Saturday, November 18, 2017


Are you trying to get into the medical school of your dreams? Do you need an advantage over your competitors? Have you sat the GAMSAT exam previously only to bomb out in the essay section?

Dr Robert Muller has created a GAMSAT essay writing strategy that has been devised over the last 10 years in response to the main problems that candidates face in writing the GAMSAT essays.

This course, "GAMSAT Essay Secrets" provides a detailed essay writing strategy which is completely unique, but which the GAMSAT examiners respond to VERY positively when the strategy has been mastered and used well in the exam.

The rationale for this approach is that the overwhelming majority of GAMSAT essay writers construct their essays according to the overall theme of the five statements provided in the exam (for each essay).

Instead, Dr Robert's strategy is one of responding to ONE single statement, arguing/discussing VERY directly, and using examples skilfully.

The question is: If you want to put yourself above the majority of candidates, you need to take a different approach to your essay writing. If the examiners see that 95% of candidates are writing their essays in the same way, and then along comes your essay which has taken a completely different approach, this makes them sit up and take notice. If you master the strategy presented here, this will give you a significant advantage over your competitors.

Don't forget that in addition to the online course, you also get feedback and guidance on 10 GAMSAT practice essays at no additional cost (valued at $300).

Check out the course at:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The PhD: Notes to My Younger Self

As PhD students, we tend to live day-to-day while keeping in mind the potential of a future in academia. We leave little room to think about how we might frame today’s experiences when they become our past. Dr. David Whillock, who finished his doctoral research in 1986, reflects on the lessons he has learned after 30 years in Higher Education…
They say that hindsight is 20/20.  There is a lot of truth to that. As I get to the end of a long and wonderful career in higher education, there are several things I wish I had known while going through the Ph.D. process and things I wish I had known as an Assistant Professor attempting to gain a reputation and building a case for tenure. I’ll pass these along in hopes I may be able to tap into some of your concerns, frustrations, or hopes.
My best advice to those who are just entering into doctorate programs is to have a passion for and to focus on the subject for your dissertation. The first thing you need to do, I mean the first, is to find an advisor/supervisor that you identify with and will accept your premise and methods of your subject matter. You don’t want to start a program attempting to “change the mind” of your dissertation advisor. That is a long and losing battle you don’t need. Trust me, in defending your dissertation, you want to make certain your advisor is fully on board with your content, method, and findings. Then is not the time to argue a point, but to enlighten the life of the mind.
While in your program, use every opportunity to move your dissertation forward. Attempt to make every class/conference/journal paper an opportunity to use your content and/or methodology of your dissertation.
One more thing, remember you are writing a dissertation, keep that goal clearly in your head. The book will come later, if you can’t finish a dissertation, you won’t earn a Ph.D. Dissertation first, book later. Some colleges and universities won’t even count your dissertation toward tenure, even if it is in book form. So, focus, focus, focus.
When I served as Chair and Dean, many of my new hires were eager to make a name for themselves in their field of study and in the classroom. That level of energy is a good thing. I would suggest being strategic in this desire to make certain that, if you want tenure at your institution, you have a higher chance of getting it.  As Chair, I asked my “junior” faculty to resist volunteering for everything, or anything really that does not move you forward in your desire. Have the Chair help you be selective in the committees you serve on. You want to be known on campus outside of your department and college. Many serve on the University’s committee that will approve, or not, your bid for tenure. Choose wisely. The same applies as a Ph.D student: be strategic and selective.
Interestingly enough, I tell first year students the same thing I would tell my new faculty members: manage your time. It is imperative that you literally put on your calendar time to research and reflect. Take a walk… visit faculty from other departments outside of the building you are working in. Some of my better ideas come from faculty colleagues outside of my discipline. Indeed, several collaborative opportunities have come from these walks. But most important, a clear head and knowing the world will operate and be fine without you for a period of time is important.
One last thing, get balance in your own life. Anyone in any working environment who doesn’t have a hobby nor life beyond the academy, will eventually be lost. I have a lot of colleagues well into their 60’s who have no plans for life beyond the academy. I want to stress the importance to balance your life with people, events, and activities beyond the academy. Eventually even the best faculty realize it is time for a new generation of scholars to take the stage and push a new group of students to excellence. Stay relevant in your scholarship, but “get a life”.
Are there things you already wish you could tell your younger self? Have you been actively selective and strategic during your PhD Life? Tweet us your advice at @ResearchEx, email us, or leave a comment below.
Dr. David Whillock is the Associate Provost and Dean of the Academy of Tomorrow. He holds a Ph.D. in Critical Studies from the University of Missouri.  His specialization in teaching and research include History and its Depiction in Cinema, The American Vietnam Film, A Cultural Perspective on the Blues, and Ways of Knowing.  He is the guitarist for the South Moudy Blues Band.  He is published in the Journal of Film and Television, The Journal of Popular Culture, and Southern Communication Journal. He has contributed chapters in America Rediscovered: Critical Essays on Literature and Film of the Vietnam War, Hate Speech, and Vietnam War Films.

