SGSAH are recruiting a new blogger! On Friday I spoke briefly about my experience of blogging for SGSAH at their annual Welcome event at the National Museum of Scotland. It was lovely to have the opportunity to do this, as last year’s SGSAH Welcome event had a hugely positive impact on the first year of my PhD. Although I’m based in the Highlands at a campus with only one other PhD student, one of the reasons I don’t feel isolated from the wider doctoral student community is down to SGSAH. At the Welcome last year I met other PhD students from across Scotland and began to develop some of the networks which have enriched my experience immensely.
The perceived ‘remoteness’ of my situation was one reason why I wanted to apply to the SGSAH blogging job. I completed my Undergraduate and Masters degrees at the University of St Andrews, and the University of the Highlands & Islands couldn’t be an experience more different. From the oldest University in Scotland which is spread out across 3 streets I went to the newest University spread out across hundreds of miles and many islands.
I wanted to take on the blogging role to connect with other PhD students across Scotland and exchange research and experiences. I was interested in writing for a broad audience and using the social media skills I’d developed in previous roles. The job involves writing one article per week and publishing one guest article per week. Many of the guest posts come through SGSAH, but the blogger has some responsibility for sourcing these as well. I’ve found Twitter and personal networks to be really useful for this. The role also involves running the SGSAH Blog Twitter account, which is excellent experience for beyond the PhD as digital skills are highly sought after in academia and beyond.
It has been really worthwhile to write up to 1000 words per week for a broad audience. This has been no small thing for me, because I spent my first year getting to grips with so much new literature and conducting initial fieldwork, so it never felt like I was ready to start writing. I’d also taken a couple of years out of academia so I wasn’t in the habit of writing regularly. Everyone told me to make writing a habit early, but I kept putting it off. Or more accurately, I was writing every day, but because I had no deadline and no one was reading it, this writing wasn’t really honing the skills I needed to complete a piece of work and make it readable.
At first I didn’t know what I would write each week but it’s been a great opportunity to take time regularly to reflect on my PhD and research. The blog is really there for us to make our own, and I decided quite early on to make a point of writing about my own experiences rather than ‘the PhD experience’. I’m not sure I could pretend that living in the Highlands and attending a campus with one other PhD student was going to be a ‘typical’ trajectory.
That said, what I’ve discovered since taking on the blogging role is that you often find a lot of unexpected connections with other PhD students, no matter which institution you are with. Writing the blog has helped me to connect to others who are going through the same thing – such as in this article about the challenges of writing the literature review. Although I’m lucky to have a supportive network of like-minded PhD students, the blog has been a great outlet for sharing and connecting with an even wider community around some tricky issues, such as this article about PhD anxiety and imposter syndrome.
The blog has been a great tool of the research ‘process’ too. As a researcher, you are the instrument of research, especially for a project like mine which takes an ethnographic approach. But really, no matter what topic you are researching, you are constantly selecting research questions or evidence which are informed by your academic understanding but also by your own personal background, interests and knowledge. It’s important to be constantly reflective and self-aware about how your ideas are developing, because later in the write-up or even the viva this could form a key part of your analysis or justification for why you took certain decisions.
I wrote an article a few weeks ago reflecting on my first year including the challenges I’ve encountered and decisions I’ve made. A few days later, I had my upgrade panel which was set up as a mini viva, and the first question they asked was ‘can you please reflect on your first year’. I had already reflected on this for my article and the answers came easily. This really brought home to me how useful the blog has been for my research process.
If you’re interested in applying for the SGSAH Blogging role, you can find out more here. Applications close 19th November.
We are always seeking new guest bloggers! If you have an idea for a blog post or would like to informally discuss writing for the SGSAH blog please get in touch with Joanna via email at email@example.com, or connect with the blog on Twitter