The Thesis Whisperer is a newspaper style blog, dedicated to the topic of doing a PhD and completing a dissertation. The Thesis Whisperer is edited by Associate Professor Inger Mewburn, director of research training at the Australian National University.
Would you like to write for the Whisperer? Here’s our editorial guidelines
- 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 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.
If you write for us, 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 email@example.com, preferably with a sample piece of less than 1000 words. It speeds up the publication process if you include a short bio of no more than 150 words with your piece. The bio should include a URL to somewhere readers can find out more about you.
Please note: we only accept posts from people who have had the experience of doing a PhD, or working in a professional capacity with research students. I don’t accept posts from professional ‘blog content providers’ or people trying to sell things – unless I genuinely think the audience will be interested.
Want to know more?
If you want to suggest a post topic, or ask a question of the Thesis Whisperer, please fill in the contact form below.
Unfortunately I can only offer general advice on issues like productivity and supervision, I cannot offer individually tailored assistance on your project (sorry!). However, if you are struggling with a specific project issue that you think other students would also like to read about, please feel free to get in touch.
I do supervise a small number of PhD and Masters students. I am interested in working with people who want to research graduate student employability and machine learning (please read the ANU prospective student page before contacting me about study options).
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 the Thesis Whisperer?
My name is Dr Inger Mewburn. I am a researcher, specialising in research education since 2006. I am currently the Director of Research Training at The Australian National University where I do research development activities with PhD students and do 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 media interviews on request.
For further information, my resume is below. You can view my Linkedin profile, my Amazon author page, or contact me by email via the online form above. 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, see my workshops and training page.
I have a background as a designer and a researcher. For the last twelve years, I have worked with PhD students and early career researchers to develop their professional skills. I like to make things using a range of media and methods. My output ranges through training programs, events, online learning, apps, journal papers, reports, blog posts, journalism and books.
Director of research training, The Australian National University (2013 –
At ANU I manage the research training team, running events and programs for all research candidates, including the biggest 3 Minute Thesis final in the world. I consult with colleagues on projects related to policy and program development, including online education. My current research concerns the application of machine learning and big data techniques to understand researcher employability and economic prosperity.
Research Fellow, Graduate School of Research, RMIT University (2006 – 2013)
I ran the multidisciplinary events program for research students and undertook research projects aimed at improving quality in doctoral education at RMIT, which was still trying to formalise its processes and procedures around graduate education. During the formation of the School of Graduate Research I did a series of research projects aimed at better understanding the value chain and pain points of the research candidate experience, including induction, progress reporting and online education.
Freelance Educator, Melbourne University, Monash University, Swinburne University and RMIT University (2001 – 2006)
As is common these days, I spent five years being a sessional lecturer while raising a small child. During what I call ‘the wilderness years’, I always had as much work as I wanted because of the broad range of subjects I could teach and my excellent teaching evaluations. I worked in multiple institutions teaching a huge range of topics, from architectural history to computer games programming. I learned the value of networking, stake holder engagement and ruthlessly efficient time management – all while suffering through sleep deprivation and head-colds brought home from the day care centre (#goodtimes). After I completed my first post graduate degree I took up a permanent, part-time position while I worked on my PhD.
VET sector lecturer, RMIT University (1999 – 2001)
My first, full time teaching gig was teaching computer graphics, design and construction technology in the building design and drafting course. I assisted in the first roll out of Wi-Fi, smart boards and laptops and had my first experience of developing online teaching materials. VET was implementing quality assurance processes, so I was given appropriate teacher training for the first time, which greatly improved my practice. After becoming a parent, I decided to work part time and left this role to take casual work in the Higher Education section of the university and work on my post graduate degrees.
