Author Archives: postgradpanda

About postgradpanda

I'm a full-time PhD student, researching the perspectives of parents who are caring for a child with high-level physical care needs, on their relationships with diverse service systems and on their identity within or outside those systems. In December 2014 I left my social work position with a genetic support group but remain associated with the group as President of the Committee of Management. In other hours I write poetry and short stories, go sailing, and am learning to play my double bass.

Birthing my doctorate

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I’ve posted on metaphors before. I’ve found the use of metaphor helpful as a way of conceptualising my experiences as a doctoral student and also of making sense of particular components of that (the literature review as an octopus being pushed into a vase, for example).

After reflecting on the first few research interviews, I started routinely including a question that asked parents to use a metaphor to describe an aspect of their experience, and this has for the most part been an extraordinarily powerful approach. In fact, in a couple of weeks I’ll be opening a conference presentation with one parent’s metaphor.

This month’s post is going back to seeing my own experiences through metaphor – in this case focusing on the gestation (pregnancy) of my thesis. This came about because of a question in the context of students who were ‘half way’ through their candidature. I was going to blog about my half-way update in October, but October was an especially busy month, so that will be held over for the next post instead. My dilemma was figuring out exactly when my half-way point was. Having started part-time, experienced a long down-time before my recruitment yielded results, and then suddenly finding that I have an end point that is visible on the horizon (how did that happen? Squawk!) I could pin down at least three different ‘half-way’ points.

What I found more helpful was to think of my candidature as having three distinct phases (counting from the day of first enrolment): phase one ended with granting of ethics approval to proceed, phase two ends with the completion of data production – ie. final interview – and phase three is all the analysis, writing up, submission and through to graduation. Being an ex-midwife, this lent itself to the image of pregnancy trimesters. And here’s how it looks from there. Warning: there are some massive generalisations in what follows. This is a personal perspective – both in terms of pregnancy and doctorate – and it might not fit for everyone!

Trimester 1: “I’m [having a baby/doing my PhD]!
You’re excited. A bit nervous. Maybe feeling a bit sick, in all honesty. You’re likely to be a little overwhelmed by what you’ve committed yourself to.

You’re learning a new vocabulary. You thought you knew your own body’s basic anatomy and physiology, but this is a whole new world (metaphor within metaphor there…).

Everyone seems to have advice for you, whether you asked for it or not. At parties, you discover friends are simultaneously excited for, and bored by, your new adventure. They say they are there for you, but when you start talking about the details, the glazing of their eyes gives you cause for a teensy bit of doubt.

Unhelpful as the advice usually is, the horror stories are worse. Nightmare deliveries, crashed computers, the loss of any sort of satisfying adult life…people relish their opportunity to admire you while, at the same moment, terrifying your socks off.

Trimester 2: “You look great!/You’re so smart!”
Well, the nausea has passed, apart from the occasional flash of heartburn. You’ve passed the ‘danger stage’ – your proposal/confirmation is behind you, ethics approval is done, and the data has started to come in. It’s interesting! You’re learning! You’re contributing to a better future for the world!

You’re right into the swing of this now. You’re making steady progress in the accumulation of the trappings of your new role in life (baby furniture, wraps, apps for writing/note-taking/productivity/referencing, software and hardware of all kinds).

Importantly, you are starting to have something to show for your efforts, so your pregnancy/thesis is becoming real to the people around you, and (if you’re lucky) they show genuine interest in your progress. People see your swelling belly, or ask how many interviews you’ve done. You understand a whole lot of things that were incomprehensible to you when you started out. You feel good. The advice and horror stories continue, but you think “Hey, I can do this!”

Trimester 3: “Haven’t you [had that baby/finished that thesis] yet?”
That mid-pregnancy glow is fading…fading….gone. It’s starting to feel like a long time since you began, and yet only the blink of an eye. And so little time till birth/thesis submission! You can’t imagine being pregnant/thesis-writing for ever, and yet it’s equally impossible to imagine that this phase will ever end and some unfathomable new life will take its place.

You feel like a whale/fraud. You’re uncomfortable, and (dare you admit it?) a bit bored. Your partner/midwife/obstetrician/supervisor is heartless and doesn’t understand. You are super-sensitive to advice and horror stories (which doesn’t stop people sharing them. All. The. Time.) and arguably even worse are the stories of bliss and ease. You think “Aagh! I can’t do this!” Passing, and not passing, are equally inconceivable options.

