The Thesis Whisperer is a blog newspaper dedicated to the topic of doing a thesis and is edited by Dr Inger Mewburn, Director of research training at the Australian National University.
Would you like to write for the Whisperer? Here’s what we aim to do:
We want to be concise. PhD students have to do a lot of reading so no posts will be longer than 1000 words
We want to learn from people’s stories about doing a research degree – but we don’t need to hear about your topic. There’s enough journals out there for that.
We are not a ‘how to’ guide to doing a thesis, but we are happy to dish out practical tips and techniques that work for us.
We don’t want to just talk about writing – successfully finishing a thesis or dissertation is about more than that. But we don’t want to be sued, so we are going to always keep it nice.
We want to stimulate conversations so our posts will always be opinionated, hopefully without being obnoxious.
We want to hear your voice. Doing a thesis can take the fun out of anyone’s writing. This is a place you can relax because there is no examiner watching.
We can’t pay you. But we promise to never rip off your work and present it as our own. If you want to write for us it is because you have an urge to share your experience and help others so it may travel further than you think (note the licensing arrangements below).
Interested? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, preferably with a sample piece of less than 1000 words. Please note: I only accept posts from people who have had the experience of doing a PhD, or working in a professional capacity with research students. We do not accept posts from professional marketing bloggers. If you want to suggest a post or ask a question – visit our feedback page.
Want to use our material? You are free to reproduce any posts from the Whisperer through the Creative Commons “Attribution-non commercial-sharealike” license. Most of the photos on this site are copyright free and sourced from Morguefile.
Who is Inger?
I am currently the Director of Research Training at The Australian National University where I am responsible for co-ordinating, communicating and measuring all the centrally run research training activities and doing research on student experience to inform practice.
Aside from editing and contributing to the Thesis Whisperer, I write scholarly papers, books and book chapters about research student experiences, with a special interest in the digital practices of academics. I am a regular guest speaker at other universities and do occassional media interviews. Some details of these other activites are below. For further information, view my About Me page or contact me by email on email@example.com. For more details on my scholarly work please visit my Google Scholar page or my OrcidID.
I often visit other universities and do workshops on publishing, writing, social media and presentation skills: if you are interested, please send me an email.
Charles Sturt University faculty of education research week, NSW, 2011
Sydney University nursing school research week, Sydney, 2011 and 2013
SPIRES conference on Social Issues in Research Spaces, Edinburgh, April 2012
Manchester University GRAD school, Manchester, 2012
Personal Learning Environment conference, Melbourne, 2012
CRIG forum on Open publishing models, Melbourne University, 14/09/2012
Creative Industries Conference, QUT, Tuesday the 30th of October 2013
Swinburne Students conference, Friday the 9th of November
Macquarie University Student conference, Tuesday the 13th of November 2012
Inaugural LEBA keynote at Charles Darwin University, 10th of September 2013
Selected scholarly journal articles
“Why do academics blog? An analysis of audiences, purposes and challenges” with Patricia Thomson, Studies in Higher Education.
Academics are increasingly being urged to blog in order to expand their audiences, create networks and to learn to write in more reader friendly style. This paper holds this advocacy up to empirical scrutiny. A content analysis of 100 academic blogs suggests that academics most commonly write about academic work conditions and policy contexts, share information and provide advice; the intended audience for this work is other higher education staff. We contend that academic blogging may constitute a community of practice in which a hybrid public/private academic operates in a ‘gift economy’. We note however that academic blogging is increasingly of interest to institutions and this may challenge some of the current practices we have recorded. We conclude that there is still much to learn about academic blogging practices.
“Experiencing the progress report: an analysis of gender and administration in doctoral candidature” Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 2013
Most universities around the world put in place administrative processes and systems to manage student progress. These processes usually involve filling out standardised forms and instruments: managerial tools intended to increase transparency, promote efficiency and ensure fairness by applying the same standards to all. The progress report is a widely used management tool in doctoral candidature in Australia and in other countries which look to the United Kingdom for degree structure and format. This reporting mechanism requires students and supervisors to make a retrospective account of the research done in a given period. The intention of the progress report is to provide a mechanism for recording feedback and an opportunity to clarify commu- nication between supervisors, students and the institution itself on the progress of the research. However, whether these managerial tools achieve these aims in doctoral candidature is questionable. In this paper, we report on findings from a study of progress reporting in doctoral studies in one middle-band university in Australia. We found that men and women reported qualitative differences in their encounters with the progress reporting mechanisms, which called into question the idea that these management tools are gender neutral and fair in their effects or application.
“These are the things that shouldn’t be written in black and white”: Progress reporting and audit cultures, Inger Mewburn, Ekaterina Tokareva, Denise Cuthbert, Jennifer Sinclair and Robyn Barnacle
This paper reports findings from Australian research into student, academic and administrative staff understandings of the role and efficacy of periodic progress reports designed to monitor the progress of higher-degree-by-research candidates. Major findings are that confusion of the purpose and ultimate audience of these reports is linked to less than effective reporting by all parties; countersigning and report dependency requirements inhibit the frank reporting of progress and ‘social learning’ impacts on the way candidates and sometimes supervisors approach reporting obligations, running counter to institutional imperatives. We conclude that no ready or transparent nexus between the progress report and progress may be assumed. Fundamentally, this calls into question the usefulness of this process as currently implemented. Arising from this is the recommendation that progress reporting be linked to substantive reviews of progress and embedded in the pedagogy and curriculum of higher- degree-by-research programmes.