Architectural practice, Styant-Browne Architects, Hooker Handasyde, Ashton Raggatt McDougall, Lyons, MIRVAC (1991 – 1999)
As a student and then graduate architect, I worked in a series of high end design firms in Melbourne. In the 1990s, my 3D computer animation and rendering skills were cutting edge and extremely rare. I held multiple positions over a short time because there was a lot of competition for my services. My advanced technical skills and ability to communicate with a wide range of people enabled me to be an effective ‘bridge’ between design teams, clients and marketing departments. Translating ideas to concrete visualisation that work requires a high level of autonomy, diplomacy, and attention to detail. Architecture is a high pressure, low margins business. During my time in practice I learned how to work in large, multi-disciplinary teams (in a male dominated environment) on high stakes projects, to tight deadlines. At the same time, I worked nights teaching undergraduates my suite of in-demand skills. Eventually I realised I enjoyed the teaching more than the architecture, so I left to pursue a career in academia.
Retail and service industry work (1984 – 1991)
I worked as soon as I was old enough to apply for a job. I got a great start and training as a Coles “checkout chick”. After the supermarket, I worked as a fish and chip shop cashier, a courier driver and a cleaner, until university when I worked in a bookstore and then weekend manager at a record store (remember those?). I still include this experience in my resume because it gave me a solid grounding in customer service and the ability to deal with an extremely diverse range of people in high stress environments (including the police, when there were shop lifters, or when my staff were suspected of drug dealing). I contemplated a career as an A&R rep for Sony, before returning to study and finishing my architecture degree. The key factor in this decision was the introduction of computers in the workplace. I was intrigued by the possibilities… what can I say? I’m a nerd.
- “Constructing Bodies: gesture speech and representation at work in Architecture classrooms”, Ph.D, University of Melbourne, (2009). Winner of the John Grice award for best thesis in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning.
- “Digital architectures and the presence of the virtual”, MPhil RMIT University, (2005).
- Post-graduate certificate in Spatial Information Architecture, RMIT University (2001).
- Certificate IV in training and assessment, RMIT University (1999).
- Bachelor of Architecture (with Honours), RMIT University (Awarded 1997).
Awards, grants and prizes
- Vice Chancellor’s award for innovation and excellence in service, November 2017.
- CSIRO ‘On Prime’ program completion bonus, 2017
- Leader: $50,000 Discovery Translation Fund grant from Canberra Innovation Network, 2017
- Leader: Department of Industry research grant to investigate the application of machine learning to explore PhD employability and the ‘hidden job market’ for graduates, 2015 – 2016. $80,000
- Leader: ARUP engineering research grant to explore the integration of digital badges in engineering contexts, 2014 ($6000)
- Leader: Office of Learning and Teaching seed grant to explore the use of digital badge technology in doctoral pedagogy, 2014 ($40,000)
- Best concise paper, “Badge trouble: implementing digital badges at the Australian National University, ASCILITE conference, Wellington, 2014.
- Leader: ANU gender institute grant to explore PhD student attrition, 2013 ($1500)
- John Grice award for best thesis in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Melbourne, 2009. ($3000)
- Best paper award, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Melbourne, 2008 ($3000)
- Melbourne research scholarship, University of Melbourne, 2006-2008. ($24,000 PA)
- Creative research industries CRC award for creative explorations, 2003. ($3000)
At time of writing the blog has over half a million words of content, 100,000 followers over 4 social media channels, been viewed over 7 million times with over 15 thousand comments. The blog has a truly global reach, with readers located all over the world.
I have always been attracted to working in adult learning, especially research education, because this is where change can be difficult to achieve and extraordinarily rewarding. I believe PhD students are incredibly smart, motivated people who can contribute to the deeply complex problems our world faces. My job is to help them to succeed and move on to the next phase of their life. I do this in a variety of ways: blogging, curating content, conventional teaching and research.
