Category Archives: advice

Writing for the broader public: why we write + how to do it

On Tuesday 16th May, the ‘Surgeons’ were lucky enough to be joined by Emily Brown from the editorial team of The Conversation, Fraser Macdonald from the University of Edinburgh, and our very own Oli Mould and Sasha Engelmann. The session focussed on the question of how to write for the broader public, and lead to lively conversations on why we might want to get published outside of conventional ‘academic’ outlets and how it can be done.

Fraser kicking off the session: “we often leave unexamined the emotional investments of writing”

I begin with a bullet point list of tips – because if you’re reading this Continue reading

Notes on a Conference: RHUL Geographers at the RGS-IBG Postgraduate Midterm Conference 2017

As a first-time conference go-er, I was admittedly pretty nervous when I jumped on the train to Cardiff. Holding my prompt cards in one hand and my phone in the other, I found myself running through Paddington station at 9am with my (two!) backpacks, voice-recording my slightly-out-of-breath self reciting my presentation in preparation for the conference. This was not the picture of serenity I had hoped I would embody, but it did (and still does) make for quite an amusing listening experience.

In hindsight, I wish I’d have been able to relax a little more. Because the first thing to say about the RGS PG Midterm conference, is that it is very friendly; and very supportive. People had said this to me before, Continue reading

‘A Smaller Audience than the Kardashians’: social media for academics with Prof Stuart Elden and Dr Mark Carrigan

both2 The Landscape Surgery group was pleased to welcome Professor Stuart Elden (Professor of Political Theory and Geography at the University of Warwick, and founder of the Progressive Geographies blog) and Dr Mark Carrigan (digital Sociologist, social media consultant and author of the recently published book Social Media for Academics).

The aim of the session was to share knowledge about how to productively use social media platforms in an academic context – even though none of us will (probably) ever have a social media audience as big as the Kardashians, as our speakers pointed out.

Academic Blogging
Stuart shared some advice from his own personal experience of blogging…

1) Be Useful to Yourself
What is the blog for? How will it be helpful for you? The primary goal should always be that blogging is something that is useful to you as a researcher: whether this is a way of thinking things through, sharing ideas and thoughts, or a way to connect to a wider research community. For Stuart, Progressive Geographies started out as a kind of public notebook or digital archive – a way to keep track of the research process and thoughts. Some academics also say that it helps with writers block – the practice of just writing something can spark off new ideas and perspectives and get the creative juices flowing! Continue reading

Publishing Your Phd

With the support of Royal Holloway Departmental Researcher Development funding, this year’s Landscape Surgery programme includes a series of six sessions on ‘Communicating Research’. In the first of these, our meeting of November 1st focused on the theme ‘publishing your PhD’.  Chaired by our new Lecturer in Social and Cultural Geography, Cecilie Sachs Olsen, the discussion was led by two returning ex-surgeons: Amanda Rogers and Justin Spinney.


Amanda, now Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Swansea University and a member of the Landscape Surgery group as MA student, PhD student and post-doctoral fellow from 2002-2012, reflected on publishing from her ESRC funded PhD on ‘Geographies of identity and performance in Asian-American theatre’ (completed in 2008). This included journal articles in Cultural Geographies, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Geography Compass and Journal of Intercultural Studies, and a contribution of materials and ideas to her monograph Performing Asian Transnationalisms: Theatre, Identity and the Geographies of Performance (2015, published in Routledge’s Advances in Theatre and Performance Studies series).

Justin, now Lecturer in Human Geography at Cardiff University, discussed publishing from both his Cultural Geography MA dissertation on landscape and the cycling of Mt. Ventoux (completed in 2003) and his ESRC funded PhD on ‘Cycling the city: movement, meaning and practice’ (completed in 2008). These publications include chapters in edited collections on Cycling and Society, Geographies of Rhythm and Mobile Methodologies (co-authored with Katrina Brown), and journal articles in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Urban Design, Geography Compass, Environment and Planning A, Mobilities and Cultural Geographies. Justin confessed that he is still preparing a final piece from his thesis on courier cyclist film making, provisionally intended for Visual Studies.

