Writing phd thesis blog
Jun 10, 2018
The PhD is a lonely pursuit. Ask anyone who has ever done one and they will tell you that there is a lot of "me time" during your years of research. It requires a lot of reading and writing, critical thinking, coming up with ideas, then throwing those ideas into the trash and coming up with new, and hopefully, better ones. There's no way around it, the process requires isolation.
This was one of the first things our programme director told us during our induction seminar: to be able to do a PhD, you need to not only to be okay with being alone, you have to love it. Love, that is, with a capital L.
You would imagine that with all this me time, all these academics living inside their brilliantly chaotic heads, having conversations with themselves (not in a crazy kind of way … or maybe just a little bit), academia would be more open to the expression of ideas and thoughts in the first person. But since common sense is the least common of all senses, this is not the case.
When I submitted my very first piece of writing towards my dissertation, I met with my supervisor to discuss the work I had done and he gave me some good feedback on making a plan, constructing a chapter using Endnote, and incorporating more sources instead of relying on just five books. He also told me that using 'I' or 'we' is a big no-no.
Changing the way I write was not an easy task. I had to shut down and reboot my mind, going back to its factory default.
I did my MA in creative writing, where for a year we were told over and over again, that using the passive voice was not acceptable. Good writers did not do that; good writing stayed clear of it. And after a year of strictly using the active voice and telling a story in the first person, removing all the 'we' and 'I' from my PhD dissertation felt as though I was building a wall between myself and the reader.
The reason for not using the first person, according to my supervisor, was that this wasn't fiction but academia – and "there are no 'I's in academic writing".
What's my issue with this (aside from the irony)? Well, it's easy to explain: by removing the first person point of view and the active voice from your writing, what you're actually doing is removing yourself.
This is a big problem since more than half of the academic writing that already exists is on subjects that are difficult to understand for most non-academics. And when you remove the distinctive self (or voice) from your writing, it can become unbearable to read. When you alienate the 'I' from your dissertation, you are taking a big risk: turning your writing into a mere juxtaposition of facts and figures.
There is already widespread debate about academia being reserved or exclusive, with academics writing only for other academics – and for good reason. Academia is supposed to be the place where knowledge is created; a place where people come to make an original contribution to the existing literature. But if we academics can't share this with anyone but ourselves, if our original contribution to the body of knowledge just sits on a shelf at the university library gathering dust, what good can possibly come from it?
If people can't read and understand what we're writing, what purpose does this knowledge serve? And why does academia fear the 'I' so much when academics themselves are famous for loving to talk about themselves and their work?
It is a fact that pronouns are considered informal and the use of them may result in a language that is not appropriate for academic writing. But passive sentences – like that one I just wrote – risk stripping all the spice from your text. And you need spice: without it, reading feels like eating plain vegetables in a Mexican restaurant.
Some practices are so longstanding, like knocking on wood against evil, they have solidified in our subconscious – impossible to change, or even question. This irony is not lost on me. Academia is supposed to be a place to question everything, yet every day I'm surrounded by silent rules that are not up for questioning.
One more thing about us crazy academics: we like to daydream. And today, just for the sake of it, I dream of a world where I can use the dreaded 'I'. I imagine a world where I can own up to what I have created, the knowledge that I have contributed, not just on the cover of my dissertation, but throughout my writing by using the active voice – my voice – and the first person point of view.
Aslihan Agaoglu is completing her PhD in the department of Middle Eastern studies at King's College London – follow her on Twitter @Asli_Agaoglu
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These days everybody keeps asking “If you could only read 17 science blogs which would you choose?” so I decided to address this issue by sharing my favorite science blogs. If you are not already reading them, start today.
A science blog can be many things, from the rants of a frustrated PhD student to the award winning science communication articles. A science blog can save your PhD, give you exposure or many other good things.
I try to put together a balanced mix of blogs written for and by scientists. In this list we have blogs with tips for scientists, advice for PhD and graduate school students, blogs of science communicators, blogs with tools for scientists, and many others.
The only common factor is that I read them often and that I am glad they exist.
Life is short and we live in the information overload era. So don’t spend much time reading science blogs and if you do, make sure you read the following 17 science blogs.
The 3 Month Thesis
The Three Month Thesis is like The 4 Hour Workweek applied to thesis writing. James Hayton wrote his thesis in the blink of an eye and he shares in this science blog how to write fast a PhD thesis. In the meantime, he also shares time management tips for graduate students and other nice hacks.