So…

In midwifery terms, there is a fourth trimester. Weird though the terminology is, it’s a thing. That time after the baby is born/thesis has been passed, when transition into the next phase of life occurs. Of course, metaphors are always imperfect. We could talk about that time between submission and graduation as a kind of labour, but really I would have to work quite hard to draw meaningful parallels there. Also, I’m only just reaching the end of my second doctoral trimester, so what do I know about the next section of the journey? My friends are mostly a bit ahead of me and I’m watching, listening and learning. I’m lucky that I have a great deal of confidence in my supervisors and feel comfortable to talk to them; I’m discovering that this is not something that can be taken for granted.

I don’t want to be a source of unsolicited advice to those starting out, so if you read on you accept that advice is going to be there.

To continue the metaphor:

1. Gather a support group around you. You know those people who tell you horror stories, or alternatively tales of success that just make you feel like a failure before you even start? They don’t have a place in your group. Smile politely, but inside your ears, be singing ‘lalalalala’. Your support group will have a mix of people – those who know more than you do and know how to teach you, those that are going through some similar stuff and can share as equals, and those that will be quietly present, maybe needed for support/chocolate/fun/tissues and maybe not, but loving you regardless.

2. Filter and focus. This is related to the horror stories and the sheer quantity of information that bombards you throughout the whole process. Gradually you will learn what you need to listen to. Let the other stuff go. Some of it mihght be valuable, but you simply can’t take it all on, all of the time. Filter and focus. If you take away nothing else, take away that.

3. Prepare. This phase won’t last for ever. Also, it will be hard work. So, to get through those two things in good shape: be physically as fit as you can. Get physical exercise, drink plenty of water, eat a healthy varied diet. No kidding, it really matters regardless whether you’re pregnant or doing a doctorate. And if you’re doing both simultaneously, then…yes. Same advice. Put together a list, and start packing your bag. You need things that are informative, things that are inspiring, things that bring you comfort, things that ease the pain. Snacks, heat packs, writing apps, you know the sort of thing.

4. Be open to alternatives. Lofty ideals about refusing pain relief (or being accepted for publication in a highly-regarded journal, for example) are a good thing to aim for, but unless there’s a really good reason, keep your options open. Don’t make these into things that shatter you if they don’t happen as planned.

5. Above all, keep your pregnancy/doctorate in perspective. Childbirth, though undoubtedly a unique milestone in life, is but a small percentage of parenting. Doctoral studies might feel as though they consume you for some years, but you are more than your PhD.

At this moment, I’m approaching my final research interview. I’ve started to draft my Methodology Chapter. I have an out-of-date version of my Lit Review waiting to be given a total overhaul. I’ll be transcribing almost full-time for the next few weeks (I’m still hoping to do this all myself, for methodological reasons…I don’t need to ask for pain relief yet…ok so far…)

I know I have some hard work ahead of me, and some of it is just going to feel like a great big slog. Is it taking the metaphor a step to0 far if I compare the testamur to a baby photo…?

Survive PhD 2015

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This morning I recorded a short introductory video as part of my participation in the Survive PhD MOOC (massive open online course). I hope you can see it here: My SurvivePhD intro

Wow, this experience taught me two things.

1. It takes me a long time to trek around cyberspace trying to figure out what I’m doing (and I’m not totally sure I’ve achieved today’s goal, which was to get a short DVD filmed and accessible to the people I want to share it with).

2. I have no intuitive sense of how to manage my balance of privacy and publicity in an online context. I teeter wildly between wanting to share stuff and being paranoid about who will see it and what they’ll do with it.

But what’s the worst that can happen…? Oh, that? Really? Eek.

On the plus side, in the course of my attempts I’ve downloaded another app that might come in handy some day, and changed another password that surely should have worked the way it was. Was this a priority for this particular morning’s work? (Koffkoffsplutter.)

Knowing when to stop

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I’m really enjoying my research at the moment. I know this will probably change over the next few months, but for the moment there it is. Enjoyment.

A few things are contributing to my current happiness:
1. Full-time on-campus study is working well for me. I have a routine, a stable workspace where I can have things set up ready to swing into action the moment I arrive, friendly but equally focused colleagues, and access to those secondary but important ‘parastudy’ items (coffee, food, wi-fi, library).
2. I seem to be hitting a good work-life balance – at least for the moment.
3. I’ve stopped recruitment and in a few weeks I will have completed my final interview.

