Friday, November 30, 2018

Students Evaluating Teachers Doesn’t Just Hurt Teachers, It Hurts Students.

by Nancy Bunge, The Chronicle of Higher Education:  https://www.chronicle.com/article/Students-Evaluating-Teachers/245169


Research on student evaluations of teaching suggests that the gender and age bias most colleges pride themselves on avoiding contaminate those evaluations, along with other nonacademic factors — like "sexiness." Since many institutions of higher learning use these surveys to determine whether faculty keep their jobs or get raises, their unreliability matters. But the impact these student reviews have on the quality of education raises even more troubling issues: Students give better evaluations to people who grade them more generously.

Instructors who figure this out could give higher grades to secure tenure or a bigger raise. Grade inflation offers persuasive evidence that some faculty members have succumbed to this temptation. In other words, standards decline, so students learn less as the cost of their education rises. Ironically, this happens because students are now considered customers, so colleges want to keep them happy.

Evaluations encourage students to place total responsibility for the quality of their education on their instructors. I first encountered them in 1968, when I began my first full-time job, as an instructor of American literature. I had just finished a year as a graduate teaching assistant, during which students debated the reading among themselves and did not hesitate to argue with me once class began. I enjoyed these encounters enormously and suspect my students did, too. So, I was shocked in my first American-literature class as an instructor to discover that the students refused to participate in class, even after I threatened them with a longer syllabus unless they did so.

I got a terrible rating, and its publication humiliated me. The ignorant comment that I needed approval so badly that I asked questions and usually accepted and worked with the responses remains imprinted on my brain 50 years later.

As the decades have passed and students have continued to appraise their instructors, they have come to assume that they know at least as much as the people the college asks them to rank; after all, they sometimes don’t do the reading or participate in class, but their grades rise all the same.

In a recent survey of 1,000 faculty members, commissioned by The Chronicle, almost two-thirds of the respondents said they thought students today were harder to teach than those in the past, and they overwhelmingly said that student engagement had gotten worse. Administrators, who are well paid for supposedly assuring that students get good educations, apparently have never heard of grade inflation or bothered to read the studies questioning the value of evaluations, since they routinely turn the job of ranking the faculty over to the people the instructors grade.

Some students understand the implications of all this. When I first told a class that one of the students would have to collect and submit the evaluations so that I couldn’t tamper with them, one of them asked, "Doesn’t that make you feel demeaned?" Another student wrote on an evaluation, "Why don’t you get off your ass and see for yourself what a great job she is doing?" And, indeed, the administration, not the students, should undertake the difficult task of appraising how well a class works. A colleague once remarked, "When we agitated for student evaluations in the ’60s, we never guessed we were handing the administration a club."
Fulbright grants gave me the opportunity to teach at European universities where students do not rate their instructors. That experience brought home the damaging impact of evaluations. The authoritarian instruction that often takes place in Europe has problems, but students complaining about doing the work is not among them.
At the University of Vienna, I arrived convinced that students would pay full attention only to a class conducted in discussion, so I found it uncomfortable to stand at an elevated podium and lecture. But the students not only listened, they reacted so powerfully that I became fixated on making my next lecture better than the last. I resumed this practice when I taught in Belgium and Germany. The more attentive my students, the more enthusiasm I had for teaching as well as possible.
During my teaching assignment in Germany, I invited my students to help themselves to my books at the end of my stay. One student couldn’t believe his luck: I had not yet given away my copy of Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams, a book that won the National Book Award. I had stopped teaching it to my American students because so many complained that it bored them.
I have heard American students boast of never doing the reading, as though this certifies their brilliance; why would they bother to study work assigned by their inferiors? And why should American students listen to me when they inform the administration whether I have done my job?
Student feedback can be valuable while the course is in process, but end-of-course appraisals help only administrators who apparently do not understand that any two classes differ because the individuals composing them inevitably have an impact. I am thankful that most students have too much decency and integrity to take revenge for a bad grade by submitting a damning evaluation.
But, ultimately, the unearned arrogance encouraged by the heavy reliance on student evaluations helps produce passive, even contemptuous students who undermine the spirit of the class and lower its quality for everyone. All students deserve better.
Nancy Bunge is a professor emerita in the humanities at Michigan State University.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

