starting the PhD – setting up your routine

At the start of the PhD you need to sort out how you will accomplish the necessary reading, and the writing that relates to the reading.

You may have to write a much larger PhD proposal than the one that gained you entry – this proposal is called different things in different places – but basically it’s the rationale for your project, a review of the literature and the project design. There may be a quite formal process around this expanded proposal, a kind of local mini viva. If you pass the viva, you get to continue on the PhD programme. You will be told about this requirement at the introductory sessions your university organises.

However, whether you have to write this text to do or not, you will want to set up some reading and writing routines that work for you now. The thing to understand is that there is no right or wrong routine. It’s just important to have one, a routine that is, and not leave things to chance. You have to set aside a good amount of time to read, and write. At the beginning of the PhD you can experiment with different kinds of time-task organisation, and work out what suits you best.

The key thing to understand is that the PhD routine is always a mix of different things. I like to think of this as an interleaving of activities – some reading, some writing, some getting things organised for writing or reading, some filing, some going to talk with people, some seminars… You might think of this as multi-tasking – but I prefer the rather more bookish metaphor of inter-leaving as it draws attention to the juxtaposition of activities – to what comes between things, and what order should they be in. However, you don’t need a metaphor at all to sort out your routine, just make sure that the one you sort out includes several kinds of activities.

Some questions that are helpful to think about are:

Time – When do you write best? I’m a morning writer and I can’t write anything but administrivia after about 2 in the afternoon. But I know plenty of people who are night writers. Experiment with writing at different times if you don’t already have a favorite. And ditto for reading. When do you read best? You are going to read some pretty weighty tomes during the PhD so you might want to set aside times for different kinds of reading – the hard stuff, and then scoping and skimming. There is also note taking and filing your reading too, so don’t forget to factor those in. You might also want to allow a regular time for thinking – time when you let your mind wander or when you focus hard on a particular issue. This might be associated with an activity such as walking, gardening, doing the housework and so on.

Writing helped by a list of things to remember, with dictionaries and style guides to hand.

My book writing is supported by a list of things to remember, with dictionaries and style guides to hand.

Place – where do you best write, read, and think? These may always be in the same place or you might be one of those people who like variety in your scholarly sites. You might choose a different place for writing than for reading. And there might be accompaniments that make the activity time-space go well – music, headphones to shut out the noise, being with others or being by yourself…

Structure – different people like different kinds of work structure. To complicate things further, these structures may not be the same for each activity – so some people like to impose word limits and deadlines on themselves for writing, others for reading. Some people like to write for as long as they can, others prefer set times. Sometimes the time and approach differs within one activity, according to the nature of the task. It’s not what structure works for everyone else, but to important to understand is that structures can help or hinder you and it’s therefore helpful to find out what works for you.

Amid book writing squalor, my bicycle, music and chair for reading - with natural light

Amid the current book writing squalor, my bicycle, music and chair for reading – with natural light over my shoulder

Support – What will make your work easier? Structures can be domestic and/or academic. @MsFloraPoste swears by online shopping, and I’d probably do this too if I didn’t have a semi-retired partner who does the weekly run to the supermarket. I religiously do my laundry on the same day each week when I do intensive writing, because it makes me get out of my office. I also swear by ten minutes bicycling for every hour or so of writing. Some advice suggests shutting off social media for a set number of hours, and there are apps that help you to do this. Other people use everyday tasks like travel and housework to make time – they take their reading to the Laundromat, read on the train, or regularly attend a shut up and write session. There are now lots of apps to help you keep track of tasks – or you might just like to make lists. And of course it’s important to eat properly – so cooking can equate to think time – and you have to make sure you don’t become entirely sedentary – gyms, walking dogs etc. all require some kind of regular scheduling and provide another leaf in the interleaved scholarly day/week. There are lots of structures that can help you keep your focus.

So – to sum up – use the start of the PhD to find the routines that work best for you. It’s not easy balancing structure and flexibility, honouring commitments and the need to be open to serendipitous invitations and ideas. However it’s crucial to establish some kind of pattern for yourself because it will underpin the next three years of hard work.

