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Questioning the legitimacy of new-form digital projects: An autoethnography of #AcWri and PhD2Published by Anna Tarrant
Image from Mochimochiland.com

Image from Mochimochiland.com

This blog post by Anna Tarrant (aka PhD2Published’s Managing Editor and co-instigator of #AcWri) 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.

When I first contacted Charlotte just over a year ago asking if I could become the Managing Editor of PhD2Published, I never suspected what kind of new doors it would, and could, open for me. In this blog piece I reflect on the role PhD2Published has played for me in the early development of my academic career and muse about how online spaces such as this are integral to an emerging movement that is transforming academic knowledge production and empowering contemporary academics. While my personal experiences are fairly unique, one of the ways in which I think we can learn about and understand the position, increased uptake and legitimacy of online academic spaces is by adopting autoethnographic methodologies; reflecting on our own positions in these new online participatory cultures.

I found PhD2Published while looking for some guidance and support for my newly forming publishing plans. I was on a short, fixed term contract as a Senior Teaching Associate at the time, which meant that the majority of my thinking and time was dedicated to teaching plans, maintaining relationships with my students and marking. While I maintained a fantastic mentor in my PhD supervisor, I felt adrift. It wasn’t part of my paid role to publish at this point, but I was conscious of the need to develop personally in order to competitively pursue the career I so long for (something permanent that combines both teaching and research – note I am currently in my third short-term academic contract since Oct 2010). At this time, I knew that I had to have a publishing strategy and some personal goals to become established in my field. Feeling lost in my institution and disconnected in terms of my research aims and development, I went in search of something else; support, community, the ‘how to’ of academic publishing. In the end, I turned to the Internet for this support and PhD2Published couldn’t have provided a better opportunity.

In the past year or so, since being involved with the site as a Managing Editor, I have learnt so much. In brief, I have learnt how, and where to publish to maximize my impact. I have had two traditional style journal papers accepted, I have contributed to various blogs, including the Guardian Higher Education blog, I have learnt how to use Twitter, Facebook and other online platforms to enhance my professional profile and have set up my own professional blog, which has even attracted attention from people outside of academia. I have also up-skilled; not only have I learnt how to run and manage an academic blog, I have networked much more widely on a variety of social media platforms to the point where I am recognized for my work at conferences. I have learnt a great deal from others – having also collaborated on #Acwri, the monthly live chats Dr Jeremy Segrott and I run on Twitter. And I have continued to publicly share my experiences in order to support others.

The #AcWri live chats in particular were established by myself and Jeremy after PhD2Published’s writing initiative, AcBoWriMo (now AcWriMo), when Jeremy was publicly searching for a community for academic writing discussion. It was quickly recognized that a much larger community of academics (of different disciplines, career stages and nationalities) wanted support with the emotional, as well as practical elements of one of their main crafts. Jeremy and I decided to collaborate and run fortnightly live chats on Twitter focused on different aspects of academic writing under the hashtag #AcWri. The intention of this was to establish an on-going, online participatory community, an open platform for sharing knowledge about academic writing (empowering each member as experts in their right) and to generate useful resources in the form of sumWwri has been successful in these goals so far, but what does this mean for academic knowledge production and has this changed our ways of working?

The establishment of the #AcWri community has emerged from, and aligns with PhD2Published’s (and other sites’) ethos of open, participatory learning but it has also contributed to changing the ways we work/research, publish/share and network/support each other. It allows a diverse group of researchers to connect and share their knowledge beyond the physical boundaries of institutions and to publish in new ways that are available to others beyond academia. It has allowed for a more engaged and open conversation about the ‘hidden injuries’ (Gill 2009) of neo-liberal academia (in this case through frank discussions about writing, a key part of the publishing we need to do, or risk ‘perishing’). It also allows us to share our successes and failures, to support and to network with one another in ways that have been less available to us before. The need for these spaces is evident in that the community, in size and quality of contribution, has flourished and is also self-perpetuating without the need for Jeremy and I to intervene beyond the live chats.

Importantly, the increased use and uptake of these online academic sites indicates broader changes, both within, and outside academic institutions that cannot be ignored. What is (not) happening within institutions that is encouraging more scholars to go online? Is this indicative of an absence of support in contemporary academia for its staff, particularly those who are Early Career? All of these questions are beginning to be raised and I am really excited to be part of a group of scholars (who have also written for this series of blogs) who are reflecting on, and even theorising about the increased uptake of online academic spaces where academic knowledge production is taking place. Through my involvement with PhD2Published and #AcWri I have personally developed essential and empowering skills that are required by the contemporary Early Career academic and yet for some reason these spaces still lack legitimacy

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