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Monthly Archives: December 2015

Ho Ho Ho Merry GRS Christmas

The Graduate Research School will close on Thursday the 24th of December and open again on Tuesday the 5th of January. That means that no one will be here to receive submissions, answer the phone, reply to your emails, or even be aware of your existence. So what are all the GRS staff going to be doing if they’re not at work?

SarahSarah is going to be eating too much, drinking too much, and soaking up the sun around the South Island


Mel will be reeeelaxing, having family visiting from overseas, and trying to stop Atlas eating all the strawberries in the garden.

PeterPeter is looking forward to being lazy at home with the family, and lying on the deck drinking Emersons.

LisaLisa will be doing what she’s been doing for every spare minute outside of work-time since March – building a house.

RobinRobin has a wedding to attend on Boxing Day, then she’s heading to a crib (she says “bach”) on Lake Hawea, before jetting off to Tokoroa and Rarotonga in January.

KatherineKatherine says she’ll be eating, drinking (orange juice), and being merry, but she’s also hoping to get around to painting the house and doing some gardening.

LeaneLeane will be looking after her two kids at home while her husband’s at work, as well as being Santa Claus, and entertaining extended family.

BelindaBelinda has chosen to forgo any relaxation and instead will be tramping through mud and swearing at sandflies on Stewart Island for ten days.

JemmaJemma plans to enjoy her first Christmas in Dunedin in three years with (she hopes) lots of sun and barbecues.

SusanSusan is off to Moeraki for a week of reading and walking and more reading and walking, and looking at penguins


Claire will be mostly stalking George Clooney. After meeting Claire, George will realise he doesn’t need some poxy Human Rights lawyer in his life but would prefer a partner from the oldest profession (middle management). Claire is planning to live happily ever after in Italy and wants to wish you a very Merry Christmas and so long suckers.

BrianBrian I shall be spending Christmas day with my partner and my New Zealand adopted whanau. Being away from Scotland, my country of birth, Christmas and new year is a very challenging time for me. I am very much looking forward to spending Christmas where we will share food and drink, enjoy each other’s’ company  and be appreciative of how fortunate we are.

rachelRachel Over the festive season I plan to actually have a month off – cannot remember when I last did that! I hope to spend time visiting friends in Christchurch, chill out at the lovely seaside community of Shag Point, get some warmth and good walks and bike rides in Wanaka and Queenstown and generally eat too much!

The Dean Moonlights as a Movie Reviewer


We let the Dean out from under a pile of paperwork to chomp some pizza and to catch up on the ‘PhD Movie 2: Still in Grad School’.  Here’s what Rachel made of the movie.

Recently we screened the ‘PhD Movie 2: Still in Grad School’. It is fair to say the audience of mainly PhD and Master’s candidates and a few supervisors laughed all the way through.

The script writers really have got the nuances of academia down pat! In this movie the main character – Cecilia – is still in grad school trying to finish her PhD thesis. She faces typical issues of writer’s block and the difficulty of trying to get her supervisors together for a meeting. And of course the different views between supervisors on how ready the thesis is to submit….

In parallel to this story is ‘Winston’ who is attending a biochemistry conference with his lab group. Here we see academic behaviour at its best and worst!  Thrown into the mix are rival laboratories competing for funding, inept use of IT in  presentations, and the inevitable poster session (should text boxes have square or rounded corners?).

We could all relate to the events portrayed, but I do need to put a more positive and realistic spin on a few snippets throughout the film.  As candidates were struggling to complete  their theses some statistics were thrown in about only 50% of candidates completing.  That is true for many disciplines in the USA (and indeed some are even worse), but here at the University of Otago we have a far better record – about 82% complete – and do so in a median time of under four years.

Of course the tight job market was also mentioned, with only about 15% going into academic jobs.  Again, a recent survey of PhD graduates at Otago shows a brighter picture.  Of the 134 respondents to a question about current employment, 72% were in full-time employment and 17% were in part-time employment. For the 112 who specified their jobs, approximately 71% were in academic positions including 21% in lecturing (i.e. tenure track) positions and 29% in postdoctoral positions. About 12% were employed as advisors, analysts or managers, and another 12% had positions as consultants or specialists. Ninety-two percent said their employment was at least somewhat related to their study.

The only other thing that worried me about this film was the notion that the thesis could be written up in a few months.  Technically this is possible but the stress caused would be considerable, and such a course of action is unwise.  It is far better to write little and often throughout the PhD – indeed writing should begin from day 1!

Rachel-Spronken-Smith, Dean, Graduate Research School

Postcard (scratch that)….. Progress report from Toronto

Many of you know Andy.  Over the years she has helped many a PhD student earn their chocolate fish.  Anyway she has escaped from the clutches of GRS (only for a year, mind you) and has very kindly provided us with a progress report.  Thanks Andy  – we miss you!!!

