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Blogging as a ‘Third Space’

A while ago I read this fantastic article (Hemer, 2012) about ‘Supervising PhD candidates over coffee

Using the concept of ‘third places’ and Misztal’s theorisation of informality, it is argued that … supervision over coffee is on neutral territory and on a more informal footing. … The paper concludes with discussion about finding a balance between formality and informality in supervision and the development of personal and institutional trust.

Basically, it argues that some conversations in doctoral supervision are better held in an informal, social place like a café than in the supervisor’s office. It underlines that the supervisor and candidate are relating as adult people, rather than institutional, hierarchical expert and pupil.

Blogging can be a way of achieving that ‘third space’.  I consider Inger Mewburn on the Thesis Whisperer blog, Daphane Ng on Unimelb Adventures, Lee Skallerup Bessette at College Ready Writing, and Rebecca Schumann at Pan Kisses Kafka to be great examples of higher education ‘third space’ bloggers. Go check them out too.

It’s informal. 

When I was finding my ‘voice’ for this blog, I havered between the kind of tone I use when I’m lecturing, the tone I use when I’m writing official publications for my university… and an informal voice that sounds a bit like we’re having a conversation, that uses humour (or at least snark), that uses internet slang, and swear words, and gifs.

I publish irregularly. I publish about all sorts of random stuff to do with academia and research. I write this blog in my own time, it’s definitely not an official university blog.

Yes, I’m still me, the person who works in higher education, who does this stuff for a living. I cite articles and talk about theory, and bring my experience and expertise. I often point people back to this blog to follow up on conversations I have in individual consultations.

So, it’s a bit informal, but a bit formal too. It’s smart-casual, talk about work, grab a coffee on campus.

Which leads me to point 2…

It’s social.

One of the things I love best about this blog are the contributions I get in the comments, or on Twitter, or the things people do with my stuff on other blogs. I love that. Because I think I’ve got something to say, but I don’t think I’ve got all the answers, or the only answers.

Many of my blog posts start as a response to something someone else has said too (like this one!). It’s part of a conversation.

I’ve tried to make this blog feel like going to the pub after a conference (in the UK where I’m from, that’s a big part of academic ‘third space’ cultures). And I guess the tone, the language, the style is part of trying to create that feel.

I also try to make it a place where you can disagree, and I’ll respond respectfully. Probably my favourite example was a comment on Hot Researcher Memes–a really smart, challenging comment that improved the post enormously.

It’s authentic. 

As I’ve gone on, as we’ve gone on, this blog has become a lot more about working in public. I’ve made myself vulnerable. I’ve talked about failures, as well as successes. I’ve talked about what I do, as well as what I recommend you do.

The first time I ever used ‘fuck’ in a post (I think it was ‘So, say, ‘Fuck perfectionism, I’m finishing my thesis.’), I thought about it long and hard. But it felt like it was the only way to say what I felt. It had the exasperation, the no pretence, the ‘let’s not be polite and pretend it’s okay’, the force, the jolt, I needed.

Again, I’m hoping the tone, the language, the style, makes me seem human. And because I’m human, you can be human too.

No superhumans, no perfect scholars, no inaccessible academics here. Just people like you. 

Welcome to the third space. Pull up a chair. What will you have to drink?

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Doing a Research Higher Degree (like a PhD) is hard, but lots of people have succeeded and you can too. It’s easier if you understand how it works, this blog gives you the insider view.

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