Friday, August 29, 2014

Five Super Tips for Getting the Most from Your Supervisor

English: Mathematics formulas () in a PhD thes...
Mathematics formulas in a PhD thesis (Wikipedia)

by Thomas Bray, Warwick University Postgraduate Study:

Your supervisor is a key ally in your research, so a good relationship with them will help. Here’s some advice on ensuring that the partnership works for you.

Okay, so you’ve finally met your supervisor, had some frank discussions and begun an effective working relationship; good for you, you’ve overcome a major postgraduate hurdle.

But maybe you’re wishing for a little something more? Perhaps you feel that your relationship with your supervisor, while perfectly workable, is not what it could be? In this article, I’ll be giving you a few tricks and tips on how to make the most of your supervisor.

1) Be honest

This is the best policy from the off, and it is no less important a few months (or even a few years) down the line. Your supervisor will be able to draw on their experience of working with previous students, and they will be experts in their field, but it is highly unlikely that they will experts on you.

Openly and frankly discuss your expectations, as well as your perceived strengths and weaknesses. But always try to:

2) Plan to be concise

The amount of time which you have with your supervisor varies from department to department and from person to person. In any case, it can sometimes feel like just when you getting somewhere, your time is up and you are being released back into the wild without a clue about what to do next.

This is why it pays to plan your supervisions, and to make sure that you succinctly express your thoughts and concerns. Sending a quick email the day before your supervision detailing what you’d like to discuss and what you’ve been doing since the last meeting is often a good way to make sure that everything is covered in the allotted time.

3) Take both criticism (and praise) with a pinch of salt

Some of your work your supervisor will like, some they will feel could be improved, and, very occasionally, they will advise you to just outright scrap the draft which kept you up all night. It is at times like this that it is easy to feel that they are being vindictive and difficult, that they are putting you through unnecessary stress.

This is, of course, not true; they are simply pushing you to produce your best work. With a few months’ hindsight, you will understand. It can be a very tough process, but the confidence that your final product will be a representation of your finest research means that it is worth it.

4) Know their limits

Understand that there are some things which your supervisor cannot do for you or help you with. One of the most astonishing features of postgraduate research is often how quickly you find that you know more about your topic’s material and literature than your supervisor; essentially, you start to become an authority in your own narrow field.

Although they will often be able to challenge the internal logic and wider issues of your research, you may find that you have to go elsewhere, to fellow students and research groups outside Warwick, for the necessary extra challenges. It may sound strange, but by pushing yourself outside of supervisions, you can ensure that the time you do spend with your supervisor is effectively used.

5) Know that you’re not alone

The former point may help to alleviate any problems you encounter with your supervisor, but if you are really having difficulties, then it is essential to utilise the support networks which exist for such an eventuality.

Your department should have a Director of Graduate Studies (or similar) whose concern it is to ensure that relationships between students and supervisors run harmoniously. If you have genuine concerns about your supervisor, or your ability to work with them, they are often the best people to turn to. Hopefully, however, this won’t happen.

In the end, the best way to ensure that you get the most out of your supervisor is to hold up your end of the bargain: get drafts in on time, push yourself to improve, and keep your supervisor informed about your progress.

Most of all, enjoy the process: yes, it is unashamedly difficult, and completion is a real accomplishment, but by choosing to undertake postgraduate study, you have already demonstrated your passion for your subject.

Your supervisor is no different; choosing a career in academia requires commitment to the discipline. Between the two (or more) of you, you should be able to produce some exciting, innovative, and important research. Good luck!

About the Author:
Thomas Bray: Now in the third-year of a PhD in History, I first came to Warwick as a fresh-faced undergraduate in 2006, and after years abroad in Canada and Berlin, I completed an MA in the History of Medicine and begun my doctoral research in 2010. 

All this means that I am in my eighth year as a Warwick student, which is the kind of thought which makes me want to lie down for a while. When not doing academic things, I enjoy cycling around the countryside, playing with local cats, and getting into unlikely situations which later make for incredulous blog entries. You can follow me on Twitter @ThomasBray12

Becoming a Mentor

Mentoring a Demography trainee
Mentoring a Demography trainee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Introducing Dominika Bijos, one of the London Naturejobs Career Expo journalism competition runners-up.
Dominika Bijos loves communicating biomedical research. After earning her BSc in Italy and MSc in the UK, she worked in research labs across Europe. 

From DNA in the cell nucleus she moved her research interests to the smooth muscle in the bladder. 

She is now writing up her PhD thesis at the University of Bristol, UK,  maintaining an international and interdisciplinary peer mentoring network and enjoys presenting research in comics and short presentations. 

She organizes a yearly meeting for early career researchers in urology, where she promotes interactions, networking and mentoring. @DBijos
In May my colleague Stefan thanked me when he received a fellowship from the prestigious European Molecular Biology Organization. At the time, I didn’t understand why - he did all the hard work.

When I asked him, he told me that I had been his informal peer mentor: I pointed him towards the opportunity, helped him through the application process and provided feedback. And of course, I was there to cheer him up and keep his mind on other things during the long wait. At no point did I even consider I was being a mentor.

It made me think about what it means to be a mentor and how you become one. The core idea behind mentoring is to provide help and advice to those who need it on how to reach long-term career goals successfully.

I have never had a formal mentor, but thanks to my peer-support group, consisting of fellow PhD students and post-docs from around the world, I have discovered new research opportunities, discussed issues and improved on many aspects of my academic life.

Peer mentoring is often less intimidating than a more formal mentor-mentee relationship with a senior colleague. Discussing research ideas (or problems) with a group of people you feel comfortable with can be beneficial for everyone involved. You share knowledge and encourage each other to improve by providing constructive feedback.

In more formal mentoring programmes, a mentee is matched with a more senior scientist or professional, a living example of the success in the field that can help mentees identify specific goals and guide them through the process of achieving them.

Becoming a mentor is not a line on a CV or an obligation you need to fulfil; you need a genuine interest and should be willing to offer support. Here are a few tips for a beneficial mentor-mentee relationship, should you wish to get involved in one.

Realistic expectations

A mentor is not a superhero who can magically resolve all issues or has all the right answers. Being a mentor is like being a personal trainer: you guide and advise junior scholars to achieve particular goal; cheer and support along the way, but the work has to be done by the mentee.


As a mentor, you might be privileged to learn about a mentee’s personal background and family responsibilities that they worry about during career planning. Be a confidential sounding board to these professional hopes, dreams, personal woes, issues and fears.

Constructive feedback

Mentors can provide a fresh perspective on mentees problems and failures. A mentee can learn from their mistakes and improve, but need clear advice on practical actions to take next. Positive and realistic actions lead to improvement, and then a good mentor praises the achievements to build a mentee’s confidence.

Share and care

The best mentors can empower their mentees by sharing their career experiences, knowledge, skills and contacts. Mentors need to be genuinely interested in the mentee as an individual and care for their success. But be honest with each other: if in a formal mentorship programme your match does not work, it is ok to finish it and look for a more beneficial one.

Be interdisciplinary

“A mentor does not have to be directly from your field of research. It is in fact often better if they are not,” said Sue Wray, a professor at the University of Liverpool during Physiology 2014 mentoring session. A mentor shouldn’t find themselves with information about their colleagues regarding issues they cannot resolve.

