November is Academic Writing Month!

Join us for WriteFest19

WriteFest is an annual event established as a way to support academic writing via the #AcWriMo hashtag on Twitter.  As part of our contribution to this global event, the LDC Development Team will be running writing events throughout the month of November, with the aim of bringing people together to raise awareness and celebrate academic writing.

The programme of events will consist of a series of workshops and webinars to help you write and four writing retreats to provide you with the time and space to write. We encourage all academics, research staff, and research students to join in the write-a-thon.

WriteFest19 is a collaboration with the Universities of Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Exeter, Bristol, Kings College London, Keele, Sheffield Hallam, Newcastle, Derby and Adelaide.  The festival aims to provide protected time and space for writing to help you work on:

How to Get Involved

  1. Start by searching for #AcWriMo on Twitter for inspiration and tips from fellow contributors.
  2. Use the #AcWriFest19 hashtag to share your progress with other researchers at Liverpool and across other UK Universities.
  3. Book onto one of our workshops or webinars to learn new skills and gain advice.
  4. Join us during our WriteFest Writing Retreats to put your learning into practice and keep yourself motivated through peer support.

Writing Retreats

To attend a writing retreat, choose the ones(s) that best suit your schedule and book your place through Eventbrite. Then, simply bring your laptop, or a pen and some paper, and get writing! This one-minute video outlines what the retreat sessions will, and won’t involve.

This year, we are hosting four weekly two-hour writing retreats for up to 24 people.  The retreats provides protected writing time for you to accomplish your academic writing goals. We sit together in a room and use peer accountability to help us avoid the distractions of email, social media, the internet, impending meetings, tea making, paperclip sorting, desk cleaning, lab work, or any other procrastination techniques you’ve been employing in your everyday working practice.

Please arrive in plenty of time, and stay for the full session.

Don’t forget to bring cables, chargers, adaptors and any other accessories to help keep you writing without disruptions.

**BOOKING IS ESSENTIAL**

WriteFest19 programme of events

Date & Time Event
04 November
12:30-13:30
Webinar: Research Writing: Finding Motivation and making a Start
05 November
10:00-12:00
WriteFest Retreat
11 November
12:30-13:30
Webinar: Research Writing: Producing an Academic Document
12 November
14:00-16:00
WriteFest Retreat
18 November
12:30-13:30
Webinar: Research Writing: Managing the Editing Process
20 November
10:00-12:00
WriteFest Retreat
26 November
9:30-12:30
Writing a Scientific Article
26 November
13:30-16:30
Get going on your thesis
29 November
10:00-12:00
WriteFest Retreat

Resources

Our website has a wide range of guides and resources to explore.  You may wish to start with our Communication: Writing theme webpage: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/pgr-development/themes/writing/

Writing retreat facilitator’s guide: You may also be interested in running your own writing retreats, and to help with this the Think Ahead team at Sheffield University have put together a guide to give you an idea of how to structure and facilitate the event. If you run a retreat during November, please let us know!

Articles about Academic Writing: WriteFest founder Dr. Kay Guccione has also collected articles and blogs about writing on Scoop It!

Our Development Programme for 2019-20

New events, new themes and a new teaching placement scheme

We, in the Liverpool Doctoral College Development team, have now launched our programme for the coming academic year, 2019-20. The workshops and webinars offered in Autumn are now open for registration and a full list of dates for our core programme for the year, organised by our programme themes, can be downloaded below.

Themes display

Programme timetable for Autumn 2019, including links for registration [web link]
LDC Development Programme 2019-2020 [PDF]

Programme themes: A fuller introduction to all our programme themes can be found on our website together with a short video introduction to each theme. This year we have made a slight change to our themes, to separate out the topics of Writing, Presentation and Productivity, which we believe are important topics for the development of all postgraduate researchers.

New sessions: We have several new workshops and webinars in our programme for the coming year, which include:

Regional workshops – Liverpool are part of a regional group of researcher development partners, which have agreed to openly share selected programme sessions.  There are two upcoming workshops offered by LJMU (registration not yet open) which University of Liverpool PGRs may attend.

