Posts Tagged ‘phd’

New researchers, interdisciplinarity and social media

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

As a result of recent policies in UK doctoral education, an increasing number of PhD students are choosing interdisciplinary routes, and earlier this week, Sarah Byrne presented a much-needed focus on the consequences for new researchers. Half of the participants in my PhD research were undertaking programmes in newly established Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs), where they were engaged in various combinations of interdisciplinary study, often involving links with industry. Whilst it wasn’t the key focus of my research, some of the issues they raised correspond with Byrne’s concerns about appropriate support structures within the wider academic community.

Arguably, such programmes provide PhD students with an opportunity to explore and help shape emergent academic fields and develop distinctive research portfolios. Yet as Byrne suggests, they present unique challenges, such as reviewing literature across multiple subject areas, and negotiating new supervisory combinations. Further, in relinquishing the opportunity to establish foundational expertise within a single core subject, students risk exclusion from teaching opportunities and face uncharted career trajectories. My DTC-based participants particularly noted the limited opportunities for dissemination, publication and networking that many of us in discipline-specific environments take for granted through well-established conferences, journals and networks.

Of course all academics are interdisciplinary to a degree, and all of my participants engaged with peripheral disciplines and activities as part of their studies. Indeed, one ‘traditional PhD’ participant was critical of his department’s ‘infatuation’ with establishing links with industry. However, doctoral practice and identity development is manifestly complicated when it is required to be oriented towards formal interdisciplinary programmes and the specific research profiles of departments. That said, the feedback from my DTC participants indicated that they at least were encouraged and supported to develop their own innovative research topics within the broad interdisciplinary parameters established by their departments, with the view that the profile of the DTCs would themselves become partly defined by the activities of their early cohorts. Taking such a perspective positions the interdisciplinary PhD student not as merely a recipient of current doctoral education policy, but at the centre of future academic practice, potentially shaping the interdisciplinary landscape.

Postgraduates and early career researchers are increasingly using social media to network across institutional and disciplinary boundaries, with the potential to develop new interdisciplinary contexts. I’ve seen how initial formal links across DTCs have been supplemented by PhD students creating informal networks through social media, establishing communication channels beyond their institutions with the potential to support shared practice around the challenges of interdisciplinary study. Similarly, they have utilised social networks to develop informal links with external agencies and businesses and establish interesting online spaces between academic and non-academic practice. However, in some cases, the difficulties in adopting to interdisciplinary study has also resulted in them using existing social media to revitalize pre-doctoral networks and social support structures, reinforcing their association with core or foundational disciplines.

As I’ve suggested previously, interdisciplinary activities involving ‘adjacent’ disciplines in particular – as is generally the case with the DTCs – will tend to result in highly contested knowledge claims. Yet the ‘resistance’ to interdisciplinary research that Byrne describes might also be indicative of an academic community increasingly compelled to engage in external and industrial partnerships and relate research agendas to ‘real world’ problems, whilst attempting to maintain disciplinary knowledge and academic integrity. Given such a landscape, will new interdisciplinary researchers risk being marginalised, or might they be best positioned to develop the capacity and resilience to engage in the increasingly unbounded and unreliable academic environments of the future?

If it quacks like a blog… Problematising social media genres

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

What are the most useful criteria for categorising social media? What characteristics help define or distinguish specific tools or platforms? What, for example, is most typical or unique about a blog? The reverse chronological ordering of posts? The ability to comment? Or something more related to its social or cultural significance? In other words, what is it that essentially determines the ‘blogness’ of a blog? But then, how does a WordPress blog differ from a Blogger blog? How do we distinguish a blog from a tumblog or a microblog?

If it quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. But the delineations between social media are increasingly blurry. This is partly down to the mixed and often interchangeable ontological approaches we take in defining social media – by platform, brand, modality, community etc. In addition, within these often reside multiple components or features that may be common to several social media.

