Tuesday, 15 December 2015

2015 - the year that was

Photo by Jake Givens | unsplash.com
The end of the year can make people retrospective and reflective. They ponder to themselves - and anyone around them - 'where has the year gone, and what on earth did we do with it?'.

The RED team is no exception. This has been a big year for us - here are a few reasons why:
  • It's the first year of the Graduate Research School's existence, and our relocation to the refurbished John Scott Meeting House; 
  • our research education and development sessions over the last year have involved almost 700 researchers across all campuses, from first year higher degree students to professorial staff; and 
  • we've run many types of sessions for the first time and received excellent feedback - and heaps of enthusiasm! - about future offerings and developments. 
I asked my RED team colleagues what their 2015 highlights are, and here's what they said!

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

“Have you had anyone cry on you?” Difficult lives and difficult stories (Miranda Francis)

Earlier this year, Melbourne novelist Steven Carroll spoke at a La Trobe University seminar on how to creatively write about the past.

He suggested writers are always present in their writing and that the best writing involves passion.

Perhaps the same is true of interviewing?

I have spent the first few months of my research carefully not doing this.

I have struggled to keep myself out of interviews, to keep an emotional distance and, most importantly, to not talk about my children. This is relevant as I am researching parenting. 

A recent emotionally difficult experience has prompted me to question this approach.

This post is an attempt to understand where I fit as an interviewer and as a researcher within my research project.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

#LTUacwrimo 2015! (Tseen Khoo)

Well, what a month November was!

In this post, I'm meant to capture the doings and feelings of La Trobe's 2015 Academic Writing Month within a limited word count.

Let me say this as an experienced blogger: it's hard! There was so much going on.

Just to give you an idea of what we got up to during the past four weeks, our #LTUacwrimo program included:

  • 1 x accountability spreadsheet 
  • 18 x 'Shut up and write' sessions (with one pop-up session in collaboration with the La Trobe Melbourne Co-op Bookshop, and a special SUAW session still to come in Albury-Wodonga on 2 Dec)
  • 2 x writing retreats across two campuses (Melbourne and Franklin Street) in which over 50 people participated overall
  • 2 x guest workshop presenters, with sessions in Melbourne and Bendigo
  • 3 x opportunities for everyone to win prizes
  • 2 x tweetchats, and 
  • 1 x free morning tea, courtesy of the La Trobe Student Union.

One of the key elements of Academic Writing Month is the accountability spreadsheet where participants declare their writing goals for November, and log their progress as the days roll on.

It's fascinating to see how your colleagues are progressing with their writing, and to see the manifestation of obstacles and boosts.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Moving your research community to the next level (Jade Sleeman)

School of Education Research Society (SOERS) members at the inaugural conference
Photo courtesy of Jade Sleeman
Hooray for #SOERS15! For those of you who don’t know what SOERS is, read on.

Hooray for the Intellectual Climate Fund for graduate researchers! For those of you who don’t know what the Intellectual Climate Fund is, you don’t know what you’re missing out on!

The School of Education Research Society (SOERS) is a group of research candidates dedicated to encouraging networking, peer assistance, methodological discussion, and enhancement of skills and knowledge for those researching in the field of Education.

Or, in other words, a group of graduate researchers who want to make the journey through their research degree more productive and rewarding, and by making social connections - more enjoyable!

Our group was established in 2013 to promote all things academic for Education researchers, such as grant opportunities, conferences, and networking. These scholarly discussions happen at our monthly meetings, which take place in a conducive social and intellectual climate - The Eagle Bar!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

What's your favourite academic writing text?

Photo by Horla Varlan |
Distributed under CC 2.0:
Writing is hard, and academic writing can be a particular kind of hard that can seem insurmountable.

Luckily, publications that help you get the words and structure down for dissertations, papers, books and journal articles are out there by the dozen.

The problem is, they're out there by the dozen.

How do you know which one is going to work for you and the kind of writing work you're trying to do?

This post focuses on precisely that question, and invites you to comment below with your faves. If you comment, you're in the running for a $50 Co-op Bookshop gift voucher!

To be eligible for the comment competition, you must:
  • be a La Trobe University staff member or graduate researcher
  • leave a comment with the following format - [your name] [discipline area] [book/s you recommend] [why you would recommend it/them].
To help you get those recommendation juices flowing, I asked several recent PhD graduates what they would count as their prime sources of academic writing wisdom.

Here's what they said:

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

My second life as a Wikipedian (Thomas Shafee)

Being generous, perhaps six people read my PhD thesis on directed evolution and evolvability.

Given the work I'd put in, it seemed a little disappointing at the time. I decided that I wanted to put my words to better use, so I edited a couple of Wikipedia articles related to my thesis topic. My very first test edit was adding a single sentence to the protein tag page. My second was fixing a mistake with my first! Over the next few months I added information and pictures to all the keywords in my thesis title (Evolvability of a viral protease: directed evolution of catalysis, robustness and specificity).