Demand for People Skills is Growing Faster Than Demand for STEM Skills

by Claire MasonCSIROAndrew ReesonCSIRO, and Todd SandersonCSIRO, The Conversation:

File 20171109 14167 17phj7s.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

High level interpersonal and problem solving skills are what will make you employable in a digital world. Shutterstock

Advances in digital technology are changing the world of work. It has been estimated that more than 40% of human workers will be replaced by robots. This probably overstates the scale of displacement, but developments in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning will affect all sectors of the economy.

However, the impacts of digital disruption will not be evenly distributed. Previous waves of technology had the greatest impacts for workers in routine jobs, but now a growing number of roles may be at risk.

Even so, workers whose skills complement but are not substituted for by technology can use the new technology to be more productive and command higher wages.

What types of skills will ensure you are employable in the world of human and robot workers?

Two recent reports, “The VET Era” and “Growing Opportunities in the Fraser Coast” challenge the rhetoric around the importance of STEM skills in the digital economy, by revealing how demand for skills has changed over time.

1. Increasing demand for highly skilled workers

These analyses show a major shift in the skills profile of the Australian workforce. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) classifies occupations into skill levels based on the amount of training and experience required to perform the job.

In 1986, the largest group of workers was in occupations classified as skill level 4 (roughly equivalent to a certificate II or III). Since then, demand for highly skilled workers has grown rapidly. Nowadays, the largest group of workers is in the highest (skill level 1) category - occupations requiring a bachelor degree or higher qualification.

Essentially, increased reliance on technology in the work environment raises demand for more highly skilled workers, because the more routine work is automated. While it is good that more of us are working in more rewarding jobs, not everyone has benefited from this shift. Nor can the current winners in the digital economy afford to be complacent. As the capability of digital technology increases, a growing range of tasks (such as data analysis and diagnosis) can be automated.

So what types of skills should we be developing when we invest in the higher qualifications that are now required in most jobs?

To answer this question, we linked Australian employment data with United States data on the skills and abilities associated with different occupations.

By linking these datasets, we could estimate (based on the changing occupational composition of the Australian workforce) which skills and abilities were becoming more or less important. For simplicity, we have grouped these skills and abilities into four categories: traditional Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills, communications skills, technical skills and generic STEM skills.

2. Communication and people skills are increasingly important

The analyses reveal that, despite all the hype about STEM skills, occupations requiring communication skills are actually growing fastest.

As our work becomes increasingly technologically enabled, human workers differentiate themselves from machine workers through their ability to connect, communicate, understand and build relationships. Most of us now work in the services sector. This is the sector that will continue to grow as the population becomes older and wealthier, as we up-skill and re-skill more often, and as the incidence of mental disorders, chronic diseases and obesity continues to rise. The delivery of these services requires people-focused skills such as active listening, empathy and teamwork.

3. Programming skills are less important than digital literacy

Given that coding is now part of the curriculum for Australian primary school children, it may be surprising to learn that growth in demand for communication skills actually outstrips growth in demand for STEM skills. More detailed analyses provides further insight into the way demand for STEM skills has been evolving.

What they reveal is that the STEM skills needed in a wide range of contexts and roles are those that involve working with (rather than programming) technology - skills such as the ability to think critically, analyse systems and interact with computers.

More traditional STEM skills (such as physics, mathematics, and programming) have been experiencing relatively low growth. In fact, recent research from the United States found that there has been a slight decline in the number of traditional STEM jobs since 2000.

Although traditional STEM skills are important, they are only needed by a relatively small number of highly skilled professionals - perhaps because programming work is itself able to be automated and sent offshore.

These STEM professionals also tend to achieve higher incomes if they combine their technical expertise with strong social skills, allowing them to make the connection between technological capability and social needs. While the most skilled coders will continue to have great opportunities, most of us will just need to be able to work with technology. People skills will continue to become more, not less, important.

As the capability of technology continues to develop, human workers need to focus on building skills that complement technology. High-level interpersonal and problem-solving skills are not so easily automated. Given that we will need to find new jobs to replace those lost to the robots, we also will need entrepreneurial skills to create and grow the new economic opportunities enabled by these developments.

The ConversationAs technological advances occur ever more rapidly, we will need to keep discovering new ways of using technology to perform our work. With strong communication, problem-solving and digital literacy skills, we can harness the power of digital technology to solve a customer’s problem, grow productivity and improve our world.

Claire Mason, Data61 Senior Social Scientist, CSIRO; Andrew Reeson, Economist, Data61, CSIRO, and Todd Sanderson, Research Scientist in Digital Economics, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, November 6, 2017

How To Select Which Conference to Attend

by Eva Lantsoght, PhD Talk:

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands. 

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!

