Tuesday, May 27, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: "Study Skills for International Post Graduates" by Martin Davies

I wish I have come across this book when I started my PhD (mmm … impossible actually because it was published a year later!).

The advice and tips I read here are invaluable for both research and course-work international students. This book could also be a good refresher to local postgrad students, specially if they have been out of the university system for a while.

This book’s tips about study skills are very detailed and presented in both checklist and mind map formats that makes its reading enjoyable and easy to follow. I think this book was designed for time poor people (hey PhD newbies, listen up!) because Davies has managed to say it all in 308 pages including references.

By “all” I mean topics that range from the basics about being a post grad student and the survival skills you need such as time planning and critical thinking to “minor” yet important issues like citations, to data research and speaking about your work in tutorials and seminars.

Davies has gone through a great deal of effort by providing a very detailed and comprehensive book of study skills tips, yet, simple and to the point.

This book is a ‘how to’ tool for planning, reading, writing, comprehending, and speaking for postgrad students. It does not deal with the emotional part of being an international postgrad student. Many of us have families who are either with us under a tight budget or are left behind in our countries and we can only see once a year or after a couple of years.

Most of us are also scholarship funded with high expectations from colleagues and funding agencies back home or even self funded, paying at least double to 10 times the fees we would pay back home while out of the workforce. It also does not deal with the PhD student-supervisor relationship, nor it does with strategies to cope with balancing studying and mental health.

However, I feel if had just read this book 3.5 years ago and followed its tips, it would have save me precious time with counselors and coping strategies, because at the end of the day, the key skill for a postgrad student is time management. Getting used to routines and not leaving everything for the last minute.

Davies speaks in a sort of recipe, “do as I say” language, with clear steps, graphs and a brief rationale for each part. This book would make an excellent pre-departure gift to international postgrad students and it could also be helpful throughout their degree as a reference book.

The book is full of clear suggestions, questions and practical ideas to put in practice to improve your time management, reading, writing and speaking skills.

Would I recommend this book to international postgrad students? Yes, of course and read it early on.

Book: Study Skills for International Postgraduates by Martin Davies, 2011, Palgrave Study Skills series.

Elizabeth Warren's New Plan to Lower Student Debt: Will Congress Balk?

b, Take Part:
Elizabeth Warren & Student Loans: Congress to Review Her New Plan to Lower Student Debt
(Photo: Cargo/Getty Images)
Kristina Bravo is a Los Angeles–based writer. She is a fellow at TakePart. full bio
It's the time of year when commencement speeches filled with good cheer and optimism circulate the Internet. 
Yet one big issue makes this graduation season kind of a downer: student loan debt.
The amount of cash grads owe has tripled in the past eight years, and, having passed the $1 trillion mark in 2012, it only keeps swelling. Even Congress, which isn’t known for speedy action, is paying attention to the skyrocketing number. 
Last summer, members passed the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, which lowered the federal loan interest rate to 3.86 percent for undergraduates.

What about borrowers with outstanding debts who graduated prior to 2013? They still have to pay nearly 7 percent more, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to change that.

The Massachusetts senator introduced the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act this month. If it passes in Congress in June, federal loans taken out before 2013 will be charged the newer (and lower) interest rates.

“Exploding student loan debt is crushing young people and dragging down our economy,” Warren said in a press release. “These students didn’t go to the mall and run up charges on a credit card.”

The bill is in its preliminary phase, but the main goal would be to let all federal borrowers refinance their debts. This would allow them to replace their existing charges with a loan with better terms.

“It’s not just a youth issue,” says Brian Stewart of Generation Progress, a national organization that promotes political and social advancement for young people. Along with Warren and groups such as Student Debt Crisis and Young Invincibles, Generation Progress has been pushing for solutions via the Higher Ed Not Debt campaign.

According to Stewart, more than half of student loan debt is held by people older than 30. “You start to hear parents and grandparents helping pay for college by taking out loans themselves and co-signing.”

When young people delay buying homes and other investments because of excessive debt, the entire economy suffers.

