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Monthly Archives: May 2015

Gym Bunnies (opps, I mean Bears)

A long time has passed since I first went to a gym.  The year was 1990 and the fashion was for gym-goers to wear g-string leotards and fishnet bicycle shorts.*

It would not be an exaggeration to say that I have had a mixture of gym-based experiences.There was the time I forgot that the weights room was lined with mirrors and that the cute boy in the corner could see me “appreciating his form”. In terms of embarrassment, this was exceeded only by the time I fell off the backwards incline bench*** and the occasion I had to get cut out of the rowing machine.****

Despite this periodic public humiliation, I have always enjoyed  the gym and since thesis candidates should not live by thesis alone I thought I’d venture back there to scope it out for you. Armed only with my obligatory sweat towel and a giant Panda to spot me on the bench, we tested out the facilities at Unipol.

Panada on Couch

Denial is strong in this one and convincing Panda B.Ear to leave the comfort of the couch was trickier than you might imagine. His attempt at camouflage was impressive but ultimately futile.

It was a nice walk to Unipol but slower than normal. Panda basked in the attention of some tame professors and I was stopped by Campus Watch inquiring about the strong arm tactics I appeared to be using to get Panda moving.  Needs must and all that and I headed off with a slightly weaker grip on the Bear’s throat.

Panda Bike

Panda started with a bit of cardio and some off-key singing. One minute in and the sweat and guy-liner was running down his face.

ROwing machine

Hmm, my nemesis. Was slightly nervous about this one given my past experience. However, Panda’s bareness meant we escaped without getting caught up.

swiss ball

In the face of ongoing speculation, Panda was determined to show how well balanced he is.

Pand on the leg curls

Panda rest his foot

Leg press


Slump panada

The middle part of the gym excursion was evocative of the middle part of the thesis journey.  After the initial enthusiasm for the adventure there was confusion about what any of the equipment was for, bouts of self-pity, and an inability to meet the direct gaze of anyone official.

Panda is superman

Like any good trainer, I pushed Panda through the bleak period and he was soon flying high again.

Panda in the shower

A sweaty bear is a stinky bear and a stinky bear makes an unhappy Claire. Panda was surprised but pleased there were no changing facilities for bears at Unipol. Not to be undone by this odd oversight, I broke into a nearby student flat and drained their hot-water cylinder getting the sweat off Panda’s fur.

Now you know how inclusive and welcoming Unipol is, you have no excuse not take a break from your thesis and get down there.

Getting some exercise will make you feel better, sleep more soundly, and will help you work out the next bit of your experiment or the best way to word that pesky chapter you’re stuck on.  Not only that, you might meet a nice Panda there.


*To be fair, it was only one woman who wore this combo, but the memory will be forever etched into my mind’s-eye**

**Which I’d like to poke out

***Don’t ask

****Really don’t ask


Unipol gets five bamboo sticks out of five.


Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School and Panda B.Ear, Under-Cover Reporter and Raconteur 

When Mel Leaves the Bubble with Donald’s Help

The awesome Scholarships Administrator, Mel Adams has been out and about again. This time she visited the Library’s Special Collections and spread her cray-cray pixie-dust around Central Library and came back with a spring in her step and a desire to cross-stitch a picture of the Dean for the office.

4How long has it been since I have been in here?  A year or two?  Can I remember where it is?  Up the first flight of stairs, ah, things are looking familiar.  It’s round the corner. Is it?  Not sure, just wander round there, ignore the studying students, pretend you know where you are going.  Yes, there it is, I made it.

So where I am?  I have decided to take a break from the shuffling of paper and pay a visit to the wonderful Special Collections at Central University Library and have a chat with the equally delightful and informative Donald Kerr.

So what is Special Collections? Why do we have this collection?  Why is there a My Little Pony staring at me with those eyes?  I was keen to learn more.

When I arrived, Donald was rather excited, they had just planned the schedule for exhibitions for 2016 which he very kindly shared with me.  It looks fantastic.  This prompted me to ask how he comes up with exhibitions ideas.   It turns out a lot of the ideas come from folk round campus as well as a bit of daydreaming of ideas around material that is in the collection.  This job sounds awesome – I love the idea of paid day dreaming <don’t even think about it, get back to your paper shuffling, Claire>.

2The collection is made up of numerous collections (de Beer, Charles Brasch, to name a few), either donated to or purchased by the library.  Items are catalogued and stored in from what I understand is a cosy space  and covers a vast range of topic areas from 16-18th century European history, literature and architecture to pulp fiction.  Donald generously shares some of the titles that are held, many of which I have never heard of which highlights that I have indeed been working in a bubble over in the Clocktower and I really should get out more.