Therefore, we might choose to define or categorise social media by how and why we are using them. Some in the educational technology field have adopted the idea of affordances within user-centred design paradigms in an attempt to correlate specific tools and features with specific purposes and activities. But as Martin Oliver (2005) suggests, interpretations of Gibson’s original notion of affordance have been problematic (and often uncritical), describing one attempt as a “conglomeration of claims about perceptions, actions and characteristics” (p.409).

Many research projects in the ed-tech field also tend to focus on a specific platform (tool etc.). This is understandable, given that they may be oriented towards supporting its adoption, development and/or evaluation in a particular educational context. In addition, tight budgets or timescales can limit the scope of research to single platforms. But in my own PhD research with doctoral students, where participants were actively using a range of social media, I was keen on challenging this platform-specificity. Through reviewing the literature and conducting my pilot study, I came to recognise a number of key factors that indicated researching academic uses of the social web may be best facilitated by examining multiple forms of social media:

  • Underlying technologies and related processes (e.g. aggregation and tagging) provide effective means of interconnectivity between different social media
  • The adoption and use of social media is transient in nature, and subject to changes in technologies and design, and to social and cultural trends
  • The communities and networks in which individuals engage through social media encompass multiple, overlapping professional and social contexts

Crucially, adapting a holistic approach in this way supports attempts at framing the categorisation of social media within dynamic and contextualised sociocultural practices. Recalling Latour’s notion of ‘assemblages,’ we can think of any digital artefact (such as this blog post) as incorporating a history of multiple sociotechnical and cultural arrangements, processes and influences. In choosing to use Activity Theory in my analysis, I attempted to unpick these by constructing multiple and interconnected activity systems oriented towards key doctoral practices.

But in developing such activity systems, one has to attempt to delineate the social and cultural parameters that situate the practices under investigation. I recognised that my participants’ digitally mediated communities and networks did not only overlap, as suggested above, but they were also characterised by different levels and types of interaction, participation and audience. In addition, whilst specific social media (especially recognised ‘brands’ like Twitter and Facebook) have their own cultural identities, these exist and are constantly reconstructed and influential in the wider cultural norms of web 2.0 generally. Often in my study, key catalysts for change in my participants’ social media practice (manifest as ‘contradictions’ in the activity systems) arose through a coupling of:

  • Conflicts between the platform-specific and general web 2.0 cultures and the (often deeply embedded) cultural norms of academia
  • The participants’ need to negotiate the professional, social and cultural landscapes of multiple practice contexts

During the early stages of analysis, I was drawn to the genre studies literature, particularly key texts (e.g. Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1993) which represent a shift from literary and formalist genre traditions to more sociocultural and dialogical perspectives. These recognise the complexity, spontaneity and interconnectedness of genres (Spinuzzi & Zachry, 2000), and support studies which are inclusive of, and focussed on, the social interactions, activities and practices in which genres are embedded. Given the similarities with Activity Theory, I began to use genre, not as a specific analytical unit, but rather to inform my activity systems development. (For activity theorists out there, identifying these genres presented me with a way of addressing the dual conceptualisation of the ‘Tool’ component of the activity systems, that is: (i) in conceptualising the materiality of Vygotskyian mediation, and (ii) in constituting, or at least contributing to, the development of cultural tools.)

In time, I became aware of my participants’ conscious and purposeful refinement of what could be seen as emerging social media genres, and with it, their awareness of the representational and performative roles they play – akin to what Berkenkotter and Huckin (1995) describe as ‘genre knowledge.’ However, I found that these genres were challenging existing conventions of genre definition. For example, I found the notion of blogging as a specific genre of writing (or if you prefer, the blog post as a specific genre of text) ineffective in addressing the nuances of my participants’ blogging practices. Multiple and distinct forms of writing styles, formats and motivations were emerging, often in context with other, non-blogging texts, and occasionally transcending multiple platforms. I for one, have advocated single-author academic blogs as personal spaces for freedom of expression and experimentation. Compare for example, the length, format, modality and style of this blog post with this one. Further, whilst blogging in particular is still dominated by text, social media generally are becoming increasingly multimodal and multipurpose, and as such, increasingly disruptive in terms of genre definition. (Read the account of one of my participant’s ‘scrapbook’ style blogging in my last post.) As Clay Spinuzzi suggests, social media genres are becoming increasingly multiple and complex in relation to frequency, context, social interactions and audiences. This would suggest that in any analysis of this kind, we are looking at multiple and hard-to-define, interrelated and potentially conflicting sets of genres.