Since then, I've worked on a broad range of biochemistry and evolution articles. I’ve mostly focused on generating improved diagrams (I’ve had some experience from illustrating popular science books). The ability to create clear figures is a less common editor skill, so images are still a common shortfall of many articles. It's even been oddly gratifying to see one of my images plagiarised already!

I'm also part of a movement within Wikipedia to experiment with interactive images (for example Glycolysis ) as a way to better exploit the online medium.

I find editing Wikipedia uniquely satisfying because edits are instantly viewable to a vast audience. That article on my thesis topic directed evolution) gets over 25,000 views per year.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

SWIS - Supporting Women in Science (Oonagh Bodin)

A hot topic of conversation lately seems to be women in science or, more precisely, the lack of them at higher levels.

Recent research has shown that there's significant gender bias in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers with males dominating the fields (Beede, 2011).

While the gender gap is getting smaller, it's evident that women are present in fewer numbers in certain areas of STEM, and at certain career stages.

Women may dominate the life and social sciences during their PhD years, but their presence starts to diminish when we look at the higher levels, especially towards professorship. Noticeably, the areas in which women are least represented are those that are heavily mathematics dominated. They make up less than 20% of full professors in these disciplines (Ceci, 2015).

Women in science at LTU

What can we do about this, you ask? Or, more to the point, what are we doing about this at our own institution of La Trobe University?

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

2015 #LTUacwrimo photo competition - "Inspiration/Perspiration/Motivation"

Kodak Six-16 Folding Camera
Photo by J.W. Sherman | www.flickr.com/photos/polymerchemist
La Trobe's Academic Writing Month is officially here! For the full program and registration details, visit the 2015 #LTUacwrimo page.

This year, the RED team is running an Academic Writing Month photo competition with a trio of themes: "Inspiration/Perspiration/Motivation".

This competition, with a fabulous prize of $150 worth of Co-op Bookshop gift vouchers, is open to all research candidates and staff members of La Trobe University who are signed up for the #LTUacwrimo challenge.

To enter, take a photo that aligns with one of the themes, and submit it via Twitter (full guidelines below). It's as simple as that!

The photo competition's judging criteria are:
  • the quality, composition, and aesthetics of the photo; and 
  • the photo's interpretation of the chosen theme from the trio on offer - "Inspiration/Perspiration/Motivation"
The more creative your interpretation of the themes, the better!

The photos will be judged by a panel of La Trobe staff:
  • Professor Sue Martin (Associate PVC Research, Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce)
  • Mr Mark Engel (La Trobe's Chief Marketing Officer)
  • Mr Rob Chong (Business Partner - Research, Alumni and Advancement)
  • Dr Tseen Khoo (RED team, Graduate Research School)
Entries for the 2015 #LTUacwrimo photo competition must be received by 4.30pm on TUESDAY 24 November.

Competition guidelines and conditions appear below.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

#LTUacwrimo - so you think you can tweetchat?

2015's #LTUacwrimo will feature two tweetchats to kick off and conclude La Trobe's Academic Writing Month!

The first is on TUESDAY 3 Nov, 10-11am.

Join this first tweetchat to share tips and strategies for finding time to write, writing schedules, what to do about writer's block, and much more! It's a great chance to meet other La Trobe participants involved in the #LTUacwrimo challenge.

The second is on MONDAY 30 Nov, 10-11am.
The second tweetchat gives you the chance to share how you went during the challenge, things you've learned, and successes and obstacles you've had. It will also feature the announcement of the #LTUacwrimo photo competition winner!

If you've done tweetchats before: Drop the 2 tweetchat dates/times in your diary and we'll see you then!

If you haven't participated in a tweetchat before: Read on! Don't worry - it's easy!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

LIMS Fellows – Building the next generation of science leaders (Erika Duan)

The initiation of the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS) Fellows society began like any other story of beginnings, with a range of random elements being brought together by engaging forces.

The LIMS Fellows grew from early informal brainstorming meetings to a full-fledged society with a formal constitution and over 50 members in less than a year.

The idea of a society was raised when a large group of LIMS-affiliated postdocs sat together and agreed that a group facilitating more inter-departmental and Institute communication and support was needed.

Strong research institutes are lifted by a central body of talented - often junior - benchside scientists, and an internal community that could initiate and foster this development was ideal.

A group of postdocs volunteered their own skills and experiences and a committee was formed.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

My PhD experience: Juggling, or playing, with two babies? (Shawgat Sharmeen Kutubi)

When I started my PhD in 2013, my son had just turned four. It wasn’t easy for either of us to leave our home and move to a new country.

For me, it was like starting from scratch. I was so busy looking for the things that my son used to love back home. For him, it was like moving from one planet to another. It was a totally new environment in terms of language, culture, and friends, one which I found difficult.