It’s the third of those points that is the focus of this post.

After a rather lacking-in-confidence start, I’m now feeling at ease in my discussions with parents. I have my list of materials – audio-recorder, mapping tools, paperwork – pretty much down pat so I don’t foof around too much getting myself ready to go. I’ve had enough (and varied enough) conversations that although each one is different, I feel capable of responding to most unexpected situations. I have a few core questions that I (mostly) remember to ask in some form, depending on the flow of the discussion. And I know that if I was to stop right now, I have enough information upon which to build my thesis.

So why am I still going? This is something my supervisor has gently challenged me with recently, and I’ve been asking myself the same question. In some methodologies there is a clear guide to help answer this question: you state a particular number of questionnaires to be circulated and your sample is the number returned, for example. Or you code as you go, and stop when you reach saturation and no new ideas are emerging. For me, each interview brings a new slant on the topic. As unique as everyone’s situation is, every parent’s information will in some way be different to every other parent’s.

An added factor for me is that I enjoy the process of listening to the parents who are taking part in the study. It fascinates and energises me. I’m inspired and intrigued by them, and honoured that they trust me with their information.

So, at some point, I will need to draw that imaginary line in the sand and say ‘enough’. At that point, my study lurches into a new phase, and this is perhaps also why I’m putting off the line-drawing moment. It was easy enough to decide to stop recruiting; this did feel like hard work, sending out multiple slightly customised pleas for assistance to reach parents, going back with more information, explaining my ethics approval and why I can’t just change my public documents at will, waiting on all sorts of different agencies’ internal processes over which I had absolutely no control (‘could you just send an email about your study to … and they’ll have a look at it and get back to you’). Deciding to stop recruiting but remaining open to any further requests to participate that might trickle in from past advertising, has been a nice relaxed space to be in.

According to my project proposal and ethics approval, I’m aiming for 30 participants, with individual one-off meetings. There was some hesitation about whether this was too many (as my supervisor pointed out, this could result in a lot of data to manage, and I might stop seeing major new themes emerge well before I got to 30), although one of the academics on my proposal panel queried whether this would be enough to be able to obtain more widely useful findings. At the time I write this post, I’m anticipating a total of 25 parents, but I’ve changed my methodology slightly to accommodate some couples who wanted to meet together in the one discussion, and the option to have more than one meeting if the single one wasn’t enough or time was too constrained. As a result, the number of meetings and the number of parents doesn’t quite match.

I’m transcribing and jotting down my thoughts on emergent themes as I go, and I’m starting to draft my methodology chapter, but once I stop meeting with parents I will need to turn my attention fully to these tasks. And there, possibly, lurking just beneath my consciousness and occasionally popping up its fanged head, is The Thing. I know once I start that phase, the whole candidature moves into its final stages. The abstract ‘when I finish my thesis’ (somewhere, over the rainbow…) becomes a more concrete date. A dog walking over this concrete date would still leave paw prints, but it’s firming up as we speak. And I’m not sure I’m ready! Also, I know this next phase is the bit where people tell me I will start to hate my thesis, and I will start to hate my supervisor (I find that really hard to believe, but this is what I’m told) and it will all turn into a Great Big Tedious Drudge.

Because I feel ambivalent about concluding the interview phase, I’m hoping that my supply of interested parents will simply trickle away of its own accord, so that there will be no identifiable moment when I have to say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t meet with you, I’ve completed that phase of the study.’ On the other hand, at the moment it looks like I will have completed all the parent meetings a month ahead of schedule, which makes me happy. Maybe I’m ready to move ahead after all, knowing that there will always be people out there who have interesting things to tell, but who will need to do it some other way than through the this vehicle. Um, what’s a post-doc?

Building a pineapple

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I was reading a post by Pat Thomson on her wonderful ‘patter’ blog today check it out here, in the course of which she mentioned the phrase ‘chunks and pieces’. My mindfulness colouring-in book must be working, because my brain immediately started ticking over, making creative links…to pineapples. A tin of pineapple pieces is a very handy thing to have in your pantry. It can be thrown into a beef curry (my version, not anything that someone who had an actual curry heritage would have anything to do with) or stirred through a tuna mornay (and if either of my kids is reading this, I will know, because I’ll feel the draft created by their eyes whizzing around in their sockets…this is not a good thing, just to be clear, but I do like a bit of tinned pineapple in my tuna and white sauce) or, more conservatively, served with vanilla ice-cream or yoghurt.

