As doctoral students, we were well aware of the social, cultural, and economic isolation experienced by many students working towards a PhD. In this paper, we provide an account of an informal peer support model that assisted us to successfully complete our PhDs. We used co/autoethnography to write into each other’s story, seeking to improve our research practice through creative reflection. Data included over 215 emails generated through our “weekly check-ins” during our PhDs, for a period of over 18 months. Following the iterative nature of co/autoethnography, we generated further data through collaborative analysis and reflexive, creative writing. Analysis involved each of us conducting inductive analysis of the data separately, followed by a collaborative process of checking and co-identifying themes, and collaborative writing of the co/autoethnography. We identified three major themes in the data: Being an Academic, Doing Academia, and Sharing in Academia. We continue to transform through the co/autoethnography and lay bare our experience of peer support for the purpose of supporting others undertaking a PhD, including ways to approach writing (or support writing), and ways to navigate the corporate university setting.


Co/Autoethnography, PhD, Peer Support, Mentoring, Critical Reflection, Higher Degree Research, Doctoral, Reflective Journaling

Author Bio(s)

Karen McPhail-Bell (PhD) is an applied health researcher and public health practitioner who has made national and international contributions to health promotion and cross-cultural health research. Her interest lies in the operation of power and culture in relation to people’s health, and she is committed to strengths-based, reciprocal processes to support systems change. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: karen.mcphail-bell@sydney.edu.au.

Michelle Redman-MacLaren (PhD) is a public health researcher who facilitates sexual health and health systems research in a culturally respectful way for improved health outcomes. Committed to research capacity strengthening in all of her work, Michelle predominantly works with Pacific and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: michelle.maclaren@jcu.edu.au.


Thank you to Inger Mewbern, Pat Thompson and our @suw_tues colleagues who inspired and supported us during our PhD study. Thank you also to Mark Brough for reviewing an earlier version of this manuscript. The PhD studies were funded by an Australian Postgraduate Award scholarship (KMB), and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (GNT1038658) and College of Medicine and Dentistry, James Cook University, Australia (MRM).

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