Being from the academic or professional environment, irrespectively of the field of study, is sufficient to be a trusted advisor. Not only that, but working with someone who isn’t from your research field can provide different and interesting points of view that you might not have thought of.

Mentoring is not a one-way relationship to benefit the mentee. Mentors can also develop useful skills in managing and motivating people; benefit from seeing issues from a mentee’s perspective and can more easily solve them in their own context. As a mentor you create larger networks, better understand how people see you and gain personal satisfaction from helping others in achieving their success.

If you have the opportunity to experience both sides of this relationship, being both a mentee and mentor, then go for it, because both perspectives can improve your career and inspire your independent personal development.

Find out more about the conference delegates, exhibitors and workshop sessions at the Naturejobs Career Expo in London here, and you can follow the action on Twitter using the #NJCE14 hashtag.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Finishing Your PhD Thesis: 15 Top Tips From Those in the Know

Student on library computer
Photograph: David Levene
by The Guardian:

Many PhD students are now in the final throes of writing their thesis. 

Turning years of research into a single, coherent piece of work can be tough, so we asked for tips from supervisors and recent PhD graduates. 

We were inundated with tweets and emails - and @AcademiaObscura helpfully created a Storify of the tweets. Below is a selection of the best tips.

1) Make sure you meet the PhD requirements for your institution

“PhD students and their supervisors often presume things without checking. One supervisor told his student that a PhD was about 300 pages long so he wrote 300 pages. Unfortunately the supervisor had meant double-spaced, and the student had written single-spaced. Getting rid of 40,000 extra words with two weeks to go is not recommended” (Hannah Farrimond, lecturer in medical sociology, Exeter University).

2) Keep perspective

“Everyone wants their thesis to be amazing, their magnum opus. But your most important work will come later. Think of your PhD as an apprenticeship. Your peers are unlikely to read your thesis and judge you on it. They are more likely to read any papers (articles, chapters, books) that result from it” (Dean D’Souza, PhD in cognitive neuroscience, Birkbeck, University of London).

3) Write the introduction last

“Writing the introduction and conclusion together will help to tie up the thesis together, so save it for the end” (Ashish Jaiswal, PhD in business education, University of Oxford).

4) Use apps

Trello is a project management tool (available as a smartphone app) which allows you to create ‘boards’ on which to pin all of your outstanding tasks, deadlines, and ideas. It allows you to make checklists too so you know that all of your important stuff is listed and to-hand, meaning you can focus on one thing at a time. It’s satisfying to move notes into the ‘done’ column too” (Lucy Irving, PhD in psychology, Middlesex University).

5) Address the unanswered questions

“There will always be unanswered questions - don’t try to ignore or, even worse, obfuscate them. On the contrary, actively draw attention to them; identify them in your conclusion as areas for further investigation. Your PhD viva will go badly if you’ve attempted to disregard or evade the unresolved issues that your thesis has inevitably opened up” (Michael Perfect, PhD in English literature, University of Cambridge).

6) Buy your own laser printer

“A basic monochrome laser printer that can print duplex (two-sided) can be bought online for less than £100, with off-brand replacement toners available for about £30 a pop. Repeatedly reprinting and editing draft thesis chapters has two very helpful functions. Firstly, it takes your work off the screen and onto paper, which is usually easier to proof. Secondly, it gives you a legitimate excuse to get away from your desk” (James Brown, PhD in architectural education, Queen’s University Belfast).

7) Checking is important

“On days when your brain is too tired to write, check quotations, bibliography etc so you’re still making progress” (Julia Wright, professor of English at Dalhousie University, Canada).

8) Get feedback on the whole thesis

“We often get feedback on individual chapters but plan to get feedback from your supervisor on the PhD as a whole to make sure it all hangs together nicely” (Mel Rohse, PhD in peace studies, University of Bradford).

9) Make sure you know when it will end

“Sometimes supervisors use optimistic words such as ‘You are nearly there!’ Ask them to be specific. Are you three months away, or do you have six months’ worth of work? Or is it just a month’s load?” (Rifat Mahbub, PhD in women’s studies, University of York).

10) Prepare for the viva

“Don’t just focus on the thesis - the viva is very important too and examiners’ opinions can change following a successful viva. Remember that you are the expert in your specific field, not the examiners, and ask your supervisor to arrange a mock viva if practically possible” (Christine Jones, head of school of Welsh and bilingual studies, University of Wales Trinity St David).

11) Develop your own style

“Take into account everything your supervisor has said, attend to their suggestions about revisions to your work but also be true to your own style of writing. What I found constructive was paying attention to the work of novelists I enjoy reading. It may seem that their style has nothing to do with your own field of research, but this does not matter. You can still absorb something of how they write and what makes it effective, compelling and believable” (Sarah Skyrme, PhD in sociology, Newcastle University).

12) Remember that more is not always better

“A PhD thesis is not a race to the highest page count; don’t waste time padding” (Francis Woodhouse, PhD in mathematical biology, University of Cambridge).

13) Get a buddy

“Find a colleague, your partner, a friend who is willing to support you. Share with them your milestones and goals, and agree to be accountable to them. This doesn’t mean they get to hassle or nag you, it just means someone else knows what you’re up to, and can help to check if your planning is realistic and achievable” (Cassandra Steer, PhD in criminology, University of Amsterdam).

14) Don’t pursue perfectionism

“Remember that a PhD doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. Nothing more self-crippling than perfectionism” (Nathan Waddell, lecturer in modernist literature, Nottingham University).

15) Look after yourself

“Go outside. Work outside if you can. Fresh air, trees and sunshine do wonders for what’s left of your sanity” (Helen Coverdale, PhD in law, LSE).

• Do you have any tips to add? Share your advice in the comments below.

GTAs at University of Leeds Target V-C in Row Over Unpaid Work

Sir Alan Langlands, University of Leeds
Source: University of Leeds
Sir Alan Langlands, Vice-Chancellor, University of Leeds
by , Times Higher Education:

A group of postgraduate research students who teach have bombarded their vice-chancellor with emails to highlight what they term their “appalling treatment”.

Campaigners from the University of Leeds say that more than 80 postgraduates emailed Sir Alan Langlands to warn of impending action “against their poor treatment”, which includes zero-hours contracts and unpaid preparation time, according to the group.

The hourly paid teachers called for reform of a temporary code of employment practice, which they say has been unduly delayed. More than 1,000 postgraduate research students at the Russell Group institution hold teaching positions. An interim code, outlining conditions for employing them, was introduced in September 2013 and was due to be updated for the following academic year.

The email, sent to Sir Alan and the acting dean of postgraduate research studies, Edward Spiers, says: “Our poor treatment has gone on too long. The contracts, the pay, the lack of consultation, the unpaid work for preparation time - it is not good enough.”

“Given some of the examples of appalling treatment PGRs [postgraduate research students] have had to accept over the last year, the reform of the Code was an absolute must … an increasingly large number of PGRs will be commencing a campaign against their poor treatment,” it adds.

