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PhD in Isolation: Write Here, Write Now.

Jane Madsen and Helena Walsh (LCC Academic Support) share their reflections on a recent writing away day for PhD students. The day was based on the idea of Mapping, Boundaries, Limits.

Textiles by Madison McGlennon
Textiles by Madison McGlennon

We started with asking how everyone was going with establishing boundaries while working at home in isolation. We used a PowerPoint but deliberately didn’t have too many slides. The images focused on how research students might conceptualise or visualise the limit of their research – that is, when to stop researching and start writing. 

Helena shared a really interesting experience from during her own PhD when a major report in her subject area was published by the Irish government just as she was completing, and how she had to press on and deal with this in order to finish. This was a good example of recognising when you have reached the limits of research. 

More students came to this writing away day than we’ve seen in the past. People really wanted to come share their experiences of working at home and had some really good questions about research, access to material documentation and so on. Based on our workshop, this type of research-focused session would work well for groups of 5 to 15 students. This ensures that workshop participants have space to share their thoughts and experiences and a discursive online teaching environment can be established in an organic manner.

We had redesigned the away day for teaching online. Rather than our usual timeframe of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with an hour for lunch, we planned for a two-hour session in the morning, a two-hour break, and two hours in the afternoon. We were mindful of the advice not to keep people online for protracted periods, and this structure worked well for an interactive session. 

In the first two-hour block we discussed the slides, beginning with how working at home had reconstructed boundaries, then we moved on to images and words about maps, boundaries and limits. After the two-hour break, the students had processed the ideas and came back to us with some really concrete questions and observations about their experiences, demonstrating the effectiveness of giving students space for independent reflection in their own time.

One thought on “PhD in Isolation: Write Here, Write Now.

  • Lucy Panesar

    Great to read about this Jane and Helena. I’ve been engaging with some online writing days for my PhD at Lancaster and they have helped me to stay very much connected and part of the research community. Great way to avoid unproductive isolation!


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