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Author Archives: Claire Gallop

3MT: Fame, Fortune and Fun! Part I

 

Panda 3MT

Panda B. Ear delivers his 3MT on Eudaimonia: A Philosophical Treatise on the Nature of the Good Life for Ailuropoda melanoleuca

I have entered the 3MT twice in my long and varied career as a PhD candidate.  The first time I simply wanted to see what this thing was all about. The second time was because the then Doctoral and Scholarships Manager, Chris Stoddart sent me a charming but slightly <hugely> guilt-inducing email asking <pressuring> me to consider entering again.  Charm and guilt have always worked on me, so I gave it another go.

In what can best be described as the most heinous miscarriages of justice in the history of miscarriages of justice, I totally lost. Both times!  What the?

Despite this dreadful oversight by the judges*, I’m not here to tell you to flag the 3MT!

The 3MT has a bunch of positive spin-offs in terms of raising your research profile, distilling and clarifying your thinking, and fostering communication skills.  But even more importantly it is a chance to have fun!

But don’t take my word for it, after all I’m selling this gig nowadays.  We asked Daniel Wee (PhD Candidate, Philosophy) and Shobhit Eusebius, (PhD Candidate, Marketing) the hard questions about what it was like to participate in the 3MT.

How many times have you entered the 3MT competition?

Shobhit: Once in 2013.

Daniel: 2013 was the first time I entered the 3MT competition. I was quite fortunate to go as far as I did that year! <such modesty; he won, he won!!>

What (or who!) sparked your interest in entering?

Shobhit: A YouTube video of the finals of a previous 3 MT competition was my introduction to the Post-Graduate culture at Otago. This was in 2011 when I was still in the early stage of trying to decide which University I wanted to study at. While searching for information about the University of Otago I came across this video by chance. I was immensely impressed by the talent on display, and also the variety of graduate research that was showcased. I have always been interested in public speaking so I was inspired by what I saw, and aspired to be able to compete at that level .  Once I moved to Dunedin I met, and became friends with Dr. Andrew Filmer a previous 3MT champion, and Otago graduate. I found his personality, and success inspirational, and this further reinforced my ambition to compete in the 3MT.

Daniel: Before the competition I had family and friends regularly asking me what my thesis was about, and I never had a satisfying explanation to give them. They either thought that my thesis had something to do with particular languages, or that it involved conducting experiments on whether children raised away from society could speak! So I thought entering the 3MT would be a motivation to come up with a decent explanation in case I was asked again. I can say it definitely helped!

What did you enjoy most about the experience?

Shobhit: The thrill of competing with some of the most talented Post-Graduates from all across the University delivers an adrenaline rush that is unmatched. The level of competition is so high that even though I didn’t end up winning in the finals I learned a lot from the experience of participating. It is also a marquee event for Post-Graduates at the university so it is an immense confidence booster to feature in it.

The fact that you have only 3 minutes also made me think about my research in a whole new way. Turning lengthy theoretical arguments into succinct single line sentences is an intellectually exhilarating exercise, and also helps you highlight new research ideas or even loopholes in your own work.

Daniel: It was just enjoyable to know that people could understand and appreciate what my research is about. Some people have the misconception that philosophy is inherently inaccessible to the lay person and I like to think that I helped a bit to dispel that idea.

What pearls of wisdom would you provide to anyone interested in entering?

Shobhit: Prepare and practice as much as you can. At the same time remember to have fun; nobody wants to listen to a speaker who is stressed out. Keep it simple, and remember to focus on the “Wow!” factor of your research. Yes, your research does have a “Wow!” factor otherwise you won’t be here at the University of Otago . You just need to look for it, and participating in the 3MT is an excellent way of doing that.

Daniel: My advice would be to practice your speech with people outside your field who can give you honest feedback. I have the benefit of living in a postgraduate community at Abbey College and those of us who were competing in the 3MT that year organised a night when we delivered our speeches to about twenty other postgraduates from various disciplines. The feedback we got was invaluable and made us more confident on competition day.

re we going to be able to persuade you to enter again?  (I really hope so, you were so good last time!)

