Monday, December 28, 2020

Is this what higher education will look like in 5 years?

by Kate Whiting, Green Executive:

Image: Pexels

  • Ipsos surveyed adults in 29 countries on how they see higher education being delivered in five years' time.
  • The majority think the split between online and in-person learning that's come about during the COVID-19 pandemic is here to stay.
  • Respondents in China and Japan were most likely to see higher education being delivered mainly in person.
  • Just over half of the adults surveyed believe in-person learning is worth its cost.

In 2025, higher education will be a hybrid of in-person and online learning, according to a new Ipsos survey for the World Economic Forum.

As a second wave of COVID-19 saw cases resurging across the globe in October, more than 27,500 adults in 29 countries were asked how they saw higher education being conducted in their country, five years from now. 

Almost three-quarters (72%) of respondents said higher education in their country would be conducted online at least as much as in person, if not more.

The pandemic saw as many as 1.3 billion learners affected this year, as schools and universities were forced to close, and adopt 'blended' learning strategies, which mixes online with face-to-face teaching.

Moving online

Higher education could change a lot in the next few years. Image source: Ipsos/WEF.

One in four adults surveyed (23%) believe higher education will move mostly online, while around half (49%) think it will be split between in-person and online. Only 29% think it will be delivered only or mostly in-person.

Nearly half of respondents in China (48%) and Japan (47%), which have had relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases, think traditional in-person teaching will still be in place.

But only a third of adults in India (31%), where cases have been the second highest in the world, and less than a fifth of adults in Brazil (18%), third highest for cases, agree higher education will be face-to-face.

Counting the cost

Is in-person higher education value for money? Image source: Ipsos/WEF.

The survey also found divergent views about the cost of in-person higher education.

On average, across the 29 countries, just over half (53%) agree that in-person higher education is worth its cost, compared to just over a third (36%) who disagree.

China (81%), Sweden (78%), Saudi Arabia (69%), India (68%), the Netherlands (64%), Malaysia (63%), Singapore (62%), and Germany (61%) were most in agreement.

While in Chile (59%), Italy (57%), Russia (51%), Brazil (51%), and South Korea (51%), more than half of adults surveyed think in-person higher education is not worth its cost.

Globally, men, adults aged 50-74 (55%) and, most of all, those with a university degree (59%) are especially likely to agree that in-person higher education in their country is worth the cost.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The PhD: The year of living COVIDLY

by Thesis Whisperer


We made it. 2020 is about to be over.

Before a year in review post, a special announcement:

As regular readers know, for over 10 years now I have run the Thesis Whisperer blog as a ‘not for loss’ model, where I donate excess above operating costs to charity.

This year, as an explicit christmas fundraising project, I have packaged all my 2020 ‘Covid Diary’ blog posts – just on 30,000 words of them – into a new ebook. Each post starts with some notes about what inspired the work, or how it was received. I’ve also included a ‘bonus’ unpublished piece of writing that the NTEU magazine rejected for political reasons, a foreward and afterward reflecting on the year.

I’m selling this ebook for the low price of $4 AUD – the cost of a cup coffee. I will donate all proceeds of this ebook to the UN Women’s ‘Restoring Dignity’ project.

You can buy the ebook, as a PDF, directly from the Thesis Whisperer site here.

Each $20 raised goes towards a pack containing basic sanitary supplies to women experiencing crisis. Giving a pack with some undies and a toothbrush sounds like such a little thing, but it matters. Imagine having your period with no tampons to be found, or not being able to brush your teeth after a disaster has left your city with no power? Or worse – being stuck in a refugee camp where such items can only be purchased at great cost. I’m grateful to UN women for running initiatives like this. I believe small, thoughtful, concrete actions are the way to build a better world for everyone and I’m proud to be able to support their efforts.

I think this ebook contains some of my very best writing. Covid has been terrible, but weirdly good for me creatively. I’ve included a ‘bonus track’ – which is a piece that the NTEU newsletter refused to publish for political reasons. I’ve been wanting to share that story and this seems like a good place to do it.

I hope you will think about purchasing the ebook and supporting this good cause. I’ll report back on the number of dignity packs we were able to donate early next year.

Now we have the Christmas fund raiser out of the way, I am going to indulge myself with a post looking back on this extraodinary year.

