Archives for the month of: May, 2016

So how do people normally think about professors? eccentrics who are entirely focused on their research who are unorganised, work into the night with no social life, get frustrated at not being understood, lack interpersonal skills, intolerant, moody….I think you get the picture! I’m sure not all professors are like that but as your academic supervisor gained their position mainly due to their research skills, it should be no surprise they just aren’t that fluffy.


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In fact you may think if you cried in front of them they would ‘take those tears, freeze them, and throw them in a glass of whiskey and drink it … to increase their spirit-crushing abilities’ (Quote 1)

So how are you going to manage your relationship with your supervisor so that you can get your PhD with minimum pain? In conversations with students I have found that one area that often causes problems is the supervisory meeting, so here are some top tips gleaned from those who have been willing to share their ideas. Read the rest of this entry »

Organising your PT Phd by @SRDent89

Challenge Annika

“I go through spells where I don’t do anything. I just sort of have lunch—all day.”

Writing is not my natural forte, I like the Nora Ephron quote above about her writing process, so similar to mine. I go through long dry spells where my motivation is on the floor, my focus too caught elsewhere, and I’m not entirely sure I’ll get a PhD at all – the guilt creeping in for every day off, or trip out for coffee. Secretly I feel abit like a dilatant, who if they can look and sound the part someone will eventually give them a PhD. Like Annika’s earlier blogpost, I have the “swishy wool coat and smart leather bag that makes me appear intelligent”.

The truth is I probably work far too much, and am anything but a dilatant. I am a part-time PhD student, with a full time job, who would…

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During the last Researcher Away Day* (Friday 13th May), which brought together PhD poster_ad16students, Postdoctoral researchers, and Research Staff from many diverse departments across the Faculties of Science and MDH, I came across an interesting tool/model, which I would like you to consider as a possible tool to negotiate research careers strategically.

Dr Ali Riley who works for USE (the University Enterprise hub, which support enterprise education across the University) presented the concept of Effectuationdeveloped by Dr Saras Sarasvathy. This researcher explored the thinking processes used by expert entrepreneurs in making decision at the start of a new venture. Her research participants were entrepreneurs with extensive experience of the business environment. She set the participants “a 17-page problem set of 10 typical questions encountered by entrepreneurs as they build a venture”. Participants thought aloud about their approach to the problem and its resolution. The data gained from this study has permitted to develop a model about the type of logic followed by successful entrepreneurs in making decision and taking action. Different types of logic exist in making decisions about the future, which we cannot predict: causal logic, adaptive logic, visionary logic or effectual logic. Successful entrepreneur use a lot of effectual logic in their cognitive processes. Read the rest of this entry »

journalA journal reading club is a group of researchers that meet periodically to discuss the content and presentation in different journal papers. We asked the Water Debate Group, for their top tips and here are their views on why theirs is successful.

So what are the benefits to members of such a group?
• Improved understanding of what makes good/bad research, papers and styles of presentation.
• Broader understanding of the research area
• Learn new techniques
• Improve critical debating and active listening skills (valuable at conferences and when defending a thesis or paper)
• Better understanding of how expertise is distributed in the research group
• Learn about others’ work

So what do you need to do to make them successful?
• Engender a welcoming environment.
• Provide everyone with the opportunity to talk. (Academics are not invited to allow PhD students and PDRAs to speak freely.)
• Ensure discussion stays on track and is not only of interest to a minority without shying away from discussing detail.
• A chair person that makes sure all this happens.

How do you organise these meetings?
All members are invited to nominate a paper of interest; this could be:
• A paper on a domain / technique that the nominee would benefit from discussing with the group;
• A prize-winning paper or paper from a top journal that demonstrates how to successfully communicate excellent research;
• A draft paper for which a member the group would like feedback;
• A good example of a particular type of paper e.g. a review or methods paper.

Ideally papers should be of interest to more than just a couple of members. If multiple papers are proposed for a particular meeting then members are invited to vote (via a Google Form) on the paper they are most interested in.
Once a paper has been chosen then a meeting room is booked for around three weeks later, giving members plenty of time to read the paper.

What happens at the meetings?
At each meeting the nominee starts the meeting by stating why the paper is of interest to them and what they hope they and the rest of the group will gain from discussing it. The nominee then chairs the group discussion, perhaps posing pre-drafted questions to direct the debate towards issues areas of interest.
At the end of the session the paper is scored by the group on content, communication of ideas and aesthetics.
A summary of the discussion is then posted to the (Google Group) mailing list for the benefit of those unable to attend the session.