Shobhit: I’ll be back! 😀

Last, but certainly not least, would you prefer to fight one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses?

Shobhit: Mmmm, Peking Duck on rice…. Nom nom nom 😛

Daniel:  From my experience at the Dunedin botanical garden, ducks are easily distracted by breadcrumbs so I think I would prefer fighting a horse sized duck as long as I have some bread at hand!

Anything further you’d like to add?

Shobhit: BAZINGA !!

Daniel: Good luck to this year’s competitors!

Thanks, Daniel and Shobhit!

So, if you’re not here to communicate your research to a wider audience, make sure you stay inside your offices and labs and ignore this opportunity to meet fellow students and learn key skills that will set you in good stead for the rest of your careers.

If you believe fun is the enemy of graduate research then please avoid this opportunity to have a massive amount of fun.  After all, you could use that three minutes to drastically improve your H-index, to seal that post-doc or to impress your examiner into offering you your own personal chair.

However, if you aren’t three minutes away from securing a Nobel Prize, then take the opportunity to think creatively about your research and have a blast doing it!

The entries are now open for the 3MT for Master’s thesis and Doctoral Candidates.  Stay tuned for next week’s post outlining the details on our workshop on Communicating Clearly: the 3MT and Beyond as well as tips from previous judges and more information about the rules and the way the Heats and Finals work and how to nobble your competitors.

I want to enter the 3MT and compete in:

AUCKLAND
WELLINGTON
CHRISTCHURCH
DUNEDIN

* To be fair, this was no oversight; I sucked both times.  But I had a load of fun doing it!

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School 

Gym Bunnies (opps, I mean Bears)

A long time has passed since I first went to a gym.  The year was 1990 and the fashion was for gym-goers to wear g-string leotards and fishnet bicycle shorts.*

It would not be an exaggeration to say that I have had a mixture of gym-based experiences.There was the time I forgot that the weights room was lined with mirrors and that the cute boy in the corner could see me “appreciating his form”. In terms of embarrassment, this was exceeded only by the time I fell off the backwards incline bench*** and the occasion I had to get cut out of the rowing machine.****

Despite this periodic public humiliation, I have always enjoyed  the gym and since thesis candidates should not live by thesis alone I thought I’d venture back there to scope it out for you. Armed only with my obligatory sweat towel and a giant Panda to spot me on the bench, we tested out the facilities at Unipol.

Panada on Couch

Denial is strong in this one and convincing Panda B.Ear to leave the comfort of the couch was trickier than you might imagine. His attempt at camouflage was impressive but ultimately futile.

It was a nice walk to Unipol but slower than normal. Panda basked in the attention of some tame professors and I was stopped by Campus Watch inquiring about the strong arm tactics I appeared to be using to get Panda moving.  Needs must and all that and I headed off with a slightly weaker grip on the Bear’s throat.

Panda Bike

Panda started with a bit of cardio and some off-key singing. One minute in and the sweat and guy-liner was running down his face.

ROwing machine

Hmm, my nemesis. Was slightly nervous about this one given my past experience. However, Panda’s bareness meant we escaped without getting caught up.

swiss ball

In the face of ongoing speculation, Panda was determined to show how well balanced he is.

Pand on the leg curls

Panda rest his foot

Leg press

 

Slump panada

The middle part of the gym excursion was evocative of the middle part of the thesis journey.  After the initial enthusiasm for the adventure there was confusion about what any of the equipment was for, bouts of self-pity, and an inability to meet the direct gaze of anyone official.

Panda is superman

Like any good trainer, I pushed Panda through the bleak period and he was soon flying high again.

Panda in the shower

A sweaty bear is a stinky bear and a stinky bear makes an unhappy Claire. Panda was surprised but pleased there were no changing facilities for bears at Unipol. Not to be undone by this odd oversight, I broke into a nearby student flat and drained their hot-water cylinder getting the sweat off Panda’s fur.

Now you know how inclusive and welcoming Unipol is, you have no excuse not take a break from your thesis and get down there.