2020 started with smoke and fire, then freak hailstorms, and finally the first pandemic in 100 years. I am extremely grateful to still be standing at the end of it all. Sure, I’m on anti-anxiety meds now and I gained about 15 kgs, but better things are appearing on the horizon with the development of vaccines.

While the whole year felt like walking through mud – and stinky mud at that – it was actually a fruitful here at ANU. My team – the wonderful Victoria Firth-Smith and Cally Guerin – have been towers of strength, ably assisted by Hannah James and Nic Baldovich. Words fail to express my gratitude, especially for how you picked up the pieces when I had a mini break down right at the start of the first lockdown.

My research collaboration with Will Grant and Hanna Suominen on using machine learning to explore the post PhD job market is about to go into the 5th year.  Between us we have given nearly 40 presentations of ‘So, you’re graduating your PhD in a Pandemic – what’s next?’ at various universities in Australia and around the world.  It’s been a labour of love turning our algorithmic, machine learning research on job advertisements into PostAc: a tool that can help people wanting to leave academia (available by university subscription only).

I realised a long term ambition when I started a podcast called ‘On the Reg’ with my good friend Jason Downs; pleasingly,  it’s already had over 4000 downloads by people interested in how to be productive in academia, without over-working. In November I helped run a four day online event called Whisperfest with my good friends Tseen and Jonathan from the Research Whisperer and Narelle Lemon from The Wellbeing Whisperer. It’s fair to say Whisperfest was much more successful than we dreamed. We’re producing a podcast of the series and already talking about how we might keep working together on a more ongoing basis.

While I pursued all kinds of collaborations this year, I returned Thesis Whisperer back into a solo project. 

After 10 years of editing guest posts, and dealing with reams of correspondance, I was exhausted. I thought about quitting blogging altogether, but I realised I love writing here. I thought long and hard about how to find the joy again. At the end of last year, I drastically changed my editorial model and stopped publishing guest posts.

This year I gave myself the luxury of only posting once a month. I also turned the comments off, which was more of a mental health move than an editorial one. I didn’t feel like I could give them enough attention and care while I was recovering from a break down myself. I was rewarded with increased readership and at least one post that went mildly viral.

Thank you for all the lovely feedback via email and on the socials. The best place to talk to me is still Twitter – @thesiswhisperer.

book cover of level up your essays: red back ground with blue pencils and textI surprised myself a bit by writing up a storm this year – nearly 30,000 words on the Thesis Whisperer alone. I re-released a new version of Tame Your PhD, with a lovely new cover: you can find pictures of the new paperback version and where to purchase it here.

I also finished another book with my good friends Katherine Firth and Shaun Lehmann: ‘Level up your essays’ is aimed at undergraduates and will be out early next year through New South Press. I hope some of you will find it useful in your teaching practice. For the first time in about seven years I don’t have an active book contract underway, but I have a few promising irons in the fire, don’t worry!

Finally, ANU have recognised all my hard work and contributions with a promotion to full Professor, which takes effect on the 1st of January.

You can listen to me talk to my Pod co-host Jason Downs about my way of demonstrating impact here (about 6 minutes in because that’s how we roll :-). I want to take this opportunity to thank them for being a supportive employer who really get how I am trying to make a difference in the world.

I hope the Thesis Whisperer has provided some good advice and the occasional laugh in this somewhat bleak year. I wish a peaceful, non-infectious holiday period for those who have a break coming up. I look forward to 2021 being the real start of the roaring 20s!

I’ll be back with a new post in February next year.

In solidarity,

Canberra, 6th of December.

If you want to help me continue the work in 2021, here’s a page of ways you can contribute.

If you want to purchase my UN Women fundraising book, go here: You can buy the ebook, as a PDF, directly from the Thesis Whisperer site here.

If you want to read all the 2020 posts without purchasing the ebook here’s a list:

You have to believe what you do matters

Should you quit (go part time or pause) your PhD during Covid?

The valley of deep Covid Shit

Where I call bullshit on how we do the PhD

Why academic writing sucks, and how to fix it

How NOT to be an academic asshole during Covid

Rich academic, poor academic: making an academic living in Covid times

Do you need clown shoes? Finding a research job in Covid times

Imposter Syndrome doesn’t exist, but I call mine Beryl

While you scream inside your heart, please keep working

Monday, December 21, 2020

Why students need to learn academic words

by Sophia Skoufaki, The Conversation:

Image: The Conversation

, analyse, conversely. These words are more useful than you think.

