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Category Archives: Research

Your Workspace in the World

To celebrate the 2015 Graduate Research Festival, the Graduate Research School launched an Instagram account. We wanted to know where your ‘Workspace in the World’ was – where does your research brilliance ‘happen’? Claire recounts her experience as a Masters candidate…

“I wrote my entire Master’s thesis in bed.  It was the old days and I had an early Apple Mac that I’d prop on my knees like a laptop (I was an innovator).  I liked writing in bed because when I got tired I could have a wee nap and when I woke up I could start writing again immediately.  I believe one of the reasons I don’t get enough done on my PhD thesis is because my boss won’t let me set up a bed in my office.”

We can imagine it looking a little something like this…Panda1

 

So we asked… are you a J. K. Rowlingesque café goer?  Do you compete for Library space with the undergraduates?  Have you got the perfect balance of proximity between access to coffee and a source of warmth? And your pictures said it all! The five lucky winners are announced at the conclusion of your following worldly workspaces… enjoy 🙂

 

Anne Shave – PhD, Department of Theology
Anne Shave - PhD, Theology

Ali Rogers – Masters, Department of Science CommunicationAli Rogers - Masters, Science Communication

Tyler Northern – Masters, Department of Marine ScienceTyler Northern - Masters, Marine Science

Tracy Rogers – PhD, Higher Education Development CentreTracy Rogers - PhD, HEDC

Rebecca Babcock – Masters, Bioethics and Health LawRebecca Babcock - Masters, Bioethics and Health Law

Rachel Tan – PhD, Higher Education Development CentreRachel Tan - PhD, HEDC

Pramit Patel – Masters, Department of MicrobiologyPramit Patel - Masters, Microbiology

Mike Maze  PhD, Department of Preventive and Social MedicineMike Maze - PhD, Preventive and Social Medicine

Marieke Jasperse – PhD, Department of Psychological MedicineMarieke Jasperse - PhD, Psychological Medicine

Lindsay Robertson – PhD, Department of Preventive and Social MedicineLindsay Robertson - PhD, Preventive and Social Medicine

Liesel Mitchell – PhD, National Centre for Peace and Conflict StudiesLiesel Mitchell - PhD, Peace and Conflict

Li Kee Chee  Masters, Dietetics ProgrammeLi Kee Chee - Masters, Dietetics

Georgia Bell  Masters, Department of Marine ScienceGeorgia Bell - Masters, Marine Science

Francesca Allen – Masters, Department of Anthropology and ArchaeologyFrancesca Allen - Masters, Archaeology

Esther Dale – PhD, Department of BotanyEsther Dale - PhD, Botany

Erika Szymanski – PhD, Department of Science CommunicationErika Szymanski - PhD, Science Communication

Chelsea Slobbe – Masters, Dietetics ProgrammeChelsea Slobbe - Masters, Dietetics

Ben Riordan – PhD, Department of PsychologyBen Riordan - PhD, Psychology

Rebecca Ahmadi – Masters, Public HealthRebecca Ahmadi

The winners have been drawn from the very official hat! Congratulations to…

Georgia Bell, Tyler Northern, Rebecca AhmadiMike Maze, and Esther Dale

Your $50 prezzy cards will be available for you to collect from the GRS Reception (Ground floor of Clocktower Building, north end) from Monday afternoon onward (7 September). Or contact phd@otago.ac.nz for any alternative arrangements.

Thanks again to all of you who shared your photos: your second homes, that spot in the library, your kitchen, the lab; whether love it or hate it, hang on to your little workspace in the world!

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 richard.white@otago.ac.nz if you have any copyright questions.

copyright-free-photos-afd-111349

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.

http://goo.gl/forms/A1sdolbvQX

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.

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 Wonderful World of Workshops

Workshops

In case you didn’t know it yet, the Graduate Research School offers a whole host of glorious workshops and events for graduate research candidates to utilise and enjoy throughout their time here. These are varied in topic and presented by a number of experienced academics and Otago staff, who aim to engage with and inspire with their wealth of knowledge and genuine interest in helping you along the way. Among the heap of sessions run by GRS, the Student Learning Centre and HEDC; here are just a few snippets!

Presented by our pretty great GRS Dean, Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith, Doctoral candidates are treated to stage-based workshops:  for those in the early stages of their study (Embarking on your Doctoral Journey), for those mid-way through their study (Keep Calm and Carry on), and for those hitting crunch time in the final stages of writing up (Hitting the Home Stretch).

Our very own GRS Manager, Claire Gallop, runs the ‘Insider’s Guide to Doctoral Domination’, which is a series of 6 x 1 hour workshops (next round starting in May!) aimed at helping you successfully negotiate your way through doctoral study. Claire also gleefully presents the ‘Mastering Your Thesis’ workshop, designed to offer Masters candidates some handy tips and advice on conquering their theses.

