Thursday, 30 August 2018

The art of supervisor wrangling

The art of supervisor wrangling

A colleague of mine was sitting beside a senior academic at a conference. A young researcher was giving a presentation on the preliminary results from their doctoral research, and the senior academic was really impressed. The topic coincided perfectly with his research interests. Meeting the young researcher over coffee, the senior academic paid his compliments, and enquired who was the young researcher’s PhD supervisor. “You are”, they replied... 
Read on for examples of entry-level, and Hall of Fame levels of supervisor wrangling...
Photo: Jerry Lara, San Antonio Express-News

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Research article: mental health problems in PhD students

Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students by Katia Levecque and colleagues was recently (2017) published in Research Policy.
Using a web-based questionnaire and a sample of several thousand PhD students in Belgium, their work indicated that one in two PhD students experienced psychological distress, and that one in three was at risk of a common psychiatric disorder (especially depression).

I was already aware of other research from Australia (ABS 2007), indicating that one in five people could expect to experience a mental health problem (of varying severity) in a 12-month period. This study, however, focuses in more detail on PhD students.

They authors ask: what can research policymakers do?, and suggest the following:
- raise awareness
- assess policies for the extent to which research funding and employment conditions alleviate or exacerbate risks to mental health
- improve protections for those with mental health problems.

Levecque et al. 2017. Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy 46: 868-879. 

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2007). National Survey of Mental Health and Well-being: Summary of results. Catalogue No. 4326.0. Canberra, ACT: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Managing data for managing research

This is a guest post by Saoirse Cummins, who is two months into herPhD on the impact of grass-legume mixtures on soil carbon & citrogen cycling & greenhouse gas emissions. Saoirse recently did the online MANTRA training course, and shares her experience here.

What is Mantra?

The Mantra online training course  is a free online course for those who manage digital data as part of their research project. The training breaks down & explains the different components of what makes data & differentiates between types. This was useful for me going from undergraduate to PhD as beforehand I was not really aware of the major differences between data forms i.e.  primary, secondary, and compiled data, & what criteria allot data into each category.  There were many new concepts & the training familiarised me with approaches to data organisation such as database normalisation & statistical normalisation.  Although I have never dealt with highly sensitive data, the training also made me aware of the steps & measures which are taken to ensure the ethical handling of personal data in other research fields.

How do you learn?

Training is divided into nine sections which do not have to be completed in one sitting which is useful as they delve into quite a bit of detail. The video interviews & interactive exercises throughout each section help you pay attention during the training & make you familiar with the key points of each section. The interviews with academics in different stages of research (such as PhD students & professors) provide an insight into the importance of data management throughout the career of a researcher. One interviewee shared their experience of paying £600 to a data recovery company. Therefore, simply for monetary reasons, it is important to make sure data is backed up and safe both throughout research & beyond publication. The training poses questions such as, what you would do if after publishing a paper your data credibility or originality is questioned? This outlines the need for good records & backing up of data to prove data integrity if there is a query.


I always understood the importance of referencing & citing material. As a PhD student, the citing of other people's data to create gaps in knowledge & formulate methodology for upcoming experiments is a large part of the process. I always understood the importance of referencing & citing; however, Mantra training delves into the logistics behind ownership of data & explains how easy it is to infringe on data protection & rights. The training therefore reiterates & explains the importance of data citation as part of the scholarly record & emphasises the importance of organisation & traceability. I particularly enjoyed the training on keeping a laboratory notebook as I know that this will be useful once I complete fieldwork & begin analysis. I might not have considered other small details before, such as file formatting & naming files correctly to keep them traceable, but these minor details actually turn out to be very important.  Data handling tutorials in SPSS, R & ArcGIS are great, especially for those in environmental science research.

Saoirse Cummins

30th November 2017

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Many analysts, one dataset, different conclusions

29 groups analysed *the same dataset* to answer the same research question.

69% found significant results, 31% did not.

Effect sizes  ranged from 0.89 to 2.93.

"This suggests that significant variation in the results of analyses of complex data may be difficult to avoid even by experts with honest intentions."

Link to the article here: Many analysts, one dataset: Making transparent how variations in analytical choices affect results

Friday, 17 November 2017

Academic Phrasebank: a resource for academic writers

Academic Phrasebank: This is a great resource  y John Morley, and provides detailed examples of some of the phraseological ‘nuts and bolts’ of writing". It's well worth looking at, is structure according to the main sections of research reporting. 

Monday, 20 March 2017

Career tool: Individual development plan

I just discovered this excellent individual development plan (IDP) that helps you explore career possibilities and set goals to follow the career path that fits you best. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has an online tool for PhD and postdoctoral researchers in the sciences, and provides:    
  • Exercises to help you examine your skills, interests, and values
  • A list of 20 scientific career paths with a prediction of which ones best fit your skills and interests
  • A tool for setting strategic goals for the coming year, with optional reminders to keep you on track
  • Articles and resources to guide you through the process
Help for career planning is all too scarce, so it is well worth the effort of completing the assessment of your skills, interests and values, At the end, all of the inputs (assessments of skills, interests and values, as well as skill goals, project goals, mentors etc.) are collated in a customized individual development plan that you can share with a mentor or supervisor.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Update on PhD Skills blog

I have been working on a project related to PhD Skills, and the time I normally give to this blog is being directed at that for the moment. Hopefully, it will be completed by March 2017, and I aim to resume my activity on this blog from then.
Thanks for understanding!