Some notes on the transcription…
I wanted to provide a transcript of The PhD Life Raft podcast episodes to make the material more accessible.
I have used an automated transcription service to produce this document. These, as we all know, are not 100% accurate. Please excuse the odd typos and grammatical mis-translations. I hope that you will find the documentation of this conversation useful.
You can find the full interview here: https://thephdliferaft.libsyn.com/
Hi, Emma, thanks for having me.
Oh, you’re so you are so welcome. And I am so delighted that you are here. And to talk about this topic, which you are passionate about, and I am passionate about. So hooray, hooray for that. But before we get into that, I’m going to start the same way. So we always start in terms of asking you about your journey, your PhD journey. Can you tell us how how it was for you?
Absolutely. Yeah, it was hard, as I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear, or are not surprised to hear. So I got into a Ph. D. programme, because I had an excellent job at a university. My job was to support everybody on campus with writing and professional development around writing, students and faculty. And it was a good idea for me, to get a PhD to be able to support PhD level writers, right. And it was something I wanted to do for a long time anyway. So I was very gung ho when I got into it. As I got going, some things changed. For me, I witnessed my husband, go through a very difficult tenure and promotion process. And that really was shaking us up in terms of how we viewed the academy and how our roles in it. There were some administrative changes at the university I worked at that made the atmosphere on campus quite tense, and made my job less enjoyable. So that was happening. And then I became a mother. Really huge change in the process. And, you know, I just felt like, I could not be the kind of mother I wanted to be, and be keeping up with the demands of this position. And I decided to resign. And so I was still doing my PhD, but I was becoming more and more distanced from academia. What kept me going, though, what kept me connected was I had formed a writing group with members of my doctoral programme cohort. And so that was like the thread that was keeping me connected to academia. Still, though, I was working steadily, but I was resisting, you know, like, I didn’t want to be an academic and, and that showed up in the work I produced, there was a moment, I can remember this very clearly where I was, it was late at night, everyone, my house is asleep, but I’m, you know, sitting down in the dark with my computer trying to get a draft out. And I had made a comment to myself and justify this decision, right. And I’m sitting there knowing like, that’s gonna take hours and hours and hours to craft that one sentence. I don’t have that time, and I just deleted the comment instead of doing it. When I sent that draft off, as you might imagine, my advisor came back, you cannot just say you did this, this is not she said, this is not the student that I know, you know, you seem like a totally different person producing this kind of work and, and she was right, you know, like, I was going through these major identity shifts. So ultimately, I did come back to feel more of a sense of dedication, and identification with academic practice than my work. The the participants that I worked with for my dissertation, their stories was what really got me always kept me going, and, and ultimately decided I want to honour the sacrifices my families made for me. So I’m gonna finish this. Right. And that got me back on track. So I ultimately did finish.
Yeah. And I’m very glad that I persisted. I valued so much what I learned from doing this,
but not an easy story. And I thank you so much for sharing that because that’s, that’s what we’re all about here in terms of what often gets put about is the kind of show real, isn’t it of like, look at me doing the work, it’s all great. And actually, behind closed doors, is that is that real? Like you say, resistance is like, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to do this. What is this all about? And this sense of identity shift, which of course was absolutely magnified for you in terms of becoming a mum, but but the PhD anyway, isn’t an identity shift, isn’t it? It absolutely it challenges us in so many ways like, like, you can’t go through it without having some kind of existential crisis.
No, no, because you’re shifting and growing. And that that is what it’s actually about. You know, it is purse is a personal development programme. That is what it’s about. Absolutely. So what kept you in it apart from honouring the the sacrifices your families made? And that’s really gorgeous, a shout out to your family and all because our families go through it with us, right? It’s not just Oh, absolutely, yes. But also this, this group, this writing group, and that is what we want to talk about the sense of having a writing group or writing group practices, and how that can really support. So tell us a bit more than about this writing group.