I asked a couple of our current students their thoughts on any workshops they’ve attended so far and received awesome responses!  One PhD candidate gave us an insightful rundown of her experiences:

“Both workshops [The Insider’s Guide to Doctoral Domination and Keep Calm and Carry On] were well run, jam-packed with useful bits of information and a friendly environment to raise questions and talk to others experiencing similar research challenges/successes!

… The Insider’s Guide ran over the course of a couple of weeks, and this was a great amount of time for getting to know the other people in the workshop, which helped me feel like I was not ‘alone’ in this research adventure. It also gave me space to ask some of those broader questions (“where is the best coffee shop on campus?”) that you feel like your supervisor wouldn’t have time to answer, or you might feel stupid asking!

The Keep Calm workshop also creates a comfortable space for asking questions, breaking into smaller groups and offering really helpful advice. One of the nice things about attending the Keep Calm workshop at the thesis halfway mark, was actually recognising and reconnecting with some of the students who had attended Insider’s Guide a year or so earlier! I also thought both workshops were really helpful for helping you make the transition from Masters to PhD research. Both Claire and Rachel were great at putting things in perspective and providing practical solutions to counter all fears! The very blunt statement that this is “just a PhD”, was probably the most constructive, practical, keep-your-feet-on-the-ground-and-stop-the-panic advice I took away from these workshops.

My personal recommendation would be to attend both of these workshops. They help make connections with other PhD students, across a variety of disciplines and allow you to see, not only is there life beyond the four walls of your office, but your experience is not unique, and sharing this with others is quite therapeutic!”.

Ashraf Alam, a recently inducted PhD candidate echoed this response:  “I believe all those workshops were useful. As a Masters student, I was mostly benefited from the ‘Mastering Your Thesis’ workshop. I’d be happy if I could really tell Claire Gallop, how grateful to her I am! I’d suggest all Masters thesis students to attend this particular workshop within the first month of beginning their research”. He indicated that the most important pieces of advice he received was to publish, and to get in touch with the subject librarian, stating that this was “… an invaluable asset that Otago has”.

Networking

When it comes to networking, Ashraf said that he appreciated receiving “… advice about managing the relationship among different stakeholders (supervisors, librarians, departmental faculties, peers, etc). It is not easy in a multicultural environment where general expectations are very diverse (much more than what you can imagine) among individuals”.

Current PhD candidate, Keely Blanch, shared her thoughts on the ‘Networking’ workshop run by Rachel: “Networking is one of those things you know you ‘should’ do, a necessity even if it seems at times to be a painful stilted way to meet people at conferences. Being half way through my PhD I gamely signed up and dragged myself off to Rachel’s seminar. Rachel offers some good reasons on why networking is good for your career – finding mentors, creating a network of people who can help you find out about job opportunities, creating new friendships and so on. Many opportunities to network can evolve naturally from chance meetings and so interactions are less ‘forced’. Other meetings, such as those at conferences where you know no one, are more difficult. Rachel took us through a series of exercises designed to let us practice meeting and chatting with complete strangers. Sure the conversations can seem a bit awkward when you first start, but once that ‘commonality’ is identified things seem to truck along more smoothly. You may ask what a short seminar on your own campus can offer, but in one afternoon I met postgrads from other departments (which means familiar faces to chat to at other functions), and I connected with someone who also blogs about their postgrad journey. I may have headed there with trepidation, but the afternoon was enjoyable and worthwhile”.

Feeling motivated to attend?! (Heck, even I am!) Head to the website and sign up!

http://www.otago.ac.nz/research/graduate/otago041922.html

Thanks for tuning in 🙂

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

Relativity applies to physics, not ethics (A. Einstein)

Ever heard of New Zealand’s very own “Unfortunate Experiment”? Or perhaps you’ve heard of the Cartwright Inquiry that resulted from the horrors of this so-called ‘treatment’? If not – imagine being really sick and finding out that your doctor hasn’t been treating you properly – on purpose! For more info, go googling! That, my friends, illustrates just one example as to why ethical practice is so very important.

Ethics

Having dabbled in a bit of research in my student days, and sat in on a few Ethics Committee meetings during my time here as a Uni staff member, I thought I had a fair idea of what ‘ethics in research’ was all about. However a while ago I went to check out the ‘Navigating your Ethics Committee’ workshop, run by GRS. It was here that I realised there was a whole lot I hadn’t considered, and it reiterated, for me anyway, why we should be taking this stuff really seriously, and not just ticking a few boxes on a form!

The bottom line is that as researchers, you have knowledge that others don’t. This can be a risky business. Some research, by nature, involves a certain level of deception; the omission or distortion of information, for example, the placebo effect. It is this type of research that will often produce the most effective results, but can also hold the greatest risk to both participants and the researcher.