Getting some exercise will make you feel better, sleep more soundly, and will help you work out the next bit of your experiment or the best way to word that pesky chapter you’re stuck on.  Not only that, you might meet a nice Panda there.

 

*To be fair, it was only one woman who wore this combo, but the memory will be forever etched into my mind’s-eye**

**Which I’d like to poke out

***Don’t ask

****Really don’t ask

 

Unipol gets five bamboo sticks out of five.

 

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School and Panda B.Ear, Under-Cover Reporter and Raconteur 

The Media and You (Part 2) – How Can You Make Me a Star?

blog post

‘Tis a little known fact that once you’ve written for the GRS Blog you get a hankering* to write for us again.  Fiona Clarkson from Marketing and Communications explained the importance of the considering using the media to share your research in this post.  This week she explains how to do it.

*By hankering I mean one of us usually harasses/begs/bribes you to do do it again for us. 

If you’ve given it some thought and decided that yes, media attention for your research would be a positive thing, then I have good news for you – several pieces in fact!

The first is that the University of Otago has a Communications Team whose job it is to talk to the media and get their attention. They are not at all scary to approach, and can help you sort out what the media will want, and how to talk to them. Before you start, however, it’d be a smart idea to think about the answers to the following questions – these are what the Communications Team will want to know, and what the media will want too.

To be blunt, the first question you need to answer is, “who cares?” Why is your research important to the general public? Does it change someone’s life? Improve their life? Add value to it? Uncover or explain new or historic information? Is it quirky? Relevant to a current public issue? Involve glow-in-the-dark pigs?

Despite there seeming to be an endless amount of news everywhere you look, news real estate is actually precious and the news media are looking for something which will attract a wide audience – it pays to think to yourself, why would that school teacher, or the little old lady in South Dunedin, or the young millennial care?

The next questions are the age-old basic journalism questions: who, what, why, when, where and how. Getting these ducks in a row will make it easier to compile a media release, or make a pitch to a media outlet.

Once you have attracted media attention, more good news! The Communications Team can also help you with  one on one training on how to talk to the media and what not to do. Their tips include being prepared with your facts and figures before an interview, considering a photogenic location, and perhaps doing some practice with a friend.

One important thing to consider is what are the risks? Is your topic in any way controversial? Once the media have spoken to you, who else might the media  approach and what would that group or person say? You shouldn’t let that put you off necessarily – good news number three is that we can help you through this slightly more tricky process as well as the positive side.

As outlined in my previous blog piece, there are lots of really great reasons for a postgraduate student to want to get media attention for their work. So don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call. Modesty is not the way to win at this particular game, and we in Marketing and Communications know there are so many awesome “stories” out there in postgraduate research that we would love to help you share.

Fiona Clarkson,  Postgraduate Marketing and Communications Coordinator

The ABCs of Libraries

I nabbed Subject Librarian, Sarah Gallagher, also known as @sarahlibrarina, at a moment of vulnerability and twisted her arm into writing a post for us.  I always say that librarians are super helpful.  In fact, if the University was the animal kingdom and librarians were an animal, verily they would be the African Giant Pouched Rat.  So, stop what you are doing, read this post and then book in to a workshop or a one-on-one today!


 

Back in the mid 90s when I was a postgrad student, library resources and services were quite different. Firstly, there was no Library website. The University of Otago Library was transitioning from card catalogues (1) to a computerised system that could be searched on an OPAC (2). This revolutionised searching but didn’t provide any access to items in full text.

2010_Manchester_UK_4467481691
By Ricardo from Manchester, UK (Manchester Central Library, March 2010) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I did love the catalogue cards but you could only search by author, title or subject. The cards were variously old; the card softened to touch like thick linen. New cards were hard and would pierce you under the fingernail in the soft bit given a chance.

2970373235_f09d9181c4_o
CC BY Deborah Fitchett

There were very few online citation databases then; they were on a CD which had to be borrowed from the desk, and then loaded each time onto a precious public computer which had to be booked in 30 min time slots. There weren’t many of those computers either. This technology didn’t provide the full text either, it only provided citations. The leap from citation databases to full text or linked data hadn’t happened yet. The transition from citation to the object was manual.