These and other “academic” words are used in writing and speech at school and other educational settings without being specific to any discipline. They can be used, among other things, to describe research (methodanalyse) and to structure speech and writing (conversely).

What’s more, knowing them can predict performance at  primary schoolsecondary school and university. In other words, how well students know academic words may affect how well they do at school. But although students are surrounded by academic words, they are not typically taught them at school – so learning them can be challenging.

Challenging vocabulary

International university students in Hong Kong and New Zealand have reported difficulty with learning and understanding English academic vocabulary.

Monolingual native speakers of English also face problems with academic words, including frequently used vocabulary such as summarise and contribute. Despite the common view that native speakers have well-developed vocabulary knowledge, research suggests that a low socio-economic background can hinder language development, including vocabulary, at both primary and secondary school.

Some academic words occur in everyday language too, so they may go unnoticed. A student can easily fail to realise that reliable means “of consistent quality” in a scientific journal article if they already know that in everyday language it often means “dependable”. Research suggests that people find it hard to correctly guess new meanings for words they encounter in a reading passage, because they stick with the meanings they already know.

With extra meanings come other things students need to learn about a word. For example, when random appears before  sample or sampling, it means that “all the people or things being involved have an equal chance of being chosen”.

As with all word learning, academic word learning isn’t just about understanding what a word looks and sounds like and a definition of its meaning. It also includes understanding which other words tend to appear close to it whenever it has a certain meaning.

Another reason why it is difficult to learn academic words is that some can also be jargon – a word with a special meaning in a particular context. For example, the noun function is used with various shared meanings across scholarly disciplines but it has a specialised meaning in mathematics, and a more recent one in computer science.

teenage boy reading book outside
Academic words are often not taught in schools. smolaw/Shutterstock

Perhaps a more important reason for the difficulty students face with learning academic words is how they are exposed to them. Unsurprisingly, words are learned faster when they are taught than when they are not. Unlike scientific jargon, academic words are not, typically, taught at school or  university.

Ways forward

Academic vocabulary instruction has been trialled at primary and secondary schools. Most of these studies have taken place in the US. They show that teaching academic vocabulary can lead to increased knowledge of academic words.

It is important to note that not any kind of instruction will do. Contrary to common practice in vocabulary teaching, these studies went beyond teaching a word’s spelling and pronunciation together with its most frequent meaning. For example, in one study students encountered the same word in different contexts, were taught more than one meaning for each word, and did activities such as meaning guessing and breaking words into meaningful parts.

Research on what makes some academic words harder to learn than others for students with specific characteristics – age, English proficiency level – can help make educated guesses about which words and which aspects of these words should be taught to different students.

For example, my research suggests that bilingual university students are more likely to recognise an English academic word the more frequent it is, but they tend to recognise cognate words (words similar in form and meaning, such as English university and Spanish universidad) even when they are infrequent.

Woman looking in dictionary.
Academic vocabulary instruction should be tailored to individual students’ needs.  PHENPHAYOM/ Shutterstock

However, not all bilingual students recognise a cognate word when they see or hear one. Teachers can raise bilingual students’ awareness of cognates by pointing out equivalent word parts between English and the students’ other language. They can also encourage them to use their knowledge of cognates while reading or listening in English.

As with any word, knowing many things about an academic word is more likely to help students understand it correctly in reading and listening and use it appropriately while speaking and writing.

However, classroom time is precious. Not all academic words  can be taught in such depth. The teaching of these words will be more efficient if it is tailored to individual students’ needs.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

7 Motivational Tips for PhD Students

by Hafsa Abbas, PhD Life:

Another post about motivation, PhD Life? Why, yes, dear reader. The holidays are around the corner and Wednesdays are known to be tough. Whether you have started your PhD a few months ago or you are hours away from finishing the full draft, check out Hafsa’s motivational tips …

Motivation – a single word but with deep-rooted meaning. The motivational stimuli may come from within you or may be associated with an external source. Regardless of what motivated you to perform a PhD initially, the question is how to remain intact for the rest of the course. I will be providing some tips that will be useful for you and me and keep the momentum consistently.