This is where our multiple University Human Ethics Committees come into play – to help identify and minimise these risks. We have the UO Human Ethics Committee, and the UO Health Ethics Committee. Made up of academics/researchers, members of outside organisations and lay people, if you’re doing research that involves human participants, you should be submitting an application to one of these committees. These intelligent and worldly people identify and assess any biases in your research; potential harm to both participants and the researcher (physical or emotional); raise issues perhaps not yet considered by the researcher; and overall try to add value to your research. To quote Gary Witte, Manager of Academic Committees and Secretary to the University’s HECs, “the Ethics Committee endeavours to trend away from compliance to a culture of conscience”.

Basically, they’re not trying to ruin your fun or pick your research design to pieces out of spite because they missed their morning coffee – they are there to help broaden your mind as to the wider implications of your research; and most importantly, to protect you as the researcher, the generous people participating in your research, and the University, from anything going terribly wrong.

The workshop itself was engaging. Presenters, Gary Witte, and Dr Mike King from the Department of Bioethics, welcomed discussion, questions, and offered some helpful tips to get you started with your ethics proposals…

  1. Provide too much information in your ethics application – a common reason applications are turned back is due to lack of info;
  2. Consent processes need to be ‘bullet-proof’ and appropriate to the audience (i.e. in a consent form for a six year old, use big font, not big words!);
  3. Be clear as to the inclusion and exclusion criteria of your research participants;
  4. Be aware of overused groups (e.g. Pregnant women in Dunedin – there are only so many at any one time, and may get sick of you all hounding them while they are trying to grow another human);
  5. Gifts should not be an ‘inappropriate inducement’ ($500 for filling in a questionnaire is a little over the top);
  6. Develop a ‘Plan B’ in case ‘Plan A’ falls short; and lastly…
  7. OWN your ethics application. Get all up in that grill, and the Committee won’t grill you! (Wow, that was somewhere between a terrible pun and a bad dad joke – eek!).

Check out our webpage and try and head along to the next ethics workshop – it really is worth a look: http://www.otago.ac.nz/research/graduate/otago041922.html

Be sure to visit the Human Ethics Committee webpage too for the nitty gritty of ethics applications: http://www.otago.ac.nz/council/committees/committees/HumanEthicsCommittees.html

There is also a really handy brochure available from Academic Committees (located on the ground floor of the Clocktower Building, G23); and the team’s contact details can be found on their webpage (link above).

Side note:  while the focus of this piece is about human ethics, we also need to think seriously about the ethical treatment of our furry friends when using them in our research. Often more so, as there aren’t nearly enough species with opposable thumbs who can sign those consent forms… so please visit the University’s Animal Ethics webpage for more info about doing research with these guys:

http://www.otago.ac.nz/council/committees/committees/otago000865.html

Sarah McGregor, Graduate Research School

So you’re thinking of a PhD?

PhD application pic

Just finished some postgrad study and craving more research to sink your teeth into? Like the ring of ‘Doctor’ before your name, but a drop of blood makes you queasy? Then a PhD might be just right for you!

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programme is the University’s highest level supervised research degree. We currently have over 1300 doctoral candidates studying at Otago, from both around New Zealand and overseas. Here are a few tips on how to get started with a PhD application.

Pre-requisite step:  You need to have put in some hard yards before applying – here’s the nitty gritty:

Every candidate must be a university graduate and produce evidence of ability to undertake research in the area of proposed study. Such evidence shall include:

i.  a Bachelor’s degree with first or upper second class Honours or equivalent (including a research component, e.g. a dissertation or a thesis); or

ii.  a Master’s degree (including an appropriate research component, e.g. a dissertation or a thesis); or

iii.  appropriate research experience (e.g. publications in academic journals, books, etc).

Got it? Cool – that will lead you nicely onto step one…

Step one: Find a supervisor!

Someone needs to be there with you on your research journey, to guide you, advise you, and support you; maybe even to provide you with coffee, chocolate, office space with a comfy chair conducive to napping in…

But in all seriousness, approaching a department and finding a supervisor with the right expertise, and that is able to supervise you, is the first necessary step. Keep in mind that this person will be your ‘colleague’ – we get regular feedback from completed PhD candidates that choosing the right supervisor off the bat is a crucial aspect of the PhD journey.

Step Two: The application process [Sidenote – you can totally apply at any time of the year – woo!]

a) If you’re a domestic student (‘Domestic’ includes Aussies; and international students who have previously studied at the Uni of Otago):

You will complete an online application form through eVision. You can access this from our website: http://www.otago.ac.nz/courses/qualifications/phd.html

After filling out the form, you will need to upload to eVision a research proposal, current CV, any academic transcripts for tertiary study undertaken outside of the University of Otago (we can get the Otago ones ourselves), and a Scholarship Application form – if you are applying for a University of Otago Doctoral Scholarship.

eVision then sends us your submitted application, and provided all the necessary documents are there, we will forward it on to your nominated department for them to complete their sections. Once it’s returned to us, we process it and flick it on to the meeting of the Graduate Research Committee to determine your fate… dun dun dunnnnn!

