Category Archives: Writing

Change of Direction

By Madeleine Arber

I am well into the second year of my three-year PhD investigating the effect of chemo-brain on breast cancer patients and survivors in terms of cognition, self-control, and quality of life. Well, I was until I had to make the difficult decision to terminate the project.

Unfortunately, the injuries inflicted (i.e. forming the relationships needed in order to submit an ethical form outside of the university) were not compatible with life (i.e. submitting the dissertation on time).

As much as I loved researching my project and wanted to continue, I would not have been able to keep my head above water financially beyond the third year should I have continued. This was a difficult decision to make, as there is a certain grief comes with having to let go of two years’ worth of hard work.

It is difficult to describe to people outside of the research world what undertaking a PhD is like. It is perhaps even more challenging to try to express to family and friends the complexity in making the decision to end your project. They will see it as a large quantity of time lost on something that did not get off the ground.

For me, however, this was not just about two years of work. There is a relationship between the student and the project. This is something that takes up most of your waking hours (and sometimes some of your sleeping ones). It surrounds you and your thoughts and develops alongside you over time (like a fine cheese). Your project becomes a part of you.

My project somewhat defined who I was as a person. I was the individual introduced at friend’s parties as the PhD student studying… [insert old project here]. It was a fun little fact about me that served as a talking point.

The end-of-project realisation was not something I recognised suddenly, but rather a slow, painful, and stressful decision I eventually came to understand. The project was a dead horse I had been attempting to revive for months because I was in denial. It was the worst break-up I have experienced so far.

Sadly, I did not get to wallow in my own sadness for long (i.e. eat ice cream for breakfast in the bathtub – delicious and not so nutritious!). I have to rebuild Rome from the ground up with a deadline in sight. Fortunately, my supervisory team had a back-up plan that would allow me to submit a dissertation on time.

Nevertheless, even with a back-up plan in place, taking on a new project still has redirected me back to a beginning of sorts. I feel slightly unsteady on my new feet (i.e. project) and I have lost the ‘elevator talk’ skill (the ability to explain your project within the time frame of an elevator’s ride) and babble endlessly; but I have a direction.

I am not quite out of the water yet… but I will submit, more or less, on time. I have hope that the work I started was not for nothing, and that another student may complete it at an appropriate time.

I wanted to share my story for anyone else out there who may be going something similar.

Confirmation of Candidature – Marcia’s Story

By Ruth Wagstaff

This is the story of someone’s confirmation. Let’s keep this person anonymous and call her Marcia. Marcia loved the topic that she settled on. She read far and wide. She talked about it with anyone who would listen. She found scholarships to apply so that she had to write for different audiences. She would write literature reviews to help consolidate and refine the research question. Her supervisors were happy with her progress and they mostly enjoyed supervision because she was constantly finding new questions. However, her supervisor’s joy was tempered by Marcia’s inability to choose the measures and methodology.

Marcia announced to her supervisor that she wanted an early confirmation. The supervisor nodded in agreement, no doubt hoping it would force Marcia to make decisions that she alone could make about measures and methodology. The associate supervisor simply went along with the decision because he trusted in Marcia’s ability to get things done. Her supervisor nominated the panel and to Marcia’s surprise they all accepted.

About 3 weeks before the proposal was due to be submitted to the panel, Marcia polished her proposal. Polishing the proposal had three effects on Marcia. The first is that just has her principle supervisor had predicted, she was forced to make decisions about methodology and measures. This was a very good outcome. Another effect was that polishing provided an opportunity to tighten the conceptual work. Another good outcome. But less a desirable effect was the realisation that the project could go very pear shaped, and even worse, that she did not have the skills and knowledge to do complete the project successfully. Her feet went cold but hands became sweaty. Sleeping became a little difficult. She became irritable. Marcia had visions of the panel laughing at her and cutting her down into bite size pieces. Marcia had gone from a confident and carefree soul to one shackled by poor confidence, imposter syndrome, and anxiety.

Supervision was no longer something Marcia looked forward to but her supervisor was wise and very experienced. Not only had he seen it all before, but experienced similar emotions during the confirmation of his Ph.D. candidature several decades earlier. In his usual calm voice, the supervisor asked Marcia what she was most afraid of.

