Being on the different side of the coin

I have had experience of being a supervisee for my both MA and PhD theses, and this academic year, I have supervised undergraduate research projects and dissertations. My third-year supervisees graduated in July, and I would like to reflect on my experience as a supervisor in this post. I am very pleased that 80% (four out of five) of my supervisees received a distinction, and the other received a merit!

It is absolutely a privilege to be a dissertation supervisor. I have supervised dissertations which are similar to my research interests, including ‘the representation of Muslims in the British press: a corpus-assisted approach to discourse analysis’, ‘the analysis of images and lexico-grammatical features in UK women’s magazines’, ‘the ways in which undergraduates cope with culture shock in Manchester’, ‘the spelling development of primary school pupils’, ‘the relationship between teachers’ identities and classroom practices’. I had a good knowledge of the first three topics, and in order to provide more effective feedback on the last two topics, I was engaged with the highly cited papers in these areas, and thereby, I also improved my knowledge of different areas in applied linguistics.

In addition to individual supervision meetings, we also had group meetings in which my supervisees reported their progress and exchanged their ideas with each other. I believe that group meetings are important for community building and motivation for writing. From my PhD experience, I know that writing a thesis can sometimes be an isolating experience, and interactions with peers may alleviate this feeling. I also offered to have ‘shut up and write’ sessions together as an optional support session, but there was not enough demand for that. Probably, the idea of ‘shut up and write’ event was a bit intimidating for undergraduate supervisees. If I supervise BA dissertations again, I will frame ‘the shut up and write’ event in a different way in order to attract them to an event.

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
May 28, 1986

I have observed that BA dissertation writers have three milestones in which they need more support: the stage of designing their research and formulating research questions, the data analysis stage, and the final write-up stage. These milestones may be similar to those of PhD thesis. Also, general advice on writing a dissertation is highly valuable for dissertation supervisees as it is the first time that they produce such a long document (12,000 words). In my first year as a PhD student, I attended a series of academic writing workshops and seminars which proved useful for my academic writing. In this sense, I think we (both the lecturers and universities) need to do more to provide writing support for dissertation supervisees. Just because novice writers have written successful essays throughout their degree programmes, it should not be assumed that they know how to write dissertations, since there may be register differences between essays and dissertations. Writing seminars and workshops specifically tailed for undergraduate dissertations can be held to improve undergraduates’ writing performance.

Most importantly, writing feedback on draft chapters of dissertations is a crucial step to provide supervisees with opportunities to revise their work. We need to have solid knowledge of disciplinary content and academic discourse to provide effective feedback. This feedback process was interesting for me because I was also receiving feedback on my draft of PhD at the same time, and I thought critically about the content and lexico-grammatical features of lecturer feedback. While I was commenting on their drafts on Turnitin, I often put myself in their place (in a way, I was for my PhD thesis), and asked myself: Is this feedback clear and detailed enough? Would I find it helpful? Is it framed in a constructive way? I now greatly value any constructive feedback regardless of writing style, but this may not be the case for undergraduate writers. I feel that feedback written in imperative forms (e.g. ‘revise this paragraph’, ‘rewrite this sentence’) may be discouraging for novice writers, and these imperative forms may perpetuate power differentials between supervisees and supervisors. Indeed, previous studies show that hedged feedback is more likely to be effective for novice writers to revise their writing than unhedged feedback. Previous research informed my practice in that I tried to hedge my constructive feedback as much as possible, such as ‘you could rewrite this sentence’, ‘it would be better to include X here’.

Presents from my supervisees at the end of the academic year 🙂

As a whole, I have learned a lot from my experience as an undergraduate dissertation supervisor, and it was a fulfilling experience for me to guide my supervisees into doing rigorous research!


Academic leadership

Academic leadership or academic leader…. There are the two buzzwords that I have been hearing and reading about more often recently.  As Google N-Gram graph shows below, there is a growing trend in the use of ‘academic leadership’ and ‘academic leader’. Obviously, there is also an increasing trend for the use of ‘leadership’. According to Zenko, who researches foreign policy, “the call for leadership is typically one that is associated with a more confrontational and aggressive policy”. In this case, this raises the issue of whether the higher education sector is getting more aggressive due to its highly competitive nature.


