Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Truth Be Told (About Research and Academic Careers)

It’s safe to say that the funding and employment prospects for researchers in Australia are poor.
When I first drafted this piece, I wanted to say that the prospects were ‘challenging’, then realised that this is the way we have come to talk about—and cloak—the many stark inequities in our system. The circumstances are not challenging in the sense of being a series of personal adversities that must be overcome.
The perfect storm of scarce career pathways, highly metricised researcher valuation, and diminishing funds for research mean that early career researchers work in an area that is broken in many ways. There are options—good, bad, and often precarious. The challenges are systemic and institutional, with pressure brought to bear on the individual as a consequence.
This is not new knowledge—many have written about this situation and its consequences for our national research workforce. With few career pathways, many are leaving the country, or research, and Australia’s research capacity will diminish. The personal costs of investing in, then having to leave, academia can be very significant, materially and emotionally.

The truth

What I want to focus on here is why we still lie about many of these aspects to early career researchers and PhD researchers. Maybe lie is too strong a word? Perhaps it’s a case of not telling the whole truth.
I recently chaired a panel that talked about the early career researcher’s career context and Australia’s research terrain. What came from the speakers and through the ensuing discussions was the harshness of the choices many researchers face when they’re trying to establish their independent academic track records, publishing, gaining funding, and finding job security.
Being able to share tales of the contradictory, unsustainable, and overly bureaucratised aspects of being a contemporary early career researcher also means being able to give voice to strategies for negotiating these issues. The combination of openly shared peer experiences from across institutions, and insight from more senior academics who were willing to take on thorny, negative topics, was strangely exciting. The vibe was energetic and engaged.

The whole truth

What this demonstrated to me yet again was the pointlessness of putting up a veneer about the state of the academic careers. There are many well-meaning but ultimately wrong-headed assurances given to early career researchers explaining that the situation’s not great but that they’ll be OK.
Avoiding discussion around these issues because you don’t want to depress your colleagues is doing them a disservice. Early career researchers are subject to high performance pressures while they’re undertaking the significant work of establishing their research publication and funding pipelines.

Nothing but the truth

While no one needs to hear endless tales of woe for the sake of it, being able to speak honestly about the stresses and prospects of academic life, and the ways that one might negotiate or agitate against aspects of it, are increasingly necessary. This is even more the case if our research and institutional leaders fail to do so.
One major example of the avoidance of honest talk in academia is the unfortunately very common instance of fixed-term or sessional staff not having clarity around their status when their contract is up.
Academics can think they are doing their contract colleagues a favour by keeping happy faces on about their prospects of future employment with the school or department. They are not. If there is no work, find a compassionate way to tell your colleague there is no work, or discuss possible other avenues for them if the work doesn’t come through. Having been a fixed-term researcher for much of my academic career, there was nothing worse than people telling me there’ll be something lined up for me, then nothing materialising. Don’t give false assurances. They help no one.

Three ways to start making things better

Here are three things that I think are most useful for early career researchers in our current climate:
1. Honest reasons why things haven’t happened
Why did an internal grant application fail? Why didn’t they get that role? What happened to the contract extension? Fobbing disappointed people off is what usually happens, but what is more useful is for colleagues to let the researcher in question know what went wrong. It could be something they need to improve, or it could just be the vagaries of the system. Whatever it is, it’s always better to know than not.
2. Finding and creating non-institutional ways to gather
While institutions want to keep their fabulous researchers, they also have their own priorities (and the same is true down to the level of heads of schools or research directors). These priorities may run counter to a researcher’s best interests. It’s extremely valuable to find a relatively neutral space where scholars can feel safe voicing their concerns and receiving advice that’s not tempered by the priorities of key performance indicators for senior personnel or their organisation. Scholarly associations and societies have a big part to play in this.
3. Getting together to establish an institutional voice
Early career researchers’ forums can take various forms and operate at varying levels of institutional endorsement and resourcing. Networking is excellent for internal peer-to-peer connections, which are so important and often overlooked in the rush for external collaborations and partnerships. It can only be a good thing to have a group that can represent early career researchers’ concerns and advocate for changes at higher levels within the university.
So, the truth about academic employment and research funding may be hard and unpleasant to hear but the situation is what it is—for now. The more informed, and activated, early career researchers are by what they’re dealing with, and where potential change can happen, the better it is for them and for academia.
Honest conversations about what is happening, and what can’t happen, need to occur across all levels: among peers, within faculties and colleges, with senior research executives, and in national higher education debates.
Let’s not pretend that things will work out for the best, when we know that things in Australian research have only worsened over recent years.
Can we work together to improve the situation? Of course, we can. But not until we can tell the truth about it among ourselves and within our institutions.