Why, one might ask, is this at all important beyond these predominantly theoretical and analytical concerns? Partly I think, because the way social media genres are defined and socially constructed influences our perceptions of how we use (or ought to use) these digital tools and platforms in various contexts, which within academic environments often become manifest in the form of best practices, which, as I have discussed previously, are themselves culturally loaded. This social construction often draws from popular discourses on the transformative, radical and disruptive potential of social media, in which seemingly new technological trends often represent a cultural (re)branding of established practices. These can become powerful cultural artefacts in the marketing of technological development within educational and research contexts, as is evident in the institutional leveraging of social media towards impact and outreach agendas, and in the commercial redefining of MOOCs.

Academics have generally used genres to reinforce the values and belief systems of the (inter-)disciplinary cultures in which they participate. For doctoral students, increased familiarity and engagement with established academic genres is seen as a crucial part of their learning trajectory and socialisation within the scholarly community. The emergent genres that are thrown up by participating in social media can challenge, augment and subvert these established genres and their role in reifying academic practice. In negotiating these new spaces of contestation, genre knowledge – or as I see it, the ability to recognise and contribute to the social construction of these genres – becomes an increasingly important digital literacy.


Berkenkotter, C., & Huckin, T. N. (1993). Rethinking genre from a sociocultural perspective. Written Communication, 10(4), 475-509.

Berkenkotter, C., & Huckin, T. N. (1995). Genre knowledge in disciplinary communication: cognition/culture/power. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Oliver, M. (2005). The problem with affordance. E-Learning, 2(4), 402-413.

Spinuzzi, C., & Zachry, M. (2000). Genre ecologies: An open-system approach to understanding and constructing documentation. ACM Journal of Computer Documentation, 24(3), 169-181.

The Blues and the Abstract Truth – Music to Survive a PhD

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important than what you do.

Thelonious Monk
From: Steve Lacy | T Monk’s Advice (1960)

OK, firstly, I’m one of those people who can only listen to instrumental music when I’m working on something that I really need to concentrate on, which unfortunately tends to constitute most things when doing a PhD – especially writing up. Any singing in there, and it’s too distracting. This has ruled out huge handfuls of my music collection and hastened quite a radical shift in my listening habits, which have at times become both irrational and obsessive.

Thankfully, non-English lyrics are not as distracting (the advantage of being uselessly monolingual). Cue endless playing of Ali Farka Toure, Joyce Moreno, Orchestra Baobab, Cesario Evora etc., and the delight of discovering new international artists, including Taraf de Haidouks and the Betel Nuts Brothers! It’s also given me an excuse to add to my jazz and classical recordings.

That’s not to say there aren’t still opportunities to play some of the other stuff. Some work can be routine and brainless. And there’s always the iPod when out and about.

Secondly, I doubt any music here will quite have the evocative power of that which I associate with previous periods of studying, especially my first degree, in the sense that they became part of the social experience and collective conscience of your peer group. It’s still impossible to listen to albums such as Maxinquaye, Odelay or Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot without recalling something more than likely related to undergraduate drinking games.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to think how some music has become indispensible these last few years. Take for example…


Bill Evans – The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings (1961)

Regarded by some as the greatest live jazz recording of all time, this is in fact a compilation of two albums originally released in 1961 with additional tracks from a series of afternoon and evening sessions. It’s like having your own jazz trio in the corner of your room. Equally brilliant at low-volume, it can be played late into the night without waking the neighbours.

