Developing a Researcher Identity, Part I

It may sound silly, but I hadn't really given much thought to my identity as a researcher before starting my PhD. Even once I knew I was coming here and had a sense of what I wanted to research, I didn't label myself a researcher.

Oh, I'd spent time consciously learning to identify as a scholar, starting with the first time I presented at an academic conference, and really growing comfortable with my identity as a teacher-writer-scholar as I finished my MA. And the process of calling myself a writer took intense, deliberate work, including guided meditations, journaling, and just plain working hard at all the things I learned writing entailed. Even as life-long as my writing has been, assuming the identity of a writer, being able to confidently say, "I am a writer", took work. Teaching, too, was another identity I continue to build.

I'm not sure why I didn't realize that PhD work wasn't about assuming the identity of a grad student. In some ways, that identity helped me learn to juggle all the new flaming balls over the course of this first year, and to laugh a bit while doing it, so I suppose it's a good thing that I spent this year identifying as a grad student, not a researcher.

But then I started forming my committee and talking about my research interests with my colleagues and friends, and I started to get the sense I'd missed a signpost somewhere on the learning curve. I don't know why I thought my evolution here would be organic, not deliberate: all the other bits and pieces of my identity have required mindful attention, so why not this part, too?

I had my "ah-ha" moment while reading Detox Your Writing: Strategies for Doctoral Researchers by Pat Thomson and Barbara Kamler. If you're doing any kind of graduate work, get this book right now. Seriously; I think it's been the single biggest contributing factor to my productivity shift in recent weeks, and to the way I see myself.

In the spirit of my developing researcher identity, I'm working on my first pilot study this summer. I'm exploring secondary teachers' experiences with teaching writing, using both survey and interview data to scratch the surface of what I believe will be an incredibly rich research topic for some time. If you want to help out with this research, the survey will be up for one more week, and is open to all secondary teachers of all subjects areas in Canada and the United States; click here for more information!

As I'm adding researcher to my multifaceted identity, I'm also spiraling back to the books that give me comfort, no matter what identity hat I'm wearing today. I keep reminding myself, as Anne Lamott instructs, to be okay when my work isn't perfect the first (or third) time, and to "trust the process--sort of, more or less" (Lamott, 1994, p. 25).

Let's keep trusting our processes, even when we aren't sure what step comes next.


Lamott, A. (1994). Bird by bird: Some instructions on writing and life. New York: Anchor Books.

Thomson, P., & Kamler, B. (2016). Detox your writing: Strategies for doctoral researchers. London, UK: Routledge.


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