In a reply sent last month, Sir Alan, former chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, says that the interim code gave postgraduate researchers who teach “worker status” while other discussions concluded.

He adds that the Graduate Board, with representatives from Leeds University Union and postgraduate research students, agreed that the interim code should remain in place for another year so that the results of a survey of PGRs could be considered ahead of an update.

“However, this will not prevent us from implementing agreed changes during 2014-15 where it is sensible to do so,” he writes.

Sir Alan adds that under the new process, postgraduate research students who teach will be given a schedule of work at the start of each semester outlining their hours, including preparation time, and pay. “The university commits to paying these hours as long as they are worked,” according to the email.

In a statement to Times Higher Education, Professor Spiers says: “We do not intend to leave the existing arrangements in place for 2014-15.”

He adds: “We have been consulting with representatives of the postgraduate researchers on these new arrangements and, with their feedback, are improving practices even further. We expect to implement the new changes from September 2014.”

The university said that Sir Alan and Professor Spiers received only 25 emails and not all of them were from postgraduate research students at Leeds. But a spokesman for the campaign, who wished to remain anonymous, said they were copied in on more than 80.

Mark Taylor-Batty, president of the Leeds University and College Union branch, said: “A code of practice agreed by all relevant parties is essential to eliminate unpaid teaching and marking and the use of zero-hours contracts.”

Print headline: Article originally published as: You’ve got mail: GTAs target v-c in row over unpaid work (21 August 2014).

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Shocking Statistic About the Quality of Education Research

In 1968, an article in Kappan magazine titled “The Need for Replication in Education Research” by education Professor Robert H. Bauernfeind said:
The principle of replication is the cornerstone of scientific inquiry. This principle holds that under similar conditions, one should obtain similar results. Replication has long been an essential aspect of research in the natural sciences, where science findings are not published until their repeatability has been demonstrated. In the natural science, the investigator may repeat his experiment 10 or 20 times, cross-comparing all results, prior to publishing his “findings”… Yet the process of replication is much more vital in our field than in the natural sciences or even the biological sciences. The reason, simply, is that more things can go wrong in a behavioral research project than a physical research project. There is a higher probability that the findings of a single behavioral study might be in serious error, or might not be generalizable beyond the specific circumstances of the specific study …
That is why the findings of a new research study about research studies are so important - and cautionary.

Veteran teacher Larry Ferlazzo alerted me to Facts Are More Important Than Novelty: Replication in the Education Sciences,” published in the peer-reviewed Educational Research, a journal of the American Educational Research Association, and written by Matthew C. Makel of Duke University and Jonathan A. Plucker of the University of Connecticut.

Their study analyzed the “complete publication history of the current top 100 education journals ranked by 5-year impact factor.”

The impact factor of an academic journal speaks to the average number of times an individual article has been cited in the Journal Citation Report in a year; a five-year impact factor would mean the average number of times pieces from a specific journal published in the previous five years were cited in the JCR.

Journals with a higher number of citations are considered to be more important in their field than those with fewer citations.Their study says that despite the fact that replication of education research findings is vital to policymakers and educators, only 0.13 percent of education articles were replicated.

That’s 0.13 percent. Less than one percent. Less than half of one percent.

There’s more: While nearly 68 percent of the replicated studies were successful in reaching the same conclusions as the original studies, it was also true that replications “were significantly less likely to be successful when there was no overlap in authorship between the original and replicating articles,” according to an abstract of the report.

When an entirely new team of researchers did a replication, they were successful in duplicating the results of the original 54 percent of the time. “The results,” the abstract said, “emphasize the importance of third-party, direct replications in helping education research improve its ability to shape education policy and practice.”

For more than a decade, school reformers have said that education policy should be driven by “research” and “data,” but there’s a big question about how much faith anyone should have in a great deal of education research.

This is so not only because the samples are too small or because some research projects are funded by specific companies looking for specific results, but because in nearly all cases, it appears that nobody can be certain their results are completely accurate.

It is true that replication studies that confirm the original findings are not necessarily definitive and cannot resolve all issues about rigor, reliability, precision and validity of educational research. The report cites eight reasons that explain the lack of replication in education research, including the notion that “novelty equals creativity.” But it goes on to say this:
However, implicitly or explicitly dismissing replication indicates a value of novelty over truth… and  a serious misunderstanding of both science and creativity. If education research is to be relied upon to develop sound policy and practice, then conducting replications on important findings is essential to moving toward a more reliable and trustworthy understanding of educational environments.
Inside Higher Ed quotes Plucker in this excerpt from its story on the Mackel-Plucker report:
Neighboring fields in the social sciences - psychology, sociology, criminology - also suffer from a dearth of replications. But whereas psychology has weathered a number of fraud cases, the world of education research has had not a single fraud accusation in years, Plucker said. That’s a remarkable statistic, considering that conservative estimates place the number of educational researchers at 50,000 in the U.S. and 100,000 worldwide, according to the American Educational Research Association.
Education research’s spotless record is no accident, he said. It’s the result of scholars who aren’t checking each other’s work. “I would love to believe that every single person doing education research around the world has ethics that are as pure as the driven snow,” Plucker said. “[But] the law of averages tells us there’s something out there.”
Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

Thesis Writing Tips for the I-Left-it-to-the-Last-Minute PhD Student

PhD and coffee
Image credit: Daisy Hessenberger
by Julie Gould, Nature Jobs:

Contributor Daisy Hessenberger
Four months ago I, the trepid explorer, started on the last great adventure of my PhD - writing the thesis.

I immediately faced the well-known challenges associated with this journey: too much procrastination and too little motivation.

Sometimes I found it impossible to start writing and when I did, it was hard to maintain the momentum. And although I enjoy writing, I was starting to hate my thesis.

Looking at thesis writing tips only made me feel worse. The number one tip? Start writing earlier in your PhD. It was a bit late for that now. What I needed were thesis-writing tips for the left-it-to-the-last-three-months thesis writer.

Salvation came in the form of a friend. A fellow PhDer asked me whether I would like to start a writing group. In its very basic form a writing group is when PhD students at a similar stage of writing up (and thus sharing similar stress levels) agree to meet up and write together.

My friend got the idea from the University of Cambridge Writing Group. This group provides a platform for graduate students to organize writing group sessions. All that the student in charge has to do is choose a time, book a room, and let the other writers know. There are multiple groups a week, at various times which follow the same basic structure.

The University of Cambridge Writing Group seemed promising but there were two things that made it unsuitable for me.

First, with its rotating members, the writing groups were a bit intimidating. Second, I find libraries stressful (they bring on flashbacks of studying for undergraduate exams). So instead of joining them, my friend and I decided that we would take inspiration from their approach, create our own rules and move to a location that suited us: a café. Thus, the Writing Support Group was born providing two things: companionship and peer pressure.

Writing with friends creates a unique environment of trust, invaluable to our survival and even enjoyment of this process. The feedback you receive on your progress is personal, gentle and yet brazenly true.

Of course it is also good to know that you are not alone with your worries about failing your viva or missing your deadlines. We seem to rotate who is having a slump or writing block and who is having a better day. On the days where someone’s motivation or belief in their thesis flags, the other members feed them theirs (and if that fails they feed them cake).