It’s Still Worth it for Overseas Students to Study in Australia, but Universities Could be Doing More

by Julie Hare, University of Melbourne, The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/its-still-worth-it-for-overseas-students-to-study-in-australia-but-universities-could-be-doing-more-107180

File 20181119 76160 1b8w47b.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Generally, students who studied in Australia from overseas felt positive about their experience and enjoyed a good return on investment in their education. www.shutterstock.com

For years, it has been predicted the increasing number of students flowing into the graduate jobs market would result in falling salaries, underemployment, and students taking on second and third degrees to get an edge in the competitive jobs marketplace.

But what of students who spend upwards of A$200,000 on obtaining a degree in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States or Europe? Many students come to Australia from overseas and pay full market rates – A$100,000 is a very conservative estimate for fees alone, with costs of living on top of that – for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

Read more: We need to make sure the international student boom is sustainable

Until now, we’ve known relatively little about how they fare when they return home and if there’s been a valuable return on their substantial investment. New research from the International Alumni Job Network (IAJN) reveals the return on investment for an international education is still positive for international students, and they’re generally also positive about the experience.

But it’s in the best interest of individual universities to actively work with businesses in home countries to help secure job prospects for graduates. Some universities currently do this, but most do not.

How many students study abroad?

According to the Institute of International Education, each year over 5 million students study abroad. Of them, more than a million go to the US. Australia is currently the third-largest destination country, but federal education minister Dan Tehan recently predicted Australia will overtake the UK in 2019.

Each year, the numbers increase in a seemingly unstoppable flow of students seeking an overseas degree as the passport to a better life. In Australia alone, the figures are breathtaking, with a 17% increase in just one year to be now valued at A$34 billion to the Australian economy.

Each year, over 5 million students study overseas. from www.shutterstock.com

Meanwhile media reports – and common sense – suggest the graduate employment market in some source countries is contracting, due to a number of factors. These include increasing inflows of internationally educated graduates, and improvements in higher education provision at home.

The China Daily, for example, reported last year that in 2007, 1.44 million students left China to study overseas, with 440,000 returning after graduation. In 2016, 5.45 million students left and 4.33 million returned home. Another 666,000 were set to return home in 2017 and compete for jobs with the 7.97 million freshly minted graduates from Chinese universities.

Return on investment

The IAJN survey covered alumni who originated from and returned to eight Asian regions: China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Respondents studied in Australia, the US, the UK, Canada, New Zealand or Europe.

The survey found, thankfully, the vast majority of students were more than satisfied with their international experience. In general, Indonesians were the most positive about their international experience (92%) and Indians the least positive (75%). Some 86% of Thai students thought international education was important, compared with 64% of Indians.

Read more: What attracts Chinese students to Aussie universities?

When it comes to satisfaction with return on investment, things get a little skewed. More than 70% of returned alumni were satisfied with the return on investment, with the exception of Indonesia (67%) and India (a lowly 46%).

Obviously, the reasons are far from straightforward. We hypothesise the responses are based on where students are getting their pre-enrolment information. We suspect using agents and university websites as the primary source of information may be too steeped in marketing hype and not enough in reality. By contrast, students who received their information by word of mouth from family, friends and other alumni were much more realistic in their expectations of studying abroad.

Graduate incomes

This study used US dollars to calculate the average wage of returned graduates because it’s the best benchmark.

In terms of income, the story is also mostly a positive one. While half of all returnees earned less than US$1,000 per month (A$1,411 per month or A$19,930 per year) in their first job, 33% reported earning more than US$4,001 per month (or A$67,729 per year).

Returns on investment depend very much on where students come from and how their earnings on return compare with their locally educated compatriots. For example, the average monthly wage of a Vietnamese-educated local is just US$175 a month and US$343 for Indonesians. On the other hand, locally educated graduates from Singapore and Hong Kong earn on average US$1,966 and US$1,722 per month respectively.



