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My PhD in 60 Seconds: Mark Carrigan

My PhD in 60 Seconds: Izzy Gutteridge

The Prato Writing Workshop

In association with a number of other universities, the department runs an annual writing workshop for PhD students in Prato, Italy. In the feature below, Mark Carrigan and Lynn Tang, talk about the workshop that took place in June 2011. Below the conversation are some photos taken by Dr Bob Carter who is the academic coordinator for the project.

– What was your motivation for attending the writing school? What did you hope to get out of it?

Lynn: PhD study is a lonely journey. You have to focus on your own project and seldom see other fellow students. Getting away to Italy for a writing workshop and meeting other students in similar stage of writing up sound like a good idea. Instead of being told with instructions of ‘how I should write’ (boot camp style), I hope it would be like a retreat, with a safe environment to vent frustration as well as to share insights and tips about academic writing and publishing. I was told that we could get as much or as less as we wanted to – a schedule paced with presentations and individual writing time seem to be a good pace for the writing school to be a rejuvenating experience.

Mark: Like Lynn I’d started to find the PhD a bit isolating. I’d finished my fieldwork, which was very interaction intensive, leaving me with the somewhat lonely desk bound task of sorting through vast quantities of data and trying to write something reasonably cogent about the endeavour that had (part time) dominated my life for the last couple of years. I was confident about my writing in general but my head was in the wrong place for actually sitting down to work intensively on my thesis. I hoped the writing school would help me reconnect with what I was doing and why, as well as the core skills needed to actually carry it out.

– What was the venue like? How did it contribute to the experience?

Lynn: It was really nice to go outside the home institutions to have a ‘retreat’. A change of environment did help activate reflections. It was also good to see academic and fellow students from own department in a casual setting – I got a lot out from informal chats. That this workshop being held in Italy made it even more special! Needless to explain that nice food and coffee really helped thinking and writing! Prato is a nice town. It is close enough to big city Florence but laid-back enough for learning purpose. There were odd moments as being Chinese walking around in the town because of the undercurrent racial tension in the area, but on the whole it’s a welcoming town. The building of the Monash Centre is amazing, with spacious rooms decorated with beautiful art deco. The only downside was that it was too hot during the time we visited.

Mark: It’s difficult to add much to what Lynn’s said about this. As much as I like the Warwick campus, it’s still a university campus with British weather. Getting out of your everyday working environment can be enormously productive and cathartic. All the more so when you’re going to such a charming town, beautiful and unpretensious, as well as pleasingly cheap compared to nearby Florence! Likewise the Monash Centre is stunning: an environment for work which is truly inspiring in a way that is difficult to convey in words.

– Looking back at the writing school, what did you take from the experience? Would you recommend it to others?

Lynn: In addition to the supportive atmosphere and good exchange with other students as I anticipated, I learnt some very useful and practical tips about managing my writing from my assigned tutor and good practices for building an academic career from the presentations by all the tutors. We can learn about hard facts of the current academic practices or technical skills through programmes offered by the graduate school in own university. However, the fact that this writing school was run by academics who were down-to-earth and willing to engage with students offered a rare and valuable dimension. It was like an apprenticeship workshop, with experienced academics passing on wisdoms and advices to newcomers. One participant told me that she would like to become the kind of academic her assigned tutor is. So in a way the school for some participants was like a socialisation process in which we could reflect on what kind of academics we wanted to be. The tutors were honest about the current academic climate, covering the ‘good, bad and ugly’. I learnt about good (ethical) practices in co-authorship and other academic practices. I really appreciate their honesty (and courage!) to share their own bad experience and strategies they take to overcome it (e.g. taking a chocolate and stepping back , instead of knee-jerk reacting to bad reviews). I felt empowered after the writing school.

Mark: It was everything I expected it to be, as a chance to escape from Coventry into such a beautiful setting where my only concern was my thesis left me newly engaged and enthusiastic about throwing myself into the writing up process. Yet it was actually more as well. I was surprised at quite how beneficial I found it to talk to the others there, the Australian students in particular, about our respective experiences of undertaking a PhD. There was such a diverse array of people there, all with different topics and at different stages of the thesis, that it left me with a renewed understanding and appreciation of what the process as a whole does and should involve. Likewise the workshops were really useful, even though I was familiar with some of the material, as all sorts of vague bits of knowledge I’d picked up here and there about academic life (e.g. publishing, collaboration practices, cv writing) were presented in a cohesive and practically focused way. As Lynn says, the writing school as a whole was empowering and enjoyable. Plus I actually got rather a lot of writing done when I was there.

The Prato Writing Workshop

In association with a number of other universities, the department runs an annual writing workshop for PhD students in Prato, Italy. In the feature below, Mark Carrigan and Lynn Tang, talk about the workshop that took place in June 2011. Below the conversation are some photos taken by Dr Bob Carter who is the academic coordinator for the project.

– What was your motivation for attending the writing school? What did you hope to get out of it?

Lynn: PhD study is a lonely journey. You have to focus on your own project and seldom see other fellow students. Getting away to Italy for a writing workshop and meeting other students in similar stage of writing up sound like a good idea. Instead of being told with instructions of ‘how I should write’ (boot camp style), I hope it would be like a retreat, with a safe environment to vent frustration as well as to share insights and tips about academic writing and publishing. I was told that we could get as much or as less as we wanted to – a schedule paced with presentations and individual writing time seem to be a good pace for the writing school to be a rejuvenating experience.