Check out this sweet flow chart for more detail: http://www.otago.ac.nz/research/graduate/otago084600.pdf

b) If you’re an international student (new to the Uni of Otago):

Once you’ve found that supervisor, contact the International Office (international.enquiries@otago.ac.nz), and they will work through the application process with you. Once they’ve done their bit, they send your application to us and as above, it goes to the GRC meeting for consideration.

Check out this just-as-cool flow chart for more detail: http://www.otago.ac.nz/research/graduate/otago084644.pdf

Step Three: The outcome

Technically you don’t need to do anything until we contact you – but bear with us, your application will be processed as quickly as possible. Sometimes we need to follow up on a few things, but rest assured, we’ll contact you as soon as we can with an outcome!

Other stuff:

Here are some helpful links to our website, where you can get more information on the process, and access other handy tidbits:

General PhD Information: http://www.otago.ac.nz/study/phd/index.html

More info on applying for the PhD: http://www.otago.ac.nz/study/phd/otago009275.html

The Doctoral Office is located in the Graduate Research School, on the Ground Floor of the Clocktower Building. If you have any questions, please feel free to email us at: phd@otago.ac.nz.

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?

Mastering the Masters Scholarship Application

Mastering your Masters Scholarship ApplicationIt’s that time of year when you have finished your final exams, it was the last year of your degree and you are wondering what to do next.  Someone whispers in your ear
“what about postgraduate study?” and you are thinking “mmm maybe a masters is for me but how can I support further study?”.  Well, a scholarship might be an option.  What follows is a 101 for applying for an Otago University Master’s scholarship.

Step one:  How do I apply?

First visit the Scholarship Applynow webpage.  This page lists the University of Otago scholarships you can apply for at Masters level, the regulations and most importantly the application form.

So go ahead and have a read, use categorised list of Otago Master’s degrees to work out what scholarship you can apply for. I will wait…… Sorted? Brilliant.

An important thing to note is that at the moment you cannot apply for scholarship funding via eVision.  There is no super cool tick box scenario here (but it is coming in 2015).

Either save an electronic copy of the application and enter your details or go old school and print off the application and complete it by hand, then scan it as a PDF.

If you do choose the second option, please use your best handwriting as we have to load your application into our database and life is so much easier if we don’t have to guess what you are writing! (Academy award winning writer and producer Aaron Sorkin wants to do an MSc in Pottery??? Oh no, some random dude called Darren Walken wants to do an MSc in Botany!)

Step two:  When do I apply?

A brilliant question and one we get often.  You can apply any time.  The Graduate Research School is all about flexibility; we don’t have a closing date which means if you want to have leisurely summer by the beach before you start your masterpiece, you can.

When you are ready to apply, submit your scholarship application as part of your admission application (yes this bit is via eVision).  There is no section which says “load your scholarship here,”  you simply load it as an additional document.

What happens if I have already applied for admission and I did not submit my scholarship application I hear you cry (sob sob)? Dry those tears my dear and don’t panic.  You can still apply.

If you are a coursework masters scholarship applicant as long as you have not started your course you can still apply (if you have started, unfortunately you are out of luck but check out BreakOut for options for external funding).  Research Masters students can apply after they have started their masters (we only offer funding for the first 12 months of your degree, so it’s no go if you are in month 13 of your study).  To apply after admission, complete your application and forward it on to your department and they will do the rest.

Step three:  When do I know if I have a scholarship or not?

We will process scholarship as soon as we receive and put it forward to a monthly meeting where it will be assessed.  We will notify you once the meeting has been held as quickly as we can and we will most likely notify you by email.

Sooo… if we get your application by the end of November we will assess your application before Christmas, applications received before Christmas will be assessed early Jan and you could be rolling in cash by February.

Step four:  Is there anything else I should know?

Yes!

  • Our current round of scholarships can start from 1 Jan 2015 (or there after).
  • Aim to start at the beginning of a month.  We make our payments month by month and it doesn’t matter what date you start within in the month you will use a month’s funding (try saying that one in a hurry).
  • Scholarship offers are valid for at least six months from when the offer is made.  So if you want to know before you go on your beach holiday if you have a scholarship, you can.
  • We offer 60 Research Masters Scholarships and around 20 Coursework Scholarships which means that these scholarships are super competitive i.e. we need to see good grades (like A grades).

Hopefully this helps in your quest to finding funding to help support yourself as you begin your postgrad life.  Don’t forget BreakOut  is another place to hunt out scholarship funding.  Any more questions just drop us an email (scholarships@otago.ac.nz).

Mel Adams, Graduate Research School