Jason Murphy is Senior Research Communications Advisor at the Graduate Research School (GRS), La Trobe University. He created and manages Melbourne’s Write Up (#melbwriteup).
Jason works full-time and is undertaking his PhD part-time, which he’s written on before. He’s working on a research project that critically examines the role of marketing in contemporary society.
He’s previously worked in industry as a graphic designer and in the arts sector with the National Gallery of Victoria and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.
He tweets from @murphy_jason.
What happens when researchers with varying levels of experience and from different institutions come together in an intensive, all-day writing workshop?
It’s a once a month, day-long meet-up that helps researchers focus on their work, block out all distractions (while still getting to be social), and collectively reach their individual research goals.
The first #melbwriteup in December 2015 was a bit of an experiment, formed out of a conversation a month beforehand between myself (a PhD candidate) and the Research Whisperers (Tseen Khoo and Jonathan O’Donnell).
I had just attended the inaugural 3-day RED writing retreat at La Trobe University, and I wanted to keep that productivity fire burning.
During that retreat, I managed to draft out a thesis chapter. I’ve written about the experience, and how valuable it was for me to have an intense and uninterrupted period to get words down:
Time is a big factor with research. It takes time to span the literature, take it in, consider it and apply it to your topic. Then there’s gathering your data and considering it in relation to the literature. It’s not possible to fast-track this layered, deep gaining of knowledge and reflection during intense writing days but, at the same time, a series of these retreats at certain points of candidature would help to progress anyone’s thesis and overcome feelings of isolation. (More than words on a page)
A large part of the RED writing retreat was based on the popular pomodoro technique, an approach attributed to Francesco Cirillo: a series of 25-minute bursts of distraction-free, focused activity. In a society that is built on ever more distraction, the concept of blocking out email, social media, smartphones and everything else that’s peripheral to your research and writing goal is a simple but effective way of getting stuff done, even if it’s only in 25-minute blocks.
So, I managed to get a lot done at the retreat and was bitten by the bug to keep going. I was sure others would feel the same way.
With Jonathan and Tseen, I hatched a plan for a regular weekend writing day, and created #melbwriteup.
Naturally, you can’t just rock up at a retreat and get a paper or chapter out there; it takes considerable preparation before the event, but this is all part of having hard and fast intensives lined up in the near future. It gives you the incentive to get into preparation mode before the event and have material in place that will sustain a full day of writing. This preparation for me takes the form of advanced, structure reading with notes, a major piece of work that has been reviewed, or preparing data that requires analysis.
Well, after five #melbwriteup sessions, I can confirm that the productivity fires have kept burning! It has also spread to others, and hasn’t stopped since. The appetite for this intensive writing format is definitely there for researchers from RMIT, La Trobe, UniMelb, Deakin, Swinburne, and Monash, who have all taken part in these monthly events.
#melbwriteup aims to be as simple as possible but it follows a few rules: it takes place monthly on the third Saturday; it follows the pomodoro technique; participants register in advance and bring along a small contribution to morning and afternoon tea; participants co-chair the sessions and announce their objectives at the start of the day.
The event has been popular so far, booking out within a day or two and not suffering from the usual heavy drop-out levels of free events.
#melbwriteup will take place at the following dates for the remainder of the year:
• 18 June
• 16 July
• 20 August
• 17 September
• 15 October
• 19 November
• 17 December
It takes place at RMIT and can be booked online at: http://www.eventbrite.com.au/o/jason-murphy-9369330407 (Note: Registrations for each #melbwriteup open approximately two or three weeks before that date)
UPDATE: What’s happened with #MelbWriteUP eighteen months later? Find out in this follow-up post!
Great initiative Jason. The difficulty of finding ‘blocks’ of time free of distraction to enable writing is one of the challenges I hear about most often from researchers in my Institute. Increasingly it seems these blocks don’t happen unless we actively create them. My team and I used to plan 2 or 3-day writing retreats, sometimes just at another room on campus, or other times we’d make a trip of it and go stay somewhere down the coast – the combination of a change of environment, brainstorming/sharing ideas and co-writing papers with colleagues, uninterrupted periods of writing time and then some social chats in between was a great recipe for progressing papers or other writing. #melbwriteup sounds like a similarly good mix!
Hi Kylie, thanks very much for your positive comments and support. You and your team are welcome to join us at one of the future meets. All the best with your research – Jason.
Hi Jason I have just read your most recent post and your ongoing struggles with friendly, free and regularly available spaces struck chord, especially for after-hours gatherings! I work alongside postgrad students as they progress their thesis, both in and outside business hours. WE have found IKEA to be a great place to meet – free wi-fi, bottomless cup of coffee and well lit, open spaces! The store we attend is not overly busy on a weeknight so the noise levels are not too distracting. While we don’t use pomodoro, it may be worth keeping IKEA in mind as an alternative, central and free venue to meet.
That’s brilliant, Susan!
[…] has written about the project twice in the Research Whisperer, from its early days 5 months after beginning (May 2016) and 18 months later (August […]