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What Does Writing a Writing Lab Look Like? by Charlotte Frost
Image from Mochimochiland.com

Image from Mochimochiland.com

This blog post by Charlotte Frost (aka PhD2Published’s founder/director) is part of a series that asks after new forms of scholarship projects and demonstrates how academic out-put is changing in the digital age.

From blogs like the Thesis Whisperer to Twitter communities like #PhDchat there are a number of ways in which academics are harnessing digital communication technology to support each other and their work within and without institutions. And some are even outright reinventing what academic scholarship might be. We are well beyond the early phase of academic listserves and blogs and into a – perhaps third wave – of digital discourse design.

In this series I’ve invited the people responsible for these types of projects what their intentions where when the established them. How their projects have changed the way they (and we, as participants) work, research, share, support and interact with each other as global colleagues. And how they might describe what the emerging skill-sets are and their benefits and pitfalls.

People tend to think that PhD2Published is simply a blog about academic publishing. Well, that’s true, but there might be some in which it helps promote an understanding of publishing that you hadn’t realised about.

PhD2Published was set up as a research tool. What I mean is that I started the blog as a way to get myself published. I thought that by running a resource on publishing I would learn a lot about academic publishing that I could pass on. I could build a career platform for myself that would allow me to directly network with academic publishers. It functioned in a way that was like simultaneously writing and testing a ‘how to’ guide.

In addition to this, in order to run the site, I was having to learn about other publishing platforms as I went along. These were the publishing platforms of social media including WordPress and other blogging platforms, Facebook Pages, Twitter, YouTube, Google + (I still haven’t nailed Google + by the way) etc etc. Although not yet legitimate modes of publishing academic work, they are an increasingly important way in which we can do research and share our ideas. Jesse Stommel and I have referred to this open way of working as ‘public scholarship’ and even if the REF doesn’t officially recognise it, many of us recognise the strength it gives our work.

PhD2Published was designed as a public way of learning and sharing ways of being public with our work. However, knowing the framework I had built for going on this public learning journey, I wanted the site to be used by others in the same way. It might share all of its articles and advice for free, but my feeling was that it should also be free for people to use the same way I had. This is where the role of Managing Editor comes in.

Managing Editors are people who get to come on board and use the site to learn the same things I have – more, hopefully. They can publicly investigate the parts of academic publishing most relevant for their own career paths. For example, I was told I needed to get a book published but in many other areas of academia the journal article reins supreme. So a PhD2Published Managing Editor can use the project to compensate for what they didn’t learn at grad school and, like me, they can do this in a way that shares this knowledge and allows others to make use of it. They can also network directly with – say – the journal editors most likely to publish their work and find out well in advance of submitting, what the editors are looking for and what mistakes they must avoid making.

Likewise, they get to learn about how to use and write for all of the public ‘publishing’ platforms that the site functions on and that interest them. Twitter is increasingly used at conferences but if you’re someone used to having a Facebook account just for keeping in contact with close friends, it is a confusing realm to make sense of. Having to use all of these social media on behalf of PhD2Published and with all the archives of how they’ve been used in the past for the project as well as my advice and support, Managing Editors can quickly make appropriate use of social media.

In addition to all this, from the start, I have kept files on how PhD2Published operates which I give Managing Editors complete access to. This means that not only does a Managing Editor come on board and learn how to get published by expanding their knowledge of publishing and networking with prospective publishers. Not only do they learn how to use and write for a range of social media. But they also learn how to set up and run a resource dedicated to public scholarship. In a sense then, PhD2Published is like its own own little publishing laboratory.

I cannot emphasise the importance of this last aspect. It is more and more the case these days that an academic is required to handle certain public-facing aspects of their research. For many, this will mean having a web presence. It is all very well learning how to write a research paper, and it’s great to compare this with blogging and nail the art of writing a good blog post too, but what about building a community around your work? How much do you really know about doing that? And how much do you know about setting up an online project not just to showcase your work but to actually do quality academic research?

There may well come a point at which in addition or perhaps even instead of writing journal articles or a book, a researcher will be required to demonstrate their research-community-building credentials. Right now, institutions in the UK want to see cold hard REF-ables, but I believe it is only a matter of time before a successfully run knowledge-engagement-community itself becomes a REF-able output. What resources like PhD2Published do, therefore, is not just help early career academics consider what is required of them now, but it allows them to explore the future of academic research and publishing models and develop valuable transferable skills.

PhD2Published is a resource on and model for contemporary modes of knowledge generation and transfer. And yet I don’t know how to describe it. Recently I’ve taken to calling it ‘new-form scholarship’. If I had the time to write up all the things I learn from running it, I could argue that it forms part of a practice-based research model but in truth its just one part of my on-going research into publishing in the arts. I also lack the time and sometimes also the vocabulary to describe the benefits of being involved. Apart from anything else, it’s deeply empowering to set up your own project outside of an institution and build not just a knowledge resource but a dedicated community of participants. And it’s extremely rewarding to make a quite mystifying part of academia more transparent. It also takes a lot of work. Even when I’m not editing the site myself I’m working on it and last year’s AcWriMo (our off-shoot writing project) cost me (wait for it) over 100 hours of unpaid work to keep the information and motivation flowing.

So now what? How can we continue to harness the benefits and skills of these open and collaborative ways of working? How can we consolidate what is being learned this way and prove its academic credentials? Can we and should we fight for this work to be more legitimate or do we risk pinning the proverbial butterfly to the board and stilling the dynamism that makes it what it is?

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