What makes a successful writing group?

angeladobele02-smallDr Angela Dobele is an academic at RMIT University in Melbourne. Her teaching and research practices seek to make vital contributions to resolving the social, environmental and wicked problems of our times.

In her scholarly practice, Angela aims to be grounded in real-world problems, critical in theoretical and marketing orientation, and andragogical in her approach to student performance.

Her thesis topic and subsequent research considers word-of-mouth (at the intersection of relationship marketing and communication theories), both online (viral) and traditional referrals. Her other research topics concern academic workloads and research on student performance. Angela can be found on Twitter at @AngelaDobele.


Photo by Mark Asthoff | unsplash.com

Photo by Mark Asthoff | unsplash.com

An Organiser’s Perspective of Writing Groups: Dr Angela Dobele (@AngelaDobele)

It’s really hard in a crowded academic life to make time for your own research writing and spend time with your colleagues.

To create a great foundation for doing both, I introduced a writing program at my institution that aims to help staff and research higher degree students with the twin goals of improving writing skills and ramping up writing productivity.  The program is currently in its fourth consecutive semester and gradually increasing in popularity.

I conduct two writing groups each semester. In the program, we use the metaphor of ‘landing planes’ (a phrase coined by one of my first participants, Professor Lisa Farrell) with each aeroplane representing the achievement of a specific writing goal, such as submission of a journal manuscript or book chapter.

Over the three previous semesters that the program has run, participants have successfully landed 102 planes. Landed planes include 27 papers submitted to top flight journals, 18 grant applications (including four ARC expressions of interest and an ARC Linkage expression of interest), and 10 journal re-submissions.

The program is having an impact because it:

  • Socialises a task that is traditionally lonely (writing);
  • Incorporates gamification in the development of new writing habits (specifically, habitual writing practice);
  • Develops skills that make a favourable impact on research performance (research outputs and quality of outputs).

Increasing writing productivity is not about writing faster; it is about writing more often. It is what Silvia calls making writing ‘routine and mundane’ (Silvia 2007, p. xi). Read more of this post

Developing my portfolio career

Ian StreetIan Street is a postdoc at Dartmouth College working on how plant hormones affect plant development.

He is the writer of The Quiet Branches plant science blog and is looking towards a career in science writing or editing.

In his time away from the lab bench and writing, he’s a runner and cat owner.

Ian tweets from @IHStreet.


Photo by Ian Street

Photo by Ian Street

First, let me state my situation and some of the things I am assuming as I develop my career:

  1. Most postdocs do not go on to jobs as Primary Investigators (PIs).
  2. The longer you’re a postdoc, the less likely #1 becomes.
  3. Major depression ground me down mid-postdoc. Having a lot of support and writing has helped me recover some momentum.
  4. Deciding to leave academia is not easy. Introspection and experimentation are required.
  5. To find a job/ career outside academia, network, yes, but it is also important to gain experience in fields of interest if possible.
  6. The Internet is the key to my efforts from the small-town college where I’m a postdoc.

The career I’ve settled upon to pursue beyond academia is perhaps obvious: it is the world of science writing and editing.

Addressing Doubts

It seems obvious. Too obvious, for a few reasons.

This is the “Who are you to break out into a new field?” anxiety narrative I have in my brain:

It’s writing and editing. Who can’t do that, and do both well, in academia? Besides, the written word is apparently dying because pictures and video are more important/ compelling in the digital age. Writing is more than putting words on a page, of course. Getting things out of a brain in a coherent form (it’s always perfect in my mind, why can’t that just pop out on the page?!), letting an editor’s brains see it, review it, suggest changes, or say “no” (it’s almost always a “no”) is daunting. Then there’s the exposing of your ideas to a wider audience – this might be exciting, but it is also fraught with fear of rejection.

The path of a career transition is far from certain. Read more of this post

Free the academic conference

Craig Lundy photoCraig Lundy is a Senior Lecturer in Social Theory at Nottingham Trent University.

After finishing his PhD in Philosophy at the University of New South Wales, Craig held a series of teaching and research positions in the UK and Australia, moving between the fields of Sociology, Cultural Studies and Politics. Most of Craig’s research has focused on exploring the nature of change, and in particular the usefulness of Gilles Deleuze and related thinkers for understanding processes of transformation.

In 2011-12, Craig teamed up with like-minded colleagues in London to create an annual conference with inclusivity at its heart – the London Conference in Critical Thought (LCCT).

This post speaks to one of the issues that prompted the creation of the LCCT: large and unfair conference registration fees.


2016 London Conference in Critical Thought program | Photo sourced from Twitter's @A2K4D

2016 London Conference in Critical Thought program | Photo sourced from Twitter’s @A2K4D

We have a problem with academic conference registration fees.

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for a multi-day conference to attract a registration fee in the region of AUD$600 (USD$450, €400, £330). I have seen fees that are even larger, but it is the size of the ‘average’ or ‘competitively priced’ conferences that are perhaps greater cause for alarm.

There are of course exceptions to the rule, but need I say that the exceptions prove the rule, and only highlight our problem. Such sums may not be a big deal to some sections of academia, but they make conference participation prohibitive to many. Bearing this in mind, it becomes apparent what our problem really is: not nearly enough academics on ‘hard’ employment contracts see a problem with the status quo, and even fewer are willing to speak about the problem, let alone do something about it.

