Some light(er) reading

Thesis writers have to do a heck of a lot of reading. This is why one our missions here at the Whisperer is to take some of that reading load off your shoulders.

I had a short conversation with a colleague after a committee meeting this morning who told me she had started a fiction reading group for her students. I thought this was a great idea because we all know that what we read influences how we write. My colleague pointed out that reading only topic related journal articles which are generally limp and lifeless can make your writing, well – limp and lifeless.

When I was writing my PhD thesis I found it almost impossible to read ‘good’ literature for pleasure and got stuck into trashy novels in a big old way. Trashy novels are fun brain candy, but they are not ‘improving’ reads – for that I recommend all thesis writers find time to read popular non fiction.

What’s that I hear? You don’t have time to read more books? No problem – you probably have time to read an article or two. To that end I have done some pre reading and deem the following articles worthy of your spare ‘improving’ reading time:

The Information: how the internet gets inside us

I clicked through this link from @eloise_zoppos on Twitter because she headed it with the line “Why doesn’t Hermoine use Google?”. The actual title is bland, but it’s a balanced critique of the role of the internet in our lives and some of the current debates about ‘information overload’. I enjoyed the way the author started with the Harry Potter analogy because, well I live with a 9 year old Harry Potter fan and I still think my Android phone is kind of magical.

What I tell my graduate students

Professor Tim Fry at RMIT kindly emailed me this link to an article in the careers section of the Chronicle. In it, Professor Davis, an academic at the University of Illinois, deals out some very sound career advice to PhD students. Unlike many other articles in this genre, Davis is specific about the number of articles he thinks students should publish and how to go about doing it. He sounds like a great supervisor if you ask me. I also wrote an article for PhD 2 Published blog this week on the role of journal ranking systems in a PhD publishing strategy if you are interested.

Pantser versus Plotter

I enjoyed this piece on www.terribleminds.com – but don’t venture there if strong language offends! Chuck Wendig rants about the reasons why you should at least try to map out the direction of your writing in advance. My favourite part is his observations on the role of planning in dealing with the ‘blank page’ syndrome.

The Shadow Scholar

This article, also from the Chronicle, rippled through the internet late last year and generated a lot of debate. It’s written by a person who claims to have made a living ‘ghost writing’ student papers and even doctoral theses for quite a number of years. It’s in the best tradition of provocation pieces: entertaining and confronting all at the same time.

A revolutionary idea for your blog

I liked this article because it uses insights from marketing to talk about writing for specific audiences. Basically it encourages blog writers to respect the intelligence of their readers and not to be afraid of being too ‘niche’. I think this blog is niche, and my readers are certainly intelligent, so I was nodding along. However, it occurred to me as I was reading that a thesis is the ultimate ‘niche’ piece, so the advice would apply to writing for a scholarly audience too. The call to action is to write “clear, useful and inspiring content’ – surely what any examiner would like to read?

I hope you enjoy these as much as I did. Have you read something that inspired you lately? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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21 thoughts on “Some light(er) reading

  1. Do people really think they do not have the time to read more? I make it a point, and have since I was a literature major in undergrad, through law school, and now as I write my Master’s Thesis in law, to read every night before bed. I recently lost my kindle, and the only “book” I have is Lonely Planet’s Guide to New Zealand (where I am currently living). I begged for a book yesterday just so I could relax with something interesting, and I read the ENTIRE book last night. Granted, it was short, but reading for pleasure is one of the only ways to stay sane when doing something crazy like reading all day, every day and trying to make sense of it. I hope we continue to encourage more people to read more, not less, though I definitely appreciate this list. Thank you for it.

    • YOU LOST YOUR KINDLE??? My deepest condolences. I love my Kindle – no one knows I am reading trash because they can’t see the covers! I agree too on the reading time – I have read in bed since I can remember and literally cannot sleep without reading at least a paragraph. I hope you get your reading fix back soon :-(

  2. Spot on! With so many articles/books to read and not enough hours in the day, reading anything unrelated to research seems a decadent waste of time. I’ve even sacrificed my daily newspaper.

    My first degree was in English so I’ve had my fill of ‘quality’ books; I just couldn’t get started again. My teenage daughters, however, have got me hooked on the Twilight books (I’m waiting for No3 to turn up at the library). Would you call Twilight trash? Perhaps, but for me it’s a good antidote to some of the impenetrable stuff I have to (re-)read every day.

    I love your posts – it’s like someone has been reading my thoughts! Keep up the good work!

    • You are probably ‘well read’ enough for a lifetime Elizabeth! I love the twilight series actually – it is trashy, but that’s no bad thing. For me ‘trash’ is a term of endearment. Whenever someone hassles me for reading romance I ask: why is it ok to read about death, crime and tragedy and not ok to read about love, relationships and happy endings? God knows we need some escape from all that post structuralism!

      Read on sister! Tell that library to get on with getting your Twilight fix :-)

  3. Trashy vampire porn got me through the last 6 months of my thesis. Write a chapter, read a Charlene Harris.

  4. I think I would go completely mad without the escape I get from reading trashy novels! I am a firm believer in having some time off from PhD thoughts to refresh your brain. It’s often during this down time that great thoughts literally pop into my head.

  5. Great post, thank you!

    This topic came up on #phdchat on Twitter last week and a few people (including me) admitted to finding reading for pleasure difficult when reading papers is such a big part of doing a PhD. It’s not that I don’t have the time, I think I need to make the distinction between reading articles and reading fiction (or trash!) and treat them as separate activities, then I might be able to enjoy reading again in my spare time.

    • I experienced the inability to read for fun as a profound loss actually – I have always loved to escape reality in a book. It was like having concrete boots until I disovered the joys of trash…

      • Thats it exactly! Certain books – which while you love them – just dont WORK during a PhD as they are all deep and meaningful.

    • I wanted to visit and let you know how codilnerabsy I appreciated discovering your website today. I would consider it a honor to do things at my business office and be able to utilize tips shared on your web-site and also engage in visitors’ feedback like this. Should a position regarding guest author become offered at your end, i highly recommend you let me know.

  6. My biggest burst in academic creativity came after I was forced to read a historical romance (you know, the bursting bodice type). Now read and enjoy non scientific books widely.

  7. I’m with so many of you. Have to read before I go to bed, and it runs the gamut from trashy, usually paranormal, romance to urban fantasy, chick lit (Just wrapped up Water for Elephants a couple of night ago), thrillers, horror, anything that will let me escape from papers and lit reviews, and research for a while.

    It’s also a way to wire my brain down, not a good idea to go to bed thinking of the next sub-head on your paper, or how that new article could add just a little bit more to the article. Still working on taming my literature dragon ;).

    So, between reading scholarly literature, pulp fiction, and blog posts that talk about all of that, my own blog is languishing. Guess I’ll stop here :)

  8. Pingback: Not defending Twitter & the Academic Purity Cult | Research Degree Voodoo

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