Useful for:

For alternatives, there’s the Zen-like Koln Concert (1975), Keith Jarrett’s ECM game-changer, or the introverted, contemporary work of Dustin O’Halloran.

You get the idea. I’ve selected from a range of musical genres to match up with academic activities and the doctoral experience. And because musical taste is so highly personal and subjective, I’ve provided a few alternatives along the way…


Various Artists – The Indestructible Beat of Soweto (1985)

Straight out of the townships, this is one of the first and best compilations of the 80’s resurgence in South African music. Stands as testimony to our ability to make the most joyous sounds out of hardship and oppression. Music doesn’t get more life affirming than this.

Useful for:
The mid-PhD slump.

Orchestra Baobab – Pirates Choice; Sly & the Family Stone – Greatest Hits; De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising.


Billie Holiday – Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia (1933-1944)

Quite possibly the most important recordings of the 20th century. Some might prefer Holiday’s subsequent lush, orchestral reworkings for Decca, or even the croaky, autumnal sound of her Verve recordings, but this is the real deal, where – accompanied by some of the finest jazz combos of the era – she practically laid down the rules of jazz singing.

Useful for:
Marathon sessions of coding. All nighters.

Long sessions require box sets! Also try Ella Fitzgerald – The Complete American Songbooks; Miles Davis – The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 1965.


Joanne Newsom – Ys (2006)

Quirky, monumental, and a bit bonkers. Ys blends Newsom’s homespun lyricism with a sprawling, filmic orchestration by Van Dyke Parks. Each song is a mini-masterpiece.

Useful for:
Creative inspiration.

Bjork – Debut; Jolie Holland – Catalpa; Natalie Merchant – Leave Your Sleep.


Tom Waits – Rain Dogs (1985)

Bus rides. Train rides. Plane rides. Tango till they’re sore.

Useful for:
The conference circuit.

Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan; Joni Mitchell – Ladies of the Canyon; Gil Scott-Heron – Pieces of a Man; Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska.


Boards of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children (1998)

When it all gets too much, lie down in a dark room with this. Headphones on, world off. Orange.

Useful for:
Nervous breakdowns.

Susumu Yokata – Sakura; Thomas Tallis – Missa Salve Intemerata.


Stevie Wonder – Innervisions (1973)

Multi-talented, multi-instrumental, multi-conceptual Stevie! The pinnacle of his supercharged early 70’s creative peak.

Useful for:
Great to cook to, and (all too rare) evenings relaxing / partying with friends.

Massive Attack – Blue Lines; Bob Marley & the Wailers – Natty Dread.


White Stripes – Elephant (2003)

Useful for:
Running. Gym.

The Clash – London Calling; Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.


Anything by Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar – Festival Monterey Pop 1967 by Kalimystic

Seriously, I’m considering including Ravi Shankar in my thesis acknowledgements.

Useful for:
Conceptualising ideas. Brainstorming.

Steve Reich – Phases: A Nonesuch Retrospective; Lee Scratch Perry – Arkology.



Over the course of my PhD, I’ve also discovered Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage, Joe Gibbs’ African Dub recordings, and rediscovered Dr. Sardonicus!!

Finally, some other things I’ve learnt…

Digital Identit(y/ies) – Presentation and Notes

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Last Friday, I presented at the Challenging the Binaries conference hosted by the Centre for the Study of Literacies at the School of Education, University of Sheffield. It was friendly and engaging, with some excellent keynote presentations and subsequent debate facilitated by Neil Selwyn. Discussions focussed a lot on how the ‘new’ and the ‘digital’ are conceptualised within literacies studies, and – coming from outside this field – I found some of the approaches to researching digital technologies both refreshing and challenging. There is, I think, potential for greater dialogue between the literacies and educational technology fields around social media and digital practices. Thanks again to those who came to my session and contributed to the discussion. Here are the presentation and notes.