Vitae, which is a non-profit researcher development organisation in the UK, describes itself as “‘the global leader’ in supporting the professional development of researchers, experienced in working with institutions as they strive for research excellence, innovation and impact”. Many organisations, including universities and Vitae, recommend that early career researchers should present themselves as ‘leaders’; however, ‘academic leadership’ and ‘academic leader’ in academia remain elusive concepts.

Academic leadership is often associated with formal leadership duties that are undertaken by senior academics. In the NOW corpus, for example, the top five adjective collocates of academic leadership are ‘senior’, ‘outstanding’, ‘distinguished’, ‘experienced’ and ‘accomplished’, which emphasise the state of being higher in status. Then, how can PhD students or early career researchers exercise leadership while we are at the bottom of the academic ladder? Over the winter break, I read about three information booklets or guidelines of leadership prepared by three different non-profit organisations (I count universities as non-profit organisations) in the UK for early career researchers. Surprisingly, advice given in these guidelines seems different. In particular, the priorities that researchers are advised to give or the top skills that the organisations recommend that researchers should have to develop their leadership are far from being the same. Based on the top 4000 most frequent words in each document, I used multidimensional scaling (an exploratory multivariate data analysis technique for visualising the level of similarity of the dataset) in R to explore similarity of these three guidelines (the wordcount of each guideline ranges from 19.000 to 22.000). As can be seen in the graph below, these documents, unexpectedly, do not seem to be very similar, although the document one and two show some similarity on one dimension.


A possible explanation for difference in these guidelines is that different leadership types can be valued by different organisations. I have read about the different leadership types, including intellectual leadership, innovative leadership and exemplary leadership, and I will try to summarize them below. Of course, for academic leadership, being an intellectual leader is crucial in planning our own research agenda and inspiring that of others. Having a PhD and writing research articles are one of the manifestations of intellectual leadership. Intellectual leadership also requires being clear-sighted about the direction our research field is taking.

Innovative leadership necessitates taking risks, implementing and evaluating new ideas in the organisation, and these ideas can be related to research, teaching, and public engagement. The disadvantage of innovative leadership is that people may not succeed in their endeavours each time they implement a creative idea. This semester, inspired by a very innovative lecturer at my university, I am exercising innovative leadership in that I am trying to use creative methods in my teaching, which will increase students’ engagement. As it is seen here, inspiration is key to developing leadership which would lead to a shared vision and encourage others to exercise leadership. This is relevant to another leadership style: exemplary leadership which entails dedication, collaborative ethos, empowerment and believing in capacity of people you are working with, and generosity with time. Exemplary leadership can be developed across different areas, including, academic service, research, teaching, and public engagement. In this sense, I have been lucky enough to have supervisors and get to know academics who serve as role models for me.


The final leadership style I will touch on this post is civic leadership which brings about having a positive ‘impact’ on and making a difference in the local community or society. This leadership includes public engagement, and it goes beyond that since a positive contribution to the society or community is required through public education, community service, and public scholarship. Actually, civic leadership is closely intertwined with intellectual leadership because it is expected that research studies make a change ‘beyond academia’.

There are many more leadership types than the abovementioned ones that can be embraced by academia. These leadership types are not mutually exclusive, and different universities may prioritise different leadership types, as my rough analysis suggests above. Therefore, PhD students and early career researchers need to develop their awareness of different leadership types rather than just receive a training on trait-based perspectives of leadership (leaders should be visionary, decisive, etc.). My action plan for academic leadership is that I will try to develop different leadership types through experimenting and learning from others so that I will be able to inspire others by showing exemplary leadership in the future.

Expectations of and on international students in UK HE: Perspectives on English for Academic Purposes

On 16th September, I and my colleague gave a talk at BAAL/Routledge Workshop ‘Expectations of and on international students in UK HE’ at Manchester Metropolitan University. The workshop was a very fruitful event which brought together researchers, professionals of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), and international students. Our talk entitled ‘Internationalisation in UK higher education: Experiences of international PhD students’ drew on our own experiences of academic writing and intercultural communication with reference to internationalisation agenda of higher education. During my PhD journey, it was the first academic event in which I gave a presentation which was not directly related to my PhD (learner language), though I made some reference to my research and other relevant research studies.