When you start your PhD, outline where (at which conferences) you would like to present your work. Don’t wait until you feel “ready” to present something – it is not uncommon for conferences to require abstract submission 1.5 years before the actual conference. Talk to your fellow PhD students to learn where your supervisor usually takes his/her students, and talk with your supervisor about wanting to present your work at conferences as early as possible. Certainly, your plans can change as you move through your PhD, but have an idea of where you would want to present early on, and work towards the realization of that plan.

Ideally, you have been able to discuss travel funding prior to taking your PhD position, but if you are unsure about what to expect, then bring the topic up as soon as possible. The funding of the project you are working on is crucial here: it could allow you to present at a number of conferences each year, or it could limit you to one single conference per year. If your funding does not include a travel budget, look for other options. Many universities and professional associations provide scholarships for students to travel to conferences. You can also consider participating in student competitions, essay contents, and other competitions which can award you with travel funding.

Now that you know that there are many ways to find funding to travel to conferences, and that you should start building your conference wishlist early on, let’s focus on selecting the right conference. There are different types of conferences:

  • Meetings of international associations: The largest conferences tend to be the meetings of international associations. These associations can meet annually, or less frequently. A good place to start looking for information would be on the websites of international associations that you are involved with or that are important in your field. If you are not a member of any international association, start looking for the important players in your field. A good starting point would be the associations that publish the journals you read, for those journals that are not owned by large publishing houses. Keep in mind that many international associations offer free or very cheap student memberships. Once you’ve identified the important international associations, look on their websites for information about their events. Many international associations also mention events they cosponsor, so you can be informed about meetings you would not hear about otherwise.
  • National meetings: If you want to test the waters before you take your research abroad, and keep your travel costs lower, looking into national meetings is a good starting point. While not all national meetings require you to write a conference paper, presenting your work to a smaller audience and perhaps in your native language may be a more comfortable first step. These national meetings can be organized by national member groups of the international associations that you follow. Another type of events is organized by research groups of universities that study the same topic, giving PhD students an opportunity to share their research with researchers in the same field. Sometimes, young member groups of international organizations or student chapters of international organizations organize events in which you may want to present your research.
  • Industry events: There’s a whole array of different industry events that can be particularly interesting towards the end of your PhD trajectory, when you may want to explore opportunities outside academia. Some industry events are gatherings of academics and practitioners in a certain branch of the industry. These events typically have lectern sessions, in which you could present your work. Inquire if there is a possibility, but keep in mind that in some fields these lectures feature senior professors who give a more general overview of the current state of the art. Other industry events are career fairs, and trade shows, which you may want to attend to learn about your opportunities after your graduation, but which do not offer you the ability to present your work.
  • Specialized workshops: Workshops on specialized topics can be organized by international associations, or on the initiative of a few senior professors. Whereas these events typically tend to gather a small but focused group of researchers, it is more difficult for you during your PhD to learn about these events. Sometimes, these events are announced on the website of the overbearing international association. The presentations can be by invitation only, but if you are interested in participating and presenting your work, talk to your supervisor and see if he/she can get you a spot in the workshop.

Most information about upcoming conferences can be found online, and the internet (including the websites of the most important international associations) can provide you with a great amount of information. Sign up for newsletters of international associations to stay informed about the events they organize or co-sponsor. Tell your fellow PhD students and supervisor that you are looking for information about interesting conferences; they will forward you calls for abstracts when something interesting for you comes up. Ask your fellow PhD students and supervisor to bring flyers announcing future conferences when they travel to conferences.

Before finishing this topic, I need to give you a word of caution. If you receive an email with an invitation to submit an abstract for a conference, and it looks interesting, make sure you check if the conference is legit. Check their website, and see if the event is endorsed by any international association that you know. Check the organizing committee and scientific committee, and see if there are reputable scientists involved. If you are doubting whether the conference is legit, write one of the members of the scientific committee to ask about the scope of the conference.

Some predatory conferences unfortunately just slap some names on a website without asking these scholars for permission. You wouldn’t expect it, but some companies have decided to make easy money with the organization of “academic” conferences: they ask high registration fees, and use no academic rigor in the peer review process (or use no peer review whatsoever) to organize conferences with the sole objective of making some quick money. Red flags for these predatory conferences are: poor English in the email, a promise for fast publication or publication in a journal, or you being invited as plenary speaker or session chair (by someone you don’t know at all). If you are doubting whether a call for abstracts is legit, google the name of the conference with “bogus conference”, “fake conference”, “predatory conference” or “scam conference” added to it to see if others have been fooled by the same organization.

Tutors Are Key to Reducing Indigenous Student Drop Out Rates

by Lesley Neale, Curtin University, The Conversation:

There has been an increase in Australian Indigenous students enrolling in university in the past 10 years. While this is good news, there has also been a high drop out rate among first year Indigenous students.

How universities address retention rates

Universities address student drop-out rates through retention policy initiatives such as peer to peer mentoring programs. Faculties or schools develop further retention strategies appropriate to their cohort. One successful support strategy for Indigenous students that is already in place and effective according to students and higher education bodies, is the Indigenous Tertiary Assistance Scheme (ITAS).

