Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Lesson learned - Research Week 2016 (Tseen Khoo)

Our wonderful 3MT finalists
You know that feeling when you say yes to heaps of stuff, then don’t feel like doing it all?

Well, that was me at one stage during Research Week.

La Trobe held its inaugural Research Week from 5-9 September 2016. The five days were focused on the university's researchers and their varied, fascinating work, and it was a packed with things to see and do.

It would’ve been excellent to get around to everything but I settled for committing to attending and livetweeting the lunchtime talks as much as I could, as well as La Trobe’s 3MT finals.

Now, when the lunchtime talks came about that first day, I thought to myself, “Hmmm. I have so many things on. I might just skip it…”. I sat there for about 5 mins having that internal argument.

But I forced myself to go – partly because I’d stated on Twitter that I’d be livetweeting (public accountability ftw!), partly because I spend a lot of time in a research bubble of similar disciplines and approaches and it’s always – always – good to break that up once in a while.

I ended up having a hectic, wonderful time over the week, and it was for many reasons. Some may not be the ones you’d think!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Interview with Dr Rachel Winterton (John Richards Initiative, Wodonga Campus)

Photo by Rachel Winterton
This week's interview is with Dr Rachel Winterton, who is based mostly at La Trobe's Albury-Wodonga Campus.

We say 'mostly' because we know that Rachel clocks up many hours on the road as she is involved with many things that take her regularly to LTU's various other campuses!

Her active support of research culture-building initiatives, including the ECR conference on 26 September, is a hallmark of Rachel's positive, collegial attitude.

How did you end up researching in the field you're in?

Basically, it was a calculated risk that has turned out quite well!

My PhD is actually in historical studies (a social history of aquatic sport in nineteenth century Melbourne!). When I was three-quarters of the way through my PhD, I began to worry about employment, as most doctoral students do, and began scouring the job sites looking at what might be in store for me.

One particular job piqued my interest – a full-time, one-year research position at the John Richards Initiative, an ageing research centre at La Trobe Wodonga. Given that my not-yet-completed PhD was in history and they wanted someone in health sciences, I wasn’t too hopeful of getting an interview – nor was I sure if I wanted to move away from Melbourne – but figured putting together an application would be good experience.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

I think I’m a data scientist now (Murray Neuzerling)

Image: Murray Neuzerling
At the very least, I’ve taken the first step.

In May, I started my work at ANZ under the AMSI intern program. Until November, I’ll be doing data science-y things in the analytics team in this beautiful Docklands building.

That’s right, I’m making the scary transition from academia to industry.

Except it hasn’t been scary at all.

Sure, working a corporate nine-to-five is a very different experience to the usual t-shirt and jeans academic experience, but there’s been no catastrophic culture shock. Mostly, that’s due to the immensely helpful folks at ANZ who have smoothed the transition for me and two other interns. I cannot overstate just how wonderful these people are.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

What I’ve gotten out of the 3MT (Anthony Condon)

Anthony Condon's 3MT slide in the 2016 ASSC College finals
It’s 3MT (Three Minute Thesis) Championship time!

First, I wish much luck to those competing for the chance to represent La Trobe at the Asia-Pacific finals at the end of September. Show the country what Eagles do to sandstone buildings!

I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my experience of competing in the 3MT this year.

I’m a first year PhD researcher in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HuSS). As I'm an unconfirmed candidate for the moment, I was ineligible to proceed to the University Championship (even if I had made it through in the College finals).

I’m sure many new PhD researchers out there think of 3MT as something to save for their final year, when they have a clue about what they are doing. But that’s precisely why I'd say you should do it earlier!

I did it for several reasons. I have a bit of the natural P.T. Barnum in me (I’m one of those weirdos who likes being in front of a crowd). I thought it would get me out of my office and meeting some other people around campus, which it has absolutely done. Mainly, however, I did it because a few people said to me that it’s a good way to narrow down what your thesis is actually about – and I needed this! Six weeks into my thesis turned into six months, and I realised I had less and less of a clue about what I was doing.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Karaoke in Kazakhstan (Mia Tarp Hansen)

Striking view that meets the traveller landing in Almaty, Kazakhstan
(taken in late spring 2015). Behind the city lies the beautiful
Tien Shan mountain range. Photo by Mia Tarp Hansen.
Let’s start out by saying my topic isn’t exactly easy.

Doing research on human rights in repressive states is no dance on roses, as we say in Denmark. Unless you step on the thorns. But it does involve a lot of fun, too.

I remember my very first interview.

I had invited a famous, young, female human rights activist in Kazakhstan for dinner to interview her. She decided on the venue and, at 8pm on a rainy Friday evening in early April, I rocked up to the restaurant that she chose in upper Almaty.