Troubling talk: assembling the PhD candidate, Studies in Continuing Education, Available online: 08 Sep 2011
Do we really understand what is happening when we hear research students complaining about their work? In this paper, I explore some examples of troubles talk in action and argue that it is a surprisingly effective way for PhD students to negotiate and manage the precarious process of ‘becoming academic’ within the contemporary academy.
“Lost in translation: a critique of reflective practice”, Arts and Humanities in Higher Education Vol 10 (2).
Over the last 500 years or so, formal architectural design education has steadily become institutionalized. Prospective architects no longer learn on the job, either in building sites or in offices, they sit at tables in University rooms working on speculative design projects in classes we call ‘design studios’. In this paper I offer an alternative account of how design learning occurs which attempts to build on Donald Schon’s seminal work on reflective practice while troubling some of its base assumptions.
“Learning networks and the journey of becoming doctor”, Studies in Higher Education”, v.35 (June), no. 4. (with Robyn Barnacle)
Completing a PhD does not just involve becoming an expert in a particular topic area, but comprises a transformation of identity: that of becoming a scholar or researcher. \In this article we address other sites in which scholarly identity is performed within doctoral candidature through exploring the role of material things, what Latour (1988) calls ‘the missing masses’, in the process of ‘becoming doctor’. Our aim is to explore the implications of this for doctoral learning and the journey of becoming a researcher or scholar.
“Academics behaving badly: Universities and online reputations”, The Conversation, 27/09/2012
“What’s up with Universities? Wackademia or just grumpy old academics”, The Conversation, 14/06/2012
“On the right side of the digital divide”, New Scientist Big Wide World Blog, 11/06/2012
“Build it and they wont come: what is wrong with architect’s websites?”, Architectural Review Asia Pacific #126: Architecture and Infrastructure.
“Why do academics complain all the time?”, RMIT Blog Central, 18/03/2011
(Interview about the Thesis Whisperer Blog) “Lonely PhD student? Just log in”, The Age, 9/08/2011
Radio / Podcasts
Interview about the thesis whisperer on PodSocs 30/08/2013
Talking about the Literature Review with Ben from Lit Review HQ blogGuest ABC 720 Perth – regular segment: You Study What? Drive – 14/09/2012
Guest ABC Radio National Drive “Twitterati” segment, 08/06/2012
Guest RRR “The Architects”: Gesture in the Design Studio. 12/070/2010
Guest RRR “The Architects”: The architecture of the rococo, 08/08/2006
“Doing creative doctoral work”, in Doctorates Down under” 2nd edition, ACER Press, 2011
Download it here: Creative Doctoral Work – Dr Inger Mewburn
Instead of thinking about ourselves as being creative (or not) It is more useful to start to think about what creative practices we already have, or could adopt. A practice is a way of doing something which is likely to produce a certain kind of result or outcome. There are many creative practices which might be useful for PhD study, but I am going to put forward only four for you to consider: creating an ideas ‘import/export’ business; being ‘deliberately wrong’; ‘cooking ideas’ and ‘mode switching’. Some of these might resemble ways you already work, but you may not have consciously recognised them as ‘creative practices’.
‘Razzle Dazzle: making a thesis text in creative practice based research’, in Joy Higgs et al (eds) Researching Practice: a discourse on methodologies. Rotterdam, Holland: Sense Publishers (2010). (with Robyn Barnacle)
Constructing bodies: gesture, speech and representation at work in architectural design studios. Winner of the John Grice award for best PhD thesis, Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne 2009.
Previous studies of the design studio have tended to treat learning to design as a matter of
learning to think in the right way, despite the recognition that material artifacts and the ability to make and manipulate them in architectural ways is important to the design process. Through the use of empirical data gathered from watching design teachers and students in action, this thesis works to discover how material things and bodies are important to the fabrication of architectural meaning and architectural subjectivity within design studios. In particular the role of gesture is highlighted as doing important work in design studio knowledge practices.
The approach taken in this thesis is to treat design activity in design studios in a ‘post-human’
way. An analytical eye is turned to how things and people perform together and are organised in various ways, using Actor network theory (ANT) as a way to orientate the investigation. The assumption drawn from ANT is that that architectural meaning, knowledge and identity can positioned as network effects, enacted into being as the design studio is ‘done’ by the various actors — including material things, such as architectural representations, and human behaviours, such as gesture.
Digital Architecture and the presence of the Virtual, Thesis (M. Arch.) — RMIT University, Victoria, 2005.
“Shut up and Write!” (With Lindy Osborne and Glenda Caldwell), Quality in Postgraduate Research, Adelaide, 2012
Shut Up and Write! temporarily transforms writing from a solitary practice to a social one, which takes place in a public space that is not strictly ‘educational’ – like a cafe or lounge space, either on or off campus. Because it has no formal structure beyond what is implied in the name – that participants agree to be silent for a period of time and do their work – the experience of Shut Up and Write! is different each time it is enacted. This is a performative pedagogy: time, place, people all matter to how the sessions are conducted and what learnings emerge. This paper reports on the experience of running such sessions at two different Australian institutions and the unexpected benefits which emerged from this practice.
“Supervision without borders” (with Dr Geof Hill), Quality in Postgraduate Research, Adelaide, 2012
Getting Wiki With it’, Quality in Postgraduate Research 2008, Adelaide.
Andrew Maher and Inger Mewburn (April 2008) ‘An economy of Knowledge: research, architectural practice and knowledge (in) translation’, Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, October 2007, Vol. 2007, No.1, pp. 258-269.
How does new knowledge ‘flow’ within an organisation? In this paper we report upon a case study in which ethnography is employed to render visible the ‘knowledge transfer’ (strategically redefined as ‘knowledge translation’) occurring between a PhD researcher and the members of the organisation in which he is ’embedded’.