At that time, my son had just started speaking in my language, which is Bangla. Now, added to that, he had to learn how to communicate in English, which he had never heard from his mum or dad back home. While he was struggling with his new-found life at the La Trobe Childcare Centre, I was grappling with shaping my research questions. The emotional journey for both of us was huge. It almost became too much when, after three months, my husband left Melbourne to start his postdoctoral fellowship in North America.

At that point, life seemed not as easy as I thought it would be! Childcare had changed from our home experience of my son having fun to him having to listen to his care-givers in a different language and trying to adapt to an unfamiliar culture. At the end of almost every day, my son complained about his experiences with his new care-givers. On our way back from childcare, both of us used to cry, without knowing the way out or how to feel better about our new life here!

Monday, 5 October 2015

La Trobe's Academic Writing Month (#LTUacwrimo) 2015 is coming! Are you ready?

#acwri desk by Raul Pacheco-Vega | www.flickr.com/photos/rolexpv
November is Academic Writing Month (#acwrimo) all over the world!

For the whole of November, we'll be focused on academic writing of all kinds, and keen to encourage your writing productivity, development, and progress.

The La Trobe program is inspired by the month-long, amazing, global AcWriMo activity that's taken place since 2012. The concept was created by Charlotte Frost of @PhD2published.

Last year's #LTUacwrimo was a great success, with wonderful participation and so much positive feedback on the feature workshops and special events. This year, we've got more exciting things planned!

There's the inaugural RED writing retreat at the end of the month, the ever-popular 'Turbocharge your writing' sessions by Thinkwell, and a workshop by none other than The Thesis Whisperer, Dr Inger Mewburn.

It all kicks off in the first week of November with the first tweetchat, specially solicited writing and publishing posts at the RED Alert blog, 'Shut up and write' sessions, and fabulous competition launches. The #LTUacwrimo calendar of events and updates can be found here: 2015 Academic Writing Month

If you’ve taken part in Academic Writing Month before, you know the drill:
  • Get your reading done now, stock up on your favourite productivity rewards, and clear your diary as much as you can! November is for writing, and writing a lot!

If you’re new to Academic Writing Month, here’s the deal:

Monday, 28 September 2015

The importance of distractions (Michael Munforte)

Shiny things
Photo by Ken Douglas (https://www.flickr.com/photos/good_day)
To all those students battling a serious illness or a significant hardship, this post's for you!

When I was only 6 months old, I was diagnosed with cancer: a rhabdomyosarcoma (a malignant muscle tumour).

Subject to surgery and chemotherapy, the tumour was gone and all was well. Until the cancer returned. Following an experimentally high dose of chemotherapy (my parents thought they’d lose me to the chemo at one point), the tumour was once again gone.

Unrelenting, it returned for a third time. A third round of chemo seemed unreasonable and so radiotherapy was attempted. It had no effect and so the decision to amputate my right arm was made. I was only a month away from my eighth birthday at the time. However, to this day, I have remained free from this tumour, so it was ultimately worth the sacrifice.

Monday, 21 September 2015

How technology has transformed historical research (Merran Williams)

Image courtesy of Merran Williams
When I read a book like Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore, I’m in awe of the huge effort that has gone into the research.

Hughes and his assistants trawled through thousands of dusty books, faded newspapers, and fragile letters to reconstruct Australia’s convict history.

I’ve looked through my share of hardcopy books and documents and come to realise that, unless they have been well-indexed, it can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack to uncover specific information.

I’m fortunate that my research into the past has coincided with the mass digitisation of records. In fact, it would have been almost impossible to uncover the story I’m working on without the ability to perform a keyword search.

Appropriately in the internet age, my first encounter with the convict escape I’m now researching was on Wikipedia.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Never say never (Carmel Hobbs)

Photo by Caitlin Oriel | unsplash.com
I don’t know about everyone else, but when I was reading and writing about methodology, it hurt. A lot.

I constantly felt like I was faking it.

I chose to use grounded theory for my PhD and, although there are lots of great books and resources around, I felt like I needed more.

I was relieved to learn I wasn’t the only one.

I talked to a staff member (and fellow graduate researcher) at the alternative secondary school where I'm doing my research, and we shared our anxieties about how we felt we didn’t know what we were doing.

I went home that night thinking it would be great to have a workshop about grounded theory for students. That thought developed into a bit of a fantasy about having Professor Kathy Charmaz run that workshop. It was Kathy’s constructivist approach to grounded theory I was most interested in using for my research, and I'd spent a lot of time reading her books and related publications. The notion of hearing from her directly was an idea that I felt driven to explore.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted it to happen. So, I found her email address, summoned up some courage, and...asked her.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Brevity is the soul of 3MT (Kelly Farrell)

La Trobe's 3MT finalists and judges
Photo by Tess Flynn
Did you know there’s a fungus in grass needed to get our milk from paddock to fridge?