I am a creative teacher who likes to work with new media wherever possible, but I value and respect what can be achieved in face-to-face and community settings. I plan all my formal teaching around clearly stated goals, using activity mapping to structure engaging classroom experiences and a positive, but challenging, learning environment. I try, wherever possible, to work in blended formats to extend my teaching to distance candidates. I practice a radically open educational practice; all my teaching materials and resources are released free, under the creative commons share alike attribution license. Many others have adapted my content into their teaching practice and I see this, in addition to my research, as an important contribution to my discipline.
Research and publications
Since completing my Ph.D on gesture behaviour in design teaching, my research has mostly been focused on problem areas in research education. I am attracted to areas where I feel I can have the most impact. Accordingly, I have focused my research efforts on conflict in candidature, administrative and governance issues, new assessment approaches (including micro-credentialing), and methods for measuring and improving candidate retention. In 2016 I began collaborating with colleagues in science and computer engineering to explore Ph.D graduate employability, using big data and machine learning approaches. I am currently working on commercialization avenues for the algorithms that emerged from this project. I publish my research outcomes in a range of formats, strategically to have the most impact, not just for ‘points’.
- (Forthcoming, 2018) Mewburn, I., Lehmann, S. Firth, K (2019) Your academic writing trouble and how to fix it, Open University Press, Maidenhead.
- Mewburn, I (2017) How to be an academic, New South Press, Sydney
- Lupton, D, Mewburn, I and Thomson, P (2017) The Digital Academic: critical perspectives on digital technologies in higher education, Routledge, London.
- McMaster, C, Whitburn, B, Mewburn, I and Murphy, C (2017) Postgraduate study in Australia: surviving and succeeding, Peter Lang, Amsterdam.
- Freund, K., Kizimchuk, S., Zapasnik, J., Esteves, K. and I.Mewburn (2017) A Labour of Love? A Critical Examination of the ‘Labour Icebergs’ of Massive Open Online Course in Lutpon, D., Thomson, P. and Mewburn, I. (eds) The Digital Academic: critical perspectives on digital technologies in higher education, Routledge, London.
- Mewburn, I. & Thomson, P. (2017) Towards an academic self? Blogging during the doctorate, in Lutpon, D., Thomson, P. and Mewburn, I. (eds) The Digital Academic: critical perspectives on digital technologies in higher education, Routledge, London.
- Mewburn, I. & Thomson, P. (2016) Social media and academic publishing, in Selwyn, N (ed), The BERA/SAGE Handbook of Educational Research, Sage, London.
- Corbett, J., Macintyre, A. & Mewburn, I. (2014), Functional Dystopia: Diversity, Contestability and New Media in the Academy, in Margaret Thornton (ed.), Through a Glass Darkly: The Social Sciences Look at the Neoliberal University, ANU Press, Canberra, pp. 195-208.
- Mewburn, I. (2012) Creative doctoral work, in Carey Denholm and Terry Evans (ed.), Doctorates down-under: keys to successful doctoral study in Australia and Aotearoa, New Zealand (2nd ed), Australian Council for Educational Research Press, Melbourne Australia, pp. 126-135.
- Mewburn, I., Osborne, L. & Caldwell, G. 2014, ‘Shut up & Write! Some surprising uses of cafes and crowds in doctoral writing’, in Claire Aitchison and Cally Guerin (ed.), Writing Groups for Doctoral Education and Beyond: Innovations in practice and theory, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, Abingdon and New York, pp. 218-232.
- Mewburn, I. and Barnacle, R. (2010) 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.
- Mewburn, I (2008) Through the looking glass and into the design studio, in Pia Ednie-Brown (ed.) Plastic Green: designing for environmental transformation, RMIT Press, Melbourne Australia.
- Ednie-Brown, P. and Mewburn, I. (2006) Vibrating with Difference: Laughter and the intimate distance between us, in Jillian Hamilton (Ed.), Intimate Transactions: Art, Exhibition and Interaction Within Distributed Network Environments, ACID Press, Brisbane.
