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"
https://www.instagram.com/p/BeUt5jPnJ-6/
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: 
https://www.9news.com.au/national/2018/02/20/06/56/
placental-cells-could-heal-brains-after-stroke
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!

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

How heartbreak took me to Italy (Nicholas Anthony)


Taking a selfie in Genoa, as you do.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas Anthony.
It seems like only yesterday that I was talking about my great experience using Career Ready in a blog post I cunningly called “How I became Career Ready”.

I ended that post with a throw-away line about getting a job.

What I didn’t say was, even with Career Ready, getting a job isn’t that straightforward.

So, let me tell you a bit about my experience.

I left my Career Ready appointment with two things. The first was a list of things to fix in my CV and cover letter, and the second was the confidence to apply for two jobs I desperately wanted.

To me, these jobs were perfect; they were at a well-known research institute, used the skills I’d developed in my PhD, and matched my interests perfectly.

So, not wanting to waste the motivation, I sat down that afternoon, did my edits, and enthusiastically sent off my applications, dreaming of the job that would soon be mine.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Building a research network: La Trobe's Violence Against Women research Network - LAVAWN (Ingrid Wilson)

Image sourced from Pixabay
We all know that an important part of being a researcher is about connecting with others in our field. 

We often do this through attending conferences, going on study trips and communicating through social media.

Another way is to join a research network.

Or you can do what I did: build one yourself.

In the beginning

I started my PhD with La Trobe University in 2012 at the Judith Lumley Centre. My topic was alcohol-related domestic violence and I was supervised by Professor Angela Taft, a leading public health researcher in the area of violence against women. The issue of violence against women is a public health and human rights issue affecting the health and well-being of women across the globe.

My motivation for starting the research network was both personal and strategic. I was keen to connect with other researchers within La Trobe University, particularly other PhD students, and to learn from them and build a sense of community.