The peer pressure makes sure I do that one thing that creates a thesis - write. By choosing who is in the writing group and how the work time is formatted you can set your own level of pressure. Too much peer pressure can stress you out and scare you off but too little and you won’t get the work done.

We chose to work with friends and instead of working for hours on end, we based our working schedule on the pomodoro technique, which allows you to divide your time into manageable chunks (which we call tomatoes) and makes sure you plan breaks into your working schedule.

How to work in tomatoes:

Split your time

Find a set amount of time that you and your peers can dedicate to writing, and split it into 45 minute working blocks with 15 minute breaks at the end of each. There are plenty of apps to help you time your sessions (we use the pomodoro timer. The tomato rule is that during the tomato you have to try and do what you said you would - no Facebook or news! And if you do procrastinate it has to be on an aspect of your thesis.

Plan your tomatoes

Before each tomato, we tell each other what we plan to achieve in it. It might just be to write one paragraph, or to think through one issue. Saying out loud what you are planning to do will set a gentle amount of peer pressure to motivate you for 45 minutes. It also forces you to be brutally efficient and prioritize tasks. Fellow group members will let you know if they think you are avoiding a difficult task, caught in a perfectionism loop on a figure or taking on too much for 45 minutes of work. Even big tasks can be broken down into blocks.

Share your results and take a break

After the 45 minutes we let each other know how we’ve done (and remind each other to stand up and stretch). We help each other through roadblocks and give each other the pats on the back that we need. There is no judgement at this stage. If someone only wrote 50 words out of the 300 they were aiming for then we chat about why that happened.

Mix it up

I am an evolutionary biologist writing with a historian and a musicologist. You don’t need other experts to help you write thesis. You are already the expert. But getting non-specialists, who still understand what you need to do to work beside you can be invaluable. If I have an issue, then I am forced to explain it in the simplest of terms, which often helps me find the problem. Plus I get to learn random facts about Indian history and update my video-game music vocabulary.

The Writing Support Group is where I get nearly all of my valuable writing done. After five tomatoes, nearly five intense hours of work, I feel like a normal human being rather than like a zombie. It is because of the Writing Support Group that I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel and my submission date does not seem so scary.

For those of you who are in the same boat as me, what techniques do you use to get your thesis written up? Please share your ideas in the comment section. I find it useful to learn from others and take inspiration from their techniques, as I hope you will from ours.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A PhD is More Than Just Research Training

Research being carried out at the Microscopy l...
Research in the Microscopy lab (Wikipedia)
by Julie Gould, Nature Jobs:

Introducing Kate Johnson, one of the London Naturejobs Career Expo journalism competition runners-up.

Kate recently submitted her PhD at Queen’s University, Belfast, investigating vegetation change in southern South America. 

She stumbled into environmental change research through a love of month-long field seasons camping in front of glaciers, which led to an MSc thesis in the Canadian Coastal Mountains.
Just last month, I was faced with that terrifying prospect of “what’s next?” as I handed in my PhD thesis and await the dreaded viva date. It’s a fear of the unknown, one that I felt at the end of my undergraduate course and my after my masters too.

When I completed each of those, I had a passion for my research topic and I knew instinctively what the next step was. Now at the end of my PhD, although I love what I did, I have to consider whether my future lies within academic research and teaching or applying skills outside academia.

The stats always tell us about employment rates within academia, and at the moment, they’re not looking good. Throughout my time as a PhD student, I’ve only seen three of my PhD colleagues carry on in academia (this is from a group of around 20 graduates).

Many of us are seeking employment in the civil service or private sector, and right now, I’m one of them. But does that mean that I think there are too many PhDs, or is it still a valuable qualification to have?

PhDs require a huge amount of time, money, effort and an unfailing passion for the subject you are studying (remind yourself of that on the darkest days). My PhD was chosen through a love of fieldwork and a desire to collect new skills in research.

But now that I’m at the end, I’m realising it wasn’t just the qualification that enticed me, nor was this qualification the best thing I’ve achieved in the last 4 years; the skills learnt during my PhD are universal, and can be applied to many careers outside of academia, as long as you’re willing to chase them.

Aside from research, my PhD was filled with teaching opportunities for undergraduate taught classes, field trips and the odd lecture. I had temporary employment within the Met Office daily pollen counts and worked with Translink to analyse leaf-fall data in the Autumn.

I sat on many committees as the student representative, and through this, developed an understanding of life beyond my research within a university.

The question of where there are too many PhDs is focused on the idea that all PhD graduate students want to be academics. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t one of those when I started my PhD four years ago.

But now I’m realizing that the PhD didn’t close other doors for employment, it just opened ones I hadn’t considered at the start. And I’m beginning to understand that there’s nothing wrong with this, but that you have to be aware of the skills you can achieve during a PhD and strive to work (and think!) outside the box.

Understanding that a PhD is more than just research training is vital for a scientist’s personal development, and nothing to be criticised. I may be struggling to find research employment right now, but I don’t regret completing my thesis. A PhD is what you make of it.
Find out more about the conference delegates, exhibitors and workshop sessions at the Naturejobs Career Expo in London here, and you can follow the action on Twitter using the #NJCE14 hashtag.

Testing Democracy: NAPLAN Produces Culture of Compliance

Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines
Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Arathi Sriprakash, University of Sydney and Tony Loughland, University of Sydney

There has been widespread and well-justified critique of the NAPLAN tests in Australian schools. Concerns have focused on the ways the testing severely narrows the school curriculum, compounds disadvantage and creates undue anxieties for young students.

Current panic about this year’s writing test is telling of the broader social and political consequences of a back-to-basics curriculum underpinned by a high-stakes standardised testing system.

The poorly worded question set for the writing test, “which law or rule would you make better in your view?”, has been criticised for being too difficult for students.

Teachers felt they had been ambushed by the complexity of the question when they had been preparing students on the technical aspects of writing a narrative or persuasive text. The outcome was that some students did not attempt the question and received zero marks for writing.

One particular response to this year’s writing question compels reflection about the purpose and future of our schooling system. To ask such a question has been seen as “inappropriate” and “ludicrous”, especially for “children being brought up in law-abiding families, where they are told that rules are important”.

Arguably, it should be the driving purpose of education to ask such questions, albeit not within the constraints of a standardised test. As the Melbourne Declaration sets out, a key goal for Australian schooling is to produce “active and informed citizens”.

Denying the possibility of critical thinking - for example, examining issues of justice in rules and laws - threatens these broader goals of active citizenship and engaged democratic participation.

The end of critical thinking?

The content of the NAPLAN writing tests has always been secondary to the technical aspects of writing that students are expected to bring to the task. This is a function of the fact that the same question is posed to all students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. This year, however, the question demanded both control over the genre as well as critical thinking.

Debates about “which law or rule would you make better in your view?” - and the critical engagement it requires - would be sadly unfamiliar to many Australian students who were being prepared for a test of their technical writing.

When schooling is focused so heavily on preparing for high-stakes tests, it is not surprising that teachers have to resort to “defensive pedagogies” - teaching strategies that ensure good examination results.

This is made worse by relentless preoccupations with “teacher effectiveness”, where performance is measured by student outcomes. Teachers do more than teach to the test, but the scope for this is diminished under high-stakes scrutiny.