So, like other library users, I did a lot of traipsing around the library for material: from reference section to book shelves to the murky journal collections upstairs; checking citations, chasing leads on foot like a gumshoe detective.

C
Hocken Snapshop (10th Jul 2012). Central Library Periodicals Stack 2nd floor. In Website Hocken Snapshop. Retrieved 8th Apr 2015 11:39

I spent a lot of time sitting in isles pouring over contents pages and indices or leaving through individual works page by page; it was filthy work. Paper is dirty; dot matrix print outs of indexes of journal articles are inky. The Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum had scores of volumes tied up with tapes and full of loose image plates. I opened, visually scanned and retied every. single. one. (3)

I didn’t make much use of librarians. I found them a wee bit scary (4).

When I did ask for help I didn’t get a lot (the service provided was very different then) and my topic was pretty esoteric. There were a few hard copy indices I could use (5) (LP, LIMC), but that was it. I really felt alone and I didn’t really know what to ask, or, besides my supervisor and other postgrads in my Department, WHO to ask for advice.

Most of my research was done reading indices and following footnotes. I also made excellent use of the interloan service, often having to request theses from overseas on microfilm (6).

I wrote everything on paper and meticulously inscribed all my references on index cards that I stored in Cussons soap boxes. I had many of these boxes and my backpack was heavy. I had no laptop, there was no Google, I had no online reference management software. In present day library terms, it was still a very analogue world. I developed a dent in one of my fingers from all the writing.

Reflecting back, I think part of the reason I didn’t seek assistance was that I felt I should already know it all; after all, I was a postgrad’ and I’d already been on campus for 4 years and I was an avid library user. So I struggled on in silence not knowing if I was using the all the resources available to me in the best way I could and was too embarrassed to ask.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and neither do you. No one does. <I do!!!>

Picture2

Here’s a story to illustrate my point.

I’ve just finished building a house and the learning curve has been massive. The house has had a 3 year gestation (not dissimilar to a PhD timeframe) and there have been rules, regulations, new language, methods and terminology to understand and lots of decisions and choices that only I can make. There have been relationships to manage too; designers, builders, council, suppliers and tradesmen.

My builders have been my navigators. They’ve helped me understand a dwang from a bearer, what patterning is and why it matters, why I need bracing here, scribers and flashing, there. This time I’ve not been scared to ask. I am the one who has to live with it and it’s costing a lot of money. The builders are on my side, they’re part my team and they don’t made me feel stupid for asking ‘dumb questions’ (7). They’ve been kind, informative and have been largely supportive if my creative ideas or have respectfully explained why it won’t work. They have a level of service and professional practice, which they embody. They are proud of their work, so I know I can rely on them to give me sound advice. Building is their job. Librarianing is mine (8).

The University’s Library’s Liaison Service has a very different practice to our reference librarians of last century. We individually welcome all new PhD students and invite you to catch up with your Subject Librarian at your convenience. We also run postgraduate workshops several times a year; there are some coming up next week – you can register online.

We can teach you how to develop search strategies and how search effectively and efficiently using some pretty smart tools that we spend $mils on. We can teach you to use software like Endnote so you don’t have to create inline citations and bibliographies by hand.

Make use of us. We’re always available by appointment to spend time with you, and we really do care about you and your project. We know that this is a massive commitment of time, funds and often access to your nearest and dearest. We’ve been there too.

We know you don’t know what your don’t know and so we can anticipate some of the questions you may have. We’ve got your back; let us help you make this the best damn thesis you can.

Yvonne_Craig_Batgirl

Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, by ABC Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Endnotes

  1. What is a card catalogue? http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-a-card-catalog.htm
  2. OPAC (Online Public Access Catalogue) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_public_access_catalog
  3. CVA is now online http://www.cvaonline.org/cva/
  4. The irony is not lost on me http://librarianavengers.org/worship-2/
  5. L’Année philologique is now online, the Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae (LIMC) is not. Ha.
  6. Microform http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microform
  7. There are no dumb questions
  8. I did teach my builder how to use Pinterest … he loves it

Sarah Gallagher, Health Sciences Library

The media and you – moving beyond no comment

 

i WANNA bE WORLD FAMOUSData scandals, intellectual property theft, research misconduct, harmful experiments and holding the world record for time to completion are all examples of the kinds of things graduate students don’t want media attention for.  But what should you want media attention for? 

