Author Archives: Cecile

Finding time to write

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Finding time to write is an ongoing problem for many writers.  It’s the number one issue that gets raised in my classes.

This morning, I listened to a podcast by Writing Excuses which I found very useful.  It’s called:  ‘Butt in chair, hands on keyboard‘. Although not developed for academic writers, much of what they have to say is relevant.

Listen and see what you think.

Metadiscourse

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Read this blog about the importance of metadiscourse in academic writing.

Explorations of Style

The longer that I teach academic writing to graduate students, the more time I find myself spending on metadiscourse. Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that metadiscourse has a bad name—in the sense of a dubious reputation—and an actual bad name. The dubious reputation is presumably connected to both a general suspicion of academic writing and the many instances of laboured prose we have encountered in our careers as academic readers. I’m sure this suspicion is only exacerbated by the fact that the term metadiscourse is a bit of a mouthful. However, this scepticism is deeply unfortunate since thinking about metadiscourse is a natural way to think about our responsibilities as a writer. And, needless to say, thinking more about our writerly responsibilities is crucial for most novice academic writers, making metadiscourse an indispensable topic.

So what is metadiscourse? Simply put, metadiscourse refers to those places in which a writer…

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A confession about working weekends

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A thought provoking blog to add to our slow scholarship discussion.

The Research Whisperer

Image from Memegenerator: https://memegenerator.net/instance/40630318Image from Memegenerator: https://memegenerator.net/instance/40630318

I came back to academia after being in a professional role for over three years with a promise to myself: I will not work across weekends.

As I mentioned in a recent post, some people derided my promise. Many more laughed in disbelief, or were encouraging in their words but exuded an air of ‘that promise is doomed, doomed!’. Having been in a professional job where I found it extremely easy to maintain the boundaries between work and non-work time, I was very used to having weekends in my life. I assumed that transitioning (again) into an academic role while keeping weekends free would be relatively easy. It was the status quo for me at the time, after all.

Two and a half years after returning to academia, then, how is my promise of ‘not working on weekends’ going for me?

Terribly, I have to say.

And I acknowledge…

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Why slow?

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This blog post on slow scholarship by Agnes Bosanquet is a must-read.

The Slow Academic

Last week I listened to Kate Harris, CEO of Good Environmental Choice Australia, present on courageous leadership to a group of early career academics. She shared this image (from startwithwhy) and asked people to think about why they do the work they do:

Kate made herself vulnerable and shared her purpose, motivation and inspiration. Her grandfather’s dying words to her were: Make peace in this world. And she dedicates her life to this goal. Her words inspired me to think about why I wanted to start this blog, and why I value slow academia.

Earlier in the day, I bumped into two colleagues – one whose partner recently died, and one who is in the early stages of cancer treatment. Both were at work, and working through shock and grief. Work can be distracting and colleagues can be nourishing… but something more important is going on for…

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Slow reading at a writing retreat

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Here’s one scholar’s account of practicing slow scholarship – inspiring!

The Slow Academic

I spent the beginning of this week on a 24 hour retreat with my PhD student, colleague and friend Lilia Mantai. We left our children with their fathers (this deserves a special thanks from me as it coincided with our wedding anniversary) and went to Billabong Retreat. I adored every minute of it. Please note that this post is not sponsored in any way. We paid for the retreat with research funds that I won as a lucky door prize at an early career Christmas in July event. Yes, I am lucky and privileged.

Image result for billabong retreatImage result for billabong retreatImage result for billabong retreat

We practised yoga and meditation. We ate beautiful food. We slept deeply. We read. And we wrote. We are co-authoring a paper on doctoral student and early career academic (ECA) experiences of time pressure. No doubt I will post on that in the future.

Here are some highlights from my contemplative reading on time…

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Done all that work – but has this thesis really got anything to say?!: Strategies to regain perspective on research contribution

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Excellent post by Claire Aitchison on how to pull out the significance of your thesis at the point when you are probably too exhausted to see the value of your research.

DoctoralWriting SIG

By Claire Aitchison

What have I got to say? This is the terror moment that strikes every doctoral student: the fear that perhaps there isn’t anything of worth to show for all the years of work.