Thanks to Sarah Burton for help with this post. 

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starting the phd? get organised now

Yes, I know nearly everyone says you need to get organised – but that’s because it really is true. Getting yourself well set up for the long haul will save time – and your sense of being in control – later. Attending to the organisational basics at the get go will provide the structure you will need from now on. So….

Get your office space together 
If you are working from home, get the best chair you can afford. I have a reconditioned Aero which was quite expensive – but you can pick up Aeros on Ebay for not too much more than the crappy knock off versions. Butof course your chair doesn’t have to be like mine there are lots of other decent chairs out there. But there are some awful ones too – so check the chair options out, particularly if you are prone to back/neck problems when you sit for any period of time. Or you might be one of those people who want a standing desk… if so, get it installed now!

Avoid getting the scholarly hump

Fred had an unwelcome case of the scholarly hump

Position your desk where you can get natural light – and air – if at all possible. I wrote my PhD with the Australian sun over my shoulder. My current desk is under a skylight which I can open when the English weather is acceptably non-rainy.

Get some bookshelves with room for the key texts you are going to accumulate over the coming period. Make a separate space for library books so you don’t get them muddled up with those that you purchase.

Get the best computer you can afford – with a decent size screen. Depending on the nature of your research, you might also need a laptop, or you might be happy with just a laptop and dock. I think you can’t beat writing at a desktop, but not everyone agrees. Make sure what you get allows good secure storage options.  It’s also good to have ready access to an cost-efficient printer.

You’ll want to keep files, and some could even be hard copy, (yes still paper), so you may want to get a filing cabinet. I no longer use filing cabinets but I do find a plastic filing box useful on some occasions. And do load up with the kinds of stationery you like most….

You may need more specialised furniture or equipment

Bert really liked his new illuminations-friendly desk.

If you are working in a university space try to make sure that you have these things too – a good computer, chair, printer and light and air. Ask to move rooms if you are given a cupboard and you can see something better is available!

Do whatever you need to make the space feel like the kind of place you can spend some hours each day.

Get yourself onto bibliographic software straight away
There’s lots around to choose from. When I started my PhD, there was only Endnote and indeed, most universities still provide just Endnote. I like Endnote myself, but then I have been using it for a very long time. Endnote does pretty well all of the things that other newer software does, including importing libraries and storing pdfs. But it costs money and some people really don’t get on with it. There is free software out there, as well as other low cost versions that do a good job. If you have time, take some of the options for a test drive to see what you prefer.

If you aren’t familiar with this kind of software you really just need to know that that it functions like a set of electronic library cards – it’s a data-base in which citation details, key words, and your notes about each publication – and often the publication itself – can be stored. The data base is searchable. Rather than physically rifling through piles of files and lists of publications, you simply enter a search term and get an instant response. The primary benefit of a bibliographic tool is that you cite as you go, and your reference list is automatically compiled at the same time, in whatever style you choose. At the end of a PhD, this citation and reference function will have saved weeks of your life.

My top tip is to ensure that you enter the details of publications in a consistent style – I have found that using sentence case works best, rather than title case – most versions of bibliographic software add in capitals efficiently, but seem to be less consistent when it comes to taking them out.

The key issue is of course not what type of software you use, but that fact that you use it, and use it straight away. It is a real drag going back to the things that you’ve read to enter the details post hoc. Get into the habit at the start of entering everything you read in your chosen system.