Many students, especially from minority groups and disadvantaged communities, would be ready and motivated to discuss this year’s writing question. After all, it is a question that invites reflection on matters of fairness. However, this important opportunity is lost when it is framed within a high-pressure test that forces defensive pedagogies.

The social costs of NAPLAN

The social costs of such a narrowed education are profound. Not only does it fail to encourage students to develop tools for participating thoughtfully as “active and informed citizens”, it also makes it acceptable for education to be unquestioning about the status quo.

The appeal that children from “law-abiding families” would find it particularly difficult to engage critically with laws and rules reveals something about the kind of citizen we want our education system to foster. Should critique be seen as inappropriate? Should compliance be privileged over change? Even in the face of inequality?

As one young child was reported saying with respect to the NAPLAN question,
When I thought about all the rules I know I thought that they are really good ones. So I didn’t have anything to say about it.
Here is where the narrowing of education by NAPLAN can suit dominant social groups. Research has long shown how schooling systems reproduce the social order in which the middle-classes benefit. This has been exacerbated in recent times by the repositioning of education as a private good, where educational products and services can be bought to ensure individual success.

In this context, winners have no reason to question rules and laws, and losers needn’t be given a voice.

The displacement of critical thinking by NAPLAN positions schools as instruments of social control, rather than being sites for creativity, debate and change. The stakes are particularly high for the disadvantaged.

For as long as this is the case, it will be hard for schools to encourage students to meaningfully consider the questions fundamental to democracy and justice. Questions such as, “which law or rule would you make better in your view?”

Editor’s note: Arathi will be on hand for an Author Q&A session between 2 and 3pm tomorrow (August 21). Post any questions about NAPLAN and education in the comment section below.
The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Back to School? In These States, Be Prepared to Get Spanked: Though Proven Ineffective and Sometimes Harmful, Corporal Punishment is Legal in Much of the U.S.

(Photo: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images)
b, Take Part:

Eliza Krigman is a Washington, D.C.- based journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post. 

She writes about politics, business, and lifestyle issues. full bio.
Put an end to hitting children in school.

Add that to the list, along with immigration reform, student loan reform, and spending authorization, of things Congress failed to do when it went on vacation earlier this month.

As a result, as kids return to school this month and next, in 19 states they will face the possibility of corporal punishment at the hands of teachers or school officials. That's despite the introduction in Congress on June 26 by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., of a bill that would outlaw the practice.

Despite decades of research indicating corporal punishment is not only ineffective but produces kids who are more badly behaved, many Americans view spanking as a reasonable and necessary disciplinary tool.

In February, a Kansas state lawmaker proposed legislation that would have provided a sound legal framework for the practice.

Moreover, corporal punishment in schools - as with punishment the criminal justice system metes out - falls more heavily on minorities. Data from the Department of Education shows that nonwhite children bear the brunt of U.S. schools' violent disciplinary measures.

While African American students make up approximately 17% of the national student population, they account for 36 percent of all students who receive physical punishment at school.

McCarthy hopes to end the practice.

“As a mother and a grandmother, [I find] the statistics are alarming,” she said after introducing the bill. “There is nothing positive or productive about corporal punishment, and it should be discouraged everywhere.”

McCarthy’s current effort is her third and final attempt to pass the Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act, as she plans to retire at the end of this term.

This time she has tweaked the measure to offer a carrot-and-stick approach. Instead of banning the practice outright, the law would attach it to funding: schools are free to implement corporal discipline but would lose some federal support for doing that. The same tactic was instrumental in persuading states to increase the drinking age from 18 to 21 in the 1980s.

In her prior efforts, the bill has stalled because of lack of awareness, an aide to McCarthy said. Much of her work since has therefore been focused on educating other members about this issue.
We now have enough research to conclude that spanking is ineffective at best and harmful to children at worst - Elizabeth Gershoff, associate professor of human development and family sciences, University of Texas at Austin.
Stalwart supporters of the measure include the ACLU and the Center for Effective Discipline, a nonprofit that advocates against corporal punishment.

“If you bring the wooden paddle schools use to hit children into an airport or a courthouse, security will stop you and identify it as a weapon,” said Deb Sendek, program director at the Center for Effective Discipline. “Hitting one child is hitting one too many.”

Critics of spanking children in school argue that it’s not an effective disciplinary tool, exacerbates behavioral issues, and is a violation of human rights. Defenders of corporal punishment don’t rally around a particular organization, but they speak up when the practice is under attack.

Paddling a small percentage of kids keeps the troublemakers and the rest of their peers in line, Kenneth T. Whalum Jr., a Memphis pastor, argued in an editorial defending the practice.

Whalum, who has served on the Memphis school board, cast naysayers as intellectually disingenuous about this form of discipline.

“Those who mischaracterize this method as beating are usually attaching it to some traumatic event in their own childhood, or basing it on some scholarly or empirical studies that are based on similarly traumatic experiences,” Whalum wrote.

The social sciences have taken a more disciplined approach to studying discipline. Overwhelmingly, the research shows that hitting kids isn’t good for them.

“We now have enough research to conclude that spanking is ineffective at best and harmful to children at worst,” Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote in a 2013 paper reviewing the significant studies on the subject.

In academic terms, spanking is regarded as a risk factor: Recipients of corporal punishment are more likely to have behavioral problems later in life.

“Even after you take into account children with previous behavioral and psychological problems, the research evidence shows that corporal punishment is related to more child aggression, more anxiety, and worse child-parent relationships,” said Jennifer Lansford, a professor and faculty fellow at Duke University's Center for Child and Family Policy.

Design by Marc Fusco
The 19 states where corporal punishment in schools is legal

Parents and guardians of school-age children in the 19 states (see illustration above) have some recourse, Sendek said. Even if their home state allows it, districts may prohibit paddling or other corporal punishment practices.

In those where it's allowed, she said, “If parents want to 'opt out' for their child, they need to write a letter stating that they are to be contacted before any type of paddling/ corporal punishment is administered.”

They should also make the child's teacher and the head administrator of the school aware of their position, make sure the letter is in the student's file, and retain a copy. It's no guarantee, but Sendek said that in her experience, "administrators and teachers will not paddle against a parent's wishes."

While the Education Department does not have an official policy on corporal punishment, it’s advocating for less severe and more “positive” disciplinary measures.

Earlier this year, it teamed up with the Justice Department to put out a “discipline guidance package” urging schools not to rely too heavily on harsh punishments such as suspensions and expulsions. While not addressing the disproportionate effects, a reduction in absolute terms would also reduce the impact on minorities.

The future of McCarthy’s bill is uncertain, though advocates hope reason and science prevail.

“Interventions like corporal punishment are deterrent at best,” said a former employee with the Office of Civil Rights at the Education Department. “The real focus needs to be on what we actually give teachers, school leaders, and systems so that we can prevent these things from being used.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Maths Boffins Solve Supermarket BOGOF Quandary

buy one get another one somewhere else 'not a great deal' say Trading Standardsby News Biscuit:

Mathematicians at the University of Leicester have proved conclusively that whenever supermarkets use a ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ offer they should place an even number of items on the relevant shelf.