ITAS has been around for 28 years, providing tutors for Indigenous students. I have worked as an ITAS tutor for 25 of those years, and have conducted interviews with many students who engage with the program. Working with the students and observing their progress suggests that ensuring all students have a tutor (especially in their first year) would lower the drop-out rate.

ITAS is funded directly from the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as part of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, introduced in 2014. The cost of extending ITAS would be absorbed by the Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and outweighed by higher student retention and an increase of university fees. A greater number of Indigenous students gaining degrees has the advantage of lowering Indigenous unemployment figures, since statistics show that graduates are able to find work very quickly.

The first year is challenging

University can be a daunting place at first for anyone. Many Indigenous students say university culture is like a foreign culture, and those from rural and remote communities in particular have difficulty adjusting to it. 44% of the students surveyed cited the reason for dropping out as financial. However, feedback suggests that stress, workloads and study/life balance, mentioned by the wider student cohort, need to be addressed. With appropriate support, the academic and personal challenges faced by students can become manageable. The current drop-out rate –twice that of other first years – disempowers both Indigenous communities and Australia as a whole.

Larger institutions such as Curtin University and the University of Western Australia, with cohorts of 400 to 600 Indigenous students, usually have 80 or more tutors available to work with students for two hours per academic unit per week. A larger number of tutors and more flexibility in how tutor hours are allotted would be beneficial.

Student experiences

Many students readily see the advantage of working with a tutor, but others attempt to go it alone. Students who come late to ITAS often regret not using the scheme earlier. One commented:
A good tutor can switch a student on to studying.
Students credit tutoring sessions with enhancing their ability to negotiate academia and successfully complete degrees. ITAS tutoring offers both academic assistance and mentoring. One student told me:
The feedback and support helps me feel more confident. It stops me from doubting myself.
Another explained:
I appreciated having someone to listen to my ideas, challenge me and support me.
Students may not have a clear understanding of exactly what is required of them. A student said he was exposed to skills he never knew he needed, and another commented on needing time-management skills, and help staying focused.

Students place importance on learning to “code switch”: having the ability to change between everyday speaking and writing, to academic language. Indigenous students may speak Aboriginal English, Kriol, and an Aboriginal language. Often they speak all three. Effective code switching bridges the gap and provides the student with the tools to understand the requirements of an assignment and how to complete them successfully.

An interview with Indigenous students from the Aboriginal Studies Students Program. Lesley Neale, Author provided (No reuse) 4.47 MB (download)

Working strategies

The learning environment provided by ITAS tutor sessions is quite different from that of a seminar or lecture, apart from the one-on-one aspect. ITAS tutors don’t teach course content. They facilitate strategy development, help assignment planning, and suggest ways of working. Sessions focus on a student’s area of need, and draw on their strengths such as verbal competence, creativity or life experiences.

Strategies such as “yarning” are effective when working with Indigenous students – and indeed, all students. Many tutors instinctively use these practices. The informality of yarning, or sharing information, establishes relationships and inspires collaboration. In tutor/student relationships, this leads to mutual respect and builds a learning space for discussing problems, sharing ideas and engaging with the intellectual rigours of a degree. One student said:
Spending time with my tutor provided time to question academic theories, practice critical thinking and work on my research skills.
Effective tutoring encourages students to challenge themselves. A Master’s student explained:
It’s not just about passing the units; I want to own the skill set. Own my work.
The yarning-style sessions, offer a learning space that fosters intellectual growth, benefiting students beyond the years at university. The Indigenous Advancement Strategy, states:
The positive impact that education has on the future success of individuals, families and communities is clear. Children who go to school have better life outcomes.
The ConversationWe need to ensure that Indigenous students who earn the right to be at university can take full advantage of the opportunity. Tutoring, if available to more students, especially first years, can play a vital role in preventing the drop out rate. ITAS tutors offer academic tuition and mentoring and, according to students, are uniquely positioned to help them reach their full potential.

Lesley Neale, Adjunct Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

PhD Defenses Around the World: A Defense (Without a Defense) in Biology From UC Berkeley

by Eva Lantsoght, PhD Talk:

Today, I am hosting Dr. Maureen Berg in the "Defenses around the World" series. Maureen is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and received a BS in Biology at the University of Dayton. Maureen recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a PhD in Integrative Biology, and is currently applying for and interviewing for non-academic research positions in the Bay Area. You can follow her on twitter @MaureenBug.

The majority of PhD programs in the US require a written dissertation, as well as an oral defense. However, the various biology departments at Berkeley do not require a formal defense. Most do require some sort of “finishing talk,” which is essentially a seminar where you present your all of the work in your dissertation. For my department, we form our dissertation committee after passing our qualifying exams (taken at the end of year 2), and meet with that committee at least once per year until graduation. To submit your completed dissertation, all you need to do is have each of your committee members sign off on it. Then you’re done.