The place was called “Kishlyak” and was serving Uzbek. It was one of those typical post-Soviet restaurants with wooden benches, kitschy interior, live music, and drunken parties full of beer bellies and stiletto heels at every table. There was a distinct smell of beer, cheap perfume, vodka, plov (the Uzbek national rice dish), and a bit of pee stench, too, it must be said. The music and noise was so loud that it was almost impossible to have a conversation.

Having a proper interview would be impossible in this setting.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

From PhD to high Arctic - my postdoc experience (Emma Bland)

Emma during her first days at the high Arctic | Photo from Emma Bland
I’ve just started a 3-year postdoc in middle atmospheric physics at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS).

Located in Longyearbyen, Norway, way up in the high Arctic at 78° latitude, UNIS is the world’s northernmost higher education institution.

So, how did a PhD graduate from La Trobe wind up living on Svalbard?

First, there are some world-class research facilities here, including an optical observatory for studying the Aurora Borealis, and a brand-new radar that is part of an international collaboration of which La Trobe is also a member.

Second, I visited Svalbard for a conference two years ago and went home feeling rather inspired! It seemed like such a fun place to live, with many opportunities for hiking, skiing and snowmobiling adventures, as well as unique wildlife and spectacular mountain scenery.

You can imagine my delight when I discovered that UNIS was advertising a postdoc position during the final year of my PhD candidature!

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Have you considered being a mentor? (Ana Garcia)

Image by Dan Carlson | unsplash.com
I am lucky to have a job that is closely related to my PhD research topic: peer mentoring.

I coordinate a program that places university students as online mentors for high school science students. Being able to connect research and practice is definitely helpful and it keeps me motivated to complete my studies.

It also means that since I spend so much time thinking about my topic, it can be difficult to explain what I’m working on to other people.

A few days ago, for example, a friend of mine asked me what mentors actually do when they work with students. ‘Are they supposed to be teachers?’, she asked.

I realised I had been talking about the benefits of having a mentor and the importance of mentoring, but failed to explain what a mentor is!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

When the levee broke – travelling to the American South (Rachel Loney-Howes)

New Orleans on the ferry crossing to Algiers (the other side of the river)
where African slaves were brought and sold in the 1720s.
Photo by Rachel Loney-Howes.
I remember when the first posters went up advertising the study tour, “When the levee breaks”. The study tour was for undergraduates, but there were a few spots for graduate researchers.

I was thinking that there was NO WAY I’d be selected to go on the trip of a lifetime to the American South.

But there I was on Monday 6 June 2016, at Melbourne airport (at 6am) feeling very nervous and preparing for the longest flight of my life (Melbourne – Sydney – Dallas – New Orleans)!

With me were thirty undergraduate students, six teaching staff (including another three graduate researchers, like me), and five auditors (who wanted to come along for the ride).

After the three weeks we spent on the road together travelling from New Orleans to Memphis via Natchez, Vicksburg and Clarksdale (and a few more stops in between), we became like family.

This trip of a lifetime did not come for free, though!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Why would you join an ECR Network? (Compiled by Tseen Khoo)

Photo by Christian Bisbo Johnsen | unsplash.com
The first Early Career Researcher (ECR) Network conference took place last year. 

It was organised by a volunteer crew of La Trobe ECRs, who hatched the event plan and ran with it! The conference was supported by the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and the Research Education and Development (RED) team. 

With more than 60 delegates, and key research leaders featured on the program, it was an important, fun event that galvanised a lot of activity and focus for the campus’ ECRs. You can read up on what happened at the 2015 ECR conference (Storify collection).

One of the best things that I saw before, during and after the event, was the growing camaraderie of the conference committee, most of whom were total strangers to one another before working on organising the event. 

And remember that these are ECRs we’re talking about: researchers who are early in their careers, keen to make their mark, focused on getting all their teaching, research and service activities happening and balanced. That makes them even more busy than normal busy. 

So, why would they put their hands up to be a part of the ECR Network and event committee?

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Thesis writing: an epilogue (Arjun Rajkhowa)

Photo by Davide Ragusa  |  unsplash.com
Time, time, time, see what's become of me
While I looked around for my possibilities
I was so hard to please
Don't look around
The leaves are brown
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter

Simon & Garfunkel, ‘A Hazy Shade of Winter’


My thesis emerged out of a lot of chaos.

I wanted to cover four very different cases and topics. In the end, I could only find space for two.

I wanted to write about a much bigger phenomenon. In the end, I could only discuss one small (or not small exactly… let's say 'significant') aspect of it. While being situated in the Media Studies department, I read and wrote a lot of sociological and political analysis, most of which I had to finally excise from the thesis. In short, my thesis had quite a chaotic coming-into-being.