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Category Archives: Student Post

A Word to our Sponsors: the True Cost of PhD Research

Today we hear from PhD candidate, P. H. D. Candy-D’Ate* who gives us the lowdown on the True Cost of PhD Research.   This is essential reading for anyone about to prepare a grant application! 

Dear Funders,

When I applied for my doctoral funding you asked me to submit a detailed proposal setting out the costs involved in undertaking my research. It recorded line items such as “paper” and “travel”. In retrospect, this proposal was naïve and reflected my inexperience as a researcher. I am now writing to update my proposal and ask for additional funds for expenses that have arisen and that I will need to meet to complete my research. The items are set out below. This budget is for the 30 weeks remaining in my candidature.

Item Purpose Number Cost per item Total
Coffee Upper – required for functioning during day 30 bags of high strength beans $7 $210
Wine Downer – to offset effects of coffee, required for sleep 40 bottles $18 (I’m a graduate student, I can’t drink the really cheap stuff) $720
Physiotherapy Repair arm damaged by transcribing interviews 2 sessions $60 $120
Massage Recommended by physiotherapist and enthusiastically accepted by researcher 20 sessions $40 $800
Yoga Maintenance of mental and physical well being 20 sessions $15 $300
Chocolate Maintenance of mental well being 30 blocks $3 $90
Running shoes Reduce negative effects of chocolate to physical well being 1 $150 $150
Hairdressing Disguise rapidly multiplying grey hairs 5 $150 $750
Brian Johnston Practical strategies for slowing the rate of grey hair accumulation 6 $15 $90
Fancy keyboard My productivity will definitely increase if I have a very expensive keyboard that sounds like a typewriter 1 $250 $250
Mouse Previous mouse wore out from too much clicking (yes, seriously) 1 $60 $60
Electricity For clothes dryer because I don’t have time for housework but I still need clothes 100 $1 $100
Total       $3640.00


I trust you understand how essential these items are and look forward to your positive response.


Yours faithfully,

P. H. D. Candy-D’Ate

*Still not her real name

Mama PhD

PhD Mama

Since it is Mother’s Day tomorrow (don’t forget to give your dear old Mum a call) we thought it would be interesting to ask one of our PhD Candidates (Penelope Harriet Doris Candy-D’Ate*) what life is like for someone who is raising both small children and a PhD. Penelope could have just answered “busy” but instead she took time out of her hectic schedule to share some insight into the lives of those of us juggling thesis writing with carer responsibilities.

*Yep, you guessed it; not her real name.

Many people look horrified when I tell them I’m mothering two pre-schoolers and doing a PhD. My GP even seemed to think it was equivalent to concussion. When I went to see him after a car accident he wrote in my notes: “Hit glass with her head. Has felt dazed and tired, but also has 2 little children and is doing a PhD.”

While the decision to start a PhD with an 18 month old in tow and another bun in the oven, may look like the symptom of a head injury to some, to me it seemed like a great time to undertake a task I’d long hoped to do. The benefits of unlimited sick leave, elastic deadlines and the opportunity to work in pyjamas, should not be underestimated. There is also the fact that I was awake for about 20 hours every day during the first two years of my candidature, so I had plenty of time to contemplate my research. Admittedly somewhat deranged contemplation at times, but plenty of middle of the night thinking time. It is also cute watching the kids try and figure out what I do. My four year is drawing her own thesis (publication forthcoming), and has concluded from her survey of two grown-ups that boys go to work and girls go to noon-a-versity.

Fieldwork and attending conferences is complicated with a family’s needs to think of and that has presented some challenges but none of them insurmountable. The biggest challenge has been adjusting from my previous style of working non-stop when deadlines approach. I find it tough having to stop work when the childcare hours run out, when in my previous life I would have just kept going until I was finished. That may of course have resulted in total insanity given, as everyone says, the PhD is a marathon, not a race, so it is quite possible this is actually a plus. It just doesn’t feel like that sometimes. With the help of Brian Johnston, Otago’s coach extraordinaire, I’ve adjusted to this new way of working and learned much healthier work habits. (I’d still love to be able to hunker down in the library for hours on end though – old habits die-hard).

