2 years (and a bit) on: happy second birthday Whisperer!

Life has been a bit busy lately and the two year anniversary of the Whisperer sped past without me even noticing. Happy second birthday Whisperer –  you are officially a toddler!

To be honest with you, I didn’t think the blog would last this long. I thought I would run out of things to say long before this, but lucky for me every day life seems to provide endless blog fodder and people are kind enough to keep sending in guest posts. I am confident, so long as there is no dreadful change in the social media policy of RMIT University (which has been very open and tolerant so far) we will see at least one more Whisperer birthday.

The Thesis Whisperer started as a blog called ‘Research News blog’ on our University Learning Management System (LMS) ‘Blackboard’. I think the closed format of Blackboard, which required an RMIT login, might account for the disappointing 26 hits it had in the time it was there. I was wondering whether I should bother carrying on with it when a student rang and asked me if I was “The Thesis Whisperer”. I laughed because it seemed such a good job description for my strange occupation as research educator. The next day I realised that it would be a great new name for the blog and embarked in a ‘re-branding’ exercise, starting with a move to WordPress.

Suffice to say – Best Idea Ever.

If you are wondering if all the time that goes into running a blog (and it’s a lot) is worth it, I say a resounding “Yes!”. I’ve met so many wonderful people and had many opportunities to travel over the last two years, all because of my work here. One of the unexpected benefits has been the connections the blog has made for me within my own university. I have had the privilege of mentoring colleagues, in particular The Research Whisperer and The Teaching Tom Tom and I am pleased to see other academics at RMIT starting to establish their own blogs. The support of a growing community of like minded souls who meet regularly at our weekly “Shut up and Write” sessions is essential to me professionally and personally, so thank you everyone.

On the Thesis Whisperer’s first birthday I did a summary post which included some of the stats that I see ‘behind the curtain’. These stats are interesting for what they say about you, the audience, so I thought I would share some more this time.

The first ever post on the blog was on June the 7th called “How is research writing different to driving a car?”. This is the 194th post – a grand total of around 200,000 words – of course not all of these written by me. I have been lucky to have 34 other people write for the whisperer, some occasionally and others more regularly. I’d like to thank all these people publicly as they are vital to the success of the Whisperer and its sustainability. Like many other academics, I am regularly struck down by attacks of ‘busyness’ and would be unable to sustain the load alone. Besides, I think the blog benefits from many other voices and points of view (if you are interested in contributing, you can see our editorial guidelines on the About Page).

It’s hard to say without any comparison statistics, but it seems this blog is popular, both here in Australia and overseas. By the time this post goes to air I estimate the Thesis Whisperer will have had around 580,o00 unique views. I am particularly pleased by the number of comments it gets as they are my favourite part of running the blog. When I finalised this post last week there were 3622  comments; I think this is a testament to the willingness of PhD students, as a community, to share their knowledge and experiences with each other. There’s many a claim that PhD study is isolating. It can be, but in my experience you can also make many new friends. I hope people feel like they have a lot of virtual friends here.

A lot of the literature on blogging is obsessed with ‘traffic’, so how many ‘hits’ does this blog have a day? Well it varies a lot and if I wrote about writing all the time it would probably be a good deal higher. Every post goes out to nearly 4000 subscribers. On a quiet Sunday the blog will get around 700 hits; on a normal weekday it gets between 1500 and 4000 hits. Most of this ‘traffic’ comes from the Thesis Whisperer social media sites Facebook and @Thesiswhisperer on Twitter.

Our busiest day ever was 6,151 hits,  when we got “Fresh pressed” for the first time (featured on the WordPress home page). That day it was Ehsan Gharie’s post “What to say when someone says ‘Should I do a PhD?”.  The most popular post of all time is “How to write 1000 words a day (and not go bat shit crazy)” which shouldn’t surprise us I suppose! The top ten most popular posts authored in the last year, other than Ehsan’s fresh pressed effort, were:

1) The Valley of Shit
2) How do I start my discussion chapter?
3) Publications in your PhD
4) 5 Rookie Researcher Mistakes
5)
5 ways to look more clever than you are
6) What not to wear: the academic edition
7) What to buy your favourite PhD student for christmas
8) How I use technology in my PhD
9) 5 ways to soothe an anxious PhD student
10) How to get a job in academia when you finish your PhD

WordPress, the cloud based provider I use to make this blog, is a statistics nerd’s idea of heaven. One of the things it enables me to do is to see the search terms which people use to find the Whisperer, which are an interesting window onto common concerns of PhD students. The top ten search terms from this year, other than variations on the term ‘thesis whisperer’, were:

1) Writing
2) Papers
3) Zotero vs endnote
4) Shut up and write
5) Should i do a phd
6) 1000 words a day
7) Getting things done
8) Apps for researchers
9) Discussion Chapter
10) How to get into a PhD program

Last year I thought about what these stats said about why people visit the Thesis Whisperer. I think the analysis I made then still stands and that most people visit it for:

  • Getting an understanding of some of the things that ‘no one thinks to tell you’ about doing a PhD
  • Emotional support and understanding of the emotions which the PhD can provoke in us
  • Advice on ‘soft skills’ (mostly related to communication and technology)
  • Advice on writing and productivity (and procrastination)
  • To see what other PhD students are doing

But I’m wondering – why do you visit? What sort of posts do you like reading and perhaps more importantly – what topics would you like to hear more of? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments as we head into year three!

