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Author Archives: Mel Adams

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!

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…

2 Funerals, a Christmas Party and a sinus infection


Sorry folks, due to one thing or another we are unable to provide a blog post today.

Instead enjoy the novel concept of dance you PhD.

Only 8 weeks to Christmas!

Santa BrianChristmas is a few weeks away.  Brian’s post highlights the stresses associated with Christmas and gives advice on how you can get everything done stress free!

Preparations for the holiday season seem to come around earlier and earlier each year. Some merchandisers start their advertising campaign as early as September, for goodness sake!

For many of us in the lead up to Christmas we become distracted by the frenetic demands of shopping for gifts for family and friends. The holiday season can be a stressful time and the pressures to ‘buy, buy, buy’, can take its’ toll on our finances and energies. We convince ourselves it’s time to ease off focusing on our studies or work commitments. Our priorities shift and some of us may ‘take a wee holiday’ from progressing thesis writing.But wait! We can achieve a lot in eight weeks and shop!

Weekly Planner2

I encourage students and staff I work with, to create a healthy balance between ‘business and pleasure’. If you haven’t already used a weekly planner to structure your week, do it today! Include thesis writing, exercise, healthy eating and sleeping habits and doing some things you enjoy.

Or perhaps, like me, you could adopt a “Scrooge” approach and let Christmas consumerism pass you by. Or choose to focus on being grateful for what we’ve got, appreciate our family and friends and donate to our favourite charity – to those who really need.


Whatever you choose to do over the coming weeks, remember at any given moment you have the opportunity to choose to focus on what’s most important to you.


Brian Johnston, Graduate Research

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


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



Master Panada

We were all lined up to celebrate our first birthday, yes, we have made it!  One whole year of blog posts.  Sadly, Panda E Bear is out with the flu so celebrations will need to wait for another day.  In the meantime, let us introduce Master Panda.  A slightly smaller (and less troublesome) panda, Master Panda normally hangs out in the Dean’s office at GRS, helping the Dean out with important day to day matters (namely keeping the door open).  Anyway, after a week of rather terrible weather we took Master Panda out for a stroll around campus, snapping signs of spring and enjoying the sunshine*.


Every man and his dog (quiet literally I took some pics while walking the dog the other day) have taken a pic of the magnolia this year.  Not sure if it has been the grey weather or the threat of snow but this year the magnolia looks amazing. Master Panda had to get in on the action and of course be the main focus of the picture (he doesn’t get a lot of air time)!


Master Panda was super keen to find some daffodils.  Amazingly we managed to locate some outside the Richardson building but despite much coaxing they refused to play ball and be photographed with Master Panda.  They were rather shy and hid their sweet wee faces away from the camera.  This is the best we could get.  Maybe they are a bit nervous with all the building work going on around them.


A Dunedin Icon.  The Rhodie.  Master Panda very gallantly climbed up the tree to get this pic (it took ages by the way – Master Panda is only 15cm tall and takes little teeny steps).  Despite the windchill factor, he then fell asleep for an hour in the sun (some of us are lucky enough to have a big furry coat!).


We had to bribe Master Panda with a chocolate fish to get this one, and we promise that is in fact blossom!  What you can’t see in the background is the team of stunt people assisting Master Panda in this shot.  He is leaping off a trampoline, superman style**.

So as we wander back to the Clocktower, feeling refreshed from seeing the sun (we even managed to soak up some vitamin D, albeit through the limited amounts of hand and face surfaces exposed!), delighted at the sight of spring flowers and full of hope that this very cold weather might just come to an end at some point – we hope you will be inspired on the next sunny day to take a stroll round campus, avoid the construction sites and see if you can spot some signs of spring.

*Sunshine: noun, “direct sunlight unbroken by cloud, especially over a comparatively large area”

**No pandas were hurt in the shooting of these photos.  When it comes to photos the GRS team are highly trained professionals (does High School Bursary Art count???)

Where Mel escapes her desk again with a trusty sidekick – Submission Lady

Pic one Hocken

Once again I found myself sitting at my desk and feeling a bit restless.  Blame it on the lack of sunshine,  moonlight, good times or lack of boogie, or whatever. I decided to make a dash and escape the clocktower. This time I didn’t want to go it alone so I dragged Katherine with me (aka submissions lady to you) I took Donald’s advice and headed to the Hocken Collections where Katherine Milburn took us for a tour.  Man there is some brialliant stuff there.