  • ‘How to be Shy or introverted in academia’ – Thu 5 December, 2-3pm
  • ‘How to write well: some tips for PGRs’ – Wed 22 January, 2-3pm

Brilliant Club: For 2019- 2020, the LDC have an agreement with the Brilliant Club to provide five paid placements for PhD researchers. Under this scheme you would deliver lessons relating to their own research area in local schools, supporting pupils to develop the academic skills, knowledge and confidence needed to progress to highly-selective universities.

To find out more, see the website information on our Careers Theme page or join Webinar: The Brilliant Club: meaningful, paid teaching experience for PhDs at 12:30 on the 13 Nov.

And now,

So what’s your development plan for 2019-20?

We were never meant to think: Upgrading your autopilot

The LDC Development Team is running a series of four masterclasses on thinking, organising and collaborating facilitated by Dr Adrian West and Dr Sophie Brown from Company of Mind.
Register now for the following face-to-face workshops in this series:
Getting Organised for Research (and Life) – Thursday, 6th June 9:15 – 16:30
Problem Solving and Decision Making – Tuesday, 18th June 9:15 – 16:30

Here are some thoughts from Company of Mind on the next masterclass on 6th June “Getting Organised for Reserach (and Life)”:

Why trains of thought derail

Thinking isn’t something the brain is meant to do – at least not “rational thought”, a relatively recent  invention. That observation might explain a lot about what goes on in our heads. What is the brain for then? What’s natural? How about sitting on the savannah feeling hungry so we look for food; feeling tired so we go to sleep; feeling scared so we run away…and a whole host of other behaviours so unthinkingly sophisticated that we have survived for untold millennia.  That’s the sort of thing our brain is adapted for, at least according to Daniel Dennet in his work “Consciousness Explained”.

By that view, “Rational thought”  –  the sequential ‘train of thought’ we call ‘thinking’  –  is an artificial activity taking place on ‘brain hardware’ that was never intended to run that kind of program. It’s why losing your ‘train of thought’ can happen so readily. It’s why you’re thrown off by emotional currents.  It’s why sometimes we don’t know what we’re going to say until we start talking, and each word leads us onto the next. Something like that.

How small creatures learn capabilities that dazzle us

Intriguing, but so what? Well it might help us understand why thinking tasks that we think should be easy (like maintaining a train of thought) can be artificially hard. And it might help us to help ourselves be more spectacular in, say, academic life, with some simple tricks or learning.  How so?

There’s a good analogy. It’s like a processor chip, which can only do simple operations – arithmetic and moving numbers from one location to another is all they can actually do.  Over recent decades we’ve taught such simple creatures to do the most astonishingly sophisticated tasks, just by giving them rich sets of procedures to follow that you could say aren’t ‘natural’ for them.

In the same way we can take our own minds and build up artificial habits that yield astonishing benefits. How valuable was if for you to ‘program yourself’ to learn the alphabet?…And on top of that foundation the habits of reading and writing.  Or to work with numbers? Those things now seem effortless to you. These skills aren’t natural, you had to put a lot of effort into learning the alphabet (if you remember that).  

Similarly, there will be habits you could learn – with some effort – that make you seem capable and clever, when in fact you’ve just learnt habits that other people haven’t. Tony Buzan, of mind-map fame, believes ‘intelligence’ isn’t as varied as we’re led to believe, but rather that some people chance across effective learning habit strategies early in life, and others less so. It’s a provocative idea that opens up new vistas of possibility.

Ways to be more fabulous

One area we can examine this way is “organising ourselves” – no-one teaches us how to do that, therefore big gains are likely to be had. The problems I have in mind are where we feel quickly overwhelmed by the pile of things we have to do, or seem somehow to be “tripping over ourselves” mentally.  Yet others appear better able to cope.  They seem able to have more baggage loaded onto them before they throw a fit and kick it all off.  