What has been key for me is that when I started my PhD my mother was in need of a job, and with my scholarship funding, I was in a position to give her a job looking after my babies. This has been a win-win-win and has enabled me to get through the PhD at a pace that would not have been possible without her. I’m very, very lucky to have that support and I know a lot of mothers who have it much tougher doing daycare runs, and having no childcare when the kids are sick. So happy Mother’s day to all the mum’s out there doing the Mama PhD juggle, and a special thank you this mother’s day to my mother for making it a lot easier for me.

P. H. D. Candy-D’Ate

The PhD Seesaw

At the Graduate Research School’s recent Networking function I had the pleasure of talking to a PhD candidate, Sim KwongNui, who I discovered was happy to write a post about her experience as a thesis candidate at Otago.  Sim said, ‘but it’s not a bad news story!  I really like my supervisors and I like doing a PhD”.

It’s really easy to focus on the negative; on the hiccups we have along the thesis journey, on the troubles we have with writing or with our supervisors. It is important to acknowledge these issues and to speak openly about our difficulties and to examine possible solutions.

However, it is also important to celebrate our successes and to acknowledge the awesome work and the fantastic collaborations that are happening all the time across the University. No thesis experience should be just a bad news story!

This is Sim KwongNui’s reflection on the role her supervisors play in her study and a chance to celebrate a good news story.

Claire Gallop, Graduate Research School


“PhD study is like a seesaw ride full of ups and downs but I am blessed to say that my PhD study is a well balanced seesaw ride where my three supervisors keep it calm and steady at all times.”



When asked why I pursue my PhD study in the same department at the same university, an answer I always give is “Because I have great supervisors!” Honestly, I do.

Undoubtedly, all my three supervisors are quite different in their ways of carrying out a research project, providing supervision or giving feedback. Here are some examples of their different ways of talking to me in a similar scenario:

Supervisor X: “I hope you are spending the afternoon celebrating reaching this important milestone!”

Supervisor Y: “All good. Just one suggestion.”

Supervisor Z: “You are progressing fine. However, I would suggest that to finish in time you will need to be investing more time in writing.”

It is fascinating to see the differences in my three supervisors’ personalities. Somehow those differences complement each other and balance my PhD seesaw ride nicely. After all, my supervisors are not all the same as individuals so why would they be all the same as supervisors?

I really appreciate my Primary Supervisor’s empathy, motivation, enthusiasm, immense knowledge, and, above all, her untiring assistance and unerring support of all aspects of my PhD study. I will always remember the many times that I go to her and she has never failed to be there for me.

I am also indebted to my talented and highly motivated co-supervisor, for his generous and unequivocal support of my academic pursuits. I could not continue my efforts without his consistent encouragement and enthusiasm.

My sincere gratitude also to my other co-supervisor, for persevering with me as my supervisor from the time I started my Masters study. He has played a vital role in developing my understanding of research and he has provided me with a deep appreciation of this field of study. I attribute the level of my current position in academia to his excellent guidance, effort and patience throughout my research journey.

In short, all of my three supervisors’ encouragement and depth of knowledge, as well as their availability, have been major catalysts for my PhD study. For their contribution and good-natured support, I could not have wished for better or more approachable supervisors.

I understand that many postgraduate students have issues with their supervisors (or vice versa) but I wonder if it is due to the supervisor(s) and/or the student’s misconception of this seesaw ride? The reason a seesaw was made for two parties is that when you go down, there is always someone there to lift you up again.

Undeniably, I am lucky to have three supervisors who not only lift me up but also work as a team to keep my ride safe and stable. Nevertheless, I believe it is a joint effort between the supervisor(s) and the PhD student that makes this seesaw ride a good one – our most difficult task as a working partner is to offer understanding when we don’t really understand.

So, perhaps let’s not allow one bad apple to spoil the rest of the basket: there are always good apples for us to enjoy.

 Sim KwongNui, PhD Candidate, Higher Education Development Centre