I focused on the dynamics of my identity as an academic writer and my experiences of being a teaching assistant of Study Skills course which encompasses critical reading, identifying appropriate literature, and academic writing. Study Skills course is delivered to MA students in order to improve their academic reading and writing skills, and it is useful to provide shortcuts to the conventions of academic writing in English. However, the generic content of academic writing may not enable students to understand how they can present their arguments and contribute to the debate in their own specific disciplines and sub-disciplines. For instance, the way the arguments constructed in TESOL can be markedly different from those of educational technology. Admittedly, it is hard to design a discipline-specific study skills course, but there is room for improvement. Special corpora that would include journal articles and academic books in MA students’ specific disciplines can be used to improve students’ knowledge of linguistic choices, evaluation of the previous literature and argumentation. Additionally, students can be trained to create their own personalised corpus by using the virtual corpus functionality within the Brigham Young University’s collection of corpora.

The second point I made was the academic writing support provided to students. Though we are lucky to receive academic writing support at institutional level, the way it is framed should be changed. In its current format, academic writing support/tutorial service at many universities in the UK is generally available for students whose first language is not English. This makes the assumption that students whose first language is English would not struggle with academic writing, and/or that students from a non-English L1 background would have problems that should be ‘remedied’. In fact, corpus research shows that novice writers may share the same struggles in academic writing, regardless of their first language. Therefore, academic writing support at universities should be given to all students, as the labels ‘home’/‘L1-English speaking’ students and ‘international’/‘L2-English speaking’ students may divide ‘us’. Though there are changes to this approach, the change is slow, and it is remarkable that research in this area has informed the practices little in this area so far. As one of the discussants in the workshop noted, researchers may need to find more effective ways of reaching out to stakeholders in this area. 

calvin-and-hobbes_2During the workshop, there were similar talks and discussions on academic support given to students in UK higher education. Until the workshop, it was inconceivable for me to hear ‘EAP’ referred to as ‘industry’ followed by the rationalisation that ‘it is the reality.’ Although we cannot deny the ideological and economical underpinnings of EAP through which major publishing companies make profits in the Anglophone context, seeing EAP as ‘industry’ would benefit neither students nor educators. Instead, EAP can be framed as collective endeavour of students, educators and researchers. At the risk of romanticising, students’ progress in EAP would be of priceless value to both students and educators.

Writing anytime, anywhere and on any device

The title of this post may sound like an advertisement for a new tech gadget, but it has been my life motto for the past four months. My writing habits for my PhD have changed this year, so I have been doing snack writing anytime, anywhere and on any device. However, I do not know whether this habit of academic writing routine will last for good or whether it is a temporary situation because of the pressure of the ticking clock. Writing my PhD has been my number one priority, and most of my activities fall into Quadrant I in Covey’s Time Management Matrix which was illustrated below. If I continue the habit of snack writing, I will hopefully allocate more time to Quadrant II activities that I would like to do more, but they are currently underrepresented in my agenda. Quadrant III and IV activities are the distractions that cause a feeling of guilt during the third year of my PhD.

Covey's Time Management Matrix

For the last four months, I have written in my office, bedroom, at various cafés, on a train, on an airplane, and I have taken notes in a park. My new writing places have enabled me to focus on my writing in a more effective way, and being at a café, where other people work on their laptops, has motivated me to write more. In comparison to the first two years, I have socialised much less, and writing at a café has become a kind of social activity for me. When I do not have my laptop with me, I am writing on my iPad, and I transfer my writing notes to my laptop. This provides a springboard for more structured writing later on in my office or bedroom. In this way, I have found starting to write much easier than before. Previously, I had spent some preparation time (a.k.a. procrastination) to start writing. In reality, we never feel quite ready for writing, according to Hugh Kearns who delivered a seminar called ‘Turbocharge Your Writing’ in the beginning of the new year at The University of Manchester. His first academic writing tip was to write before you feel ready. I have been trying to put this into practice in my third year.

Café at the Whitworth Art Gallery is one of my faourite places to write.