Why is that? Are there habits of mind we can learn that will transform that capacity for us as much as learning the alphabet did? There are other factors too. If you attended the “Working with Difficult People” workshop you’ll especially appreciate that there are fundamental differences for how people are, which bear on this. Some things are naturally easy for you, yet unnaturally difficult for other people. Surprisingly that doesn’t contradict what I’ve said so far.  The question becomes “For the way I am, what methods can I learn that will be most effective for me?”.  Sometimes that’s transformatively possible. As one researcher at Southampton put it regarding a particular learning:

“It is honestly the most useful thing I have learnt in the last ten years of my life … (in the decade before that I learnt the alphabets!!!)”.

Which must have been exciting.

As with the alphabet, it’s usually a small amount of learning, followed by small practice repeated frequently. Whilst we’re learning our technical skills at University what an ideal opportunity to change ourselves too, so by the time we graduate we’re “more”.

Footnote. This post is related to the workshop “Getting Organised for Research (and Life)“. It’s a provocative discussion of part of the topic, not an introduction to that workshop. For information about the workshop, see the event advertisement.

Too Close to be Recognised!

Coming up this spring is a series of four masterclasses on thinking, organising and collaborating facilitated by Adrian West and Sophie Brown from Company of Mind. We asked them to tell us a little bit about the background to these masterclasses and their motivation for developing them:

Image of the head of a man trying to see the fly sat on the tip of his nose

Too close to be recognised,
Too deep to grasp
Too easy to believe
Too amazing to be understood intellectually

So here’s a question. What could you have put more effort into at school, which if you had, would be making the biggest difference for you today?

Maybe academic subjects, though you likely worked quite hard at those. But what less obvious capacities? Creative writing – articulating yourself more clearly and compellingly? Drama and Acting? Team sports? Would it have helped if you’d become a more confident speaker? Or got more practice in social situations with people? Become more ‘organised’ and able to focus? (or whatever you think that seems right for you). People who appear good at those things who you might admire, likely learnt them almost accidentally during earlier years. It’s a mistake to think you can’t build such capacities, and are ‘fixed’ as ‘who you are’ – though it takes time. Ok, well that’s the past

Back from the future

But what if you look back 5 or 10 years from now. What might you think you could really have been learning and developing now, which will help you most in that future? To be honest, it’s not usually academic skills people will cite when they look back, important foundation though those are. It’s easy to focus on technical abilities – they’re easier to talk about and nail down. But the other stuff that in truth can make the biggest difference to your future, is almost too vague and nebulous to talk about, too obvious yet hard to actually do anything about – too close to be recognised.

How can you get some answers to that, and in a world of marketing and mis-information, with an uncertain unpredictable future? How can you know what actually works? I suppose you could ask people who are 5-10 years further down the line and see what they say. That would be interesting, especially if you could get them to take the question seriously, rather than give you some flippant reply

Discoveries

For us the story is slightly different, spending a decade or two running a research group at Manchester University, in professional environments, and teams in a start-up company. In hindsight, academic learning was a crucial foundation, but we realised it had not equipped us to deal with the next level of challenges which plagued us, and seemed to make the biggest difference above technical skill.

These next-level issues were all the usual things that are so vague and nebulous: people, conflicts, communication, organising, planning, seeing the future, and how to do “thinking”, especially together. You could say we rely on having “high quality people” to address them, which is a very real thing that sets people apart when they have similar qualifications, though it’s vague and nebulous too. And it implies these ‘qualities’ cannot be learnt or developed as capabilities, like saying some people can read and others can’t, without appreciating that we can learn the alphabet. How valuable would it be if we were much better at such ‘vague’ things? It seems to be where the biggest gains are to be made. How to know what works and what doesn’t is a key question.