Doing the Creative Work of the PhD

Monday, June 19, 2017

I am Echo Rivera and This is How I Work

PhD Talk: 

Today, I have the pleasure of hosting Dr. Echo Rivera in the "How I Work" series. Echo is the owner of Creative Research Communication (CRC) and a research associate at a nonprofit research/evaluation center in Denver, CO

Her passion is helping researchers, evaluators, academics, and nonprofits communicate their social equity work effectively and creatively. One way she does this is by helping people become more effective visual communicators, so we can end the text-heavy, ineffective presentation status quo.

Plus, academics tend to lose steam at the end of a project and often settle with journal articles or academic conferences. Her dream is to add some creativity to the research communication/ dissemination process through more science-based personal websites, zines, comics, and other creative outlets. 

Current Job: (1) Owner, Creative Research Communication and (2) Research Associate at Center for Policy Research
Current Location: Denver, CO
Current mobile device: Samsung S6 Edge
Current computer: iMac, Acer Chromebook, and Windows Desktop

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us?

So far, at Creative Research Communication (CRC) I've created free resources to help academics, researchers, evaluators, and nonprofits create more effective and visual presentations. In fact, I just had a blast creating my first ever email course to teach people how to use visuals quickly, called Create Your Visual Database. And because I love comics, I also created a visual cheatsheet of my top 10 presentation tips

I also work as an evaluator at a center in Denver. Here, I help programs and federal/state departments determine whether their social program, policy, or initiative was effective at achieving their goals. I work on a variety of topics, ranging from gender-based violence and domestic violence program services, home visiting programs, SNAP/Medicare enrollment, and prisoner re-entry programs.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?

Google Drive has been a lifesaver. I use so many devices and both Windows & Macs that it can sometimes be a nightmare to keep all the pieces together. As I use Google Drive more, this is becoming less stressful. 

Adobe Illustrator is essential for my digital comics and drawings. I'm really not that great at drawing by hand, though I'm practicing every day to get better. My cheatsheet was, and all my digital comics are, created in Illustrator. 

Microsoft Office is absolutely essential. I use it every (work) day to write reports, create presentations, calculate numbers, and check my (work) email.

Apple Keynote is my preferred application to make presentations. Powerpoint 2016 is significantly better than 2013, but Keynote is still my go-to. 

ConvertKit - I know a lot of people think email is dead, but it's a great way for me to keep in touch with people about what's going on at Creative Research Communication, and it's how I was able to set up an email course. 

Twitter! I consider engaging with people on Twitter to be a critical part of my work. If I'm not out there talking with others and learning from them about their questions, concerns, and ideas...then I am less effective at my job. Reach out @echoechoR!

What does your workspace setup look like? 

In general, my workspace is pretty clean and is well-organized. I don't work well if things are cluttered around me. 

I run Creative Research Communication entirely from my home office. I draw comics, create free resources, and run webinars using my iMac + external monitor for a second screen. It gets a little obnoxious because the desk isn't that big! I also use my Chromebook when I'm lounging in the basement but want to draft a new post.

Home office

What is your best advice for productive research work? 

