Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Life after a PhD (Anoo Bhopti)

Anoo's faithful PhD companion, Keanu. | Photo by Anoo Bhopti
For this post, I was invited to reflect on my very new life post-submission.

Yes! It has been a month since I submitted my PhD thesis and it's still a very new phase of my life.

My PhD spanned over six and half years (6 years and 7 months to be precise), but it has felt like a whole lifetime!

The immersed body and soul of a PhD student is only known to the one who lives it. The non-PhD world needs to know that what they are getting is only a superficial self. The deep-rooted PhD self within the body just wants everyone to disappear, to be left alone with their work.

We don’t want to be asked questions about when we are going to finish or where we are up to, or any of these questions - they, and the answers to them, can feel absolutely meaningless. You may judge me, but I didn't really care about how that might seem. I truly only wanted to be alone or in the company of other struggling PhD students (not the overachievers, though!), who made me feel a tiny bit better about myself!

Then one day, it happened. Things started to come together and, suddenly, I felt like this was it! It was almost submission time and there was nothing more that I could do. I never thought that I'd get to this stage when I was stuck in those middle years of the candidature! But it happened.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Speak up! (Katherine Firth)

(Content note: includes material on bullying, harassment, violence and sexual assault).

We all agree that research should be done with 'integrity'. But what does that mean?

Does it mean abiding by the policies and procedures required for Ethics Approvals? Does it mean not breaking the Code of Conduct? Does it mean using software to help avoid plagiarism like EndNote and iThenticate?

Or does integrity also include wider concerns? Might it include every aspect of your relationship to your data, communicating your research, your research relationships with subjects, supervisors, and research team?

La Trobe’s Research values are "Honesty, objectivity, duty of care, fairness, accuracy, reliability and responsibility". They are relevant as much to your decisions about what to publish (are your results really significant?), how you relate to the communities you study (are you giving them data and analysis that helps them as well as your career?), and how you decide who gets authorship on collaborative papers (does authorship reflect contribution?).

There will probably also be a personal aspect to your own code of research integrity.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The surprising benefits of a read-aloud reading group (Matilda Keynes and Nikita Vanderbyl)

Photo by Mavis CW | unsplash.com
Recently, Erin Bartram’s piece ‘The Sublimated Grief of the Left Behind’ made waves on Twitter for its honest and frankly, painful assessment of the experience of leaving academia, after the author failed to secure a tenured position.

As Australian PhD students, we discover early in our candidature that our 3.5-year program likely won't be competitive in the global market.

For many of us, our further study is born out of a genuine passion for learning, and accompanied by naive aspirations towards an academic career. In most cases, 3.5 years of modest funding isn’t adequate to write a thesis; publish a monograph with a leading academic publisher plus multiple peer-reviewed, tier-one journal articles; present at international conferences; attract research funding; and coordinate and design undergraduate subjects. Let's not even mention the expectations of attaining a myriad of impressive awards and bursaries.

Given the heavily-skewed ‘jobs available vs. PhD graduates’ ratio in history, it is no surprise really that the few available positions often go to those who earned their doctorates from leading R1 institutions (or equivalent) internationally. All this is happening in the context of an increasingly casualised academic workforce. About 65% of Australian university staff are now employed casually, and the vast majority of the research labour listed above must be done without job security.

This, Bartram’s piece, and the many other varieties of ‘quit lit’ that grace our Twitter feeds daily, as well as the experience of departmental restructures, and the loss of supervisors to illness, redundancy and retirement, can make for fairly low morale among doctoral students. At more than one point, it can feel overwhelming. We won’t pretend we’ve found a way to halt this compounding sense of futility. Even if we did, it would likely vary for everyone as the PhD journey is such a personal one.

What we have found, though, is the surprising morale-boosting benefits of the humble reading group.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Why podcast your research? (Lauren Gawne)

Lauren Gawne (left) and Gretchen McCulloch.  Photo courtesy of Lingthusiasm - lingthusiasm.com
Lauren Gawne (left) and Gretchen McCulloch.
Photo courtesy of Lingthusiasm - lingthusiasm.com
Thanks to podcasts I now have a new way of keeping myself entertained while tackling some tedious data entry or walking an extra few bus stops home.

Individual episodes of on-demand content have breathed new live into the audio genre, and while the medium has many fictional serialised dramas and blokes laughing at their mates’ jokes, there is also a robust, and growing, genre of podcasts that make you feel smart just for listening to them.

In particular, I love researcher-driven podcasts. They make complex topics personable, without necessarily having to sacrifice nuance or complexity.

I enjoy listening to podcasts in my own area, but I also love learning more about Roman history (Emperors of Rome), queer theory (Queers podcast), and science (Science Vs.), from podcasts run by academics, or that frequently interview them. 

Since November 2016, I’ve been making Lingthusiasm, a podcast that is enthusiastic about linguistics, with my friend and fellow linguistic Gretchen McCulloch. Gretchen is a full-time pop linguist, and we met online thanks to our blogs (Superlinguo & All Things Linguistic).

