One year on

Yesterday was  our one year anniversary: Happy birthday Thesis Whisperer!

While I am in the nostalgic mood that anniversaries can provoke, I have to tell you that the blog has certainly exceeded my expectations. I thought the idea up in the shower (as you do), inspired by a phone call from a student who asked “Are you the RMIT thesis whisperer?”. I thought this was a great name for a blog and as close to a job description as I was likely to get, but I also liked the idea of this kind of teaching: as Alison King quipped: “a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage”.

From the first post on June the 7th, 2010 there have been a total of 90 published posts – around 2 a week and a total of nearly 90,000 words. Over this year there have been 84,904 hits and 828 comments – which I’m sure is minuscule compared to some of the big fish in the blog pond, but personally satisfying because The Thesis Whisperer is proudly a niche blog and I think there is a real sense of community around here.

Since the vast majority of you are researchers, I thought you might be interested in some of the stats which normally only I see as the blog controller. I think these are fascinating because they are a little window into what PhD students are thinking and feeling.

For instance, I recently did an analysis of the top search terms which bring people to the blog. Other than variations on ‘The Thesis Whisperer’, the top ten thesis related search strings which people typed into a search engine to find the site were:

  1. What do you learn by doing a PhD?
  2. Phone apps for researchers
  3. Zotero / Endnote / Mendeley
  4. “I hate my PhD supervisor”
  5. Academic Coach
  6. Write a better PhD
  7. 3 minute thesis
  8. Presentation mistakes
  9. PhD work is lonely
  10. How to write a lit review
  11. Best books on doing a PhD

Where people go after they have visited our site is also interesting. The top ten most clicked links are:

  1. Is my thesis hot or not?
  2. Download of the Scrivener Writing app
  3. It’s a PhD, not a Nobel Prize paper
  4. Alternative PhD blog
  5. 75 super co0l blogs written by PhD students
  6. Post Graduate Toolbox
  7. To do dissertation
  8. Working it out
  9. I love diagrams
  10. How to write a thesis

From this brief analysis, I think people visit the Thesis Whisperer for:

  • 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 productivity (and procrastination)
  • To see what other PhD students are doing

Of course, not all the searches were PhD related. As more sites link to us, the ranking of the thesis whisperer is pushed up in search results. This means that some generic search terms start to direct traffic and more people find us unexpectedly. As a consequence, the term ‘Yoda’ brings up the post “Developing your inner yoda – er scholar” which has resulted in an extra 2800 hits in the last couple of weeks! This has pushed this post to number two on the top ten posts, the other nine most popular posts were:

  1. How to write 1000 words a day and not go bat shit crazy
  2. Zotero vs Endnote: the battle is on!
  3. 5 ways to fail your PhD
  4. Is your computer domesticating you?
  5. 5 books to help you with your PhD
  6. The top five #phdemotions
  7. The stegosaurus strategy
  8. PhD Detachment
  9. 5 classic research presentation mistakes

Some of these posts are favourites of mine, but this list doesn’t contain all of the ‘pillar posts’ of this blog. Problogger describes a pillar post as: “a tutorial style article aimed to teach your audience something”. I think what I have to teach is an approach to doing the thesis, which is based on understanding it as a genre and a performance of scholarly skills. If this is the case, some of my pillar posts would have to be:

I would recommend a blog to any practising academic as a way to grow their own network. In the year I have been running the blog I have been privileged to meet and talk to many people with similar interests worldwide and develop a much stronger professional network. All these people are very clever and interested in sharing knowledge, not hoarding it. The ability to talk about ideas or ask questions, not to mention the various links which are sent to me daily through social media channels, have made my work easier. I am being invited all around Australia and internationally to talk about the Whisperer, which is very exciting.

All this is because my work is now on such public display and open for use by others. Anyone can download a post or presentation and use it (as long as they acknowledge the author). This is not how we academics are taught to handle knowledge, but I think is more fitting with the role of university academics as public servants.

The success of this blog is certainly dependent on you, the readership, who always engage so thoughtfully with the content. Beyond the 250 subscribers I know there are many regular readers amongst my 1460 odd Twitter followersand the 309 people who have signed up to the Facebook page. But the success is also due to the growing number of people who have generously donated their time to write posts including: Heather Davis, Dr Karen McAulay, Dr. Sarah Quinnell, Dr Geof Hill, Jess Drake, Mary Helen Ward, Dr Julie Rudner, Gabriel Oguada, Magdeline Lum, Eva Lantsoght, Linda Kirkman, Anitra Nottingham, Elizabeth Humphrys, Andy Coverdale, Angela DiPasquale and the three authors who have chosen to remain anonymous: @themarquise, @cuteangel and Squishy Scientist. Thanks guys!

I hope, over time, the blog will become even more of a collaborative enterprise and that people will continue to be interested in reading it, therefore I’m interested in what you think of this analysis. Why do you read the Whisperer?

35 thoughts on “One year on

  1. tseen says:

    I can’t believe it has only been one year! This blog already feels like something that’s always been on the interwebs, like it emerged from all that primoridal PhD angst… 😉

    Congrats! And make sure you don’t forget the little people when those keynote invites to Hawai’i start arriving…

  2. eleanor says:

    Congrats!! 🙂 on a brilliant achievement.