Sometimes the hardest part is getting started. When I have no motivation to do something (writing, data analysis, etc), I just convince myself to open up the program. "I'll at least just look at it," I tell myself. Then something magical happens once the program is open--I just start working!

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

Paper planners & white boards! I never could get used to the digital planners on my phone or computer. I've tried Asana, Trello, Google Calendar, iCal, and so on but would never keep them up to date. There's something about writing something in my calendar by hand or having my tasks up on a whiteboard that helps me stay on track on my work.

My favorite is the at-a-glance weekly planner. I've used it for about 9 years now and haven't found anything better. I pair it with a whiteboard and large paper calendars on my wall. 

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?


Which skill makes you stand out?

My presentation skills, definitely! I've been working hard to tell more stories so that my presentation content is engaging. Plus, the actual design of my slides is something I care passionately about and have worked hard over the years to learn how to use information design principles on my slides. 

Also, I really like to draw comics and that seems to get people excited (which is great, because comics make me excited, too!). Here's a recent one I made for my blog post:

What do you listen to when you work?

Heavy metal. Rammstein is the perfect band to help me concentrate while entering data or doing any type of repetitive task! 

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?

I just finished "Behind Her Eyes" by Sarah Pinborough (Thriller, Fiction). Loved it, highly recommend if you're a fan of thrillers! I have yet to start my next book. I usually read for 30-60 minutes right before bed, and/or Sunday mornings. 

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? How does this influence your working habits?

Introvert, definitely. I have to space out my meetings and interviews out more than others because I get really tired and need to "recharge" more than my extroverted colleagues do. 

What's your sleep routine like?

I'm usually in bed between 10-11pm and up between 7-8am. 

What's your work routine like?

I work pretty standard hours at my full-time job (9-5pm), though that's a bit off because my partner has night classes this semester and we share a car. Then I usually work on Creative Research Communications on Saturday. But now that the weather is warming up (it's February right now), I'm going to have to find some time for hiking and biking during the weekend here in Colorado!

What's the best advice you ever received?

I'm torn between two bits of advice: 1. It never hurts to ask for something you want, especially funding. and 2. Don't feel like you have to react or respond to every. single. thing. 

Report Sparks Concern About How Schools Support Students With Disabilities

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Students with disabilities are regularly segregated from their peers in the playground, classroom and lessons. from shutterstock.com

Peter Walker, Flinders University

Two years ago a South Australian select committee was formed to inquire into the educational experiences of students with disabilities. The committee’s remit was to determine what was working well, and what still needed improving. The final report has now been released, complete with 93 recommendations. While some recommendations were expected, others were surprising, and revealed a need for greater transparency from schools.

How schools responded to challenging behaviours was seen as a considerable concern. The report noted that students with disabilities were over-represented in both suspensions and exclusions.

‘Cage-like’ facilities

Segregation of students with disabilities was described as a “nuanced phenomenon”, occurring in playgrounds, classrooms, and individual lessons. Some students missed literacy programs with peers in order to be removed for remedial tasks. Others had been left alone for long periods in order for teachers to avoid behavioural confrontations.

Disability units within schools were described by parents as appearing “cage-like”, and even similar to correctional facilities.

Although teachers suggested fencing needed to become more “aesthetically pleasing”, fences and gates were nevertheless positioned as necessary spatial solutions to safety issues. One primary school noted:
Our enclosed areas were created with our student’s safety in mind. We do have several students that are at risk of running away and our school does not have secure boundaries. The safety of our students is paramount and we therefore made the decision to enclose the unit.

Such responses can make behavioural issues worse

Growing concerns of aversive approaches to behaviour, such as restraint and suspension, are evident.
Although suspension is actually detrimental to students, it is often justified, within policy, as being beneficial.

The removal of students with disabilities, who are at increased risk of mental health difficulties, is particularly worrying. Many require behavioural interventions at an earlier stage as part of a coordinated framework of support.