For me, I initially had trouble dealing with not knowing what to expect from my committee because of the lack of any formal defense date. I contacted my committee members a few months before the university deadline to ask for clarification and to get an idea of when I should send them my dissertation. One committee member requested the final version no later than two weeks before the deadline (in May), so I set my own deadline of five weeks prior to the university deadline (in April).

In the month or so before my April deadline, I received a few rounds of feedback from my committee chair/primary advisor. However, the lack of any sort of “rubric” or strong reassurance from my primary advisor that my dissertation was ready or acceptable took a toll on my anxiety. Once I was able to embrace the subjective-ness of the entire process and start to truly view my dissertation as my own (and not my advisor’s or any other collaborators’), it was much easier to feel confident about my final version, and I actually had some fun writing it up! 

Once I sent off my final version to my committee, the waiting game started. I waited two weeks before sending a reminder/check-in email. Some members didn’t respond, and one told me that they will read it “soon.” As the days/weeks went by, it became harder to focus on any final experiments or presentations, as all I could think about is how I was “running out of time.” I sent another reminder after three weeks, same responses (or lack there of). I sent another reminder one week before the university deadline, and received a mix of responses:

1) (Nothing)
2) “I will finish it in the next few days”
3) “Oh, I didn’t see your earlier reminders and haven’t read it. I’ll skim it now, and then we can meet next week to talk about it?”

Now I’m in the final week, and the deadline is Friday. On Monday, I received comments/corrections back from #1. I met with #3 on Wednesday, which was a very pleasant and very helpful meeting; it was like an informal, hour-long defense where we just talked about the main results and the implications for my work (#3 requested no corrections to the actual text). I was unsuccessful in tracking down #2, so by Thursday I camped out at the desk outside their office. Once I found #2, they told me that my last two chapters would need to be developed more/polished for publication, but everything was fine for my dissertation (no corrections to the text). #2 signed my form, shook my hand, and congratulated me. Once I got all the signatures, I submitted it to the university’s graduate office, they gave me a lollipop, and I was officially done.

My department was the one that doesn’t require a finishing talk (although, this is likely to become a requirement soon), but I was scheduled to present at a joint lab meeting on the last day of the semester, so I used that opportunity to give a finishing-type talk. There wasn’t any sort of big, singular “hurrah!” at the end, but there were many smaller celebrations as I said goodbye to various students and faculty (and more once my parents flew into town for commencement the following week). The somewhat drawn out, low-key celebrations are more my style, so I didn’t feel like I missed out on any big finish!

Higher Education Cuts Will Be Felt in the Classroom, Not the Lab

by Michael WhelanSouthern Cross University, The Conversation:

File 20171026 28083 rpss5q.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Teaching-focused academics are often considered to be “lesser” academics. Shutterstock

In a recent Productivity Commission report, the bias of universities in favour of research over teaching was exposed.

The proposed higher education reform that would have seen A$380m cut from university funding was rejected by the Senate, but the word is that Education Minister Simon Birmingham has return to the bunker to develop a new strategy. The most likely scenario is that vice-chancellors will need to cut costs, and we know where the axe will fall. Teaching-focused academics will be the hardest hit, and the cuts will be felt in the classroom rather than the research laboratory.

What is a teaching-focused academic?

The term teaching-focused academic has been used to include teaching-only academics, teaching-focused academics and teaching-intensive academics. The number of teaching-focused academics in Australia has increased from 755 in 2005 to 3696 in 2016. The number of teaching-focused academics is also increasing in the UK and Canada.

In Australia, the rise of the teaching-focused academic is credited to universities seeking to increase their Excellence in Research (ERA) rankings. Poor performing teaching-research academics tend to become teaching-focused academics to maintain ERA rankings.

Teaching-focused academics are often considered to be “lesser” academics (Academicus minor). While evidence of research success is measured by volume (number of publications and research income), evidence of teaching scholarship is less quantifiable.

For example, 84% of academics consider teaching is important, but 29% believe teaching is rewarded in promotion. The data support their perception, with less than 10% of teaching-only academics above senior lecturer level, while more than 30% of teaching-research academics are above senior lecturer level.

Even when a teaching-focused academic is recognised for teaching excellence, it may not be acknowledged by their peers, or they may be subject to ridicule from other academics.

“Rank and sack” method shows bias against teaching-focused academics

Teaching-focused academics are more likely to be made redundant. Vice-chancellors tend to use the “rank and sack” method to protect researchers. Academics are ranked on the basis of research volume, and those individuals below a certain threshold are sacked.

A twist to the “rank and sack” method is to give the academic the option to become teaching-focused. An attitude of “anyone can teach” prevails. The departure of teaching-focused academics is felt in the classroom. These are the academics who keep up-to-date with technology, current trends in assessment practices and curriculum development.

University recruitment is focused more on research performance than teaching performance, to the detriment of teaching. In Australia, permanent research-only academics outnumber teaching-only academics four to one. Teaching-focused academics are further marginalised by casual employment. 82% are casual employees.

