Thursday, 30 April 2020

Making peace with uncertainty… and getting your PhD done, too (Laena D'Alton)

Photo by Toa Heftiba |

I have a chronic illness, so I always knew that my PhD journey would be difficult.

I commenced my candidature four years ago and, since then, there have also been heartbreaking bereavements and other medical issues. I’ll be honest. My PhD has been the easiest part of my PhD journey.

And now there’s COVID-19.

We are all living in a new world of limitations, with a loss of freedom, lack of control, and bucket-loads of uncertainty. We are all concerned about the present. How do we survive physically, emotionally and financially? How do we support others?

At the same time, we fear for the future. What will it look like? Will we be able to graduate or get a job?

The burden of all these unknowns is exhausting. But, as a chronically ill person, I am very well acquainted with feelings of limitation and uncertainty. I have lived with them for years.

Starting a PhD and researching from home (Cecilia Bravo)

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar |

Perhaps the greatest challenge for me at this time is being able to sustain mindfulness in the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s happening everywhere can make us feel daunted and disheartened.

A particular worry for me is being unable to see or support my family in person if anything went wrong as I’m 15,000 km away from them.

Associated with the challenge of keeping a healthy mind, there is the occasional difficulty of balancing time between focusing on my research and having time for other activities, especially leisure, and keeping in touch with family and friends online in Peru. I am a first-year international PhD researcher.

I believe that sometimes we can hurt ourselves by thinking too much about certain things.

So, what do I do? I keep myself busy with various activities. Cooking and going out for a gentle walk or run have proved to be most helpful so far. After doing these activities, I usually feel more motivated and focused to keep working on my research, and I’ve been trying to run my own Shut-Up-And-Write sessions at home at least twice a week as it helps me to better understand and organise all the content I’m gathering in my research.

As well, the following approaches and activities help me maintain my mindfulness and live more anxiety-free days, and I hope they might be helpful to you, too.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Let's talk about writing (Gerald Roche)

This project, supported by the Research Culture Fund (RCF), is an excellent initiative to build writing culture in a School among researchers from different career stages and fields of interest. One of the things that connects us all in academia is the writing - and the anxieties around writing!

The RCF scheme is currently open for applications and closes 4 May. All La Trobe academic staff are welcome to apply - we are keen to see how creative you get, given our current working context!

For graduate researchers, the Intellectual Climate Fund (ICFhas similar aims and exactly the same deadline! 


Photo by Claudio Schwarz Purlbaum |
You’re under lockdown, and with nowhere to go and nothing to do, you’re writing up a storm, churning out a flood of elegant, insightful prose.


Yeah, no.

At least, I’m not. But I am finding myself thinking a lot about writing.

In part that’s because I’m in lockdown with my son, who has just started writing. We’ve been encouraging him to do so for a while, but he never really took to it until after lockdown started.

It began with a list of demands. He showed up with a sheet of paper in his hand, over which he’d used felt pen to chisel a series of improvised spellings in jagged capitals for things he needed, like ninja stars. And he more or less hasn’t stopped since then, copying out Lego serial numbers, or making lists of games we should play.

I’d already agreed to write this post - which is about academic writing - when all of this began, but I didn’t see the connection between my son’s writing and what I wanted to say until today.

Which is that academic writing is two things at once: intensely idiosyncratic and inherently social.

Great advice from a 'Careers in science' panel (Jemma Gasperoni, Jordyn Thomas, and Keaton Crosse)

This project, supported by the Intellectual Climate Fund (ICF), is a great example of how a few scholars can collaborate and create a tailored event that's of value for the area's graduate researcher cohort. Thanks to the convenors for sharing their event report and the gems of advice from the panel about careers in science. 

This scheme is currently open for applications and closes 4 May. We'd love to see what you come up with - get creative! 

For academic staff, the Research Culture Fund (RCF) has similar aims and exactly the same deadline! 


After about 20 years of schooling and tertiary education, making the next BIG step into full-time employment can seem daunting for many graduate researchers!

Recognising this common anxiety among graduate researchers, the PAM HDR student society organised a Careers in Science and networking evening with the aim of helping their peers assess options for their post-graduation life.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Making the most of an online workshop (Tseen Khoo)

Photo by gotdaflow |
The RED team wrote a quick guide recently about using Zoom for our workshops and events.

I realised I had quite a few other things to say about how to be a good video conferencing citizen that didn’t quite fit on that 2-pager.

Now, for those of you who don’t know about the Zoom-pocalypse, a short bit of context: since the advent of the pandemic, and encouragement to work from home and exhortations to practice social distancing, many of us are working from home and away from each other. For events, then, this means we’re mostly dependent on Zoom, a video-conferencing platform to which La Trobe is subscribed.

Most of us are feeling over-Zoomed, and some of us have never loved the computer-mediated ‘connections’ that are now our only way to keep in contact with our colleagues and communities.

As this form of communicating and teaching has become the new normal, here are some strategies for being a good Zoom participant:

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Check 1, 2: Tips for sounding good online (Dan Bendrups)

The author, hard at work in the recording studio
Over the last few weeks, most academics’ responses to COVID-19 have involved the transformation of teaching material to be delivered remotely, and adjusting to the new web-based normal for graduate research supervision, meetings, and other gatherings. For me, fragments from years of professional development sessions in online learning have come flashing back as I’ve rushed to get fully online, though I’m sure I’m probably missing some crucial points, and I’ve got a new appreciation for colleagues who have this as their normal way of working.

Now that the pressure of the initial scramble is receding, I’ve been thinking about some of the finer details of web-mediated interaction, in particular, the importance of sound. Teaching and meetings are fundamentally verbal activities, and our students and colleagues glean a great deal of subtle information from our tone of voice, our pitch, intonation, timbre, volume, and overall vocal delivery. These things are affected by the online environment. Vision is also important, but as many will attest, when the bandwidth gets narrow, the video feed is the first thing to go. So, there’s something to be said for taking a moment to think about how to improve what we sound like online.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Being a PhD researcher in a digital world (Carolyn Leslie)

Carolyn Leslie is a PhD researcher in the Department of Creative Arts and English at La Trobe University, Australia. She is doing a creative-led PhD by writing a novel for young people about girl internees in Changi during World War II who made a quilt in secret, as well as an accompanying critical component. Carolyn is also an accredited editor and an author of works for young people and adults. 

She can be found @carolynleslie on Twitter. Her ORCID is 0000-0001-7622-1975.

Note: Carolyn wrote this post before COVID-19 restrictions came into effect. Because so much has changed in the intervening time, she has written an update that addresses some of the challenges that these restrictions are having on higher degree researchers. Her update appears at the end of this post. This post is simultaneously cross-posted on the Research Whisperer blog. 

Photo by Mike Erskine | 
During last year, I found myself drawn to attend several workshops run by La Trobe's Research Education and Development (RED) team. They had topics such as blogging and developing a digital profile. My interests sprang from a desire to get my research and writing on girl internees in Changi during World War II – and my wider interests in the editing and publishing worlds – out into the wider world.

However, kept coming up against an existential blockage: what sort of ‘me’ did I want to be when I’m out there in the digital world? And who did I want to connect with? Who did I want to share my work, words and thoughts with?