The select committee’s report illustrated that suspension policies were not always used as intended - as a last resort, following a full examination of what occurred. The Guardian of the Office for Children and Young People expressed concern:
The education department does have a policy for children in care that suspensions and exclusions are used only as a last resort. We don’t believe that that is the case. There is certainly evidence in individual situations where suspension and exclusion has been the first response.
It’s recommended that educational authorities engage better with their stakeholders in order to understand the ramifications of suspension, and to develop better approaches.

When parents are contacted and asked to collect their child from school, clarification is required as to whether this is being used as a method of “informal suspension”.

Number of suspensions very high

Although the South Australian public system outlined a “dramatic fall across the board” in relation to suspensions and exclusions, this was not supported by recently released data.

Suspensions remain very high, with almost 1,000 students suspended on more than one occasion within a school term in South Australia.

Increased segregation has been positioned as a potential solution, which contrasts with a recommendation put forward by the select committee, suggesting schools adopt positive behaviour approaches, such as Positive Behaviour Interventions and Supports (PBIS).

Another recommendation from the report was for systems to better audit schools’ practices in order to determine compliance and use of aversive behavioural approaches.

Information from audits would be shared externally in order to provide oversight. It has been recommended that the Equal Opportunity Commissioner (or Ombudsman) assume a role in evaluating parental complaints regarding educational access or participation.

A need for transparency was highlighted in discussions on Negotiated Education Reports (NEPs).

These planning documents are typically instrumental in supporting access, participation and student achievement. However, parents viewed them as “static” due to them not being sufficiently updated.
Schools appeared to be struggling to engage with families effectively, at times predetermining NEP outcomes for students rather than entering into genuine negotiation.

One submission highlighted concern that NEPs were used to initiate the removal of a students:
It’s sometimes documented in the NEP as if it’s an ongoing issue when it’s actually a one-off event. In each state we need to record all behaviour to justify current funding, but then this accumulative behaviour is used to justify why a child is no longer able to attend mainstream school.
It’s been recommended that parents should be able to check NEP progress online, rather than wait for formal meetings to occur with teachers.

Some recommendations echo those from last year’s Australian Senate Committee report into access to learning for students with disabilities. In particular, recommendation eight, which advocated for better data collection and publication in a wide range of areas, in order to better illustrate practices and performance of schools. And also recommendation ten, which called for an end to restrictive practices such as restraint in order to sharpen focus on preventative approaches.

Despite these registered concerns, the select committee report highlighted that good practices are indeed occurring in many South Australian schools. Examples were provided of principals who created welcoming environments, developed inclusive cultures, and strongly advocated for open enrolment policies.

However, much work still needs to be done by universities in preparing inclusive teachers, by educational authorities, and by schools.

The ConversationAt a time when Australia is increasingly segregating students with disabilities, it is critically important that good quality inclusive practice becomes normal business for schools.

Peter Walker, Lecturer in Special Education, Flinders University

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

Einstein on Academic Freedom and Political Inquisitions

, Academe Blog:
Albert Einstein was a member of the AAUP from 1935 until his death in 1955. The following questions about academic freedom and political inquisitions were posed to Einstein in the 1950s, during the McCarthy era. 