The study, using what the mathematicians called ‘some pretty advanced string and brown paper theory’ has finally resolved the long-standing conundrum that baffled supermarkets as to why they always had one item left at the end of the day.

‘We were always a bit confused about the reasons for this and thought it might be down to customer indifference,’ said Sainsbury’s new CEO Mike Coupe.

‘Now, thanks to the findings of Professor Keith Turner and his team, we can screw our suppliers even further, decimate the few remaining High Streets and inflate our bonuses even further … um, sorry, wrong document … improve our customer service even further.’

Consumer watchdog ‘Which?’ also welcomed the findings, saying that it was something many of its members knew intuitively but it was good to have it confirmed by scientists.

Tesco added that it was also very interested in the result, saying that in the daily battle for a bigger share of the customer market ‘Every Little Helps’. Waitrose, however, tutted slightly and said ‘Really!’, while Netto threatened reporters with a broken bottle before falling over asleep in a car park.

A senior official at the Ministry of the Environment congratulated the Leicester team on their findings, claiming that it could help reduce food waste in Britain by anything up to 50,000 tonnes per day.

Ed Miliband disputed the figure and said that when Labour returns to power after the next election, new legislation will make it illegal to stack shelves with an odd number of items.

The applications of this work are exciting the maths world. Already, a pair of Russian mathematicians is applying the findings to solve the age-old problem of the odd sock left in the drawer.

The team from Leicester will be turning their minds to the solution of another supermarket related problem. Said Professor Turner: ‘We’ll be using the mathematics of the infinitesimally small to calculate, to the nearest nano-penny, the true value of a single Nectar point.’


Being a Part-Time Postgraduate

jakusic_dino_21_03_2013.jpgby James Horrocks, Warwick Postgraduate Study:

Part-time study is an excellent way to combine postgraduate education with the needs of a family, career, or just your personal finances, but it is important to find a study-life balance and engage with the rest of the PG community.

I chose to study both my MA and start my PhD part-time for financial reasons.

Even with a very accommodating mother accepting another member of the “clipped wing generation” back into the familial home there was no way I could afford to study without also working, at least part-time.

So I have combined my studies over the last few years with a plethora of jobs selling Terry Pratchett to mothers of young teens, coffees to impatient academics and Jaeger bombs to thirsty undergrads, before joining the team right here at Warwick Library

The main skill any part-time postgraduate needs to master is time management. It is essential to make time not just for study but for everything that goes along with being a post-graduate at Warwick as well as the rest of your life.

My first piece of advice is to make sure you have a good diary or diary app. I would stick with a single diary for all your activities, study and non-study, but maybe pick up a couple of highlighters for colour coding!

Once you have the unmovable activities in place (important seminars, shifts at work, picking up the kids) it becomes much easier to see where you might have the time for more flexible activities (reading key texts, going to the pub) and fill in the rest with the non-essentials (eating, sleeping, breathing).

You, more than your full-time peers, have to be very aware of deadlines. It isn’t easy to bash out an assignment last minute whilst on your late shift at The Varsity or trying to get darling Thomas to just shut the hell up and go to sleep. So make sure you’re ahead of the curve.

Schedule in time to work long before the due date and don’t assume it’ll only take an hour. I like to set false deadlines for myself just in case something comes up last minute. There’s nothing like the Schadenfreude of watching your frantic full-time friends panic writing the evening before an assignment is due whilst you put your feet up and watch Goggle Box with a glass of wine.

Get involved in the PG community as much as you can. Come onto campus, spend one or two afternoons a week working from the PG Hub or Research Exchange and organise meet ups and study sessions with your fellow students (it’s a lot easier to get things done away from the accoutrements and distractions of the rest of your life).

Attend as many relevant workshops and events as you can get to and make sure you come along to social gatherings too. We’d love to meet little Thomas at one of our PG Hub Cultural Events so bring him along, or drop him off at the on campus nursery.

It isn’t always easy finding the time to be a student but it is an essential part of the Warwick experience and part of what makes postgraduate study here so worthwhile.

This last one is tricky but try not to feel guilty about taking breaks. It is the curse of the part-time student to always feel like you should be doing something else and I never really get a weekend but the odd afternoon off is essential for your own well-being, schedule these into your diary too.

Being a part-time postgraduate isn’t always easy but it can really be worthwhile. Sometimes it can feel like you aren’t really a proper student but don’t let this stop you from getting involved with the rest of the PG community.

Warwick also has some great Support Services to support you so make sure you take advantage of them if you need to and drop in and see us in the PG Hub or Research Exchange.

What are your concerns/experiences of part-time study? What advice would you share with someone about to begin a part-time course?

About Author

James Horrocks is a Wolfson Research Exchange and Postgraduate Hub Assistant at Warwick University Library and a PhD Candidate in English (Creative Writing) at Birmingham City University. He writes and performs as Ted Bonham.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Surviving the PhD Write Up

English: Front and back of PhD thesis of Adolf...
PhD thesis of Adolf Hammerstein (Wikipedia)
by Pete Etchells, SciLogs:

I remember when I started my PhD, the write-up seemed like an insurmountable obstacle that was thankfully far enough in the future at that point to ignore - how the hell do you write 40,000+ words (Ed: remember, this is from a science blog) about something so difficult?

Then three years passed in the blink of an eye, and I found myself standing in base camp, with the thesis fast having to become a reality.