Finally, start a couple of ‘keeping track’ files
The first file is for ideas about your research topic. As you get going in the PhD you’ll feel the need to get down  the thoughts that just pop into your mind, you might want to experiment with an idea or try out a few versions of your question – so put these notes into one place. maybe with sub-files if you’re super-orderly. This ideas file might be in a note-book, or it might be on your computer. Whatever format, keeping these research ‘working-out’ ideas together is a good idea. t’s easier to look back through your file to find an idea you once had, rather than go hunting around for that odd scrap of paper. You might also record in this file questions you have for your supervisor, and questions you might ask other PhDs.

keeping a good record of potential ideas for inquisition came in very handy later

Rick’s early list of ideas for the inquisition came in very handy later on

The second file is for the key points that you get from your reading. This is not the notes of each individual publication, but is a record of the ways in which you are thinking about the literatures as a whole. How do you understand the origins of a particular idea? What appear to be some key debates in the field? Who seem to be the key figures? What things are you surprised about not finding? How do two sets of literature speak or not speak to each other? Building this ‘helicopter’ view of the literatures is crucial in the PhD, as it is the way in which you have to establish the position you will take in the field, and to the field.

You might also be the kind of person who diaries, so get your researcher journal going at the start – make one place where you can record your personal reflections on the process. It’s good to start a diary-type journal at the PhD beginning, and not when you are having your first crisis. Capture the sense of excitement, fear and curiosity that marks the start the doctorate so you neither forget how you felt nor why you wanted to do this big piece of research in the first place.

Well, that’s the beginning of my list of basics. Coming next, something on routines…. but perhaps you have other things that you think are essential organisational activities at the start of the PhD? Additional tips are very welcome.

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getting ourselves onto media – a case of “just do it”?

I see another one of those articles about hopeless academics is doing the rounds again. You know the ones – we academics live in la la land and wilfully speak in big words that no ordinary person can understand. We talk to ourselves and so our work makes not a blind bit of difference to anyone. Shame on us. If only we would… If you haven’t seen the piece I’m referring to, it’s imaginatively called – “Academics leave your ivory towers and pitch your work to the media.” Here’s a little extract to give you the gist.

She told me about a live radio talk show she’d appeared on to discuss the drawbacks of e-cigarettes.
“I immediately got a stern email from somebody who thought I was wrong,” she says. “I knew for a fact that I was not wrong, but you can undermine everything with one wrong statement.
“I even brought a cheat sheet with me so I had the facts ready. It’s hard when you take your data and you want to make a statement about it. That part is scary.”
So could the issue simply boil down to professors being afraid of speaking to the public? Yes, says Kim Yi Dionne, an assistant professor of government at Smith College in Massachusetts and a blogger for the Washington Post. For many scholars, she explains, writing for the public “really is a fear of the unknown”.
Stephanie Coontz, a faculty member at the Evergreen State College in Washington state and a frequent contributor to publications including the New York Times, agrees, saying that writing for the public forces researchers to work in unfamiliar ways.
“You talk to academics who love these big words … they nod and agree and recapitulate the same three- and four-syllable words and very abstract, complicated phrases”, she says. “It’s not until you force them to explain it in plain English that you realise they don’t even understand it.

So the problem is:
(1) academics love big words. It’s not until you ask them to speak in plain English that you realise they haven’t got a clue how to do this, and
(2) academics don’t want to change and speak plainly because they are afraid to talk to people.  (Echo chamber effect here… Afraid. Afraid.)

Get it? If only we would get a life in the “real world” we would learn to speak like everyone else. We’d stop being verbose scaredy cats.  If we all just conquered our nerves and learnt how to write a few press releases, then the nirvana of public impact would be ours.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve got no problem suggesting that it’s good to communicate to a range of audiences and use a range of different media to do so. I don’t have any difficulty saying that we academics need to make our research available to the public, and to media. But doing this isn’t anywhere near as simple as this article, and others like it, suggest.

“It’s a brand new idea”, the producers said to the researchers,”Big Brother in the Laboratory.               We’ll be the first. What’s not to like? What could possibly go wrong? “

I have a big problem with simplistic problems and solutions like this one.

First of all, there are already a lot of academics getting out and getting public about their work. It’s not like no one does. Indeed, the academics that the writer of this latest piece of recycled dumbed-down advice talked to were engaged in public communication. And take a look at any weekly radio or television programme and you’re likely to see some kind of academic influence somewhere.

