It’s the postdoc life!

My Post-doc hasn’t gotten this bad yet (though I’m only 6 weeks in!), but I like the lyrics regardless!

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The Lab and Field

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see that I’m fond of the hashtag #postdoclife when discussing certain aspects of my work.  Well, today a colleague asked if it was prompted by the number “It’s the hard-knock life” from the musical “Annie“.

I admit it wasn’t, but the idea (and startling similarities, at least in the stereotype) were amusing.  So I present, for your enjoyment, tongue planted firmly in cheek:

(watch the video if you aren’t familiar with the song)

It’s the postdoc life!

It’s the postdoc life for us!
It’s the postdoc life for us!

‘Steada tenure,
We get term!

Submitted papers,
They get ditched!

It’s the postdoc life!
No position to speak of, so,
It’s the postdoc slog we know!

“Student” status,
‘Steada staff!

Crappy office
‘Steada good!

It’s the postdoc life!

Don’t it feel like the grants are always failin’?
Don’t it…

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Why you should use Twitter during your PhD

This is a brilliant account of why we – scientists, researchers or academics – should be using social media! By @shereebekker

The Thesis Whisperer

This post is by Sheree Bekker, who is originally from South Africa and now based in Australia as an international PhD scholar at the Australian Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention (ACRISP), Federation University Australia. Her research centres around sports safety. Follow her on twitter @shereebekker

twitter-follow-achieverTwitter, according to Wikipedia (yes – how terribly un-scientific of me), is an online social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read “tweets”, which are text messages limited to 140 characters. Twitter is vital to the success of your PhD. Yes, you heard me read me correctly, a seemingly superficial social media site is a fundamental element that will contribute to the success of your PhD – if you embrace it!

Let me tell you my story.

I was a Masters student in South Africa, where I had completed my undergraduate studies and an Honours…

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Pursuing the elusive Post-Doc – how to make the most of it?

So, I’ve successfully completed my first month as a post-doctoral research assistant. What a month it’s been. Still no completion date in sight for my PhD thesis, but that’s for another day.

I’ve submitted ethics amendments, helped apply for a grant (thus potentially securing my job for next year), attended meetings, made suggestions. And I’m struggling for more things to do. “Don’t complain!!” I hear you cry. I would be saying the same thing if this weren’t me. But after months of not having enough hours in the day to do what I need to do this is quite the culture shock. I have work planned for the future, but need data to do it and this hasn’t been entered yet, and thus there is little to do at the moment. Safe to say I don’t like it. I’m being paid to do a job and I feel uneasy not being able to use all my paid working hours to do it.

I’m wary that when this has happened in the past I’ve said “Yes” to a lot of opportunities at once and then found myself swamped once again, so I need to think and choose carefully. I don’t want to take on any regular commitments at the moment as there is still the small issue of not having submitted my thesis, and I don’t know when I will get the inevitable flood of amendments from my supervisor that will require time off to act upon.

I want to get some teaching experience but as I’m in a new University I don’t know who to ask – this requires more investigation. In the mean time I’m thinking of doing something for my personal development that isn’t a regular thing…any suggestions?

The finish line is in sight…

I’m close enough to the finish line of the mighty PhD to know I’m nearly done, but still have a fair way to go.

There’s no secret in the fact that writing a PhD thesis is possibly the hardest thing anyone will have to do…mentally. I’m sure I know there are plenty of physical activities that far outweigh the effort of a thesis, but I’ve not done any of them. For me, this thesis is my Everest, my Tour de France, my Olympics. I have to show I’m the best at what I do by writing about it. 67,255 words to be exact.

I have completed my first FULL DRAFT. My conclusions have been drawn, all my references have been double checked TRIPLE checked, and my appendices have been inserted. I have a week to ignore my manuscript before I give it the last once over and it send to the powers that be (my supervisors). I’m bricking it.

The last  feedback I received ended on the words “I’m disappointed in you”. There were, to be fair, some quite a lot of tense errors, highlighted with comments such as “You’ve already DONE this” (I wrote ‘Then xxx will be administered’) and “???!” (after this phrase had appeared for the third time). But disappointment? I’ve scoured the manuscript more times that I care to admit looking for errors, amending my phrasing and correcting spelling  but I know there will still be some when I submit, waiting to be spotted and annotated with “Careless mistake” or “you shouldn’t be making these mistakes”. But I can’t help it! PhD’s are not allowed proofreaders, as the work has to be you’re own, but its  impossible to perfectly proofread your own work. For one, I’m dyslexic. Second, I’ve written the damn thing, I know what I WANT to say, so I sometimes read that instead of what is on the page. #firstworldproblems right?