- Mewburn, I., Grant, W., Suominen, H. & Kizimchuk, S. (2018) A machine learning analysis of the non- academic employment opportunities for Ph. Graduates in Australia, Higher Education Policy,
- Mewburn, I. (2017) A PhD shouldn’t look like it’s fun: an actor-network theory analysis of digital badges, Student engagement in Higher education, 1(2), 40-54.
- Trembath, J. & Mewburn, I. (2017) The role of technology in the making of a Thesis Whisperer, The Unfamiliar, 7(1), 14 – 26.
- Pitt, R. & Mewburn, I. (2016) Academic superheroes? A critical analysis of academic job descriptions, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 38(1), 88 – 101.
- Amayo Caldwell, G., Osborne, L., Nottingham, A. & Mewburn, I. (2015) Connecting the Space between Design and Research: Explorations in participatory research supervision, Education Philosophy and Theory, 48(13), 1352 – 1367.
- Amayo Caldwell, G., Osborne, L., Mewburn, I. & Crowther, P. (2015) Guerrillas in the (Urban) midst: developing and using creative research methods and ‘guerrilla research tactics’, Journal of Urban Technology, 22 (3), 21 –
- Mewburn, I. & Thompson, P. (2013) Why do academics blog? An analysis of audiences, purposes and challenges, Studies in Higher Education, 38(8), 1105 – 1119.
- Mewburn, I., Tokareva, E. & Cuthbert, D. (2014) “These are issues that should not be raised in black and white”: the culture of progress reporting and the doctorate, Higher Education Research and Development, 33(3), 510-522.
- Mewburn, I., Cuthbert, D. & Tokareva, E. (2014) Experiencing the progress report: an analysis of gender and administration in doctoral candidature, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 36 (2), 155-171.
- Mewburn, I. (2011) Troubling talk: assembling the PhD candidate, Studies in Continuing Education, 33(3), 321-332.
- Mewburn, I. (2011), Lost in translation: Reconsidering reflective practice and design studio pedagogy, Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 11 (4), 363-379.
- Barnacle, R. & Mewburn, I. (2010) Learning networks and the journey of ‘becoming doctor’, Studies in Higher Education, 35 (4), 433-444.
- Mewburn, I, Grant, W and Souminen, H (2016) Tracking Trends in industry demand for Australia’s advanced research workforce, Department of Industry, Canberra, Australia.
- Mewburn, I and Trembath, J.L (2015) The culture of sharing at Arup: A report on the use of internal social software systems, Arup Engineering, Sydney, Australia.
Peer reviewed conference papers
- Mewburn, I., Freund, K. & Rutherford, E. (2014) Badge trouble: piloting open badges at the Australian National University, Rhetoric and Reality: Critical perspectives on educational technology, ed. B Hegarty, J McDonald, SK Loke, ASCILITE: Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education, Dunedin New Zealand, pp. 643-648.
- Kizimchuk, S, Freund, K, Prescott, M et al 2016, ‘Collective effervescence: Designing MOOCs for emotion and community’, 33rd International Conference of Innovation, Practice and Research in the Use of Educational Technologies in Tertiary Education, ASCILITE Adelaide 2016, ed. S. Barker, S. Dawson, A. Pardo, and C. Colvin, University of South Australia, Australia, pp. 348-353.
- Maher, A. and Mewburn, I. 2007, ‘An economy of knowledge: research, architectural practice and knowledge (in) translation’, in Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, United States, 3 – 6 October 2007, pp. 258-269.