Secondly, and most importantly, it’s definitely not as easy going public as glibly saying ” Get over yourselves. Just do it”, as if working with media is the same as putting on a new pair of running shoes or changing a light bulb.

For a start, not all media are the same. Different media have different audiences and different stances on topics. Wanting to speak in public means having to choose whether to engage with a sensationalist tabloid or an aggressive breakfast programme which works by creating simple binary controversies – or looking for a journalist who has an interest in your topic, has published on it before, and who will take the time to find out about the complexities of the work and be able to put it in context.

See what I did there? I started to do a bit of analysis about who covered what kind of material and how, and who might deal well with my work. And that beginning analysis points to exactly why talking to media and talking in public is not just about getting over alleged academic desires to be tiny shrinking violets talking only in multi syllabled jargon.

My contention… We have to be knowledgeable about media as well as about our topic.

Simply ‘doing it’ in media can get speakers into big trouble. Why, only last week the architect Zaha Hadid walked out of a morning breakfast radio interview because of the way the questioning went – see one analysis here – and the BBC had to subsequently issue an apology for sloppy inferences that were made. And there are plenty of academics who can tell similar stories of being misquoted, of having interviews cherrypicked, of being subject to an artificial controversy, and so on. So there is some reason to be wary. But these stories of misunderstanding/mistreatment are not a reason to refuse to engage with media at all. However, they are a reason to say that there is more to engaging with media than  ‘just doing it’.

Such as, I hear you ask? What more?

Well for a start, most universities have press relations staff whose job is to communicate what the university does well – and that’s our research. Academic conferences and research funders also often have public relations staff who can help get the word out. An academic doesn’t have to do the work of writing a press release or contacting the media alone, by themselves, in a vacuum.

Then, there are training courses on how to talk with, and on, different kinds of media – in the UK for instance Research Councils run media training courses  for early career researchers.

There are half-way opportunities, like writing for  The Conversation and Chronicle of Higher Education, where academics can practice writing in a different voice and style. Some broadcast media also offer opportunities for researchers – Laurie Taylor’s Thinking Allowed for instance.

Many of us also have access to journalism colleagues whose research covers aspects of media and who actually used to work as professional journalists. If we want to find out about the hidden rules of media then who better to give us a few well educated pointers?

And there are many brilliant research projects which examine the ways in which making knowledge public actually works – see my colleagues’ Making Science Public project for a start. These kinds of projects help us understand the challenges and ‘discursive dilemmas’ we might face. (Apologies, discursive was a big word).

And of course, there are friendly, ethical journalists out there who know quite a lot about our topic  –  we can meet on twitter and through various social media and policy fora and chats. A quick email or DM can set up a conversation which may then go somewhere.

So to sum up – my argument, contra the irritating article about ivory towers (yawn), is that there is some reason to be cautious about media. And I do genuinely really truly think we ought to be more than a bit afraid of just launching ourselves, eager and unprepared, into media-land. I’m not saying we ought to  turn our backs on more public exposure for our work. Far from it. I’m saying we need to prepare ourselves for it, that’s all.  And there is both good information and help available for us in doing so.

And, dare I say, a little fear may in fact be a good thing when launching into media – to get a little bit Bourdieusian about it, media is another world where the game is, for some, sometimes, to provide entertainment at all costs rather than entertainment and good information. (Apologies for the gratuitous reference to social theory.)

For me, it’s not a binary case of whether academics take up media or not, but rather, which media, when, about what, and how….

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are we stuck in a Gutenberg time-warp?

Last week I was in Strasbourg, the home* of Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press. I was giving a “lecture” on academic writing to a European social science summer school. I decided to focus my talk on the current “gold standard” – writing an academic journal article, in English, for an English language journal. The subsequent discussion raised a number of issues including, of course, the inequitable geopolitics of English and commercial journal publishing.