Pat wasn’t talking about any of these things, mind you. Her post was much more useful, unless you’re looking for a quick tuna recipe, in which case I’m your girl. But the phrase got me grappling with a pineapple metaphor about writing a thesis. The thing is, last week I met with my supervisor and she reminded me gently that I really do need to start showing some more concrete evidence that I’m writing. Assuring her that I write often (which I do) is not really cutting it now. The issue is that I’m not writing anything that she gets to see. I’m a bit private. I’m like one of those pre-school kids who won’t try to read or write something until they know they can do it correctly, although they may be secretly trying and trying, by torchlight, under the doona where no-one can see and so if they mess it up no-one will laugh. Erm, am I giving too much of myself away here?

So I’m thinking about the pineapple idea, and thinking how it’s a bit like writing – we have little pieces of text, which get built up into chunks, and the chunks into rings, and eventually we’ll have a whole pineapple to submit. Except, oops, major limitation in this metaphor: once a pineapple has been cut into rings, and the rings into chunks, and the chunks into pieces, it can’t really be reversed. Uh-oh.

And so the point of this blog post is to say, beware of relying too heavily on metaphor. I love metaphor as a way of expressing concepts, personally, but you really do have to be careful not to extend things beyond their natural elasticity. My supervisor is getting to know me well, and knows that it’s time for a little prod. She’s also absolutely right that I need to come up with an outline of my methodology chapter (this week’s goal) and I need to show it to her (next week’s goal).

I have lots of little pineapple-pieces of text lurking away in Scrivener*. I probably have the majority of my Methodology outline sitting in there already. So now, I just need to publish this post and turn my attention to building a pineapple…

*Free plug for this software, btw, if you’re looking for something that you can write in a non-linear way. Somewhat akin to doing a jigsaw but with pieces that you cut out and colour in as you go (oooh, was that another metaphor I just spied?)

** By the way, I do understand the difference between metaphor and analogy. I know I’ve mixed them up a bit in this post. Think of it as having a few cherries thrown in with your pineapple and ice-cream. Let’s not think too deeply about this one.

The Rapunzel Factor: Letting your hair down when you live in the Ivory Tower

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Now that I’m a full-time doctoral student, I’ve been allocated my very own desk space in a shared office. This is such bliss! It gives me a place that I can display visual resources (concept maps, whiteboard to-do lists, a 2015 planner, and so on), and a shelf for all my books (set up in descending order of size – it’s a beautiful thing). Not to mention that I have a filing drawer for my lunch box, a plastic container with cutlery, teabags, corn crackers and a little jar of Vegemite. And my own tea towel. Oh, and (joy of joys) a lockable filing cabinet. I can lock stuff up and leave, at the end of the day, and not have to lug everything home and back again like I did last year.

It also provides me with office buddies. At the moment there are 9 of us sharing the room, plus one in an adjoining room, at different stages of our candidature from newly-arrived to almost-submitting. I know this can be problematic in some shared offices, but we all seem to get on really well – very quiet and hardworking, we are. People take phone calls out of the room. We say hello on arrival, and goodbye on departure, and apart from that, conversation and distractions are relatively minimal without being unfriendly.

Which brings me to the Rapunzel Factor. One of the big risks of doctoral studies, particularly for those of us who are researching alone rather than in research teams, is isolation. Social isolation, peer isolation, academic isolation. Even when we’re together, we can be isolated by our own research focus. We sit there crouched over our laptop screens, ruining our eyes, backs, cardiovascular systems and social lives…all in the name of academia.

So the nine of us decided that it was time to go out together for lunch. I take no credit for this apart from being encouraging of others who mentioned the possibility. One of the recently-arrived students eventually showed more initiative and organisational ability than the rest of us, and put up a sign on the door, the eventual result of which was that, recently, all but two of us were on campus at the same time and off we went.

Over lunch, we were able to chat about things related to our studies, and things related to life Beyond the Ivory Tower. We started to get to know each other – countries and languages of origin (diverse), professional experiences, views about current affairs.

We’ve decided that this was such an enjoyable experience it will become a regular Thing. We still work hard, and mostly in communal silence, but the dynamic of the room has changed. I think we’ve started to consider ourselves as colleagues, which is a more active relationship than the passive one we had before. On the surface, nothing much has changed, but there’s an extra warmth when we greet each other now. I believe next time, we’re going to a Thai restaurant…I’m looking forward to that.