Higher Ed Not Debt’s latest project, #ItsOurInterest, aims to spread awareness about the refinancing movement by asking people to record and submit their personal debt stories.

Voters get to pick winners, who will receive $500 each. The prize may pale in comparison with the average college debt, which stands at $29,400, but telling these stories might be the empowerment borrowers need.

Sure, student loan tales might be harder to hear than anecdotes about fish and advice like “stay foolish.” But it’s a conversation that needs to start before any change can happen.

“You don’t want to sugarcoat things,” Stewart said. But not carrying a massive debt before your career even starts? Now that’ll give graduates a reason to "get excited to go out in the world.”

TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media, is collaborating with Samuel Goldwyn Films on the distribution of the documentary Ivory Tower.

Tell the Whitehouse Institute to Give Scholarships to Students in Need, Not Political Allies

by Sum of Us

Frances Abbott received a $60,000 scholarship thanks to one of Tony Abbott’s political donors. Other students weren't even told there were scholarships available.

Tell the Whitehouse Institute to give scholarships to students in need, not political allies.

Sign the Petition
Tony Abbott’s daughter was given a $60,000 scholarship by one of his political donors.

Frances Abbott was awarded a “Chairman’s Scholarship” to pay for her degree at the Whitehouse Institute of Design. The chairman who recommended her? Les Taylor, who has donated over $20,000 to the Liberal party.

This means Frances Abbott paid just $7,500 for a $68,000 degree. Meanwhile, Tony Abbott’s budget means that university fees will go up by 100%, ensuring that young people graduate with crippling levels of debt. 

The Whitehouse Institute should ensure all scholarships are awarded fairly.

Tell the Whitehouse Institute of Design to pledge the same amount for people who can’t afford to attend the school.

Frances Abbott was awarded the “Chairman’s Scholarship”, which has only been awarded once before. Mr Abbott asserted the scholarship was awarded on merit. 

Yet leaked internal documents show she was courted by the Institute, contacting her four times before finally making a meeting time and that Mrs. Taylor was tasked with arranging this meeting.

There was no exhaustive application process. Instead, she had one meeting with the managing director - and was offered the scholarship on the spot. The scholarship was not even advertised on the website or advertised to other prospective students.

The Chairman has refused to respond to questions about whether any other candidates were put forward, what the criteria were, and whether the scholarship is open to public application.

Tony Abbott has defended his draconian cuts to universities, and the devastating effects they will have on young people in Australia. He claims students don’t need help. And yet his daughter was given a free ride through university thanks to one of his donors. It’s unacceptable.

Tell the Whitehouse Institute of Design to pledge the same amount to scholarships for those in need.

Thanks for all that you do,

Paul, Hanna and the rest of the team at SumOfUs.

Monday, May 26, 2014

How Do you Make Sure your Research is Ethical?

From nature.com
by Hannah Farrimond, Guardian Professionalhttp://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/may/20/why-research-ethics-matter

Philip Zimbardo's study into the psychological effects of becoming either a prisoner or a prison guard became infamous because of the questions it raised about research ethics.

The controversial study, run in the basement of Stanford University in 1971, saw participants passively accept psychological abuse and follow orders to harass other prisoners.

While most social scientists are unlikely to gain that level of notoriety, they do need to consider how to carry out their research ethically.

The practice of research ethics commands much more attention than in the past. This is not to say that researchers used to be unethical, but that there has been a move towards measuring ethics more formally.

Grant applications have sections to be completed on research ethics, PhD students are asked to submit their ethics approval certificates, and publications want you to certify that you have met ethical principles.

This may leave postgraduates, early career researchers and even those further down the academic career line wondering: what does all this form-filling have to do with doing ethical research? And how do principles such as confidentiality, anonymity or "do no harm" apply to me?

What not to do

When I run training on research ethics in the social sciences, we consider what not to do.

We look at examples such as the Zimbardo experiment or the controversy surrounding the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, who was accused of harming the Yanomami people he observed and wrote about.