I’ve never met a student who hasn’t experienced this kind of self-doubt – in part fuelled by exhaustion during the final stages, and in part this anxiety is an almost natural outcome of being too close, too fully immersed in the project to be able to objectively assess the merits of the work. However it is essential that researchers do make such judgements accurately since convention demands that the thesis clearly identifies the contribution and significance of the research.

Over the years I’ve collected a few strategies for helping students gain the perspective needed

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The slow academic

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When I first joined our faculty, a group of newcomers got together to form a writing group to help us to be more productive and to cope with the stressful tenure process.  We started with eight members and now have seventeen some 7 years later.  Right from the start, we realised that the only way we could survive was by not being competitive with each other.  In an academic environment that feeds off competition this was very hard to do.  We persevered and we have published papers on our experiences. We’ve been productive without being competitive.   (I’ve posted references below if you are interested). Our group has fundamentally changed the way we experience academia but we are ever conscious of the pressures to perform, to be measured and to be competitive individuals.  Recently we decided to actively think about ‘slow scholarship’ and examine what this could mean in our lives.  Here’s one post  and another and yet another that I found  very useful.  We’re only beginning to explore the idea of being ‘slow’, so if you know of other sources on slow scholarship, please send them this way.

Papers our group has published:

Badenhorst, C.M., McLeod, H., Vaandering, D., Li, X., Joy, R., Penney, S., Pickett, S. and Hesson, J. (2016) The journey between there and here: Stories of a faculty writing group. Canadian Journal of Education, 39(1), 1-26.

Penney, S., Young, G., Badenhorst, C., Goodnough, K., Hesson, J., Joy, R., McLeod, H., Pelech, S., Pickett S. & Stordy, M. (2015). Balancing family and career on the academic tightrope. Canadian Journal of Higher Education. 45(4), 457-479.

Badenhorst, C.M., Penney, S., Pickett, S., Joy, R., Hesson, J., Young, G., McLeod, H., Vaandering, D. & Li. X. (2013). Writing relationships: Collaboration in a faculty writing group.  AISHE-J, 5 (1), 1001-1026.

Young, G., Penney, S., Anderson, J., Badenhorst, C., Dawe, N., Goodnough K., Hesson, J., Joy, R., Li, X., McLeod, H., Moore, S., Pelech, S., Pickett, S., Story, M., & Vaandering, D. (forthcoming, 2017). Women reflect on becoming an academic: Challenges and supports.  In T.M. Sibbald & V. Handford, (Eds.). The academic gateway: Understanding the journey to tenure.  Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press.

Badenhorst, C.M., Joy, R., Penney, S., Pickett, S., Hesson, J., Young, G., McLeod, H. Vaandering, D. & Li, X. (2016). Becoming an academic: Reflective writing and professional development. In G. Ortoleva, M. Bétrancourt, & S.T. Billett (Eds.). Writing for professional development. Leiden, The Netherlands:  Brill Publishers.

McLeod, H., Penney, S., Joy, R., Badenhorst, C.M, Vaandering, D., Pickett. S., Li, X. & Hesson, J. (2015). Collaboration and Collaborative Knowledge Construction through Arts-Based Representation: Explorations of a Faculty Writing Group. In D. Conrad & A. Sinner (Eds.), Creating together: Participatory, community-based and collaborative arts practices and scholarship across Canada. Wilfrid Laurier University Press: Waterloo.

Faculty of Education writing group (2016). Faculty Writing Groups as communities of practice. University Affairs, May, p. 56.

Badenhorst, C.M., Hesson, J., Joy, R., McLeod, H., Penney, S., Pickett, S., Li, X. & Vaandering, D. (2012). Faculty writing group helps to build bridges in academia.  Women in Higher Education, 21 (1), 30.

Slow scholarship

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Here’s a superb blog post about writing productivity, the neo-liberal academic subject and why the slow scholarship movement is growing. Definitely worth a read.

“How to Become a Prolific Academic Writer”

Feminist Nuances

 Or: How to Become a Model Neoliberal Academic Subject.