Mark: Like Lynn I’d started to find the PhD a bit isolating. I’d finished my fieldwork, which was very interaction intensive, leaving me with the somewhat lonely desk bound task of sorting through vast quantities of data and trying to write something reasonably cogent about the endeavour that had (part time) dominated my life for the last couple of years. I was confident about my writing in general but my head was in the wrong place for actually sitting down to work intensively on my thesis. I hoped the writing school would help me reconnect with what I was doing and why, as well as the core skills needed to actually carry it out.

– What was the venue like? How did it contribute to the experience?

Lynn: It was really nice to go outside the home institutions to have a ‘retreat’. A change of environment did help activate reflections. It was also good to see academic and fellow students from own department in a casual setting – I got a lot out from informal chats. That this workshop being held in Italy made it even more special! Needless to explain that nice food and coffee really helped thinking and writing! Prato is a nice town. It is close enough to big city Florence but laid-back enough for learning purpose. There were odd moments as being Chinese walking around in the town because of the undercurrent racial tension in the area, but on the whole it’s a welcoming town. The building of the Monash Centre is amazing, with spacious rooms decorated with beautiful art deco. The only downside was that it was too hot during the time we visited.

Mark: It’s difficult to add much to what Lynn’s said about this. As much as I like the Warwick campus, it’s still a university campus with British weather. Getting out of your everyday working environment can be enormously productive and cathartic. All the more so when you’re going to such a charming town, beautiful and unpretensious, as well as pleasingly cheap compared to nearby Florence! Likewise the Monash Centre is stunning: an environment for work which is truly inspiring in a way that is difficult to convey in words.

– Looking back at the writing school, what did you take from the experience? Would you recommend it to others?

Lynn: In addition to the supportive atmosphere and good exchange with other students as I anticipated, I learnt some very useful and practical tips about managing my writing from my assigned tutor and good practices for building an academic career from the presentations by all the tutors. We can learn about hard facts of the current academic practices or technical skills through programmes offered by the graduate school in own university. However, the fact that this writing school was run by academics who were down-to-earth and willing to engage with students offered a rare and valuable dimension. It was like an apprenticeship workshop, with experienced academics passing on wisdoms and advices to newcomers. One participant told me that she would like to become the kind of academic her assigned tutor is. So in a way the school for some participants was like a socialisation process in which we could reflect on what kind of academics we wanted to be. The tutors were honest about the current academic climate, covering the ‘good, bad and ugly’. I learnt about good (ethical) practices in co-authorship and other academic practices. I really appreciate their honesty (and courage!) to share their own bad experience and strategies they take to overcome it (e.g. taking a chocolate and stepping back , instead of knee-jerk reacting to bad reviews). I felt empowered after the writing school.

Mark: It was everything I expected it to be, as a chance to escape from Coventry into such a beautiful setting where my only concern was my thesis left me newly engaged and enthusiastic about throwing myself into the writing up process. Yet it was actually more as well. I was surprised at quite how beneficial I found it to talk to the others there, the Australian students in particular, about our respective experiences of undertaking a PhD. There was such a diverse array of people there, all with different topics and at different stages of the thesis, that it left me with a renewed understanding and appreciation of what the process as a whole does and should involve. Likewise the workshops were really useful, even though I was familiar with some of the material, as all sorts of vague bits of knowledge I’d picked up here and there about academic life (e.g. publishing, collaboration practices, cv writing) were presented in a cohesive and practically focused way. As Lynn says, the writing school as a whole was empowering and enjoyable. Plus I actually got rather a lot of writing done when I was there.

PhD Life blog

Dear all

The PhD Life blog is a community blog created by and for Warwick PhD students. We provide a space for ourselves and our peers to share the foibles of being a PhD student, get advice, commiserate, and generally be less alone. Have a look and join in!

The PhD Life Blog!

Additionally, if you’d like to mention us in any forthcoming postgrad literature you’re compiling, that’d be great too! Anna at the Wolfson Research Exchange has put together the following text, with appropriate links:

The Wolfson Research Exchange website and the PhD Life blog are both useful resources for PhD students.

The Research Exchange website has lots of useful, researcher-created articles to develop your academic career, on topics like promoting yourself online, attending conferences and finding sources. http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/researchexchange

The PhD Life blog is a community blog for Warwick PhD students to informally discuss aspects of the PhD experience, find out about other researchers’ solutions to problems and generally be part of a community. http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/researchexchange/

My PhD in 60 Seconds: Izzy Gutteridge

Workshop: Organising references using Mendeley

Are you frustrated with EndNote?

Find out how Mendeley can help you to manage your references and create customised bibliographies using your preferred referencing style.

The workshop will cover information management skills and best practice in relation to referencing. You will find out what Mendeley is and how it can help you organise your PDFs and references, insert citations and generate bibliographies, access papers from any computer/iPhone, as well as collaborate with others in your area of research.

There will be an opportunity for hands-on experience on PCs in the training room, and you will be able to find and store collections of references for use in your research.

By the end of the workshop you will have:

  • Gained an understanding of how Mendeley can help you to manage your references efficiently.
  • Practiced harvesting PDFs and references from online databases into your own Mendeley collection.
  • Learnt how to cite while your write using Mendeley
  • Created your own Mendeley account and web profile
  • You will be able to assess whether Mendeley is an appropriate tool for you to use.

Free tea, coffee and biscuits will also be served during the workshop.

Register online here

This workshop is strictly for University of Warwick students only. Please provide your warwick.ac.uk email address when registering.

My PhD in 60 seconds: Mark Carrigan

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