Yet examples such as these are not always helpful. Who imagines they are going to cause serious harm by conducting a series of interviews or collecting survey data? Over the years, however, I have seen numerous small ethical breaches. For example:

• When a PhD student running behind on his transcription asked a fellow PhD student to help out, and the latter recognised the voice of one of the participants who was disclosing highly personal and confidential information.
• When names relating to data on a sensitive topic were left out on a desk.
• When participants in a study were contacted by two sets of researchers independently, leading them to believe we were passing on their details without consent.
• When historic criminal activity was disclosed and there was no protocol for dealing with it.

None of these are likely to make the history books of research ethics failures, but all could have been avoided with just a little forethought.

How should we think about research ethics?

The move towards systematised procedures doesn't have to be viewed as sinister - though there are undoubtedly implications for academic freedom in having all research pre-screened by institutions or funding bodies.

Increasingly, the implicit ways researchers used to pass on their ethical thinking and practices from supervisor to student are gone.

Students and researchers need and want research ethics training, but more than that, they want the space for ethical reflection.

Initiatives such as the concordat to support research integrity, which aim to agree principles across the sector, may help institutions devise protocols. But principles are hard to interpret and may even conflict with one another.

People want time to discuss and reflect on the detail of their specific projects and the ethical dilemmas within them.

The internationalisation of the research world also means that flexibility is required. In some cultures, if you ask people to sign your form, they might think you don't trust them.

Why is a handshake not enough? Should our need to have a signature in a box, verifying we asked for their consent, override these considerations and would it be ethical to insist on it?

What you should do to improve your own ethics in research

Those encountering the world of research ethics committees and form-filling should seek advice. The ethics committee secretary always knows more about procedure than the members, so make contact with him or her.

Disciplinary ethics codes and guidelines are now available online from organisations such as the British Psychological Society and the Association of Internet Researchers.

It is highly unlikely you are the first person to do research with a vulnerable group, such as people with dementia or learning disabilities, or to be using social media.

Make sure you find and learn from the body of literature appropriate to your topic. Adapt existing consent forms and consider participatory approaches. Spend time on less clear-cut ethical dilemmas that are bound to arise as you go about your research.

Research ethics is just one part of the whole research enterprise. We must not succumb either institutionally or individually to ethical hypersensitivity, but remain alert to ethical issues as they arise throughout the research process.

Dr Hannah Farrimond is a lecturer in medical sociology at the University of Exeter and author of Doing Ethical Research.

Government to Consult With Sector on Student Fees After All

by Alexandra Hansen, The Conversation

The government has contacted university Vice-Chancellors across the country asking for their advice on the implementation of fee deregulation, after initially ignoring the Commission of Audit’s recommendation to do so.

The Commission of Audit recommended removing the caps on what universities could charge students, but only after considered consultation with the sector.

Budget announcements proposed to introduce fee deregulation, without consultation from Vice-Chancellors and higher education policy experts, a move criticised by some in the industry. Vice-Chancellors had been calling on the government to reconsider the lack of consultation.

Yesterday they received a letter from the Department of Education advising it would lead a consultative process including face-to-face meetings and information sessions, culminating in a workshop on June 25 to discuss equity elements of the changes to higher education.

Higher education policy expert Emmaline Bexley said talking with the sector would be vital to drafting workable legislation.

“The Audit Committee’s proposal for a review left the door open to undertake these changes at a more considered pace, so it was somewhat surprising to see the full suite of reforms in this year’s budget,” Dr Bexley said.

She said changes to the reforms were likely after sector consultations, if only because “it’s becoming increasingly clear that some aspects of the changes are unworkable”.

Senior politicians, including Education Minister Chris Pyne and Prime Minister Tony Abbott have caused confusion over when changes would take effect, making statements that contradict the budget papers and Department of Education website.

Dr Bexley said the accumulation of interest on HECS debt while students were still studying and the application of interest to existing HECS debts were unlikely to be supported by those in the industry.

However, whether the budget’s higher education reforms would be passed through the senate, she said, was anyone’s guess.