As expected, earnings growth accelerates over time. Some 40% of returned alumni earned more than US$10,000 per month (A$170,000 per year). Although we must take account of the fact some alumni responding to the survey gained their degrees more than two decades ago and were part of a relatively elite group who travelled overseas for study at that time.

On the downside, 30% of PhD graduates reported currently earning less than US$500 per month. One would assume this is a result of gender and age (such as for child bearing women). But within three to seven years, most graduates witness healthy salary increases, also as one would expect.

Attitudes towards Australian Go8 universities

The IAJN was also able to break down attitudes of students who attended a Group of Eight university (UWA, Monash, UNSW, ANU, the University of Melbourne, UQ, the University of Adelaide, and the University of Sydney). Responses to other individual universities were too small to be meaningful. 

According to the survey, there was little financial benefit from studying at a Go8 university (compared to a non-Go8 university) for a first job. The ANU provided the best returns on investment over time.
The study showed there was little financial benefit from studying at a Go8 university compared to a non-Go8 university for a first job. from www.shutterstock.com

Monash and UNSW had the highest satisfaction with return on investment at 75%. Sydney alumni also downplayed the role their international education had on their subsequent career (69% satisfaction compared to 84% at ANU and Monash). The dynamics behind these sorts of statistics will be up to individual universities to analyse and understand.

But the survey found Sydney University had the highest rate (15%) of alumni earning more than US$10,000 a month in their first job. Somewhat ironically, Sydney also registered the lowest satisfaction with return on investment (62%) – perhaps a culmination of high fees and the cost of living in Sydney.

Obviously, it’s in the interests of individual universities to actively work with businesses in home countries to help secure job prospects for graduates. The power of word of mouth and social networks should not be undermined.

Read more: Graduating into a weak job market: why so many grads can't find work

The value of the international education sector might have hit an all-time high, but there’s pressure on individual universities to do their best to ensure graduates get a genuine return on their massive investment in their education abroad.

The author would like to acknowledge the contribution Shane Dillon, the founder of the International Alumni Job Network, made to this article.The Conversation

Julie Hare, Honorary Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to Get Published in an Academic Journal: Top Tips from Editors

