In their extensively published Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Research Students, Hugh Kearns and Maria Gardner recommend that students should ‘write and show as (they) go.’ They urge students to write, and write early, and to obtain feedback on their writing by ‘putting it out there.’ Six current PhD students in the Law School at UOW recently heeded this sage advice, and took the opportunity to present their work at a LIRC Works in Progress Seminar, ‘Writing Out Loud’.
Students were given a fairly wide brief in terms of what aspect of their research they chose to present, and represented the entire gamut of the PhD experience, from students who had recently commenced their PhD, to those who were nearing completion of their thesis. This meant that the approach taken to the presentations, and the material presented, varied considerably. Some presented material which they were intending to publish, others discussed issues concerning methodology and ethics, and others presented case studies which pertained to their research. Ultimately, presentation topics were arranged to mimic the flow of a thesis and this provided participants with a real sense of writing a PhD ‘out loud’.
Kicking off the afternoon was Career Development Fellow, Sandy Noakes, who elaborated upon the background and impetus for her PhD research into the provision of writing support for undergraduate law students in Australia. Sandy shared her findings in relation to whether Australian law schools follow the Good Practice Guide when it comes to writing support, and welcomed the opportunity to receive feedback on a potential publication idea. Also sharing preliminary research findings, was PhD student Fabienne Else whose thesis explores whether the recently implemented criminal sentencing option, called ‘Intensive Correction Orders’ (ICOs), reflects the sentencing needs of indigenous offenders in NSW. Fabienne had recently utilised the computer program NVIVO to expose the intentions of the policymakers behind the introduction of ICO legislation as well as the nature of the subsequent reception of this legislation by various stakeholders. Participants appreciated the insight Fabienne provided into the use of NVIVO to conduct thematic analysis.
Expanding upon methodological approaches, PhD student and Sessional Lecturer, Kate Tubridy, explained the unique method she has developed in order to explore understandings of criminal justice on complex and dynamic digital media platforms. In her thesis, Kate examines the manner in which social media responses to specific crimes interact with the Australian criminal justice system, and her talk shed light on the need for a nuanced, computer-mediated approach to critical discourse analysis.
Following an afternoon tea break, PhD student and Nepali lawyer, Rajendra Ghimire, shared his experiences of performing field work and collecting primary data in Nepal. In his thesis, Rajendra investigates the efficacy of Traditional Justice Systems (TJS) in Nepal, which exist alongside the formal justice system, and examines whether such TJS are providing a fair system that accords with human rights principles. During this seminar, Rajendra was able to report on some of the findings he has obtained whilst commencing the process of data analysis.
The last two presenters for the evening spoke of the manner in which they have deployed their respective methodologies through the use of case studies; albeit in very different ways. In his thesis, PhD student and Sessional Lecturer, Ryan Kernaghan, draws upon opera studies in developing a ‘radical operatic’ methodology, which he then uses to examine the judicial approach of former High Court Justice Lionel Murphy. Ryan shared with participants his experiences in choosing and carrying out case studies, and spoke of the manner in which his operatic methodology highlights limitations in extant methods of judicial interpretation. Continuing on with this theme, Sarah Wright, also a PhD student and Sessional Lecturer, discussed her use of case studies and shared her key findings in relation to a particular case study of (a rather interesting) serial waste offender. Sarah’s PhD research examines some of the main components of NSW pollution law and how they are implemented in practice by the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA). In this talk, Sarah elucidated the manner in which such case studies impact the image of the NSW EPA as an effective regulator.
All in all, this Works in Progress seminar showcased some of the interesting and diverse HDR research currently being undertaking within the Law School and provided students with an opportunity to share their work with, and receive excellent feedback from, LIRC’s then Visiting PhD Scholar, Laura Peterson (University of Melbourne). The students who participated identified a number of benefits of such an event. For some, it provided an important deadline to finish an aspect of their research. For others, it was an opportunity to obtain feedback on a particular methodological approach. Others used it as an opportunity to polish and refine work intended for the more formal atmosphere of a conference.
Overall, ‘Writing Out Loud’ fostered a sense of community amongst the students, who appreciated the opportunity to ‘write and show’ in a safe and collegial environment… and, of course, this was all capped-off with an enjoyable dinner, generously supported by LIRC!