Reflecting with honesty and generosity on their experiences, Amanda and Justin generated a thoughtful discussion about the many different ways they had ended up writing through their PhD work. Insights included:

  • Have a road map, but make it yours: It helps to develop a publication strategy and plan, and to keep revisiting this during and after the PhD. Don’t assume there is one template for how you should publish, though do take advice on how best to disseminate your work from supervisors, examiners and other mentors. Develop a publication strategy suited to your own materials, audiences and ways of writing and working. Not everyone publishes from their PhD in the same way and that is okay!
  • The journey continues: Whilst pressures to show an ability to publish during the PhD have increased, it’s helpful to think of the PhD as a body of work that can be published from for some time afterwards too, often running alongside other new projects.
  • People matter: The role of people and professional relationships in supporting and directing publication was a recurrent theme. It helps to recognize publishing as a social process, whether that be peers and mentors advising on how a piece reads, PhD examiners and supervisors seeing the potential contributions to be made by one’s research, conference audiences giving you a sense of what they find interesting in your work, conference session organisers soliciting papers for journal special issues, or editors and referees guiding on clarity of purpose, analysis and expression.
  • It’s emotional work: Publishing your research can pose emotional challenges: from nurturing and channeling the confidence of knowing one has something to say to the determination sometimes required in navigating review processes. That emotional work is something everyone has to do; it isn’t just you!
  • Publication is communication, and communication is a two way street: Publishing involves seeing your work as others might see it; understanding how your work intervenes in existing research conversations and agendas; and identifying the best outlets and places to make those interventions and to reach your desired audiences.
  • Engage with audiences but be yourself; as a form of communication, publishing your work means balancing the need to engage with audiences in terms that they can understand and value with the need to maintain what is original and distinctive about it. Practically, this balancing act is often at play when looking to revise publications based on reviewer and editorial comments. Review processes usually provide excellent advice, but often you cannot do everything suggested. Rather than seeing reviewers as judges passing sentence better to think of them as expert readers providing advice that you can weigh up and work with to improve your writing.
  • Less can be more: Particularly journal articles and book chapters often require a tighter focus than a PhD chapter or even a MA dissertation. Justin reflected on how translating his MA dissertation into a journal paper during the first year of his PhD involved focusing it down on to just one of the three main themes his dissertation had been exploring (kinaesthetics). Amanda noted how her ethnographic materials from her PhD require a very different handling when working on articles with typical guide length maximums of 8,000 words.
  • A PhD is not a book, but it may become one: A PhD thesis has different generic requirements than a monograph, but some theses can become books, and others lay the foundations for books later on. A PhD thesis has to demonstrate original materials and ideas that make an original contribution to knowledge. A monograph has to work as a coherent narrative, addressing an identifiable readership in a way that makes commercial sense to a publisher. Comparing theses and the books that emerged from them may be a topic for another landscape surgery session!
  • Communicating more broadly helps with publication: Giving conference papers, organising conference sessions, writing research blog entries on issues that your research engages… all these help to form ideas, see potential contributions, develop social networks. All help with the work of producing publications. Usefully, these many other forms of research communication feature in later Landscape Surgery sessions this year, so we will report more on those as the programme progresses!


Finally, as current Landscape Surgeons we extend our sincere thanks to former surgeons Amanda and Justin for giving up their time to come back to (a redecorated!) 11 Bedford Square to talk with us.  It was greatly appreciated.

Katy and Huw


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Geography in Review: Historical Perspectives, Practical Advice.

Governing our scholarly output, the peer review system is a much-discussed component of the academy’s publishing nexus. Following our Easter break, Surgeons reconvened to explore the history of peer review as it manifested itself in the Royal Geographical Society’s Journal, before benefiting greatly from some excellent advice given by staff emerging from their experience as reviewers, editors, and authors.

The historical emergence of peer review and the value of considering the system’s historical development has been demonstrated in some excellent accounts by historians of science. The disparities of peer review’s emergence have been evidenced in the work of Alex Csiszar and Melinda Baldwin. Although Csiszar has dismissed suggestions that peer review began as early as the seventeenth century in the pages of Henry Oldenburg’s Philosophical Transactions, he has evidenced peer review emerging in the nineteenth century throughout London’s burgeoning learned networks and societies. Baldwin complicates the trajectory of peer review’s emergence by demonstrating how the respected scientific journal Nature eschewed a systematic approach to peer review until 1973. As such, the history of peer review is long, contested, and particular to disciplines and publications.

NPG D34914; George Bellas Greenough by Maxim Gauci, printed by  Graf & Soret, after  Eden Upton Eddis

George Greenough by Maxim Gauci.