The current exhibition, Aliens, Androids & Unicorns, is made up largely of the personal collection of Hal Salive, which his wife kindly donated to special collections.  For Donald,  the call for props for the exhibition proved interesting with a wealth of items generously provided from some surprising corners of the University.  For a collection such as this to end up at Special Collections is rather rare and for Hal’s wife Rachel it was important to her that the collection stayed together.  Donald was more than happy to help.  When I asked what was the weirdest thing in the collection, there was a stunned silence, highlighting that all the treasures in special collections are equally loved by Donald.  However, after I applied some journalistic pressure to get an answer he suggested the Princess Diana Tapestry which was designed on a Commodore 64 before being hand sewn by it’s creator.


As I said goodbye to Donald I walked away from my visit  feeling somewhat brighter and inspired.  After all it was a fairly grey Dunedin day and I must say the current exhibition is an explosion of colour.  I was keen to learn if visiting Special Collections did indeed improve your day and mood and generally made you feel more inspired about life so I caught up with Dr Mike King who confirmed the urban rumour that he had visited the display.  In his words (well there were more words but Mike talked faster than I can type so I have summarised):

” It certainly made me feel uplifted”


So go forth and visit Special Collections, upstairs, first floor of Central Library.  It doesn’t cost you a penny and you can go as a group if you want (why not organise an department field trip? Donald loves having visitors).  Equally if you can not be bothered getting out of your chair you can view past collections online.  The current display ends 29 May with new exhibition “Black + White + Grey – the lives + Works of Eric Gill + Robert GIbbings’ starting 5 June 2015.  Special Collections is open from 8.30 to 5pm Mon to Fri.

 Mel Adams, GRS

The Media and You (Part 2) – How Can You Make Me a Star?

blog post

‘Tis a little known fact that once you’ve written for the GRS Blog you get a hankering* to write for us again.  Fiona Clarkson from Marketing and Communications explained the importance of the considering using the media to share your research in this post.  This week she explains how to do it.

*By hankering I mean one of us usually harasses/begs/bribes you to do do it again for us. 

If you’ve given it some thought and decided that yes, media attention for your research would be a positive thing, then I have good news for you – several pieces in fact!

The first is that the University of Otago has a Communications Team whose job it is to talk to the media and get their attention. They are not at all scary to approach, and can help you sort out what the media will want, and how to talk to them. Before you start, however, it’d be a smart idea to think about the answers to the following questions – these are what the Communications Team will want to know, and what the media will want too.

To be blunt, the first question you need to answer is, “who cares?” Why is your research important to the general public? Does it change someone’s life? Improve their life? Add value to it? Uncover or explain new or historic information? Is it quirky? Relevant to a current public issue? Involve glow-in-the-dark pigs?

Despite there seeming to be an endless amount of news everywhere you look, news real estate is actually precious and the news media are looking for something which will attract a wide audience – it pays to think to yourself, why would that school teacher, or the little old lady in South Dunedin, or the young millennial care?

The next questions are the age-old basic journalism questions: who, what, why, when, where and how. Getting these ducks in a row will make it easier to compile a media release, or make a pitch to a media outlet.

Once you have attracted media attention, more good news! The Communications Team can also help you with  one on one training on how to talk to the media and what not to do. Their tips include being prepared with your facts and figures before an interview, considering a photogenic location, and perhaps doing some practice with a friend.

One important thing to consider is what are the risks? Is your topic in any way controversial? Once the media have spoken to you, who else might the media  approach and what would that group or person say? You shouldn’t let that put you off necessarily – good news number three is that we can help you through this slightly more tricky process as well as the positive side.

As outlined in my previous blog piece, there are lots of really great reasons for a postgraduate student to want to get media attention for their work. So don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call. Modesty is not the way to win at this particular game, and we in Marketing and Communications know there are so many awesome “stories” out there in postgraduate research that we would love to help you share.

Fiona Clarkson,  Postgraduate Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Mama PhD

PhD Mama

Since it is Mother’s Day tomorrow (don’t forget to give your dear old Mum a call) we thought it would be interesting to ask one of our PhD Candidates (Penelope Harriet Doris Candy-D’Ate*) what life is like for someone who is raising both small children and a PhD. Penelope could have just answered “busy” but instead she took time out of her hectic schedule to share some insight into the lives of those of us juggling thesis writing with carer responsibilities.

*Yep, you guessed it; not her real name.

Many people look horrified when I tell them I’m mothering two pre-schoolers and doing a PhD. My GP even seemed to think it was equivalent to concussion. When I went to see him after a car accident he wrote in my notes: “Hit glass with her head. Has felt dazed and tired, but also has 2 little children and is doing a PhD.”