Over the last decade there has been a significant increase in casual staff, primarily to support teaching. When a tenured position becomes available, an academic with a track record in research is often appointed rather than a teaching-focused and, most likely, casual academic.

In Canada, universities hiring a research academic with a proven record rather than a popular teacher for a tenured position led to a petition from students. The popular teacher’s contract was extended.

Not renewing casual contracts is an easy fix for a manager who needs to cut costs. It isn’t so easy on the academic who relies on the income. Recently, an academic who had worked as a casual academic in Sydney for 15 years and was passed over for tenured positions committed suicide.

Cultural bias against teaching-focused academics is national

At a national level, there is further evidence that teaching is not valued at universities. The Australian Research Council (ARC) distributes much of the category one research funding to universities. It started in 1946. In contrast, the Australian government’s teaching and learning body started as the Carrick Institute in 2006, and was renamed Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT). The OLT was shut down in June 2016. What would be the reaction to dissolving the ARC?

In 1992 Ruth Neumann, after interviewing heads of department and university executive, revealed a cultural bias against teaching-focused academics. Knowledge of the discipline was valued more than teaching skills. The following quotes are from her report:
academics involved in research were described as being: alert, enthusiastic, excited, keen, curious, fresh, and more alive.
the teaching of those academics not involved in research was described as: repetitive, dull, unstimulating, unexciting, dry, sterile and stagnant.
This cultural bias against teaching-focused academics may not be so explicit, but statistics regarding casualisation, poor promotion prospects, redundancy priorities and the attitude to teaching awards indicate that very little has changed. This bias still exists.

The ConversationGiven this, it is easy to predict the outcome of any cuts to university funding. Teaching-focused academics will be sacrificed. Casual contracts for teaching-focused academics won’t be renewed. Tenured teaching-focused academics will be made redundant. The teaching load of academics who don’t have time to do research will be increased. But ERA rankings won’t be affected and the lights will still burn bright in university research laboratories around the country.

Michael Whelan, Lecturer in Environmental Science, Southern Cross University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, October 23, 2017

PhD Defenses Around the World: A Defense in Nursing From the United States

by Eva Lantsoght, PhD Talk:

Today, I am inviting Dr. Susan Bartos to talk about her defense. Susan completed her BS degree at Moravian College, graduating with honors in Nursing. Upon graduation from Moravian, she enrolled in the BS to PhD program at the University of Connecticut. She completed the program and successfully defended her dissertation in 2016 entitled, "The Self-Care Practices of Women with Heart Failure: A Mixed Methods Study."

She has experience practicing in acute, adult medical/surgical and remains a practicing critical care nurse. She has obtained her Critical Care Registered Nurse certification through the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. She sits on a hospital wide committee that strives to bring Nursing Research and Evidence Based Practices to the bedside. In 2014, she joined the Fairfield University faculty to spread her passion of nursing to a new generation of students.

I sat in the classroom and listened as everyone introduced themselves.
“I have 13 years of experience.”
“I have been in a leadership position for 7 years.”
“I have worked to develop protocols that are now implemented hospital wide”
Oh no. It was almost my turn. Do I lie? Quick! What is believable? Oh no, oh no! I’m next- think of something!
“Hello, I’m Susan and I have about 6 weeks of experience.

Halfway through my undergraduate education, I transferred institutions from a large, public University to a private, liberal arts college that better fit my personality and my academic goals. This switch and transfer process put me on the five-year baccalaureate plan and presented me with the opportunity to take additional classes to fill my time at the college. I decided to pursue an independently designed research study and found that I enjoyed the research process from beginning until the end. The idea of pursuing a PhD was introduced to me and three months before I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in nursing, I had accepted a position in a bachelor’s to PhD program and while many of my friends planned graduation parties, I planned a relocation across three states.

I began the program 6 weeks after graduating with my bachelor’s degree and starting my first professional position in nursing. I had worked on a cardiac medical/surgical unit while continuing to complete graduate level classes. Practicing in the hospital allowed me to closely link my practice and my research area of cardiovascular nursing.

I faced a fair share of challenges throughout the program, as many that have gone through the PhD process will agree. I often felt as if I was being guided in the wrong direction and often had conflicts with my major research advisor. We had slightly different writing styles but I learned to accept her edits and continue to learn about the research process.

Completing a mixed methods study had many challenges and out of a cohort of 5 students, I was 4th to defend. From beginning those first graduate level classes to my defense on October 31st of 2016, it took me 6 years and 3 different nursing positions taking me from medical/surgical nursing and into the intensive care unit. I dubbed the day as the “Not-So-Scary Halloween,” as I felt prepared and excited to finally present my work to my faculty advisors. In addition to my 3 major advisors, a few other faculty members attended and a handful of current students. A link was e-mailed out via listserv to the students in the graduate school, inviting them to virtually watch my defense.

