Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

Top tips from the Thesis Whisperer

Thursday, 16 October 2014 9:36pm

Dr Inger Mewburn image
The Thesis Whisperer - Dr Inger Mewburn.

The “Thesis Whisperer”, a.k.a Dr Inger Mewburn, of the Australian National University, says PhD candidates need to understand they are no longer students.

In Dunedin to speak to Otago research postgraduates as part of the Graduate Research Festival, Dr Mewburn says those working on their PhDs are called candidates for a reason.

Those who were formerly lecturers are now their supervisors, but also a colleague and a competitor.

Even the attitude to writing needs to change, she says.

A thesis should go through multiple drafts, not one draft. “You make a mess and then clean it up.”

“It’s not a good idea to minimise the hurdles (of writing a thesis); it’s how you become an academic researcher. We learn by doing, but we think it’s wrong because it’s different (from being a student) and because it’s not talked about.”

In an ideal world, Dr Mewburn would like to put every thesis candidate through her bootcamp.

"When I was writing my thesis I went and stayed with my mother-in-law. I handed her the child, locked myself in a room, and she fed me."

“It is a 28-hour weekend programme that I call the Mother-in-law Treatment.

“When I was writing my thesis I went and stayed with my mother-in-law. I handed her the child, locked myself in a room, and she fed me. This is what we do on bootcamp. We take away all the distractions and care for the students as they write.”

At a recent bootcamp at Victoria University, where Dr Mewburn was supported by Dr Lizzie Towl, 22 candidates wrote 249,000 words between them.

“The challenge is to write 20,000 words each and we teach a different approach to writing – learning to make a mess and then clean it up.”

Dr Mewburn has spent time with both Australian and Kiwi candidates and says she has noticed New Zealanders are more reserved and modest – they don’t want a big fuss made when they reach milestones.

“Being reserved doesn’t change the fact that they are just as smart and interesting though.”