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Monthly Archives: November 2014

Panda’s Big Graduate Research Adventure: Undercover Student

Before the Kardashians were exposing themselves (ahem) on TV, the U.S. had Hunter Thompson exposing the Hells Angels and Woodward and Bernstein exposing Richard Nixon.  Roguish Irish journalist Donal MacIntyre exposed the British underworld and even New Zealand had hard hitting investigative journalism in the form of Target exposing the tastiest corn-chips.

This time the tables have turned on the Graduate Research School when charismatic megafauna, World Wide Fund for Nature mascot and undercover bear, Panda B. Ear, spends time inside GRS.  What Panda finds inside the Clock Tower may change you forever*.

In a two part exposé, first as a doctoral candidate and then as a member of staff, Panda puts the spotlight on Otago University’s support for thesis candidates.

* The chances are slim to vanishing.

This is Part One of Panda’s story…

Day One

Given that there were no current vacancies in the Graduate Research School, I decided to go undercover as a student first. My rugged good looks mean I am hard to ignore.  I stayed up late reading about total fraud and has-been, Winne-the-Pooh; this gave me that haunted dark-circles-under-the-eyes look that so many grad students seem to have.  I blended in perfectly and no one noticed anything amiss.

I’d heard that the Manager of the School was good for a chat so I went to see her about my “thesis”.

I discovered I could talk to her forever and soon I was telling her about how I didn’t feel like I fitted in and that my supervisor did not realise how rare and precious I was. I explained that sometimes the University feels like such a zoo; I’m unique, don’t treat me like one of the pack!

I also asked for some Excel advice and for some help with some quadratic equations.  To be honest, she was completely useless regarding the latter issues but she did help me to stop being so black and white. Panda and ClaireI knew I’d said too much when we explored my bamboo habit and my relationship with my mother.  I’ve never known such tiredness.Panda lies down

Day 1095

So as not to draw attention to myself I waited 1094 days until I submitted “my” thesis.  No one seemed any the wiser until I spat out the Chocolate Fish they gave me.  Fish??? I’m a vegetarian!Panda Submits PhD

I’d found out all I could about life as a doctoral student.  GRS’ most heinous crime was in its choice of marshmallow confection.  I sensed there was more to this story and I started to plan how to get behind the (frankly crazily high) reception desk.

Panda B. Ear

Mastering the Masters Scholarship Application

Mastering your Masters Scholarship ApplicationIt’s that time of year when you have finished your final exams, it was the last year of your degree and you are wondering what to do next.  Someone whispers in your ear
“what about postgraduate study?” and you are thinking “mmm maybe a masters is for me but how can I support further study?”.  Well, a scholarship might be an option.  What follows is a 101 for applying for an Otago University Master’s scholarship.

Step one:  How do I apply?

First visit the Scholarship Applynow webpage.  This page lists the University of Otago scholarships you can apply for at Masters level, the regulations and most importantly the application form.

So go ahead and have a read, use categorised list of Otago Master’s degrees to work out what scholarship you can apply for. I will wait…… Sorted? Brilliant.

An important thing to note is that at the moment you cannot apply for scholarship funding via eVision.  There is no super cool tick box scenario here (but it is coming in 2015).

Either save an electronic copy of the application and enter your details or go old school and print off the application and complete it by hand, then scan it as a PDF.

If you do choose the second option, please use your best handwriting as we have to load your application into our database and life is so much easier if we don’t have to guess what you are writing! (Academy award winning writer and producer Aaron Sorkin wants to do an MSc in Pottery??? Oh no, some random dude called Darren Walken wants to do an MSc in Botany!)

Step two:  When do I apply?

A brilliant question and one we get often.  You can apply any time.  The Graduate Research School is all about flexibility; we don’t have a closing date which means if you want to have leisurely summer by the beach before you start your masterpiece, you can.

When you are ready to apply, submit your scholarship application as part of your admission application (yes this bit is via eVision).  There is no section which says “load your scholarship here,”  you simply load it as an additional document.

What happens if I have already applied for admission and I did not submit my scholarship application I hear you cry (sob sob)? Dry those tears my dear and don’t panic.  You can still apply.

If you are a coursework masters scholarship applicant as long as you have not started your course you can still apply (if you have started, unfortunately you are out of luck but check out BreakOut for options for external funding).  Research Masters students can apply after they have started their masters (we only offer funding for the first 12 months of your degree, so it’s no go if you are in month 13 of your study).  To apply after admission, complete your application and forward it on to your department and they will do the rest.

