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Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership


‘Many of us work as academics in institutions where writing is a central part of our jobs. Working collectively on writing has supported […] the process of completing the degree, but has also positioned us more strongly to move beyond this stage and prepare for the next step within our academic career. As peers, we were able to engage directly and systematically with each others’ writing, and in so doing become better at critically evaluating other students’ writing, and ultimately, our own.’

- Damian Maher, Leonie Seaton, Cathi McMullen, Terry Fitzgerald, Emi Otsuji and Alison Lee, ‘”Becoming and being writers”: the experiences of doctoral students in writing groups', Studies in Continuing Education, 30:3, 263-275, DOI: 10.1080/01580370802439870, 2008, Taylor and Francis Online, p. 274.

This is a key finding from one of the earliest published first-hand accounts by doctoral students of collaboration in an academic writing group. Their conclusion highlights how such interaction can prepare junior scholars for the more immediately outward-facing, ‘dialogic’ focus of writing once they have successfully defended their doctorates.

The authors go on to acknowledge that ‘identity work’ emerged from their ‘text work’, in parallel with ‘the processes of engaging in a sustained way in review and critique of our own and each others’ draft work’ (D. Maher et al, 2008, p. 274). Their experiences suggest, then, that reading groups can have a broad range of personal and professional benefits, enabling students to develop the intellectual and emotional strengths necessary to withstand the rigours of modern publishing culture and academic life.

We are keen for students of the Cambridge AHRC DTP to derive similar benefits from their membership of such a sizeable and talented cohort. To this end, we have decided to launch a self-organizing writing group for students in the latter stages of their PhD who feel that they would profit from regular communal thesis-writing sessions.

At least initially, the DTP will book a seminar room once a week and, where possible, provide light refreshments for participants. In its simplest form, the group might operate as an opportunity for participants to encourage each other’s concentration on the act of writing. Alternatively, members of the group might choose to collaborate more actively, through reading, commenting on or even editing each other’s work. In the end, though, the direction taken by the group will be determined by its members, and we understand that the group’s activities will be as fluid as it membership.