However, the restricting, constricting, predictable genre of the journal article itself also came in for critique. You see, the vast majority of English language social science journals still seem to prefer and publish papers structured in the same old way. Yes, journals just love my old friends Introduction, Literature (including theory), Methods, Results and Discussion and Conclusion. Why this love affair with variations on IMRAD, we collectively wondered… and why are the articles just words? Surely we can write more and do more than this now we are all online?


You can always spot an academic journal article because of the way it looks.

Sadly, when it comes to making judgments about “quality”, it’s the text-based and conventional IMRAD genres that seem to be preferred. There are people in the social sciences keen to embrace the possibilities of digital and artistic forms. But things aren’t in their/our favour. Audit regimes, such as the British Research Excellence Framework, seem much more likely to see more experimental genres as “impact” or “the research” – not as a publication in their own right. The order of the day is IMRAD rules OK, print is best.


Coincidentally, and almost at the same time as I was “lecturing” in Strasbourg, I stumbled over two online texts that spoke about this question of the digital and writing. The first was a short animation featuring Margaret Atwood. She discusses the ways in which different platforms support different/particular kinds or writing. The medium has an impact on what the author can do. Atwood takes the serial, the story that proceeds in instalments, as an example. Writing stories in sections, each ending in a cliffhanger, makes readers eager to purchase/consume the next.

The serial was first made possible by the regular publication of cheap newspapers and magazines. But now there are more possibilities for serial writing. Atwood points to digital platforms like Wattpad which not only allow and promote instalments, but also allow writers to use their phones to make one off or multiple short posts. The web-based serial does something additional to print – writers can post in their own, not commercial, timeframes. And the platforms also allow interactive writing, so two or more authors can collaborate. (See for instance the Margaret Atwood and Naomi Alderman Wattpad story  The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home.) So this opens up new writing possibilities, new plays on an existing genre.

Next, I read a blog post by Andrew Prescott, Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Glasgow. Writing on his  blog Digital Riffs, about his use of e-readers, Prescott notes that much of the academic material he wants to use, including books, are still in print form –  and prohibitively expensive. He is thus compelled to work in libraries, he says, in what he describes as a ‘mixed medium’ of hard and digital texts. He was frustrated, he said, because he needed:

…“an academic book equivalent of iPlayer, which would enable me to be able to borrow academic books as easily as I can download a biography from Amazon on my Welsh bus.”

However, it was Prescott’s final reflection which struck me most, as it was exactly what I had been thinking. Prescott suggests that academic publishing was completely failing to take advantage of the affordances of digital platforms. Noting the rich mix of image and written word in print texts about (his area) of mediaeval literatures, he writes:


The latest issue of The International Social Science Research Journal hits the press.

“One of my dystopian fears for our digital future is that it will turn out to be populated by pdfs of journal articles. All the potential richness of the digital medium will have been ignored in favour of producing homogenised factory production line scholarship.” ( my emphasis)

My fears exactly. The fears of our Strasbourg discussion exactly.

I then went on a bit of a hunt around the social science journals I read most often. And they were, as you’d guess, depressingly the same as they were twenty years ago. Wordy, organised in the usual structure. Introduction, Literature (including theory), Methods, Results and Discussion and Conclusion. Very few images, the odd link, and nothing that moved. And when I went to exclusively online journals, it was actually much the same. Apart from the very few journals that specialise in the digital form or in the arts – and even then in most of them – the papers might just have well have been written for the Gutenberg press.

I can only loudly second Andrew Prescott’s conclusion : “I hope that the future of e-books will be more media rich and varied than the plain and frankly crude html wrappers with which we are presented at the moment.“ And I’d want to add, that goes for journal articles too.

We can now do much more in academic writing than Gutenberg allowed us to, so why don’t we? Digital platforms offer some very different academic possibilities – more show to accompany the tell, less linearity, more nuance and debate. We are encouraged on the one hand to get into these kinds of forms, but then on the other discouraged by audit regimes and what seem to be the conservative decisions made by journal communities. Seems a pity to let this slip past us, doesn’t it?

  • In their tourist materials Strasbourg claim Gutenberg, but he was born and also lived and actually invented the press elsewhere…
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help wanted – what should a tutor do?

