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The Blog-With-No-Name
Graduate Research School Blog

Ho Ho Ho Merry GRS Christmas

The Graduate Research School will close on Thursday the 24th of December and open again on Tuesday the 5th of January. That means that no one will be here to receive submissions, answer the phone, reply to your emails, or even be aware of your existence. So what are all the GRS staff going to be doing if they’re not at work?

SarahSarah is going to be eating too much, drinking too much, and soaking up the sun around the South Island


Mel will be reeeelaxing, having family visiting from overseas, and trying to stop Atlas eating all the strawberries in the garden.

PeterPeter is looking forward to being lazy at home with the family, and lying on the deck drinking Emersons.

LisaLisa will be doing what she’s been doing for every spare minute outside of work-time since March – building a house.

RobinRobin has a wedding to attend on Boxing Day, then she’s heading to a crib (she says “bach”) on Lake Hawea, before jetting off to Tokoroa and Rarotonga in January.

KatherineKatherine says she’ll be eating, drinking (orange juice), and being merry, but she’s also hoping to get around to painting the house and doing some gardening.

LeaneLeane will be looking after her two kids at home while her husband’s at work, as well as being Santa Claus, and entertaining extended family.

BelindaBelinda has chosen to forgo any relaxation and instead will be tramping through mud and swearing at sandflies on Stewart Island for ten days.

JemmaJemma plans to enjoy her first Christmas in Dunedin in three years with (she hopes) lots of sun and barbecues.

SusanSusan is off to Moeraki for a week of reading and walking and more reading and walking, and looking at penguins


Claire will be mostly stalking George Clooney. After meeting Claire, George will realise he doesn’t need some poxy Human Rights lawyer in his life but would prefer a partner from the oldest profession (middle management). Claire is planning to live happily ever after in Italy and wants to wish you a very Merry Christmas and so long suckers.

BrianBrian I shall be spending Christmas day with my partner and my New Zealand adopted whanau. Being away from Scotland, my country of birth, Christmas and new year is a very challenging time for me. I am very much looking forward to spending Christmas where we will share food and drink, enjoy each other’s’ company  and be appreciative of how fortunate we are.

rachelRachel Over the festive season I plan to actually have a month off – cannot remember when I last did that! I hope to spend time visiting friends in Christchurch, chill out at the lovely seaside community of Shag Point, get some warmth and good walks and bike rides in Wanaka and Queenstown and generally eat too much!

The Dean Moonlights as a Movie Reviewer


We let the Dean out from under a pile of paperwork to chomp some pizza and to catch up on the ‘PhD Movie 2: Still in Grad School’.  Here’s what Rachel made of the movie.

Recently we screened the ‘PhD Movie 2: Still in Grad School’. It is fair to say the audience of mainly PhD and Master’s candidates and a few supervisors laughed all the way through.

The script writers really have got the nuances of academia down pat! In this movie the main character – Cecilia – is still in grad school trying to finish her PhD thesis. She faces typical issues of writer’s block and the difficulty of trying to get her supervisors together for a meeting. And of course the different views between supervisors on how ready the thesis is to submit….

In parallel to this story is ‘Winston’ who is attending a biochemistry conference with his lab group. Here we see academic behaviour at its best and worst!  Thrown into the mix are rival laboratories competing for funding, inept use of IT in  presentations, and the inevitable poster session (should text boxes have square or rounded corners?).

We could all relate to the events portrayed, but I do need to put a more positive and realistic spin on a few snippets throughout the film.  As candidates were struggling to complete  their theses some statistics were thrown in about only 50% of candidates completing.  That is true for many disciplines in the USA (and indeed some are even worse), but here at the University of Otago we have a far better record – about 82% complete – and do so in a median time of under four years.

Of course the tight job market was also mentioned, with only about 15% going into academic jobs.  Again, a recent survey of PhD graduates at Otago shows a brighter picture.  Of the 134 respondents to a question about current employment, 72% were in full-time employment and 17% were in part-time employment. For the 112 who specified their jobs, approximately 71% were in academic positions including 21% in lecturing (i.e. tenure track) positions and 29% in postdoctoral positions. About 12% were employed as advisors, analysts or managers, and another 12% had positions as consultants or specialists. Ninety-two percent said their employment was at least somewhat related to their study.