Hurdles (Photograph: Clint Hughes/PA)
Journal editors share their advice on how to structure a paper, write a cover letter - and deal with awkward feedback from reviewers.
Writing for academic journals is highly competitive. Even if you overcome the first hurdle and generate a valuable idea or piece of research - how do you then sum it up in a way that will capture the interest of reviewers? 
There’s no simple formula for getting published - editors’ expectations can vary both between and within subject areas. But there are some challenges that will confront all academic writers regardless of their discipline. How should you respond to reviewer feedback? Is there a correct way to structure a paper? And should you always bother revising and resubmitting? We asked journal editors from a range of backgrounds for their tips on getting published. 
The writing stage
1) Focus on a story that progresses logically, rather than chronologically
Take some time before even writing your paper to think about the logic of the presentation. When writing, focus on a story that progresses logically, rather than the chronological order of the experiments that you did.
Deborah Sweet, editor of Cell Stem Cell and publishing director at Cell Press
2) Don’t try to write and edit at the same time
Open a file on the PC and put in all your headings and sub-headings and then fill in under any of the headings where you have the ideas to do so. If you reach your daily target (mine is 500 words) put any other ideas down as bullet points and stop writing; then use those bullet points to make a start the next day.
If you are writing and can’t think of the right word (eg for elephant) don’t worry - write (big animal long nose) and move on - come back later and get the correct term. Write don’t edit; otherwise you lose flow.
Roger Watson, editor-in-chief, Journal of Advanced Nursing
3) Don’t bury your argument like a needle in a haystack
If someone asked you on the bus to quickly explain your paper, could you do so in clear, everyday language? This clear argument should appear in your abstract and in the very first paragraph (even the first line) of your paper. Don’t make us hunt for your argument as for a needle in a haystack. If it is hidden on page seven that will just make us annoyed. Oh, and make sure your argument runs all the way through the different sections of the paper and ties together the theory and empirical material.
Fiona Macaulay, editorial board, Journal of Latin American Studies
4) Ask a colleague to check your work 
One of the problems that journal editors face is badly written papers. It might be that the writer’s first language isn’t English and they haven’t gone the extra mile to get it proofread. It can be very hard to work out what is going on in an article if the language and syntax are poor. 
Brian Lucey, editor, International Review of Financial Analysis
5) Get published by writing a review or a response 
Writing reviews is a good way to get published - especially for people who are in the early stages of their career. It’s a chance to practice at writing a piece for publication, and get a free copy of a book that you want. We publish more reviews than papers so we’re constantly looking for reviewers.
Some journals, including ours, publish replies to papers that have been published in the same journal. Editors quite like to publish replies to previous papers because it stimulates discussion.
Yujin Nagasawa, co-editor and review editor of the European Journal for Philosophy of Religion, philosophy of religion editor of Philosophy Compass
6) Don’t forget about international readers
We get people who write from America who assume everyone knows the American system - and the same happens with UK writers. Because we’re an international journal, we need writers to include that international context.
Hugh McLaughlin, editor in chief, Social Work Education - the International Journal
7) Don’t try to cram your PhD into a 6,000 word paper
Sometimes people want to throw everything in at once and hit too many objectives. We get people who try to tell us their whole PhD in 6,000 words and it just doesn’t work. More experienced writers will write two or three papers from one project, using a specific aspect of their research as a hook.
Hugh McLaughlin, editor in chief, Social Work Education - the International Journal
Submitting your work
8) Pick the right journal: it’s a bad sign if you don’t recognise any of the editorial board
Check that your article is within the scope of the journal that you are submitting to. This seems so obvious but it’s surprising how many articles are submitted to journals that are completely inappropriate. It is a bad sign if you do not recognise the names of any members of the editorial board. Ideally look through a number of recent issues to ensure that it is publishing articles on the same topic and that are of similar quality and impact.
Ian Russell, editorial director for science at Oxford University Press
9) Always follow the correct submissions procedures
Often authors don’t spend the 10 minutes it takes to read the instructions to authors which wastes enormous quantities of time for both the author and the editor and stretches the process when it does not need to.
Tangali Sudarshan, editor, Surface Engineering
10) Don’t repeat your abstract in the cover letter
We look to the cover letter for an indication from you about what you think is most interesting and significant about the paper, and why you think it is a good fit for the journal. There is no need to repeat the abstract or go through the content of the paper in detail – we will read the paper itself to find out what it says. The cover letter is a place for a bigger picture outline, plus any other information that you would like us to have.
Deborah Sweet, editor of Cell Stem Cell and publishing director at Cell Press
11) A common reason for rejections is lack of context
Make sure that it is clear where your research sits within the wider scholarly landscape, and which gaps in knowledge it’s addressing. A common reason for articles being rejected after peer review is this lack of context or lack of clarity about why the research is important.
Jane Winters, executive editor of the Institute of Historical Research’s journal, Historical Research and associate editor of Frontiers in Digital Humanities: Digital History
12) Don’t over-state your methodology
Ethnography seems to be the trendy method of the moment, so lots of articles submitted claim to be based on it. However, closer inspection reveals quite limited and standard interview data. A couple of interviews in a cafĂ© do not constitute ethnography. Be clear - early on - about the nature and scope of your data collection. The same goes for the use of theory. If a theoretical insight is useful to your analysis, use it consistently throughout your argument and text. 
Fiona Macaulay, editorial board, Journal of Latin American Studies
Dealing with feedback
13) Respond directly (and calmly) to reviewer comments
When resubmitting a paper following revisions, include a detailed document summarising all the changes suggested by the reviewers, and how you have changed your manuscript in light of them. Stick to the facts, and don’t rant. Don’t respond to reviewer feedback as soon as you get it. Read it, think about it for several days, discuss it with others, and then draft a response.
Helen Ball, editorial board, Journal of Human Lactation 
14) Revise and resubmit: don’t give up after getting through all the major hurdles
You’d be surprised how many authors who receive the standard “revise and resubmit” letter never actually do so. But it is worth doing - some authors who get asked to do major revisions persevere and end up getting their work published, yet others, who had far less to do, never resubmit. It seems silly to get through the major hurdles of writing the article, getting it past the editors and back from peer review only to then give up.
Fiona Macaulay, editorial board, Journal of Latin American Studies
15) It is acceptable to challenge reviewers, with good justification
It is acceptable to decline a reviewer’s suggestion to change a component of your article if you have a good justification, or can (politely) argue why the reviewer is wrong. A rational explanation will be accepted by editors, especially if it is clear you have considered all the feedback received and accepted some of it.
Helen Ball, editorial board of Journal of Human Lactation
16) Think about how quickly you want to see your paper published
Some journals rank more highly than others and so your risk of rejection is going to be greater. People need to think about whether or not they need to see their work published quickly - because certain journals will take longer. Some journals, like ours, also do advance access so once the article is accepted it appears on the journal website. This is important if you’re preparing for a job interview and need to show that you are publishable. 
Hugh McLaughlin, editor in chief, Social Work Education - the International Journal
17) Remember: when you read published papers you only see the finished article
Publishing in top journals is a challenge for everyone, but it may seem easier for other people. When you read published papers you see the finished article, not the first draft, nor the first revise and resubmit, nor any of the intermediate versions – and you never see the failures.
Philip Powell, managing editor of the Information Systems Journal