Yeah, I instigated the writing group. I had led many faculty writing groups in my job on my campus. And so I thought this would be a great way for some of my friends and I to stay connected. And to just support each other keep going, we’ve formed a really close bond in our programme during our coursework, and we knew this was going to be a tough road ahead. So I invited three or four people to join, there were five of us as we we got started. And we started out meeting once a week, and we had a goal to share a couple pages of writing. It started out pretty good. But it wasn’t great for everybody. Ultimately, we did a research project on the group itself to kind of figure out, you know, why do we have different outcomes, because three of us stayed in the group and completed our dissertations. One person stayed in the group, but then dropped out of the, of the doctoral programme, and another person dropped out of the group, but completed the dissertation. So we thought we had some interesting outcomes
Yeah, and one of the things that, you know, from talking to lots of people about whether or not to join a writing group, and, and of course, I read all the literature on doctoral writing groups. You hear so many people talking about how great they are. A lot of the literature that’s out there is we did this great group, and it was awesome, and you should do it. But people also are like, I don’t know, I’m hesitant to join in. And so we wanted to look at both what was good about it and what didn’t work. And I think more researchers are starting to ask those questions to you know, one thing that that is a common point of hesitancy is time. It’s another thing to do, and everyone’s very busy, right? Yeah, yeah. And another hesitation I hear is, I don’t want to share my work in progress, either because people feel vulnerable about their writing skills, which a lot of people do, or, you know, they they don’t want someone stealing their ideas, which can be a concern, depending on the kind of work that you’re doing. So, right. So as I was saying, how our group was set up, there are lots of ways writing groups can be formed. I mean, really, it’s it’s more than more than one person coming together to work on writing and there’s so many ways that can that can be done
this Though you because you now this has become a real interest for you. So tell us a bit more than about how how people because if people go oh, yeah, no, that isn’t the sort of writing group I want. They might not even know that there’s another way of doing it. So can you give us some ideas about how the different ways that it could work? Yeah.
So there was a great chapter by Sarah Hass, and in a book called doctoral writing, or was called writing groups for doctoral education and beyond. And Sarah has this chapter in that book laid out 11 different weapons, that can be different. So I can run through them quickly. So people can get a sense of, of how you know, all the different levers you might pull. You know, one, the purpose of the group, like, this kind of seems like a no brainer, but there can be different purposes. Membership, who’s in it, leadership. Contact? How, how is this group actually getting together? Is it in person? Is it online? Now, we have a lot of options to do that. Time, like of the day, when is this going to meet some sometimes work for people and some don’t? Right, as parents? In particular, we could think about the, the constraints on that place? Where is this group getting together? How frequently? How long are the meetings? How long? Is the group going to last? The duration of the group? Is it going to be for a month? Is it for a year? What’s going on? In meeting activities, what do you actually do? When you’re there, sometimes people just get together to just sit and write, and they don’t even talk? Sometimes people share writing, sometimes people are just sharing their goals and reporting back in. And then the between meeting activities, so like, what’s the expectation of what you’re going to do when you’re not with the group? Some groups are goal setting, and they like assign homework, and then you come back and report on whether or not you did that. But if, on the other hand, the group is just, this is our time to get together and write back to the writing time, there’s not necessarily something you have to do in between. So that gives a little flavour of all the different configurations, please my patience.
Yes. And I think that sense of setting boundaries, because I think, especially if you’re just sort of getting together, it can be lovely to have a sense of, oh, we’re just getting together, but then it can become a bit directionless, kind of in terms of like, we don’t know, I think especially like you said, in terms of how long as the group gonna run, having very clear boundaries on that and going, we’re gonna be together for six months, and then we’ll review or whatever, it then makes it really clear and getting gives people safety in that, doesn’t it?
Right, yeah, it’s, I mean, we’re all strapped for time. So it can be hard to form a group, it can be hard to even get it off the ground if people aren’t clear on what the commitment. Yeah, yes.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s, that’s really helpful and give some really useful pointers in terms of how to set things up. So I guess having done this, because if people are thinking about anything, what could I really get out of it? What would you say that for? You were that was the were the really useful bits of the group? And what might be the sort of the, what would you do differently? Now?
