The benefits of online reading groups

Being a member of an academic reading group or journal club gives you the opportunity to work with others to understand complex material, to network, and to learn from different perspectives. They can also be great for motivating you to keep up to date with the latest articles in your field.

But what if there are no groups currently meeting in your area? Doctoral researcher Helen Gubbins shares her experience of setting up a successful reading group online.



From Helen Gubbins

Accessing regular academic discussion

At the outset of my Ph.D., I felt strongly that my thesis would only be as good as the standard of regular discussion I was able to have with other academic colleagues. I also knew that my understanding of academic readings was most thorough when I had to chance to discuss them with other people. For these reasons and more, I searched for regular opportunities to participate in scholarly discussion of recent articles in my area.

The nearest reading group to me at the time was 2 hours’ journey away, and although I really enjoyed these face-to-face discussions with a room full of experienced academics, this group only met a few times a year and to attend them cost time, money, and energy.

Weekly international conference calls relating to trends in our field

In February 2017, with another willing Ph.D. student, I launched a Skype reading group in ethnomusicology for postgraduate and early career researchers, constructing our reading list from the most recent (yet accessible) articles in our field that interested us. We advertised the group amongst our peer groups and to other researchers at conferences we attended, and we quickly built up a regular group of participants, based in Norway, UK, Austria, Ireland, Japan, and elsewhere.

Some terms, we focused on journals associated with major upcoming conferences in the field, and at other times, we gathered readings from disparate sources but based them around issues relevant to our discipline and current research questions. This summer, we discussed recent award-winning articles in our field.

Our experience with running this group went so well that I decided to set up a second Skype reading group catering for the other discipline covered by my research – radio studies. This has worked along similar lines, and now counts radio practitioners from Australia, the UK, Ireland, Egypt, Turkey, Spain, and Colombia amongst its members.

Building academic relationships

I notice many wonderful benefits to my research and general work from my organization of these groups, beyond the benefits of the traditional academic networking. The online nature of the weekly discussions means that researchers in many varied locations can converse, so I get to interact on a regular basis with people drawn from several countries and universities, and from musical, radio, and national contexts completely different to my own. I regularly bump into participants of the group at academic conferences now and have formed close academic relationships with many of them.

Accessibility

We run the group on an audio-only basis, something we hope helps make it more inclusive to academics working in a variety of environments and with different caring and home responsibilities. We are particularly keen to include ‘listeners in’ in our reading groups, so that people who are new to academic discussion and terminology or the English language (or both) feel welcome to join and to gradually increase their participation in discussions.

As a scholar of the humanities mindful of the lack of inclusivity and diversity in the academy in general, being involved in a group like this makes me very happy, and my involvement with it helps me engage further with the best recent publications associated with my research.

To any other researcher located at a distance from their academic peers, I would thoroughly recommend either joining or founding an online reading group. It’s free and simple, and doesn’t need you to move from your kitchen countertop. For its sheer convenience, accessibility, and for the enjoyment of discussing your own particular research area on a regular basis with academics from all over the world, I could not recommend it more.

Related links

Ethnomusicology Reading Group

MECCSA Radio Studies Network Online Reading Group



Helen Gubbins

Helen Gubbins (ORCID ID: 0000-0003-1595-8409) is a doctoral researcher in the Department of Music at the University of Sheffield. Her research is funded by a University of Sheffield Doctoral Academy Scholarship and a National University of Ireland Travelling Studentship.

Helen holds a BA(Mus) and MPhil from University College Cork and an MMus from University College Dublin, and has published in Ethnomusicology Ireland and British Postgraduate Musicology Online. She is an experienced performer of music, and is currently the Deputy Chair of the MeCCSA Radio Studies Network. She warmly welcomes correspondence on her work at hgubbins1@sheffield.ac.uk and on Twitter at @helengubbins and @radiostudies