earlier PhD stages jokingly tried to see if I could somehow rub off on them. This is the hope of this post – sharing some thoughts on (surviving) the journey. Naturally my PhD principles are specific to my department, the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester (UK) and discipline of development studies, but I nevertheless hope some observations will be useful to everyoneon a PhD journey.

Work on your supervisor relationship(s).

There is a fundamental asymmetry worth recognising: whereas you work almost exclusively on your thesis, your supervisors will have several candidates to supervise, research to conduct, students to teach, books to write, etc. You are entitled to supervision, but try to be respectful of supervisors’ time: meet deadlines, negotiate when they will have time to read your work, both of which is in your own interest.

Clarify your relationship from the outset – what are the terms of engagement with primary/secondary supervisors? This may also involve telling your supervisors what kind of supervision you need from them. To relate across all differences in personalities and background, having continuous, open conversations from the beginning are crucial.

Listen to your supervisors. Mostly.

Especially early on, I was continuously amazed by how the things my supervisors said, while making no sense to me at the time, came back to me about three months later accompanied by a huge light bulb over my head. While I was exceptionally lucky with my supervisors, Prof Stephanie Barrientos and Prof Dan Brockington, there were issues on which we disagreed – some I conceded to them, but some ideas I also stuck to if I had a good reason to over-rule their academic counsel, often rooted in my practitioner experience.

I realised about 30 minutes into my first-year annual review that ‘I did this because my supervisors told me to’ was not going to be a satisfactory explanation any more. I decided to do what my supervisors recommended only if I could justify it as my decision for my thesis.

Break it down into manageable chunks.

Coming from the world of work, I found a deadline three whole years into the future difficult to wrap my head around. So I did what I have told many students since: translate it into manageable chunks. What does the overall word count mean in terms of chapters to draft, words to write, in what time frames?

Keep going.

In our first week, somone told us that a PhD was a constant assault on our self-confidence. It is. The only way forward is through. I discovered that continuous work was the answer to my frustrations with myself – I never had bursts of 3,000-words-a-day productivity, but just persistently read literature, worked on chapters, engaged with stakeholders, until my nonsense would start making slightly more sense. And, surprisingly, it did!

In order to keep going, it is also vital to devise strategies for how to give your brain space to breathe, and come back to work with fresh eyes (in my case: volunteering). And whatever happens, remember it is still an immense privilege to spend years of your life thinking, reading, researching. Appreciate the opportunity!

Engage with others’ work.

However lonely the PhD journey may feel occasionally, there will be others working on similar questions as you. Find them! Try to engage with whatever reading or research groups you can, ideally in your own backyard or further afield.

I was very lucky to have two reading groups in my department which were instrumental in helping me finish in three years and with no corrections (Global Production Networks/Environment and Development): these fora made me privy to a lot of brilliant people’s thinking, while forcing me to look up from my work to recognise the broader debates. Wherever you can get this additional input from – seize it! It helps make you a better thinker and raise questions you had never considered.

Appreciate all who contribute.

You cannot write your thesis alone. And ‘all who contribute’ is likely to be a large group of people –family, friends, supervisors, fellow postgraduate researchers who lend moral and other support (and vice versa!), but also anyone who contributes to your work. Appreciate them! Be clear that you cannot promise funding or support to stakeholders, but try to feed back findings to the public and your contributors.

That can also mean keeping them apprised of what you are doing, not necessarily only reporting back after you have made sense of it all. Strategies I chose were organising public engagement sessions and putting some outputs online, e.g. stakeholder reports and podcasts in three languages.

On a side note, the principle also includes your examiners – I would strongly advocate having nice people in your thesis defense. My examiners, Prof Bob Doherty from York University and Dr Rory Horner from my department, were not only a great fit academically, but made the viva a positive space for engagement.


After being on education’s receiving end for such a long time, it can be incredibly rewarding to give back and engage with students (not necessarily in lectures if that terrifies you). In essay-writing support and dissertation supervision, I found myself repeating to students what my supervisors had said to me, which helped me re-question if I was really making my argument clear in my thesis? And it can be comforting to know that beyond the hours spent staring at a screen, you are benefiting, and learning from, students.

Have a life.

Not as obvious as you think. To thrive in and enjoy (at least occasionally) your PhD, you need activities that have nothing to do with your work – triathlons, meditation, volunteering, whatever.

You need people in your life who have no idea what a methodology is, and frankly also don’t care, because they care about you, not your thesis. Incidentally, having to summarise your PhD for them may help you identify what is most important in your work.

The best of luck on your journey! What are your principles?

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