Blogging about PhDs: An interview with Sarah-Louise Quinnell

I bumped into Sarah-Louise as part of the online preparations for #dr11. She runs a very good blog called PhD2Published for new PhD graduates. I thought that it was probably time to interview her. So here we go… 

AiCD: Who are you?
My name is Dr Sarah-Louise Quinnell, I gained my PhD from the Geography Department at King’s College London in 2010 and my research interests lie in two very distinct and diverse areas, specifically international environmental politics and development practice and planning and geographies of cyber-space, particularly using social media applications for research and researcher development. 

AiCD: Tell us a little bit about PhD2Published?
PhD2Published is an online resource designed to provide advice / guidance and information to newly qualified / early-career researchers looking to navigate their way through the sometimes confusing world of academic publishing. 

AiCD: You took over PhD2Published from someone else. How did that happen?
By chance really, I was asking for viva advice and approached phd2published on twitter and then got an email from Charlotte who gave me very useful advice and told me about the site and as she says chased me relentlessly to take part and i began working on the site in January 2011. I come from a different academic discipline to Charlotte and i am approaching the issue of publishing in a different way so i am using the site to provide advice, to learn things for myself and to provide a record of my journey through the world of academic publishing.


AiCD: What technology do you use for your blogs/website?
I have a personal blog as well as managing Phd2Published i also contribute to – I like the wordpress environment, while i have programming skills i dont wan’t to spend ages coding before i can upload something so i find this environment works best for me. I will be moving my site to a self-hosted format soon and am currently developing a site to support my social media project that will be part of PhD2Published.


AiCD: Why did you start blogging?
I started as part of my PhD research. I couldnt go on conventional overseas fieldwork for a number of reasons so i had to look at alternative approaches for conducting my research i.e. collecting data and communicating with my research participants. So in tandom with a web-developer i created my own digital / virtual research environment. 

AiCD: How often do you update your blog?
My personal one has been a slow burner post PhD but am now trying to get material up there at least twice a week depending on what i am doing. For PhD2Published it vaires but normally between 2-3 different pieces of content a week and for the thesiswhisperer i post normally once a week. 



AiCD: OK, that is a lot of writing. Wouldn’t you be better off just concentrating on writing academic articles?
A lot of the work i do in advance, especially for PhD2Published. Am currently working on a paper and a grant proposal as we speak as well as job hunting. I find they dont take a lot of time so i can have a blog day once a week. Because i blogged and wrote online during my PhD it has become a habit to post different things online regularly. I believe it acts like a mini peer-review in some cases and is extremely useful. For example i recently contributed a summary of my work to the twitter #phdchat community and that piece generated a lot of helpful commentary. I think the way academics present themselves and their research out-puts is changing and while the journal article and the authored book will always remain supreme the blog is gaining ground as an essential research communication platform and i think you can get just as much out of blogging as you can from other, more traditional outputs.

AiCD: What sort of things do you write about?

The personal one is about ‘life and times of an aspiring academic’ so it acts a bit like a journal where i can keep a record of things I am doing as well as writing my views on a range of subjects relating to my interests, particularly education, social media, ballroom dancing and sheep. PhD2Published is focused on academic publishing. I am currently working toward my first journal article so content is very much skewed toward that angle at the moment. For the thesiswhisperer i write about issues relating to supervision. 

AiCD: How do you decide which blog to post something on?

Well, if its about publishing it goe son PhD2Published, if its about supervisision its for the thesis whisperer if it falls into the any other business or none of the above categories it is mine 

AiCD: Who do you think reads it?

I always wonder about personal ones, the extent to which they are read by more than people you know so am not sure but PhD2Published and the thesis whisperer have very large audiences mainly of PhD students and early career academics. 

AiCD: What is it about you that makes you think that people should listen to what you have to say

With the thesis whisperer i write about PhD supervision, and well, my experience was interesting shall we say so i feel i can contribute to that. I am not afraid of controversial topics such as a post i wrote on how to divorce your supervisior which was very popular and helped a lot of people out. For PhD2Published rather than saying i am a publishing expert i say I am an early career researcher so lets do this together, i would think that if i dont know something to do with publishing other people wont either. I think blogging is either about being an expert and providing advice or being brave and saying i dont have a clue and asking questions.

AiCD: Does anyone come to PhD2Published expecting you to be an expert? Some people might feel that they would only listen to you if you were either a publisher or a world leading professor.

I doubt it, i present myself clearly as someone in the same position as those using the site to find information. We can show that the advice given on the site works because Charlotte has secured her first book contract. We also work with published academics and publishing houses who provide us with content, particularly their experiences and top tips so they get questions and musings from me as well as expert opinion as well. Many of the recent expert posts have come from my asking a question and then looking for someone to respond. I take time out to email academics and publishing houses to get their advice as well. 

AiCD: What have been the best things about blogging?

I’ve met some wonderful people through blogging and a number of opportunities have become available because people have read my work online which gives me good exposure at this point in my career

AiCD: What are the downsides?

Criticism, you open yourself up to being criticised by anybody and everybody if they so wish and sometimes its quite harsh and personal for no reason at all and that can be hard to take. 

AiCD: How do you make your living? Does blogging pay?
I am currently doing some teaching / training at my former university while looking for a full-time job post PhD along with preparing publications and grant applications and being glad i have supportive parents. Whilst i have gained a number of opportunities through blogging none of them have been paid. It would be wonderful if through blogging i could gain paid employment or consultancy however, i think the nature of blogging is more about the sharing of information within a like-minded community so i value the exposure i have recieved just as much as i would financial gain. Obviously if somebody was interested in paying me for my writing then i would be most agreeable!

AiCD: What blogs do you read?

lots, i tend to find new ones all the time but i probably dont read them all regularly it will depend on what i am doing. A lot of the time i am directed to new and interesting material through twitter

AiCD: OK then, suggest some people we should be following on Twitter.

Well, thats hard as i enjoy tweets from all that i follow / follow me but  well @phd2published obviously, @thesiswhisperer, @readywriting, @GdnHigherEd, @linkhigher, @floating_sheep, @lambwatch, @PostDocsForum, @Eurodoc, @prospects, @wonkhe, @haggismaths, @postgradtoolbox, @ProfBrianCox, @charlottefrost and my inspiration since the age of 11 @the_karenhardy.

One comment

  1. Thank you, fame at last. I think blogging will become increasingly important for research communication. We may even get to a point where blog posts count for REF submission now that would be exciting

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