The only other thing that worried me about this film was the notion that the thesis could be written up in a few months.  Technically this is possible but the stress caused would be considerable, and such a course of action is unwise.  It is far better to write little and often throughout the PhD – indeed writing should begin from day 1!

Rachel-Spronken-Smith, Dean, Graduate Research School

Postcard (scratch that)….. Progress report from Toronto

Many of you know Andy.  Over the years she has helped many a PhD student earn their chocolate fish.  Anyway she has escaped from the clutches of GRS (only for a year, mind you) and has very kindly provided us with a progress report.  Thanks Andy  – we miss you!!!

Yes, I’ve been in Canada for just on six months now, so it looks like my first progress report is due, in the form of a GRS blog entry.

I was lucky enough to have been granted twelve months away from work for good behaviour – I think GRS secretly just wanted to get rid of me for a year to give someone else a chance to steal the coveted title of Best Female Ten-Pin Bowler – to indulge in that time-honoured Kiwi pursuit known as the Big OE. Better late than never, right?

Destination: Canada and the United States. Goal: ostensibly a working holiday, but my focus was always more on the ‘holiday’ part… Sadly there was no travel budget available for sending Panda along with me as chaperone, but I’m keeping an eye out for a giant stuffed raccoon to bring back for Claire though.


One of Toronto’s many fine ‘beaches’; maybe a five metre wide strip of imported sand on a wharf at best…


 A lovely Edward Mucha reproduction street art piece at Kensington Market, a stone’s throw from where we live


 So our photographic efforts didn’t capture this very well, but I was standing in front of Duncan Street in the Entertainment District, the name of the street I formerly lived on in Dunedin, maybe without quite the same ‘entertainment’ designation

As much as I love doctorally administering to you all, part of my self-imposed ‘rules for making the most of the Year of Adventure’ included not being allowed to get an office job. Trying new things and all that… This is probably just as well, given that many such jobs over here seem to require you to be both bilingual and able to drive (yes, my parents were right, a driver’s licence and continuing with high school French would actually have come in handy after all).

Despite an offer to work in an axe-throwing business (this is a thing! People come and drink beer and throw axes for fun. I have no idea why the relative stranger I’d just met thought I would be a perfect hostess for this), I went with the slightly-less-bizarre-but-still-out-of-left-field job as a production assistant at the Lush factory. Dunedin has its own Lush store in the Wall Street Mall, so I’m sure many of you are already familiar with the glorious, fragrant and – most importantly, ethical – bath and cosmetic products they sell. On the other hand, for every ‘Lushie’ I know, there is another person who can’t walk within a hundred metres of the store without gagging….

I’ve long been a fan though, and this may be the closest thing to being a real-life oompa loompa as I’ll get. I work in the Bubbles room, where I shape and mould solid bubble bars with names like ‘Rainbow Fun,’ ‘Candy Mountain’ and the seasonal – if somewhat creepy – ‘Peeping Santa’ (which on internal-only labelling I’ve seen changed to both ‘Peeing Santa’ and ‘Perving Santa’). I’m constantly covered in glitter, and have had strangers approach me on two separate occasions to ask if I work at Lush because I smell so good. Perhaps the biggest downside is that they’ve already made noises about bringing in Christmas music to play, and it’s still November. In addition to my oompa-loopa-ing, I’ve been keeping myself out of trouble by getting some art done, and have already had two paintings in a group show, with another one coming up next week. Disappointingly, beer at art openings over here is not free like it is back home though…

I haven’t managed to keep away from universities entirely; I’ve found myself living in the heart of the University of Toronto campus on Spadina Avenue, although I can assure you all that it’s a lot quieter than Castle Street, and I haven’t seen a single couch fire. Come winter I may resort to lighting one myself; Torontonians love regaling with me tales of the four feet of snow and temperatures of -40 degrees that are supposedly just around the corner. On my way to the subway each day I walk past Graduate House, the equivalent of Otago’s Abbey College, and our local dive bar has a regular weekly spot featuring U of T music student bands.