Reading is not a luxury

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As I type this, I’m sitting beside a pile of printed articles waiting to be read, absorbed, summarised and filed away somewhere that will make sense when the time comes to look at them again. I’m really interested in what a lot of them have to say, but I just don’t ever seem to have time to read them. Each day, I receive alerts via my email and discover more gems, the abstracts of which I duly check and if they look extremely relevant (I’m getting much more discerning as this degree proceeds) I print them out and add them to the pile.

I’ve been feeling quite a bit of subtle stress as a result of this pile of paper. It sits there like a well-trained dog waiting to be fed or walked. You know the look – eyes fixed on you, motionless with quiet canine focus, apart from maybe the occasional quiver and deep-throated mutter (I swear my pile of papers mutters to me from time to time).

I like reading. In fact, I love reading. My relaxation of choice is to curl up with a book and lose myself in someone else’s ideas. So why am I finding it so difficult to get into this pile of stuff that is interesting, and relevant, and useful – in fact, of critical importance if I’m to complete my degree? What’s my problem?

As I looked at the pile again today out of the corner of my eye (trying to focus on writing a presentation for a forum this afternoon) it suddenly occurred to me – reading keeps being put off becauseĀ it feels like a luxury!

As I posted last month, I’m in a writing group, because being in a group that writes together seems to help each of us individually to be more productive. No-one has ever suggested a reading group, but maybe it’s an equivalent kind of focus and motivation that I need to simply sit down and read. I have a tendency to skim, or walk around with an article in one hand while making a cup of tea or stirring the dinner with the other (I have indeed been known to walk into lamp-posts because of my reading-while-walking behaviour. It’s a bit humiliating.)

The trouble with walking and reading is that, although it’s better than no reading at all, there are some kinds of reading that need a particular degree of focus. One author I read early on in my doctoral life, whose name I can’t for the life of me remember (please remind me if you know who I’m thinking of), was clear that your physical posture when reading academic documents should be different form that of recreational reading. No couch-slouching for journal articles – these should be read sitting up at a desk, with a pencil, ruler and highlighter handy. The ruler should be used to scroll down the page, ensuring that your eye doesn’t skip ahead, feeding fragmented information into your brain.

It’s worth trying this, even if (like me) you consider that you’re a very good reader. It really does make a difference. It also means that recreational reading still feels like a different activity, so there’s some in-built containment between compartments of your life.

Now, I’m fully aware that some people find reading difficult and tedious at the best of times. I can’t imagine doing doctoral studies if this is your perspective, because both the quantity and the substance of the type of reading you will have to do (there’s no escape) is beyond anything you’re likely to encounter anywhere else. But if you’re reading this, chances are you are not a reluctant reader, because reluctant readers are unlikely, I think, to go searching blogs for more things to read.

I’m interested to hear from other doctoral students, whether PhD or otherwise – how do you approach your reading? Have you kept reading while collecting and analysing your data, or has it been pushed aside until it’s time to revisit your lit review? And what effect have your doctoral studies had on your recreational reading?

And I’m particularly interested in whether anyone’s tried setting up a peer reading group, and what you learned from that experience.

Parallel Play for Postgrads

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One of the things that I anticipated when I started my doctoral study was loneliness. Although I wasn’t too worried about this, being by nature an introvert and liking to be responsible for my own work, it wasn’t something I was particularly looking forward to. I moved to Sydney just before I started my doctoral studies, so I didn’t know anyone at the uni and imagined that most other doctoral students would have done their undergrads and/or masters programs there. I figured many of them would know each other, and would certainly know their way around. I had psyched myself up and was prepared to be the ‘new kid’ yet again (a familiar and not at all desirable role, after several moves in my earlier years).

As it turned out, I haven’t felt at all lonely. In fact, my imaginings about the social side of doctoral studies were totally wrong. Not only have I not been lonely – far from it – but the majority of my peers seem to have come from other universities, and many of them have come from other countries. I am a ‘new kid’, but so are most of the others. Many are shy. Many lack confidence in conversational English. It’s not at all the socially and academically confident cohort that I thought I’d be bumping along on the periphery of… (on the periphery of which I thought I’d be bumping…along…pfft, whatever.)