The four-fold root of sufficient reason

When Schopenhauer set out to understand ‘life’, wisely he first asked “What would be a sufficient reason to believe any answer?”. That was the title of his doctoral thesis. We don’t have so big a quest, but in the end we spent more time on these capacities, than the other work we were doing, and were able to test what works by using it to help people in other companies or universities.  If we distil the central elements, there are four main areas. Two relate to how we ‘think’, one on ‘coping’ with all the information and tasks that have to be managed, and one on what we can do about ‘people’. Here’s a little more on each of those:

Thinking (1 &  2)

Strangely, we don’t get taught how to think (as evidence, listen to any discussion about politics). Yet surely how our minds think, and how to do ‘thinking’ is fundamental to us. If it isn’t taught then most other people don’t know it and there are likely huge gains to be made by studying this ourselves. There are two aspects.

One is the broad topic of thinking as a practical skill: understanding how thinking works, and finding what is effective at making a difference in practice.

Second, the specific focus on the task of “problem solving and decision making” which as the most common need deserves particular attention. There’s almost too much advice out there (too easy to believe) – but what is worth learning? and how do we develop actual capability in practice?

Organising ourselves (3)

It doesn’t matter what else we do, if we are overwhelmed by all the things calling on our attention, then progress is almost impossible – the clever ideas we have are of no value and get lost in a pile of scraps of paper. Again, easy to say ‘get organised’ but then what? Why doesn’t it usually work, and what can we actually do to change how we work? Like the artificial thing of learning the alphabet it may take some initial effort, but brings benefits almost too useful to be able to describe.

People (4)

Everyone can seem nice when there’s nothing at stake, or goals are a long way off – the ‘selfie’ world. But when we have to work together over time (or work with ourselves), the problems with ‘people’ likely dominate. It’s little to do with reason which is hard to believe and one factor in misunderstanding. What can we learn that’s useful to know about ‘people’ which provides tools that we can reach for in difficult situations? Ultimately it’s how to make life smoother and more enjoyable for all concerned.

Those principal four work together. We need to organise ourselves to make progress but we need to make good decisions about what to do. If those decisions and activities involve people, as they will, then we need to understand that world to be able to think effectively about it.

So that’s the background to the four separate events we’ll run at the University in May and June. If that’s of interest to you, we’ll look forward to seeing you. Or if you have questions, feel free to get in touch.

Dr. Adrian West & Sophie Brown, Company of Mind, www.companyofmind.com contact adrian@companyofmind.com

Register now for the first two workshops in this series:
Practical Thinking for Researchers Thursday 16th May 9:15 – 16:30
Working with Difficult People Tuesday 28 May 9:15 – 16:30

Summer writing retreats

Dates have been set for this year’s summer writing retreats. We have two retreats planned, both are two full days of dedicated writing time.

Thursday 13th – Friday 14th June & Monday 8th -Tuesday 9th July

Apply now for your place in one of the writing retreats
How much of your thesis could you get done in two days?

row of students writing
PGRs getting the thesis done at the last Summer Writing Retreat

“It got me focused with no distractions and write something down within the short time. Outside the writing retreat, I spend much more time to complete the same task”

“The pressure of other people writing and being quiet really helped me focus.”

It enabled me to work better on my writing tasks as I had peers around me doing the same in a quiet and conducive environment.

Finding time for writing can be a challenge for most writers, so many other things can take priority in the moment. The popularity of our regular mini writing retreats are evidence that PGRs are no different. The writing retreats provide protected time for writing in a supportive atmosphere, and by signing up you make yourself accountable to someone else to make sure the writing actually happens.

Our regular writing retreats are there to help you build a regular writing practice. These short sessions show you how much you can really get done in a few hours or even just a 25 minute session. Yet sometimes we really need more sustained writing time to really make progress. The occasional 25 minutes or half day here and there is great for keeping a writing project progressing, but occasionally a longer period is needed to make a big leap forward.

That is why we are hosting two 2-day writing retreats this summer: 13-14 June and 8-9 July. These will be two full days of sustained writing, with no distractions. We supply the venue, food and drink to fuel your writing and motivation to keep you going. You need to come prepared to do the writing. Think how much of your thesis you could get done in two days of solid concentration!

To apply for a place on one of these retreats, please complete the on-line application form. Spaces are limited so priority will be given to those who have a clear plan for the writing they will accomplish during the retreat.