1. Introduction

Drawing on my own research into how PhD students are using social and participatory media.

Research question related to identity production and agency within doctoral education.

  • Theoretical aspects of identity – key themes from postmodernist and sociocultural perspectives
  • Methodological and analytical aspects of my research
  • Some key findings

2. Theorising / Conceptualising Digital Identity

The concept of digital identity is primarily a socio­technical construct that has evolved through a number of theoretical perspectives.

Digital or online identity generally understood as the representation of a persona that an individual presents across the digital environments in which he or she participates.

General Westernised notion of identity as a coherent, unified subject – maturation is conceptualised as establishing a consistent identity.

Digital identity is seen as multiphrenic (Gergan, 2000) – identity created through multiple subjectivities, but also performed and presented across multiple media / formats / genres.

Emergent contributions from the sociological and sociocultural literature – combining personal subjectivities with cultural forms and social relations.

3. Doctoral Contexts

Consensus that doing a PhD is not just acquiring specialised knowledge and skills, and making an original contribution to knowledge.

But constitutes a critical and transformation of identity – often the most transformative period of an academic’s professional life.

Kamler and Thomson (2006) – writing constitutes principal role of performativity in establishing scholarly identity – literature review reconceptualised as a key site of identity work.

Proposing social media as increasingly important sites for doctoral identity work.

Requires holistic approaches to develop authentic representations of ‘doing a PhD’:

  • Include academic practices beyond those related purely to thesis-development.
  • Challenge models of socialisation and enculturation exclusively within localised or disciplinary settings.

4. Usher Framework

Identity represents a hugely complex theoretical field – from psychology, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies.

Usher, Bryant and Johnson – Postmodernist educational perspective.

Schema of experiential learning – distinct social practices in the context of lifelong learning.

5. Confessional and Critical Practice

Two generally opposing social practices:

Confessional practice

Draws on Foucault’s notion of the ‘confession’ – as rituals in power relationships.

The learner is:

  • Disempowered in accepting the dominant (often solitary) model of learning.
  • Required to align her subjectivities with formal educational discourses.

Within digital environment:

  • Pedagogies are based on rhetoric of the ‘self’ – manifest in professional profiling, portfolio development, self-branding.
  • Reinforces educational binaries of formal and informal, and professional binaries of work-based and recreational activities.

Critical practice

  • The learner is a politically constituted agent able to shape her own learning.
  • Resonates with critical pedagogy – politics of self-representation.
  • Rather than adapting to specific learning contexts – these are challenged and potentially changed through discursive practices.
  • Partly played out in the digital environment.

6. Sociocultural Perspectives

Reified forms of perfomativity – social production, interaction and participation.

Identity development as a competency.

Provisional Selves – external feedback and internal beliefs – prioritise and value different activities and roles

Students assess their capacity to enact the behaviours associated with them before taking on the identity associated with that role. In effect, envisioning imagined possible or ‘provisional selves.’

Implications for socialisation and enculturation within norms and values.

Situated learning perspective – identity development is constitutive to the increased capacity to participate in multiple communities of practice

7. Figured World

Socioculturalist / postmodernist theoretical view of identity as distributed, constantly forming multiple, sometimes contradictory, selves.

Holland et al reconceptualise this as active participation in specific environments they call ‘figured worlds.’

8. Research Design

Highly qualitative, mixed-method design

Open coding and ‘thick description’

Consecutive interviews spaced at 3/4-monthly intervals – interpreting and refining participants’ perspectives.

Chose NOT to use Activity Theory notation (i.e. triangular model) – so not to compromise ‘authenticity’ of participants’ own terminology and meaning making processes.