That we should be helping robots avoid us?

And that looking after your voice can have a material effect on your job performance?

The La Trobe 2015 3MT Championship showcased the glittering mosaic of graduate research at the University as eight finalists vied for the title of La Trobe 3MT Champion.

Throwing your hat in the 3MT ring is the definition of chutzpah: it takes no small amount of audacity to squeeze years of work into a few minutes and then get up and present it – sans notes – to an audience and a row of judges. And did I mention it should also be engaging and void of jargon so that people who have absolutely no idea about your research can understand and relate to it?

Monday, 31 August 2015

Leaving Paradise for a PhD (Fazeela Ibrahim)

Images courtesy of Fazeela Ibrahim
When I introduce myself and say where I am from, people often haven’t heard of my country. Who can blame them!

After all, Maldives is a country that is barely visible on the world map and has a population of just under 300,000 people!

If they have heard of Maldives, it’s usually in terms of being a paradise on Earth. 'The sunny side of life' is how my homeland is known to tourists all over the world.

Many also say, ‘Wow! You are so lucky! Why in the world would you leave such a paradise and come to a city with such unpredictable weather?’

From the outside, you might think a typical day of my life in the Maldives might include lounging on a beach with a good book, soaking up the sunshine in between swimming in crystal clear waters, breathing in super fresh air, and enjoying the soothing sound of pure nature.

In truth, you’re not completely wrong, as you can see from my images above!

I do have the option of doing all this! And it does sound like a life in paradise, but only if you can afford to be on vacation for the rest of your life.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Writing your way out of a corner (Jason Murphy)

Photo by Alejandro Escamilla | unsplash.com
(Or, the life-saving quality of Shut up and Write!)

Whatever your area of research, if you’re doing a PhD (like me), it comes down to being all about the writing.

You may have been put straight into the field, or a lab, and been gathering data from day one; or, like me, you may have had to locate your project in a body of literature and use that as your reference point.

As PhD candidates, our days are collectively filled with experiments, note taking, reading, procrastinating, being distracted, tidying up our references, drinking coffee, and especially feeling guilty. Above all, however, it is about the writing.

At the end of our candidature, we’ll submit an original, written contribution to our field. It should be a well-written, considered document that is 60,000 – 80,000 words in length. A PhD is, in its essence, an apprenticeship in academic writing.

That said, writing is more than just words on a page.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Tips from a first-year PhD researcher (Georgia Atkin-Smith)

Photo by William Iven | unsplash.com
Some people might tell you that doing a PhD is all work and that no play is allowed, but I say it’s possible to be dedicated to study, work, and maintain a good social life.

I’m a first year PhD student here at La Trobe. I originally moved from a tiny farm outside to Horsham to Melbourne and La Trobe University in 2011 to start a Bachelor of Biotechnology and Cell Biology.

After my 3-year degree, I completed my Honours in Biochemistry and was awarded a scholarship to undertake a PhD.

My study and research experiences so far have been very challenging and extremely rewarding. I’ve had the opportunity to present my research at multiple conferences, and recently published in the prestigious journal, Nature Communications.

One of the reasons why I’ve been able to achieve as much as I have, and stay happy, are my time management skills.

Monday, 10 August 2015

First awards - Intellectual Climate Fund for Graduate Researchers

Photo by Garrett Heath | www.flickr.com/photos/garrettheath
Reproduced under Creative Commons Licence 2.0
The first awardees for this brand new scheme have just been notified!

The Intellectual Climate Fund for Graduate Researchers was created and launched in July this year.

Sponsored by the Graduate Research School, the Associate PVCs (Research) of ASSC and SHE, this initiative offered over 20 grants of up to $500 each. Matching funding from Schools, departments, and research centres was strongly encouraged.

The awards were available to graduate researcher groups to support the development of their local research communities.

The scheme embraced a broad range of activities, and these could take place across schools, departments, physical locations, or disciplines.

At the 'Intellectual Climate Fund' launch on 9 July, Dean of the Graduate Research School Professor Chris Pakes challenged applicants to engage an "entrepreneurial spirit" with their ideas.

Teams of graduate researchers answered Professor Pakes' call and proposed projects ranging from theory salons, symposiums, and careers events, to stats skills development, networking breakfasts, and supporting new graduate researcher societies.

All the awarded activities must take place before the end of 2015, so look out for a burgeoning range of researcher opportunities over the next few months.

FULL LISTING OF AWARDED GRANTS: Intellectual Climate Fund Awardees - August 2015

As well as the stimulating and ongoing benefits of bringing together various groups of researchers at the university, this scheme offers valuable experience in event organisation, grant application writing, and project management.

Awardees will be submitting a report on their initiatives at the end of the year. We look forward to hearing all about them!

Monday, 3 August 2015

Research grant applications 101 (Tseen Khoo)

Photo by Thomas Hawk
Writing research grant applications should be treated as a highly trainable skill.

