Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Interview with Dr Martina Boese (Department of Social Inquiry)

Photo by Daria Shevstova | unsplash.com
This week's interview with Dr Martina Boese shows how research opportunities can have surprising outcomes, and demonstrates how essential strong collaborative networks are for a successful research career.

Martina is a Lecturer in Sociology, and her research interests in migration and employment have been shaped not only by her own experiences growing up in Austria, but also through working across disciplines with researchers in other fields, and by building up diverse networks with community organisations and government departments.

In her academic career thus far, which spans Austria, the UK, and Australia, she has had very fruitful collaborative relationships, and has great advice to share about them!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Fieldwork interviews, children and other impossibilities (Miranda Francis)

John Tenniel, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
In Through the Looking Glass, the White Queen tells Alice, in her youth, she could believe ‘as many as six impossible things before breakfast’.

As a parent, PhD student and worker, I’m sure that I am not alone in sometimes feeling as though I have achieved many more than six impossible things before breakfast!

Research is difficult and fitting fieldwork into a busy life is particularly challenging as it requires conforming to external timetables.

My fieldwork involves long and often emotional interviews with women in their homes. It all takes time: setting up the interviews, finding my way to unknown places, clearing a whole day in my diary and my mind for an interview. On interview days, when I eventually get the children to school and childcare, I relate more to Alice than the White Queen: ‘I knew who I was this morning, but I've changed a few times since then’.

Yet, I have learnt that parenting and fieldwork can coexist - most days.

So, with apologies to Lewis Carroll, here are six things that have made my PhD fieldwork a little less impossible:

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Academic Writing Month? What's Academic Writing Month?

Photo by Green Chameleon  |  unsplash.com
November is Academic Writing Month (#acwrimo) all over the world!

At La Trobe, we have our own version of it, known on all our social channels as #LTUacwrimo.

For the whole of November, we'll be focused on academic writing of all kinds, and keen to encourage your writing productivity, development, and progress.

The La Trobe program is based on the month-long, amazing, global AcWriMo activity that's taken place since 2011. The concept was created by Charlotte Frost, founder of @PhD2published.

2015 was a great year for #LTUacwrimo, and we had a great crew of participants who found the month energising, rewarding on a collegial and social level, and - most of all - productive!

So, what's in store for 2016, our fourth #LTUacwrimo?

It'll see the return of the fabulous 3-day RED researcher writing retreat - this will take place at the end of the month (21-23 Nov - save those dates now!). There's also the ever-popular 'Turbocharge your writing' sessions by Thinkwell, 'How to edit your thesis' by Magic Typewriter's professional editor Dr Andrew Macrae, our #LTUacwrimo photo competition, and a whole-of-campus 'Shut up and write' session.

It'll all take off in the first week of November with the first tweetchat, dedicated academic writing (#acwri) posts at the RED Alert blog, 'Shut up and write' sessions across our campuses, and fabulous competition launches.

The 2016 #LTUacwrimo program is now up!

If you’ve taken part in Academic Writing Month before, you know the drill:
  • Get your reading done now, stock up on your favourite productivity incentives, and clear your diary as much as you can! November is for writing, writing, and more writing!
If you’re new to Academic Writing Month, here’s the deal:

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

From uncertainty to the semi-structured interview (Jason Murphy)

Image courtesy of Markus Spiske/Unsplash
Taking on a PhD while working full-time can be a rewarding experience. I get to delve into an area of intellectual enquiry in a really rigorous way, and in a fashion that I'd be unlikely to undertake during my spare time!

My post today shares my preliminary experiences with research interviews. I hope it will prove useful to others in the social sciences. I present this post with the caveat that I'm by no means an expert in this area, and that these insights are things that I've learned along the way.

Within the social sciences – my discipline – candidature often involves establishing your position, concerns and argument within the existing literature and defining your methodological approach. This is often done before attempting to collect your data.

For those who are studying part-time, this can be a considerable journey and one that almost risks the complete abstraction of your original question and motivation for embarking on your journey of enquiry.

In my own case, it’s been a truly humbling experience and one where, quite honestly, the more I “learned” (note those deliberate commas); the more I delved and enquired, the further I seemed to drift away from any kind of absolute clarity about what I was doing.

In other words, the more I learned the less I knew. With this came an acute sense of ambiguity within a boundless ocean of perspectives, enquiries, points of view, etc.

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!