Writing is a struggle against silence

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Writing your way to success

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(This is a picture Lee – looking sceptical – with Jacqui and a shy Kathryn)

November 18, 2016 Lee Fallin EdD, Space

reblogged with assumed permission from here: http://leefallin.co.uk/2016/11/writing-your-way-to-success/
Today I took part in my first writing retreat, organised by @azumahcarol as part of the University of Hull, Doctor of Education (EdD) programme. I have to admit that while I had read some literature on support of this process (Murray & Newton, 2009; Moore, 2003; Petia & Annika, 2012), I was sceptical about it in this context. Sitting down from 9am to 5pm and focusing on writing alone sounds like a great idea – but I had two main concerns:

  • The third year EdD students had not seen each other for weeks. In the case of our three Netherlands-based peers this was MONTHS. Surely after so much time apart we had too much catching-up to do to sit in silence?
  • We are all at the very start of our thesis stage and sitting and writing for a whole day seemed like a big commitment and something we may not be ready for. (Okay – I admit, moving house has seriously destroyed my reading time!)

Despite my concerns, I hit the ground running this morning. I was determined to make the most of this opportunity. It isn’t often that I get such a large block of time to work on EdD coupled with the guarantee of no distractions. I had to make the most of opportunity as it was costing a day of annual leave. If I was going to waste the time, I’m sure I could have found something more fun to do.
For the first session I was able to write over 1,200 words in the 90 minute block. In honesty, most of this was achieved in the first 60 minutes as my concertation seemed to stagger towards the end of the block. I had a similar record for my second session 90 minute session, taking my total to around 2600 words. I have to admit I was proud of myself. 2600 fairly decent words in 3 hours. Just some tidying and referencing to go.
We concluded the morning at 13:00 and set off for an hour break. I was certainly hungry by this point and needed the break. I have to admit I had some concerns about the afternoon as my head was rapidly running out of things to write about. My lack of reading was finally coming to bite me.
Strategically, I spend the third session in the afternoon looking at something different. I was recently rejected from a journal and had to respond to some comments. This wasn’t my best idea as after the first 40 minutes I was thoroughly depressed and it soured the rest of the session.
That brings me to the last hour. It gave me the opportunity to Mindmap some new ideas, add another 300 words to my total and then write this.
All in all, I’ve written 3460 words today (including this blog post) and I’m pretty happy with that 🙂

Yes – I’m completely sold on structured writing days and I look forward to the next similar opportunity. We also did pretty well at resisting the temptation to write so clearly we’re all very dedicated! The power of finding ‘space’ to work.



Moore, S. (2003) Writers’ retreats for academics: exploring and increasing the motivation to write. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 27(3), 333-342.

Murray, R. & Newton, M. (2009) Writing retreat as structured intervention: margin or mainstream? Higher Education Research & Development, 28(5), 541-553.

Petia, P. & Annika, C. (2012) Using structured writing retreats to support novice researchers. International Journal for Researcher Development, 3(1), 79-88.


The EdD experience: minding my Qs & Ps

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Blogged by Raona Williams @REFITClass 

I am returning from a fabulous few days of being stimulated and stimulating a great network of doctoral researchers, supervisors and lecturers. Being firmly established now onto my Doctorate journey, I have prepared a manifesto of seven ‘magical number’ points around the topic ‘Why and how to persevere through the journey of being an Educational Doctorate (EdD) researcher?’ …who says manifesto’s should only be linked to Politicians?

Not P’s and Q’s ….Q’s and P’s

In being a doctoral EdD researcher, many researchers and different ideas/views will set your minds wandering…this is an important opening manifesto point.

NO, not being polite and minding your ‘Please and Thank-you’s’.

Q’s and P’s refer to QUESTIONS in your research that must be underpinned by 3 over arching POSITIONS: PERSONALITY, PROFESSIONALISM, PRACTICALITY.

As an EdD researcher, a vital component of what you choose to research is that ‘You must love what you do in life’. Concurrently, being professional within the critique of your personal passion is equally important. Reflecting the professional views of your personal positions should then enable you to discover practical and current relevance pertaining to your work.

So as a doctoral researcher gain an understanding of your personal focus, provide your theoretic underpinning/positionality and the practical value that you will be adding to the society around you.. as you develop your thoughts and ideas and mind your Q’s and P’s in every step – this should keep you grounded.

