Skip to Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map

Author Archives: Claire Gallop

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

Gregory Scott, Rest in Peace

This week I attended the funeral of my colleague Gregory Scott.

There was lots of shared laughter about some of Gregory’s strange, strange ways. There was lots of giggling about his love of really terrible dad-jokes.  There was lots of nodding about Gregory’s kindness and helpfulness.  There was lots of affirmation about Gregory’s integrity and the importance of his faith to him.  There was a table of dodgy ties and we were allowed to take one to remember Gregory by.

It was a really good send off.

But it was way too soon to say goodbye.

Gregory ScottGregory worked for the Research Division at Otago for 15 years.  He worked mainly in the Graduate Research area and he was pivotal in developing smooth administration through his database Achievers.

Otago was the envy of other New Zealand universities.  We knew how many PhD candidates we had at any one time, who was deferred, who was under exam, who had changed supervisor 17 times (me!).  It may seem obvious that we should know this stuff, but obvious and the real world don’t always go hand-in-hand.  Gregory made what should happen actually happen.

Gregory was happy to poke fun at himself.  He reveled in corny jokes and the day he showed up for our Christmas-do dressed up as a nerd (or more of a nerd, as he would have it) summed up his spirit of fun.


Gregory and I would have long conversations about new technology, big data, disastrous IT projects as well as excellent ones. He would tolerate my deviations into discussions about diplomacy and different communication styles when all he really wanted to talk about was systems solutions.

Gregory died after a four year battle with bowel cancer.  He fought hard against this ghastly disease and he never seemed to waiver in his optimism about his prognosis.

The day Gregory told me his cancer had returned I got upset. He gave me a hug to comfort me. You could see it pained him to have to do it but he manned-up and did it anyway.

In all the time he was sick I never heard him complain about his health.  One hears this being said of people and one tends to think it’s an exaggeration.  With Gregory it was utterly true. He stoically put up with invasive nasty treatments, with the side-effects of chemo, with the tiredness, and the discomfort.

Gregory was dedicated to his work, dedicated to his family, dedicated to helping people and dedicated to God.

Gregory, you will be missed.

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School 

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

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

Six Point Formula for Talks (and Blog Posts)

Justine Rogers from UNSW Law is one of those academics who knows how to communicate well. She’s cracked the formula of giving a great TED talk, but the formula is applicable to academic talks in general.

I figured, if this could work for talks, it could work for blog posts too.  Which reminded me of the time I was four and my brothers encouraged me to scream out a swear word in church.

Moster Sniff

So, always remember, your research is the wind beneath your wings, thesis candidates. Tomorrow is another day, what does not kill you only makes you stronger, and make sure you have sorted your thesis metrics for your stakeholder supervisors.

glacierI’m sure you will all agree, that this post has revolutionized your life, which only leaves me to say, enjoy this TEDx Talk temporary flesh-people and have a great and ghost-free weekend.

Claire Gallop, Womanager, Graduate Research School


2015 3MT Final

The Three Minute Thesis Competition is always a highlight of the Graduate Research Festival and this year was no exception.

3MT blog

From over 115 initial entrants came 10 finalists competing for the honour of representing Otago at the Trans-Tasman competition in Queensland and the Inter-University Challenge in Auckland.

This year we saw the most entrants for the competition and the standard of the heats was fantastic. I was lucky enough to hear everyone’s presentations from Auckland to Dunedin. Research at Otago is certainly in safe hands and it was very difficult to choose just 10 finalists from the contestants.  (“Can I have 20 finalists??” “No, Claire!” “15 finalists??” “NO, Claire!” “12?” “I’m walking away from you, Claire!!”)

Congratulations to all the contestants for their hard work and their excellent presentations. A special “you’re awesome” goes out to the finalists, some of whom were reluctant public speakers despite their obvious skill in the area.

3MT Emma Wadw Slide

Emma Wade’s Slide, The Genetic Mechanism of Skeletal Development

Our finalists were: Emma Wade, Women and Children’s Health; Gilles Marciniak, Geography; Chris LarsenChemistry; Jenny McDowellSir John Walsh Institute;  Nicola Beatson, Accounting and Finance; Mayouri Sukhapure, Psychological Medicine; Emanuel KoflerManagement; John GrayPeace and Conflict Studies; Hana CadzowGeography; and Leon MabireSchool of Physiotherapy.

3MT Judges

Judges, Professor Rachel “Snow Ball” Spronken-Smith, Mark “Candy Crush” Brunton and Professor Richard “Twitter Troll” Blaikie, after being spoken to firmly by MC, Claire “Dominic Bowden” Gallop

3MT Sarah

The lovely time-keeper and Claire-Wrangler, Sarah McGregor

The judges had a difficult time choosing between the excellent finalists but after some vigorous debate and an arm wrestle or two, Jenny McDowell was named PhD Winner and Nicola Beatson was named Master’s winner. The winner of the Crowd Favourite Prize went to Gilles Marciniak from Geography for his moving presentation on landscape values.