19 thoughts on “2 years (and a bit) on: happy second birthday Whisperer!

  1. Strangely, I am reading the Whisperer more that I have finished. I found out “unofficially” a few months before “officially” that I have passed the PhD, I still won’t believe that I have done it till my graduation next month. I promised I would have the trip to Sydney for the ceremony from Hong Kong where I life as I MUST wear the funny hat!

  2. Congratulations Thesis Whisperer a great achievement. I am always telling PhD students to link into your blog. I think there should be a similar kind of blog for Supervisors!

  3. Happy birthday! I visit because of the community and the chance to share burdens, or ideas, or achievements with like minded people. I have lots of lovely supportive non academic friends but they never absolutely ‘get it’, nor do they want to have endless discussions about the best referencing software. Your blog cheered me up and helped me immensely as I slogged away finishing my thesis in 2010/11 and I still read every post over a year after I handed in.

  4. Happy 2nd Birthday & Bravo ! The ultimate reason why I keep on coming to Thesis Whisperer is to find motivation & solace. Reading other people`s mind when they put it in writing(those who are already a PhD /academics) is somehow very inspiring!

  5. I visit because I’m just finishing my first year of PhD work – and there is always something there to inspire, comfort, amuse, motivate or genuinely help me see some pathways through an issue or problem I’m facing. I work on my own a lot – and your blog gives me a little sense of community! Thank you!

  6. Happy birthday Thesis Whisperer and congratulations Inger. Why do I visit? Mostly because I know you a bit, at least enough to know that you always have something interesting and useful to say. Even if I’m not particularly thinking about the particular topic/issue at the time. Because it can be fun.

  7. Congratulations – what an achievement in 2 years! You’ve filled a huge void.

    Many, many years ago I spent one year enrolled as a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. It was the most miserable year of my life (no exaggeration, and it wasn’t just the weather). Despite working in a lab full of PhD students I felt isolated, confused and so out of my depth. If the Thesis Whisperer had been around maybe I’d have stuck it out.

    Now (much) older and (a little) wiser, I’m hoping to have another go (in a totally different field, but that’s what 20 years’ work experience and several career changes does for you). So I will need you around for at least 3 years – not the ‘one more’ that you allude to!

    Connecting PhD students, to each other and to information, is without doubt the reason behind your success.

  8. Hi Inger,

    Your blog and Twitter provides a very valuable source of information and support and I too hope it continues for more than just one year.

    There is actually a blog I’ve seen for supervisors though not as active called the Research Supervisors Friend.

    Keep up the good work and keep challenging the status quo.

    Dale.
    Twitter: @DaleReardon

  9. Many congratulations. I finished my PhD earlier this year in Brisbane and have read the blogs regularly on this site. I can’t deny the supportive role played by the contributors on this forum. Bundle of thanks.

  10. Thanks for all your work, Inger. I visit because I am obsessed by PhD theory and practice and I keep learning more from you and the other writers and commenters. Here’s to another year!

  11. Congratulations. I’m a first year PhD student so here’s to several more years of the Thesis Whisperer! I visit because I like learning from other people’s postgraduate journeys and discovering reading, writing, productivity and technology tips.

    The biggest impact your blog has had for me was in encouraging me to set up an ‘academic twitter account’ @ClareKHolmes. It is such a good way to keep up with research in my field and phdchat is invaluable too.

  12. Happy Birthday Thesis Whisperer! My office mate recommended that I visit this site last year and it has become a part of my daily news-update/procrastination tools. I found so many articles on here that have helped me, both in the practicalities of the PhD and the emotional aspects. I’m in the last year (hopefully the last few months) of my PhD and this blog has really helped get me through some of the tricky times.

    I think the post that helped me the most was ‘Valley of Shit.’ I actually read the post just after I had emerged from one of the many valleys I have encountered during the past three years. It was great knowing that I wasn’t going through it alone and I liked being able to give my own experience. The best thing about that post, for me, was reading one student’s account of how hard a time she was having and seeing so many people respond to her with advice and encouragement. It was just so nice to see that kind of outpouring.

  13. Happy birthday! And thank God for blog fodder or this blog would have been gone before I got here. So thanks for all the hard work that I’m sure was and is still going into this. Much appreciated!

    And as you mention your experience with ‘shut-up-and-write’-session. I really should try to get something going again, too. Because to me it provides this wonderful feeling of productiveness and accomplishment while still being among people, peers, friends – so social.

  14. Feliz Cumpleanos, Thesis Whisperer! You are the same age as my toddler but your writing skills are much better than his :) I visit because your writing is not only informative but entertaining. The issues you discuss are incredibly relevant to my current situation as an early career academic and PhD Student. The community you have managed to create is impressive. I love the fact that people from all over the world make comments to your posts reminding me that I am not alone in reading your wise words. I too can get through this, of course, with a little help from my friend, the Thesis Whisperer.
    Looking forward to many more TW birthdays!

  15. Congrats on the birthday! Your blog is a must-read for me because even though I’m ‘done’ with the thesis, I’m still writing, trying to publish, and researching – and perhaps one day I’ll be mentoring a Ph.D. student! Thanks for your thoughts and insight!

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