It’s very hard not to take negative feedback really personally. Though I feel I have developed a much thicker skin over the course of my PhD, its really hard to maintain that when your thesis is being criticized. A document that you have slaved over, lost sleep over and cried over. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but I have shed more than my fair share of tears over word style sets and EndNote (I know I know, there are better alternatives to both, more fool me). When you have spent 2 days poring over it and have decided you’re happy with it, for someone to say “It’s not there yet” is a massive proverbial kick in the cojones.

That said, I know to expect this, so I can prepare. And when I get over myself I can crack on and make an even better second pass at it. I found an excellent quote in ‘A research students guide to success’ which describes the writing process very well:

“A dissertation is never finished, it is just abandoned at the least damaging point”

– Race 1999 : 121

It’s not just about the thesis…

Thank you! Some support for my take on a PhD; you need more than just a thesis at the end of your 3/4 years as a PhD student.
Take the time to develop ‘transferrable’ or ‘extra-curricular’ skills that will be useful in a future position.
I personally took on a few ‘society’ management roles, as well as non-PhD related course such as teaching and how to write as a science journalist.
Below is a fab list of other suggestions one could take up as well as thesis writing/paper reading.

The Thesis Whisperer

In a recent lecture at ANU, the esteemed research education expert Dr Margaret Kiley claimed that if we set out to design the Australian PhD from scratch we wouldn’t start from here. The PhD assessment (in most cases, a long form thesis), she argued, does not not necessarily develop the full panoply of skills we expect in a working researcher, inside or outside of academia.

One of the clever students in the audience absorbed the implications of Margaret’s lecture straight away and asked:

If that’s the case, what should I spend my time on? At the moment I spend most of my time reading and writing because that’s what I’m being assessed on. Should I be doing more?

Joyce Seitzinger and I being silly in a photobooth for the Canberra Tourist board. Joyce Seitzinger and I being silly in a photobooth for the Canberra Tourist board.

The student’s question went right to the heart of an issue that has been frustrating me…

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Guess Who: Women of the World Festival 2014

Today I took part in the Women of the World Festival, 2014 at Southbank in London. I was delighted to be involved in such an exciting and important event!

The theme of the day was ‘Guess Who’, where 7 professionals (2 men and 5 women) stood on stage and gave only their name. The announcer, a presenter from Cbeebies no less(!), then read out the 7 professions and a piece of information about each professional, such as favourite colour or hobby, and from this one hundred 10 year olds had to guess which person matched each profession.


The professions were; Plumber, Artist, Dancer, Scientist, Champion Athlete, Railway Engineer and Lighting Technician.

The idea of the event was to break down gender stereotypes surrounding profession and show children than men and women can do ANY job they want, hurrah! At the beginning of the day the stereotyped beliefs shone through. Both men were most likely to be voted Plumber and Athlete, because they were men. I was voted Dancer and Artist by over half of the groups, with only 10 out of 100 guessing I was a scientist.

After the children voted they then had two interactive sessions, a panel or a workshop, where professionals demonstrate their trade in a fun and engaging way.

I was asked to do a workshop. I designed an interactive experiment that the kids took part in, spelling out how science as a whole works and how psychology fits into this. As science is about asking questions and designing experiments to test them I had a bit of fun, explaining that psychology is the science of people and behaviour.

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Research question:

Will you get round an obstacle course faster, when blindfolded, if a friend or someone else is giving you instructions?


I asked the kids which group they thought would be faster and got some great responses!


H1‘Friends might try to trick you so that group will be slower’

H2 ‘You might not listen as hard to someone who’s not your friend because you don’t like them’

H3 ‘Friends are always silly so it will take longer’

H4 ‘Friends trust each other more, so that group will be quicker’.

One group had boys and girls so we also looked into gender differences

H5 Boys are lazy so girls will be quicker’.

The kids were split into ‘best friends’ and ‘classmates’ pairs and each took it in turn to guide and be guided round a basic obstacle course (made with chairs and masking tape! Very professional I know) and were timed when doing it. After they all had a turn we plotted the average times of each group on a bar chart:

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 15.10.18

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Though I’m not sure the results would stand up to peer review scrutiny, it was great to see the kids engaged and really get into trying to figure out why each group behaved differently.

The Big Reveal!

After the workshops we all gathered back on the main stage to find out which professional was which!

