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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Claire Gallop, the Ghost of GRS?

Ghost Claire

As part of our series checking out the who’s and what’s of the Graduate Research School I paid my first visit to Claire Gallop – Manager of the School* to ask her the hard, and sometimes not so hard, questions.  Claire talked 91.38% nonsense about her role in the School and the wider University.  Here’s a run-down of our conversation….

Susan Craig, Graduate Research School

1)      Tell me about your role as “Manager of the GRS” – what is it you do?

The job is part Michael Clayton and part Mary Poppins with a spot of Dead Poets Society thrown in.  Thankfully it is rarely The Exorcist.

It’s great work if you can get it.

2)      What’s your favourite aspect of the role?

The bribes.

No!  Of course it’s working with the thesis candidates.  They are a bunch of smart, enthusiastic people and it’s great to be a part of their thesis journey.  I loved running the Insider’s Guide to Doctoral Domination PhD induction programme (which is coming back next year).  It is fantastic to meet the candidates and hopefully be able to help them with issues that they might be struggling with.

I also really enjoy when a candidate comes into the School to submit a PhD – it’s great when they bring their friends and colleagues and really celebrate what is, after all, an incredible achievement.  When I finally submit might I’m going to create chaos the like of which GRS has never seen before!

3)      I can’t help but notice the fabulous collection of Lego in your office and the smattering of Halloween decorations poking out of your cupboards…  would you like to tell me about those?  Rumour has it you have the unofficial title of GRS Halloween Queen…

Not after last night’s truly evil Halloween Quiz run by OUPS; turns out I’m barely a Halloween Lady-in-Waiting.  I reckon they made up half the answers to those questions.  Where was the romance novel section?  Why didn’t they ask for the lyrics of ABBA songs or what PhD Regulation 4 b. is?**

I take back what I said about enjoying working with students.

Ahem, yes, I do have a bit of Lego in my office.  I am slowly building up a village from the Creator Expert series.  I keep it in my office so my kids can’t play with it.


4)      The Man Upstairs much?

<Big Scuffle>


5)      I know from personal experience and enjoyment that you are a fabulous baker Claire.  What’s your favourite thing to bake and why?

Caramel Chip Cookies.  Mmmm  cookies.  They are super yum and super easy.

6)      If you could have ONE wish granted, what would it be?

George Clooney.

7)      You’ve been with the GRS for a few years now, but I’d like to know about your life before the GRS…

Do you mean post- or pre- witness protection?

Well, I was a lecturer in the Bioethics Centre for around five years and I’ve been hanging around the University doing a PhD in Philosophy for quite a while.  Before that I lurked around the Politics Department at Auckland University studying and teaching.  I guess I’m a university groupie.

8)      What is the best piece of advice you would like to share with our graduate research candidates?

Ask questions! Ask lots of them, ask them diplomatically, and ask the right people.   Ask your department about what they do to support you.  Ask the Graduate Research School about the PhD regulations.  Ask your supervisor about how they manage the writing process.

If you are worried about it, ask!  Actually, even if you are not worried about it, ask.  But ultimately this is your thesis so you will have to decide how you choose to respond to the answers you are given.

9)      Your house is a bit of a menagerie, with a collection of giant cats and chickens.  If there was a fire, which would you save first and why??

Oh that’s easy.  It would have to be Monster Truck.  He may be big of body and even bigger of paw, but he is a cat of very little brain.  All the others could get out alive but Monster Truck would walk towards the fire and slap a steak on the couch thinking he was at a barbecue.


10)   And finally, and most importantly, would you rather fight a horse-sized-duck or 100 duck-sized horses?

It’s a little known untrue fact that I’m called the Bruce Lee of GRS so I’m glad you asked me this. I’ve thought about this long and hard and I’m totally going 100 duck-sized-horses. Ducks are dodgy at the best of times and a horse-sized-duck would be lethal.  That vicious bitey bill would be at you.  Also who wants to get slapped by a giant webbed foot?

However, you could easily boot the teeny horses out of the way.  I reckon you could punt them quite far; it would be poetry in motion.***

* The views expressed in this interview do not represent the views of the Graduate Research School nor the University of Otago.  Heck, they barely even represent Claire’s views.

** 4 b. The minimum period of study shall be equivalent to 2.5 full-time years and the maximum period shall be equivalent to 4 full-time years. Exceptions shall be permitted only with approval of the Senate.

*** No horse-sized ducks or duck-sized-horses were harmed in the course of this interview.




The PhD Seesaw

At the Graduate Research School’s recent Networking function I had the pleasure of talking to a PhD candidate, Sim KwongNui, who I discovered was happy to write a post about her experience as a thesis candidate at Otago.  Sim said, ‘but it’s not a bad news story!  I really like my supervisors and I like doing a PhD”.

It’s really easy to focus on the negative; on the hiccups we have along the thesis journey, on the troubles we have with writing or with our supervisors. It is important to acknowledge these issues and to speak openly about our difficulties and to examine possible solutions.

However, it is also important to celebrate our successes and to acknowledge the awesome work and the fantastic collaborations that are happening all the time across the University. No thesis experience should be just a bad news story!