Café at the Whitworth Art Gallery is one of my favourite places to write.

The third year of my PhD, which has been challenging due to the uncertainty of the future lurking in the background, has more ups and downs than the first two years. Additionally, my mentality that “there is always room for improvement” makes it hard for me to feel that my chapters are done and dusted. Nonetheless, I feel that there is a light at the end of the tunnel after I have successfully completed writing, and I hope that I will slowly get there, and then I will be able to focus more on Quadrant II activities.

The state of English in Higher Education in Turkey

In November, the British Council published a report entitled ‘The state of English in Higher Education in Turkey – A Baseline Study‘ which explored English language teaching and English-mediated education categorised as English-medium instruction (EMI), Content & Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), and English for Specific Purposes (ESP). One of the most large-scale of its kind ever conducted in Turkey, the report has broad implications for English language teaching and English-medium instruction at universities in Turkey. These might also be relevant for other developing countries. The findings are divided into five sections under the following headings: ‘International context: globalisation’, ‘national context: language of instruction’, ‘institutional context: language teaching programs’, ‘departmental context: English language teaching’, and ‘department context: English as medium of instruction’. In this post, I would like to reflect on several issues addressed in the first four categories.

The first section ‘International context: globalisation’ is mainly concerned with the league tables, ranking of Turkish universities, research performance, and internationalisation which is conceptualised as the number of international students and staff, their mobility and international collaboration. The key finding of this section, and at the same time that of the report overall is that “Turkey’s ‘English deficit’ is a major factor affecting the quality of higher education, restricting access to academic resources, international research publication and the mobility of staff and students” (p. 14). The report also concludes that two-thirds of Turkish universities can be considered as “research-inactive”. Though English deficiency is definitely a factor affecting all those areas, there are also other factors that can account for them. Universities are part of larger socioeconomic systems, and academics and students may not have full access to necessary facilities and resources in a developing country. As the report states, 56% (n=98) of universities that currently exist in Turkey have been founded in the last 12 years, so the majority of universities in Turkey now can be considered newly-founded. There is also a shortage of academics at universities in Turkey. In this climate, I believe that the report’s suggestion of “a periodic ‘research assessment exercise’ (RAE) [currently ‘the research excellence framework’ (REF) in the UK] of the kind carried out in other countries” (p. 42) may not be beneficial, at least in the short term. It is preferable to allocate funding and resources to universities and academic staff for continuous professional development, research and teaching purposes. There are already some initiatives and incentives for those. For instance, since 2006, Turkey has granted scholarships to approximately 1,000 students (per year) for graduate education abroad in return for obligatory service in Turkey.

The second section ‘National context: medium of instruction’ reviews English as medium of instruction (EMI), Turkish as medium of instruction (TMI), and mixed-medium (T-EMI) programmes at Turkish universities. Here I find the recommendation of introducing parallel TMI and EMI programmes very important, since this has the potential to be more successful than the other ones which have been identified as problematic for students and academics in the report. In parallel programmes, students are given the choice to access programmes and be assessed in either or both languages. This recommendation calls for further research into effectiveness of parallel programmes and maybe piloting them in other universities, as very few universities offer parallel programmes now. With regard to EMI, there is one striking finding in that “some EMI academics complained that they were ‘blackmailed’ into giving their EMI lessons in Turkish by students who threatened to give them poor feedback if they insisted on giving their lectures in English” (pp. 61-62). This suggests that there is tension between students and academics in relation to EMI. However, this situation may also be linked to wider issues of global higher education sector today. This section conflates the findings of state universities which provide free education and those of foundation universities which charge tuition fees. It might have been better if findings had been presented separately for two groups of universities. Arguably, foundation universities may have different academic culture from that of state universities.