3MT Jenny McDowell

Jenny McDowell has the audience in the palm of her hand with her CSI research involving lasers, the sea, and pig bones!

3MT Nicola

Nicola Beatson doing something no one thought possible: making accounting fascinating!

Gilles presenting blog

Gilles Marciniak painting a beautiful picture  of foraging in a French forest.

A huge thanks to everyone who helped make this competition happen.  Particular thanks are owed to the Graduate Research School and Marketing and Communications for sponsoring the prizes.  And an even huger thanks goes to all the students who do the great work that makes a competition like this possible.

I dare you to enter it next year. Go on. You know you want to…

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School

MOOC, not Mook!

You gotta hand it to the Australians, they may have a funny accent but they are super good at providing support to their doctoral candidates.  In a couple of weeks we are lucky enough to have Hugh Kearns talking to us about resilience and confidence during your thesis journey (it’s not too late to register!) and Inger from ANU has just created a cool looking course.  And it’s free! 

Dr Inger Mewburn, Thesis Whisperer and thoroughly good-egg

Dr Inger Thesis Whisperer Mewburn is no mook.  She has however created a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) that looks like it will super useful for all those doing a PhD and all those unlucky enough to be close to someone doing a PhD.

Inger says:

Did you know that up to one quarter of students who start a PhD don’t finish? You have to be smart to start a PhD, but resilient to finish one.

The new, free MOOC from ANU “How to survive your PhD” is designed to help built by Dr Inger Mewburn, better known as The Thesis Whisperer, to help build PhD student resilience. You will learn research based tips and strategies to help students and supervisors create a more supportive environment for research study. The MOOC will have many opportunities to connect and discuss the issues with other participants around the world, either in the discussion forums or on social media using the hashtag #survivephd15

The MOOC is suitable for supervisors, current students, prospective students and even parents, partners and friends. The course should take you no more than two hours a week so you can more easily fit it in a busy schedule. You could take the course on your own, or form a small group (have a look at the suggestions Inger has outlined here

I’ve just signed up for it and at 2 hours per week for 10 weeks it looks completely doable even with my heavy schedule.  Topics include: frustration (oh yeah); fear (you bet); confusion (all the time); and boredom (my, that cardboard box looks interesting) amongst other things.

So check out the course and give it a go and I’ll see you all in the ether.

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School

Take the Copyright Quiz for Research Students

Back in the day when there were only three ideas and four pictures in the world, no one had to worry about copyright. By the time there was six ideas and eight pictures, lawyers got in on the act and came up with the notion of copyright. Naturally enough, they copyrighted copyright.*

Now the academic terrain is full of terrifying possibilities for inadvertently violating some litigious dude’s distribution rights. Fear not, Richard White, Copyright and Open Access Superman and One-of-a-Kind helpful chap, is here to help. Richard knows copyright inside and out and he’s not afraid to share his knowledge. Check out his quiz and contact him at if you have any copyright questions.


Copyright is complex. In the digital age we all deal with copyright every day, even if we’re not really aware of it.  Did you take a photo on your phone today?  Did you tweet something?  Who owns that photo or the text in the Tweet?  What can other people do with these things?  As research students you really need to know at least some basics of copyright: yours and that of other people whose works you want to build on. 

So, try this quick copyright quiz.  This is something I use in my face-to-face sessions as a quick way to learn a few basic concepts, ones that are especially relevant to research students.

Ok.  You’re back.  Wasn’t that fun?  Hopefully you did OK.  Of course, whether you thought about it or not, by using a Google form both I and Google now have copies of your answers.

Hopefully the quiz raised a few questions for you about your work and the work of others that you’d like to use.  I cover some of those questions in my face-to-face sessions so look out for them when they’re advertised – but I’ll also cover some of them in future blog posts, so watch this space.

For now, you can review some of the basic points covered in the quiz by reading our page on copyright for students.

Richard White, Manager, Copyright and Open Access

*As usual, this is completely false.

No Worries: a Sweet As Guide to Sussing Out New Zild

sweet asHas your supervisor asked you over to their house and asked you to bring a plate?  Did a technician question you about the flux capacitor being pakaru? Have you noticed that the chapter in your thesis is awesome when it really doesn’t seem like it is to you?  Has your flatmate suggested you lux the lounge?

When Lisa isn’t sussing out your dough so that you get paid sweet as, she does the hard yards by delving into the bewildering world of New Zealand speech. 

Chur Lisa! 

As if the English language wasn’t hard enough, the Kiwi’s had to go one step further.

What do the words choice, mean, mint and sweet have in common? In the kiwi language they all mean the same thing! (Translation: good, great, cool, awesome).

Words for blog 2

You might find navigating the kiwi slang hard yakka (hard work), or it might be a piece of cake (really easy), either way don’t bust a gut (make a big effort). Gizza (give us/me a…) moment, have a smoko (break, usually morning/afternoon tea) and I’ll spin a yarn (tell a story) for you about the mysteries of the Kiwi language.