Selected expert Commentary
- Mewburn, I. and Thomson, P. (12/12/2013) ‘Academic blogging is part of a complex online academic attention economy, leading to unprecedented readership’. London School of Economics Impact blog
- Mewburn, I. and Thomson, P. (3/12/2013) ‘Why do academics blog? It’s not for public outreach new research suggests’, The Guardian
- Mewburn, I (27/09/2012) ‘Academics behaving badly: Universities and online reputations’, The Conversation
- Mewburn, I (14/06/2015) ‘What’s up with Universities? Wackademia or just grumpy old academics?’, The Conversation, 14/06/2012. Retrieved 19/07/2015 from https://theconversation.com/whats-up-with-universities-whackademia-or-just-grumpy-old-academics-7602
- Mewburn, I (11/06/2012). ‘On the right side of the digital divide’, New Scientist. Retrieved 17/07/2015
Projects and service
- Member of the Higher Degrees by Research committee (2013 -)
- Member of the steering committee for academic professional development (2017 – )
- Leader, Working party for Supervision professional development framework at ANU, 2017
- Steering committee member, ANU strategy development for HDR candidates, 2016.
- Volunteer mentor in the VC’s student leadership program (2014 -)
- Liaison for HDR matters in the establishment of the Westpac Fellowship scheme (2014 – 2016)
- HDR project management committee, member ANU 2014 – 2015
- ANU gateway project steering committee, member ANU 2013-2014.
- Data management steering group, member ANU 2013- 2014.
- Regular Peer Reviewer for: Higher education research and Development, Higher Education Academy senior fellowships, annual ‘New Horizons: digital education survey’, Open University press educational imprint, Australian Educational Researcher journal, Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, and tenure reviewer for Northwestern University in the USA.
- fIRST, steering group member 2012 – 2014.
- Consultant: School of Graduate research transformation project, 2008/2009.
- High Risk Ethics Committee, member RMIT University 2009 – 2012.
- “What do employers want? Forging a fulfilling post PhD career”, University of Sydney Health and medical sciences faculty Research candidate conference, October, 2017
- “Using machine learning to explore future academic employability”, Canadian Studies in higher education plenary keynote at the 2016 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada and “Critical success factors for an academic career”, 2016 Congress of the Humanities Interdisciplinary Forum, Alberta Canada, May 2016. (The Congress of the Humanities the annual gathering of 75 Canadian scholarly associations, with around 8,000 researchers, practitioners, policy makers and the public)
- “Blogging, writing and other parts of my writing life”, symposium on writing in the humanities, Goldsmiths, London, November 2015).
- “How to run a successful academic blog”. Academic blogging symposium, Warwick University, March 2015.
- “Academic superheroes – what more do universities want?”. MPA Excellence series, Monash University, February, 2014.
- Inaugural Law, Education, Business and Arts (LEBA) HDR student conference keynote, Charles Darwin University, September 2013.
- “Analysing PhD employability”. Australian Post Graduate Careers developers symposium, University of Sydney, March 2014.
- “Can you be replaced by a machine?”. Association for Academic Language and Learning, ‘Building higher degree research student writing capacity: whose job is it? University of Sydney, March 2014.
- “Let the plates fall on the floor? Invisible work in university libraries”. Caval Reference Group forum, Melbourne University, Melbourne University, November 2013.
- “What do academic employers want?”. Post graduate student conference in Law, QUT, June 2013.
- “Will I get a job after my PhD?”. Nursing research week, University of Sydney, June 2013.
- “Is a PhD detrimental to your career?”, MPA Excellence series, Monash University, 2013.
- “What academic employers want”, Cardiff University research education conference, Cardiff University, March 2013.
- “What I learned from Gabriel Tarde about research metrics”. Caval Reference Group forum on Open publishing models, Melbourne University, September 2012.
- “Personal learning net(works): an actor network approach to PhD candidature”. Personal Learning Environment conference, Deakin University, May 2012.
- “How to manage your PhD (and yourself)”, Manchester University GRAD school forum, Manchester University 2012.
- “The spaces of PhD candidature” Special conference on Social Issues in Research Spaces, Herriot Watt University, Edinburgh, April 2012.
- “Personal learning networks in your PhD”, IGNITE 12. Creative Industries research student conference, QUT, October 2012.
- Inaugural new student keynote, Nursing research week, University of Sydney, June 2011.
- “What I learned about doing a PhD from romance novels”. Education research week, Charles Sturt University, May 2011.