They come from a document held in the Shelby White and Leon Levy Archives Center at the Institute for Advanced Study, Einstein’s American scholarly home, in Princeton, New Jersey. My gratitude to the Institute and to Professor Joan W. Scott for making the document available. The stunning contemporary relevance of Einstein’s responses will not, I’m sure, go unnoticed by readers of this blog.
Question 1: What is the essential nature of academic freedom and why is it necessary for the pursuit of truth?
Einstein: By academic freedom I understand the right to search for truth and to publish and teach what one holds to be true. This right implies also a duty: one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true. It is evident that any restriction of academic freedom acts in such a way as to hamper the dissemination of knowledge among people and thereby impedes rational judgment and action.
Question 2: What threats to academic freedom do you see at this time?
Einstein: The threat to academic freedom in our time must be seen in the fact that, because of the alleged external danger to our country, freedom of teaching, mutual exchange of opinions and freedom of press and other media of communication are encroached upon or obstructed. This is done by creating a situation in which people feel their economic positions endangered. Consequently, more and more people avoid expressing their opinion freely, even in their private social life. This is a state of affairs which a democratic government cannot survive in the long run.
Question 3: What in your view are the particular responsibilities of a citizen at this time in the defense of our traditional freedoms as expressed in our Bill of Rights?
Einstein: The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure. Thus, a duty is imposed on everyone which no one must evade, notwithstanding risks and dangers for him and his family.
Question 4: What in your opinion are the special obligations of an intellectual in a democratic society?
Einstein: In principle, everybody is equally involved in defending the constitutional rights. The “intellectuals” in the widest sense of the word are, however, in a special position since they have, thanks to their special training, a particular strong influence on the formation of public opinion. This is the reason why those who are about to lead us toward an authoritarian government are particularly concerned with intimidating and muzzling that group. It is therefore, in the present situation, especially important for the intellectuals to do their duty. I see this duty in refusing to cooperate in any undertaking that violates the constitutional rights of the individual. This holds in particular for all inquisitions that are concerned with the private life and the political affiliations of the citizens. Whoever cooperates in such a case becomes an accessory to acts of violation or invalidation of the Constitution.
Question 5: What in your opinion is the best way to help the victims of political inquisitions?
Einstein: It is important for the defense of civil rights that assistance be given to the victims of this defense who in the above mentioned inquisitions have refused to testify, and beyond that to all those who through these inquisitions have suffered material loss in any way. In particular, it will be necessary to provide legal counsel and to find work for them. This requires money the collection and use of which should be put into the hands of a small organization under the supervision of persons known to be trustworthy. This organization should be in contact with all groups concerned with the preservation of civil rights. In this way, it should be possible to solve this important problem without setting up another expensive fund-raising machinery.

How to Find a Gap in the Literature

by http://jameshaytonphd.com/how-to-find-a-gap-in-the-literature/

By Inklein – Own workCC BY-SA 3.0Link
People often talk about “finding a gap in the literature”, but it’s not always clear 

what exactly that means or entails.

Part of the problem, I think, is that it’s one of those clich├ęd metaphors so commonly used that it’s easy to repeat without thinking about whether it makes any sense or whether it’s useful.
I wouldn’t ever tell anyone to try to find a gap in the literature as a starting point, because;
  • it’s not enough to just do something nobody’s done before; it needs to be of potential interest to the field
  • research ideas are developed, not found
  • how do you find something that isn’t there?

Instead of searching for a gap in the literature…

Instead of searching for a gap in the literature, think of it as finding an edge to work on; taking existing research and developing it further; improving upon it, answering open questions or taking it in new directions.

How to find an edge to work on

Start by just reading; when you find an interesting paper, think of how you could build upon it. A lot of the ideas you think of won’t be practical, but that’s OK! It’s better to come up with a lot of ideas and then refine them than to search for “the one”.
Not every article you read will trigger great ideas; if it doesn’t make sense to you or you don’t find it interesting then it’s probably not a good basis for your own research.
When you do find a potential edge to work on, you then need to go though a process of testing and refinement to examine the viability of your idea.
Check out the blog posts below for more on this, and feel free to ask any questions below (but please don’t ask me to give you a thesis topic)

Monday, June 5, 2017

No, You're Not Entitled to Your Opinion

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The ABCs Q&A
by Patrick Stokes, Deakin University, The Conversation: http://theconversation.com/no-youre-not-entitled-to-your-opinion-9978

Every year, I try to do at least two things with my students at least once.

First, I make a point of addressing them as 'philosophers' - a bit cheesy, but hopefully it encourages active learning.

Secondly, I say something like this: “I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion.’ Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself, maybe to head off an argument or bring one to a close. Well, as soon as you walk into this room, it’s no longer true. You are not entitled to your opinion. You are only entitled to what you can argue for.”