Dancer; Male (Lee)

Artist; Male (…)

Champion Athlete (weight lifter); Female (Monique)

Plumber; Female (Petra)

Technician; Female (Roz)

Railway Engineer; Female (Keely)

Scientist; Female (ME!)

After the Big Reveal
After the Big Reveal (Belinda Lawley)

It was great to hear some of the reasons why the children assigned professions to each person:

Lee got Athlete because he wore trainers and running shorts, I got Artist because of the headband I was wearing and Monique got Dancer because of her slender figure. We then asked them do they think they were perhaps incorrect in judging people’s jobs on what they look like or what gender they are? The kids agreed.

The first group was all girls so I really drilled home how girls can do anything they want; one girl said I’d inspired her to be a scientist ‘but not in brains, because they’re gross’. I’ll take that win! The second group said I was the most fun session they’d done, which I’m also delighted with.

This event has made me realise even more how ingrained the stereotypes are for male and female jobs; we have to work harder to put an end to these so girls can pursue any career rather than one society deems normal.

I had a great time, I’d love to do more things like this, so if anyone knows of any opportunities please put in a good word! Also, I’ve got the name of a great Plumber who won’t make sexist remarks when I ask questions about my kitchen! Double Win.

On Stage for the BIG REVEAL
On Stage for the BIG REVEAL (Belinda Lawley)

We’re All Mad Here…

This is a wonderful blog by the lovely Catriona Smith on Mental health in academia in response to this article in the Guardian:

I couldn’t agree more with most of the experiences and emotions she talks about.

Catriona Smith

Ridiculous stereotype, or inescapable destiny?  No thanks.

It seems that today, social media exploded with an article about the ‘culture of acceptance around mental health issues in academia’.  At least, the little niche corner of social media that I occupy… which is populated mostly by other postgraduate students studying in a bioscience-related field, and that says something in itself.

Apart from highlighting and forcing self-reflection upon aspects of my life, and issues relating to this that are touched upon within the article, many of the supposedly stereotypical academic viewpoints are harrowing echoes and near-quotes of my own supervisor’s blunt and scarring words.

Sometimes we laugh at ourselves, making light and finding solace in solidarity.  It’s good to know that we are not alone.  PhD Comics by Jorge Cham hits home for many.  But the comics are still often shared as a message of ‘not-really-okay-ness’.

Currently in the final year of my own PhD and desperately…

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How to get published without even trying

Nature news today published an online article stating that over 120 publications from non-open access journals, cited as ‘gibberish’, have been removed from online access as they have been shown to be automatically generated by a computer. Seems fitting…

Cyril Labbé published a paper in 2010 demonstrating that he ‘invented’ a computer science author, Ike Antkare, who managed to go from unknown to 21st most cited scientist in just a year, by publishing gibberish using a piece of MIT developed software called SCIgen.

It has since come out, reports Nature, that people have actually been using this software to write and publish papers and conference abstracts, and not for a joke! Labbé invented a piece of software to detect paper generated by SCIgen. He informed the IEEE of these gibberish articles, which were immediately removed, having already reported a batch of 85 papers the year before! Someone seems keen to keep publishing, even if it is nonsense.

This highlights a huge problem with the peer review process for some Access Journals in some academic fields. Hopefully second times the charm and they’ll buck their ideas up?

Admittedly this phenomenon is limited to Computer Science, and most of the recent discoveries have been found in China, but still! Fortunately, too many people in the social and health sciences like to argue so there’s only a limited chance I, or anyone else cheeky enough to try, could get away with this in Cognitive Psychology.

Three people in my office had a go, and in the spirit of open access, I have pasted our newly generated paper below, simply named ‘A Case for E-Business’, by Steffen Nestler, Leon Fonville and Emma Palmer.


Why the stupid think they’re smart

This is a lovely explanation of what I’m studying for my PhD, except I’m looking at patients and their knowledge and awareness of illness….but its basically the same thing!

Mind Hacks

Psychologists have shown humans are poor judges of their own abilities, from sense of humour to grammar. Those worst at it are the worst judges of all.

You’re pretty smart right? Clever, and funny too. Of course you are, just like me. But wouldn’t it be terrible if we were mistaken? Psychologists have shown that we are more likely to be blind to our own failings than perhaps we realise. This could explain why some incompetent people are so annoying, and also inject a healthy dose of humility into our own sense of self-regard.

In 1999, Justin Kruger and David Dunning, from Cornell University, New York, tested whether people who lack the skills or abilities for something are also more likely to lack awareness of their lack of ability. At the start of their research paper they cite a Pittsburgh bank robber called McArthur Wheeler as an example, who was…

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