Marcia’s reply was honest. She said, “I feel academically very vulnerable – even when doing a practice presentation for you here in your office. There is no reason for me to feel like this because you do not bite, and you do not want to tear me apart. I have worked on this proposal solidly for 12 months. It is mixed with my blood, sweat, and tears, and comes from my inner soul.”

The supervisor nodded in agreement, waited a moment, and said in a slow deliberate tone, “Yes, but the panel and I only want you to succeed. We are on your side.”
As he spoke, Marcia reflected on the stories of the candidates who were left in tears. Through the haze of Marcia thoughts, her supervisor’s voice took centre stage again.

“If you knew the answers to this research, it would not be Ph.D. worthy,’” he continued. “You have done the work required. Relax in your ability to get this done. You are not alone on this journey.”

As alone as Marcia felt, the evidence was that she was not alone. Her closest friends were Ph.D. colleagues and were always there. She knew her supervisors were walking with her, mentoring, and guiding her. The panel was walking with her by taking time out of their busy day to read the proposal, listen to the presentation, and make comments to help her. The panel did not have to do this but chose to. Marcia was definitely not alone.

The day of the confirmation presentation came and went. Marcia may have felt as if she was carrying the world on her shoulders, but as she heard her voice begin the oral presentation, her concerns lifted. Her PhD friends were there. Her supervisors were there. The panel were listening attentively. Extra staff were there to support her as well. There is still work ahead but her project is Ph.D. worthy. Marcia is now a confirmed candidate: she has crossed a bridge and is about to embark on a new phase of her PhD journey.

Preparing for Confirmation – When should I start writing

When should I start writing?
When undertaking my research degree and during my time working in research administration I often heard the catch-cry from research supervisors of “start writing as soon as possible”. I remember thinking at the beginning of my Doctor of Philosophy, what do I have to write? I haven’t read enough yet. I don’t have a plan. Even when I began to formulate a plan for the structure of my literature review and confirmation proposal I still did not feel ready to write. So, when should we start writing? What do supervisors mean when they say, “Start writing as soon as possible”? When is as soon as possible? When is it too early? When is it too late? What are the benefits of writing early? The answers to these questions lie in our ability to balance the need to read the literature, plan our writing and begin writing the research.

Hold your horses!
It is advisable to start writing as soon as possible but it is also important to ensure that writing efficiencies are built into the writing process. At the extreme, beginning the writing without reading the literature or structuring a writing plan is obviously an inefficient way to approach writing. Of course there will be some initial writing in the note taking and planning stages but the writing needs to be balanced against the development of the conceptual plan which informs the writing. The pressure to write should not impact on careful reading, note taking and planning. The more developed the plan the more efficient the writing process is likely to be.

Giddy up!
Of course, and this is where the balancing occurs, it is important not to wait too long before writing. If you are not careful the reading and planning stage can go on forever and consume valuable time in the candidature process. It is also important to realise that writing can inform and refine the planning. It is often only through writing that the plan and scope of the research becomes clear. This part of the writing process has been described as writing for understanding.

Write to understand
The initial process of writing usually involves exploratory writing. This is writing that helps you to understand your project and how it relates to the literature. In most cases just reading is not enough and it is only through the process of writing that you come to more fully understand your topic. This writing can then be developed through editing, supervisor feedback and revision to become writing to be understood.

Write to be understood
The next process of writing involves drafting and re-drafting to ensure that the initial writing – your argument and supporting points can be understood by others.

How to balance a wayward horse?
When trying to balance writing for understanding and creating efficiencies through effective conceptualisation and planning, one strategy is to undertake smaller sections of writing to better understand the literature and inform the planning process. This type of writing can occur very early in the process, even at the note taking stage. Rather than just reading the literature and taking notes it can be useful to research and take notes around a particular topic and then write up a small piece addressing the important issues and significance of this literature to your research project. This type of exploratory writing can then be used to inform the development of your project and may even make up a section of the confirmation proposal or the final thesis.

I hope my thoughts around when to start writing have been helpful. Please find some additional resources below that you might find of use.