This is Sim KwongNui’s reflection on the role her supervisors play in her study and a chance to celebrate a good news story.

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School


“PhD study is like a seesaw ride full of ups and downs but I am blessed to say that my PhD study is a well balanced seesaw ride where my three supervisors keep it calm and steady at all times.”



When asked why I pursue my PhD study in the same department at the same university, an answer I always give is “Because I have great supervisors!” Honestly, I do.

Undoubtedly, all my three supervisors are quite different in their ways of carrying out a research project, providing supervision or giving feedback. Here are some examples of their different ways of talking to me in a similar scenario:

Supervisor X: “I hope you are spending the afternoon celebrating reaching this important milestone!”

Supervisor Y: “All good. Just one suggestion.”

Supervisor Z: “You are progressing fine. However, I would suggest that to finish in time you will need to be investing more time in writing.”

It is fascinating to see the differences in my three supervisors’ personalities. Somehow those differences complement each other and balance my PhD seesaw ride nicely. After all, my supervisors are not all the same as individuals so why would they be all the same as supervisors?

I really appreciate my Primary Supervisor’s empathy, motivation, enthusiasm, immense knowledge, and, above all, her untiring assistance and unerring support of all aspects of my PhD study. I will always remember the many times that I go to her and she has never failed to be there for me.

I am also indebted to my talented and highly motivated co-supervisor, for his generous and unequivocal support of my academic pursuits. I could not continue my efforts without his consistent encouragement and enthusiasm.

My sincere gratitude also to my other co-supervisor, for persevering with me as my supervisor from the time I started my Masters study. He has played a vital role in developing my understanding of research and he has provided me with a deep appreciation of this field of study. I attribute the level of my current position in academia to his excellent guidance, effort and patience throughout my research journey.

In short, all of my three supervisors’ encouragement and depth of knowledge, as well as their availability, have been major catalysts for my PhD study. For their contribution and good-natured support, I could not have wished for better or more approachable supervisors.

I understand that many postgraduate students have issues with their supervisors (or vice versa) but I wonder if it is due to the supervisor(s) and/or the student’s misconception of this seesaw ride? The reason a seesaw was made for two parties is that when you go down, there is always someone there to lift you up again.

Undeniably, I am lucky to have three supervisors who not only lift me up but also work as a team to keep my ride safe and stable. Nevertheless, I believe it is a joint effort between the supervisor(s) and the PhD student that makes this seesaw ride a good one – our most difficult task as a working partner is to offer understanding when we don’t really understand.

So, perhaps let’s not allow one bad apple to spoil the rest of the basket: there are always good apples for us to enjoy.

 Sim KwongNui, PhD Candidate, Higher Education Development Centre


2014 Graduate Research Festival Round Up

Congratulations to all the participants of the inaugural Thesis in Three (Pictures!).  This competition was an exploration of the thesis journey through images.

We had 14 participants who turned their thesis into art using tools as diverse as powerpoint and watercolours.  This competition was the brainchild of PhD candidate, Ann Cronin and all those who participated in it, thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  This event rounded off the two week Graduate Research School Graduate Festival.

Bridgette Toy-Cronin’s Thesis Journey (Self-Represented Litigants in the NZ Civil Courts)Cronin 3

Joanne Choi’s How I Feel About My Thesis (Continuous and Simultaneous measurement of Intraoral pH and Temperature)

Joanne Choi 3

Susan Wardell’s Thesis Journey (Living in the Tension; a comparative study of mental health, spirituality and care labour among two communities of youth workers)

Susan Wardell 3

Man, the Otago thesis candidates are talented!

The festival started out with the OUSA Supervisor of the Year awards.  There were around 200 votes for favourite supervisors and Associate Professor Ruth Fitzgerald took out the overall prize.  You can read more about this in the Bulletin.

The next highlight of the festival was the visit from the absolutely fabulous Dr Inger (Thesis Whisperer) Mewburn.  Inger works at ANU and if she does not know something about doctoral education, then it’s not worth knowing.

Inger ran workshops on tragic research mistakes, examinations, and building an online profile.  After working her hard I asked her the even harder questions in a tell-all interview.  Look out for a future post where we will find out if Inger would rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses amongst other things.

We held a networking event where we played networking bingo.  Finding who has a Lego village in their office was particularly vexing for the participants (it was me, it was me!).

GRS put on some extra workshops and the new support group for staff writing a thesis, Occupatus, met for the first time.  It was great to meet some folk who are in the same boat I am – juggling work at the University, family, and a thesis can be an exciting ask, to say the least.  Note to self though, staff-students don’t eat nearly as much as student-students!

It is always lovely to celebrate the wonderful work that graduate research candidates are doing and this year was no exception.  It’s important to venture out beyond our own offices and labs and to meet with other thesis candidates, to share war-stories and forge new alliances.

All I ask for when we run the next festival is that my teeth don’t go feral again and my whole fortnight isn’t dominated by mouthageddon!

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School

Wanting to publish your research? A new course is designed to help you do this!