Yeah, so um, we, because we were scattered geographically. We met online, this was before zoom. So it was definitely a thing at that point. zooms it was there was Yeah. We had what was called Google Hangouts at the time. That’s how we met. So that really worked for me as I became a parent to be able to meet from home, you know, so that was something that was really useful. The membership of the group, these were friends, you know, we were doctoral programme classmates, but also we had formed a really close bond. And so that was very, very helpful for me, I wasn’t going to let my friends down, and I liked being met people. So I’m going to show up. Yeah. One thing after we did our research on what had worked and not for different people. We found that our, our in meeting activities changed over time, but we kind of didn’t really, mindfully do that. It just sort of happened. So in the beginning, we had to come and share writing. We had a very strict deadline, and we were like really trying to hold each other accountable. And for one of the group members, that’s why he left because it didn’t work with the rest of his life. that point in time, it was just feeling like added pressure wasn’t helping him. Right. Later on, we switched into more of a goal setting and reporting mode, if someone wanted to share writing, you could, but it wasn’t, necessarily that’s what had to happen. And, you know, that might, he actually made, he decided he might have come back at that point, you know, nice. So, I mean, our big takeaway from that really was, there are all kinds of different things that may be helpful or not, for you. And it’s important to, to know, first of all, know that things about the group can be changed, right. And so, notice how the group is like, fitting in or not with the rest of your life and speak up for yourself in that case, because probably something could be modified. And the thing is, it takes a long time to get a PhD. So you’re gonna change and your circumstances are going to change. And if you’re looking for a group that’s going to, like, carry you through this whole process, just be be ready for it to evolve, as well. And stay open in conversation about that with your, your group mates.
Yes, because I think, you know, there are different phases in the PhD and I think there’s, there’s a kind of golden thing, isn’t it in terms of you or setting off from being at about the same place. But then, of course, there were going to be moments where people are, you know, I talked about the three phases starting out missing, middle, and final countdown and final countdown can be anywhere between 18 months and six weeks. And so people are going to be that that messy middle part is going to be very different experience for everybody. And really interested about your your colleague who, then it just wasn’t working with his flow, and was ending up being problematic. But I’m guessing there’s also going to be a benefit in terms of having people at different phases of the PhD. That you know, there might be if you’re starting out and somebody else is finishing off, there’s so much wisdom to be gained there from that from someone who’s been further through the journey. So I’m guessing.
Yeah, that and that’s what, you know, some of us reflected on while we all started out at exactly the same point, because this process proceeds at different rates for different people. There came a point where we were at different at different stages. And yeah, so those kind of watching the person who was a bit ahead, really took a lot of encouragement from that like, Well, okay, I can see how this is unfolding. I mean, just witnessing other people’s processes. Yes, I think it’s so valuable, because you see that you’re not the only one struggling and that this, there are setbacks. And yet, it can be done.
Absolutely. And we say this so often on the podcast, because it is true, it’s that sense of having your people and to doing this in community makes it much more with the depth of of experience that you have is different. And it also can make it much. I don’t want to say easier, because it’s never easy. But the sense of not being alone, that is less isolating and less intimidating. If you’ve got if you’ve got your gang with you.
Yeah, for sure.
I’m aware of time. But I do want to kind of just get all the all the goodness from your experience. You’ve had this experience, you talk to other people about this experience now. So we I asked people for kind of top tips at the at the end of the episodes. So what top tip or top tips, and it could be just reiterating something you’ve already said. And would you share in terms of people thinking about a doctoral writing group?
Yeah, absolutely. So for getting the most out of a writing group. My top tip is, first, get clear on what you want from the writing group. So you can try to line that up with what the opportunity is whether you’re forming it or someone’s inviting you get clear on what you’re looking for. And then be prepared for that to change as you go forward. And to speak up when when something might need adjusting because it probably can be adjusted and there’s just there’s so many factors in your life. You’re a whole person, and that’s going to reverberate into your life. writing experience and your dissertation experience and the group. So kind of paying attention to that and talking about it, I think will really help you get the most out of the writing group.
I love it. And, and as you say, being witnessed going through as well as witnessing others, what a what a gift in that and I know lots of people who have taken that journey with a small group through a PhD, then that’s a special bond that carries on Are you still in touch with people from Oh
yeah, we we, you know, did this research project wrote an article which continued to write other articles together. So, yeah, this group is is for life. Very special relationship,
I love it any ease and like you say, and as you have experienced these, these may be people that you are co author with that you set up, you know, conferences with these, these are potential colleagues going forward, not just for that PhD time. Kate, thank you so much for this, I know that this will be inspiring for people and for them to try this out for themselves and to, to find find people, I think that we, you know, if people want to find people to work with, you find people on your programme, and other people may you know, going to postgrads seminars and things there will be people there who will be everybody wants to find their game, right. Yeah,
maybe, you know, among this PhD life raft.
Exactly. I was gonna save folks there. In terms of you know, I do lots of events. We have book club coming up with lots of events and people there will there’s gorgeous people there who will be up for joining joining a writing group. Thank you, Kate so much. We will have your details in the show notes if people want to quiz you more about doctoral writing groups. Perfect. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you, Emma. And thank you all for listening.