Have you any plans for future development?
• Allow people to remotely participate in meetings via a Google Hangout as a number of group members are based outside Sheffield (e.g. at water companies) and presently somewhat isolated from the rest of the Pennine Water Group. We therefore need to make sure we hold meetings in rooms with a decent microphone and speakers. Screen-sharing may also be useful here.
• Collate for posterity information on what we discussed at each meeting (paper metadata, summary of discussion and scores) using e.g. a Google Site.

If anyone has any questions on how to go about setting up a journal paper club or any other comments/suggestions who can they contact?
The Water Debate Group is part of The Pennine Water Group, who are a cross-faculty research group. Dr Will Furnass a research associate in the group will be happy to answer any enquiries.

Announcing TRUST ME! A multi-university research study into doctoral student-supervisor relationships
WoV1gT3FThis project (@predoctorbility on Twitter) is about the relationship between doctoral students and their supervisors and it asks about the quality of that relationship: what constitutes ‘quality’, what does quality mean for learning, and how do you get a quality relationship, and how would you recognise if and when you have it? Read the rest of this entry »

value.pngThis is a call for all University of Sheffield Doctoral students who would like to give an opinion on whether their doctorate was worth it – what is the value of a PhD, to you personally, and in the job market? Billy Bryan (PhD student in Medical Education) and I are running a research survey where you can give you thoughts. Read the rest of this entry »

Last week provided me with a double of interesting events that made me think about the importance of ‘engaging’ (with learning, people and change).

There are various definitions on but for me engaging is a conscious act, one of opening up oneself to new information, ideas or opportunities. From this can come the act of engagement, characterised in a multi-way transaction in which all parties are actively involved and inevitably, something changes as a result.

On Thursday, I attended a TUoS Engaged Learning Network event. Professor Brendan Stone, who introduced the session, describes engaged learning & teaching as, “combining academic rigour and disciplinary knowledge with opportunities for students to learn with and from external partners, ‘real-world’ challenges, and experiences outside the University.” (‘Engaged Learning Sheffield’, 2016).

The keynote speaker, Dr Ira Harkavy from the University of Pennsylvania, talked passionately about the need for academia to use its considerable resource and standing to foster community engagement and cooperation to enable genuine research impact in the local environment.

In the Q&A at the end, an impassioned colleague pointed out that this type of engagement, whether in Undergraduate learning or in core research, needs to be woven in to the fabric of the institution, rather than be seen as the activity of a few ‘out there’ individuals on the margins.


What all of these positions reminded me was of the need for researchers to look beyond the day to day activity of research to consider who they will need to engage with to create change (no matter how big or small and whether in their own lives or beyond).

This contemplation was then reinforced on Friday when I attend a meeting of the nascent University-wide researcher society. Once again, impassioned colleagues talked, this time the focus being the benefits of engaging with researcher networks/associations for skill development, social connectivity, profile raising and to support collective change.

Both of these events had a common undercurrent, the certainty that collaboration and collective effort can be a force for change. For me, the very desire for ‘engagement’ implies that either an individual wants to improve something, be it personal and directly related to themselves or for the wider benefit to others.

I guess what I am trying to say (in a muddled philosophy kind of way) is that my choice to engage in both of these events, provided me opportunity to hear others’ visions, reflect on my own values, think more broadly about the role of research in society and be reminded about the potential for change that comes through a collectively engaged ‘voice’.

Time well spent, I’d say.

(Image credit: The University of Edinburgh)

One thing I really struggled with at the start of my PhD was a big question: am I making enough progress? PhDs vary hugely between individuals and topics, and as such there’s no set guideline to fo…

Source: How Do You Know If You’re Making Enough Progress in Your PhD?

This post is brought to you by a rainy weekend in Whitby…


Rainy Whitby!

I’m not a careers adviser. I don’t even play one on TV.  At the University of Sheffield, we’re incredibly lucky to have a Careers Service that understand the particular needs of postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers, and has expert careers advisers dedicated to supporting researchers as they plan their careers, either within academia or within a different sector.

Nevertheless, I talk to a lot of researchers in my job and, increasingly, researchers want to talk about and reflect upon whether academia is the right choice for them. I think this is really positive; after all, surely one of the big reasons for undertaking doctoral or postdoctoral study is to open-up opportunities, not to close them down. Read the rest of this entry »