Closing date for applications is 5pm on Monday 20th May
Please note that no late applications will be accepted!
Applicants will be notified of the outcome during week of 27 May.

What new challenges do you have for 2019?

Happy new year to all researchers at Liverpool!

We hope you are returning from a well-earned break, refreshed and looking forward to the coming year. This time of year is a good opportunity to review your work, maybe to take a fresh approach to your research or work environment and find ways to move forward on your long term goals. Do you have new ideas that you want to explore or do you need to organise your working life more efficiently? Do you have upcoming challenges that need new solutions? Do you need to take actions for your future career?

This is also a time to review your own development and the LDC Development programme can help in several ways

  • Our first webinar, on the 28th January, will help you create a development plan.
  • The Spring programme has a strong focus on presentation skills, including repeated offerings of the small group workshop on Delivering Academic presentations.
  • We have further workshops to advance your writing and a return of the Thesis Thursday sessions, together with sessions on research productivity.
  • The programme also has a focus on impact, to help you achieve impact outside your academic area, which is an important aspect of research to have on your CV, whether your future career is inside or outside of Academia.
  • Finally we have a new Career-ready Boot-camp coming up in March.

The following list connects upcoming events to the programme themes on our website:

Research Productivity (Taking Ownership of your PhD and Resilience)

04-Feb 12:30 – 13:30 Webinar: Managing and facilitating meetings
11-Feb 12:30 – 13:30 Webinar: Time management
28-Feb 9:15 – 12:30 The Emotionally Intelligent Researcher

Presentations (Communication)

23-Jan 13:00 – 16:00 Delivering Academic Presentations
29-Jan 13:00 – 16:00 Delivering Academic Presentations
13-Feb 13:00 – 16:00 Delivering Academic Presentations
14-Feb 13:00 – 16:00 Preparing Poster presentations
19-Feb 13:00 – 16:00 Planning and preparing an effective Research Presentation
27-Feb 13:00 – 16:00 Delivering Academic Presentations

Writing (Communication)

07-Feb 09:00 – 12:00 Thesis Thursday: structure & format
18-Feb 12:30 – 13:30 Webinar: Research Writing – maintaining motivation for your writing
20-Feb 13:30 – 16:30 Mini Writing Retreat
25-Feb 12:30 – 13:30 Webinar: Research Writing – communicating your research effectively

Impact (Public Engagement )

11th Feb – 8th April 8 week online course Communicating research online: writing for a wider audience
21-Feb 10:00 – 15:00 Making Meaningful Impact during your PhD

WriteFest18 recap – what comes next?

November and WriteFest18 is already starting to seem like a very long time ago. With the holiday season now just around the corner, it is time to take a moment to reflect on what we achieved and to look ahead to the new year and to keeping up that writing momentum.

The month of November is internationally referred to as Academic Writing Month and WriteFest18 was planned as a way of celebrating and encouraging academic writing across campus. We had a wide range of workshops, webinars and writing retreats on offer, hosted by the LDC Development team and by the Researcher KnowHow team. All events proved very popular, and it was particularly exciting to see how many of you engaged with the writing retreats and shut-up-and-write sessions. There was a real writing buzz in the air!

A key message from Academic Writing Month is the importance of regular and frequent writing practice. Writing is a skill that takes time and dedication to develop, but often finding the time and motivation can be challenging. This is where writing retreats or shut-up-and-write sessions can be helpful. They provide dedicated time and space for writing, and peer motivation to keep your productivity up. But don’t just take my word for it, listen to what your colleagues said about it:

“It got me focused with no distractions and write something down within the short time. Outside the writing retreat, I spend much more time to complete the same task”

“It enabled me to work better on my writing tasks as I had peers around me doing the same in a quiet and conducive environment.”

“The pressure of other people writing and being quiet really helped me focus. I got some proposals done and journal entry I had put off and I felt so productive after.”

And now that WriteFest18 is officially over, how will you keep the momentum up? Keep an eye out for more writing retreats in the new year. Writing retreats and academic writing workshops coming up are listed on our programme. And consider other ways to practice your writing – why not join a writing course? We have an online course starting in February, focused on writing for a wider audience.

