Friday, July 26, 2019

The 20 Most Influential Academic Books of All Time: No Spoilers

by Colin Marshall, Open Culture:
Sometimes I'll meet someone who mentions having written a book, and who then adds, "... well, an academic book, anyway," as if that didn't really count. True, academic books don't tend to debut at the heights of the bestseller lists amid all the eating, praying, and loving, but sometimes lightning strikes; sometimes the subject of the author's research happens to align with what the public believes they need to know. 

Other times, academic books succeed at a slower burn, and it takes readers generations to come around to the insights contained in them — a less favorable royalty situation for the long-dead writer, but at least they can take some satisfaction in the possibility.

History has shown, in any case, that academic books can become influential. "After a list of the top 20 academic books was pulled together by expert academic booksellers, librarians and publishers to mark the inaugural Academic Book Week," writes The Guardian's Alison Flood, "the public was asked to vote on what they believed to be the most influential." 

The shortlist of these most important academic books of all time runs as follows (and you can read many of them free by following the links from our meta list of Free eBooks):
The top spot went to Darwin's On the Origin of Species, which Flood quotes the University of Glasgow's Andrew Prescott as calling "the supreme demonstration of why academic books matter," one that "changed the way we think about everything – not only the natural world, but religion, history and society. Every researcher, no matter whether they are writing books, creating digital products or producing artworks, aspires to produce something as significant in the history of thought as Origin of Species.”
Kant's Critique of Pure Reason placed a still impressive fifth, given its status, in the words of philosopher Roger Scruton, as "one of the most difficult works of philosophy ever written," — but one which aims to "show the limits of human reasoning, and at the same time to justify the use of our intellectual powers within those limits. The resulting vision, of self-conscious beings enfolded within a one-sided boundary, but always pressing against it, hungry for the inaccessible beyond, has haunted me, as it has haunted many others since Kant first expressed it."
So you want to write an academic book this influential? You may have a tough time doing it deliberately, but it couldn't hurt to steep yourself in the materials we've previously featured related to the creation of this top twenty, including  16,000 pages of Darwin's writing on evolution (as well as the man's personal library), Orwell's letter revealing why he would write 1984, as well as Marx and Kant's rigorous work habits — and Kant's even more rigorous coffee habit, though if there exists any 21st-century academic in need of encouragement to drink more coffee, I have yet to meet them.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Onwards and Upwards: Preparing to Start Your PhD

At this time of year, many of you might be starting to think about the next stage in your career, whether that be moving to a new university or starting a new research endeavour. Here, Amy discusses some of the challenges that come with moving to a new city to start a PhD, and some tips for how to deal with them.
Opening the next chapter of any stage of your life can be daunting as well as exciting, and starting your PhD is no exception. I’m currently preparing to start a PhD in the new year, and it’s opened my eyes to the variety of things one needs to consider when making a big life change! From finding housing to organising paperwork and managing nerves, there are so many things to think about, and this can be overwhelming. However, I’ve learned a couple of things along the way to make the whole process a lot smoother – hopefully, they will help you too if you’re in a similar position!

The early bird catches the worm!

For me, there’s nothing worse than the blind panic I get when I realise something I left to the last minute is going to be much more time-intensive than I originally thought. So, when preparing to move to a new city for my PhD, I knew I was going to start early so there would be no danger of this happening! The amount of preparation needed can seem daunting, but taking the first step early on can make even the largest task seem more manageable and give you sufficient time to fix any issues that may arise. On a more serious note, if you are moving abroad for your PhD, things like visas, tuition fees and health insurance will take more time to be processed, so you really do need to sort these out further in advance.

Talk to people who understand your situation

A support network can be invaluable when making any big life change, so having people around you when you’re preparing to start your PhD can be extremely reassuring. Whether this is your family, friends or research group, these people who understand what you’re going through can give advice, help you think of anything you might have missed in your planning, or simply be there to listen while you rant about how stressed you are! Personally, having my research group to give me advice has been especially useful since they have all have the first-hand experience of starting a PhD and know tips and tricks to help make the transition easier.
It might also be worth trying to get in contact with some of the people you’ll be working with throughout your PhD for advice. While your supervisor will be your first port of call for guidance, they may be able to pass your details onto some other members of your new research group, who can give you an insight into the university you’re moving to, details of the local area, and some more concrete ideas on how to prepare for the big move.

Lists are your best friend!

I love a good list, and personally find them to be the best way of keeping organised and managing each task you have to complete. When preparing for a PhD where you will likely be moving to a new city (or even a new country!) there are plenty of things to think about and making lists can really help keep things in perspective. I find it helpful to keep lists that rank tasks by priority, as it allows you to clearly see which jobs need completing first or require more preparation. For example, sorting any paperwork you might be required to submit before you start your PhD is a high priority, so should be completed first. Actually packing for the big move is a lower priority since you won’t need to do this far in advance, but getting together a packing list might be a slightly higher priority as it may take some planning to narrow your choices down, especially if you’re limited on the amount you can transport.

Do your research, but don’t be afraid to ask questions

While it’s probably best not to bombard your PhD supervisor with every question that pops into your head, I’ve found that they are happy to support your move and answer queries to put your mind at ease. That being said, doing your background research when it comes to starting a PhD is vital. Little things like looking into the surrounding areas and places you may like to live, or the average cost of living so you can start to manage your money, can go a long way when trying to calm nerves. University websites also have a plethora of information for new students, which often covers a wide range of topics, from the course itself to finding housing, to giving guidance when registering with a GP.  This can help answer any initial questions before you contact your supervisor for more specific guidance.