“Clive Palmer, for example, has moved from endorsing fee deregulation to not just opposing it but suggesting we get rid of HECS and make university free.”

Chief Executive of Universities Australia Belinda Robinson welcomed the government’s decision, saying there are a number of design and implementation issues in the budget recommendations which needed to be scrutinised.

Problem areas, Robinson said, included the start date of fee-deregulation, the impact of a compounding interest rates on student debt levels (which may deter students from lower socio-economic backgrounds), and how the new scholarship system would work.
The Conversation

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

Who Gets to Graduate?


For as long as she could remember, Vanessa Brewer had her mind set on going to college.

The image of herself as a college student appealed to her - independent, intelligent, a young woman full of potential.

But it was more than that; it was a chance to rewrite the ending to a family story that went off track 18 years earlier, when Vanessa’s mother, then a high-achieving high-school senior in a small town in Arkansas, became pregnant with Vanessa.

Vanessa’s mom did better than most teenage mothers. She married her high-school boyfriend, and when Vanessa was 9, they moved to Mesquite, a working-class suburb of Dallas, where she worked for a mortgage company. 

Vanessa’s parents divorced when she was 12, and money was always tight, but they raised her and her younger brother to believe they could accomplish anything. 

Like her mother, Vanessa shone in school, and as she grew up, her parents and her grandparents would often tell her that she would be the one to reach the prize that had slipped away from her mother: a four-year college degree.

There were plenty of decent colleges in and around Dallas that Vanessa could have chosen, but she made up her mind back in middle school that she wanted to attend the University of Texas at Austin, the most prestigious public university in the state. 

By the time she was in high school, she had it all planned out: she would make her way through the nursing program at U.T., then get a master’s in anesthesiology, then move back to Dallas, get a good job at a hospital, then help out her parents and start her own family. 

In her head, she saw it like a checklist, and in March 2013, when she received her acceptance letter from U.T., it felt as if she were checking off the first item.

Five months later, Vanessa’s parents dropped her off at her dorm in Austin. She was nervous, a little intimidated by the size of the place, but she was also confident that she was finally where she was meant to be. People had warned her that U.T. was hard. “But I thought: Oh, I got this far,” Vanessa told me. “I’m smart. I’ll be fine.”

And then, a month into the school year, Vanessa stumbled. She failed her first test in statistics, a prerequisite for admission to the nursing program. She was surprised at how bad it felt. Failure was not an experience she was used to. 

At Mesquite High, she never had to study for math tests; she aced them all without really trying (her senior-year G.P.A. was 3.50, placing her 39th out of 559 students in her graduating class. She got a 22 on the ACT, the equivalent of about a 1,030 on the SAT - not stellar, but above average).

Vanessa called home, looking for reassurance. Her mother had always been so supportive, but now she sounded doubtful about whether Vanessa was really qualified to succeed at an elite school like the University of Texas. “Maybe you just weren’t meant to be there,” she said. “Maybe we should have sent you to a junior college first.”

“I died inside when she said that,” Vanessa told me. “I didn’t want to leave. But it felt like that was maybe the reality of the situation. You know, moms are usually right. I just started questioning everything: Am I supposed to be here? Am I good enough?”

There are thousands of students like Vanessa at the University of Texas, and millions like her throughout the country - high-achieving students from low-income families who want desperately to earn a four-year degree but who run into trouble along the way. 

Many are derailed before they ever set foot on a campus, tripped up by complicated financial-aid forms or held back by the powerful tug of family obligations. Some don’t know how to choose the right college, so they drift into a mediocre school that produces more dropouts than graduates. 

Many are overwhelmed by expenses or take on too many loans. And some do what Vanessa was on the verge of doing: they get to a good college and encounter what should be a minor obstacle, and they freak out. They don’t want to ask for help, or they don’t know how. Things spiral, and before they know it, they’re back at home, resentful, demoralized and in debt.

To read further, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/magazine/who-gets-to-graduate.html?ref=magazine&_r=1