I always start my thesis workshops on what a master’s or PhD is not.  It’s not a ticket to the New York Best Seller List and no one is going to make a block-buster movie out of it with you as the lead.  Having said that, if your plans for media saturation aren’t quite so grand, then it is important to think about how much media exposure you want your research to have and how you will handle a reporter who gets wind or your cool research project.

Fiona Clarkson is the Postgraduate Marketing and Communications Coordinator at the University.  She says has been a journalist and communications professional for over 20 years but I say she looks way too young and this can’t possibly be true. Either way we are lucky enough to have her sharing her wisdom on why it is a good idea to have a media presence.

The question of whether you should try and attract “mainstream” media attention for your research can be a perplexing one.

It’s journal articles and the like that really add value to your career, right? And everyone knows the media just beat everything up, and/or get things wrong, don’t they?

Besides which, nerve-wracking much? What if I’m misquoted? What if I sound like a dork?

Well here’s one reason: imagine you and another freshly minted PhD are interviewing for a post-doc role. And you both have wonderful theses. And you’re both awesome people. And one of you has newspaper articles giving your research publicity – with the potential to bring ongoing public attention to your work. In the modern funding environment, a public profile is a good thing.

Here’s another more philanthropic reason: I’ve not met a PhD candidate yet for whom the chance to add to the body of knowledge isn’t one of their raison d’être. But how much real value are you adding with a stunning thesis that is shelved only in a library? Let’s spread the joy and the knowledge.

Or what about purely practical reasons? Need survey participants and short on funding? Media attention to your project can reach further than any advertisement.

With careful preparation and thought, talking to the media needn’t be a scary proposition.

Yes, news in today’s modern world does seem to hinge on a catchy headline and a bit of conflict. But knowing that and preparing accordingly, with facts and figures and consideration to what a journalist needs (not just what you want), can have fantastic results. And avoid potential dork-ery.

Check out part two of this series for how to attract media attention and prep for an interview.

Fiona Clarkson,  Postgraduate Marketing and Communications Coordinator

The Dean Cooks a Sausage!!

What:  Dean’s Sausage Sizzle

When: Thursday the 26th February

Where:  Abbey Common

Why:  Fun!

It was a beautiful day for a real kiwi bbq.  The smell of charred snarlers and the sounds of some dodgy tunes filled the air.

 

Rachel “Break-Your-BBQ” Sproken-Smith, Susan “Onion-Empress” Craig, Sarah “Monster-Sausage-Wrangler” McGregor, and Claire “I’ll-Falafel-You” Gallop put their spatulas on the line for the Graduate Research Community.

the chefs

As a manager, I look to develop my team wherever I can.  Witness the enjoyment on Tina’s face as I teach her how to flip a falafel on the BBQ.*

TIna and Claire

The top ten per cent of theses at Otago are classified as exceptional.  It is a little known fact that in the world of charcuterie there are special classifications for exceptional sausages.  1 in 14 sausages are Monster Sausages and GRS are awestruck in their presence.

salad and an exceptional long sausage

Rachel “Smasher” Spronken-Smith destroys the BBQ with a brutal prod of the tongs. Some gentle probing uncovers the fact that she doesn’t want her husband to know that she can actually barbeque and is prepared to destroy Abbey College’s equipment to avoid the grill at home.

Dean and broken bbq

The queue for food before the riot broke out.  Rachel “Destroyer” Spronken-Smith waggled her tongs at the marauding attendees and soon got them back in line.

queue

It was a lovely event and it was great to see so many people come along.  Thanks to the team at GRS for organising it and for Abbey College for hosting it.

*<As a staff member I pretend to put up with Claire’s nonsense but actually I am thinking about Panda’s handsome and broad shoulders> Tina.