You can hire James for some thesis coaching.
Literature Review HQ
Literature Review HQ is a science blog full of writing and reading advice for scientists. You will find great posts in how to process information and how to deliver your ideas in a clear and structured way. Not only this, Ben from Literature Review HQ gives away tones of free materials like ebooks and videos.
You can also hire Ben to help you personally.
Cal Newport is a rock-star student, scientist, writer, and blogger. He shares all the life hacks he has used to become a remarkable scientist and to publish multiple books.
A crossing between The 4 Hour Workweek and LifeHacker. Read this science blog and it will change your mindset.
The Thesis Whisperer
The Thesis Whisperer is the companion blog for young scientists. It is the science blog where PhD students and postdocs get together to share and learn what it takes to be a scientist. Expect great “survive grad school” tips as well as those things you need to know but your supervisors are not teaching you.
The Research Whisperer
The Research Whisperer is a science blog that focuses on what it takes to be a good researcher in academia. Think of The Thesis Whisperer but for all ages and covering topics that worry scientists during their careers.
PhD 2 Published
Another science blog rich in advice for early scientists and those things they didn’t teach you are graduate school. It focuses in academic writing, getting published and what it means to be a scientist in the digital age.
Many of us have some products of Apple, maybe a Macbook, maybe an iPad. AcademiPad shows how you can use Apple products in science. In this blog you will find the best reviews of Apple hardware and hand-picked apps to install in your iPad that will make your research a joy.
Science Of Blogging
Science of Blogging is an excellent blog to discover how to use blogs and social media in science. Be it for self promotion or just to communicate more effectively your science. You can also find interviews to famous science bloggers and occasional posts on other topics like open access and life as a scientist.
A Blog Around The Clock
A Blog Around The Clock is the science blog of Bora Zivkovic, a hyperactive hyperproductive science journalist 2.o. Everywhere you look in the Internet you find Bora organizing a Science Online conference, interviewing scientists, or just transforming scientific publications into digestible articles.
Not Exactly Rocket Science
Not Exactly Rocket Science is the child of Ed Yong. Ed Yong is a full-time freelance science journalist that together with Bora Zivkovic is defining how science should be communicated in the 21st century. Read Ed’s posts if you want to see the beauty of science and journalism together.
Grad Hacker is a collaborative blog written to help graduate students to succeed in academia. In this science blog you will find articles to make your science life easier. Need help with Google? Got it. Want to know how to behave at scientific conferences? Covered. Tips on writing? Of course my dear.
So I suck for academic hacks, time management tricks and new tools for scientists. Prof Hacker delivers these and more, much more. The posts target teaching activities but are 100% applicable to science. A great resource for “I didn’t know I could use that in that way”.
This is the blog of Comprendia, a consulting firm specialized in marketing for science and biotech. Although many posts focus on biotech, it contains great content on how to brand yourself as a scientist, extend your network, get exposure, and progress in academic careers. Everything with the Web 2.0 touch we like at Next Scientist.
If you want to know how Internet is changing science publications and journals, Martin Fenner is your man. And how else to share with the world but from PLoS Blogs? Martin will keep you updated with all the news from scholar communication and the myriad of online science start-ups that are created.
Labguru is one of the new generation science start-ups and as such it runs its own blog. But don’t be afraid of it being just a tool for self-marketing. Labguru’s science blog delivers great tips for academics, from managing your PI to how to apply for research grants.
Marketing for Scientists
What the…?? Marketing for Scientists? Yes, you need it. In this new era for scientists you are in charge of promoting yourself. And Marc Kuchner knows it well. He has written a Marketing for Scientists, a book that you should immediately buy, and a blog you should immediately follow. It’s time to take control of your scientific career and get where you want to be.
Mendeley is one of my favorite apps for science. As a proper online company it shares its knowledge via a blog. Read Mendeley’s blog for tips on how to use Mendeley to its full potential but also for how to be a good digital scientist.
Your Favorite Science Blogs
Please share with us in the messages which other science blogs you follow and would recommend to other scientists.
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You will have access to a video tutorial that guides you step by step on How To Grow Your Academic Footprint With A Blog.
With a science blog you can:
- Do science outreach.
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Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more. H. Jackson Brown, Jr.