Why I go to Shut Up and Write

Sam Pullman is a second year PhD student in the Graduate School of Education.  After many years as a frontline social work practitioner, she has turned her attention to social work education. Her research explores the connections between sustainability as a wider concept and theory base to prepare social workers for practice.  Sam also enjoys volunteering with community groups and taking part in citizen science projects. She has a keen interest in ecology, people and place. You can contact Sam on: .

I initially sought out Shut Up And Write to provide a routine and structure during lockdown and working from home. I wanted to keep momentum regarding my upgrade paper, and dedicate a protected space to focus on my research. My aim was to engage in good study habits and shift my mindset from procrastination or looking for diversionary activities. I decided to use the sessions between 10 – 4 pm as my core hours.

The structure of SUAW was appealing because each session only requires 25 minutes of focus which, I felt was within my capability. Breaking a two hour session into short sections meant that I could realistically complete one task at a time such as, addressing feedback, focusing on a particular chapter of my paper, or editing.  Sometimes I would set a writing target for the whole session of 200 – 300 words.  SUAW became a time to reflect and be critical of my research. The key to success is that I only need to do this for a short time, and then use the five minute break to get a drink and just relax my thinking. I was surprised how well the sessions worked for me, and that I was achieving my goals. The small steps I was taking, led to the completion of my upgrade paper. I still use SUAW sessions when I really need to structure my projects and research.

SUAW Community

SUAW is an online space to work, but also to connect and informally network with other PGR’s. It reminds me of the bigger picture of a vibrant research community at the university. SUAW encourages users to enter in the chat box what they intending to work on during the session. There is some really interesting and exciting research taking place, and the chat box almost becomes a co-journey of PGR’s progress. I recognise that we are all at different stages of their research from planning, upgrade, and viva. There is great energy and enthusiasm which is reflected in the sharing of tips, hints, references and ideas are shared to motivate each other. I would definitely recommend that my PGR colleagues who are feeling a bit stuck in getting started come along to a SUAW session.

SUAW Facilitator

SUAW was only meant to be a short term option during lockdown. My intention was to dip in and out of sessions until campus options were up and running. However, I may not have gained the opportunity to become a facilitator and write this blog. I wanted to give back for the support I had received during the sessions, and I am genuinely interested in what people are researching and their progress. Facilitators run the session timers and it’s an opportunity to be creative with race names and engage PGR’s with the session. Facilitators also provide dialogue to the chat box in the five minute break.  I also think it’s really important to offer encouragement especially when PGR’s are struggling.  So why not come along to a session. I look forward to hearing from you in the chat box.

Podcasting in a Pandemic

 

 

Kelly Louise Preece is the Researcher Development Manager for PGRs in the Doctoral College. You’ll recognise her face from workshops, her voice from WEBINARs, and her jokes from the 90s. You can follow her on twitter @Preece_Kelly for musings about Researcher Development and the PGR experience…interspersed with tweets about superheros, sewing and cute cat photos.

 

 

Helping students to feel part of a community has been one of the main challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a Researcher Development Manager, I work with postgraduate researchers (PGRs), who already experience high levels of isolation as they are not part of a teaching cohort. They do not have timetabled sessions with other PGRs and often start their studies at varying points in the academic year. Instead, PGRs meet each other and develop communities informally, whether over lunch at induction, making a cup of tea at a training event, working in shared offices, or through asking questions at research seminars.  Through this they share their experience, their frustrations, their hopes and their fears – and they learn from each other. The pandemic has derived PGRs of these moments of serendipity and informal conversation, leaving them even more isolated, a state of affairs that has led to a negative impact on wellbeing, motivation, and progress. So how have we been working to combat this? We started a podcast. To be accurate, we started a second podcast.

Back in January 2020 (a different time!) we had started a monthly Doctoral College podcast called Beyond Your Research Degree, interviewing our doctoral graduates working beyond academia about how they moved from academia to industry, and what career opportunities ouThis picture is the logo of the Beyond Your Research Degree. tside academia are available to people with a research degree. The purpose of this podcast was not to build a community – instead, it was a to build a series of case studies for PGRs to access about the wealth of job roles and career opportunities available to them beyond academia. Similar podcasts exist across the sector, but we felt that they were too vague and did not get at the nitty-gritty of searching and applying for jobs outside of the academy. How do you format a CV for a non-academic job? How can you frame the skills developed during a research degree for a role where research may not be your main focus? These are important questions, and ones that we hoped to answer in a concrete way through our new podcast.​​​​​​​

​​​​​​​When COVID-19 hit, we were in a good position as a team to move our provision online. Working across all campuses and with large numbers of distance students, we were already offering our training and development opportunities online. This meant that we swiftly found ourselves in demand to support academic and professional services colleagues as they moved their own content online, and gave us the breathing space to look for creative solutions to our online problems – specifically, how to build a PGR community and recreate that experience of sharing and peer learning online.

With a growing listenership (and growing confidence in audio recording and editing), I decided to start a second, fortnightly podcast: Researchers, Development and the In-Betweens. Like Beyond Your Research Degree, this aim of this podcast was to tell stories and share experiences – but on a much wider range of topics and themes, about being ‘in the thick of it’ as a researcher. On the podcast we have talked about writing up your thesis in the time of coronavirusthe supervisory relationship, being a BAME researcherworking with an industry research partner, and – of course – having to adapt research projects due to COVID-19. But even though podcasts are a one-way format, R, D and the In-Betweens has filled the space left by those chance meetings by sharing experiences, advice and learning, and has done so informally, openly, and honestly. Podcasts are a form of social media, are easily accessible, and are an ideal way to take a break from the screen. Our PGRs listen to our podcasts whilst doing the washing up, taking their daily walk of just relaxing on the sofa. They fit easily into people’s lives. ​​​​​​​

Top Tips

  • We record all our podcasts over Zoom – online advice was clear that out of all videoconferencing tools it produces the highest quality audio recordings. We also record with cameras off to improve the audio quality.
  • As the host I use a Blue Yeti Microphone and pop filter to ensure high-quality audio. This cost the department £130, but often my guests are using the in-ear headphones they got free with their mobile and the audio quality is still decent.
  • edit all the recording in Audacitywhich is free, open-source, cross platform audio software. Zoom can produce an .mp4 file for each participant, which I convert online to a .mp3 to import into Audacity. I keep my editing as basic as I can. I cut out any notification sounds from Microsoft Teams, interventions from children or pets, or just the conversation going off on a tangent. We have a guide on our ELE page about basic editing in Audacity.
  • All episodes are then uploaded to a podcast host – we have a pro subscription to Podbean, but there are many options out there. The podcast host will produce an RSS feed of your episodes which you can submit to different podcatchers. We have feeds to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts and Amazon Music as the major platforms.
  • Finally, I use Panopto to create captions for the podcast episode, which I add to the show notes. I use the automatic captions but go through and edit any inaccuracies. (Incidentally, Panopto is still convinced the podcast is called ‘Audi and the Inbetweeners’.)

This post originally appeared on the University of Exeter Education Toolkit.