I understand the term ‘peer review’ itself to be a twentieth-century creature. During the nineteenth century, reviewing, refereeing, and referee were the commonplace terms. George Bellas Greenough—a founding member of the Royal Geographical Society in 1830—is the gentleman whom Csiszar credits with introducing the term ‘referee’ to the scientific community, having done around 1817. Whilst Greenough is known for his work as a geologist, it was in his earlier training as a law student where he had first encountered the term. Throughout the 1820s, learned societies—including the Astronomical Society and Geological Society—had begun to experiment with reports on papers they received.

Given the Royal Geographical Society’s close and intimate relationship with London’s learned societies it is not surprising that reviewing existed in the Society’s publications from its establishment in 1830. The practice of reviewing papers submitted for publication in the Society’s Journal can be conceptualised in two distinct periods: 1830–1850 and 1850–c.1900. Quite how reviewing took place in the first twenty years of the Journal’s history is difficult to establish. Reviewers typically wrote a letter to the editor conveying their thoughts on the manuscript, some reviewers were involved in direct correspondence with authors asking them to answer a series of questions about their manuscript, and, I suspect, other reviews were delivered orally at the Council’s meetings. In this early period having a paper published in the Journal was not simply the product of receiving a favourable review—some manuscripts passed into the pages of the Journal without being subjected to independent evaluation. Even when receiving a favourable review, publication was ultimately decided on by the Council who voted on each paper. Reviewing at this point was largely in the hands of those closest to the Society, often council members themselves.

The arrival of Norton Shaw as Secretary of the Society and Editor of the Journal in late 1849 brought a change to the Society’s reviewing practice. Shaw proposed a so-called ‘referee’s circular’ at the Council’s meeting on 14 January 1850. The minutes of the meeting record that with “some alteration” it was to be printed. Shaw’s circular asked reviewers to evaluate the paper on the basis of four predefined questions that related, variously, to the manuscript’s originality, its potential for publication, its possible abridgement, and whether it should be accompanied by any illustrations. Now each manuscript—whilst still being reviewed by a single fellow of the Society—was subject to the same evaluation criteria. Before sending the circular to the reviewer, Shaw would write the title of the paper and the name of the author on the sheet, and as such any notion of anonymity was largely lost in this closed network of geographers.

Shaw’s circular and the increasingly formalised networks of review at the Society continue into the twentieth century. Here, then, we begin to see the emergence of system which resembles our contemporary practice—this also extends to author’s and editor’s frustrations and anxieties. One referee, George Long, returned his circular complaining that the manuscript that had been sent to him was too long and “had taken up a great deal of his time”. Occasionally authors objected to suggestions or corrections. On return of his manuscript marked with reviewer’s corrections, Robert FitzRoy penned a letter to the editor stating:

Some of your suggestions I have more or less adopted with thanks—but others I not only cannot concur in but should entirely oppose if I thought anyone would interfere in matters of opinion or statement for which I alone am responsible. We look at things through various glasses—& I may have reason for my views which do not occur to another person.

Other referees complained of being overworked or that the refereeing practice was antiquated. In 1845 one anonymous contributor to Wade’s London Review launched an attack on the reviewing system of the Royal Society (a system similar to that of the RGS). The Review saterised the internal reviewing culture of the Royal Society and the process by which papers were communicated and accepted. The critique culminated with a description of the possible fate of a manuscript in the hands of a reviewer:

The paper is referred, of course, to some person of the same class of pursuits, a rival for fame in the same line of inquiry, carrying on a similar course of investigation, meeting perhaps with obstacles which the ‘referred paper’ itself may have successfully removed; possibly, too, intending to make these topics important elements in his own communication to the society. The referee may be a man of integrity in general matters; he may have no personal animosity, no ‘green dragon’ in his eye; he may even soar above all personal feelings, and with a noble disinterestedness give a fair and candid report…On the other hand, he may be a very different person; he may be full of ‘envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness;’ he may, in fact, wish to ‘Burke’ or ‘Bank’ the paper which is submitted to him, and what is there to prevent him? His enemy is in his hands, the darkness of night covers the deed, no record can exist of the part he takes in the matter, and he is overcome by the temptation!

