Thursday, October 30, 2014

Festivalling: Week Two

by Keely Blanch
This year Grad Research School treated postgrads to a full-on ‘Inger’ experience by persuading offering The Thesis Whisperer, Dr. Inger Mewburn, the chance to escape Australia for the lovely shores of NZ to present THREE seminars in two days. For anyone who hasn’t seen The Thesis Whisperer presentations, I’d heartily recommend attending if you get a chance. The slides for Thesis Whisperer presentations are available from the ThesisWhisperer website, but they are no substitute for being there. Inger is so friendly that feel you know her - she must feel stalked when complete strangers come up to her and start talking to her! On this visit, her presentation topics included ‘Social media and Academia’, ‘Tragic research mistakes and how to avoid them’, and ‘What do examiners want’. Sprinkled between these seminars were other offerings, such as tips on networking, opportunities to practice networking, and the Thesis in 3 awards (sadly I missed this last event as I was away, but more details are available at the GRS blog).

Social media and Academia 

(or Blogging and Tweeting – do I really have to do it?)

I admit I’m a Facebook addict  an enthusiastic user of social media, so I was keen to hear in this seminar about how I could turn the procrastination time-sink potential to an advantage. Other postgrads who are less keen on social media had come along wanting to know if they really did have to use this ‘stuff’ on the internet.

I still haven’t made up my mind about the first half of the seminar. There was a lot of talk about ‘the future’, accompanied by slightly depressing academic job stats and requirements, phrases like ‘more competition and more PhDs than ever before’, etc etc. The stats were Australian figures, but reportedly similar to those for NZ. But it is all in how you view them – for instance, I decided to be optimistic that only 14% of PhD grads were still looking for work 4 months after finishing. However, all these facts were a lead in to the main argument – that social media can be a good way to increase your academic profile and boost your chances not to be one of the 2% still looking for work a year after graduating.

First point - anyone can do social media. Second point – you do not want your first google footprint to be your university staff page. I immediately thought I could live with that as at least that would mean I was a staff member. I also did have to laugh when I googled ‘Inger Mewburn’ and the first result was the uni staff profile. However, the second result was The Thesis Whisperer blog, which illustrates a wider academic profile.

During her talk, Dr Mewburn covered ways to promote yourself online and where you should be focusing your attention. Hint - your 'basic' academic profile should include your uni page, Linked.In, ResearchGate,, Google Scholar, and Bonus points if you add Twitter, facebook, blogging and other social media.

In summary, using social media is one way to increase your academic profile, to stamp your mark on a concept, to be a networked scholar, and to expand your academic community.

(* for more about academic blogging, see the links at the bottom of the post)


Networking with Prof. Rachel Spronken-Smith

Immediately after hearing about networking via social media, we headed off to learn about face-to-face networking. Yes, with people. Was I the only one whose mind went from social media to networking and thought computer tech wizardry?

Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith continued the theme of promoting the importance of networking for academic careers. Labelled as Cats or Dogs, we mingled and completed activities aimed at helping us get to know each other and expand our networks. It was great to meet up with other PhD students from HEDC, as well as make contact with another blogging PhD student, Sherrema from The Smart Girl's Guide to Getting her PhD Abroad. Networking was working already!

PRANC - the networking party

This event was touted as a way to practise our newly-minted networking skills. Having re-caffeinated, and with the promise of more of the Staff Club's delicious nibbles (did someone mention truffles?) I set off to meet, greet, and work out who had the Lego Harry Potter castle in their office (sorry Claire, I already knew about your Lego village). Networking Bingo was tremendous fun, and conversations weren't just confined to 'what category can I put you in?'. By the end of the evening my head was swimming with names. Maybe I should suggest a seminar on how to remember which names and faces go together.




Tragic research mistakes and how to avoid them

Tuesday was all about The Thesis Whisperer.  In the morning seminar, Dr Mewburn discussed how research integrity is woven through all aspects of the project. It encompasses work practices, ownership of concepts, 'plagiarism' or ethical use of other people's work, and ethical research practices, including the ethics process and ethics review boards.

From a selfish view - a lack of research integrity by others may impact upon your work with disputes over claims of authorship, contribution to projects and so on. So protect yourself: keep an audit trail, negotiate and re-negotiate as needed in group projects, keep proof of your thesis progress (and feedback to prove ownership of ideas), etc. Although do remember that 99% of the time there aren't any problems!
For your participants - you want to ensure you act ethically during the research process and treat their data with respect. Part of this is gaining institutional ethics approval for your research before you start collecting data. Ethics is a bit of a hobby horse of mine so I was glad this got a mention! 

One important note is that ethical approval isn't just about protecting participants, it's also about protecting the researcher. On a selfish note again, without ethics approval granted before data collection, you may not be able to get your thesis examined, graduate, or get published in reputable journals.

What do examiners want?

The afternoon session started off with the curly question of what examiners actually want in a thesis. Recently Dr Clinton Golding of HEDC at Otago outlined what examiners do when they assess a paper (you can find his paper here). 

Dr Mewburn decided to approach the topic from a slightly different angle and talked about the 5 ways to fail your thesis. If you want to fail, don't talk to your supervisors about possible examiners for your thesis; send your thesis to a new examiner who is still relatively fresh out of their PhD and still sensitive and therefore hypercritical; write a bad literature review; make sure your introduction and your conclusion look like they come from different theses; don't use a copy editor to check for proofing, grammar, spelling errors. The good news is that only about 2% of PhDs fail outright. Most have to do some revisions. 

Things to think about if you want to pass: keep your thesis as small as possible - it indicates confidence and promotes clarity; make sure you hit key references in your field; check the conventions for your division when deciding what type of thesis and how to present it; go to seminars; ask advice; keep your intro short (about 2000-3000 words); assessment is based upon first impressions of abstract, intro, conclusion; make your thesis an easy and enjoyable read.

So a busy, but useful two weeks of festivalling. I hope you all got a chance to get along to at least one of the events this year. I can't wait to see what's on offer next year :)


I'd like to say a thank you to Dr Inger Mewburn, aka The Thesis Whisperer, for generously sharing a link to one of this blog's posts via her popular Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Academic blogging links:
There seems to have been a bit of talk around academic blogging and/or use of social media this year. If you want to know more, Pat Thomson at Patter has written a few posts on the topic. Some of the recent posts have reflected on whether Doctoral researchers should blog, and the way social media offers a chance to experiment with our writing voice. Jonathon Sterne at Sterneworks offers some salient points to consider for academics thinking of blogging in his Blogging 101 for Academics post. The Guardian has also offered tips from for Academic Blogging, as well as a post from Pat Thomson and Inger Mewburn questioning why academics blog so much. Thomson and Mewburn have also written an academic paper on this topic, 'Why do academics blog? An analysis of audiences, purposes and challenges'. 


1 comment:

  1. Just for fun (maybe) if you are setting up a twitter account and your name or anything rationally close to your name has been taken - e.g. you end up with @JoeBlog1millionqwerty990 - you can always put your name through an anagram maker - its interesting what comes out - one of mine - Lands Near Oars - might make an o.k. twitter handle? - though you might also like to check out (google) ways to create your twitter handle :)