A bit harsh? Perhaps, but philosophy teachers owe it to our students to teach them how to construct and defend an argument - and to recognize when a belief has become indefensible.

The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” - and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.

Firstly, what’s an opinion?

Plato distinguished between opinion or common belief (doxa) and certain knowledge, and that’s still a workable distinction today: unlike “1+1=2” or “there are no square circles,” an opinion has a degree of subjectivity and uncertainty to it. But “opinion” ranges from tastes or preferences, through views about questions that concern most people such as prudence or politics, to views grounded in technical expertise, such as legal or scientific opinions.

You can’t really argue about the first kind of opinion. I’d be silly to insist that you’re wrong to think strawberry ice cream is better than chocolate. The problem is that sometimes we implicitly seem to take opinions of the second and even the third sort to be unarguable in the way questions of taste are. Perhaps that’s one reason (no doubt there are others) why enthusiastic amateurs think they’re entitled to disagree with climate scientists and immunologists and have their views 'respected.'

Meryl Dorey is the leader of the Australian Vaccination Network, which despite the name is vehemently anti-vaccine. Ms. Dorey has no medical qualifications, but argues that if Bob Brown is allowed to comment on nuclear power despite not being a scientist, she should be allowed to comment on vaccines. But no-one assumes Dr. Brown is an authority on the physics of nuclear fission; his job is to comment on the policy responses to the science, not the science itself.

So what does it mean to be 'entitled' to an opinion?

If 'everyone’s entitled to their opinion' just means no-one has the right to stop people thinking and saying whatever they want, then the statement is true, but fairly trivial. No one can stop you saying that vaccines cause autism, no matter how many times that claim has been disproven. But if ‘entitled to an opinion’ means ‘entitled to have your views treated as serious candidates for the truth’ then it’s pretty clearly false. And this too is a distinction that tends to get blurred.

On Monday, the ABC’s Mediawatch program took WIN-TV Wollongong to task for running a story on a measles outbreak which included comment from - you guessed it - Meryl Dorey. In a response to a viewer complaint, WIN said that the story was “accurate, fair and balanced and presented the views of the medical practitioners and of the choice groups.” But this implies an equal right to be heard on a matter in which only one of the two parties has the relevant expertise. Again, if this was about policy responses to science, this would be reasonable. But the so-called “debate” here is about the science itself, and the “choice groups” simply don’t have a claim on air time if that’s where the disagreement is supposed to lie.

Mediawatch host Jonathan Holmes was considerably more blunt: “there’s evidence, and there’s bulldust,” and it’s not part of a reporter’s job to give bulldust equal time with serious expertise.

The response from anti-vaccination voices was predictable. On the Mediawatch site, Ms. Dorey accused the ABC of “openly calling for censorship of a scientific debate.” This response confuses not having your views taken seriously with not being allowed to hold or express those views at all – or to borrow a phrase from Andrew Brown, it “confuses losing an argument with losing the right to argue.” Again, two senses of 'entitlement' to an opinion are being conflated here.

So next time you hear someone declare they’re entitled to their opinion, ask them why they think that. Chances are, if nothing else, you’ll end up having a more enjoyable conversation that way.

The ConversationRead more from Patrick Stokes: The ethics of bravery

Patrick Stokes, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Deakin University

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

PhD: Persistence = Resilience

by The PhD Gremlin Slayer: http://www.phdgremlinslayer.com/persistenceisresilience/

I’ve heard it said on multiple occasions that a successful PhD candidate needs 10% intelligence and 90% persistence. Early on in my PhD, when I was in the grips of impostor syndrome, this little saying got me through.

If I could just be tenacious enough, dogged enough, persistent enough, that doctorate would be mine, even if I wasn’t the perfect student. While I’m not quite there yet, I’m hanging on pretty tightly and it’s within my sights.


