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Monthly Archives: March 2015

DAAD is GRAAND

bauer-anna-pic

There are a number of scholarship programmes which help students and academic staff from Otago head over the big pond too far off countries to study. One of these programmes is the DAAD scheme. DAAD stands for German Academic Exchange Service and they offer a number of excellent scholarships to help students and staff at any point in their academic career study abroad. Anna Bauer is the NZ rep for DAAD and is coming to visit us at Otago shortly. Before she arrives I thought it would be good to learn more about DAAD so that if you attend the information session you have excellent questions to ask Anna.

Mel Adams, Graduate Research School

Mel: Hi Anna, thanks for taking part in the GRS Blog. My first question is can you tell us more about the DAAD scholarship scheme and what it offers Otago students, particularly those who are studying at post grad level?

Anna: Hi Mel, thank you for hosting me again this year, it’s always a pleasure to come to U Otago, you’ve got a wonderful town here and very well organised university. For postgrads, the DAAD are offering several different things. Students embarking on a 2 year master’s degree can apply for support to spend either one year of their master’s in Germany, or do the entire degree in Germany and receive EUR 750 per month for the duration of their stay as well as a travel grant. Doctoral students enrolled in a PhD programme here at Otago can apply to spend a portion of their research time in Germany in order to gather data or collaborate and learn from researchers over there for anything between 1 and 10 months, receiving a monthly stipend of EUR 750-1,000 as well as a travel grant. The doctoral support is also open to people who’ve just entered their postdoctoral phase, a time when many don’t have a job yet, but are keen to continue research, which will often lead to a job for them.

Mel: How did you get involved with the DAAD scholarship scheme?

Anna: I’d known about the DAAD from early on during my undergrad days. The Service is very well known at German tertiary institutions, and actually, it’s the largest of its kind in the world, giving out well over a 100,000 scholarships per year at present. When I neared the end of my PhD phase, there was a call for applications, and I applied for the DAAD liaison position in New Zealand.

Mel: How do students apply for a DAAD scholarship?

Anna: Nearly all applications are handled online these days, of course. Prospective applicants should go to DAAD scholarship website and take it from there. It’s always good to check things out early to make sure you know your way around the DAAD application portal, and to be able to submit your application ahead of the deadline, so you don’t get stressed. In order to make sure no application is lost, it’s still required at present to send in two print-outs of your application by post. For most programmes, the print-outs are sent to the German Embassy in Wellington.

Mel: Why do you think it is a good idea to spend time at another institute while doing postgrad study?

Anna: It sounds a bit clichéd probably, but it’s basically about broadening your mind. Being educated in one place means that you’re exposed to the ideas there, but even if it’s a vibrant place research-wise, it’s sometimes difficult to think outside the box that is particular to that place. Going to a different place means you’re entering a different box, and that opens up new paths, new ways of going about things, and you’re then able to use these for your research. I studied at three different universities and then worked at a fourth during my time as a student, and I think it’s taught me as much about thinking in different ways as my studies themselves.

Mel: You are a lecturer at the Uni of Auckland, what do you think is the main difference between studying in New Zealand and Germany?

Anna: The main difference at this point, I’d say is that students in Germany don’t have to worry about tuition fees, because there are none at the over 100 public universities, no matter whether you’re a national or an international student. Apart from that, experiences are pretty similar on the whole, I’ve found. A sizeable number of unis are in located in smaller towns and dominate that town much like U Otago features hugely in Dunedin as a town. On top of that, many unis are also quite international, and you meet people from all over the world, something that is made very easy also by the fact that most students in Germany flat with other students, it’s a bit of a rite-of-passage really.

Mel: Finally, Would you like to fight one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses?

Anna: Hahah! I think I’d go with the duck-sized horses. Being nearly 1.80m tall, I’m fairly sure I’d be able to outrun them if our fighting goes pear-shaped at my end of the arena.

Anna is visiting us on Wednesday the 20th of May from 12 to 1pm in Quad 2 if you want to learn more about the DAAD Scholarship programme.

When Mel went for a wander and came up with a theory

Autum and flowers

It’s March folks, and officially autumn and after such a spectacular summer I have started to notice that it is getting a bit cooler. Recently on a wander home from work the other day I started thinking how the different seasons of the year are similar to different seasons one experiences when undertaking a PhD or Master’s. I wanted to explore this idea further so I caught up with Brian Johnston our Personal Performance Coach to see if there was any truth to a wandering admin staff member’s theory.

Mel Adams, Graduate Research School

Mel: So the reason for this interview was I was wondering if the seasons in the year reflect the different seasons one may experience when doing a PhD or Master’s? Is it the case that there is a summer period when things are going really well, winter season you find it is hard and you are less productive? Do you think there is any truth to this wandering admin staff member’s theory or as an admin staff member I should stick to pushing paper around my desk? <Never! Says Claire>

Brian: I think you should stick to pushing paper around your desk! No, only kidding J. I think there is a lot to be said about your theory but I’ll try and keep it brief. In many ways the season’s parallel the PhD and the Master’s candidates experience. There are periods when the sun shines, it not only rains, but it pours and there’s calm before the storm!