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School

Panda’s Big Graduate Research Adventure: Undercover Staff Member

Recovered from putting the system on trial as a thesis student, undercover Panda Bear, Mr Panda B. Ear, heads back to the Graduate Research School to delve into their stationery drawers.

What is life like as an administrator in GRS?  Is it a basket of kittens or a bag of badgers?

Day One: 8:30am

I slipped behind the GRS Reception Desk like a Jaffa slips through a Manager’s sweaty hands on a hot day.  When I first explained that I was the new temp replacing Katherine on reception for the week, no one was any the wiser.  I was confident and dressed for success.  I was convinced the job would be a doddle.

Things started going downhill when Tina started to get suspicious of my telephone manner.  By 9am I was imagining her eyes boring into my handsome and well-proportioned back.

panda rocks reception desk

Day One: 9:15am

Hmm, not such a doddle after all.  It seems needing a bamboo break is not an acceptable excuse for screaming at a candidate trying to submit a PhD.  Who knew?

Katherine has been recalled from her holiday and they have shunted me into the back office so I don’t “scare” or “bite” the students.

Panda in schols office

Day One: 9:45am

Am beginning to despair of this assignment.  All these guys do is work and it seems they do not take kindly to members of the team using doctoral applications to line a litter box.

I’ve said I’m going out for donuts but I’m actually going for gold.  If there is any dirt to find, I’m convinced it’s in the Dean’s office; I never trust a professor with a double-barrelled name.

Panda and the dean

Day One: 9:57am

Turned out there was nothing to see there.  The Dean caught me wearing her lei and chewing on her favourite pot plant; thank goodness she didn’t see me making anklets out of her paper clips.

She sent me packing and with less than one and half hours of service on the clock, I needed a wee rest.  This was the longest morning of my life.

Panda lies down

If going undercover in the Graduate Research School taught me anything, it’s that those administrators all need a jolly great pay rise and a big hug for doing all that paperwork. Especially the Manager of the School, she’s particularly awesome.  I’d go as far as to say she is magnificent.  Yes, that’s surely the moral of this story.

Panda B. Ear

Love is in the Air!

Vday blog2

The University of Otago is not just a great place to do a doctorate, it also is the place to find true love.  To celebrate Valentine’s Day and all thing lovely and lovey,the awesome Mel Adams hunted out Daniel Wee (PhD candidate in Philosophy) and Saemyi Chung (PhD candidate in Social and Community Work) to discuss juggling love and a PhD.

First up, how did you meet?

Daniel: At Abbey College–she arrived as a new resident and sat at my table during dinner.

Saemyi: I arrived at Abbey College and the senior college assistant introduced me to Daniel because there were no residents left at the dining room. He was lucky!

How do you find balancing PhD study and life as a married couple?

Daniel: We’re doing fine. The important thing is to organise your time well and take breaks!                                   

Saemyi: We are doing well. Since we stay at Abbey that means that we don’t need to prepare meals and clean our rooms!

If Abbey College was burning down which will you save – your PhD research or your beloved? 

Daniel: Saemyi, but thank goodness for Dropbox!

Saemyi: Of course you know my answer, Daniel!

Photo for Valentines interviewAny tips for couples who are about to start a PhD?

Daniel: Try and have a rough budget planned together, and try to subsidise costs through sharing.

Saemyi: They should learn to respect each other’s discipline, and share housework.

Do you find it helps having a spouse who is also studying a PhD?

Daniel: Definitely. It helps to have someone going through similar challenges to talk share experiences with.

Saemyi: Of course. We can understand each other very well, particularly with regards to meeting deadlines!

When did you get married?  Did you have a big wedding?

Daniel and Saemyi: We got married in June of last year. I guess it was a fairly large ceremony, about 300 people attended. It was held at Saemyi’s church in Seoul, Korea.

Did you take your theses on your honeymoon?

Daniel: My supervisor suggested it, saying you never know when inspiration or an idea might hit you! But I think I left it at the back of my mind until we got back to Dunedin.