What does persistence look like in the every day life of a PhD student? What does it actually mean to be persistent? Well, to me, persistence is resilience. And it is the key to slaying those gremlins.
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of organising a workshop shop on resiliency for PhD students at my university campus. Facilitated by the postgraduate student counsellor, Dominique Kazan, the workshop opened with everyone sharing their worries about the PhD process.
It confirmed to me the need to encourage more sharing and discussion between PhD students about the doctoral process in order to reduce isolation, learn from each other, and find solutions together.
These worries, while too numerous to mention all of them, include that old, trusty goalpost of “being good enough” and meeting expectations, finishing on time, managing burn out, managing supervisors and personal relationships, having the patience to wait for findings/results, dealing with writers block and procrastination, and feeling alone in their worries.

A student can become a resilient researcher, however, by adopting a growth mindset. Such a mindset acknowledges that the student is a lifelong learner, and that every setback or challenge is an opportunity for improvement and further education. In building on this, the workshop dealt with the concept of internal and external locuses of control. When you have a strong internal locus of control, you acknowledge that all you can control is your perception of the event. For instance, the rejection of a paper can be viewed as opportunity to learn and improve rather than a rejection of the usefulness of the research (and therefore your time and ability to be a researcher). 
I’m curious – do you see a setback in an experiment, the rejection of a paper, or the inability to meet a deadline, a condemnation of your ability to “do” the PhD, or do you see it as part of the process of learning? To me, the latter view is a much more mentally peaceful perspective to adopt, as it gives me the space to learn and grow as a researcher. In a way, such a mindset is a practice of self-compassion within the academic context.
Finally, instead of just focusing on all the worries of the PhD process, we also shared what we love about research and the PhD program, and it struck me that, just as many of the worries are universal, so is the love.
As PhD students in Australia, we appreciate the time and flexibility of the program to explore our research area and structure our hours so that it works for our personal lives. We appreciate the opportunity to deeply research a topic, to contribute to knowledge, to learn more about ourselves and how we work and want to contribute to our world. We have become more comfortable with uncertainty (a good sign of resilience), and we have developed emotionally to manage critique and expectations. These are all indicators that we are developing our “resilience muscle” as researchers.
It can take a lot of emotional energy to “persist” in a PhD program when we feel that we are alone in our thoughts of inadequacy. The key takeaway from this workshop, for me, is the need to facilitate peer mentoring to reduce isolation and learn resiliency from each other. In many ways, the PhD process is just as mentally and emotionally challenging as it is intellectually challenging (if not more), yet not enough is done to train PhD students to manage the emotional landscape of research and “persist”.
Resilience takes away the power of the gremlins, yet it’s a muscle that needs to be trained. I think this is an area where universities have a lot of potential for growth and improvement, and I look forward to taking part in this continuing conversation. What are your thoughts?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

I am Arun Verma and This is How I Work

by Eva Lantsoght, PhD Talk: 


Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Arun Verma for the "How I Work" series. Arun is a Social Psychologist/Health Professions Education researcher, with over 7 years experience specialising in Equality & Diversity, Professionalism and Qualitative Research Methods. As an expert in this field, he has presented his research at international conferences. Arun has been successfully recognised for his academic research and won a number of awards in to support impact in his teaching and research. He completed his Masters in Clinical Psychology in 2013. He currently provides academic tutoring, assessment and feedback for students on the Master's in Medical Education program and is nearing completion of his PhD titled; "Retention and succession health care education: Exploring the influence of gendered identities in male- and female- dominated environments".

Current Job: PhD Researcher and Part-time Staff Tutor
Current Location: United Kingdom
Current mobile device: Apple iPhone 6s
Current computer: Macbook Pro

Can you briefly explain your current situation and research to us? 
I am currently a Higher Education Academy Mike Baker doctoral researcher, with my PhD titled “Retention and success in healthcare education: Exploring the influence of intersecting identities in male- and female-dominated environments” and in the last few months before I submit. I am also a Part-time Staff Tutor at the Centre for Medical Education (University of Dundee), teaching on multiple modules (i.e. Management & Leadership). I am on the Editorial board for the upcoming Psychreg Journal of Psychology, and an active reviewer for prestigious journals - Medical Education, International Perspectives in Equality & Diversity, and The Student Doctor Journal.

