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!