#PROWSS2020 in pyjamas: this year’s writing summer school

Two weeks ago today, the Postgraduate Researcher Online Writing Summer School 2020 (#PROWSS2020) began.  Find out what went on from Kathryn Twigg, a PGR from the Shakespeare Institute.

PGR Writing Summer School logo
To access the links in this post, self-enrol on the #PROWSS2020 Canvas module

#PROWSS2020 was an invaluable research experience. It comprised a week of workshops targeting different areas of postgraduate writing and was accompanied each day by a 2-hour Shut Up and Work. After hearing wonderful things about previous Writing Summer Schools (and attending last year’s myself), I was an eager participant in the 2020 sessions.

COVID-19 has affected us all (for better and for worse) and university life has not escaped the dramatic changes the pandemic has triggered. With libraries and study spaces closed and opportunities to work from home being sporadic at best, #PROWSS2020 provided a much-needed opportunity for focused work. Continue reading “#PROWSS2020 in pyjamas: this year’s writing summer school”

Helen writes: spring-clean your thesis

In the next of our occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams talks about refreshing existing writing as a rewarding and important step on the road to your thesis.

In these uncertain times it’s nice to have a few constants and, whilst working at my desk overlooking my garden, I’ve been reminded that the changing of the seasons is one of these.

Helen's garden
Spring in Helen’s garden

As always, spring has sprung, and this put me in mind of other spring-related traditions that roll around each year. One of these that feels quite apt right now is spring cleaning; what better time than now to do all those tasks that get pushed to one side and ignored in favour of more ‘urgent’ ones?

You may be using this time to charge ahead with writing up and churning out new chapters, which is great, but if you’ve ground to a bit of a halt or want some variety, the following are some good ‘housekeeping’ activities that will pay dividends later on when your schedule may be getting back to normal (most of these assume that you have drafted some work already; if you need to start writing but are struggling, check out my previous post on this). Continue reading “Helen writes: spring-clean your thesis”

Starting to write your dissertation

Peter Hancox, Senior Lecturer in Computer Science and PGR Lead for the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, gives his advice to those for whom the lockdown means starting to tackle your thesis…

That day has come.  You can put it off no longer.  You can’t even go into the lab under the pretence that you just need to do a little more work.

A laptop, coffee, cola, notes and books.
Photo credit: Rasmus Larsen

You must start to write your dissertation.

The experience of writing a dissertation can be lonely.  After all, it is your dissertation and no one else can (or should) write it for you.  It’s a bit like being at a social distance from your colleagues.

To get started, the first thing to do is to decide to start.  Continue reading “Starting to write your dissertation”

Happy and productive 2020!

Happy New Year and welcome back.  Or just welcome, if you’re starting your research programme this month.

2020 balloons

It’s traditional at this time of year to make (and perhaps break!) a few resolutions.  The media is full of articles about diet and exercise, but what about resolving to make lasting improvements in your research processes?  It’s easy to say “I will do more” or “I will do better” but what exactly does that look like in practice and how can you make it stick? Continue reading “Happy and productive 2020!”

Helen writes: reading to write

In the third of an occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams talks about how reading previous theses can contribute to your writing practice.

If you saw last month’s posts about perseverance and The Conversation, you’ll have picked up on the fact that November was #AcWriMo (Academic Writing Month) – an annual, month-long, communal attempt by academics at all career stages to focus on their writing. In thinking about what can be most helpful in both facilitating and improving writing however, I keep coming back to how important reading is as part of this process.

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot." Stephen King

Continue reading “Helen writes: reading to write”

The PGR Writing Summer School 2019 eased the PhD journey for me

Last week was the PGR Writing Summer School 2019, and Eric Ngang, a Global Challenges Scholar in Law, was there.

PGR WSS Pen Shield
To follow the links in this post, self-enrol on the PGR Writing Summer School 2019 Canvas module: https://canvas.bham.ac.uk/enroll/Y6HXJ4

If you want to get top tips on how to navigate your PhD journey irrespective of the stage at which you are in the process, the PGR Writing Summer School is the ideal opportunity. I took part in the 2019 Summer School and it has been the most invaluable opportunity for me to reflect on my PhD journey after one year.

The first two days of the School were made up of well-structured packages covering specific modules including academic writing for your thesis, and writing for publication: the publication process, ethics and article structure. Continue reading “The PGR Writing Summer School 2019 eased the PhD journey for me”

Helen writes: explicit content!

In the second of an occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams gives advice on writing more clearly.

I am often surprised by the difference between what people think they have written compared to what is actually on the page. I was reminded of this recently when helping a friend with a chapter of her postgraduate work; she was confident that she made frequent links back from her literature review to her own research. Trusting her opinion I had a look, but soon found myself writing comments like “How does this inform your approach?”, “I’m not sure how this relates to your topic” and “Can you link back to your own research here?”

Parental_Advisory_labelEither you are explicit in how you set out your ideas or discussion, or you are expecting your reader to pick up the implicit connections. Something about doctoral-level writing in particular seems to breed a fear of being explicit. Certainly on my part I always felt that the more complicated I made my writing and argument, the more ‘intelligent’ it would appear. Setting everything out clearly for a supervisor or examiner felt overly simplistic or even patronising – as if they couldn’t work out the links for themselves.

The reality is that no-one should have to ‘work’ to understand your writing; there is a difference between complex ideas (which a doctoral thesis should engage with) and complex writing. Continue reading “Helen writes: explicit content!”

In the footsteps of others

The University of Birmingham eTheses repository has a fantastic new look and improved functionality, so now is a great time to have a browse through previous UoB theses.

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A research thesis is a very different piece of writing from anything else you may have produced before, and from anything you will need to do in future, and as such, it can be difficult to understand exactly what is required, particularly in terms of structure and style.  Looking at previous theses can provide really useful examples to help you navigate this unique form of academic writing.  Continue reading “In the footsteps of others”

Helen writes: getting started

In the first of a new occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams gives advice on getting started with your thesis writing.

In 2018 I started at the University of Birmingham as a Writing Skills Advisor, and when asked to contribute to this blog I considered the hardest part of writing my own thesis.

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Helen Williams, Writing Skills Advisor, Library Services

Fittingly, ‘getting started’ was often the toughest task for me, which also felt apt for a first blog post. Preparation is essential in drafting effective writing, and there is a lot that you can do encourage this process before putting pen to paper. So, to start, here are four tips for getting started. Continue reading “Helen writes: getting started”

Writing productively during #AcWriMo

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Image credit: Raul Pacheco-Vega

November is Academic Writing Month or #AcWriMo.  Set an academic writing goal, and work alongside the online #AcWriMo community to achieve your goal.  We have talked about setting an appropriate goal for #AcWriMo in a previous post, so this year, we’re going to look at being a productive writer, to help you reach those carefully set goals. Continue reading “Writing productively during #AcWriMo”