9. Analytical Framework

Activity Theory

  • Social, cultural and historical perspective of doctoral practices
  • Culturally-mediated, object-oriented activity systems
  • Objects are emergent and partly shared, fragmented and contested

Activity Systems

  • Development of cultural artefacts
  • Figured worlds and genre knowledge

Analytical framework of interrelated activity systems – to describe shifting patterns of digitally mediated doctoral practices across multiple practice contexts and through key transitional phases of doctoral study

At operational level – objects as ‘problem spaces’ equate to interrelated doctoral practices.

Focus on development of contradictions and cultural artefacts.

10. Genres

Socio-cultural fork of Genre Studies (e.g. Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1993).

Traditions of using tools rather than artefact categorisation.

Conceptual fit with activity theory.

Development of ‘genre knowledge’ – social and dialogical process.

11. Figured Worlds

Identities are improvised:

  • within specific social / cultural situations
  • based on past experiences (history-in-person)
  • using the cultural resources available
  • in response to the subject positions

In appropriating these improvisations as heuristics they can become tools of agency and identity construction.

Figured worlds enable cultural artefact development by providing the social and cultural contexts.

12/13. Some Findings

The PhD student is characterised as negotiating multiple, wide-ranging, and potentially conflicting practice contexts.

Developing strategies across multiple contexts and sites of identity production provides PhD students with opportunities for effectively positioning themselves in sites of knowledge, resources, opportunities and influence.

Sophisticated negotiation of identity and roles – “playing the game.”

Doctoral identity construction and agency:

  • Within and across multiple practice contexts
  • Within and outside of formal institutional and disciplinary boundaries

Social media practices within and across figured worlds increase ‘authenticity.’

Diverse interrelated doctoral research cultures – (inter)disciplinary, supervisory, departmental, peer group, entrepreneurial, industry and third sector relations.

Use of social media provides spaces of authorship (Bahktin) provide opportunities for empowering and potentially disempowering this process.

14. Digital Literacies

Implications to digital literacies.

Digital literacies – highly contested term.

Beyond cognitive / functional use of digital technologies and related skills / competencies.

Towards holistic understanding of creative and critical uses of digital technologies, and social and cultural settings.

Digital identity equates to ‘ways of being’ in the digital environment

Navigating increasingly complex interdisciplinary and interrelated practice contexts.

Genre knowledge – compare with multimodal literacy (Gunther Kress etc.).

Contribution to a deeper and more nuance understanding of digital literacies – within the contexts of research practices and doctoral education.

Losing Momentum Conference

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

I’ve just got back from the Losing Momentum doctoral students conference at the School of Education, University of Oxford. There was a good mix of student presentations alongside excellent keynotes from Neil Selwyn, Martin Oliver and Avril Loveless. Thanks to everyone at the Learning and New Technologies Research Group for hosting this event. This was my contribution:

Writing: Process and Media

Monday, May 7th, 2012

For me, writing papers and thesis chapters has become routinized in the interchange between screen and print. The digital environment is great for building and developing structures – I’ve found Scrivener particularly useful for this. But I often find reading printouts and correcting with a pen a more effective process for assessing and refining overall narratives, as well as spotting grammatical errors. One doesn’t necessarily follow the other: it’s rather a reciprocal process between the two media.

Three years of excuses and it’s still crap

Friday, October 7th, 2011

tara fergie

The protest banner displayed by Manchester United supporters in the Winter of 1989-90 indicated that, after three years in the job, manager Alex Ferguson had failed to bring the success the club deeply craved. It has become part of footballing lore that Mark Robins’ goal against Nottingham Forest in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup that season saved his career. This may or may not be true, but United went on to win the Cup and over the subsequent years Ferguson has become the most successful manager in the history of English football.

This reminds me that preparation and hard work are often not recognised until everything comes together; that after three years of my PhD, I will soon have something to show for it; and that it might just possibly lead to something bigger.