I did a traditional, five chapter dissertation and was given 30 minutes to present two years of planning, data collecting, and data analysis. Because I was constantly refining my dissertation manuscript, the presentation came together relatively smoothly. I used a traditional PowerPoint and wrote out what I wanted to say, word-for-word, as to not exclude any information that was integral to understanding my study. However, once I was at the podium, I barely glanced down at my notes. It was in that moment that I truly recognized how close to this information I had gotten and spoke from my experience. It became more of a privilege to share my discovered knowledge with my colleagues and less of a “final assignment.”

Overall, I had a positive defense experience. I had been working with the concepts of my dissertation for years and felt well prepared going into the day. As I left the after-defense reception, the harsh reality of, “…now the real work begins,” had hit me. I had already accepted a faculty position at a different University and am still working to publish my dissertation findings (almost a year later). I am still excited about research and I enjoy being a resource to my colleagues to help others pursue their research goals.

Whenever I am in a new environment, I tend to look for the most wide-eyed, fresh face in the room. The desire to contribute to scientific research may be more impactful than time or experience within a practice area and I hope that more young scientists will find motivation in my story.

Why Marking Essays by Algorithm Risks Rewarding the Writing of 'Bullshit'

by Kai Riemer, University of Sydney, The Conversation:

You may have heard that algorithms will take over the world. But how are they operating right now? We take a look in our series on Algorithms at Work.

File 20171019 1052 1lnjyxt.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Will marking algorithms really reward good writing? Terence/Shutterstock

Picture this: you have written an essay. You researched the topic and carefully constructed your argument. You submit your essay online and receive your grade within seconds. But how can anyone read, comprehend and judge your essay that quickly?

Well, the answer is no one can. Your essay was marked by a computer. Would you trust the mark you received? Would you approach your next essay with the same effort and care?

These are the questions that parents, teachers and unions are asking about automated essay scoring (AES). The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) proposes to use this program to grade essays, like persuasive writing questions, in its NAPLAN standardised testing scheme for primary and secondary schools.

ACARA has defended its decision and suggested that computer-based marking can match or even surpass the consistency of human markers.

In my view, this misses the point. Computers are unable to genuinely read and understand what a text is about. A good argument has little worth when marks are awarded by a structural comparison with other texts and not by judging its ideas.

More importantly though, we risk encouraging the writing of text that follows “the script” but essentially says nothing of worth. In other words, the writing of “bullshit”.

How does algorithmic marking work?

It’s not entirely clear how AES functions, but let’s assume, in line with previous announcements, that it employs a form of machine-learning.

Here’s how that could work: a machine-learning algorithm “learns” from a pool of training data – in this case, it may be “trained using more than 1,000 NAPLAN writing tests scored by human markers”.

But it generally does not learn the criteria by which humans mark essays. Rather, machine learning consists of multiple layers of so-called “artificial neurons”. These are statistical values that are gradually adjusted during the training period to associate certain inputs (structural text patterns, vocabulary, key words, semantic structure, paragraphing and sentence length) with certain outputs (high grades or low grades).

When marking a new essay, the algorithm makes a statistical inference by comparing the text with learned patterns and eventually matches it with a grade. Yet the algorithm cannot explain why this inference was reached.

Importantly, high grades are awarded to papers that show the structural features of highly persuasive writing – papers that follow the “persuasion rulebook”, so to speak.

Rewarding bullshit

Are the claims by ACARA that algorithmic marking can match the consistency of human markers wrong? Probably not, but that’s not the issue.

It’s possible that machine-learning could reliably award higher grades for those papers that follow the structural script for persuasive writing. And it might indeed do this with higher consistency than human markers. Examples from other fields show this – for instance, in the classification of images in medical diagnosis. It will certainly be quicker and cheaper.

But it will not matter what a text is about: whether the argument is ethical, offensive or outright nonsensical, whether it conveys any coherent ideas or whether it speaks effectively to the intended audience.

The only thing that matters is that the text has the right structural patterns. In essence, algorithmic marking might reward the writing of “bullshit” – text written with little regard for the subject matter and solely to fulfil the algorithm’s criteria.

Not simply lying, analysts use “bullshit” to describe empty talk or meaningless jargon. Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt argues that talking bullshit may actually be worse than lying, because the lie at least reaffirms the truth:
It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it … For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says.
Unlike humans, algorithms are incapable of truly understanding when something is nonsense rather than genuine ideas and argumentation. It doesn’t know whether a text has any worth or relationship to our world at all.

That’s why algorithmic marking, whether in NAPLAN or otherwise, risks rewarding the writing of bullshit.

Encouraging the wrong thing

Our politics, businesses and media are already flooded with empty arguments and jargon. Let’s not reward the skill of writing it.

Any application of algorithmic decision-making creates feedback loops. It influences future behaviour by rewarding and foregrounding some aspects of human practice and backgrounding others.