I’ve written prose that would move you to tears with the elegance of the sentence construction.  My deft choice of words and the profoundness of my arguments can thwart the cleverest of opponents.  The written word is mere putty in my hands; I truly am a literary giant.

Yeah Right.

Ever noticed how wonderful your writing is when it’s still in your head?  My imaginary articles are so beautiful that they should be displayed in a Museum of Rare and Precious Gems.  My real life articles, not so much – sometimes they are barely fit for a House of Horrors.

So how do we turn our horrors into gems?

Academic writing is a skill like another other, and for anyone interested in a career in research, it is an essential skill to develop.  Writing is the life blood of a research career; it’s how we share and challenge our findings and arguments.

No one thinks a violinist got up one morning and could play Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor.  Yet there are all sorts of myths around writing that downplays the hard graft that goes into good prose.

Associate Professor Karen Nairn from the College of Education has a new course that will bust some myths and help build practical writing skills to get publication results.

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School



EDUC 464: Writing for publication in the Social Sciences is a new postgraduate course for semester 1, 2015, aimed at doctoral, masters and postgraduate students in the Social Sciences (worth 20 points).

Assoc Prof Karen Nairn has designed this one-semester course to take you through the stages of writing a journal article, ready for submission at the end of the course. The course is designed to be practical, with lots of opportunities for writing and receiving feedback. Classes/workshops are scheduled Tuesdays 3-5 and Fridays 10-12 in semester 1.

The best way to maximise the benefits of this course is to have data collected ready for analysis and writing up for a journal article. If you do not have any data but would really like to do this course next year, there is data available from the National Education Monitoring Project, now called the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement, to write up. Email karen.nairn@otago to discuss this.

Karen has been running writing workshops since 2005, and a fortnightly writing group for colleagues and postgraduate students since 2011. She co-authored an article on demystifying academic writing in 2009. Her latest writing foray is an article about the challenges of collaborative writing, co-authored with 6 other members of the fortnightly writing group, for the journal of Higher Education Research & Development.

Here are the specifics:

EDUC 464 Writing for Publication in the Social Sciences

Each semester                  0.1667 EFTS           OL       20 points

Students will be guided through the process of writing a journal article, reporting their own data, ready for submission by the end of the course.

P       72 300-level points

L       Dunedin

SC     Arts and Music

Note: This paper is primarily intended for graduates in the Social Sciences.

And if you want to check out my writing!

Cameron, J., Nairn, K. & Higgins, J. (2009). Demystifying academic writing: Reflections on emotions, know-how and academic identity. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 33(2), 269-284.

Nairn, K., Cameron, J., Anakin, M.,Juntrasook, A.,Wass, R., Sligo, J.and Morrison, C. (forthcoming).Negotiating the Challenge of Collaborative Writing: Learning from One Writing Group’s Mutiny. Higher Education Research & Development.

Assoc Prof Karen Nairn, College of Education

Research is creative, but it sure doesn’t feel like it sometimes

When Mike King (Dr, not Comedian) is not researching animal ethics or boring people about pencils, he’s the PhD coordinator at the Bioethics Centre.  He took some time to muse about creativity, chairs, and the hard slog of research.

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School


Research is a very creative process, although it often doesn’t seem it. You’re sitting at your desk, or in the lab, poring over the dense and complex writing of others, or over your data, or over a piece of equipment, trying to understand what’s in front of you. Doing this analysis you are usually making use of ideas and work of others: theories, statistical tests, machines, methods. It can often seem like you’re merely treading in someone’s footprints, not plotting a bold new path.

If it feels like you’re treading in someone’s footprints, especially in the first years of your research, I think you’re doing it right. But your feelings are a bit misleading. You’re not treading in someone’s footprints, it’s more like putting on someone’s shoes, and walking in them for a while. Your supervisors are there to help you choose the right shoes, and to help point you in the right direction, but the walking is up to you, and as you start to feel comfortable in the shoes, you will find interesting things to look at and will start to direct yourself over to them on the way.


Eameslounch” by Original uploader was Sonett72 at en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.


Charles and Ray Eames were a husband and wife couple who were responsible for some of the best design work of the late-middle 20th century. Above is a very cool lounge chair you might recognise, and here is a video clip that shows the relative size of things in the universe. Both are highly creative and the product of immense skill. Yet one of their mottos was:

“Innovate as a last resort. More horrors are done in the name of innovation than any other.”

What Charles and Ray Eames did was to take a simple thing – the lounge chair – and adjusted it to make it a bit better for sitting in, using cheap, existing materials. Or take a simple idea – that things get smaller the further you are away from them – and use it to present a huge amount of scientific information in a beautiful and simple way. Both are hailed as huge contributions to their craft.

By making use of existing ideas (sometimes they’ve existed for a looong time) and taking them a little step further than the last person did, or putting them together with other ideas, and adjusting them carefully to suit the new terrain that research reveals and traverses, you’re doing something very creative. You’re creating knowledge. To quote the Otago PhD Regulations, this will be a “significant contribution to knowledge in the particular field”.

Dr Mike King, Bioethics Centre