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.