Yes, I’ve been in Canada for just on six months now, so it looks like my first progress report is due, in the form of a GRS blog entry.

I was lucky enough to have been granted twelve months away from work for good behaviour – I think GRS secretly just wanted to get rid of me for a year to give someone else a chance to steal the coveted title of Best Female Ten-Pin Bowler – to indulge in that time-honoured Kiwi pursuit known as the Big OE. Better late than never, right?

Destination: Canada and the United States. Goal: ostensibly a working holiday, but my focus was always more on the ‘holiday’ part… Sadly there was no travel budget available for sending Panda along with me as chaperone, but I’m keeping an eye out for a giant stuffed raccoon to bring back for Claire though.


One of Toronto’s many fine ‘beaches’; maybe a five metre wide strip of imported sand on a wharf at best…


 A lovely Edward Mucha reproduction street art piece at Kensington Market, a stone’s throw from where we live


 So our photographic efforts didn’t capture this very well, but I was standing in front of Duncan Street in the Entertainment District, the name of the street I formerly lived on in Dunedin, maybe without quite the same ‘entertainment’ designation

As much as I love doctorally administering to you all, part of my self-imposed ‘rules for making the most of the Year of Adventure’ included not being allowed to get an office job. Trying new things and all that… This is probably just as well, given that many such jobs over here seem to require you to be both bilingual and able to drive (yes, my parents were right, a driver’s licence and continuing with high school French would actually have come in handy after all).

Despite an offer to work in an axe-throwing business (this is a thing! People come and drink beer and throw axes for fun. I have no idea why the relative stranger I’d just met thought I would be a perfect hostess for this), I went with the slightly-less-bizarre-but-still-out-of-left-field job as a production assistant at the Lush factory. Dunedin has its own Lush store in the Wall Street Mall, so I’m sure many of you are already familiar with the glorious, fragrant and – most importantly, ethical – bath and cosmetic products they sell. On the other hand, for every ‘Lushie’ I know, there is another person who can’t walk within a hundred metres of the store without gagging….

I’ve long been a fan though, and this may be the closest thing to being a real-life oompa loompa as I’ll get. I work in the Bubbles room, where I shape and mould solid bubble bars with names like ‘Rainbow Fun,’ ‘Candy Mountain’ and the seasonal – if somewhat creepy – ‘Peeping Santa’ (which on internal-only labelling I’ve seen changed to both ‘Peeing Santa’ and ‘Perving Santa’). I’m constantly covered in glitter, and have had strangers approach me on two separate occasions to ask if I work at Lush because I smell so good. Perhaps the biggest downside is that they’ve already made noises about bringing in Christmas music to play, and it’s still November. In addition to my oompa-loopa-ing, I’ve been keeping myself out of trouble by getting some art done, and have already had two paintings in a group show, with another one coming up next week. Disappointingly, beer at art openings over here is not free like it is back home though…

I haven’t managed to keep away from universities entirely; I’ve found myself living in the heart of the University of Toronto campus on Spadina Avenue, although I can assure you all that it’s a lot quieter than Castle Street, and I haven’t seen a single couch fire. Come winter I may resort to lighting one myself; Torontonians love regaling with me tales of the four feet of snow and temperatures of -40 degrees that are supposedly just around the corner. On my way to the subway each day I walk past Graduate House, the equivalent of Otago’s Abbey College, and our local dive bar has a regular weekly spot featuring U of T music student bands.


The view from our front porch. Streetcars and autumn leaves…


Graduate House. It may look a little austere from this angle, but they have a very nice cafe in the left-hand bottom corner…

I’ve ticked the requisite number of tourist boxes – the CN Tower, Graffiti Alley, Toronto Islands, Casa Loma, Niagara Falls – and have stopped viewing riding the subway as a remarkable event, but I still get unreasonably excited every time I spot a squirrel. Some days the temptations of Canadian big city living are enough to make me consider staying (everything is open all hours! Oh the number of gigs! And poutine! Where is your poutine, Dunedin?!) but then I remember how much I miss my cat, and I look at my ever-dwindling bank account in dismay. Toronto may have a lot going for it, but cheap living is not one of those things.


Tourist box tick one: Graffiti Alley on Queen Street West. Someone needed to step in between Tom and Jerry……


Tourist box tick two, Niagara Falls. It impressed me more than I thought it would. My only regret is not getting around to taking photos until it was dark…

On that note, I’ll be back at GRS from mid-May, getting to grips with the new eVision system and reacquainting myself with staff happy hour. Apologies in advance if I mistake your freshly submitted thesis for some kind of bath product and attempt to sprinkle it with glitter…