  • Enjoy Complex Simplicity
    Questioning and critiquing almost everything you do when you begin doctoral research is liberating and pretty simple really….enjoy it. Find the light hearted elements in the heavily worded documents….there are definitely ‘no sh*$ Sherlock’ moments through what you read and discover, celebrate them and find how to laugh through the complex simplicity.
  • Uncover your obvious
    You will most likely be facilitated on your doctoral programme through tasks and questions that are posed to you by different individuals. As you answer them, put yourself in the world of an alien from another dimension. What may seem obvious to you may be totally unknown to those around you. The aim of your doctoral research is to contribute NEW theoretical knowledge so unless they are telopathic they will never be able to read your mind of the new knowledge you plan to uncover. The more you reveal and unfold the easier you will gain clarity yourself through the questions that may be answered along the way.
  • Everything is research so…Contextually critique
    There is critique; then there is contextual critique. As a doctoral researcher you will evaluate at a higher level. You will find that you will be enlightened when reviewing books, journal articles, any selection of words, people, colours, history, shapes, places, smells, sounds, influencers, naysayers, technologies, economies, politics…pretty much ANY element related to your research. Depending on what your context is (the ‘circumstances and reasons’ behind your research) will determine your critical view and how you will review it. Consider the less obvious in your critical evaluation, this will add to you being able to contextually critique.

Find positivity amidst your muddy walk. Pace yourself with tenacity and collaboration
You will hit some severe ‘tough mudder’ days that would give any elite athlete or special forces soldier a mental challenge. Some days you will feel like it’s an impossible slug amidst a range of obstacles. As an EdD researcher you will have your mental potential tested. Keep your physical health up through exercise and keep your mental health in check by developing personal strategies for positivity and tenacity. Work with others going through similar paths – a colleague in your doctoral group, link with a group forum online, network through conferences.

I believe that the fusion of physical fitness goes hand in hand with mental fitness. I am proud of the comments that colleagues have given me regarding my own positive outlook and never seeming to give up. My immediate response is a smiling and assuring gesture of thanks. I do it as a strategy to convey ‘If I can do it..so can you!’ Everyone welcomes a smiling face and negative thoughts are a state of mind! So I advocate: Dedicate acts that are positive to you as you structure your EdD time management timetable networking with others where possible ….and keep mentally and physically fit, you will definitely find it helps.

  • Act on the impulse-make a memory record of it

Don’t put off anything by saying or thinking: I will do it later. Start it there and then! Allow your research to become innate in your life and noting a working memory of it becoming automatic. Document on paper, by smartphone, by digital device, by computer, by dictaphone….by any means possible.. Even if it’s for a few seconds! You will find that in one way or another your ‘record’ will help in your doctoral research road. No matter how hard you try to fully complete your record you will never ‘finish’ – and that is OK because in reality there will always be amendments to make! You will constantly evolve through the process of your ‘acting on impulse’ and the fact of providing a memory of it will enable the next stage to be developed one step closer to your idea of perfection.

  • 7 R.E.S.T – Relax, Enjoy, Share/Shape (the)Topical

I started my manifesto with minding your Q’s and P’s. I moved onto transparency with critical, positive action and paced discoveries and I end this manifesto with REST. Your doctorate research road is your new life chapter. Relax and let it become your life not take over your life. Enjoy your discoveries like a tourist encountering new landscapes. Enjoy the development of skills for how they help you and others around you to grow and shape aspects of life. Share your doctoral research world with others through talking, illustrating, drawing, making, writing, tweeting, blogging, videos any verbal or non verbal communication media you feel comfortable with. Topical interests will emerge and keep you motivated to discover more ….So REST will invigorate you and keep you on the Educational Doctorate research cycle – which from what I hear…is just the beginning of a wider professional post doctoral expedition.

The EdD experience: liberating, rewarding and exhilarating

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It’s one of those points that I always come back to.

All research is autobiographical. By that what I mean is, not that the research is about the researcher in an egotistical self-centred way but rather that any written (other media apply) research report is a narrative of how and why you came to a series of conclusions about a the world. As such, when you present what you have learnt from your research, there are always three interwoven narratives:

  • the personal
  • the professional and
  • the epistemic
  • (the political is not a distinct strand; it is threaded through all three)

The professional and the epistemic are frequently told, the personal often ignored – laundered out of existence.

I found it so interesting listening to our year two EdD students presenting their EdD thesis proposals at the weekend. All presented three narrative strands.  They seem to have adopted a position that I am only just beginning to  articulate – a position expressed by Thomas (2010)

Thomson, P., & Walker, M. (Eds.). (2010). Ch 32 Last words: why doctoral study?  The Routledge Doctoral Student’s Companion: Getting to grips with research in education and the social sciences. Routledge.

In this chapter Thomas outlines three myths of doctoral study. Myth One: Learning to do research is about the acquisition of a set of tools and techniques.  

We ended the day with colleagues drafting a single paragraph of what with more time might have become a Professional Doctoral Researcher’s Manifesto.