No-one comes to the process with an automatic ability to comprehend grants-speak, and you’d have to be worried about anyone who did!

You should treat this short article as the tip of the iceberg in terms of advice on how to start your grant writing career.

My perspective is informed by my ten years or so of experience as a research academic, and the convenor of a research network that mentors many early career researchers.

Whether they’re for project grants, fellowships, conference travel, visiting scholars, or publications, all funding schemes have one basic desire: To give money away to the best applicants.

Your job is to convince the granting body that you’re the best team and project for the investment of their funds. Particularly in major national schemes, such as the ARC DECRA (Discovery Early Career Researcher Award), the competition can be intense.

While no advice can guarantee you grant success, there are many things you can do to make sure you are in serious contention.

These elements are essential to successful grant applications:

Monday, 27 July 2015

Orientation for graduate researchers - 21 July 2015 (Tseen Khoo)

There's nothing worse that fronting up at a new degree, then going through those initial weeks and months of not-knowing just about everything.

We like to think we know things, especially if we've managed to get into a research higher degree program!

To help graduate researchers acclimatise quickly to La Trobe University, and let them know how they can find assistance and advice, the Semester 2 Orientation was held last Tuesday (21 July) at John Scott Meeting House.

L to R: Michael Chan, Leda Hidalgo, and Md. Aminul Islam
About thirty graduate researchers, many university staff (academic and professional), and expert panels of PhD students and supervisors participated in the day's activities.

The Orientation program (.pdf) for the day was very full, and aimed to get new graduate researchers off to a strong start with their studies and feeling at home within the institution.

Units presenting at the Orientation included the Graduate Research School, Ethics and Integrity, Library, Student Union, and Student Learning.

Higher degree study is notorious for being an isolating experience, but it certainly doesn't have to be that way.

Monday, 20 July 2015

A worthy experience (Priyanka Reddy)

I am only the second individual, and the only female, in my circle of immediate and extended family that has ventured into the world of academia.

Seeing the life of a science academic, I've found it gruelling and often filled with the trials and errors of unending experiments that require perseverance, grit, and heaps of patience.

So, when I was selected as a finalist for the Australia 2040 Conference as a result of my 30-second video, I was stunned and honoured.

Unknown to me at the time, the weeks ahead would take me on a journey that would prove intoxicating, mortifying, and extremely gratifying.

I knew I’d need to deliver a 5-minute speech about my work to a general audience. What was not so apparent was just how ignorant I was about the concept of ‘5 minutes’! After all, we live in a world where 5 minutes is never enough, or at least not near enough for the things that matter.

As soon as I met with the communications specialist organised by the Cooperative Research Centres Association (CRCA), it became very clear just how important that 5 minutes would shape up to be.

Monday, 13 July 2015

From San Francisco, CA to Bendigo, Vic (Lynna Feng)

Photo by Lynna Feng
Four months ago, I made the move from the United States to Australia to pursue a PhD at La Trobe University.

Whenever I tell someone that I’ve come from California to do my PhD at La Trobe’s Bendigo campus, I often get this carefully constructed question: “So…what made you move out here?”, or from more casual friends, “Why in the world did you move from California to BENDIGO?”

It turns out that people think I'm a little crazy for leaving the US and coming to Australia for my PhD program.

I should probably back up a little bit and clarify that while I have fallen in love with Australia and the lifestyle of a smaller town, it wasn't my lifelong dream to move to and study in regional Australia.

If you had asked me five years ago, I would have told you that, in 2015, I should be one year into a degree in veterinary medicine at the University of California, Davis. I was one of those kids who had their entire life perfectly planned.

So, how exactly did that turn into a solo move around the world to live in fear of hitting kangaroos while driving on the wrong side of the road?

It all came down to making the most of any opportunities – and one really exceptional mentor.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Writing for The Conversation (Tseen Khoo)

Misha Ketchell (Managing Editor, The Conversation) at the podium
Photo by Jason Murphy
We all hear about research outreach and engagement, but what does it actually look like in practice?

On Wed 17 June, the newly appointed Chair of Public Scholarship Professor Chris Mackie facilitated the 'Writing for The Conversation' session, an afternoon of presenters who spoke about their experiences with writing for the public.

Chris has written about his public scholarship role for The RED Alert before, and he said, "The 'Writing for The Conversation' event provided a great example of cross-University collaboration to attain the right result".

The Graduate Research School RED team organised the session with Chris, and it featured keynote speaker Misha Ketchell (Managing Editor, The Conversation), and engaging and expert speakers from ARCSHS (Jayne Lucke) and La Trobe Asia (Nick Bisley).

After the event, Chris said, "Misha's talk was excellent and hit just the right note. I have had very positive feedback from participants."

Monday, 29 June 2015

The study takes over – the rise of anthropomorphism (Teresa Iacono)

Mask/photo by Joel Cooper | www.flickr.com/photos/origamijoel
There has been an insidious rise in an entity that, at one point in the history of academia, did not have  a life form of its own.