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Tackling illness and a PhD (Laena D'Alton)

Photo by Gaelle Marcel | unsplash.com
“A PhD is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.”

Sound familiar?

Now imagine embarking on that challenge without something most of us take for granted: good health.

Undoubtedly, anyone who suffers poor health (short-term or chronic) needs to take a different approach to research.

I’ve been tackling a chronic illness for five years, and a PhD for two. I’ve learned a bit about both.

I do things differently and remind myself that it’s OK to do so. I say ‘yes’ only to what matters most to me, I plan my days with a dose of humility (my project is not more important than my wellbeing), and I am more patient with myself in terms of health and research progress (still working on that one!). I’m learning to be a better researcher, and a better me.

Here are a few of my reflections that might help anyone suffering illness to navigate their way through their PhD candidature:

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

New age, new tools: Online Research Notebook (Michele Hosking)

In a world that’s becoming increasingly digital and connected, there are still little analog pockets, spaces where old school is still the school. For many researchers, one of those pockets contains a notebook in which they record their thoughts, observations, and ideas.

These notebooks are the most inspired output produced by a researcher, the very essence of their theories and analyses.

Posterity highly prizes such artefacts.

The 7,000 extant pages of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, known as the Codex Arundel, have been described as “the living record of a universal mind” (Jonathan Jones on art).

By Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A large collection of Isaac Newton’s papers is held in the Cambridge Digital Library, including his “Waste Book”, in which he developed his seminal work on calculus.

Historians of ancient Rome rejoice in the insightful works of Cicero, Julius Caesar and many other commentators of the Republic.

That such priceless, fragile records have survived through the ages is fortunate indeed. We can only imagine the insights we might have gleaned from the notes of Socrates, for example.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

My Instagram and me (Georgia Atkin-Smith)

"Microscopy suite > General lab > Tissue culture > Mouse house"
Photo sourced from @someblondescientist
George Atkin-Smith only started her Instagram account @someblondescientist in late September 2017. 

In that short time, the account has gained almost 3600 followers and is going strong!  

The RED Alert invited Georgia to write about her Instagram experiences. Read on to see what it takes to create and manage a successful Insta account!


I had been thinking for a while about setting up an Instagram account about my daily science life and general scientific communications (#scicomm).

But it took a lot of encouragement for me to take the leap!

Personally, I love social media and use many different forms. I reasoned that, if I was going to invest my time in it, it may as well be for something that not only helped me and my career, but also supported others along the way.

I created my ‘InstaBlog’ (an Instagram account that followed my day-to-day research adventures) without even realising the amazing scientific community I was joining.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

To edit, or not to edit? That is the question… (Dan Bendrups)

Image by Tseen Khoo
In my work in the RED Unit at La Trobe University, graduate researchers and their supervisors approach me with all sorts of questions about graduate research candidature.

Recently, I’ve been fielding various questions about thesis editing.

On the one hand, this is a really good sign - a number of our candidates must be nearing completion.

On the other hand, these can be tricky questions to answer.

They can generate even more questions: How much should a supervisor contribute to the editing of a PhD? Is it acceptable for a candidate to pay an editor to help them? Where do you even find an editor?

One candidate wondered whether the university might have editors on staff. Another wanted to know how much they should expect their supervisor to help correct their grammar.

The answers to these sorts of questions can reflect a range of different factors.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Why 'Shut up and Wiki'? (Tseen Khoo)

Photo by Alex Wong | unsplash.com
I'll admit it. I am a latecomer when it comes to things Wiki.

It's not like I've never used Wikipedia, linked to it in blogposts, talked about entries to others, or donated to the Wikimedia Foundation.

I've done all these things, sometimes compulsively, multiple times.

But it never occurred to me that I could actually contribute to it in a more substantial way.

Until I met Dr Thomas Shafee here at La Trobe, and listened to him speak on this topic a couple of times.

It was a revelation to hear from someone who was so au fait with the Wikipedia ethos and how it worked. I had not realised how strong the infrastructure for the platform was in terms of verifying and strengthening evidence bases for statements and details. I had assumed - very wrongly, it seems - that it was a bit of a free-for-all because, y'know, crowdsourced information.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Getting your research into the media (Claire Bowers)

Professor Chris Sobey's work on stroke recovery received great coverage. 
Full story from Today can be found here: 
Since starting at La Trobe as media manager a few months ago, my team and I have been fortunate to work with some incredible academic talent on a range of high impact, headline-grabbing stories that have really helped lift the University’s research reputation.

From the latest advance in stroke treatment and Professor Jenny Graves winning the prestigious PM’s Prize for Science, to Victoria’s first driverless bus trial, these are stories that generated significant metro and national coverage.

But stories don’t have to be as big as this to attract media attention!

Sometimes, a strategically placed piece in the right media outlet can not only reach exactly the audience you want to speak to but also spark more media interest.

We also encourage more researchers to write opinion pieces – we can help you with this – as well as become media commentators on relevant topics in the current news agenda.

I suspect there are more of you out there with research that will be of media interest. We want to hear from you!