This post is from Alan Mackie, Edinburgh University. Alan blogs and tweets as oldmanmackie.

Having recently been given the responsibility of tutoring a class, I asked Pat for some advice on the do’s and don’ts of the role. For clarity, I’ll be tutoring a third-year undergraduate class of about 15 for ten weeks. These forty-five minute tutorials will be taking place immediately after the lecture. Pat suggested that instead of giving me advice, I write a wee blog and reach out to others to share experience and tips – so here I am.

Having done some lecturing already in some ways I feel like I have put the cart before the horse, but I am pretty certain that the two roles are quite different. You don’t do any teaching during a tutorial, right? Well, that’s my first question for folks. Whilst looking for advice online I came across conflicting advice on this issue – should you be teaching during a tutorial? Aren’t you there simply as a facilitator of discussion? Other advice seemed to position the tutor as a modern-day Socrates, revealing the knowledge already buried within our charges through critical questioning and reasoning. I ended up more confused than before I started.

I decided to take a step back and look up what the definition of a tutor is, ‘that’ll throw some clarity on the situation’, I thought. But again, rival descriptions abound and much of the information was on personal tutors, rather than class tutoring. So that’s my second question – how would you define a tutor? I sense that in some ways the answer to this question will help us toward answering the question in the previous paragraph.

The tutor had some difficulty accepting that now was the time to stop talking.

The tutor had some difficulty accepting that this was the time to stop talking.

My third question is a more general one – for those who have tutored, do you have any hints or tips that you can share? I remember one of my first tutorials at university with a particularly eccentric tutor. He silently rose from the desk at the front of the class, clutching a banana ahead of him, staring at it wild-eyed. He turned it upside-down and began peeling it from the bottom. This took a bit of time until the fruit within was finally revealed. ‘We’ve been doing it wrong, all these years’ he exclaimed, ‘it’s much easier to peel them from the bottom.’ We all laughed and the ice was broken.

I hope to hear your thoughts on the first two questions and to get any helpful stories and advice from your experiences in tutorials. My own feeling is that I am there as a facilitator of discussion – the less my voice is heard the better – but I could be wrong about this. Thanks for any input. And bananas at the ready!

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a double plus bad PhD experience

A few weeks ago someone posted this comment on patter. I think it’s worth reposting.

As a non-native English Phd researcher, my conclusion is that doing a PhD written in English language is almost doing a PhD in creative English writing. In that sense, I wonder if all PhDs in social sciences and humanities in the UK could be clubbed together as a PhD in English creative writing? There is an unwritten minimum requirement that is not specified when we apply for the admissions and we realize this much later in the process that we don’t have the basic level of academic English writing.

I feel discriminated when I see my supervisors happy and so complacent with native English writers who might not have any depth in their arguments but make up that deficiency due to their comfort of expressing in their native English words that non-native English speakers don’t have. we need twice the amount of time to write. Don’t universities train supervisors to know that international students who comprise nearly 50% (at my university including EU students) of the student intake and that we start from a very different level as we don’t speak English at home and that they should be patient and not judge our research purely based on grammar?is there any solution to this instead ofspending thousands of pounds hiring a copy editors in addition to our staggering international student tuition fee and maintence costs while doing PhD in UK? Don’t universities owe some responsibility to help international students get the academic support we require like additional time, extension, and other different writing support?

I am very proud about my thesis but it is my writing that is letting me down to the point where I see my supervisors bullying me in every supervision and we never discuss my arguments and concepts at all. It’s commas, hyphens, and other typos that is discuss instead. I have no where to turn. I am devastated and demoralized. My problem is so embarrassing that I cannot even discuss with colleagues nor the head of the department. I know many who are like in my situation but don’t have the courage to come out. I have lost confidence in my supervisors and don’t want them to write me letters of reference.

I’m sure this is not an isolated experience. I’m sure that the problems described here – universities that provide inadequate support for both students and their supervisors – are not terribly unusual. Does anyone have any helpful advice to offer?