The view from our front porch. Streetcars and autumn leaves…


Graduate House. It may look a little austere from this angle, but they have a very nice cafe in the left-hand bottom corner…

I’ve ticked the requisite number of tourist boxes – the CN Tower, Graffiti Alley, Toronto Islands, Casa Loma, Niagara Falls – and have stopped viewing riding the subway as a remarkable event, but I still get unreasonably excited every time I spot a squirrel. Some days the temptations of Canadian big city living are enough to make me consider staying (everything is open all hours! Oh the number of gigs! And poutine! Where is your poutine, Dunedin?!) but then I remember how much I miss my cat, and I look at my ever-dwindling bank account in dismay. Toronto may have a lot going for it, but cheap living is not one of those things.


Tourist box tick one: Graffiti Alley on Queen Street West. Someone needed to step in between Tom and Jerry……


Tourist box tick two, Niagara Falls. It impressed me more than I thought it would. My only regret is not getting around to taking photos until it was dark…

On that note, I’ll be back at GRS from mid-May, getting to grips with the new eVision system and reacquainting myself with staff happy hour. Apologies in advance if I mistake your freshly submitted thesis for some kind of bath product and attempt to sprinkle it with glitter…

2 Funerals, a Christmas Party and a sinus infection


Sorry folks, due to one thing or another we are unable to provide a blog post today.

Instead enjoy the novel concept of dance you PhD.

*insert cheerleader chant here* Re-enrol! Re-e-enrol!

Firstly, this post is going to be pretty short and reasonably dry… so bear with! The good news is, you’ll read it so fast that you can go back out and enjoy the sunshine faster than a toupee in a hurricane. Secondly, sorry… I feel like we are forever banging on about re-enrolment, but hey, it’s super important if you want to be able to check those romance novels out of the library for the long summer days you’ll be lounging in the gardens… or rather, those DVDs you’ll be watching from the comfort of your couch while waiting for that summer to actually arrive!

2016 re-enrolment

Anywho… the 2016 re-enrolment process looks a bit like this:

1. Log in to eVision…

2. Complete the initial re-enrolment questions, which will take you to the ‘paper selection’ part… [and no, I’m sorry, you can’t choose the paper yourselves!]

3. Email us at with your name, ID number, and the type of enrolment you want for 2016 (i.e. full year, or if you are due to submit in first semester (yay for you), semester one only!) and we’ll add your thesis paper code for you…

4. We’ll then say ‘thanks a bunch’ and let you know that you can go ahead complete the declaration in eVision anytime after 1 January 2016.

If you want to change from full time to part time, or vice versa, you’ll need to fill out a form, which can be found here:

It would be awesome if you could make sure you re-enrol ASAP so that you won’t lose access to resources come next year – thanks heaps!!

Have a fantastic weekend 🙂



Gregory Scott, Rest in Peace

This week I attended the funeral of my colleague Gregory Scott.

There was lots of shared laughter about some of Gregory’s strange, strange ways. There was lots of giggling about his love of really terrible dad-jokes.  There was lots of nodding about Gregory’s kindness and helpfulness.  There was lots of affirmation about Gregory’s integrity and the importance of his faith to him.  There was a table of dodgy ties and we were allowed to take one to remember Gregory by.

It was a really good send off.

But it was way too soon to say goodbye.

Gregory ScottGregory worked for the Research Division at Otago for 15 years.  He worked mainly in the Graduate Research area and he was pivotal in developing smooth administration through his database Achievers.

Otago was the envy of other New Zealand universities.  We knew how many PhD candidates we had at any one time, who was deferred, who was under exam, who had changed supervisor 17 times (me!).  It may seem obvious that we should know this stuff, but obvious and the real world don’t always go hand-in-hand.  Gregory made what should happen actually happen.

Gregory was happy to poke fun at himself.  He reveled in corny jokes and the day he showed up for our Christmas-do dressed up as a nerd (or more of a nerd, as he would have it) summed up his spirit of fun.


Gregory and I would have long conversations about new technology, big data, disastrous IT projects as well as excellent ones. He would tolerate my deviations into discussions about diplomacy and different communication styles when all he really wanted to talk about was systems solutions.

Gregory died after a four year battle with bowel cancer.  He fought hard against this ghastly disease and he never seemed to waiver in his optimism about his prognosis.

The day Gregory told me his cancer had returned I got upset. He gave me a hug to comfort me. You could see it pained him to have to do it but he manned-up and did it anyway.

In all the time he was sick I never heard him complain about his health.  One hears this being said of people and one tends to think it’s an exaggeration.  With Gregory it was utterly true. He stoically put up with invasive nasty treatments, with the side-effects of chemo, with the tiredness, and the discomfort.