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Birthing a Degree and a Baby: How My Identity Impacts My Life Experiences in Similar Ways


Intersectionality has become a hot topic in the last few years. At its core it gives life to the nuance of navigating multiple marginalized identities. As a black woman, I understand that often I will deal with the impact of both racism and sexism. I know I’m likely to in just about every aspect of life in the U.S. and there is plenty of data to back this up. But for some reason, in my mind, that never extended to pregnancy and labor; despite my experiences with doctors my entire life. So, when stories about black mothers and infants having an abysmally high mortality rate in U.S. started coming out around when I became pregnant, I felt blindsided and anxious.  I spent the majority of my pregnancy reading about how my baby and I were more likely to die and/or be mistreated during labor. Now desperate for a low intervention birth, I went into the hospital to have my child on edge.
I spent the majority of my time at the hospital on pins and needles. The dismal numbers on black maternity outcomes running in the back of mind pushing, no demanding me to strike a balance between arguing over stupid hospital policies (That I’m positive contributed to my stalled labor and ultimately my unplanned C-section) and not pissing off the nursing staff too much to where it impacted my care. I knew they were likely to carry biases already and I wanted my child to enter this world in as safe a situation as possible. 
The consequences of this decision to placate the nursing staff to ensure mine and my child’s survival lead me to be a much less vocal advocate for myself than I am in daily life. I accepted some policies and procedure despite all the research I had done that indicated they were not the best for having a natural, low intervention child birth as a bargaining chip for our lives. Any and all confidence and knowledge I had in respect to evidence-based birth was replaced with a primal fear and desire to survive.
While I didn’t see it in the moment, quiet reflection has made me realize that my experience in the hospital was incredibly similar to my experiences in my PhD program. I spent so much time while obtaining my degree shrinking myself in order to ensure that I graduated. I did not advocate for myself as much as I should have because I was afraid of pushing my advisors to write me off or push me out of the program. 
While they didn’t have the power to influence whether I live or die in the physical sense, ever dependent on that “Good” recommendation letter, they did (and still do somewhat) have control over the life of my career. While giving birth to my dissertation and ultimately my degree, I swallowed microaggressions, suffered from isolation, incivility and treatment akin to neglect for nearly 5 years in the name of survival because the power differential was too great.  
The consequences of being too loud, too pushy and too angry could have had an infinite impact on my life going forward. I felt cornered, trapped. At one point I went to my department and demanded to be mastered out of the program because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I saw the effects of this play out in my health both mentally and physically. I would argue that interactions with my Ph.D. advisor to this day bring me as much and maybe more anxiety than I felt while I was in the hospital being prepped for surgery. How can interaction with someone who was/is supposed to help and guide me for a large portion of my career make me MORE anxious than being cut open on an operating table? Why am I essentially stuck interacting with and depending on this person for the next 5-10 years of my life on top of the 5 that have already passed?
I survived my Ph.D. on what little mentorship I could find outside of the lab, my friendships with a few people in my department, the most magnificent group of black women friends I could ask for and two mantras: “Nothing lasts forever” and “No one was going take the degree away from me”. I survived labor with the support of my husband, my mother, a great OB and two mantras: “Nothing lasts forever” and “Your baby is waiting for you.”
I made it out of grad school with my Ph.D. just like I made it out of the hospital with my adorable, healthy baby. So, I know that I am fortunate, blessed even. I just wish that the birth of both my dissertation and my baby,  which are difficult in and of themselves, did not require bearing the additional weight of surviving while black and female.