The status quo is morally compromised

Conference organisers do their best to put on events that serve the needs of their constituencies, and they generously sacrifice their time and labour for the good of the academic community. It’s important that we acknowledge and applaud their efforts.

Nevertheless, it must be said that the status quo regarding conference registration fees is to a large extent morally compromised. There are a lot of things that could be said here to illustrate the point, but I’ll limit myself to one: while ‘standard’ participants pay a registration fee, it is commonplace for keynote speakers to have their expenses subsidised or paid entirely by the conference organisers, these costs being covered (at least in part) by the collection of conference registration fees.

So, when participants such as students or unemployed/underemployed postdocs pay and ‘star’ keynotes don’t, we have a situation where the least wealthy participants are paying the way for the most wealthy. And I have yet to come across a convincing justification for this situation. Read more of this post

Write Up (#MelbWriteUp)

JMurphy-smallestJason Murphy is Senior Research Communications Advisor at the Graduate Research School (GRS), La Trobe University. He created and manages Melbourne’s Write Up (#melbwriteup).

Jason works full-time and is undertaking his PhD part-time, which he’s written on before. He’s working on a research project that critically examines the role of marketing in contemporary society.

He’s previously worked in industry as a graphic designer and in the arts sector with the National Gallery of Victoria and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.

He tweets from @murphy_jason.


#MelbWriteUp in full swing (during a break). Photo by Jason Murphy.

#MelbWriteUp in full swing (during a break). Photo by Jason Murphy.

What happens when researchers with varying levels of experience and from different institutions come together in an intensive, all-day writing workshop?

#melbwriteup happens!

It’s a once a month, day-long meet-up that helps researchers focus on their work, block out all distractions (while still getting to be social), and collectively reach their individual research goals.

The first #melbwriteup in December 2015 was a bit of an experiment, formed out of a conversation a month beforehand between myself (a PhD candidate) and the Research Whisperers (Tseen Khoo and Jonathan O’Donnell).

I had just attended the inaugural 3-day RED writing retreat at La Trobe University, and I wanted to keep that productivity fire burning. Read more of this post

Shut up and write – so hot right now (Part 2)

The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy's cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)

The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy’s cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)

As mentioned in Part 1, I did a quick survey of various long-time members of the first #suaw crew I started with.

This first crew met every Friday morning at about 9am at Pearson & Murphy’s cafe in Melbourne, taking over the big wooden table.

Many of them still do, and I try to join them every few weeks to get my collegial fix. The fact that I occasionally turn up and face a table full of many people I don’t know makes me both happy and nostalgic. The organic nature of the #suaw sessions is their strength, and I miss seeing various colleagues regularly whose jobs and roles have changed. So, I sent them some questions about their #suaw experience.

Some respondents chose to follow my survey questions closely, while others provided narratives with their own formats.

Because of the great answers and different voices that came back, I wanted to present them in full here.

Voila Part 2!  Read more of this post

Shut up and write – so hot right now (Part 1)

The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy's cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)

The #SUAW table, Pearson and Murphy’s cafe, Melbourne (photo by Tseen Khoo)

There’s no doubt that ‘Shut up and write’ (#suaw) sessions have spread happily and organically across academic institutions. The Whisperers are big fans of #suaw and have written about it with zeal a few times:

Many university graduate schools and researcher development units coordinate sessions, and consider them as crucial parts of a healthy academic writing community. Many PhD researchers know about them and look for them wherever they are. When they don’t find them, they start them. They become embedded weekly events, and can be spontaneous gigs, too.

#suaw formats are as diverse as how the pomodoro segments that organise the sessions are used. As well as shutting up and writing, my colleagues and I have been known to ‘shut up and blog’, ‘shut up and edit’, and – periodically – ‘shut up and review Australian Research Council grant applications’.

It has been almost five years since I attended my first #suaw session at RMIT’s Pearson and Murphy’s cafe. Read more of this post

On leaving home and growing up

caitlinnunn-smDr Caitlin Nunn is a researcher in refugee studies. Her work focuses on refugee settlement, including in relation to youth; identity and belonging; cultural production and media representation; and generational change and intergenerational relations. Much of her research is participatory and arts-based.

Caitlin is currently an International Junior Research Fellow in the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University.

Her fellowship project uses a participatory arts-based approach to explore experiences of local belonging among young forced migrants in North East England and Central Victoria, Australia. 


Photo by Deniz Altindas | unsplash.com

Photo by Deniz Altindas | unsplash.com

I won’t pretend it was what I planned.

It’s hard to ‘plan’ anything as a precariously-employed early career researcher, but I was looking for a position closer to home.

Like the university fifteen minutes from my house.

Nor will I pretend it was easy.

Moving across the world with a partner and toddler in tow to establish oneself in a new university, city, and country certainly has its challenges.

But here I am in the UK on a two-year research fellowship.

I will spend this time conducting an ambitious research project, chipping away at my ‘guilt’ folder of works-in-progress, and preparing to pursue my next, yet-to-be-imagined, academic adventure.

Most days, when I enter my office, it is as though I haven’t travelled at all. The globalised nature of academia means that everything is pretty much the same. The same email program and library search engine. The same bibliographic and data analysis software. And the deeply familiar bureaucracy.

Beyond this, however, something has changed: how I relate to colleagues, potential project partners, my work, and my academic identity. Read more of this post