Four seasons of BrianMel: As there is merit to a wandering admin staff member’s theory, how would you describe the different seasons of a PhD? For example what would summer be in the PhD/Master’s journey?

Brian: The summer can be an exciting time. When the sun is shining, we have blue skies and all is calm, we may feel a sense of optimism and all is well with the world. We smile more, feel more energised and more open to others and opportunities. When all’s going well with our postgraduate studies, we can experience a similar sense of optimism and excitement and be open to new learning and new ideas.

Spring can be a time for new beginnings. The doom and gloom of winter is gone and we can emerge into lighter days and nights. We have a “spring in our step” (pun intended), the buds are appearing on the trees and bushes and there’s new growth. This is the time of new born lambs (aw!) and for many a time for change and creativity. Again this mirror’s some postgraduates’ study experience.

There can be “dark” times during the Master’s/PhD experience and it seems there will never be “light at the end of the tunnel”. But then things begin to change and there can be a sense and experiencing of “new growth”. Progress may be slow but a new spring dawn brings lighter days and a feeling of renewal or reconnection with their thesis.

Mel: Do you think it is important to have a ‘winter’ period?

Brian: I don’t know if I think it’s important but I think it is almost inescapable. It has been said that in order to experience the light we need to experience the dark. In order to experience joy, we need to experience despair. I am not sure I agree with that.

In my work with postgraduates we consider the academic rigour and stamina each student needs to run the marathon of the PhD. It cannot be a sprint to the end. To succeed and “cross the finish line” requires perseverance and the ability to push through even when the “path of least resistance” would be to give up. Undertaking postgraduate study challenges many students’ resilience and tests their character strengths. Winter can have a similar affect for many of us. Often it would be easier to stay in bed, conserve our energy and avoid facing the day ahead. It requires effort, energy and determination to motivate ourselves during the cold, harsh Dunedin winters, but remember spring will arrive and we can embrace the day with new energy.

Winter ght

Mel: Do you have advice for students on how to capitalise on each season? For example, should you you acknowledge that you are in a winter period but develop means of making the most of it?

Brian: I’ve probably answered this question in part above. However I would add that I truly believe that the seasons can affect our moods, energy levels and our abilities to work at our optimal best. And yet many employers expect their employees (and that includes postgraduate students) to work to their capacity all year round! My advice is to do the best we can, when we can. Develop a holistic approach to our life ensuring we listen to our body – eat well, sleep well and pace ourselves throughout the year.

Mel: What happens if things are going well personally (summer) but not academically (it’s winter) or vice versa? How do you cope with this? (wear a raincoat with sunnies???)

Brian: This has been a great summer in Dunedin. Lots of days for the sunnies! Oh if only this were the norm! Again I think it’s all about getting the right balance. Hopefully each of us can make the most of our “summers” (believe it or not, some people work best in the winter!), springs, autumns AND winters.

Build up the academic and personal “stamina” needed to run the postgraduate marathon. Keep your eye on the finishing line and visualise the enormous sense of satisfaction and achievement you will feel once you cross the finishing line.

Summer

Mel: How can you deal with worries about winter periods in your PhD/Master’s during summer periods?

Brian: Accept that “worries”, winter and summer days are a natural process of postgraduate study. We all have down days and we all have up days. Hopefully the ‘summer” days well outweigh the winter days. Once again, pay attention to creating a life/study balance. Develop the strategies you need to keep healthy, positive and don’t overdo it. Take regular breaks, eat well, exercise – even in the cold winter days and build up your resilience to “weather all storms”. Seek support from family, friends and fellow students – “A problem shared is a problem halved.

If you are keen to catch up with Brian for a one to one session to help with motivation and your studies you can book an appointment.  Contact details on his webpage.

The media and you – moving beyond no comment

 

i WANNA bE WORLD FAMOUSData scandals, intellectual property theft, research misconduct, harmful experiments and holding the world record for time to completion are all examples of the kinds of things graduate students don’t want media attention for.  But what should you want media attention for? 

I always start my thesis workshops on what a master’s or PhD is not.  It’s not a ticket to the New York Best Seller List and no one is going to make a block-buster movie out of it with you as the lead.  Having said that, if your plans for media saturation aren’t quite so grand, then it is important to think about how much media exposure you want your research to have and how you will handle a reporter who gets wind or your cool research project.

Fiona Clarkson is the Postgraduate Marketing and Communications Coordinator at the University.  She says has been a journalist and communications professional for over 20 years but I say she looks way too young and this can’t possibly be true. Either way we are lucky enough to have her sharing her wisdom on why it is a good idea to have a media presence.

The question of whether you should try and attract “mainstream” media attention for your research can be a perplexing one.

It’s journal articles and the like that really add value to your career, right? And everyone knows the media just beat everything up, and/or get things wrong, don’t they?

Besides which, nerve-wracking much? What if I’m misquoted? What if I sound like a dork?