(inspired by Back, L., & Puwar, N. (2012). A manifesto for live methods: provocations and capacities. The Sociological Review, 60(S1), 6-17.)

There was a stunned silence when Mike Parker  (aka Mr Post-it Note) read his piece

The Doctoral Researchers’ Manifesto:

As a doctoral researcher it is important that the student prepares  for submersion in an unknown area – and allow the waves to wash over you. There will be times when you feel like you are drowning – and the surface seems distant – there are also times when you will feel like to have been marooned; but trust in the ship to take you to your destination. You will know when you have arrived as the natives will speak your language and share your currency – the meeting of minds will be liberating, rewarding and exhilarating. Remember no man is an island… Every journey has to start somewhere – enjoy the ride!



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A kitten in the garden! My 1st Doctoral Symposium

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Working Towards a Doctorate

Having had a very stimulating three days attending University of Hull’s Doctoral Symposium “Operationalising Postgraduate Research:real journeys, real voices,digital worlds” #DSHull I slept late this morning.

Sitting at the kitchen window eating a leisurely breakfast I saw a cat walking down the garden path, behind her were 5 very small, and very cute, kittens.  It was obviously their first trip into the outside world, from, what we later discovered ,was their nest under our shed . They looked too small and too fragile to be out at all, but they were having a wonderful time, playing and falling over each other, each taking care of the next and the mother protecting them all.


That was most of the rest of the day gone, kittens being irresistible.

I’m sure you are wondering what this has to do with a Doctoral  Symposium?

I’ve been reflecting on the experiences I have had over…

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My evolving relationship with writing

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2015-05-26 16.15.05

This post has been reblogged from http://leefallin.co.uk/2015/06/my-evolving-relationship-with-writing/ Lee Fallin’s Blog.

I am supposed to be blogging about a conference right now but I can’t. This is a post that has been sitting in my head for far far far too long…

It is all because I have a terrible admission to make. I fell into a trap.

Over the last few years my perception and definition of writing had slowly drifted. Somewhere along the way I stopped seeing writing as the act of forming letters and words to communicate and record ideas. It had become the art of stringing words together for the sole purpose of assessment. This of course is not how I use writing or how I see it – but it became my definition of it despite this fact.
This is a shameful admission to make for a Learning Developer, but can I be blamed? Perhaps it wasn’t a trap at all. Somehow I was dragged into this worldview by the hordes of undergraduates whose sole focus is writing for grades. How can so many people miss the importance of writing in the learning process? Is there any wonder so many undergraduates struggle with writing when the only time they actually write is when they are working on an assignment.

Whenever I teach essay writing to students, I tell them to use a nine step process. Only at stage 8 do I suggest they actually write their essay. All the pre-stages to this involve research, planning and note making. All of this involves a lot of writing. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think students should be constantly writing pages and pages of linear text. I wholeheartedly believe these preparatory processes do not need to be full sentences and paragraphs. I encourage patterned notes, illustrated notes and linear notes. While all varied, they all need some form of writing and some form of work – and this is the killer. For the majority of students I work with, my suggestion of putting so much effort in something they cannot hand in generates looks of mild horror. The blatantly clear link between this preparatory work and the assignment is not enough.

But I accepted this…

At times I even failed to challenge this.

But not any more.

I guess the problem is that some forms of writing can seem redundant. The slides will be online later, you have a permanent digital copy of the text, you can use a search function to find what you need at any point or maybe you can just access videos and audio of the content itself. As that thought pops into you head you can just write it straight into Microsoft Word as part of your essay… The lists of reasons why is endless. If you see notes as just a memory aid then it is easy to see potential redundancy. What so many seem to miss is their importance in developing writing itself – and not just content.

The thing that annoys me is that I have been giving the correct advice – do lots of writing! I have consistently championed the link between writing for notes and writing for assignments to develop content. The sheer importance of this for developing writing itself somehow escaped me. I guess this is because when I was an undergraduate, I fell into lots of writing. It is just what you did through lectures and as part of seminar preparation (in the age before smart phones and tablets existed)! I’m not so sure today’s undergraduates see things this way…

Doctoral thinking and writing is complicated and difficult. It is also a large step up from masters level and it is clear to me now that I would not be starting to make this step if the only writing I undertake is for my essays and the thesis itself. Indeed, there is literally no way I would have survived the last few months without copious amounts of writing. The more I type, write or draw my thoughts and ideas, the easier things become. The most valuable learning point from my doctoral studies so far has been the importance of writing.

Now I just need to convince a LOT of undergraduates…

Before I end this post, I need to thank @azumahcarol for nudging my views on writing in such a beneficial way and @mark_carrigan for guilting my into blogging again reminding me of the importance of blogging in understanding your own ideas 🙂