For those of you who are about to find yourself in the same situation, here are some tips that I picked up - some at the time, some a bit too late - that might help you get to the summit.
1. Look after yourself
It's an obvious one, but also one that's really easy to neglect. Now, more than ever, you'll need a clear and focused mind to gather your thoughts and ideas into a coherent written entity. That's not going to happen if you hole yourself up in a darkened room, living off beans on toast and noodles. Eat healthily, take time to exercise (or at least get out of the house/office), don't cope by drinking, and leave off the cigarettes.
2. Set yourself daily or weekly goals
I actually found the write-up one of the most manageable times of my entire PhD, because I set myself a daily writing goal of 500 words every day. After 80 days, that would have meant a 40,000 word manuscript, but 500 words a day sounded like a much more attainable goal. Plus, I knew at the end of the day whether I'd had a good day or a bad day - sometimes I wrote a bit less, but I knew it was a tough section. Other times I wrote a bit more, which meant I could take an afternoon or a day off. A thesis seems impossible to write; 500 words is easy.
3. Don't be a perfectionist
I hate to break it to you, but no one really cares about your PhD. Chances are that about 3 or 4 people (not including family) will read it - one of them is you, and the others are your supervisor and examiners. The point of a PhD is not to produce an earth-shattering, game-changing piece of work. It's a training programme, designed to give you the tools and know-how to become an independent researcher. So don't agonise over it when you come to writing it up - note, however, that I don't mean you should just had in any old crap. Do the best job you can, but accept that there are going to be problems with your work, that it's not going to be perfect. If anything, if you can identify the issues early, you can include them as discussion points both for the thesis and the viva.
4. Don't waffle, but make it your own 
No one wants to read a 120,000 word monolith that includes every minute aspect or tangentially-related idea about your work. Make the thesis clear and concise, and the examiners will thank you for not making them work harder. That being said, your thesis is perhaps the one chance you'll get in your career where you have complete freedom to make the writing your own, so by all means go for it. One of my favourite parts of my write-up was giving a brief historical account of eye movement research and how it was developed, from 18th century devices that sounded like torture machines, to modern-day digital technology. It really gave me a sense of continuing a proud scientific tradition, and hopefully that enthusiasm spilled over into the rest of the thesis. Plus, it also formed the backbone of a blog post a while back, so it wasn't a complete waste of time.
5. Don't compare yourself to anyone
You are not in a class. Despite what I said in point 3, you are still becoming an expert in your particular niche. So don't compare yourself to anyone who's going through their PhD, especially those who are writing up at the same time as you. Everyone's experience is different. Some people write 40,000 words, some people write 85,000 - that doesn't make one better than the other, it just means different research areas have different needs. If you start comparing yourself to someone else, you're going to concentrate on the things they're doing better than you and ignore the things they're doing worse. That's just going to make you miserable and demotivated, and it's simply not worth it.
6. Make sure you have downtime 
Not only is it perfectly acceptable to take time off from writing up, it's an absolute necessity. If you don't, you'll drive yourself crazy. Reward yourself when you've had good days or weeks, and make sure you keep up with any hobbies you have. and besides, sometimes a good distraction from work will help you get over any writer's block you might have.
7. Discuss draft chapter deadlines with your supervisor, and stick to them 
If, like me, you're constantly clueless about whether or not you're being productive, agreeing chapter deadlines with your supervisor is a great sanity check. It should really go without saying that you need to stick to them - obviously you don't want to aggravate your supervisor, but you also need to give them enough time to read through, make comments, and send it back to you so you can revise the manuscript.
8. It's okay to moan
Everyone who's been through the write up knows what it's like. Newer students who haven't been through it yet need to be prepared for it. So it's okay to sound off on people, but be realistic about it. If people ask you how it's going, and you're actually having a good day, don't moan for the sake if it - be positive. On the other hand, if you're having genuine difficulties, don't keep them to yourself - go and talk to your supervisor, or a post-doc in your lab, or a friend. Chances are one of them will be able to help, and you shouldn't suffer in silence.
In the end, I found the write up to be one of the most enjoyable parts of my PhD. It gave a real sense of closure to the 3+ years, and at the end if it I had something physical and tangible to show for my efforts. 
I guess it what you make of it, really. You can make it something enjoyable, or you can panic and make a mountain out of it. Either way, you'll get through it - your supervisor (if they're worth their salt) wouldn't have let you get this far if they didn't think you could do it.
So if you're just about to start out, hopefully you'll find these bits and pieces of some use. Best of luck with it; I'm sure you'll do fine.

Private Schooling Has Little Long-Term Pay-Off

English: The Monash Gates and gatehouse lodge ...
The Monash Gates at Scotch College Melbourne (Wikipedia)
by Jennifer Chesters, University of Canberra

In a recent article for The Conversation, Barbara Preston examined the link between type of school attended and progress at university.

Barbara concluded that after controlling for tertiary entrance score, university students from government schools outperformed students from private schools.

This finding suggests that paying for an expensive private school education might not be the best preparation for university study. If this is the case, perhaps parents paying private school fees are looking for longer term pay-offs for their investment.

So who has more success after university?

I analysed data from the 12th wave of the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) project to examine the longer-term outcomes of attending private schools.

For the analysis, I selected one respondent aged between 25 and 34 years per household. The majority of young people have completed their education by the age of 25 and are settled in their careers by the age of 34.

Preliminary analysis shows that individuals who attended Catholic or independent schools were more likely to have completed Year 12 and to have graduated from university, after controlling for the effects of parents’ education, age and sex.

But are there differences in labour market outcomes?

Here the type of private school is important. Although those who attended a Catholic school were, on average, 1.3 times more likely to be employed on a full-time basis compared to those who attended a government school, former independent school students were no more likely to be employed full-time than those who attended a government school after controlling for the effects of level of education, sex and age.

This result seems to suggest that paying private school fees is no guarantee of securing full-time employment.

Given that women in this age cohort are in their prime child-bearing years, I also looked at the effect of interactions between sex and type of school attended; sex and age; and sex and level of education to determine whether there are differences between men and women. As expected, women were less likely than men to be employed full-time.

Next, I examined the earnings of those employed full-time according to type of school attended, controlling for the effects of sex, age and level of education. When it comes to weekly earnings, having attended a private school rather than a government school has no effect.

So there would seem to be no return on the parents’ investment in terms of the earnings of their offspring.

Perhaps parents were seeking to ensure that their offspring secured jobs with high levels of prestige in order to maintain their social status.

After taking into account the effects of level of education, sex and age, having attended a Catholic school is associated with higher, on average, levels of occupational prestige than having attended a government school. On average, attendance at an independent school is not associated with higher levels of occupational prestige.

So why choose a private school?

A closer examination of university graduates may shed some light on this paradox. Of the individuals who had completed a university-level qualification, those who had attended an independent school were more likely to have graduated from a Group of Eight (Go8) university compared to those who attended a government school.

However, individuals who had attended a Catholic school were no more likely to have graduated from a Go8 university. Perhaps parents expect that graduation from an elite university would provide a pathway into a higher-paying career.

For university graduates employed on a full-time basis, graduation from a Go8 university had no effect on occupational prestige after taking into consideration the effects of sex, age and type of school attended.

There was no pay-off for graduation from a Go8 university in the form of increased earnings, nor did type of school attended have any effect, after controlling for the effects of age, sex and field of study.

These results must call into question the wisdom of paying private school fees, particularly for independent schools whose fees can be anywhere from $20,000 to $34,000 a year. The massive growth in the number of private schools since the 1990s may be having the effect of diluting the advantages perceived to be attached to private schooling.

If, as these results suggest, there is no long-term advantage to be gained from paying to attend an independent school, why do parents stretch their family budgets to pay private school fees?

In a climate where university fees are set to rise, parents across the country may start asking themselves this very question.
The Conversation

Jennifer Chesters does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

PhD/Postdoc Position: History of International Relations, Utrecht University - Department of History and Art History

Headquarters of Utrecht University
Headquarters of Utrecht University (Wikipedia)

Location: Utrecht
Salary: €2,083 to €3,831
£1,662.03 to £3,056.75 converted salary* per month
Hours: Full Time
Contract: Contract/Temporary
Placed on: 4th August 2014
Closes: 5th September 2014 

About the organisation

Utrecht University is one of Europe’s leading research universities, recognized internationally for its high quality and innovative approach to both research and teaching.

Founded in 1636, the University has always focused strongly on research. Owing to its solid grounding in discipline-based scholarship, Utrecht University is at the forefront of developments in interdisciplinary knowledge.


You will work within the project 'Securing Europe, fighting its enemies. The making of a security culture in Europe and beyond, 1815-1914'.

You will be based at Utrecht University and will be part of the department History and Art History. The project aims to trace the formation of a European security culture as the sum of mutually shared visions on 'enemies of the states', 'vital interests' and associated practices between 1815 and 1914.