While the decision to start a PhD with an 18 month old in tow and another bun in the oven, may look like the symptom of a head injury to some, to me it seemed like a great time to undertake a task I’d long hoped to do. The benefits of unlimited sick leave, elastic deadlines and the opportunity to work in pyjamas, should not be underestimated. There is also the fact that I was awake for about 20 hours every day during the first two years of my candidature, so I had plenty of time to contemplate my research. Admittedly somewhat deranged contemplation at times, but plenty of middle of the night thinking time. It is also cute watching the kids try and figure out what I do. My four year is drawing her own thesis (publication forthcoming), and has concluded from her survey of two grown-ups that boys go to work and girls go to noon-a-versity.

Fieldwork and attending conferences is complicated with a family’s needs to think of and that has presented some challenges but none of them insurmountable. The biggest challenge has been adjusting from my previous style of working non-stop when deadlines approach. I find it tough having to stop work when the childcare hours run out, when in my previous life I would have just kept going until I was finished. That may of course have resulted in total insanity given, as everyone says, the PhD is a marathon, not a race, so it is quite possible this is actually a plus. It just doesn’t feel like that sometimes. With the help of Brian Johnston, Otago’s coach extraordinaire, I’ve adjusted to this new way of working and learned much healthier work habits. (I’d still love to be able to hunker down in the library for hours on end though – old habits die-hard).

What has been key for me is that when I started my PhD my mother was in need of a job, and with my scholarship funding, I was in a position to give her a job looking after my babies. This has been a win-win-win and has enabled me to get through the PhD at a pace that would not have been possible without her. I’m very, very lucky to have that support and I know a lot of mothers who have it much tougher doing daycare runs, and having no childcare when the kids are sick. So happy Mother’s day to all the mum’s out there doing the Mama PhD juggle, and a special thank you this mother’s day to my mother for making it a lot easier for me.

P. H. D. Candy-D’Ate

Ted, The Governor General and Jon

TGIFI have been in the job a few years now, some say too many. One of the best things about the job is working with awesome folk. What started as odd emails, then a strange phone call or two, a lunch followed by a flappy presentation has become a unique work friendship developed over mutual frustrations over incomplete applications and the magical phrase TGIF!. Let me introduction Jon Winnall, Scholarships Manager at Universities New Zealand.

Mel: Hi Jon, Welcome to the GRS blog, we are super happy to be talking to you. I guess to get the ball rolling do you want to tell us a bit about what Universities NZ is and why Otago Postgrad students should know about it?

Jon: Righto! Delighted to be here with you.  What is Universities NZ? Universities NZ is the easy to use name of the New Zealand Vice-Chancellors’ Committee – an organisation which works on behalf of all eight universities in New Zealand. We have number of focus areas for the universities – for example advocacy with the public sector, policy, research, international links and students, academic programmes and… Scholarships.  Otago postgrads may see some of the effects and outcomes of what we do as an organisation – a new Masters programme here, a new research policy or initiative there, etc. But it is the scholarships work that we do that is probably closer to home.

Mel: Can you tell us a bit about the role you play in the awarding of scholarships and what the best bit about the job is?

Jon: Now that is the that most difficult of questions – What do I do?  The scholarships team at Universities NZ manages nationally contestable scholarships – those scholarships that are open to applications from postgrads at any of the NZ universities. We manage the application process, convene selection committees, manage the committee process and (try to) keep applicants fully informed about the status of their application. This is becoming easier using our spiffing new on-line application system And the best bit about the job is making those ‘good news’ phone calls. All our scholarships are good, are notable and signify a real achievement for the winners, some scholarships are quite literally life changing. It is always a privilege to make those congratulations phone calls.

(The second best bit about the job is visiting Otago). (of course  – Mel)

(The third best bit is having lunch at Government House twice a year )

Mel: You would have looked at a number of applications over your time at UNZ (that is scholarship talk for Universities New Zealand). What is the most common mistake you see applicant’s making?


Oh – where do I start …………….

Most common is not reading and understanding the Regulations for a scholarship and checking their eligibility. This is closely followed by leaving it to the last minute to submit an application. And this is closely followed by not understanding that they, the applicant, have to chase and hassle their referees to make sure that the references are in on time.

OK – I’ll stop there…..

Mel: We have a stellar record with the Rhodes scholarship and I was wondering is there anything you notice that sets Otago applicants apart from applicants?

Jon: Preparation. A Rhodes application is not something that should be gone into lightly. Otago applicants have been advised and guided throughout the process and for The three outstanding candidates that are nominated by Otago each year all are outstanding on paper. Those who reach the interview stage always prove their worth.

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

Jon: I’m going to let Teddy answer that…………….


Unfortunately when Ted was questioned about horse -sized duck or duck sized horses he  refused to comment.

If you think what you have takes to be the next Otago Rhodes scholar then contact the scholarship office about our upcoming information evening.  Equally visit the UNZ website for more details about the excellent scholarships opportunities that are available.