How Writing Retreats Can Support You as a PhD Student

Angel Tan

Writing up a PhD can be both exciting and challenging. After all, it might be one of the most significant pieces of written work after years of study and research. Alongside the excitement of embarking on this (final) step of completing a PhD, here come the pressures to write an ‘acceptable’ thesis that will meet the expectations to pass and increase the chances of success for future careers.

For many of us, these pressures and anxiety heightened during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic lockdown period due to increased feelings of social isolation and loneliness. A recent survey of 994 UK-based postgraduate research students showed that a significant number of students did not complete a thesis chapter during the pandemic, despite this forming an essential aspect of progression reviews (Goldstone, Zhang, & Christodoulides, 2021).

When Covid-19 struck, I started setting up writing goals for myself — thinking that I could do a chunk of thesis writing for my PhD with most of the time spent at home. But the truth is, like many other PhD students, I struggled to put words down on the page.

As it happened, I took part in one of the writing days organised by the University. Initially, it started in a virtual environment where a group of us would write independently but come together online to share our writing experiences in regular intervals throughout the day. We refrained from using cell phones, checking emails, and instead, focused on writing in the “Mad Men” typing pool format.

At the end of the day, I remember telling the facilitator that I felt less guilty having a glass of wine on a Friday night, knowing that I had worked hard for the day. It was a productive day. Most surprisingly, it was also the day where I felt the pleasure of writing again. Time away from the distractions of daily life provided a ‘quiet, mindfulness space’ that allowed me to prioritise writing and engage in deep level thinking that I could not have achieved on the cluttered desk in my home office.

The sound of others typing on the keyboard created a sense of community and energy that motivated me to keep my head down and write.

And surely, I am not the only one who has benefitted from a writing retreat. Research have found that students participating in writing retreats valued the uninterrupted time and space offered from the retreats, leading to increased writing productivity (Aitchison & Guerin, 2014; Paltridge, 2016). A systematic review by Kornhaber et al. (2016) also reported that writing retreats present benefits in mitigating challenges in academic writing and improving self-confidence. Writing with others creates a mutually supportive environment where ‘doctoral students […] are likely to find clarity of thinking, energy from others – and are likely to shift their writing forwards’ (Carter, Guerin, &Aitchison, 2020, 57).

So, the next time you struggle to get your words down, would you consider a writing retreat?

Angel Tan is a Postgraduate Researcher in the Department of Psychology at Edge Hill University.


References:

Carter, S., Guerin, C., & Aitchison, C. 2020. “Managing Productivity.” Doctoral Writing, 51–91. Singapore: Springer.

Goldstone, R., Zhang, J., & Christodoulides, V. (2021). Postgraduate research students’ experiences of the coronavirus pandemic. British Educational Research Association. https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/postgraduate-research-students-experiences-of-the-coronavirus-pandemic.

Illustration from Mode-Maker Metal Business Furniture catalog. circa 1960

World Vegan Day: What Does the Research Say?

November 1st 2020 is World Vegan Day, a day when vegans around the world will celebrate veganism. It’s also a great opportunity to reflect on recent research about veganism undertaken by academics including those from Edge Hill University.

In the last five years veganism has moved from the margins to the mainstream. This is best illustrated by the growth of vegan products in supermarkets; a response to a shift in consumption practices in the UK. Estimates have the UK market for meat alternatives valued at more than £1.1 billion in the next three years. It’s no surprise therefore that Asda recently trialled vegan-only aisles in more than half of its stores and Tesco has committed to increasing sales of meat alternatives by 300% by 2025.

There are some important drivers behind these changes to our supermarket aisles. Academic studies have revealed that meat and dairy production are a main contributor to climate change as well as being a leading cause of habitat destruction, deforestation and biodiversity loss [1]. In response to these findings and the pressing need for a radical overhaul of our food systems, two years ago Tesco partnered with The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) with a pledge to halve the environmental impacts of the average UK shopping basket.

A recent 2020 study by Mintel discovered that COVID-19 has made a vegan diet more appealing to UK consumers particularly those in the 21-30 age group. Health, climate change and compassion were cited by the report as driving the interest in vegan diets with consumers looking to dietary changes to boost their immune systems and tackle the environmental impacts and ethical issues associated with animal agriculture.

The three motivations for becoming vegan – health, climate change and animal ethics- are well known to academics working in critical animal studies and the emerging field of vegan studies. At Edge Hill University, the Centre for Human Animal Studies (CfHAS) has been involved in key research that has identified how non-vegans understand and respond to pro-vegan messages and the types of communications that resonate with consumers.

The eighteen-month project was funded by The Vegan Society and undertaken by Professor Claire Parkinson (Creative Arts), Dr Richard Twine (Social Sciences), Dr Claire Blennerhassett (Applied Health and Social Care), Dr Lara Herring (Creative Arts) and Dr Naomi Griffin. Amongst the 48 key findings, the research revealed that non-vegans were more receptive to pro-vegan messages about health and environmentalism than animal ethics and that family dynamics play a major role in sustaining a vegan lifestyle. While pro-vegan messages about health may appeal to non-vegans, animal ethics is cited as the main reason for people continuing to stay vegan. This suggests that motivations for becoming and staying vegan may change over time.

Research undertaken by academics at the Centre for Human Animal Studies has informed the ‘Vegan and Thriving’ and ‘FutureNormal’ campaigns  https://futurenormal.org.uk/. New research set to begin in 2021 will explore the lived experiences of BAME vegans.

If you are Vegan, non-vegan or just interested in veganism – do get in touch, and Happy World Vegan Day!

Professor Claire Parkinson is co-director of the Centre for Human Animal Studies at Edge Hill University


[1] Gerber, P.J et al. 2013. Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome.

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

New Critical Research Network

The first meeting of this proposed new network was convened, with the support of I4P, on 21st March 2018. Over 30 people from across all three faculties attended; a number of people also were interested in the event, but not available for the meeting. People at all stages in their research were represented, from GTAs/PGRs to professors.

It was clear that there was significant interest in coming together in a new network, focusing on the values, purposes and methodological issues in our research, despite widely varying substantive areas of expertise. Much of the discussion focused on:

  • Principles/visions/aims for such a network
  • Operation of the network
  • Naming of the network

The discussion about principles took most of the time, as people felt it was a key defining feature of the proposed new network.  There was general agreement that the network should embrace research that:

  • Is emancipatory
  • Is interdisciplinary
  • Promotes community engagement and real-world issues, linking scholarship to reality
  • Is democratic, and challenges the status quo
  • Is pluralistic
  • Is humanistic

There was a clear will for the Network to be properly convened, under the auspices of I4P. A second meeting will therefore take place on 16th May 2018. It will be held in B002 from 12.30 – 3.00, and will consider the ways in which the network operates, and the formal naming of the network by its members. Following this, we will seek to set up a website, and plan events for the year ahead.

Dr Mary McAteer is the Director of Professional Learning Programme in the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University.


Read more about I4P Research clusters and networks