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‘It’s a lonely walk’: investigating the PhD writers’ experience Gillian Fergie, Suzanne Beeke, Colleen McKenna University College London (UCL) Funded by.

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Presentation on theme: "‘It’s a lonely walk’: investigating the PhD writers’ experience Gillian Fergie, Suzanne Beeke, Colleen McKenna University College London (UCL) Funded by."— Presentation transcript:

1 ‘It’s a lonely walk’: investigating the PhD writers’ experience Gillian Fergie, Suzanne Beeke, Colleen McKenna University College London (UCL) Funded by CALT (Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching), at UCL Contact:

2 Overview of presentation PhD writing Writing development at UCL Background The focus of the module Module topics Researching the experience of the module The PhD writers Research Questions Student Perceptions Emergent themes: Space Emergent themes: Identity Emergent themes: Peer learning Conclusions

3 PhD writing ‘you’re on your own and it requires a great deal of diligence and discipline and it’s a lonely walk.’ Little guidance –Subject debates and research design No space to discuss and engage with issues of reading and writing –Academic identity (Ivanic 1998; Kamler & Thompson 2006)

4 Writing development at UCL Academic Communication Programme (ACP) –Located in CALT Informed by academic literacies and WiD perspectives Institutionally funded collaborations between members of ACP and academics –Writing development in subject departments –‘Developing a Literature Review’

5 Background Division of Psychology and Language Sciences Professional Doctorate in Speech and Language Therapy (DSLT) –Professional, practicing clinicians (NHS/education) –Doctoral research programme, whilst continuing in practice, integrating professional expertise and academic knowledge Module part of taught curriculum for DSLT –4 years part time –Taught component two days per week for 1 st two years –Module taken in Year 2

6 The focus of the module Reading and writing for the PhD –Produce a literature review of words –Design and present a poster Theoretical and practical approaches to writing at postgraduate level –Discipline related issues –Informal space where reading and writing were prioritised 2-hour workshop every 2 weeks plus three 1-to-1 sessions Open discussion, student-led, peer-based learning Learning journal kept throughout

7 Module topics 1: Thinking writing and learning journals 2: Reading and evaluating 3: Note taking 4: Communicating with the reader: writing for different purposes 5: Developing an argument 6: Purpose, focus and structure of the literature review 7: Style 8: Writing and Identity: putting yourself into your writing 9: Editing

8 Researching the experience of the module Critical ethnographic approach (Lillis & Scott, 2007) –focus group and interview transcripts –reflections on assignments –draft literature reviews –autobiographical texts –participant learning journals

9 The PhD writers Three DSLT students Two doing a PhD via a traditional route Diverse research interests, drawing on various disciplines –Dementia care home staff training –Telehealth methods in speech and language therapy –RCT drug trial for excess secretions of tracheostomy patients –Stroke-related language disorder and bilingualism –Neural basis for intelligible speech

10 Research questions What did the students get out of the module and how did they feel about it? Has exposure to different ways of writing changed the students’ views of writing (writing as process, as product)? Has the module changed the students’ sense of self as a writer? What is the impact of the module at a curricular/departmental/institutional level?

11 Student perceptions Resoundingly positive ‘I just think it’s powerful, I mean, the whole...aspect of writing, and how powerful it can be if you get it right.’ Little awareness of writing at university ‘you’re supposed to know all about it, you’re supposed to achieve a standard that’s not discussed but expected’ Varying expectations ‘woolly’ ‘I started out thinking it was going to be just the literature review and ended up learning more about writing as a whole process.’

12 Student perceptions cont. Changing confidence levels ‘it has helped to develop confidence, the feedback I get from my supervisors now, the feedback that we had in the [...] one to one and peer sessions in the class, yeah, it has helped me become more confident.’ –No awareness >> awareness >> increasing confidence ‘you’re thinking oh my god, my work’s really crap and then, I don’t know when it happened to me [...] you start turning and you are changing your writing, […] so, you know, you’re quite at a low confidence level initially and then you’re just building on that really, knowing that you’re working upwards.’

13 Emergent themes: Space Effective learning stimulated by an environment somewhere between formal teaching and informal experience (Bhabba, 1994; Gutierrez, Rymes and Larson, 1995) “the desirability of creating ‘third spaces’ in which students can discuss experiences, grapple with challenges, and build confidence in using academic literacies – to enter an ‘engaged state.’”(Curry, 2007)

14 Space ‘one of the things I really appreciated was having […] places to read about writing cos that’s something that I’ve not really ever done before [...] and I’ve found the discussion with other people very useful […] it [...] allows you to [...] consolidate in your head, okay well these are the things I do and these are the reasons, perhaps, why I do them, which allows you to perhaps take a little bit more control over them.’ ‘before I did this module I think I was floundering but I wasn’t aware of it [...] and I came to the course […] and it’s provided me with a real structure to my writing and emphasised how important it is.’ ‘to think about writing not as a chore but as a tool’

15 Emergent themes: Identity “Doctoral writing is best understood as text work/identity work, […] texts and identities are formed together, in, and through writing. The practices of doctoral writing simultaneously produce not only a dissertation but also a doctoral scholar. In the academic world, texts and their authors are inseparable.” (Kamler & Thomson, 2008)

16 Identity ‘I’ve got to identify where I stand in the [...] framework of the research and how my research slots in, and contributes to the literature […] so I see my literature review now as more [of] a finely honed contribution, developing academic authority, making a contribution to the discipline.’ ‘I think it has a very small part to play but I think quite a good part to play, in perhaps changing how we deliver healthcare.’ ‘[I] found during the interactions in the class that issues I had about my writing was not really about writing in my second language it was about writing academically, it’s about developing yourself as a researcher.’

17 Emergent themes: Peer learning Creme & Cowan (2005) ‘peer engagement’ ‘one way of helping students take seriously the idea of writing as a process that is complex and develops over time.’ ‘If such peer- and self-review processes were built into the curriculum as common practice, students would be helped to realize that they can make use of their own and each other’s critical abilities in order to develop their own writing.’

18 Peer learning ‘look at other people’s writing and how they write and pick up tips from them, that was really important.’ ‘the last piece of writing that I did I didn’t feel alone doing that, it wasn’t a lonely journey because I had […] friends with me doing things like this.’ ‘it was good to have somebody look at what I had written who [...] wasn’t embroiled in it, in the way, perhaps, my supervisors will be.’

19 Conclusions Enhancement of students’ learning experiences –Space for systematic attention to reading and writing –Gaining confidence as writers –Fostering productive peer interactions The place of writing development within UCL –Module continues to run: offered more broadly –Embedded within curriculum: explicitly addressing writing, enhancing student learning –Academic colleagues reporting changes in their students also set up their own writing group


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