After dodging the many football fans heading to the stadium to watch the footie we made it to the Hocken.  Formerly the Otago Dairy Co-operative Company the Hocken Collections has bounced round campus a bit over the years (oldies will know that the Richardson building was first and foremost the Hocken building) before setting up shop here and an impressive shop it is.  The reason for all the moves – space my dear friends.  There are a lot of things in the Hocken Collections.  A note hastily scribbled in my notebook reads fun facts like 10km of archive material, over 1 million images, 200,000 books.  You get the picture there is a lot of awesome resource material living here.


So how did the Hocken Collections begin?  The brain child behind the collection is  Dr Thomas Morland Hocken (1836-1910) who settled in Dunedin from 1862 and collected like a mad thing  – books, newspapers, maps, photos, artifacts and much more  – all related to New Zealand, Pacific and early Austrialia.  This is the basis of the Hocken collection.  The awesome thing to note is that Dr Hocken used this material for his own research – as  part of the tour we were shown his hand written notes on a poster he had collected.  He was a very devoted man to his collecting

Dr Hocken’s reason for collecting is still a founding basis behind the Hocken collection today and it means that there is a wealth of interesting items within its walls.  Hocken offered his collection to Dunedin and the people of NZ  –  based on this the Collections is open to both Uni folk and the general public ( a lot of folk including myself have used the Hocken for family research – check out these awesome research guides).


Katherine (our tour guide although the other Katherine would be very keen to help) is responsible for the Ephemera collection which started to become a focus of collecting from the mid 60s.  The Ephemera collection is made up of things that in most cases we would think are rubbish that you throw away. However, Katherine views these items slightly differently.  The premise behind the Ephemera collection is to provide a snap shot of our society at a given time.  Best example, the little box filled with funeral programmes over the past 100 years.  The earliest is a beautiful word press item, mid 70s is an old school typewritten version while those from the 21st century are often a collage of images and stories.  It all tells a story about how society has changed over the years.

So as I hit my word limit on this little tale, I realise that this blog post is kinda like the Hocken Collections, there is a lot there to cover and not a lot of space for it all.  There is so much awesome material to look at(often restricted due to its delicate nature but it is there), so why not pay a visit and take a tour (it’s got 4.5 out of 5 stars on Tripadvisor) or visit the latest exhibition . If you prefer to stay put you can always  read  Ka Taka Hakena: Treasures from the Hocken Collections  or view some of the amazing images online via the Hakena Heritage collection or have a peek at the Hocken Snapshop to see what  Dunedin was like in the olden days.  They even have a blog!

Backs Against the Walls – A Witty Ditty from Brian

It is a little known fact that when Brian is not busy coaching thesis candidates and helping them to realise their goals, he dabbles in a spot of poetry. Unlike me, who thinks all poetry should start, there was a young man from Dundee, Brian breathes iambic pentameter, rhyming couplets and the occasional spot of assonance. So here’s a wee mid-winter delight to warm the cockles of your heart.

Pic one for Brian

A Witty Ditty when you’re feeling a bit…..

 Backs Against the Wall!

Life is full of troubles

They come both large and small

But it’s the itsy, bitsy, bits

That get you most of all.

When the cash machine is broken

Friends don’t return your call

You don’t know who to turn to

Your back’s against the wall!


Pic two Brian

Buy yourself a tiny houseplant

A little piece of life

A haven of tranquility

In the midst of all this strife.

Buy a shiny green companion

To tell your troubles to

No matter what your worries are

It will always listen to you.

Lit Review

Winter, spring and autumn

And in the summer too

PhD and other stuff

Can really get to you

When that Lit Review is pending

Chapter four’s no use at all

You’re already at your wit’s end

And your back’s against the wall.


Plants 22

Buy yourself a tiny houseplant

A little piece of life

A haven of tranquility

In the midst of all this strife.

Give your plant a selfish earful

It helps ease your stress away

Your tiny plant will always be

Your loyal friend each day!

Brian Johnston, Personal Performance Coach, Graduate Research School