sarahkeenihan

Posts Tagged ‘#Phdtopresent’

Not that Adam

In August 2014 on August 5, 2014 at 10:09 pm

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Sarah: Federal member for Melbourne Adam Bandt featured as a showcase interviewee at ANU’s excellent PhD to Present event last week.

Adam trained as a lawyer, and returned to university for PhD studies after 10 years in the workforce. He made many interesting comments about being a postgrad student, and of the broad value of doing a PhD. I jotted a few of these down in case of general interest.

On the process of starting a PhD:

“For me the biggest barrier was just beginning to write. I though ‘I can’t possible being writing until I understand everything about this field.’ But then someone said to me ‘you’ve just to start writing – it will be rubbish but you have just got to start’.”

On the transferable skills coming from a PhD:

“For me it’s less about methodology and more about being to able think about and distill ideas.”

On knowing when to stop researching and just write it up:

“One of the best things I got from working as a lawyer was a recognition that deadlines insist upon themselves. It’s not always going to be perfect, but sometimes you just have to get it done by a certain date.”

“As long as you’re prepared to acknowledge the limitations of your knowledge.”

On why he got into politics:

“It was actually scientists who convinced me to get into politics – reading the science of climate change.”

In answer to a question relating to whether research is partisan or not:

“I think we do badly in Australia in terms of encouraging pure research and letting people use PhDs as a place to explore ideas”

“We need more money, we need more academic independence, and we need to prioritise research as a country.”

On the value of staffers with postgraduate degrees:

“We’re really lucky in parliament because we have a parliamentary library. It’s full of people with PhDs and we’re better for it.”

On whether having a PhD should be overtly stated:

“It’s not something I hide, but to be frank, I didn’t want to be seen as too up myself.”

“We don’t do ‘the popular academic’ that well in Australia.”

On why he is passionate about research:

“Partly it comes from having done a PhD, but more broadly it’s a debate about which way we want our country to go and what do we want to prioritise.”

“I think someone needs to stand up for pure, undirected research. It’s about saying ‘what kind of society do we want?’”

On the role of expert opinions:

“It’s important, especially when people can advance ideas in the public realm.”

“It is important but it’s not sufficient.”

“The attack on the role and the legitimacy of science and research has been mind-boggling, and has a chilling effect on everyone else. It also de-legitimizes science and research more generally.”

A huge thanks to Adam for contributing to the day, and for his frank revelations.

And I’ll forgive him for not being *that* Adam.

[image thanks to chris m on flickr]

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Show us your skills

In August 2014 on August 5, 2014 at 9:21 am


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Sarah: Having an 11-year old in my house, I’m used to the term ‘skills’.

“Nice skills, loser”

“Oh yes! Skillage!” (after kicking a goal from an acute angle)

“Show us your skills”

Friday last week I was involved in a great event which also talked about skills. But not footy skills. This time it was PhD skills, or more specifically the skills you can pick up during a PhD and which are transferrable to a variety of work settings.

The event was PhD to Present (see program here, and tweets collected under #PhDtopresent here), organised by ANU Research Skills and Training. I was lucky enough to be a panel member, and also to hear a range of fantastic presentations throughout the day. It got me thinking about some of the skills which I use in my current work, and which I picked up during my PhD years. Here are five quick pointers that occurred to me as relevant to my own career, and might sound familiar to you too.

Getting started
The beginning of a PhD is like the biggest piece of blank paper you can imagine. What to do first? Pick something small, and do it. Then pick the next small thing, and do that. Lo and behold, two things are done, and you’ve started. Those small things can include seemingly insignificant actions like reading a paper and making a few notes, getting some equipment ready for an experiment, writing an email to source an antibody – anything that gets the ball rolling. Imagine someone saying to you “what did you do today?”  – you need to be able to give them a concrete answer.

Start in the middle
Once a wise nun sang “let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start”. As it applies to writing, I beg to differ. Start in the middle. When thesis or paper writing, this can be the materials and methods section. Not creative, not interpretive, but just a good solid way to start seeing words on a page. For article writing, it can be as simple as writing out the quotes from an interview. Suddenly you might see how other words can form around them, and you’re on your way. I’ve also heard Allison Tait give this advice recently.

Task management
Lots of things to finish, multiple deadlines, many clients. Many of my weeks look like this. The PhD equivalent involved several experiments on the run, a presentation to prepare, and an association event to organise. At home, it’s each of three kids howling for attention/food/love. Best approach? Don’t panic! Deep breath, loudest squeaky wheel first, one thing at a time.

Know thyself
After four years of working on a single research project, most of time on my own, I got to know my own brain pretty well. Mornings = good thinky stuff going on. Afternoons = too knackered to be creative. Exercise = critical for a change of pace and making sure I slept well. All these are quirks I still apply – mornings are for writing, afternoons are for editing or cross-checking boring titbits, exercise is very important.

Pick up the phone
Yes, we can all email, SMS, tweet and Facebook to our hearts content. But nothing works like a real conversation for creating action and connecting as a fellow human being. If you’re not sure what somebody’s email meant, pick up the phone and clarify it. If that deadline is not going to be manageable anymore, pick up the phone and renegotiate it. If you need to find a speaker for a conference session, pick up the phone and have a yarn about it. Even better – if geography allows – arrange a coffee meeting. Real life interactions have less room for misinterpreted tone, and make it harder for the opposite person to send a “no can do” answer back purely out of annoyance.

[image thanks to flying cloud on flickr]