Friday, 22 November 2013

La Trobe Writing Challenge - Final day

Hello and congratulations on making it to the FINAL DAY of the November Writing Challenge! We hope participating in the Challenge has been rewarding, that you have had the opportunity to examine and develop your writing habits and to think about the processes that you employ to disseminate the fruits of your research.

Please use this Writing Week completion survey to let us know how you faired over the last fortnight. It's a short one, we promise, and we'll use the data to improve the resources and support services made available to academic staff in the future.

Today's guest blogger, Dr Tracy Fortune, a senior lecturer in the Department of Occupational Therapy. In her post, Tracy reflects on the importance of writing to her identity as a scholar. She also highlights the value of being supported - and being kept accountable - by the writing groups she participates in.  

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Dr Tracy Fortune

More and more, I have come to realise that as an academic, writing is everything.  To be able to write with elegance, style, passion, authority and more, is the yardstick upon which we are judged.  We need to take it seriously.  But more often than not, our writing is attended to when all the other jobs are finished.  Over the last year, I have made a very conscious attempt to put writing much higher up on my list of tasks.  I've had to make a real identity shift to achieve this - it is not enough for me to be a good educator, I need to be a really good communicator of my thoughts, and my contribution, in writing.  In mid 2012 I went on a weeklong academic writing retreat - before I went, I knew that I personally valued writing and I very much wanted to invest in it, to stop making excuses.  I feel confident when I say, I am an academic writer.  As part of this role, I have at least four writing projects on the go at once, and I attend every opportunity I can, to make myself accountable to others in terms of my writing - I go to Shut up and Write - run by RED each week in the Charles Latrobe lounge in the Borchardt library, and I am part of a cross faculty writing group, that meets monthly.  I take every opportunity I can to write about and publish what I do.  It’s almost a full time job.  

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Today, you might like to take a squiz at Nilam Ashra-McGrath’s entertaining PhD journey prezi. Like most large research projects, she suggests, her completing her PhD was a roller-coaster ride. Not only did the peaks and troughs of intellectual life take their toll, 'real life' had a habit of intruding and derailing her progress. You can read a blog post about her journey on the 'Thesis Whisperer' website, here. In it, she highlights that although resources supporting the intellectual side of doing a PhD seem to be proliferating, there is only limited support available to sustain the emotional journey. ‘What about the changes in your health, your social life, and your relationships with those closest to you?', she asks.

Indeed, a growing body of research suggests that academics are at a greater risk of suffering from a mental illness than the rest of the population. Associate Professor Nikki Sullivan from Macquarie University argues here that growing pressure on the higher education sector, and resultant workload increases, declining professional autonomy and precarious job security, is eroding cultures of workplace collegiality. This, inevitably, takes a toll on the physical and psychological well-being of university staff.  She suggests that academics turn their ‘thoughts to [their] own contexts and experiences’ and that institutions make workplace ‘health and well-being an organisational priority’. 

Recognising the importance of self care and the care of one’s colleagues, can go some way to ameliorating the excesses of modern academic life. Here, Hamza Bendemra, a doctoral student from the Australian National University, suggests some ways to overcome the isolation of the research and writing process. He centres on the value of making yourself part of scholarly communities and forums, both virtual and actual - just like the one we have established through the La Trobe November Writing Challenge.

That's all from us this week. But tune in again on Monday for a final Writing Challenge post that will reflect on the results of the completion survey and give you a sense of how other challengers travelled on their writing journey.

Have a well-deserved rest this weekend!

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