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Daily Archives: December 11, 2015

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