E-learning Academic Success

by Educational Research Techniqueshttps://educationalresearchtechniques.com/2018/11/21/elearning-academic-success/


Studying online has become almost an expectation now. Even if you never earn a degree or take a class for credit online there are still many opportunities to train and develop skills over the internet. The role of the teacher is to try and find ways to engage and support their students as they begin their learning experience physically alone with support perhaps thousands of miles away.


In this post, we will look at ways to encourage the academic success of students while studying online. Two ways to support academic success in elearning involve providing feedback and encouraging engagement.


Provide Feedback


Feedback is critical in every aspect of teaching. However, in elearning, it is even more important. This is because the students have no face-to-face communication with you so they have no idea how they are doing beyond a letter grade. In addition, there is no body language to examined or other paralinguistic features that the student can infer meaning from.


Giving feedback requires timeliness. In other words, mark assignments quickly and indicate progress. In addition, if students do not meet expectations it is critical that you point them towards resources that will help them to inderstand. For example, students seem to neglect reading rubrics. When a student gets feedback from a rubric they can see where they were not successful.


In terms of a more formative feedback approach, there may be times where it is beneficial to live stream lecture. This allows the students to chime in whenever they do not understand an idea or point. Furthermore, the teacher can ask a question or two of the students and get feedback from them.


Engage Them


Engaging is almost synonymous with active. In other words, students should be doing something in order to learn. Unfortunately, listening is a passive activity which implies that lecturing is not the best way to inspire learning.


In the contest of elearning, one of the ways to inspire active learning is to have the students go out and do something in the real world and report what happens online in the form of a reflection. For example, students studying English will go out and teach English in the real world. They will then come and share their experience. The teacher is then able to provide insights and feedback to improve the students teaching. This provides a connection to the real world as well as a sense of relevance.


In a more abstract subject, such as history, music theory, or engineering, students can become active through sharing these insights with laymen or explaining how they are already applying this information at their job or in the home. The goal of using provides the purpose for learning the content.


Conclusion


Feedback and engagement are critical to success in a situation in which the student is primarily learning alone which is found in the context of elearning.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

by Educational Research Techniques: https://educationalresearchtechniques.com/2018/11/14/critical-thinking-and-problem-solving/


There have been concerns for years that critical thinking and problem-solving skills are in decline not only among students but also the general public. On the surface, this appears to be true. However, throughout human history, the average person was not much of a deep thinker but rather a doer. How much time can you spend on thinking for the sake of thinking when you are dealing with famine, war, and disease? This internal focus vs external focus is one of the differences between critical thinking and problem-solving.


Critical Thinking


There is no agreed-upon definition of critical thinking. This makes sense as any agreement would indicate a lack of critical thinking. In general, critical thinking is about questioning and testing the claims and statements made through external evidence as well as internal thought. Critical thinking is the ability to know what you don’t know and seek answers through finding information. To test and assert claims means taking time to develop them which is a lonely process many times.