Resources – writing a literature review

Aveyard, H. (2014). Doing a literature review in health and social care: A practical guide. McGraw-Hill Education.
Hart, C. (1998). Doing a literature review: Releasing the social science research imagination. Sage.
Machi, L. A., & McEvoy, B. T. (2016). The literature review: Six steps to success. Corwin Press.
Pan, M. L., & Lopez, M. (2008). Preparing literature reviews: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Pyrczak Pub.
Ridley, D. (2012). The literature review: A step-by-step guide for students. Sage

Welcome to 2017! Letter from the Editor

To Our Distinguished Readers,

If you’re feeling like me, you may be wondering if the world has turned upside down as we move into the new year. 2017 has started with what seems like a sly sarcastic smile.

The here and now

The here and now

But it is no good waiting around for the future to rain down, be thrust upon us, or uncomfortably inserted. We, the truth seekers, thinkers, and questioning people of the world, must play a part in its creation.

This means there is only 1 thing to do: get down to some seriously rigorous research!

We will be starting the year off next week (and for a few weeks) with posts about preparing (physically, emotionally, and academically) for Confirmation of Candidature, from some USQ researchers who have lived through it.

We’ll have a look at the increasing emphasis on technology and Big Data in research, and some ways to build basic skills in Data Science.

Later in the year we will look more at the writing process. We will cover how to get started, how to keep going, how to improve your writing, and even get some advice on research blog writing!

There will be information about developing an online personal learning network (PLN) when you are conducting research away from a university or research institution.

Also, look out for some posts by awesome guest bloggers later in the year. *Sshh*

Most important of all: This is your space! Claim it.

If there is something you would like to see written about and discussed on ReDBlog, or you would like to write about your research journey, please get in touch! We love hearing from you.


Most Sincerely,

Tegan Darnell

Editor, ReDBlog


Not sure what all this Shut Up & Write Tuesdays nonsense is? Well here’s what you need to know…

By Siobhan O’Dwyer

Shut Up & Write Tuesdays is pretty simple. You shut up, you write, and it’s on Tuesdays. But don’t be fooled by the simplicity. When it’s done right, Shut Up & Write Tuesdays is a powerful way to develop, maintain, and protect an academic writing practice.

Developed by creative writers in San Francisco in the late 2000s, the Shut Up & Write model was quickly co-opted by academic writers and has been gaining in popularity ever since.  Although there are no set activities and no feedback is provided on the writing that’s produced, academics have found that writing together in a public place makes the writing process visible and social, provides a positive sense of peer pressure, enhances networks, and increases productivity (Mewburn, Osborne & Caldwell, 2014). But for those who work remotely or part-time, have family responsibilities, or juggle teaching and research, it can be hard to meet in a physical location. So in 2013 I created Shut Up & Write Tuesdays, a virtual Shut Up & Write group that allows academics from all over the world to come together on Twitter.

A recent evaluation (O’Dwyer , McDonough, Jefferson, Goff & Redman-Maclaren, in press) found that  Shut Up & Write Tuesdays fostered a sense of community, provided support and guidance for writing, shifted the emphasis from product to process, and led to quantifiable outcomes such as academic journal articles, books, book chapters, and PhD theses. By virtue of the digital format, these experiences were also international and inter-disciplinary.

From humble beginnings in 2013, Shut Up & Write Tuesdays has expanded into a global community. There are now three Twitter accounts – @SUWTues (for folks in Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific, and parts of Asia), @SUWTUK (for folks in the UK, Europe, and parts of Africa and the Middle East), and @SUWTNA (for folks in America and Canada) – which received more than one million views in the first six months of this year alone.  And as Shut Up & Write Tuesdays has grown, it has also come full circle, with many of our online participants being inspired to set up offline groups.

Whether you’re writing online or face-to-face, the steps are simple:

  • Set your intention for the session. Telling others what you’ll be working on keeps you accountable.
  • Use the Pomodoro Write for 25 minutes, have a 5-minute break, rinse and repeat.
  • Share your progress. Telling others how you went is a powerful way to reflect on your own practice.
  • Encourage the progress of others. Supporting others helps you build a community and learn that you are not alone in your writing struggles.
  • Reward yourself. Treating yourself to coffee, cake, or a walk in the sunshine is the most important part of the writing process.

Editors Note: USQ researchers can join others to write on Toowoomba and Springfield campuses at 10-11am on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month. Check your ReDTrain Bulletin email for details.