If you’ve met me recently, online or offline, you’ll know that I’m in the middle of finishing my PhD dissertation. That’s to say: I’m in the middle of finishing a manuscript, a book, the largest piece of writing I’ve ever written. Some 90.000 words, excluding bibliography.

So it should not come as a surprise that writing and everything related to it have been on my mind these past months. How to reduce procrastination time and be more effective in my time management? How to overcome writer’s blocks and deal with the anxiety that comes with trying to finish up a project like this? How to edit your own text and how to be satisfied with what you’ve written?

Because I’m nerdy like that, I also love reading, thinking, talking and even writing about writing. Yeah, that’s some ‘meta’ stuff! The genre of…

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Data visualisation

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Have any of you seen the utterly fabulous Dear Data by Giorgia Lupi and Stephanie Posavec?  These two data designers undertook a project of collecting weekly data on aspects of their lives (how many times they became irritated with their spouse, for example).  Each week they converted that data into a visual form and sent a postcard of it to each other.  On the cover is the visual data and on the back was an explanation of the thought process that went into it.  Have a look at their story:

I think this is such a fabulous idea to teach students how to see data, how to think about collect it and how to visualise ways to represent the data.  For me, it combines the best aspects of research: interesting stuff to collect and creativity.  Visit their site here, if you want more.  (I’ve begun collecting data on how many times I give my dog some loving.  The data reveals what she has indicated all along: Not enough!)

Qualitative data

Today I came across this blog on qualitative data visualisation.  In the blog, author Jennifer Lyons begins with this: “Visualizing qualitative data is like making homemade risotto. You are standing over the stove (aka hunkered down with your computer), waiting patiently for the magic to happen. It’s slow and sweaty, but in the end SO worth it. There is a reason you can’t order risotto at McDonalds, and there is a reason you can’t display your qualitative findings in a nice neat dot plot. I am going to share some resources and ideas that will help give your audience a taste of your rich qualitative findings.” Qualitative researchers, are you salivating yet?  Go and read the blog!  She has a whole crayon box full of ideas.

Making time for writing

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Finding time to write is always a struggle.  The question of time is the No. 1 issue that comes up in workshops and classes:  “I just don’t have time to write!”  I’m sympathetic because I don’t have time either.  Yesterday, I had email notifications popping up so quickly and what should have been the occasional ‘ping’ sounded like a continuous (ear-jarring) symphony. I’m teaching, collecting data, writing a major grant proposal, supervising many masters and doctoral students, chairing comittees… Just listing all this makes me feel exhausted.  But alongside the busyness, I have a growing frustration about not being able to engage with writing as much as I would like to.  So finding time to write is a ongoing struggle. I’m sure you can relate to this litany of woes.  So what to do?

I mentioned in my book Productive Writing that in research we conducted with research-writing workshop participants, three groups of writers emerged.  The first group were those people who identified as writers. These were faculty and graduate students who saw themselves as writers. They kept regular journals, wrote poetry, research articles, blogs, published on teaching, and generally wrote about anything.  These writers would prioritize writing because they saw the world through writing.  The second group were scholar-writers. These were writers who only wrote to publish and communicate their research.  For these writers, research was the focus and writing the mechanism.  This group also prioritised writing since it was a way to access further grants and to be part of the scholarly conversation in their areas.  For both these groups, they used the tools provided in the workshops to springboard them out of whatever stuck place they found themselves in.

The third group we called the ‘I have no time‘ writers.  These writers wanted to write but could not and lack of time became the reason.  I was fascinated by this group (having been there myself at one point) and have my own theories about procrastination and writing in academic contexts. If you identify with this group, you can read my views and possible strategies here and here.  Here’s a video as well.

Of course, these identities are not fixed – people change – and there may well be other identities but I think it’s useful to think of your writing identity, then to think about time and what you value in the time that you have. The point is not to beat yourself up about it (“I’m the worst person on earth because I can’t find time to write”) but to think about where you can make time to write if it really is important to you. And if you can’t, perhaps other things are more important at this point in your life, and that’s ok.

If you do want to make time to write, listen to the podcast below.  I found it helpful and encouraging – she has sensible, do-able and kind ideas (no bootcamps here!):

Mary Allen — Harnessing Time: The Key to Writing podcast