1) Self-belief

Tell yourself that you can do it and will complete to the finish line. The key is to reflect.

a) Reflect on your reasons for doing the PhD and consider how it will impact on your career pathway.

b) Reflect on what went well in your experiment, what went wrong, and how could you solve it? Do not be ashamed if even you cry with frustration. Crying is not a sign of weakness. You are human and each and every one of us express our emotions differently.

2) Eat well

A plant won’t be able to grow unless it has its necessary nutrients. Similarly, we need to eat well and to remain hydrated in order to function and concentrate.

3) Find support

Having family, friends and colleagues support you on this journey helps.

4) Organise yourself

a) Have a diary.

b) If you are doing cell culture work, make a habit of checking your cells every morning.

c) Set realistic goals of what you plan to do each day.

d) It will not only benefit you and me, but also aids in other people in your group to know where you are.

e) Have some time off. In other words, schedule at least one day of your weekend to spend time with your family and/or friends and do your favourite hobbies.

f) If you have a conference paper, presentation or meeting plan your time effectively.

g) Prepare yourself for the supervisory meeting, knowing what you want to discuss and ask.

5) Do your reading

This is an integral part of our PhD where we need to read a lot of papers in our own research fields to setup a foundation and prevents duplicating existing data.

6) Attend Research Student Skills Programme (RSSP) modules

I found these workshops very useful to support me in my personal and professional development.

7) Have extra-curricular activities

Join the Student’s Union where there are a number of societies and activities to get involved in — this is another great opportunity to meet other people, collaborate and connect.

Hope you found these tips useful and keep striving! How do you stay motivated? Share your tips, by tweeting us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.

by Hafsa Abbas 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Feel free to disagree on campus … by learning to do it well

by Geoff Sharrock, The Conversation:

The French Review didn’t confirm a “free speech crisis” in Australian universities. But nor did its report last year confirm free speech was “alive and well”, as Universities Australia would have it. In many university policies the report found vague language, which could rule out voicing a view deemed offensive.

Most universities have updated their policies in response to the French Review’s Model Code on Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom, and related amendments to higher education legislation are before the parliament. On Wednesday, the Walker Review of universities’ implementation of the code reported that many don’t fully reflect the code yet.

Sally Walker talking at a media conference
Former vice-chancellor Sally Walker has found policies are fully aligned with the French model code at nine universities, mostly aligned at 14, partly aligned at four and not aligned at six, with the rest still finalising their policies. Lukas Coch/AAP

However they fare on this, many will also recall the French Review’s observation:

A culture powerfully predisposed to the exercise of freedom of speech and academic freedom is ultimately a more effective protection than the most tightly drawn rule. A culture not so predisposed will undermine the most emphatic statement of principles.

Of course, universities promote respect for others’ rights, and civility more generally. They have a duty to foster the well-being of students and staff. But in the model code this doesn’t “extend to a duty to protect any person from feeling offended or shocked or insulted by the lawful speech of another”.

Like the Chicago Principles, the model code reflects legal limits on free expression, but doesn’t seek to enforce civility as a formal campus rule. It recognises universities as institutions where disagreement runs deep and where diverse views — even those some find offensive — should be exchanged freely and challenged openly.

So, apart from clarifying policy, how can universities promote a “free to disagree” culture on campus? Not just in name, but in norms?

Learning how to disagree well

One way may be to focus more on teaching students how to argue persuasively. On topics where positions are polarised,  ad hominem attacks are common. On the topic of climate change, for example, debates often slide into shouting matches between “deniers” and “zealots”. Or they may proceed mainly in the form of petty point-scoring, as in the recent US presidential debates.

To keep debates robust and constructive, it helps to recognise other diversionary tactics and defensive routines. My “Disagree Well On Campus” model (shown below — click to enlarge) calls on scholars to aim high.

Disagree Well On Campus model. For robust and open debate, aim high. Make your case at levels 1-2. Avoid (and recognise) level 3 tactics. Author provided

This means they should contest an opponent’s claims with logic and evidence, a level 2 counter argument. If they can do this well enough, the case at hand — whether mainstream or minority — may be refuted (or reframed, or reaffirmed) to a scholarly standard, level 1.

But, as the list of level 3 “dogmatic avoidance” tactics suggests, there are many ways to differ without resolving anything. At the low end, personal accusations and name-calling aren’t arguments in a level 2 sense. Often they signal a refusal to debate the substance of this kind of topic with that  kind of person.