Now, however, with echoes of HAL 9000 from Arthur  C. Clarkes’ A Space Odyssey, it has pushed aside authors to take control and attribution of their work.

I refer here to the study, which previously was something that human beings designed, conducted, and reported.

Not so now!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Top five reasons to run a conference (Tseen Khoo)

Chalk trains
Photo by Ben Kraal | www.flickr.com/photos/newnowknowhow
Do you feel regularly exploited, wish you had more recognition for the things you did, or feel that your skills are being underutilised?

OK, first up, you realise you’re in academia, right?

More importantly, while these dissatisfactions are endemic to working lives in general, they seem especially visible in universities.

There are ways, however, of seizing opportunities and making them work for you.

This post presents you with the pros of convening a conference.

I’ve convened about ten major events and, while conferences are no doubt time-consuming, they were - for me - also the primary catalysts for establishing a research network and significantly boosting my academic profile.

When I suggest convening a conference, people often respond with fear and dismissal. Many people worry that they don’t know how to do it, or presume that it’s just grunt-work and no good could come of it.

Here are my top 5 reasons why you should convene a conference:

Monday, 15 June 2015

The writer on holiday (Jason Murphy)

Photo by Florian Klauer | unsplash.com
When I started my PhD while working full-time, one of the people who didn’t think I was completely mad told me that candidates who work full-time often complete their thesis in a timely way.

I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said, ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’.

This gave me a secret hope that getting through a PhD would be like other major projects that I've experienced. I thought it would just be a case of choosing a direction, then forming a plan that worked backwards from the end goal: a completed thesis.

I’m now coming up to the full-time equivalent of two years’ candidature, so I can look back at these early assumptions and ‘test their validity’.

In short, it’s not that simple. If you’re working on your PhD or Masters, or any research for that matter, I’m sure you didn’t have to read this far to spot my initial naivety.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Preparing for post-PhD life during your PhD (Sam Manna)

Photo by Dietmar Becker | unsplash.com
Having just completed my PhD in October last year, I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on my experience.

While I was doing several things to prepare for my future career, I now see that there was a lot more I could have done. You may think “I’m too busy to worry about all that stuff right now!”, but during your PhD is the perfect time to do it!

In this post, I wanted to provide PhD students with a couple of tips to help you prepare for a career in research. Of course, research is not the only career option after your PhD, but the focus of this post will be on developing a research career.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Public Scholarship at La Trobe University (Chris Mackie)

Professor Chris Mackie conducting research on the archaeology
and history of the Gallipoli battlefield.

[Photo by Simon Harrington]
In March 2015, I was appointed as the inaugural Professor of Public Scholarship at La Trobe University.

This is a half-time role with a University-wide remit. Its purpose is to increase the dissemination of La Trobe’s academic knowledge and expertise into the wider community. It's intended to enhance our teaching and research – to give it a different dimension.

We certainly don’t want public scholarship to be just another thing to do for academic staff.

Projects that I have underway include reviewing the University’s public lecture program, and developing strategies around incentives for staff to be in the public space in addition to their many other tasks.

I'm particularly keen to assist staff and graduate researchers in creating a public dimension for their research.

Monday, 25 May 2015

What do you mean there are no comms? Conducting archaeological fieldwork at Lake Mungo (Caroline Spry)

A view of the Mungo lunette, looking north (Photo by Caroline Spry)
When I first started my PhD at La Trobe University, each step of my research project sounded straightforward enough.

The first part would involve fieldwork in the spectacular setting of Lake Mungo, where I would locate and record a large number of sites where stone tools were made and used. Once back in Melbourne, I would get stuck into research, number-crunching, and writing.

During my first visit to Lake Mungo, however, I quickly realised that there was a lot more to the fieldwork component than I had anticipated – particularly given the remote location where I would be working.

Lake Mungo is part of the Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area (WLRWHA), which is located in semi-arid southwestern New South Wales, 90 km northeast of Mildura.

Our accommodation was comprised of shearers' quarters, which were first constructed during the early 1900s (think corrugated iron and wood).

While electricity is available, there is no mobile phone coverage, no internet, no heating or air conditioning, no shopping facilities – and occasionally no water!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Community: build networks to support your work (Jade Sleeman)

Image from www.thehoya.com/the-question-of-community
When I’m not hard at work researching or writing, there's a US sitcom that I secretly enjoy called Community.

It's about a group of unlikely characters studying in a community college, who decide to form a study group. It stars Chevy Chase, so you know it'll be good for a laugh.

The thing that makes this show so funny - apart from Chevy Chase - is that the group of students seem to have nothing in common, and yet they make each other's experience of college so much better.

One of the most difficult things I've found about studying for a higher degree by research is that it can be extremely isolating.

