‘Productive-procrastination’ or ‘What’s the point of writing a PhD blog?’

As my start to the New Year, and as a reviver post for this blog, I thought I’d take a look at what some other PhD people have been doing with their blogging. I’m hoping this will help me to rethink how I can integrate my own blog with my wider PhD workload. As I’m now scarily nearly half way through my own (funded) PhD time, 2014 is going to be the year for me to really get down to the business of organised data collection and some serious putting words on paper (or screen) work. If I’m going to continue building this blog it really needs to be part and parcel of my PhD strategy rather than something that continuously (as over the last few months) ends up sitting sadly at the bottom of my ‘to-do’ list.

So what are other PhD-ers using their blogs for?

I’ve spent a couple of hours this week browsing around the world of academic blogging to see how other PhD students are using blogs. I’m focusing here on independent blogs rather than those more formal collective ones sometimes put together by research faculties. Strangely the five that I’ve actually been drawn to read here have all been written by women. (Is PhD blogging a particularly female activity perhaps?) Anyway, here are the five that I looked at:

‘Blogging the PhD’

Although I was trying to find specifically arts and humanities related blogs, this one is actually written by a science PhD-er (Vicky Young), a researcher in reproductive biology at Edinburgh University. This is a million miles from my own research area, but actually I found this blog really quite engaging. Although including some more formal and technical sections (as separate pages), Vicky mainly uses her blog to add updates on her general PhD progress. Often she writes about this a very frank way – she’s not afraid to talk about her ‘fears’ and ‘moods’ and things going wrong with her lab work. Like many other academic bloggers she also uses the blog to promote her publication successes and to share her latest conference presentations.  She also uses it to talk about her creative public engagement work around science, including her comedy debut with the Bright Club (how brave is that!).

‘The Everyday Trials and Tribulations of a PhD Student…The ramblings of a madwoman who managed somehow to stumble onto a rather good PhD course…’

This one is by a researcher called Jayney who celebrated the completion of her PhD last year. I haven’t read enough of her blog to find out exactly what this research was about yet, but it was ESRC funded. Jayney used her blog to talk about her own PhD experience and the issues and problems of balancing this with family and social life (including having two children) since staring her PhD in 2008. She’s a really prolific blogger – 381 posts in 2012! Her posts are rather in a stream of consciousness model but full of generous experience sharing and constructive advice for other PhD students. She writes in detail about all the stages and aspects of her research, including the practicalities and experience of fieldwork abroad, her personal writing, reading and note taking methods, and the emotional journey of the PhD. This blog is one I may go back to, particularly for the advice Jayney offers on ways to work through writing problems and general motivation.

‘The bumpy joyride of being a PhD student’

This one’s written by Eljee Javier, a student on a Graduate Teaching / Research Assistant Scholarship at The University of Manchester. Her research explores the relationships between ‘language, race and identity’ in English language teaching. For me one of the most interesting features of Eljee’s blog is her series on her self-imposed ‘30 day challenges’. These include: ‘reading a different chapter or article every day for 30 days, where she gives a brief summary of what she’s read each day plus a reflection on what she’s thought / felt / achieved over each week; and ‘spend 15 minutes a day transcribing’ where in order to force herself to do this job she tracks her daily word and minute count, and days missed out, over the period of a month. Eljee seems really into the ‘challenge’ model, being an enthusiastic advocate for the Pomodoro technique and #ACRIMO, both of which I have also experimented with as motivational/productivity challenges.

‘Leisurely Seeking Doctorate

This blog is by an American mature student called Elizabeth who is currently doing a PhD in design research (?) at Northumbria University, here in Newcastle. Like me she is also a mature student – 60 when she started her PhD in 2012 – coming to academia from a former career as an information technology professional. She describes the focus of her current PhD research as: ‘the design of technology to support spiritual and numinous experiences, experiences of awe and wonder.’ (!) but the blog itself is more about her experiences of doing a PhD in the UK and of living/studying in Newcastle. Like Jayney she is a prolific blogger, writing multiple posts each month from starting her investigations into PhD study in 2011. There is a wide range of material here, from observations on academic language, to updates on supervisory meetings, comments about the North East weather, and practical advice for other Americans coming to live/study in the UK.