Step three:  When do I know if I have a scholarship or not?

We will process scholarship as soon as we receive and put it forward to a monthly meeting where it will be assessed.  We will notify you once the meeting has been held as quickly as we can and we will most likely notify you by email.

Sooo… if we get your application by the end of November we will assess your application before Christmas, applications received before Christmas will be assessed early Jan and you could be rolling in cash by February.

Step four:  Is there anything else I should know?


  • Our current round of scholarships can start from 1 Jan 2015 (or there after).
  • Aim to start at the beginning of a month.  We make our payments month by month and it doesn’t matter what date you start within in the month you will use a month’s funding (try saying that one in a hurry).
  • Scholarship offers are valid for at least six months from when the offer is made.  So if you want to know before you go on your beach holiday if you have a scholarship, you can.
  • We offer 60 Research Masters Scholarships and around 20 Coursework Scholarships which means that these scholarships are super competitive i.e. we need to see good grades (like A grades).

Hopefully this helps in your quest to finding funding to help support yourself as you begin your postgrad life.  Don’t forget BreakOut  is another place to hunt out scholarship funding.  Any more questions just drop us an email (

Mel Adams, Graduate Research School

Behind Department Doors: The Bioethics Centre

Today’s post is part of an occasional series of revealing peeks inside the heart of the graduate student’s world; their department.  Sarah McGregor asked Dr Mike King, PhD Coordinator at the Bioethics Centre.


Mike, I see that not only do you and the Bioethics Centre have a significant online presence in the form of your Bioethics Blog and your FacebookTwitter and Google+ pages, but you are also making a splash in the world of university human interest.  Would you like to tell us about that?

More than anything.  Yes, I recently featured in The Otago Bulletin’s Hidden Talents section.

Ah yes, Hidden Talents.  You do realise that being obsessed with pencils isn’t a talent don’t you?  If you made the pencils that might be a talent, but having a bunch of them doesn’t seem very talented.  Nor hidden. Tango, now that’s a talent. Perchance, do you dance?

Ah, no.  Isn’t this interview about the Bioethics Centre?

OK, has anyone famous ever come out of your department?

Maybe not famous in the “famous” sense of famous. In the “academic” sense of famous, Tom Douglas completed a BMedSc(Hons) in Bioethics and has gone on to do great things at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, some of which you can read about in the Otago Magazine.

Another is Nick Fancourt, who completed a BMedSc(Hons) and Masters in Bioethics and Health Law at the Bioethics Centre. Nick was awarded a Fullbright Scholarship and is currently a PhD student at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Lots of other postgraduates have gone on to do great things, too.

Do you have a postgraduate/research liaison person in your department? If so, who are they?

I am the PhD coordinator, and Neil Pickering is the coordinator for other postgraduates. In practice we overlap a lot on dealing with postgrads, since many activities and issues involve the whole cohort, rather than being degree-specific. Neil has a very good understanding of the various options available for postgraduate study. I offer a complimentary pencil with every inquiry.*

As a potential research student, what would be the best way to approach or find a supervisor within your department?

I think the best way is to think hard about what you need in a supervisor to achieve what you want academically. Then read the profile pages of the academic staff in the department, and some of their work, and approach staff to talk to discuss your research idea with them and see who feels like the best fit. It’s a good idea to approach a postgraduate coordinator at the same time, so that they can help with the process. Sometimes there are constraints on supervisor availability and other factors that they can advise on.

What is the postgrad community like within your department? Do you hold social events for postgrads or a special welcome for new students?

The postgrad community is lively and diverse at Bioethics. Since you can take postgraduate bioethics from a range of different undergraduate degrees there are postgrads who have academic backgrounds in philosophy, sociology, medicine, law, science, and more. There is also a great mixture of nationalities among the postgrads.

The postgrads are very keen to hear about and support each other’s work. One of the ways they do this is by holding a weekly Research Forum on Friday mornings after our weekly staff and postgrad student morning tea. After morning tea a postgrad can present some work they’re doing and get help from other postgrads and staff in attendance. We also hold a social event at the start of every year to welcome new postgrads, and the occasional get together during the year, such as when we have postgrads studying at a distance visit the Centre for a residential weekend.

I’m trying to start a Bioethics-Pencil-Fancying-Self-Help-Group, as well, but so far we haven’t had any takers.

We notice that when some students come to submit their PhD they come with an entourage; does your department do anything special for students who complete their PhD or Masters?