What tools, apps and software are essential to your workflow?
There are so many but, for project management the key ones are Slack (online collaborative software), Doodle (scheduling), Microsoft Outlook (for scheduling meetings) and Timely (for tracking my time management).

For analysis, I use ATLAS.ti (Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software: CAQDAS), SPSS, Microsoft Excel and Papers (reference manager).

For writing, I use a Moleskin notebook (pen and paper), Microsoft One Note (collating and organising ideas) and Microsoft Word.

For presenting, I use Microsoft PowerPoint.

What does your workspace setup look like? 

I am doing my PhD by distance, so I try to vary my working environments. I currently switch from my home to coffee shops. I try to keep my PhD desk relatively minimal, with a couple of supportive faces (i.e. Mr Potato Head and Optimus Prime).
Home office setup
What is your best advice for productive academic work?
I currently have four PhD supervisors so I have had to learn and embrace four very different styles of feedback, whilst ensuring a smooth team working process. This has meant my resilience and thick skin has really grown from when I first started the PhD.

My advice is to invest in developing your resilience to help bounce back from feedback and adversity. I also think you shouldn't give yourself a hard time when getting feedback from the academic network. Academic work can be cognitively and physically consuming, so treat yourself kindly when you can.

How do you keep an overview of projects and tasks?

During my final year, I made 3 to 4 month project timelines to map out what tasks needed to be done and when. I found writing a week-by-week schedule was helpful to plan realistic goals. I also use the Tasks and Reminders settings on Microsoft Outlook and Calendar to ensure I don’t leave things until the last minute!

Besides phone and computer, do you use other technological tools in work and daily life?
My iPod classic, because I can’t receive emails or notifications on that device. It means I can listen to my music without interruption and I find music is my way of having a time out from academic work.

Which skill makes you stand out as an academic?
My tenacity, which is my strength but also a limitation. As a strength, my tenacity means that I do not give up on a task and can retain and apply knowledge in innovative ways, whilst being adaptive and getting out of my comfort zone. As a limitation, it also means I can jump head first into a task without spending time planning or preparing for it. I’ve been spending time learning and developing these planning skills to help continue my own professional development.

What do you listen to when you work?

I listen to different genres of music for different types of work:
When I’m writing, I typically listen to instrumental and classical music, like the London and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Ennio Morricone or Vangelis. 

When I’m analysing data, I listen to dance/electronic music, including DeadMau5, Shapeshifters and Daft Punk.

When I’m preparing presentations/reviewing my own work, I listen to rock/pop music, including The Pixies, David Bowe, Prince, Solange, Aretha Franklin.

What are you currently reading? How do you find time for reading?
I signed up to Audible, and am currently being read the book “Sapiens: A brief history of human kind”, which was recommended to me by an Australian colleague at a conference (OTTAWA/ANZHAPE) in 2016. I try to spend about an hour a week (usually in the morning or evening) doing this.

Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?

I would probably say I lend myself more to the extrovert side of the spectrum. I enjoy talking and meeting new people, which has been great for conferences as I have met some fantastic people and made some great connections. It also has meant I can get more involved in different workplace environments quite easily.

What's your sleep routine like?

I try to get to sleep between 21:00-22:00, and I aim for about 7-8 hours an evening to feel rested.

What's your work routine like?

I work 6 days a week quite comfortably. I’m currently looking for post-PhD research work, so I find some of my time is dedicated to extra-curricular activities to help with my employability. My typical hours range between 8-12 hours per day.

What's the best advice you ever received?
I wasn’t given advice per se, but there has always been one quote that has resonated with me, and that I use to draw on a lot. It’s something Ghandi said,
“In a gentle way, you can shake the world”.