The research team will be comparing a series of different security regimes in which Europe engaged globally. Within the project, a PostDoc and three PhD positions will be available for the following projects:
  • The European fight against Piracy and Privateering;
  • The European Anti-Anarchist Campaign;
  • The European Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine & The European commission of the maritime Danube;
  • The European Commission on Syria and the supervision over the Mutasariffiat regime & The European intervention in the Boxer Rebellion in China.

A successful candidate should preferably have:
  • For a PhD position: a (research) master degree in history, international relations or a relevant social science with clear interest in nineteenth-century history and an outstanding record of undergraduate and Master's degree work;
  • For a postdoc position: a PhD in a relevant historical discipline or a manuscript submitted to the PhD committee and experience in publishing at high academic standards;
  • Excellent knowledge of English and passive knowledge of two other European languages. Knowledge of French, Russian, Arabic, Ottoman Turkish or Chinese would be an asset
  • Experience in archival research;
  • Capacity to work as a creative and independent researcher in an international team;

Three PhD positions (1 FTE) beginning November 1st 2014 for an initial period of eighteen months. After a satisfactory first year this will be extended with thirty months (four years in total). A gross monthly salary starting at € 2.083 in the first year, ending at € 2.664 in the fourth year on a fulltime basis.

A postdoc-position (1 FTE) beginning November 1st 2014 for an initial period of one year. This contract can be extended with a maximum of three years (a total three to four years maximum) after a satisfactory first year. Salary ranges between € 3.037 and € 3.831 gross per month on a fulltime basis.


Applicants should send a cover letter and a curriculum vitae, certified copies of relevant diplomas, one recent academic publication, two letters of references and a 600-word research design proposal, in which the applicant presents his ideas about the relevant project.

Included in this proposal in an indication of the specific position and work package you are applying for. Please note that applications without this 600-word research design proposal will not be included in the subsequent selection procedure!

You can send your application to the project coordinator, Susanne Keesman, You can also contact her for more information and an extended project description.

Respond before 5 September 2014.

The University Environment: Open Plan, Not Working

Nanobot protected cubicle (Photo by Kevin Trotman -
(Kevin Trotman:
by , The Research Whisperer:

This post has taken me an eon to complete. Most of the time, when I’ve wrangled with it, my biggest difficulty was trying to find a rational voice to use.

Academics like to think of themselves as adding reasonable, informed voices to debates. Conflicts of interest and biases must be declared.

Instead of waiting for a rational voice, then, I’m just going to write this post and declare my huge bias against open plan offices.

If you follow me on Twitter and elsewhere, you’ll know that I’ve ranted consistently about them, and the weasel-worded reasoning that’s often presented as their justification.

I’m writing from the perspective of a humanities/ social sciences background academic, not someone who works in a lab-based or research-team environment (so, ymmv).

In May this year, Oliver Burkeman (Guardian) wrote a cracker of a piece against open plan offices and who they actually benefit (hint: not those in open plan). This arrangement of workers has become the norm for new offices in most sectors, and universities are no exception.

The reasons that are most often given to staff as the benefits of open plan include: free flow of ideas and heightened collaborative opportunities among staff, easier identification as a cohort with your colleagues (recognition of your ‘team’), and better communication overall because of frequency of seeing others. You’ll see that I’ve deliberately not used the word ‘synergies’.

The reasons why this style has become more prevalent seem obvious to me but are rarely the reasons stated up front to staff: it’s cheaper (‘shared resources’), you get higher staff density and levels of occupancy (so the logic goes) in a workspace (read: it’s cheaper), and it actively feeds the competitive peer-to-peer monitoring that is the bane of many academics’ lives.

Let’s get these basic points about open plan out there from the get-go:
There’s overwhelming evidence that open offices are associated with lower job satisfaction; poorer interpersonal relations; worse concentration and creativity; damaged sleep, thanks to people working farther from windows; and more sickness, due to the potential for infection. [E]xperts who have studied the matter say those off-the-cuff chats [in open plan offices] are pretty superficial, because people are self-conscious about being overheard (Burkeman, This column will change your life).
For academia, the new corporate style of staff offices also means a harsher emphasis on hierarchies. These were always there, with academic levels determining how many square metres staff were allocated.

Today, though, lower level academics (e.g. Level A’s or Associate Lecturers in Australia), PhD students, and research assistants are often located in cubicle-farms and hot-desks.

These are the ‘share-offices’ of today. They’re sites where it’s very difficult to meet with your students or colleagues as there’s no privacy, so all meetings of any substance must take place in pre-booked rooms or external spaces.

I like meeting with people in cafes; it’s a choice I like to have. But it’s a different situation entirely when meeting in cafes or elsewhere - away from my everyday workspace - are a necessity for getting my basic work done.

Even if you do score an office, it’s probably a goldfish bowl. Higher level academics often still have their own offices, with Associate Professors and Professors having the largest ones - square metreage still applies. Bookshelf spaces, however, are limited by the fact that there’s so much glass to be accommodated and shelves cannot run against those surfaces.

Personal academic libraries at your place of work are increasingly considered a thing of the past - or, if you must hang on to your dead-tree items, they’re likely to be housed at home.

For me, this raises questions of whether the workplace is actually accommodating the work that an academic is meant to do. In addition, as @jasondowns commented, it can also be about locating (and losing?) scholarly identity.

Similarly, if the everyday workspace is at a constantly high level of aural and visual distraction, more academics will choose to work elsewhere (home, cafe, booked meeting rooms).

Again, this raises the question of whether the workplace is meeting the needs of its staff. I choose to do #shutupandwrite for the productivity and company; again, it’s my choice. For others, it’s a necessity; their workspaces aren’t conducive to focused work and decent writing.

The most irksome thing about the trend in open offices is that it’s presented as being responsive to the different, tech-enabled working practices of academics. But any flexibility that’s gained is by the workplace in space usage, not by the staff member in terms of choosing how they want to work.

While universities are very strong on the rhetoric of flexible work, they are far less accommodating of them in practice. Indeed, open offices breed an insidious culture of being seen to be present and accountable through spending time at your desk. Poor managers and supervisors depend on surrounding themselves with their staff, as if their physical presence equals getting work done.

The current structure of academia and how academic achievement is measured, however, works against the supposed benefits of open office formats. As Pinder et al argue in the conclusion of their report on new academic workspaces:
we observe that whilst increasing collaboration is frequently put forward as a reason for developing new types of academic office space, the academic reward system is still based primarily around individual achievement, and the starting point - doctoral research - is largely a solitary activity. Neither provides a great incentive for collaboration. If research at the interfaces of knowledge domains is the future, then the academic career model is, to some extent, history (Pinder at al, 2009, The case for new academic workspaces; emphasis added).
It won’t surprise you to learn that I have a lot to say about the regimes of new academic collaborative models, particularly in terms of whether the collaboration is good for the research area or only serving a metrics-based purpose for the researchers, but that’s for another post.

The evidence to date about the effectiveness and satisfaction of staff in open plan contexts indicates that they are unlikely to generate or foster quality research collaborations or, indeed, enhance collegiality.

So, I wish they’d stop telling us that story. Tell us another story, then I can get my teeth into that one, too.