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Monthly Archives: October 2015

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

Sleep …..Part II

Atlas with the catsSo this week sees part two of the helpful sleep pointers Brian our awesome personal performance coach has suggested to encourage a better nights sleep.  Last week, Atlas, King of the World, was invited to comment and give a dogs perspective on these, namely cause Atlas’s human has a lot of photos of him asleep (it is her favourite time of day, he is a full on pup after all).  This weeks was to see how helpful these tips are from a cats point of view – we are after all both pro cat and dog round here.  However, in true cat fashion, off doing who knows what, no sleeping cat has been located in time for this post to go live.  Just as well Atlas’s human has lots of photos of him sleeping.

Drink herbal tea Settling down with a mug of non-caffeinated tea can help you relax before bedtime. Up the sleep-inducing power by opting for herbs that have their own relaxing properties, like chamomile, mint, and valerian. (Herbal tea, you say?  I see my humans drinking that chamomile stuff.  They do get awfully cross when I try to take a sip of the dregs at the bottom of the cup – Atlas)

Stay active Exercise isn’t the only way to expend energy; being active throughout the day, whether it’s running errands or talking on the phone while you take a walk, helps ensure that you’re sleepy when your head hits the pillow. (I love a good run (naturally cause I am a dog).  Best sleeps ever are after a hard day chasing my BFF at day care – yes I go to day care, you got a problem with dat? – Atlas)

comfy atlas

Try a natural supplement Many people swear by the supplements melatonin and valerian for helping you get sleep naturally. (mmm, interesting idea.  Although when I am in the herb garden and nibbling on some of the plants it results in a lot of yelling from one of my humans in particular.  Obviously she is unaware of how natural supplements are important to a good nights sleep – Atlas)

Have an exercise routine Expend your energy for the day with exercise, and you’ll be ready to drift off to sleep as soon as you hit the hay. Make an exercise plan so you stick with your fitness goals and sleep better in the process.  (See comments for stay active – Atlas)

Eat an earlier, lighter dinner Eating a heavy, greasy, and late dinner can cause discomfort when you’re trying to go to sleep, so go with an earlier, or lighter dinner to ensure your digestive system isn’t causing you to stay awake. (Food, Food, I love to eat any time anywhere.  I am a little frustrated with my humans, they never give me enough! – Atlas)

De-stress Constant worrying keeps you up at night, so learn to take time out to de-stress – both during the day and before bed – to clear your mind. (I am a dog I have no worries – good way to be, WWAD- Atlas)

meaning of life

Stop the afternoon coffee break Caffeine affects people differently, but if you’re finding that tossing and turning correlates to your afternoon coffee run, now’s the time to switch. If you’re looking for ways to reenergise in the afternoon, take a walk, gulp water, or trade your coffee for an herbal tea. (This dog is caffeine free, although I have tried to sneak the dregs from the Mister Human’s cup – again he was not best pleased – Atlas)

Find the right temperature Did you know that the best temperature for helping you get proper sleep is between 18-22 degrees Celsius? (oh, so important, especially if you are a double coated hairydale – I get so hot easily and I need my space to cool down – Atlas)

Check out your mattress If you’re tired all the time and are waking up with aches and pains, then your mattress may be the thing that’s keeping you from much-needed rest. (no aches and pains for me, got me a dog gon good mattress – tee hee  – Atlas)


Atlas nigh night

Make a routine Taking time to wind down in the night can help you prep your body and mind for a good night’s sleep. A pre-bedtime ritual is so important; whatever you choose, make it a routine so you get used to the idea of “winding down.” (My bed time ritual is to stare down my humans until they get off my space on the couch, then I throw the cushions off and snuggle into the blanket nest I make – night night, Atlas)

In conclusion, hopefully one or two of these pointers encourage a good night sleep.  Atlas also takes this opportunity to invite Monster Truck to have right of reply.

Brian Johnston, Graduate Research School and Atlas, King of the World

Sleep…….. Part I

Atalas asleep on couchSleep.  It is a wonderful thing and so important to being productive the next day.  Sometimes with one thing and another a good night’s rest just doesn’t happen.  Brian, our awesome personal performance coach, has some tips to help with getting a good nights sleep.  Atlas, when not sleeping on the job, also provided some dog inspired comments.

Eat sleep-inducing foods – A night time snack of Greek yoghurt drizzled with honey may just help you get a better night’s rest: both honey and dairy contain compounds that may induce sleep. (Food before bed, man, I am in.  I eat any time, anywhere and I never have problems sleeping – Atlas)

Stretch before bed – Stretching your limbs relieves aches, but it can also calm you and prep you for sleep. (I love a good stretch, and a walk, and playing fetch, and chasing cats, and chasing my tail – Atlas)

Wake up at the same time every day – Sleeping in on the weekends can make it that much harder to feel well-rested during the week, so stop the Sunday morning lie-ins and stick to your normal wake-up time. You’ll have an easier time getting to sleep and won’t feel as groggy the next morning. (I agree this is very important.  I do my best to wake at the same time everyday regardless of what day of the week it is.  For some reason my humans don’t appreciate this on a Sunday morning.  I see nothing wrong at waking at 6.30 on a Sunday – Atlas).

Atals stretching

Put away the electronics –The blue light from tech devices tricks your mind into thinking it’s day, so have a cut-off time for watching movies and catching up on email that’s at least 20 to 30 minutes before you need to get to sleep. (I am old school – This dog is techno free  – Atlas)

Don’t nap – Even if restless sleep makes you want to nap during the day, don’t. That nap may be just what’s keeping you from catching nightly Zs. Instead, take a walk or get some fresh air to reenergise until it’s bedtime. (I am sorry but I disagree with you Brian, I love a nap, especially when my humans are being boring.  A quick nap passes the time until something more exciting happens – Atlas)

Read a book – Set aside a few minutes each night to meander your way through a favourite book to help power down from a hectic day. (Reading is for humans, blah – Atlas)

Atlas on the floor

Don’t drink – Alcohol in your system can lead to a disruptive night of sleep, so if you usually enjoy a glass of wine every night, go without and see if it helps your slumber. (Water is the best.  Always drink lots of water – Atlas)

Take a warm bath or shower – A warm bath or shower can further soothe your muscles; it’s also great if you’re suffering from a cold or allergies, since the hot steam can help open up your sinuses to help you breathe better while you sleep. (Hate baths and showers, I prefer to go dig a hole in the garden- Atlas)

Go dark – Electronics, alarm clocks, street lamps – all of these can prevent deep sleep. Turn off your TV before you drift off to sleep, get blackout curtains to keep outside light away, and cover anything else that’s contributing to light pollution in your bedroom. (ohhh, I need to talk my humans about the laptop lights, the clock on the oven,  – man they have no consideration for a dog and his sleep – Atlas)

Atlas and a pillow

Change your pillow – Your pillow may be hindering, not helping, your sleep, so make sure you’re sleeping on the right one for you. (Love me a good pillow, especially if it is someone elses, night, night – Atlas)

If none of these points, or pictures of cute sleeping dogs don’t help you, then do not fear, this was part one of two.  Part two with photos of sleeping cats to follow  – I wonder whose tips will work best!

Brian Johnston, Graduate Research School and Atlas, King of the World