Thinking for the sake of thinking is a somewhat introverted process. There are few people who want to sit and ponder in the fast-paced 21st century.  This is one reason why it appears that critical thinking is in decline. It’s not that people are incapable of thinking critical they would just rather not do it and seek a quick answer and or entertainment. Critical thinking is just too slow for many people.


Whenever I give my students any form of opened assignment that requires them to develop an argument I am usually shocked by the superficial nature of the work. Having thought about this I have come to the conclusion that the students lacked the mental energy to demonstrate the critical thought needed to write a paper or even to share their opinion about something a little deeper then facebook videos.


Problem Solving


Problem-solving is about getting stuff done. When an obstacle is in the way a problem solver finds a way around. Problem-solving is focused often on tangible things and objects in a practical way. Therefore, problem-solving is more of an extroverted experience. It is common and easy to solve problems with friends gregariously. However, thinking critically is somewhat more difficult to do in groups and cannot move as fast as we want we discussing.


Due to the potential of working in groups and the fast pace that it can take, problem-solving skills are in better shape than critical thinking skills. This is because when people work in groups several superficial ideas can be combined to overcome a problem. This groupthink if you will allow for success even though the individual members are probably not the brightest.


Problem-solving has been the focus of mankind for most of their existence. Please keep in mind that for most of human history people could not even read and write. Instead, they were farmers and soldiers concern with food and protecting their civilization from invasion. These problems led to amazing discoveries for the sake of providing life and not for the sake of thinking for the sake of thinking or questioning for the sake of objection.


Overlap


There is some overlap in critical thinking and problem-solving. Solutions to problems have to be critically evaluated. However, often a potential solution is voted good or bad by whether it works or not which requires observation and not in-depth thinking. The goal for problem-solving is always “does this solve the problem” or “does this solve the problem better”. These are important criteria but critical thinking involves much broader and deeper issues than just “does this work.” Critical thinking is on a quest for truth and satisfying curiosity. These are ideas that problem-solvers struggle to appreciate.


The world is mostly focused on people who can solve problems and not necessarily on deep thinkers who can ponder complex ideas alone. As such, perhaps critical thinking was a fad that has ceased to be relevant as problem solvers do not see how critical thinking solves problems. Both forms of thought are needed and they do overlap yet most of the world simply wants to know what the answer is to their problem rather than to think deeply about why they have a problem in the first place.