Have you been invited to a bash (party) in the wop-wops (middle of nowhere, countryside), with togs (bathing suit, swimming clothes) and jandals (type of sandal, called thongs in Australia) standard attire? You’re one lucky son of a gun if you have! Maybe you’ll grab a cold one (cold beverage, usually a bottle or can of beer) from the dairy (local convenience store) and put a snarler on the barbie (cook a sausage on the barbeque) tonight. Let’s just hope it’s not hosing down (raining) by tea time (dinner, meal eaten in the evening).



If this all sounds like gobbledegook (nonsense) to you then no worries, grab a cuppa (cup of tea/coffee) and I’ll guide you through the mysteries of the kiwi language.

There are words with double meanings: stubby is a beer, or short shorts worn by a male.

We use adjectives such as dear (expensive), wee (small), heaps (lots). Used in a sentence it looks something like: “That was a dear steak for such a wee amount, I expected heaps more for that price.”

So don’t be a wet blanket (fun spoiler), pike out (pull out of doing something), or spit the dummy (throw a tantrum) and give the Kiwi language a go. She’ll be right (it will be okay). And if all else fails, just smile and nod .

Lisa Beckingsale, Scholarships Office, Graduate Research School

3MT: Fame, Fortune, Fun, and FAQs! Part II

Last week in the Blog with No Name we heard from two awesome entrants from the 2013 3MT (see the 2013 final here) and a dodgy one from the 3MT from years gone past.  This week I made it my mission to explore the rules and to give you a few tips so that you can make the most out this cool opportunity.


Who is eligible to enter?

Master’s Candidates currently enrolled in a thesis worth 90 points and Doctoral Candidates currently enrolled in a doctoral thesis.  Candidates whose theses are under examination are eligible

How many entrants do we need to make this an awesome contest?

The 3MT is a great event but it’s also an expensive event.  To make it viable we need real engagement from the thesis community.  So, please join in; it’s totally worth it!

At a minimum we need 100 entrants in the heats to have a superb final and to give the Aussies and the rest of New Zealand a run for their money

For the Christchurch, and Wellington heats, we need at least ten contestants in the heats to make the Dunedinites quake in their boots.  For the Auckland (Distance) heats we’d be happy with less; but come on North-Islanders; this is your chance to engage with the thesis community IRL and to score a free trip to Dunners!


Daniel Wee, 2013 3MT Winner

What could I win?

We know that it can be hard to find grants to travel to conferences, support fieldwork or fund experiments.  So as well as spot prizes in the heats there is some serious pay-off in this contest to help support your research.

The Divisions provide a $500 research grant for the winner of the heats (thanks, Divisions!).

The Graduate Research School and Marketing and Communications will provide a $1000 research grant to both the winner of the Master’s and the winner of the Doctoral sections in the 3MT final in Dunedin.  GRS will provide a $500 research grant to the winner of the crowd favourite.  (Thanks GRS and M & C!).

But wait, there’s more!

Winners of the out-of-Dunedin heats will get flown free of charge to the Dunedin final.

Courtesy of the Graduate Research School, the winner of the Master’s section will receive a trip to compete in the Inaugural Masters 3MT Inter-University Challenge in Auckland and the winner of the Doctoral section wins a trip to Queensland to compete in the Trans-Tasman Competition.

When is the Dunedin Final?

Wednesday 26 August.

When are the national/international competitions?

Inaugural Masters 3MT Inter-University Challenge: Auckland 10 September 2015

2015 Trans-Tasman 3MT: Queensland 2 October 2015

Are there any specific rules for the presentation format?

  • A single static PowerPoint slide is permitted. No slide transitions, animations or ‘movement’ of any description are allowed. The slide is to be presented from the beginning of the oration.
  • No additional electronic media (e.g. sound and video files) are permitted.
  • No additional props (e.g. costumes, musical instruments, laboratory equipment) are permitted.
  • Presentations are limited to 3 minutes maximum and competitors exceeding 3 minutes are disqualified.
  • Presentations are to be spoken word (eg. no poems, raps or songs).
  • Presentations are to commence from the stage.
  • Presentations are considered to have commenced when a presenter starts their presentation through either movement or speech.
  • The decision of the adjudicating panel is final.

 What are the judging criteria?

Communication style; was the thesis topic communicated well to an intelligent lay audience?

Comprehension; did the presentation help the audience understand the topic?

Engagement; was the audience left wanting to know more?

What do past judges say make a great 3MT presentation?

  • Explain your research clearly
  • Bribery
  • Avoid unnecessary jargon and complicated or fancy-schmancy terms
  • A really eye-catching slide
  • Passion and enthusiasm
  • Don’t just rely on the fact that your research will save lives!
  • Treat the presentation as though it were a musical performance; consider tempo, pauses, and crescendos
  • Three minutes is over fast so less is definitely more here
  • Use real life examples and analogies to show why your research is significant
  • Bamboo
  • Remember this is supposed to be fun so most of all, enjoy the ride!

What are you waiting for? 

Click below to enter the appropriate heat:

Auckland, 25 July

Dunedin, 27- 31 July

Wellington, 18 August

Christchurch, 20 August

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School