Being proactive about identifying your community (or communities) can be helpful in creating supportive networks, and improving your experience of what can seem like a hard slog.

Monday, 11 May 2015

An unplanned career in plants (Tim Entwisle)

This is the full text of Tim Entwisle's keynote speech at the La Trobe University Graduate Research School launch on 4 May 2015 (John Scott Meeting House, Bundoora).

The School is one of a number of initiatives led by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Keith Nugent, that responds to the research objectives outlined in the University’s Future Ready strategy.

Professor Tim Entwisle
in full speech mode
I spent about three and a half years at La Trobe University, studying the taxonomy and systematics of an alga called Vaucheria. Professor Bill Woelkerling was my PhD supervisor and Professor Alan Wardrop was the head of Botany.

Professor Wardrop’s research and rule were waning when I was there, but he had been a highly distinguished plant cell wall biologist in the 1950s. He had also left his mark as the foundation Chair then Dean in Biological Sciences, and foundation Professor of the Department of Botany. Interestingly, he was a champion of unity in biology and was unhappy in the 1960s when separate schools emerged for botany, zoology, and the like, preferring the intermeshed model very much in favour these days.

Bill Woelkerling had an equally formidable reputation as a scientist, part of Australia’s first wave of internationally important phycologists (algal specialists). He was much more self-contained than Professor Wardrop, and would have flourished in any school or department and under any disciplinary hierarchy. Bill had wallpapered his office with books, subdividing it to create more room for bookcases. His approach to work was regimented, orderly, and methodical. There was nothing left to chance. I was attracted to that at the time.

I’d done my undergraduate degree in Science, with an honours year, at the University of Melbourne, followed by a year at the Royal Botanic Gardens working as a (indoor) horticultural assistant while I decided what to do next. It only took a few months to realise that, yes, I enjoyed working in the botanic gardens – who wouldn’t? – but I needed to stretch myself intellectually first.

I wanted to discover new things and, looking back, to also create something new. Something like a thesis.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Are you working in a healthy research laboratory culture? (Sam Manna)

Photo by benandclare | www.flickr.com/photos/benandclare
CC license: creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0
Some people say that it’s the supervisor’s responsibility to maintain a healthy research laboratory culture.

While this may be true, it’s likely that it’s the last thing your supervisor is thinking about.

This means that maintaining a healthy research laboratory culture falls to the laboratory members. But what exactly do I mean by a “healthy research laboratory culture”?

Let me put it this way: Do you hate going into the lab in the morning? Are there people in your lab that you don’t get along with? Do you count down the hours until it’s 5pm and you can go home (not that 5pm is really a time any PhD student leaves the lab anyway!)?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, the culture in your lab may not be very healthy, which can affect productivity.

In this post, I wanted to talk about some tips that will create a positive vibe in the lab. As a molecular biologist, my perspective on this is for biological laboratories, but I think these tips apply to any laboratory.

Spend time with your lab, outside of the lab!

It shouldn’t surprise you that developing positive relationships with the people in your lab is one of the strongest ways to create a healthy lab culture.

Monday, 27 April 2015

What shutting up and writing can do for you (Emma Hughes)

Photo by Fredrik Rubensson | www.flickr.com/photos/froderik
In November 2014, Emma Hughes (PhD candidate in the Theatre and Drama Program, College of ASSC) participated in La Trobe University’s Academic Writing Month (#LTUacwrimo).

We were interested in hearing about her experiences, and she kindly agreed to an email interview.

About herself and her research work, here are Emma’s own words:

“My thesis is about the representation of mothers within contemporary Australian female authored drama (play-texts) and theatre (live performance). I have a Bachelor of Performing Arts (Honours) from Monash University and a Master of Arts from the Theatre and Drama Program at La Trobe University.”

Emma tweets at @melbtheatregrrl.

Now, onto the interview!

So, Emma, what prompted you to join in with the La Trobe University Academic Writing Month (#LTUacwrimo) in 2014?

I decided to sign up for #LTUacwrimo because I perceived that setting myself a public goal to work towards would help me achieve my aims, and because I like keeping a record of the study-tasks that I attempt and/or complete. Furthermore, I thought that I’d like to give “Shut up and Write” a try and I decided that #LTUacwrimo was a good time to do it.

Monday, 20 April 2015

CALL FOR PAPERS - La Trobe University Early Career Researcher (ECR) Network Conference (1 October 2015)

THURSDAY, 1 October 2015 (Sem 2 mid-semester break) 
Venue: La Trobe - Melbourne Campus 

This one-day conference aims to bring together ECRs from all La Trobe University campuses to present their research, creating a forum to discuss their work in a collegial, interdisciplinary environment, and build networks with colleagues from other campuses and fields. 

The conference showcases the wide diversity and innovative research being conducted by ECRs across the university, and serves as an opportunity for further reflection about the key role that ECRs play within the University’s research strategy. As well as presentations by ECRs, the conference will also feature workshops and invited talks from key research leaders and university units that focus on researcher education and support. 