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson October 31, 1989

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
October 31, 1989

In the third section, the distribution and curriculum of English   language teaching in Turkish universities are examined. The key recommendation is the necessity to shift from English for General Purposes (EGP) classes to English for Academic Purposes (EAP) classes that should be specific to students’ disciplines. EAP teaching is one of the main weaknesses of Turkish universities. EGP is not very beneficial for students who are required to accomplish various academic tasks in English. In the UK universities, students, especially non-native English-speaking ones are usually offered tutorial service and/or in-sessional language courses that aim to improve their EAP skills. The report emphasizes the importance of discipline specificity for EAP courses and also recommends English for Occupational Purposes (EOP) course in the final year. Even though I am in favour of specificity in teaching EAP, this may not be possible in some contexts. English for Academic Purposes classes can equip students with transferable skills which students will be able to utilise in their degree programmes and in professional/work-place contexts. For instance, students who have given presentations in their EAP classes can use their foundational skills to make subject-related presentations in the future. The issue transferability of skills should be made explicit to students who have reportedly low motivation for English language classes. The report also recommends training English language teachers for EAP teaching at universities, which is likely to enhance EAP teaching.

The next section ‘departmental context: English language teaching’ addresses how English is taught at preparatory schools at universities. The report states that “the main problem in most English classes is the lack of student-student interaction” (p. 94) and “most teachers constantly miss opportunities to introduce student-student interaction in the classroom” (p. 111). From the perspective of both a student and a teacher of English, I can say that this is very difficult to ensure that students will have conversations/activities in English with their peers because many of them have not been used to activities that involve student-student interaction before starting university. As university examinations put a heavy burden on students at secondary level, there used to be little place for student-student interaction in English language classes. Although the system of university examinations and curriculum of English language classes have been changing, the development of student-student interaction may be slow in English language classes at university.

"The main problem in most English classes is the lack of student-student interaction," says the report.

“The main problem in most English classes is the lack of student-student interaction,” says the report.

Overall, the report provides a good overview of English language teaching practices and English-mediated education at Turkish universities. The fact that there has been little or no mention of relevant concepts, including English as a lingua franca, intercultural awareness, a bilingual/multilingual university in the report is unsurprising to me. As the report is a baseline study, future research might address these in more detail. The report in general raises a lot of questions, and they probably need to be examined in more context-specific studies to inform current practices.

Post-Second Year Reflections

Yesterday, it was officially the first day of the new academic year. This means that I am officially a third year PhD student now, though I have been in a third year student mood since the beginning of September. Surprisingly, the third year has brought about more ambition and motivation to start working towards completing my PhD and other writing plans.

Although it is very difficult to summarise my second year in one blog post, I will do my best to touch on the key milestones for me.

After I finished my interviews, I enjoyed a beautiful view of Istanbul.

After I finished my interviews, I enjoyed a beautiful view of Istanbul.

  • Fieldwork: In the UK, PhD students are generally required to collect their data in their second year. I was very lucky to conduct my fieldwork at my previous university. It was a refreshing experience to talk to first-year undergraduate students about both their academic writing practices and undergraduate student life in general. I often found myself giving advice, such as “join student societies”, and “make the most of your time as an undergraduate student”. Apart from data collection, I was honoured to be a guest lecturer in two graduate-level courses on corpus linguistics. It was also very nice to see my lecturers, MA thesis advisors, and friends again.
  • Working with a cultural institution: During my second year, I was a researcher in residence at the Museum of Transport in Manchester (If you live in Manchester, the Museum of Transport is definitely well worth a visit!). Our project (I and Isabelle Bowen worked together) involved developing educational resources in accordance with the key attainment targets of the curriculum for the Key Stage 1 and 2 levels. This project took my mind off the PhD routine, and I really enjoyed being a part of it. I also had a sense of accomplishment as the project outputs will prove useful for schoolchildren and teachers, and it is a great feeling to contribute to the local community.
  • Writing together: I participated in quite a few Shut up and Write events in which PhD students get together in a room and do 25-minute writing sessions, separated by short breaks. I was very productive in these events as I often wrote more than I would have done alone. I probably like the power of community-led action and community of spirit! For my third year, I have already signed up for most of the sessions, and I will be leading one of the sessions in October.
  • Fluctuation in motivation levels: My motivation levels fluctuated a lot during my second year, but that is often regarded as normal during the PhD journey. When I had low motivation, I tried to use reverse brainstorming, which is a useful technique that I learned in one of the research training sessions. This technique led to self-discovery, and I became fully aware of the factors that caused low motivation. Through reverse brainstorming, I have been more successful in nurturing motivation.