It very much depends on the student. One postgrad student I supervised (with Colin Gavaghan from Law) preferred things being low-key, so we had a coffee to celebrate and she graduated in absentia! Nicola Collie, a Masters student I co-supervised (with Gareth Jones) submitted her Masters with an entourage of Bioethics postgrads accompanying her, which you can see on twitter. I am considering offering a complimentary pencil (usually HB/No. 2) with every completion.

Have you noticed postgraduate students change over the years? If so, how?

Well, in my day, everyone tied an onion on their belt, which was the fashion at the time, and we would catch the tram to the exchange for tuppence and still have a halfpenny left to buy a new pair of plimsoles. Now in those days plimsoles were called batts. “Two of your finest halfpenny batts” we’d say and then stroll down the high street in our shiny batts to see if the new season’s yams were at the grocer’s for yam rolling; yam rolling being the national sport of the day. Now yam rolling wasn’t for me, on account of my thumb being double-jointed. Now where was I? Oh yeah: the important thing is that the onion on your belt was yellow in hue…

Has any exceptionally interesting or controversial research ever come out of the department?

I’m sure this is true in any discipline, but all of the research postgrads do is interesting. There is partly selection bias here – one of the chief desiderata for a research project should be that it’s interesting! Bioethics research can be pretty controversial at times, as can any discussion about what’s morally right and wrong. There have been times when people have been offended or disagreed strongly with a piece of research. This can be very constructive if it’s handled well, and means people are engaging with your work and care about what you say. We have a page that lists the research completed by Bioethics postgrads and has links to the work in the OUR Archive, which gives open access to a lot of this really interesting, good, and sometimes controversial, postgraduate research.

If you could replace an on-campus urban myth that would make your life easier, what would it be?

One would be for everyone to know that people handling administration, research, and teaching really do care about the people they deal with and their work. Another would be to dispel the myth that I give away pencils to, like, anybody.

If GRS could grant your department one wish, what would it be?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from The Twilight Zone, it’s that wishes always go awry. So, I would wish for everyone to have the superpower of their choice. There’s no way that could ever go awry.

What is the thing you do best for postgraduate students in your department?

Staff are really friendly and approachable and keen to help students get the most out of their time here. One staff member provides the best pencils on campus.

Bravo for Bra-Vo

Each year GRS staff unleash their crafty talents (and believe me there is a fair bit of it about the place) and take part in the Bra-Vo competition.  I caught up with Katherine van der Vliet the GRS Bra-Vo wrangler to learn more about the event. – Mel Adams


Mel:  First up what is Bra-Vo?

Katherine:  Bra-Vo is a fund raising event to raise money for the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation.  It is organized by Fran Cockerell from Women’s and Children’s Health at the University of Otago.

Mel: Why do you take part?

Katherine: 1 in 5 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime in NZ, so it is important to help raise money towards research and awareness.


Mel: So what is it you actually do when you take part in Bra-Vo?

Katherine: You decorate a “Nana’ bra in the chosen theme and model your creation over your clothes with the other participants at the a morning tea held at Women’s and Children’s Health.

Mel: Over the years there have been many different themes what would be your favorite? (This years was ‘Bling it on’.)

Katherine: Kiwiana was the theme two years ago.  There were a lot of ideas to choose from, each bra was quite different.  They were all extremely funny and very creative.


Mel:  Where do you get your inspiration from for your Bra – Talk us through the process of creating an Awesome Bra-Vo Bra?

Katherine:  I look on the internet and look around me and think about it for a bit, then something usually just pops into my head.

Mel:  I have heard rumors that you have granny bras stashed in the bottom of your desk draw- is this true?

Katherine:  No comment!


Mel:  Do you think people are more likely  to take part in charity event if they events involves some form of creativity instead of just making a donation?

Katherine: I think people get quite enthusiastic about an event that is different, but because it takes a lot of time and effort in the end they find it easier just to make a donation, which is fine because we are all different.

Mel: I have also heard rumors that there should be a GRS Bra-Vo hall of fame established or perhaps an official history of the GRS Bra-Vo experience, do you think this something that should happen?

Katherine:  It would be nice to keep all the bras that have been made and have them on display somewhere.  A lot of time and effort has been put in to them as it’s a shame if they are just discarded or hidden away.

Mel:  Finally if you could have your pick of themes what would be your ideal theme?

Katherine:  Country:  pick a country and decorate the bra to represent the country.  The other participants have to guess what the country is.

GroupThanks Katherine for sharing with us her Bra-Vo experience – I can’t wait until next year’s theme is announced – Bling it on!!!