Academic writing – motivation and inspiration

Murray, R. (2013) Writing for Academic Journals. Open University Press.

In the opening chapter of this book – which I am really enjoying – Murray suggests considering in the first instance where we are coming from as writers, and our own orientation towards research.

If I were to pick any of Brew’s (2004, p.214) four conceptions of research, it would be the journey of personal transformation. This seems a little self-centred, whereas the social transaction perspective appears the nobler option, but I guess honesty is the best policy 😉 At least it helps put the risk and the anxiety around writing into its box…

While I have already had work published in journals, I feel like I am starting afresh here with the EdD. I didn’t have the best time at university the first time around, and struggled to settle into working life. By the time I got my head together in my late 20s I felt I was playing catch-up. I started my HE career near the bottom – as an administrative assistant for the Sports Development department at the University of Bath – but was incredibly lucky to work for a handful of fantastic people who encouraged and supported me to undertake a higher degree and leapfrog into academia. I owe Keith Bishop a great deal in particular; he knew I wasn’t bound for an administrative career, but he selected me for a permanent job in the Department of Education regardless, planning to mentor me in starting the MA and developing my interest in online learning design. Through his dedication my confidence soared, and within 18 months I was promoted to an academic-related role in the Engineering faculty’s distance learning unit.

Keith

Two days after starting my new job Keith was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He came back to work in a matter of days, with a large surgical scar above his right ear and an air of sadness, shock and detachment. He didn’t want to talk about it, and I didn’t know what else to say, other than prattle on about the MA and my new job. My new bosses – Andy Ramsden the lovable, silly uncle and Lucie Pursell the ‘strict’ aunt with a twinkle in her eye – took over, supporting me as I began to present at conferences, and turning my MA assignments into articles for publication. I went back and re-read them last year – they are pretty good, considering I was winging it.

A couple of years later my CV was looking very healthy for someone in my position and I was offered a full academic contract at UAL, but I found it hard adjusting to working in London and lost momentum. While fending off a period of depression – which coincided with Keith’s death in 2010 – I managed to speak at a few conferences and publish a couple of case studies, but didn’t galvanise myself to finish my MA until I’d broken up with the (older) chap who’d brought me to London (admittedly another important academic mentor), started acting my age, and began to see the point in life again.

What I realise from this is that I needed parenting to get where I am now in my academic career. I still respond to authority figures as predictably as Pavlov’s dogs to a bell, but I think I now have what Murray describes as a ‘reason to write that is not just about meeting other people’s standards’ (p.33). Writing not only has meaning for me; it IS me; it’s the way I develop myself independently, without a parent figure to hold my hand.

Shortly before Keith was diagnosed – at the annual graduation reception – he presented me with a leaving gift of a massive bunch of flowers and an envelope of much-appreciated cash. I cheekily pocketed the envelope, ignored the flowers and took his doctoral bonnet off his head, saying ‘I’d rather have this thanks.’ I’ll always remember the look on his face; I like to think he knew that I was on the way to getting one of my own.

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