Book Review: “BITE recipes for remarkable research”



In this post Judy explains why on earth she wanted to write a recipe book, and shares one of her favourite recipes aimed at PhD students.

One of my favourite projects this year has been editing an academic recipe book with my co-conspirators Alison Williams and Derek Jones. It’s all about practical ways in which researchers can become more creative and produce even more remarkable research.

There are recipes for working on our own, working with others and working environments. I enjoyed writing and editing recipes so much that I’m worried I’ll never write another academic paper again!

The writing process was unusual: the book has input from 34 academics across a variety of disciplines from archaeology to computer science. We have authors who are PhD students, emeritus professors, practitioners, and everything in between. It contains short recipes, case studies and yes – it does have a few academic papers too.

The idea of encapsulating knowledge of effective research practice in recipe format emerged at a writing workshop with members of the SPIRES network. We then ran a series of “Shut Up and Write” workshops where researchers contributed recipes from their own experience. Other recipes emerged from interviews or casual discussions with our colleagues. My co-editor Alison ruthlessly harvested recipes from anyone she met in conferences, coffee shops or planes.

Recipes work very well as a format for capturing effective ways of working. It’s practical knowledge, inspired by theory or experience, in digestible steps. We also found it very useful as a format for getting members of an academic community to share their ideas. Everyone is familiar with the recipe format, it’s quick to write, and low pressure in the sense that it doesn’t need to represent a pinnacle of scholarly thought.

We hope that the advice contained in the recipes is helpful to you. If so, share them with a friend. We’re also on the look-out for more recipes, so drop us an email at [email protected] if you feel inspired.

You can download the entire recipe book for free or order a paper copy. In the meantime, here is a sample recipe for PhD students written by a just graduated PhD student to whet your appetite.

My work is not me

Author: Alison Williams


It is sometimes difficult for us to take criticism of our work. We are so bound up in it that the work somehow becomes us, and critique of the work feels like a personal attack. This is damaging in two main ways:

  • If I feel attacked when my work is critiqued, then my confidence is likely to go down. I feel that it is not just the work that is inadequate, it is me.
  • If I can’t stand outside my work then it is more difficult to make changes and improvements.
  • This recipe is for people who come out of a meeting with a supervisor feeling completely devastated and stupid, and forgetting that they are in the top 1% of the world’s thinkers. Its aim is to help you detach yourself from your work so that even if the work is going badly, your confidence and self-esteem are not irreparably damaged.


  • One piece of blank paper
  • One glass with a little water in it
  • One jug with lots of water in it
  • One totally discouraged PhD student
  • One puzzled but co-operative supervisor

  • Method

  • The PhD student writes their thesis title on the paper and puts it on the table between them and their supervisor.
  • The student then puts the glass on top of the paper.
  • Next, either the student or the supervisor says ‘What is needed to fill the glass?’ i.e. what is needed to improve the research work?
  • The student and supervisor answer in the form of ‘We could fill the glass by…’ for example: ‘….looking into the literature for X’; ‘….adjusting the method we are using by doing X and Y’; ‘….adding a further testing phase’.
  • At each suggestion, the person who made it pours a little water into the glass. The game is to see if the glass can be filled by the end of the supervision session. If it’s full before the end of the meeting, then that’s enough work to do on the research project until the next time.
  • Cook’s tips

    If you have an allergic reaction to the idea because of a total sense-of-humour failure, here’s what to do:

    For the student: If you’ve got to the stage where anything will tip you into tears or bluster, get someone to tell you a couple of dreadful jokes before you go into your supervision session.

    For the supervisor: If you’ve got to the stage where anything will tip you into cynicism or bluster, get someone to tell you a couple of dreadful jokes before you go into the supervision session.

    Swap jokes at the start of the session.


    If you have a supervisor who you suspect won’t play, give them a copy of this recipe before the supervision session so that they have time to get used to the idea. Tell them that it is important to you that they play along without cynicism.

    Author Bio: Judy Robertson is the co-editor of the free to download academic recipe book “BITE: Recipes for Remarkable Research” which is published by Sense this month. I was privileged to take part in this project and contribute a recipe and case study to the book.