Gregory was dedicated to his work, dedicated to his family, dedicated to helping people and dedicated to God.

Gregory, you will be missed.

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School 

Only 8 weeks to Christmas!

Santa BrianChristmas is a few weeks away.  Brian’s post highlights the stresses associated with Christmas and gives advice on how you can get everything done stress free!

Preparations for the holiday season seem to come around earlier and earlier each year. Some merchandisers start their advertising campaign as early as September, for goodness sake!

For many of us in the lead up to Christmas we become distracted by the frenetic demands of shopping for gifts for family and friends. The holiday season can be a stressful time and the pressures to ‘buy, buy, buy’, can take its’ toll on our finances and energies. We convince ourselves it’s time to ease off focusing on our studies or work commitments. Our priorities shift and some of us may ‘take a wee holiday’ from progressing thesis writing.But wait! We can achieve a lot in eight weeks and shop!

Weekly Planner2

I encourage students and staff I work with, to create a healthy balance between ‘business and pleasure’. If you haven’t already used a weekly planner to structure your week, do it today! Include thesis writing, exercise, healthy eating and sleeping habits and doing some things you enjoy.

Or perhaps, like me, you could adopt a “Scrooge” approach and let Christmas consumerism pass you by. Or choose to focus on being grateful for what we’ve got, appreciate our family and friends and donate to our favourite charity – to those who really need.


Whatever you choose to do over the coming weeks, remember at any given moment you have the opportunity to choose to focus on what’s most important to you.


Brian Johnston, Graduate Research

Spooooooky Home Truths About the PhD

It’s Halloween tomorrow, and I for one am polishing my talons and getting ready to release the hounds on the local children. In honour of the spookiest of celebrations, Dr Ichabod “Cyclops” Bluebeard* has taken some time to reflect on the ghoulish lessons he took from his PhD.  

*Probably not his real name.

alient house


1. You realise your supervisor is actually an alien for whom the normal expressions of human nature and sociability are interesting empirical claims, but little more.

(This at least means you know much better how to handle them and what to expect! )

2. You discover that writing a bid for funding is actually a slightly more academic form of trick or treating.

(Everything in life is basically a form of trick or treating. Go watch the movie Trick’r’Treat to deepen this life lesson.)

3. One chapter of your thesis is like that run-down house in your street. The paint is peeling and the lawns overgrown. It’s unclear where the owner is and whether it’s inhabited, but the curtains seem to shift occasionally. When you have to walk past it you increase your speed, but you know one day you’ll venture inside. Or at least knock on the door and run away.

(You’ll go inside one day and solve the mystery of the house. In preparation, go watch the movie Monster House.)

Haunted house

4. Your flatmates discover that they are dealing with a potential Jeckyll and Hyde situation immediately before, after (and sometimes during) deadlines, progress reviews, important data gathering periods, statistical analysis, and anytime a new paper or book comes out on your topic.

(If you know this going in, you can deal with it so that your flatmates don’t have to. Read the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to see what to avoid.)

5. You meet your research doppleganger at a conference, and engage them in discussion, keeping a smile fixed on your face while desperately trying to find anything that makes your research different from theirs.

(There will be differences. But there is also value in people making the same findings! And Dopplegangers are cool.)

6. Two years into your PhD on the neuroendocrine stress response you realise that the best stimulator of the hypothalamic-pitutary-adrenal axis is your thesis and disappear into a recursive spiral.

(Incorporate “writing a thesis” as a treatment in your experiments. Or apply your research to the stress that often accompanies research. Stress may have positive effects too, if responded to correctly.)

Holloween number 1

7. Completion of your PhD is like killing Pamela or Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Chucky, or the Bride in Black: every time you think it’s down and out, you need to do it again, in a different way.

(There are multiple “endings” to the PhD (submission, viva, amendments, publication…). Each of these is valuable progress, even if more work. It should also mean multiple opportunities for celebration!)

8. You watch the entire Final Destination, Saw, Child’s Play and Hellraiser franchises just to take a calming break from that chapter you’re revising.

(For some people doing scary things like watching horror movies can be therapeutic! You can find out more about this in the latest episode of the Hidden Brain podcast “The Science of Fear”.)