The Imagined Audience

Friday, June 10th, 2011

I briefly mentioned the notion of an ‘imagined audience’ in my recent post on PhD blogging for The Thesis Whisperer. In his thesis, David Brake (2009) uses a symbolic interactionist approach to examine imagined audiences in relation to personal blogging in the UK. He suggests blogging practices incorporate a range of ‘envisaged audience relationships’ where a blogger’s “construction of the meaning of their practice can be based as much on an imagined and desired social context as it is on an informed and reflexive understanding of the communicative situation” (p.3). Drawing on Andrew Feenberg’s critical theory of technology, Brake explains how the marginal role of blog audiences is partly encoded in the socio-technical characteristics of the blogging platforms themselves.

Interestingly, the notion of ‘audience’ assumes a broadcast metaphor. How does this compare with the idea of a blogging community, and the participative web generally? How do we perceive audiences in the social media we use? How are these perceptions formed? And how do they differ across different platforms? Do we transfer audience identities from one platform to another?

Viewing indicators (visitor statistics etc.) are limited in what they tell us, whilst acts of participation and reciprocity (comments, retweets etc.) are often fewer in number than we’d like. Even when a network is largely identifiable – such as followers on Twitter – we have little or no idea of their actual viewing behaviours. I purposely keep the number of people I follow on Twitter to a manageable figure (I’d like to follow more) to be able to most efficiently view my twitter feed on a regular basis. I assume users who follow several thousands of people don’t do this, but rather engage in more inconsistent viewing habits, do more skimming, or employ some sort of filtering.

A number of participants in my PhD study have expressed concerns over the ambiguity of social media audiences, particularly around blogging. As I have discussed previously, doctoral practices can require negotiating a number of different contexts, which, even within my small cohort of participants, can include conflicting academic, entrepreneurial and activist activities. By choosing to use social media, they are committed to engaging in more public, distributed and persistent dialogues. The way they blog, tweet and create other digital artefacts across interrelated platforms and audiences incurs potential inconsistencies and tensions. When those audiences are ambiguous, practice and identity agendas are further compromised.


Brake, D. R. (2009). As if nobody’s reading’?: the imagined audience and socio-technical biases in personal blogging practice in the UK. PhD thesis, London School of Economics.

Thesis Whispering

Friday, May 27th, 2011

The Thesis Whisperer is a terrific website ‘dedicated to the topic of doing a thesis’ that seems to be well-liked and respected amongst the online postgraduate community. I was kindly invited by the site’s creator and editor, Dr Inger Mewburn, to contribute a guest post on PhD blogging to launch a series exploring professional digital identity. For my part, I tried to establish a balance between presenting a personal and subjective view of my own blogging experiences, and providing an enthusiastic and critical overview of the multipurpose of academic blogging within doctoral practices. I hope it’s useful.

Peer Networks

Monday, April 25th, 2011

A number of PhD students participating in my research have discussed how they became aware that there is a finite number of peers operating within their academic field or specialism, and even less (if any) researching within their specific research foci. This might seem fairly obvious, but this realisation appears to be a revelatory moment for some – representing a small but significant point in the doctoral learning trajectory, as they negotiate the transition from anonymous student to independent researcher becoming increasingly participative and visible within the academic community. Perceptions of peer groups can be realised through a range of activities and environments, but how reliable might these be?

The literature review partly represents the mapping of established researchers and recognised ‘experts’ in a particular research field, but few PhD students will be considered for inclusion here. Web-based academic networks can provide cues to help identify peers – both nationally and internationally – as well as developing sustainable links and trusting relationships, whilst the conference circuit and summer schools provide valuable opportunities for face-to-face interaction. But what of those PhD students who may be marginalised by any or all of these activities; who may not be able to access such opportunities, or who may be yet to publish, or have the skills or inclination to develop significant online profiles?

Furthermore, how does academic recognition through traditional means of research dissemination and informal networking compare with those increasingly enacted within digital environments? How do we reconcile narratives of professional networking and identity production with micro-celebrity cultures in social media?