Saemyi: Of course not! My supervisor said they got married when they were doing their own PhD and knew that it would be best for me to enjoy my honeymoon.

If your spouse was an animal what would they be?

Daniel: Saemyi likes nature and walking in the botanic garden, so I think a bird would fit her.

Saemyi: A dolphin, because he’s quite clever and likes salmon.

If your thesis was an animal what would it be?

Daniel: I guess it would be a circus animal, something that needs constant care and training—maybe a circus elephant?

Saemyi: A cheetah would be nice—reaching its target without making any mistakes!

Who is due to submit their thesis first?

Daniel: I am, by about ten months before Saemyi .

Saemyi: He is ten months ahead of me, but you know what, anything can happen before the end!

And do you have plans to celebrate the first thesis submission or will you have a joint celebration when you both submit?

Daniel: We’ll probably have a small celebration when I submit, and then a bigger one once Saemyi submits hers.

Saemyi: Thank you Daniel, I agree!

A Normal Decibel Conversation with the Thesis Whisperer

If you’re like me,* every so often you come across people in your line of work who you really feel like you should despise.  Not because they are rotters, but because they are just so thoroughly excellent at their job and in your wildest dreams you could never reach that level of excellence.  Not only are these rare beasts professionally stellar, they are hilarious and lovely to boot.  Ptchaw! 

Dr Inger Mewburn, aka the Thesis Whisperer, is one such person and it was my absolute pleasure to catch up with her when she visited Dunedin last year.  Inger presented a number or workshops for us and candidates who attended were gifted wisdom, realistic and helpful advice, and a bunch of laughs. 

Inger has an online presence that you should really check out and emulate; this is one time when it is most definitely a good idea to ‘use your eyes and plagiarise’**. Inger is innovative, insightful, engaged and helps thousands of thesis candidates across the world. 

Inger’s Blog, The Thesis Whisperer, is known as the go-to resource for research candidates and academics interested in research training.  Her work on Twitter is highly regarded and she provides many a moment of sanity for those being swept along by the crazy ride that is the thesis journey.  Not so shabby for someone living in the pornography capital of Australia***. 

I asked Inger the tough questions and here is a completely unauthorised, mostly true rendition of that conversation.

*Horrible    

**Style-wise I mean; for Pete’s sake, do not claim that you are the Director of Research Training at ANU. 

*** To be fair, she also lives in the actual capital of Australia and happens to work at an institution that is ranked 25th top University in the world.

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School

 

Dr Inger Mewburn, Thesis Whisperer and thoroughly good-egg

Dr Inger Mewburn, Thesis Whisperer and thoroughly good-egg

What brought you to Dunedin?

The Graduate Research School!  I connected with Claire through Twitter and was invited to come to Dunedin.  I’ve been eating, running and working with interesting students. The workshops I’ve been running have been on exams, avoiding research mistakes and employability.

What’s the funniest story you have about an Airedale terrier?

It was a long time ago, let’s move on.

What do you think the main differences between NZ and Australian PhD candidates are?

New Zealanders are very reserved in a workshop situation; you think your jokes fall flat.  <Mine do!>  It is a little bit more difficult as an educator because the feedback is so much more reserved than in Australia. New Zealand students are also very modest.  I was running a writing bootcamp at Victoria and every 5000 words you get a squeezy Lego block to celebrate.  In Australia there is a lot of celebration when the students they reached these milestones but in New Zealand the students would mention it quietly and not want any fuss made about it. Being more reserved doesn’t change the fact that they are just as smart and interesting though.

Are there standard hurdles for all/most PhD candidates and if so, what can they do to minimise them?

People don’t recognize where they are up to or that ways of writing a thesis are different to what they did as an undergraduate.  You write multiple drafts, not one draft.  You make a mess and clean it up. It’s not a good idea to minimise these hurdles; it’s how you become an academic researcher.  We learn by doing but we think it’s wrong because it’s different and because it’s not talked about.

If you had limitless resources at your disposal, what support would you like to provide for thesis candidates?