Consider how your last big argument went. Was it level 1, 2 or 3?

Level 3 tactics explained

At level 3, the first two “appeal” tactics enlist support for a view by appealing to a higher authority or greater good (but how far do we rely on one, or prioritise the other?).

The next four “misdirection” tactics evade the point of an opponent’s view. This is done mainly by raising other concerns (but how relevant and significant are these to the main argument?).

The final three “exclusion” tactics withdraw the commitment to engage with an opponent’s viewpoint, or take it seriously, by casting doubt on their morality, sincerity or credibility.

At level 3, common avoidance tactics include “straw man” arguments (Misdirect 4). An opponent’s view is restated in a way that gives it unintended meanings. This caricature is then refuted, instead of the actual claim.

Another tactic is to cite a technical fact as a trump card, which seems to settle which side is right (Misdirect 2). But this may be a “red herring” that leads away from the point at issue (Misdirect 1). Or it may be an unreliable form of evidence. The phrase “lies, damned lies and statistics” refers to the use of carefully selected factoids to prop up or put down a case. Often this amounts to spin by omission, not the level of proof that independent experts would accept.

Another level 3 tactic is to take offence at the tone or terms of an opposing view, without addressing its substance (BadHom 1). This is more civil than calling someone an FBDZS — a fool, bigot, denier, zealot or snowflake (BadHom 3). But by shifting off-topic to invoke rules of civility, it offers scope to censor or end the exchange without conceding any substantive point.

protesters attempt to disrupt a speech on campus
Attempts have been made to disrupt speeches on some Australian university campuses. Brenton Edwards/AAP

‘Heretic protection’ on campus – but with rigour

Many debates mix level 2 and level 3 ways of arguing. Some are “won on the day” with level 3 tactics alone. But rhetorical point-scoring doesn’t amount to scholarly refutation.

Once a majority view seems settled on this basis, any dissenting minority view — even one with valid points to make — may become undiscussable. In a university context, this is where the principle of academic freedom does its work. As one scholar observes: “popular or mainstream ideas generally need no protection”.

As places of higher learning, universities assume responsibility for protecting free expression and open exchange when views diverge, while also promoting the practice of scholarly refutation. This stance affords “heretic protection” to minority views, while also exposing them to robust counter-argument.

As future leaders and experts, university graduates will need to reach and justify decisions that have wide real-world consequences. Often these decisions will be made in the face of firm opposition from many of those affected. Being able to argue clearly and persuasively, and to tell the difference between a well-reasoned case and slippery rhetoric, will be critical professional skills.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Top 10 tips for increasing your citations

by Deborah Lupton, This Sociological Life:


Who doesn’t want more people to read and cite their work? Here’s some tips I have learnt along the way about what kind of publications attract attention and citations. They are most relevant for postgraduate students and academics in the humanities and social sciences.

1. Make sure you have a Google Scholar profile set up. People can then easily find your work all in one place. Google Scholar is much more inclusive of humanities and social sciences publications and citations than are the science-oriented citation databases such as Scopus or Web of Science.

2. Write books. My top-most cited publications are nine of my books. Some of these were published more than two decades ago and are still regularly cited.

3. Write about a diverse range of topics. This means a much wider readership for your work. It will also help keep you and your writing fresh and interesting, which in turn, will make you more interesting to your readers.

4. Publish in a wide range of journals. Ditto.

5. Be one of the first to write about a new topic or concept or apply a social theory in a new way. Get in early and you will become the ‘go to’ reference to cite.

6. Write ‘how to’ pieces. Here again, introductory publications that clearly outline how to apply a particular method or a new social theory will attract interest and attention.

7. Make your writing easily accessible: Use open access repositories such as your university’s e-repository or ResearchGate to publise your outputs and make them readily available to people. You can upload preprints or postprints of articles and book chapters, and ResearchGate makes it very easy for people to request a PDF of the published version and for you to supply it.

8. Use social media to spread the word about your new publications. Tweet, blog, notify Facebook special interest groups, make an introductory YouTube video.

9. If you write book chapters, make them readily available open access as soon as they are finalised. Book chapters can take ages to be published, but you can share preprints once they are ready and people can start citing them.

10. Be bold and take risks in your writing. Readers are attracted to new shiny things and will be more interested if you are trying to do something different or innovative.