    To answer the question, I found thesis whisperer via another student and started avidly reading, firstly ’cause working alone at home can be sad and lonely and I wanted to belong to a community. Secondly because you give ‘big sister’ talks which help me get some much needed perspective! :). Thirdly, ’cause I would have never found scrivener, pomodoro and epic win on my own.

  3. Jonathan O'Donnell says:

    Bloody well done!

    Three of your ‘pillar posts’ are from the first three months of your blogs life.
    + 9 June 2010: Learning from ‘Avatar’
    + 15 July 2010: The ‘It’s Time’ talk
    + 24 August 2010: The dead hand of the thesis genre?

    They will never get into the top ten (which all have been published since November 2010, seven of them in 2011) because you didn’t have the readership back then.

    In those first three months, almost nobody had you on their RSS feed, nobody knew to link to you and you weren’t being indexed like you are now. So those posts are doomed to languish, forgotten and forlorn.

    …unless you repost them.

  4. Sue says:

    Congratulations – it’s a fantastic blog. I’m involved in RHD supervisrion and coordinating honours and have sent the URL to any RHD student I know! I also find it very useful for myself as a supervisor and writer. Keep up the good work!

    • ingermewburn says:

      I always say I’m glad this technology didn’t come along until I was 40 – I would hate to think what it would be like if Facebook had been around when I was 22 🙂

      • Teddy says:

        I think women do a lot of supporting and cirnag for the rest of their families and set incredibly high standards for themselves. When they encounter other women with kids, there is a subconscious comparison that sometimes creeps in.We all do it to some degree on some occasions, we can’t help it, I think how we then deal with that, how we be an adult about it all is the important thing. I also think a lot of women worry too much about being liked. Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Disagreement can be positive, a good debate can be a good thing but I find online particularly that it’s not always viewed as anything but negative. I suppose the really bad thing that some women do though is once a person isn’t liked, then the gossip mongering starts. Whereas men would get it out in the open, fall out permanently or get it sorted and move on, women seem to hold more grudges.As for whether I think there’s a sisterhood? No. There’s not a brotherhood either. Does that matter? I don’t think so. Why should we be so defined and restricted by our sex?

    • PenGuasa says:

      I find this one tricky. It’s a bit like sinayg because we all have breasts we should like eachother and hang out. I try to support women starting up in business and writing blogs of course. But essentially that’s just the foot in the door isn’t it because surely if women want to operate in the real world we can’t make allowances for people just because of gender can we? If the business doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, does it still deserve our unwavering support? If the blog is dry, or unengaging should we still promote it because it’s written by a female/woman/mother? I think the world/blogosphere/twitter have a colossal amount of exceptional women operating/inspiring and doing some frigging cool stuff. If we support all, rather than the really exceptional ones, aren’t we doing everyone a disservice?

  5. John Handley says:

    Happy Blogthday.

    It’s a good resource, even if the only thing you get is that you are not alone!

  6. John Handley says:

    Oh I just realised – the subtitle to “Thesis Whisperer” could be “Linger with Inger”. 🙂

  7. Natalie says:

    I read The Thesis Whisperer for inspiration. I am in my final 6 months of my PhD and it’s not pretty so I like to read this and know that everyone is in the same boat and needs the same advice. I get that advice right here. Keep ’em coming!

  8. Karenmca says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, THESIS WHISPERER! You’ve got a lot to be justifiably proud of, and I’m sure I can speak for the “contributor team” when I say that it’s a good feeling to be involved with something so evidently going places!

  9. Tim Rutherford-Johnson says:

    Congratulations Inger! Only 1 year? I discovered Thesis Whisperer about 6 months ago and it seemed like such a strong site I assumed it must have been around for much longer!

    (And those are very respectable stats for a niche blog in its first year.)

    • ingermewburn says:

      It’s nice of you to say that Tim – I guess a lot of the ideas have been kicking around for 5 years and been shared with PhD students all that time in the workshops I run. I’ve had plenty of time to chew them over 🙂

  10. Eva Lantsoght says:

    Happy birthday! Somehow I thought your blog had been around for a much longer time, as I found so much interesting content already when I stumbled upon this site last fall/winter.

    • ingermewburn says:

      I’m glad I give that impression 🙂 It didn’t take me that long to work out what style I wanted to take to it because I was an avid blog reader for some time before that. Luckily the blogging community are happy to share their knowledge about how to blog too.

  11. Narelle says:

    Ditto to all the comments above. Happy birthday thesiswhisperer. You certainly have a solid spot in my PhD tookit.

  12. Angie says:

    Happy birthday

    Thanks for the mention, your blog is a great source of motivation and its also fun.
    I make sure all my friends know about it. Wish many more years of success.

  13. says:

    great info Thanks for the marvelous posting!!! I genuinely enjoyed reading it, you’re a great author.I will remember to bookmark your blog and definitely will come back down the road. I want to encourage one to continue your great work, have a nice day…

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