9. You think you know the thoughts of long-dead academics and scholars better than you know your own, and consider a side-line writing fanfiction with Aristotle, Hypatia, Marx, and Wollstonecraft in what you pitch as a “Friends-style sitcom”.

(You will have at least one reader of your fanfiction (me).)

Halloween 2

10. You feel like a stalker when you meet your academic idol having read all their work, seen & heard their lectures and interviews online, and reveal your encyclopaedic knowledge by correcting them with a quote from one of their minor papers within five minutes of meeting them.

(Chances are they will be impressed, not embarrassed. And sometimes academics may not be the best interpreters of their own work, so it’s a good opportunity for them to learn from you!)

Dr Ichabod “Cyclops” Bluebeard, Department of the Long Dead, University of OOOOOOOOOtago

Claire, Monique Says Your Stories Are Dumb

When you’ve been a graduate research student as longs as I have, you’ve got a few war stories to tell and if you are anything like me you are happy to tell them.


There’s the story about me writing my entire Master’s thesis in bed using a laptop of my own devising (thanks Steve Jobs for the Apple Mac Classic).  I liked the way I could just have a nap if it all got too much for me and when I woke up I could get straight into writing (how I escaped Deep Vein Thrombosis is anyone’s guess).

There was the time I ran away from my supervisor and he spotted me and ran the other way, crept up on me from behind and yelled BOO! in my ear.  There was also the way he used to toy with me by making cryptic comments on my work just for the sport of it.  Oh those were good times!

There are also the stories I could regale you with about being a supervisor.  I’ve got some good ‘uns but professionalism requires I keep those to myself.

But let’s be frank, you’ve heard most of these stories already.You don’t want to hear my shtick all the time. You all have your own stories and I know some of them are goodies.  So in the interest of getting better Blog With No Name Stories, we want you!

wanted poster

If you have an idea for a story, let me know by emailing  All you have to do is provide us with some original text and or pictures and we can do the rest.

Remember, connecting with your community is key to positive graduate research outcomes and we are happy to help unlock that connection.

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School


GRS ShakeOut – Get Ready!

Before the New Zealand ShakeOut, there were a myriad of awesome shaking-moments-from-history.

There was Shakin’ Stevens, milkshakes, K.C. and the Sunshine Band urging you to shake your booty (I defy you not to get down like James Brown after checking that video out), and, of course, three hands shaking all at once:


The Graduate Research School live and breath preparedness in all aspects of our lives, so when Department health and Safety Officer, Katherine van der Vliet, told us we had to do our earthquake drill, we complied eagerly.

The drill was useful for two reasons, first we know better what to do in an earthquake (a very real, and as Christchurch residents will tell you, important thing to master) and we also found some amazing stuff under our desks.


Mel found the chewing gum she left there and has been stuck in this position since Thursday.


Robin found her ‘be prepared emergency bag’ and discovered Claire had removed the first aid kit and replaced it with a small bottle of boutique-made gin.


Annoyed about the loss of her bandaids, Robin threw a box at Claire.  No brains were harmed in the ensuing tussle.


Tina, dedicated as always to the doctoral candidates, chucked herself over a newly submitted PhD and continued to run the office from underneath a straw hat.


True to her Australian roots, Belinda held on to the table legs like a Koala grips a Gum tree in a gale-force wind.  Belinda was delighted to locate a Vegemite sandwich and a cork hat behind her rubbish bin.*


Lisa took a break from paying our lovely scholarship-holders and was absolutely delighted to find her ponytail.


Susan was reminded of the dark days when she first started yoga and her yoga instructor had to send her to hospital after she seized up during downward facing dog.


Under her desk, Sarah found her mojo again and was equal parts delighted and horrified.


To be honest, this was just plain embarrassing.  The Dean was not actually taking part in the drill and I just happened to need to ask her a question when I found her like this.  I dont really know what to say.


The all round awesome and massively overachieving Karyn found at least three awards that she hadn’t realised she’d received during her earthquake drill.


I was feeling as perky as anything as I took my ShakeOut selfie.  I’m a bit worried that I might have jaundice though.  Nothing a bit of foundation won’t fix I guess.

So, the Graduate Research School are all sussed in case of emergency.  The question is are you?

* This exhausts my cultural stereotyping, although I was mighty tempted to include reference to Trevor Chappell’s cricket ball.  However, I’m too nice for that.

Claire “Without Borders” Gallop, Graduate Research School