Research Degree Insiders is 10!

I’ve written quite a few looking-back posts over the last three years, as I hit 200 posts and then 250 posts. But I realised I’d missed my 10th anniversary, which is a reason for one more reflection post. I guess these are a bigger version of my done lists or my writing journals. Whatever they are, thank you for being part of the journey.

On 12 February 2013, a little academic advisor with dreams about writing a book one day, registered a free domain with WordPress and started writing down the advice she was giving in workshops and individual sessions. Mostly, I kept seeing the same issues over and over again, and I wanted an individual resource pack that I could easily share with students.

I used to do worksheets that I photocopied and handed out, and they were great. I am told there are still copies of copies of copies of those worksheets floating around, being handed on from student to student. Even then I knew that having my advice somewhere that people could easily share would be useful too.

I also saw my work as being somehow scrappy and outside the system—which, to be clear, it absolutely was. My blog was an open secret, but it wasn’t in any way approved by my workplace. I had idiosyncratic ideas, and I talked about feelings, and I used swear words, and so many metaphors. This is back in the days when all the blogging people were relatively small fry. The Thesis Whisperer was about 3 years old, and Inger Mewburn had not yet become the Director of Research Training at ANU (let alone become a professor). Now… I look around at my colleagues and co-authors, and I think maybe we are the system.

Writing Well and Being Well for your PhD and Beyond started life as a book proposal I wrote in 2014 based on an early version of the writing cycle (which I discussed in one of my first posts from March 2013). So I’ve spent a lot of time back in those first posts, about procrastination, perfectionism, feelings, bodies and metaphors. Of course, ten years is a lot of teaching, learning, writing and rewriting (some of those early posts got re-written as second editions back in 2017, and one even got a third edition in 2020). In the new book, I give links to these earlier versions as a way of showing my working, of drafting in public.

Writing Well and Being Well is going to be the fourth book that started life on this blog. How to Fix Your Academic Writing Trouble, Level Up your Essays and Your PhD Survival Guide all developed tools and advice I first explored on here, while also including a lot of material from me and my co-authors that was entirely new or were part of my workshops.

There is also a lot of the blog that hasn’t stood the test of time so well, or never caught on with readers. I have published over 280 posts, but the top posts are pretty consistent across time. People come to the blog for advice on concise writing , for taking Cornell Method notes , for advice on how long your sentences should be, and for tackling perfectionism, but also for advice on what logic or knowledge is or how to talk about your methodology. At the other end, a lot of posts get one or zero views in a year. I find this really helpful—it means I know what my audience is looking for, and when an idea immediately resonates. If I think something is important but didn’t really take off… then I know I need to try again, refining it until it works for people.

People used to find the blog pretty equally via Twitter and Facebook, then Facebook dwindled as a referrer, and now Twitter is joining it as a minor driver of traffic, so I guess the blog is in the middle of outliving the social web. This year, the top referrer is the Android WordPress App. Mostly, people have found my work via search engines, but I am pretty sure that’s because I’m on the first page of Google results if you need advice on writing more concisely. But thanks to the longstanding MVP blogger referrers, The Thesis Whisperer (though I see Inger is moving away from WordPress, end of an era TM), Raul Pacheco-Vega and Jo VanEvery—the admiration is mutual and I hope the traffic is too 🙂

I’m not sure I actually have any advice that anyone else should follow here. Sometimes I posted 14 times a year and sometimes I posted over 50 times. I’ve posted weekly, fortnightly, and whenever I felt like it. I’ve live blogged, I’ve written short snippets and long essays and so many listicles. I’ve been heavily multi-media, and I’ve stuck mostly to text. I had two guest posts in the entire history of the blog.

Maybe the most useful thing has been all the ways I’ve failed in public, or shown how long it takes for books to get written (a decade! a decade for the writing cycle book!), or left up all those posts that no-one reads—and simultaneously shown that the failures don’t mean you aren’t succeeding. I’ve published so many books recently that I’ve started to lose count of which book I’m on. Fail freely, and you will be freed from the shackles of failure. Failure is just part of the experiment. The point isn’t that we need to avoid failure , it’s that being terrible at something the first time you try it has zero (ZERO!!!!!) correlation to whether this is a thing you can finally master.

Whether you come for the quick writing tips or the messy background stories of how writing really gets done, welcome. I’m glad you are here.

Photo by David Ballew on Unsplash


Succeeding in a Research Higher Degree

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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