Communicating research online: writing for a wider audience

Online course: 11th Feb – 8th April 2019

Are you looking early experience of publishing through an article to the University News, to communicate to other postgraduate researchers and undergraduates, or publishing more widely in ‘The Conversation’?  Are you interested in an opportunity to gain real practice in a peer review process?

This online course  offers a supportive and encouraging forum to share your research and network with other researchers, whilst preparing an article for wider circulation. Through regular practice and supportive feedback you can  further develop your writing skills and new ways to communicate your research and gain a wider impact. This course will last 8 weeks, with a recommended contribution of just one to two hours per week to gain most benefit

‘ … the feedback is invaluable, it’s great to hear how other people perceive my work, and how I can improve. ’ participant 2017.

Further information and registration

News from outside – development opportunities around the Northwest

The University of Liverpool is part of a consortium of Universities in the Northwest and Yorkshire who have agreed to share selected training sessions and events between the Institutions. Below are some upcoming events which may be of interest.

Note: Please contact the host institution directly for any further information about these events as the LDC Development team are unable to answer further enquiries.

IEEE UK&I YP Postgraduate STEM Research Symposium 28-29 November

This PGR STEM Symposium is a great opportunity for researchers (early and established researchers) and young professionals to network, learn and share ideas. There are variety of interesting talks by well-experienced speakers. See more details here. Consider making a submission (to present your research) and/or register to attend the symposium. The registration deadline (12/11/18) may likely be extended by a few days depending on demand. Also, there is a limited optional registration to attend the Reception Dinner (@ Abode Chester – providing a relaxing environment for meet-and-greet, networking, talks, champagne or beer, and a 3-course meal)

Any questions regarding this event, get in touch with Simon Beer at the University of Chester (s.beer@chester.ac.uk)

Manchester Met Postgraduate Research Conference – Risks and Beyond – 6 March 2019

This conference is run by PGRs for PGRs, and it’s a great development opportunity, allowing you to present your ideas to a friendly local crowd. Call for abstracts is open until 14th December – welcoming multidisciplinary research, discussing research risks, uncertainties, how we overcome them and future implications to society.

For more information about this conference, get in touch with the conference organisers: pgr-conference@mmu.ac.uk

Further workshops and training opportunities

Through our network of partner universities, UoL PGRs have access to a wide range of workshops to support your development. These events take place on campuses across the North of England, in Salford, Manchester, Huddersfield and Bradford, as well as Liverpool John Moores.

NWY PGR Training Group – Shared Sessions

Please register with the host institution before attending; see the last column for contact details. You will need to provide your own transport.

WriteFest 2018 – a month of writing related events

WriteFest was established as a way to support academic writing via the #AcWriMo hashtag on Twitter. During November 2018, the LDC Development team will be running WriteFest in collaboration with the Researcher KnowHow team at the library. This is our local contribution to this global academic writing month, with the aim of bringing people together to raise awareness and celebrate academic writing.

At the start of the month, we have a very special one-off event lined up – Writing Without Discipline, a creative look at developing sustained writing habits. We will continue to build that writing habit throughout the month with regular writing retreats, workshops and webinars to keep your motivation up. For the full programme of events, check out the WriteFest18 website. Join the writing fun, in person and online at #WriteFest18

Writing Without Discipline – Tuesday 6 Nov 10:00 – 12:00
In this interactive workshop, we combine video and face-to-face facilitation to help you get to grips with creative writing methods and techniques to build writing into your daily routine. The workshop will provide a framework for understanding how writing is constructed, discuss tools you can use to approach your writing and help you to think creatively about your writing habits.

Whether you are at the early stages of your PhD or in the final phase of thesis writing, this workshop will help you develop techniques to sustain your writing practice through academic writing month and beyond.

The workshop is facilitated by Dr Matthew Cheeseman, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Derby (on video) and Dr Eli Saetnan, Academic Developer at University of Liverpool (in person).

row of students writing