It’s okay to panic every once in a while!

Lastly, don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed by starting a PhD. After all, it’s a big lifestyle change, so while hopefully, you’ll be most excited for a new adventure, it’s also normal to be a bit scared too! I’ve found parts of preparing for my PhD to be a logistical nightmare, but I always remember that all the stress and planning will be worth it in the end.

Are you starting your PhD soon? Or perhaps you are an experienced PhD researcher who has valuable tips for new doctoral candidates? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.
Amy Kynman earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Warwick in 2018. She is currently working towards a Masters by Research in chemistry, also at the University of Warwick. Her research focusses on the chemical reactivity of rhodium complexes, with the aim of utilising them for carbon-carbon bond forming reaction. Alongside her studies, she is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the University of Warwick’s student newspaper The Boar and aims to eventually undertake a PhD in organometallic chemistry.

Friday, July 12, 2019

When Does Getting Help on an Assignment Turn Into Cheating?

by Peter Hurley, Victoria University:

Sometimes, students and teachers have different ideas about what constitutes as cheating. from

Students - whether at university or school - can get help from many places. They can go to a tutor, parent, teacher, a friend or consult a textbook.

But at which point does getting help cross the line into cheating?

Sometimes it’s clear. If you use a spy camera or smartwatch in an exam, you’re clearly cheating. And you’re cheating if you get a friend to sit an exam for you or write your assignment.

At other times the line is blurry. When it’s crossed, it constitutes academic misconduct. Academic misconduct is any action or attempted action that may result in creating an unfair academic advantage for yourself or others.

What about getting someone else to read a draft of your essay? What if they do more than proofread and they alter sections of an assignment? Does that constitute academic misconduct?

Learning, teaching or cheating?

There are a wide range of activities that constitute academic misconduct. These can include:
  • fabrication, which is just making things up. I could say “90 % of people admit to fabricating their assignments”, when this is not a fact but a statement I just invented
  • falsification, which is manipulating data to inaccurately portray results. This can occur by taking research results out of context and drawing conclusions not supported by data
  • misrepresentation, which is falsely representing yourself. Did you know I have a master’s degree from the University of Oxford on this topic? (Actually, I don’t)
  • plagiarism, which is when you use other people’s ideas or words without appropriate attribution. For instance, this list came from other people’s research and it is important to reference the source.
Sometimes students and teachers have different ideas of academic misconduct. One study found around 45% of academics thought getting someone else to correct a draft could constitute academic misconduct. But only 32% of students thought the same thing.

In the same survey, most academics and students agreed having someone else like a parent or friend identify errors in a draft assignment, as opposed to correcting them, was fine.

Students and academics agree having someone else identify errors in your assignment is OK. Correcting them is another story. from

Generally when a lecturer, teacher or another marker is assessing an assignment they need to establish the authenticity of the work. Authenticity means having confidence the work actually relates to the performance of the person being assessed, and not of another person.

The Australian government’s vocational education and training sector’s quality watchdog, for instance, considers authenticity as one of four so-called rules of evidence for an “effective assessment”. The rules are:
  • validity, which is when the assessor is confident the student has the skills and knowledge required by the module or unit
  • sufficiency, which is when the quality, quantity and relevance of the assessment evidence is enough for the assessor to make a judgement
  • authenticity, where the assessor is confident the evidence presented for assessment is the learner’s own work
  • currency, where the assessor is confident the evidence relates to what the student can do now instead of some time in the past.
Generally speaking, if the assessor is confident the work is the product of a student’s thoughts and where help has been provided there is proper acknowledgement, it should be fine.

Why is cheating a problem?

It’s difficult to get a handle on how big the cheating problem is. Nearly 30% of students who responded to a 2012 UK survey agreed they had “submitted work taken wholly from an internet source” as their own.

In Australia, 6% of students in a survey of 14,000 reported they had engaged in “outsourcing behaviours” such as submitting someone else’s assignment as their own, and 15% of students had bought, sold or traded notes.

Getting someone to help with your assignment might seem harmless but it can hinder the learning process. The teacher needs to understand where the student is at with their learning, and too much help from others can get in the way.

Some research describes formal education as a type of “signal”. This means educational attainment communicates important information about an individual to a third party such as an employer, a customer, or to an authority like a licensing body or government department. Academic misconduct interferes with that process.

Fewer cheaters are getting away with it. Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash

How to deal with cheating

It appears fewer cheaters are getting away with it than before. Some of the world’s leading academic institutions have reported a 40% increase in academic misconduct cases over a three year period.

Technological advances mean online essay mills and “contract cheating” have become a bigger problem. This type of cheating involves outsourcing work to third parties and is concerning because it is difficult to detect.

But while technology has made cheating easier, it has also offered sophisticated systems for educators to verify the work is a person’s own. Software programs such as Turnitin can check if a student has plagiarised their assignment.

Institutions can also verify the evidence they are assessing relates to a student’s actual performance by using a range of assessment methods such as exams, oral presentations, and group assignments.

Academic misconduct can be a learning and cultural issue. Many students, particularly when they are new to higher education, are simply not aware what constitutes academic misconduct. Students can often be under enormous pressure that leads them to make poor decisions.

It is possible to deal with these issues in a constructive manner that help students learn and get the support they need. This can include providing training to students when they first enrol, offering support to assist students who may struggle, and when academic misconduct does occur, taking appropriate steps to ensure it does not happen again.The Conversation

Peter Hurley, Policy Fellow, Mitchell Institute, Victoria University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.