The reason I mention all this is because throughout the past 2.5 years of my 3 years here so far, I’ve become part of a group of students who have developed into a very functional writing group. We have a membership of ten, and an active participation of between 3 and 7-ish (it varies according to conferences, paid work, overseas travel etc). As most have now completed their data collection and are in the analysis and writing-up phase, both our focus and our group organisation has shifted. Initially we met fortnightly, talked through literature and our thesis proposals, practiced presentations, did buddy-editing tasks on abstracts and chapter drafts, and shared in each others’ anxieties and celebrations. Now we meet weekly for 2 hours, spend almost all of that writing, and soon we’ll be celebrating the first submission…the first acceptance…the first graduation.

We’ve tried several venues, looking for something with the right combination of background noise/quietness, food, drink, light, ventilation, temperature control, table height, and Skype access (the student who really got the group going has moved overseas, and now participates from the other side of the planet). Recently, five of us spent a Saturday doing a 5-hour ‘writing retreat’ at a room adjacent to a local cafe, interspersing 50-minute solitary writing sessions with breaks for coffee, lunch, and time-limited chats. It was so successful that we are going to be doing this 2-4 weekly from here on, now so many of us are reaching the pointy end of writing-up.

Hence the parallel play allusion. We have been reflecting on how amazingly productive we find these ‘alone together’ writing sessions, and how illogical it seems that it should make any difference to be doing together something we are all perfectly capable of (and experienced at) doing alone. We laughed at the curious looks we got from people who see us seated around a table at our respective laptops in silence, tapping away or looking quizzically into the distance then launching ourselves back at the keyboard.

What makes this group so successful, and what is our secret of longevity? Here are some suggestions:

1. Someone needs to be a leader/co-ordinator, to the extent that they co-ordinate communication, logistics and so on. Who this is might change over the life of the group, and group members are also in contact with each other outside organised group activities, but we’re all busy people and if there wasn’t co-ordination and a designated contact person for group matters, we’d fragment off into our own separate trajectories.

2. Everyone else needs to participate in keeping the group vibrant. In our group, what this looks like varies. Some people are regular attendees at weekly writing sessions; others only get along intermittently but stay in email contact and attend when they can. One has left the uni but remains involved to work on other writing tasks.

3. Activities need a focus. I think this has been a critical point in keeping us so active. I’ve been in groups before (have even led groups before) that have gradually settled into a ‘let’s go round the table and quickly say how our week’s been going’, inevitably running out of time and never actually progressing to other core activities. In the end, they always run out of energy and fizzle out. In our group, we tried setting monthly goals, compiling a table of goals/strategies/outcomes and holding each other accountable, but that didn’t work too well, largely because it took a bit more organisation to put the table together (and remember to go back to it) than we could realistically manage. Now, though, we start each session with a one-sentence statement of what we plan to achieve in the session (“Today I aim to write 300 words in my Methodology chapter”/”Today I am going to draft an abstract for my conference application” etc) and maybe also a goal for what we’ll be focusing on prior to the next group meeting.

4. Let the purpose of the group evolve as the group evolves. I say this with some hesitation because it may not be relevant for every group, but our group has very definitely changed over our nearly-3 years. When we were all new, there was a lot of need to listen to each other talk, around a wide range of aspects of our research-student experience, from emotional support, to information about methodologies, to ideas for presentations. As we each progressed past our proposal acceptance, ethics approval and data collection, we became clearer and more confident about our own particular research, and needed the structure of writing together more than we needed the wide-ranging discussions.

5. Look toward the next phase and plan how the group might work in the future. This includes, eventually, planning the closure of the group if that is decided on. We are starting to talk about who will be the first to complete their thesis and how we will celebrate this. Who will be the last, which is also a milestone for us as a group? (Almost certainly me!) And of course there will also be graduations to celebrate! And beyond…

Several ‘younger’ students have said to me, on hearing about this group, “I wish we had something like that.” My answer is very simple: start one. That’s how ours came into being. No-one put it on for us. One student (not me) talked to other students she knew though a workshop series that the faculty provides for students (a word of advice: go to these), got a core group going, and they all then worked out how they wanted the group to work (see points 1 and 2 above, in particular). It’s also worth asking the relevant doctoral support staff on faculty to help get the word out to other students, if needed. In addition, keep things like Skype and other media in mind, for linking in peers who are off-campus.

Parallel play is usually talked about in terms of preschool behaviour, where kids move around a space in little clumps, ostensibly doing their own thing and yet watching, learning and sharing space and energy with each other. That’s what our group does. Each of us is researching something totally separate, using an array of theoretical and methodological approaches, and yet we share a common experience and are better off for getting through it side by side.