Now that the intensive eight days writing course are over, it’s interesting to reflect on what happened. What might count as success? What went right/wrong? How do we know what to do differently next time? These are not abstract questions. They’ve been occupying the course leaders for the last day or so.
Success? Well, we could look at whether people lasted the distance. What was our drop-out rate? Well that’s easy to answer. None, zip, zilch. Noone dropped out. Everyone hung in till the end. But maybe that’s because there were five credits on offer and to get them you had to hang in. Mmm. So what else?
Well, maybe success is whether people actually had a first draft by the end of the period. Well no, they didn’t. Not all of them anyway. Eleven people did. Is that good enough? How good does it have to be? But, hang on… the other six had good excuses though. They were either hanging off waiting for a co-writer’s involvement, they needed some new data, or it had taken them a while to sort out what they were doing. Partial success perhaps? Generally OK enough to get by?
On the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t pass any judgment on the course until the actual end. The eight days might be over, but that’s not all, folks. From now on there are groups of four and five meeting each week to revise and finish off their papers to get them ready to send in. So should sending the papers off to a journal be sufficient criteria for success, or should we wait even longer to see whether they really get published? What does being published mean? Is revise and resubmit enough? What level of referee judgments would we deem as not OK?
Or perhaps we should ask the participants what they learned about academic writing, or ask them what they will do next time they write a paper that they wouldn’t have done before… and surely we should ask them what bits of the course worked best for them and what didn’t? But when would we ask this? Is it too soon to ask now, or should we ask now and then again later?
Should we actually look at the writing and see what changed over the course of the course, and what continued to change afterwards? We do have folders with a lot of the pieces of writing lodged in them, we have writings able to be examined by dates on which they were produced.
And what about the participants’ supervisors? They weren’t actually in the course, but they will be able to see what the doctoral researchers do as a result. Something. Nothing… They will certainly have views on whether the course was useful or not and whether it made a difference.
So what really would count as success and how would we know? Who should we ask? What should we look at? All of the above, perhaps?
We’re thinking about these questions because we’re going to apply for a little bit of internal funding to examine not only this course, but also the one from last year. And we think that because this course was designed to support PhDs by publication it might be of more interest than to just us. But of course it is really important to us, because we do want to know if it’s worth doing again, and if so, how it might be improved and how to make it sustainable.
Watch this space as the saying goes. Bid writing in progress….