‘Digital nerdosaurus – adventures in and about museums, technology and awesome user experiences’

I came to this one last but actually this blog is the one that has most interest for me in terms of my own research interests. It’s written by Clairey Ross who is a Research assistant and PhD student at UCL’s Centre for Digital Humanities, investigating ‘visitor experience in digital cultural contexts.’ Her work has a special focus on public engagement with museum collections, including as her PhD case studies, UCL’s ‘QRater’ platform and the Imperial War Museum’s ‘Social Interpretation Project’. Clairey describes her blog as: ‘ponderings about my digital nerdosaurus adventures in and about museums, social media, digital humanities, tea and cake.’ It includes a regular and interesting stream of reports from museum visits, and conferences and workshops that Clairey’s attended / presented at. There is a great sense here of a being part of a creative community around this area of practice. For me, these posts (which go back to 2010) provide a really useful overview of recent museum digital engagement projects and research, that I may well return to as a reference.

Okay, so based on the blogs I’ve looked at, what have I learned from this brief review?

1) PhD bloggers are generally very ‘self-reflective’ and open about their PhD experiences, with a particular focus on the vagaries of the ‘PhD journey’.

2) Everyone writes in a very different style, sometimes changing this between post formats – some blogs/posts are obviously pretty carefully crafted while others are looser, much more casually written, some posts are self-consciously academic and others are more confessional, practical or deliberately humorous.

3) Some bloggers are full of enthusiasm for their PhD research topic, while others dwell more on the problems of work/study/life balance.

4) Some PhD-ers use their blogs as motivational tools or to log progress and successes, while others use them more as a repository for documenting research or engagement activity.

5) Some PhD-ers write to their blogs continuously and regularly, others much more sporadically.

Not earth shattering conclusions at all, you might say, but having done this bit of research/writing (and a new blog post achieved!) I now feel at least a bit more a member of some kind of wider blogging world.

Note: The title for this post comes from one of the ‘Blogging the PhD’ posts, entitled ‘Procrastination!’, where Vicky Young describes blogging as a form of ‘productive-procrastination or pseudo-progress’: a warning for all PhD bloggers and something I need to be mindful about myself over the coming year.

Questions: Does writing a blog about your PhD experience help or hinder the thesis writing process? Does it help academic development in other ways perhaps? What do you think? Is there anyone out there who has done some real work researching the ‘PhD blog’ as a genre of academic blogging and who may offer some answers?


Filed under academic blogging, writing

4 responses to “‘Productive-procrastination’ or ‘What’s the point of writing a PhD blog?’

  1. I blog about two things: my family and my PhD. I usually blog about my PhD when I grind to a halt and blogging helps to motivate and clarify!

  2. Hi Rebecca, you might like a look at “The Thesis Whisperer” blog, which includes a few discussions on PhD blogging (as well as including links to a variety of PhD blog sites). Eg see http://thesiswhisperer.com/2011/05/26/what-if-your-cv-is-not-enough-part-one/ 🙂

    • Hi Ruth, Many thanks for your comment on my post. Yes that’s a really useful article from the Thesis Whisperer – think I’d read some of Andy’s ‘PhD Blog’ before but missed it somehow in my mini survey last week. Also, finding your own blog really useful re updates on UK public art events – even though you are on the other side of the world! Please do keep posting these. I found your brief mention of “‘The Lure of the List…a paper about public space research and taxonomy…” intriguing – are you doing anything more on this? I’m currently thinking through some possible ‘taxonomies’ of ‘public art’ here in Newcastle-Gateshead (UK).

      • I’ve always been wary about taxonomies of public art – despite their ubiquity – largely because of the ways in which “public art” is usually already so well defined, rather than emerging out of any empirical research. My own PhD research was partly impelled by observation of the ways in which the urge to definition and classification often seemed to say more about the desire to shape what public art “should” be (… hence, for me, the value of Foucault’s work on discourse and observations about the circulation of what counts as “truth” within networks of authority and expertise.) The lure remains, however! I do think there might be some creative possibilities to engage with those researchers in geography, architecture, urban design and elsewhere for whom developing typologies seems unproblematic…happy to discuss further at any stage (you can always email me directly)

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