How to Successfully Apply for a PhD Place in Australia

I’ve guided many a person into a PhD candidature, both at ANU and to other places, so I know how confusing it can be. The process of making an application to an Australian University is frustratingly opaque for many, especially people who do not have ‘connections’. 
This post by Madeline Taylor will be useful to anyone who is considering applying for a PhD in Australia. The general points are probably applicable to other countries too, but I will be interested in what people might share in the comments.
Madeline Taylor is a PhD candidate at Victoria College of Arts, University of Melbourne. Her research generally focuses on contemporary costume practice, technical theatre’s interpersonal dynamics and fashion display and performance, and her thesis is examining the collaborative practices of costume production. This research draws on her 15 years’ experience as a performance practitioner, working on over 85 productions in theatre, dance, opera, circus and film in Australia and the UK. Balancing her work and study is learning to be a mum to a 2 year old, her fern garden and hanging out with friends as part of fashion and design group the stitchery collective.
Deciding to start a PhD is alternately exciting and terrifying, especially if you need a scholarship to afford to study. In 2012, I decided to do my PhD. I wrote an application, put together my support documents for Honours 1 equivalency (at 83% I was a few points short of a greatly desired First), and crossed my fingers hard.
I was rejected.
Well, not entirely. Accepted into the PhD program but not awarded a living allowance scholarship. I knew financially and practically I couldn’t accept the offer. My tendency to prioritise paid work would mean research wouldn’t get the time it needed and would just end up feeling guilty and stressed. I backburner-ed study, but kept writing a articles and conference papers to build my research track record.
Fast forward to January 2017. After applying to four PhD programs around Australia, I was offered places in all four programs and three scholarship offers. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. In this process I learnt a lot about PhD applications, and want to share some of my findings.
The most important things I learnt was how closely the PhD application process resembles a job hunt. This is particularly evident in how much personal connections count.
I don’t think it coincidental that the three institutions that offered me a scholarship were the three institutions where I knew or met people face-to-face. I was successful at QUT, where I did my undergraduate and honours studies and had been tutoring consistently for the last 5 years. I was accepted at Griffith, where I met with potential supervisors prior to submitting my application, a connection which grew out of chatting at a conference. Finally, I was accepted at University of Melbourne, where I approached a former honours supervisor who had changed institutions as a potential PhD supervisor, and I decided to fly down to meet the interview panel, rather than Skype in (I do not do good Skype). My unsuccessful scholarship application was with RMIT, with whom I only had email contact.
The value of personal connections was made clear in the post-mortem discussions, in which potential supervisors discussed defending my research project in the committee meetings in which students were ranked and scholarships were decided. Having someone go in to bat for you here is important. This means building rapport and making sure they really understand your project and its value is critical. Face-to-face chats are also helpful for information on an institution’s areas of growth to align with or allude to in the application. Don’t just rely on the university website for information about things like research clusters; I found that these are often out of date.
Obviously, the application itself has to be strong, both in content and structure. While the project content is up to you, I highly recommend asking friends or potential supervisors for examples of successful applications to get a sense of tone, formatting, and detail. From the examples I was given I took the idea to diagram my research plan timeline, which made it clear and visually interesting, and include potential research outputs, which I put on the timeline. For example, I suggested I would present my research plan at a national conference shortly after confirmation, and pitch a contextualising chapter as an article to a respected journal 6 months later. This evidenced I knew the field, and how I could engage with it.
Applying to four institutions meant that each application I wrote was stronger than the last. Just like a job’s selection criteria, each university will ask for different information in its proposal. I wrote these concurrently, so was able to transpose some of the unrequested information into the different applications which gave each one more depth. Further, having to rearticulate the same idea four different ways prompted me to drill down into the specifics of the project and think about it from multiple perspectives; this was very helpful in solidifying ideas and identifying gaps in my planning.
How institutions rank applications varies and is very opaque, relying on complex scoring calculations. Understanding the intricacies of this isn’t vital, but knowing what the scholarship committee look at might be. Does the institution focus more on alignment with supervisory team, or the university vision? How do they weigh publications or professional experience? How much attention is paid to previous research projects, or creative works? Knowing this allows you to tailor your proposal and support documents to the institution’s scoring model.
Finding the scoring criteria can be tricky, so getting it directly from potential supervisors or the HDR support team might be the best bet. If they don’t want to give it to you try searching the bowels of the net using some permutation of “phd scholarship criteria/ranking/scoring institution name”. I think establishing institution alignment was helpful to my success. In framing my research, I discussed not only the global changes and national and international conversations in my field the study was responding to, but how it connected to the university vision and aims. While only one sentence of my 2-page application, I also explicitly discussed the research’s connection and potential value to undergraduate courses and discipline pedagogy, for which I extensively researched course details in the university handbook.
Treating the PhD application process like a job hunt really worked well for me. If you fail in the first application and don’t have the capacity to study without scholarship I encourage everyone to try again another year. In 2012 it was suggested that I could start my PhD and reapply for scholarship after confirmation. I hesitated when others at the institution warned that a scholarship in this scenario was unlikely: advice subsequently borne out by friend’s experiences across several universities, although this might not be the case everywhere.
The intervening years since my first application have allowed me to grow personally and professionally. I now have a far stronger topic, more experience writing and researching to draw on, and the emotional resilience to deal with the PhD journey. That early rejection was the best thing that could have happened.
Thanks for sharing your story Madeline. How about you? What did you learn about the internal processes of the university during your PhD application process? There are many confused potential students out there who would value your advice!