Bootcamp.  This weekend we ran one at Victoria.  It is a 28 hour weekend programme that I call the Mother-in Law Treatment. When I was writing my thesis I went and stayed with my mother-in-law.  I handed her the child, locked myself in a room and she fed me.  This is what we do on Bootcamp.  We take away all the distractions and care for the students while they write. At this Bootcamp there were 22 people and they wrote 249,000 words between them.  The challenge is to write 20,000 words each and we teach a different approach to writing.  You learn to make a mess and clean it up. We have academic skills advisors, a yoga coach – we take a very holistic approach.  We also change the conversation from bonding over how awful writing is to celebrating our achievements. It is targeted at people who will not finish any other way; people who are over-time and are desperate.  <Hey, that’s me!>  It works, we’ve had 5 completions that we wouldn’t have otherwise had so it pays for itself several times over. It was developed at Melbourne University by Liam Connell and Peta Freestone and there’s a blogpost about it at the Thesis Whisperer.

What is the one thing you think PhD candidates need but don’t realise they need? Only one?? Most common problem is that they think they are a student still.  They are called candidate for a reason. There is lots of baggage that comes with being a student, particularly in their attitude to writing.  You need to write multiple drafts.  The student attitude to their supervisor is just to trust them but you need to realise they are a colleague and also a competitor – coopertition.

Would you like to fight one horse sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses?

Hmmm, that’s a tough question.  Which poop smells worse, because I’m going to kick the s**t out of them?  Duck poop smells worse than horse poop, so I’m going with 100 duck-sized horses.

What’s your favourite sandwich?

The Bánh mì.  Mmm, the carrot, chicken, coriander.  Crunchy, sweet and sour- so tasty.

Australians like to steal our stuff (Split Enz, Phar Lap, Pavlova) –  would you like to take Whaleoil?

Only if you take Andrew Bolt.  Perhaps we could put them on an island and they could fight each other?

Panda’s Big Graduate Research Adventure: Undercover Student

Before the Kardashians were exposing themselves (ahem) on TV, the U.S. had Hunter Thompson exposing the Hells Angels and Woodward and Bernstein exposing Richard Nixon.  Roguish Irish journalist Donal MacIntyre exposed the British underworld and even New Zealand had hard hitting investigative journalism in the form of Target exposing the tastiest corn-chips.

This time the tables have turned on the Graduate Research School when charismatic megafauna, World Wide Fund for Nature mascot and undercover bear, Panda B. Ear, spends time inside GRS.  What Panda finds inside the Clock Tower may change you forever*.

In a two part exposé, first as a doctoral candidate and then as a member of staff, Panda puts the spotlight on Otago University’s support for thesis candidates.

* The chances are slim to vanishing.

This is Part One of Panda’s story…

Day One

Given that there were no current vacancies in the Graduate Research School, I decided to go undercover as a student first. My rugged good looks mean I am hard to ignore.  I stayed up late reading about total fraud and has-been, Winne-the-Pooh; this gave me that haunted dark-circles-under-the-eyes look that so many grad students seem to have.  I blended in perfectly and no one noticed anything amiss.

I’d heard that the Manager of the School was good for a chat so I went to see her about my “thesis”.

I discovered I could talk to her forever and soon I was telling her about how I didn’t feel like I fitted in and that my supervisor did not realise how rare and precious I was. I explained that sometimes the University feels like such a zoo; I’m unique, don’t treat me like one of the pack!

I also asked for some Excel advice and for some help with some quadratic equations.  To be honest, she was completely useless regarding the latter issues but she did help me to stop being so black and white. Panda and ClaireI knew I’d said too much when we explored my bamboo habit and my relationship with my mother.  I’ve never known such tiredness.Panda lies down

Day 1095

So as not to draw attention to myself I waited 1094 days until I submitted “my” thesis.  No one seemed any the wiser until I spat out the Chocolate Fish they gave me.  Fish??? I’m a vegetarian!Panda Submits PhD

I’d found out all I could about life as a doctoral student.  GRS’ most heinous crime was in its choice of marshmallow confection.  I sensed there was more to this story and I started to plan how to get behind the (frankly crazily high) reception desk.

Panda B. Ear