This is particularly the case when incentives are tied to the outcomes of algorithmic decision-making. In the case of NAPLAN, we know that the government rewards schools that score highly. As a result, there is already an entire industry geared towards “cracking the script” of NAPLAN in order to secure high marks.

The ConversationImagine what happens when students realise that genuine ideas and valid arguments are not rewarded by the algorithm

Kai Riemer, Professor of Information Technology and Organisation, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A PhD Nightmare: How a ‘Safe’ Paper Turned Into a ‘Horror’ Paper

Recently the last paper from my PhD has been accepted for publication. The paper describes the impact of current and potential future land-use intensification on bird species richness in Transylvania, Romania. Although the paper is maybe not groundbreaking, I always thought that it is still a relevant contribution to the scientific literature, based on our large field efforts, its statistical soundness and because it was well written. A solid paper. But instead, getting the paper published has been a tough ride. 
While we thought bats were difficult to publish (see our previous blog post on a rejection journey five years ago), we have now seen that birds can be even harder to get into journals. Ironically, this paper was considered the ‘safe paper’ of my PhD work. I was one of those lucky students that was part of a well-planned research project including great supervision. The bird work of my PhD was carefully planned and designed, was based on pilot studies and was set in a region rich in (protected) bird species. Very soon, however, my ‘safe’ paper turned into my ‘horror’ paper, with high levels of frustration, a shattered confidence, and – in the end – lots of sarcasm and laughter.
Here goes the story how my ‘safe’ paper was turned into my ‘horror’ paper.
Journal 1: Submitted Dec 2013, rejected with review Feb 2014: Lacking novelty and generality, and lacking clarity and focus of the analysis.
Journal 2: Submitted Feb 2014, rejected with review Mar 2014: Too broad discussion and lacking strong conclusions/management recommendations.
After these first two rejections, we made major changes to the manuscript. We narrowed down the manuscript considerably by deleting a part on species traits, and worked on the clarity of our methods section.
Journal 3: Submitted May 2014, rejected without review: Not general enough in concept, scope and approach.
Journal 4: Submitted May 2014, rejected with review Sep 2014: Lacking novelty.
Journal 5: Submitted Oct 2014, rejected with review Dec 2014: Lacking novelty, and lacking clarity in the methodology and results. As one reviewer put it: having a more complicated and complex design than other studies should not stand for novelty in scientific research.
By the time the paper was rejected 5 times I was pretty desperate and frustrated to hear over and over that the study lacked novelty. I figured that we couldn’t change that much on the novelty of our study’s outcome. However, another frequent critique was around the clarity of the methods and results, something I thought we could improve. Therefore, to give the paper a new and fresh boost, we received help from a new co-author. We re-analysed the entire paper focusing solely on species richness (taking out a part on bird communities), rewrote the entire paper for clarity and to put into a broader context, and even put in some pretty pictures to illustrate traditional farming landscapes. Now with our paper in a new jacket I was convinced we would be luckier in the review process.
Journal 6: Submitted Jun 2015, rejected with review Aug 2015: Methodology limited the study’s conclusion and its capacity to go beyond a regional example. For example, it was critiqued that the model averaging approach used poses limitations and regression coefficients should be used instead.
Journal 7: Submitted Aug 2015, rejected with review Sep 2015: Flawed study design which was deemed uncorrectable without significant reanalysis. Although reviewer 1 had significant problems with our study design, reviewer 2 seemed to be less unhappy: The study is well introduced (I particularly liked the introduction of traditional farming landscapes), the study design is appropriate, the analyses generally robust (although please see comment below), and the results clear, and the discussion well considered.
Journal 8: Submitted Nov 2015, rejected with review Dec 2015: Methodology – given our objectives and sampling design we used the wrong analytical unit.
Journal 9: Submitted Jan 2016, rejected with review Feb 2016: Lack of novelty, trivial findings and not taking into account the rarity of species (something we had excluded from the manuscript due to other reviewer comments).
Journal 10: Submitted Feb 2016, rejected with review June 2016: Goal of the work not addressed.
Journal 11: Submitted Sep 2016, Minor revisions Jan 2017, Submitted revised manuscript Jul 2017 (after maternity leave), Accepted Jul 2017. Hurrah, the reviewers liked the paper a lot!!
Having had 10 rejections on this paper, mostly after review, means that approximately 25 (!) reviewers were involved in getting this paper published. Importantly, of those reviewers probably half of them could have been satisfied with major revisions. Like in the example under journal 7, usually one of the reviewers did not dislike our paper that much, but I guess one more negative review is enough for a rejection. 
Even more interesting, we published two similar papers on butterflies and plants from the same region, based on the same study design and using similar analysis. While this paper on birds got continuous critique that our methodology was not clear, flawed, or limited, these other two papers on plants and butterflies received positive constructive reviews without much complaints about its novelty and/or study design. I am still not sure why this paper had such a hard time, is it just birds or something else, but I am happy it is finally out there! Enjoy the reading and you can always contact me for further clarifications on its methods or novelty J.