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

Staying on the radar

I unearthed this fragment of a post the other weekend. I started writing it in 2012, when I was about two years into a professional role at a university as a research grant developer. I had had about ten years of researcher life before that, with back-to-back research-only fellowships. My feelings about leaving my researcher self behind were mixed, to say the least.

Now, I’m about two years back into an academic job after leaving that professional role. And I have things to say to my 2012 self. 

Hopefully, this dialogue with the self is useful for those of you with ‘portfolio careers’ and seemingly zig-zagging career paths. It may never seem like the right way to do things, but  it helps to know that there isn’t a right way to do things.

Me, writing in 2012 while in a professional role: 

What’s the shelf-life of academic expertise?

This is an issue that’s haunted me ever since I started working on the ‘other side of the fence’ in my current professional research development role. I was used to being easily identified as ‘academic’ for many years, and it was the angst of having to explain being a research fellow position that occupied my time. Common things I’d have to say: “No, I don’t teach”, “no, I’m not supposed to teach”, “yes, I’m 100% research”, “yes, that means I don’t teach”.

Now, as a research grant developer, I’m in a role where I’m constantly advising researchers on what’s good practice and savvy research strategy. I can’t help but view my on-the-ground experience as a researcher for over a decade as a core part of the value I bring to my job. Similarly, if I’m not publishing, presenting at conferences, or debating critical issues with peers, am I a lesser occupant of this role?

For example, if I was awarded (and completed) a shiny competitive grant, does my experience in putting that application together count, more than five years later? If I haven’t published in an academic journal for over ten years, do I have credibility advising researchers on how to strategise submissions and papers, or negotiate editorial processes?

I’ve kept a part-time hand in with running the research network but, other than that, haven’t given an academic conference paper or written an academic article for about two years.

It feels strange. Read more of this post

When word counts count: Responses to last week’s post from @thesiswhisperer and @katrinafee

Photo by Jonas Vincent | unsplash.com

Photo by Jonas Vincent | unsplash.com

My post last week – “Your word count means nothing to me” – generated a lot of agreement and some high-fiving about raising the issue of obsessing about word counts.

I’m very aware, though, that it could also have alienated some readers and, indeed, friends.

For this reason, I ran the post past Inger Mewburn (The Thesis Whisperer and thesis bootcamp devotee; @thesiswhisperer) and Katherine Firth (Research Degree Voodoo and one of the thesis bootcamp creators from University of Melbourne; @katrinafee) before I published the piece last week.

Inger and Katherine are people I like, trust, and admire. I wouldn’t be comfortable with offending them in the interests of a bloggy rant.

They both responded with typical honesty, warmth, and generosity.

I really wanted to have their voices in on the conversation, and they’ve very kindly allowed me to post their feedback in full in this follow-up post. Thank you, Inger and Katherine, for your considered comments and insight! Read more of this post

Your word count means nothing to me

A “sadistic” writing app, The Most Dangerous Writing App, recently appeared on my social media feed. It registers when you’re not writing – 5 seconds of no typing – and starts deleting what you’ve already written.

At first, I laughed and moved on. I thought it was a bit of a joke, that no-one would really use it for academic work or their thesis. If anything, I thought that people would see it as a critique of being blinkered to anything but words on the page and other ‘writing productivity’ ridiculousness.

I was wrong.

People started talking about wanting to use it at their next #shutupandwrite session, to see how it ‘might whip them into shape’. They felt they needed something to make them take their academic writing more seriously, and this app might be it.

I went a little #headasplodey.

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

Welcome to Grant Camp

Slide that says: How it works 5 minutes - what you need to do. 20 minutes - write like hell! 5 minutes - take a breather: coffee & chat. Repeat this six times! Half hour break around 3:30 pm.

How it works, by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr.

Researchers often don’t have time to write a decent application.

That is, with the best will in the world, they can’t devote the time that they want to drafting their application.

As a result, research whisperers often get drafts way too late to be able to provide any useful feedback. People send me their drafts less than a week before the deadline. At that point, all we can do is make sure that it adheres to the rules and point out spelling and grammar errors. There is no time to rework fatal flaws, investigate lacunae in the literature review, restructure the budget, or add collaborators.

It is ‘Submit or Die’ time.

To try to avoid this, I’ve been running Grant Camps for my researchers. Inspired by the award-winning Thesis Boot Camp model, Grant Camps are half-day events that give applicants the time to address the major aspects of an application.

I’ve found that, while people can’t get a half a day to work on their application themselves, they can do it if I send them a meeting appointment and they plan it as part of their schedule.

So far, they have been quite popular. They don’t work for everybody, but the people that do like it keep coming back. Read more of this post