Following on from the discussion of peer review’s historical emergence and its nineteenth-century frustrations (which appear remarkably contemporaneous) we received helpful advice from around the room. Some of the top tips for academic authors included:

  • Before you begin writing think about the focus of your article, where you want to publish, and how the two fit together.


  • Keep your submission well within the word limit as it is likely that a revise and resubmit will require you to add words.


  • Remember that you do not have to respond to every comment made by reviewers. When you are responding to comments, remember what the core of your paper is to avoid making so many alterations you receive another R & R.


  • When first receiving feedback it can be helpful to bullet point the report to unpack the comments. This way you can make notes on the points you have addressed.


On the history of scientific peer review, see: Alex Csiszar, “Peer Review: Troubled from the Start,” Nature 532, no. 7599 (2016): 306–8.!/menu/main/topColumns/topLeftColumn/pdf/532306a.pdf

On the history of peer review in the journal Nature: Melinda Baldwin, “Credibility, Peer Review, and Nature 1945–1990,” Notes and Records 69, no.1 (2015): 337–352.

On contemporary frustrations of peer review as an editor, see: Stuart Elden, “Editorial: The Exchange Economy of Peer Review,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 26, no. 6 (2008): 951–3.

On the popular press and peer review, see: Elaine Devine, “Why Peer Review Needs a Good Going Over,” The Guardian (UK), October 28, 2015.

PhD top-tips…


Thank-you everybody who attended and contributed to the Landscape Surgery session last week on top-tips  (21st Jan 2014).

It seemed like everybody had lots to say, and we have a set of topics stored up for the next top-tips session which will be after easter.  In the mean time, here is an attempt to collect together all the great resources and tips that came through in the session and that people posted on twitter and e-mailed me.

Here is a link to the storified tweets ( thanks Simon and Laura for pointing me towards this)

Thanks all for your contributions…

Please keep adding via the comments function below or reposting


Dealing with those reviewers….  you know- the ones that never agree…. 

Steph Morrice’s  advice would be:
*Conflicting reviewer comments can be daunting. ie. One reviewer suggests you shrink the theoretical section and expand the empirical, the other suggests the opposite. You need to make a reasoned decision as to which, if either, you agree with and make an argument for why. In the past, I’ve asked the editor for guidance with this.
*Realise that you do not need to make changes to your paper in response to every single reviewer comment. If you don’t agree with a reviewer’s suggestion, explain why. Remember that you are entitled to a good argument.
*Response letters should be clear and well-numbered, first addressing any major issues raised by the reviewers and then followed by a more detailed comments. I normally start by creating a basic two columned table. On the left, I copy all the comments from reviewers (one per box) and on the right I summarise and explain my response.
*In my experience, the entire submission/resubmission process can be quite lengthy, but the general advice I would give is:  not to be discouraged by “major revisions”. If an editor asks you to resubmit, this is still a positive outcome. And to try not to be disheartened by negative comments – it can be frustrating having your hard work critiqued, but I would recommend keeping an open mind – and giving yourself a day or two, even a week, before tackling the comments.


I’ll do that later…tomorrow… next week… procrastination:


When it all gets a little bit out of perspective…

Practical tips for working… 
Search 25:  Lets you search all libraries in London for resources at once.
 Book Darts are great:


Do you ever think one day everybody else is going to realise you don’t belong here? 

 Imposter syndrome…
Maybe this is a function of the neo-liberal academia?
Other great things to read:
Also a huge list… thanks Amy and others
 how and why imposter syndrome can be seen as a good thing (opposite of complacency, etc.):
Kirsty Rolfe “Avoiding the bears”- an amazing cartoon blog, check out these…


Academia, PhDs and depression/ anxiety: exploding the tyranny… 

You know how it goes… you are so lucky to be here… it is amazing chance… you should love every second of it… of all the different myths perpetuated within the academy it seems the one where we all pretend we are all ok and things are going great, and that we are superhuman and can do everything is perhaps the most dangerous.
Here are a set of resources collected from a number of surgeons that help explode the tyranny of silence around how tough this process can be.
the key message:  you are not alone, please come and talk to us if any of this strikes a chord
Online ebook, Advice to a Troubled PhD Student
An incredible honest and intellectual exploration of Depression as a public feeling, that begins from the personal experiences of the author: Ann Cvetkovich, Depression: A public feeling (2012) Duke University Press
 I can not recommend this book enough.
Academic Mindfulness:
blogs and articles:
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