Posted in English language, international PhD, supervision | Tagged , , | 40 Comments

what goes on a university home page?

Apparently job search firms routinely conduct online searches on academics. Thesis Whisperer recently reported that she quickly found online information about someone for whom she had been asked to provide an independent tenure commentary, and she urged us all to google ourselves. But I wonder how much checking actually goes on outside of the job and promotion search… Does anyone really look, for example, at what we employed academics say on our various web platforms?  And what are people already in university employ obliged to put on their institutional webpages?

I’m currently looking at university home pages and I’ve found surprising variation in what institutions expect people to say about themselves. My own university, like most of those in the UK, expects all academics to enter publications into a university repository which links automatically to our home page. We are also expected to put up details of our research and research funding, although there is no pro-forma for this as is there is with publications. We have to state our supervision areas, and then there is space for a personal statement. The institutional convention is to give information about history, achievements and scholarly commitments, with as many actual details as possible linked to relevant sources – blogs, journals and so on. The decision about whether to put up details of teaching is left to individuals. But every academic staff member from the most recently employed research fellow to the Vice Chancellor has at least some ‘facts’ about themselves on their university home pages.

However, I’ve seen universities where nothing seems to be standardised at all, and where there are wildly different approaches to the home page, even within one disciplinary unit. I’m not talking here about personal style or stamp – but something more basic. So I’ve seen home pages from academic departments where some people have full cvs, while others, presumably people with offices in the same corridor, have something extraordinarily minimal and/or vague and/or bland. You read these uninformative pages and wonder – who are these people and what do they do?

And I’ve seen some universities where only academic staff below the level of Dean have to give explicit information about their academic achievements on their home pages –the academic line managers and leaders who make decisions about academic quality and performance appear to get away with generalised and unsubstantiated references to their extensive publications, membership of unnamed Editorial Boards and stellar scholarly reputations. If anyone wanted to know any detail about them – or to check any of those claims – they’d have to google search.

Prof Pinnocchio has a somewhat over enthusiastic interpretation of their cv.

Prof Pinocchio makes a somewhat over-enthusiastic interpretation of his achievements, with surprising results.

The more I thought about the variation in institutional home page requirements the more worried I got. Don’t ‘grass roots’ academics have a right to see the scholarly credentials of their line managers? Don’t students, and people we want to work in partnership with, have the right to check us out quickly, at our home institutions? It does seem to me that we academics, regardless of our level of seniority, really ought to put at least some actual details of our scholarly work into the public arena. I’m not suggesting something completely standardised here but, you know, just some details that can be checked out.

I started to get very suspicious about what was online. Very. But I took myself in hand, you’ll be pleased to know, and remembered that the vast majority of us do give a lot of details about ourselves, details that can be checked – we name some if not all of our books or papers, we provide a link to where these publications can be found, we name the journals on whose editorial boards we sit. We provide an easily traceable trail that verifies who we are and what we do.

The vast majority of us don’t set out to misrepresent ourselves. But the pressure is always on – to be better, publish more, have a higher profile. And I guess it’s not surprising that a few people succumb to some form of exaggeration about what they do and have done (no names mentioned here, but I do have some evidence for saying this). The risk is of course, that someone somewhere might very well decide to search them out…

Having an academic profile is now hugely important. It’s also very important that this is not seen as simply a form of self-promotion, but rather as a transparent window on our work. Just as we do in our research, I reckon we ought to make our claims about what we do and have done  very explicit – and yes, verifiable. And that’s just about being ethical, in my book. It’s not about performativity, And our institutions can help us do this by setting out a basic format for all academics to follow – and I do mean all.

My current thoughts on the academic home page then are… No vague woolly claims that can’t be backed up. Enough information to say who we are and what we actually, really do. Lists of publications and funding that can be checked. Reasonable claims. No hype. No self-proclaimed gurus or world experts unless this really is true. Home pages that are honest and that hang our academic shingles out for anyone to peruse…

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