Well here’s one reason: imagine you and another freshly minted PhD are interviewing for a post-doc role. And you both have wonderful theses. And you’re both awesome people. And one of you has newspaper articles giving your research publicity – with the potential to bring ongoing public attention to your work. In the modern funding environment, a public profile is a good thing.

Here’s another more philanthropic reason: I’ve not met a PhD candidate yet for whom the chance to add to the body of knowledge isn’t one of their raison d’être. But how much real value are you adding with a stunning thesis that is shelved only in a library? Let’s spread the joy and the knowledge.

Or what about purely practical reasons? Need survey participants and short on funding? Media attention to your project can reach further than any advertisement.

With careful preparation and thought, talking to the media needn’t be a scary proposition.

Yes, news in today’s modern world does seem to hinge on a catchy headline and a bit of conflict. But knowing that and preparing accordingly, with facts and figures and consideration to what a journalist needs (not just what you want), can have fantastic results. And avoid potential dork-ery.

Check out part two of this series for how to attract media attention and prep for an interview.

Fiona Clarkson,  Postgraduate Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Relativity applies to physics, not ethics (A. Einstein)

Ever heard of New Zealand’s very own “Unfortunate Experiment”? Or perhaps you’ve heard of the Cartwright Inquiry that resulted from the horrors of this so-called ‘treatment’? If not – imagine being really sick and finding out that your doctor hasn’t been treating you properly – on purpose! For more info, go googling! That, my friends, illustrates just one example as to why ethical practice is so very important.

Ethics

Having dabbled in a bit of research in my student days, and sat in on a few Ethics Committee meetings during my time here as a Uni staff member, I thought I had a fair idea of what ‘ethics in research’ was all about. However a while ago I went to check out the ‘Navigating your Ethics Committee’ workshop, run by GRS. It was here that I realised there was a whole lot I hadn’t considered, and it reiterated, for me anyway, why we should be taking this stuff really seriously, and not just ticking a few boxes on a form!

The bottom line is that as researchers, you have knowledge that others don’t. This can be a risky business. Some research, by nature, involves a certain level of deception; the omission or distortion of information, for example, the placebo effect. It is this type of research that will often produce the most effective results, but can also hold the greatest risk to both participants and the researcher.

This is where our multiple University Human Ethics Committees come into play – to help identify and minimise these risks. We have the UO Human Ethics Committee, and the UO Health Ethics Committee. Made up of academics/researchers, members of outside organisations and lay people, if you’re doing research that involves human participants, you should be submitting an application to one of these committees. These intelligent and worldly people identify and assess any biases in your research; potential harm to both participants and the researcher (physical or emotional); raise issues perhaps not yet considered by the researcher; and overall try to add value to your research. To quote Gary Witte, Manager of Academic Committees and Secretary to the University’s HECs, “the Ethics Committee endeavours to trend away from compliance to a culture of conscience”.

Basically, they’re not trying to ruin your fun or pick your research design to pieces out of spite because they missed their morning coffee – they are there to help broaden your mind as to the wider implications of your research; and most importantly, to protect you as the researcher, the generous people participating in your research, and the University, from anything going terribly wrong.

The workshop itself was engaging. Presenters, Gary Witte, and Dr Mike King from the Department of Bioethics, welcomed discussion, questions, and offered some helpful tips to get you started with your ethics proposals…

  1. Provide too much information in your ethics application – a common reason applications are turned back is due to lack of info;
  2. Consent processes need to be ‘bullet-proof’ and appropriate to the audience (i.e. in a consent form for a six year old, use big font, not big words!);
  3. Be clear as to the inclusion and exclusion criteria of your research participants;
  4. Be aware of overused groups (e.g. Pregnant women in Dunedin – there are only so many at any one time, and may get sick of you all hounding them while they are trying to grow another human);
  5. Gifts should not be an ‘inappropriate inducement’ ($500 for filling in a questionnaire is a little over the top);
  6. Develop a ‘Plan B’ in case ‘Plan A’ falls short; and lastly…
  7. OWN your ethics application. Get all up in that grill, and the Committee won’t grill you! (Wow, that was somewhere between a terrible pun and a bad dad joke – eek!).

Check out our webpage and try and head along to the next ethics workshop – it really is worth a look: http://www.otago.ac.nz/research/graduate/otago041922.html

Be sure to visit the Human Ethics Committee webpage too for the nitty gritty of ethics applications: http://www.otago.ac.nz/council/committees/committees/HumanEthicsCommittees.html

There is also a really handy brochure available from Academic Committees (located on the ground floor of the Clocktower Building, G23); and the team’s contact details can be found on their webpage (link above).

Side note:  while the focus of this piece is about human ethics, we also need to think seriously about the ethical treatment of our furry friends when using them in our research. Often more so, as there aren’t nearly enough species with opposable thumbs who can sign those consent forms… so please visit the University’s Animal Ethics webpage for more info about doing research with these guys:

http://www.otago.ac.nz/council/committees/committees/otago000865.html

Sarah McGregor, Graduate Research School