    “The process of writing a novel” by Maureen McHugh – I have been going through the same process.

  • Conferences: I presented my ongoing research at two major conferences in 2015: The Eighth International Conference on Corpus Linguistics (#CL2015) and BAAL Annual Meeting (#BAAL2015). I was fortunate enough to receive a postgraduate bursary from Lancaster University for CL2015, and I received conference funding from my own university for BAAL2015. I greatly benefited from these two conferences in many ways, including valuable feedback and input for my own research, meeting other researchers, keeping up-to-date with recent research, etc.

There are, of course, lots of other things that need to be written; however, I just wanted to provide a snapshot of my second year. For my third year, my three main priorities are to write my thesis, develop my quantitative research skills, and learn programming languages (Python and R). I have been progressing well with Python which is much easier than R for me, but I am on a slow learning curve for R (There is a great blog post on learning R written by one of my PhD colleagues. I have been following similar steps, too). At CL2015, many researchers emphasised the importance of programming in corpus linguistics research. Overall, programming skills are very likely to become more important in academia.

Additionally, inspired by one of my friends doing a PhD on mindfulness and intercultural communication, I get interested in mindfulness, and I have signed up for Qigong course offered at The University of Manchester! Hopefully, this combination will help me survive my third year of PhD…

Lastly, I would like to wish everyone a healthy, happy and successful new semester! 🙂

Manchester GRADschool 2015

As a PhD student, my day normally starts with a cup of coffee and creating a daily to-do list, and it continues with writing and reading in front of the computer. Last week, at Manchester GRADschool, I stepped out of my PhD routine and had the privilege to explore and work on different skills. This year’s GRADschool theme was “Communicating Effectively: You, Your Team & Your Research”, and we were given a wide range of tasks, including making a research film, creating a research poster and storyboard, writing a film treatment and press release, tweeting, etc.

Our team won the research poster competition!

Our team won the research poster competition!

We had the chance to work in teams of six researchers from different disciplines towards the deadlines. It was interesting to see that the team members had different approaches of how a task should be carried out. Though we (Green team) worked harmoniously towards completing the tasks, working in a team was a very challenging experience. In this challenging journey, we practised debating and negotiation skills. As the deadlines approached, the pressure increased and tension seemed to seep into our team room. However, we managed to maintain effective collaboration. The last-minute tasks added to tension, leaving us under pressure, but we got used to ‘expecting the unexpected’. Actually, this made our experience more real-life. At the end, we managed to finish all the tasks on time. A set of unexpected tasks pushed us to develop flexibility and remain open to spontaneity.

At the end of each day, we had team reviews, reflecting on how we worked together, what worked out well and what we could have done differently. This was both useful to understand the group dynamics well and to do self-reflection about Manchester GRADschool my role in the team. What I liked most was the feedback session on the last day. We spent five minutes with each team member, and gave each other positive feedback on how we worked and constructive criticism on what skills we would need to sharpen. I absolutely enjoyed receiving positive feedback and constructive criticism since this process raised my self-awareness of how I worked in a team. Also, giving feedback to my peers provided me with the opportunity to practise the delicate art of offering constructive criticism.

In addition to the group tasks, we were also required to tell our PhD to the camera in 60 seconds and explain our research to one of the participants very briefly. These tasks made me think about the different ways of communicating my research clearly and how I could attract non-specialists’ attention to at least one aspect of my research. While I was listening to others’ research, I realised that I was genuinely interested in the talk when the speaker added a personal element to his/her research at the beginning. I tried to use the same strategy when I talked about my own research.

Manchester GRADschool was not all work. In fact, the whole event was really enjoyable with all the team games, drawing activities and bite-size workshops! I also socialised for 3.5 days with other researchers, which is actually rather unusual for a PhD student! Within the team, I worked with five other PhD students, each of whom was from a different country with different background. This was an enriching intercultural experience as we talked about global issues, our countries and cultures, apart from our PhD lives.

Manchester GRADschool was a very unique and fulfilling experience which increased my self-awareness and self-confidence and enabled me to practise a wide range of skills. I am now back to my desk, fully refreshed with great memories…