This event will conclude with the ECR Conference Reception at a local restaurant.

Abstract submission: If you would like to present a 15-minute paper, please forward a 100-word abstract and 50-word bio to Jillian Garvey (j.garvey@latrobe.edu.) with “ECR conference – [YourLastName]” in the subject line. 

CLOSING DATE for abstracts: 22 May 2015.

Please save the conference date in your calendar! Full information, including registration and details about travel funds for La Trobe University's regional ECRs, will be online soon. Please note that the ECRs this conference refers to are those who have had their PhDs awared within the last 5-7 years. 

  • Jillian Garvey (Humanities and Social Sciences)
  • Josie Barbaro (Autism Research Centre)
  • Marcella Carragher (Allied Health)
  • Raul Sanchez-Urribarri​ (Humanities and Social Sciences)
  • Rachel Winterton (Rural Aged Care - John Richards Initiative)

Monday, 13 April 2015

One great way to stimulate research (Narelle Lemon)

Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) entry
(Photo by Narelle Lemon)
This year, I had the opportunity to undertake a Visiting Research Fellowship with the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) in Sydney.

A research fellowship is an opportunity to develop as a researcher in a collaborative and supportive environment. It provides you with concentrated time to focus on a specific research project in partnership with site experts and access to particular materials.

In my case, accepting a Visiting Research Fellowship with MAAS enabled me to spend a period of time with museum education, curatorial, media and communication, and digital and media teams in order to carry out focused research collaboratively.

I have chosen to split my time between two concentrated visits: one I have just completed in March, then I'll be back there in May.

Each time, I have negotiated to spend two weeks on site - an amazing and inspiring two weeks! This will allow me to maximize thinking time and build sustainable, long-term partnerships.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Don’t worry, it’s only a Human Research Ethics Committee! (Sara Paradowski)

Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel | unsplash.com
After working in the area of research governance for nearly 6 years, I’ve noticed that there’s one area of research that causes a strong emotional response from just about every researcher.

They’re usually stressed, frustrated, and/or anxious about it.

What’s causing these emotions?

One thing and one thing only: a potential close encounter with a Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC).

I have thought about this a lot. Why are people so worried about an HREC review?

So, I thought I’d pass on a few tips to hopefully assist with navigating and writing a human research ethics application.

Monday, 30 March 2015

It does happen! Finishing the thesis (Linda Kirkman)

Photo by Linda Kirkman

Finishing the writing

I completed my first full thesis draft on Monday, 12 January 2015.

On the afternoon of the day before, while driving to attend a party with my Central Victorian Twitter tribe, I decided that Monday would be the day I finished the full document.

The feeling of excitement was awesome! I resolved that it would be done, and told everyone at the party that night of this plan. I drank too much Prosecco to celebrate in advance. Oh well. But I was still at the lab before 8 am Monday, and got stuck into it!

I used the template suggested by Pat Thompson for constructing a conclusion: what I set out to do; how I did it; what I found; where it fits in with the existing literature; the implications or 'so what?' factor; and its limitations. I checked that the sources I used in the conclusion were in the lit. review.

I considered adding a quote from Sasha Roseneil,an academic hero of mine, but decided the focus needed to be on my writing, not hers.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Doing a PhD in Kelly country (Margaret Hickey)

"Lots of holes"
Photo by Rob Patrick | www.flickr.com/photos/alkalinezoo
I like saying that I am doing a PhD.

It’s a bit like saying my husband looks like George Clooney. I say it modestly, but I know that the other person is going to be impressed.

The trouble is that there’s a big gap between saying you're doing a PhD and actually doing the PhD. It’s like the gap between what my husband actually looks like compared to George Clooney. Huge.

Where I come from, not many people have a PhD. A few of my friends are studying by distance, and some are considering a postgraduate course, but I can only think of one person in the Glenrowan region who is actually undertaking a PhD. A neighbour, who is a farmer from Glenrowan West, says that he already has a PhD: it’s in building fences, and called a ‘Post Hole Digger’. So, maybe that makes three of us.

In a way, our qualifications are not that different. I spend my evenings digging around for relevant findings; I create piles of references and sift through evidence. More often than not, I find myself in a big hole.

Monday, 16 March 2015

New year, new blog!

Photo by Sergee Bee | unsplash.com
Is there something in the air in 2015?

We've started the year off with a big, positive change: this blog is being re-launched!

It now has a new name - The RED Alert - and will address a much broader set of topics and will publish weekly.

In the past, the RED blog has focused on research writing and publishing, with heaps of great stuff from #LTUacwrimo in 2014, and also in 2013.

From now on, we'll be talking about even more!

The blog will cover La Trobe University research experiences and insights, strategies for tackling research and being productive, and better ways to do research overall. It will also feature reports from RED events, competitions, and guest interviews.