Friday, 29 May 2020

PhDing amid COVID-19 in North-East India (Dipjyoti Goswami)


RED Alert is running a series of posts where we hear from La Trobe graduate researchers who are (for lots of reasons) outside of Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Next up, I invited Dipjyoti Goswami to share his thoughts on how COVID-19 has impacted his doctoral research in North-East India. 

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COVID 19, has caused immense ripple effects and significant disruption to students in general, and more specifically to international students worldwide. My case is no different. I am a student of the Linguistics department at La Trobe University pursuing my PhD and am currently overseas in North East India conducting my field research.

Both of the following photos are from Arunachal Pradesh, North East India where I went for my field trip. In the first picture I am sitting with one of my language informants. And in the second picture I was with my principal Supervisor Associate Professor Stephen Morey, and Kellen Parker who recently completed his PhD from La Trobe, along with other community members.


Tuesday, 26 May 2020

#WFH and the important stuff (Amy Baxter)

Image provided by the author | All rights reserved

Anyone working as a research scientist with young kids is familiar with the constant pull between wanting to give both your work and parenting 100%, yet never feeling like you are anywhere close to succeeding.

So, what happens when you force scientists away from their lab work and into a ‘kids 24/7’ situation without warning?

For me, the truth is that in many ways it has actually been pretty great.

BUT, before I go into all the gushy reasons why not being able to escape my darling children for five weeks straight has actually been somewhat of a blessing, I’m also not going to pretend it hasn’t been stressful.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

3 things I learnt about PhD supervision from midwives (Lauren Gawne)

Image by Nadir sYzYgY | unsplash.com

I was really fortunate to get to hang out with some amazing midwives when I was pregnant in 2018.

Not only did they help me through pregnancy, birth and first first couple of hazy weeks with a tiny human, they also gave me a lot to think about when it comes to PhD supervision.

Here are three things that I noticed good midwives do, which I now try to bring to my PhD supervision processes!

Support is person-specific


One of the midwives helped me navigate a pregnancy moment by reading through and explaining the Cochrane report on the topic. She knew that the best way to reassure me was to let me see the research and evidence and talk through a plan. That doesn’t mean she’d do the same for the next person to walk in. Another person might prefer a simple set of options, yet another might not have the space to engage with that issue at that moment.

One person’s ideal birth plan is another person’s idea of a bad time. The best midwives made people aware of the options and then supported them to make the best decisions for themselves and their babies.

The PhD experience is also incredibly varied (as nicely articulated in this Thesis Whisperer post from Ellie Wood). You can’t engage with all of your students in exactly the same way and expect they’ll all perform exactly the same.

As a supervisor, you have a good idea of the road ahead for a project. It's your job to help your student come up with the navigation plan that best fits with their habits and preferences while pointing out the obstacles.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Research life during Singapore's COVID-19 ‘circuit breaker’ (Lester Jones)

The view from Lester's desk 
RED Alert is running a series of posts where we hear from La Trobe graduate researchers who are (for lots of reasons) outside of Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Next up, I invited Lester Jones, who is undertaking a PhD at the Judith Lumley Centre to share his thoughts on working and finishing off his PhD from Singapore.

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I am working in Singapore while completing my PhD studies part-time. This tiny island state – 50km by 27km - was initially seen as the exemplar of how to manage the threat of COVID-19. It did great. From early on we were required to declare our good health two times a day, accompanied by body temperature readings. Temperature checks were extended to other businesses including restaurants and hair salons but we were more or less unrestricted in our activities.

I was stopped one day, after a short but hot walk in the equatorial sun, at the National University of Singapore. I ended up in the ‘hot zone’ – the hot zone being the cordoned off area for those with suspect temperature readings. A place for feeling judged I found out! The gatekeepers were very polite and suggested I take a seat and they would reassess in a few minutes but I was not going to be touching or sitting on anything in the hot-zone! The few minutes was all it took to cool my temperature and I was on my way.


Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Virtual Shut Up and Write: Zooming in with the cheer squad (Jeanette Fyffe and SUAW participants)

The Arthur Voaden Secondary School, St. Thomas- Cheer Squad, 1965. Elgin County Archives.
When I (Jeanette Fyffe) became the manager of RED in 2013, the very first program I set up was our weekly Shut Up and Write (SUAW) group. 

Our first meeting was in the Borchardt Library on Thursday morning 9:30-12:00. Since then, through the actions of our brilliant La Trobe researcher community, we have opened SUAW chapters on every campus and weekly on Twitter. 

Now, as we respond to COVID-19, we have evolved the provision again to allow us to offer a fully online SUAW program. Led by a team of generous researchers across the university, we have 20 hours of SUAW sessions available every week. 

The shift to online SUAW has been pretty smooth: we still have the collegial productivity; we still have the gentle accountability; and we still have the shared connection to our values as researchers - to nudge the boundaries of knowledge ever forward. What we have added is an expanded community. We can now write with colleagues we hardly ever see without even having to take off our slippers. As one participant said last week “Shut Up and Write is like a silent cheer squad”. 

What does a “silent cheer squad” feel like? In this post, some regular attendees at our virtual SUAW sessions offer their reflections on shutting up and writing during the pandemic. 

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Allira Hanczakowski - PhD candidate, Italian Studies

I used to think that I mainly went to SUAW for the coffee and chats, but now that we have to provide our own hot beverage, I realise that there’s a lot more to it! It has been a constant in my weekly routine since I started my PhD, so maintaining one part of normality amidst the chaos has been wonderful. The familiar, friendly faces on the screen each week foster a feeling of connectivity and community, albeit now a virtual one. It’s always about turning up, and sitting down at the desk, and knowing that others are doing the same. For me, that’s the hardest part of the WFH (work from home) situation. While I don’t have children or other responsibilities requiring my immediate attention, my family and partner are far away, so sitting by myself can get really lonely. And sitting down is hard (because baking, doing washing, and going for an extra run is far more fun). So, for me, virtual SUAW provides that space to just sit down, and be alone but not lonely- it truly is a magical space! I always look forward to SUAW, not only because I get to see other peoples’ cute pets and virtual backgrounds, but because I know it’s going to be great, uninterrupted writing time.

Thank YOU and thank you to the RED team for the continued enthusiasm and support. You are all appreciated and valued more than you’ll ever know!

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Doing my PhD at home in the Philippines during Covid-19 (Andrew Albert Ty)



















In some upcoming posts we are going to hear from La Trobe graduate researchers who are (for lots of reasons) outside of Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. Next up, I invited Andrew Albert Ty, who is undertaking a collaborative PhD at La Trobe while based at Ateneo de Manila University. Candidates enrolled in a collaborative PhD at La Trobe University undertake research while based predominantly at a partner institution and graduate with a PhD awarded by La Trobe University.

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Jamie from the RED team has asked me to share my COVID-19 story. Here are some of my thoughts from where I am in Manila.

I am part of an international cohort of La Trobe graduate researchers who are based in the Philippines. This means that using Zoom for supervisor meetings and RED team workshops and seminars is a built-in feature of my HDR experience. In mid-March of this year, my acting supervisor sent a group email to students and staff, easing us in to the online transition. In that message, my cohort was mentioned as being “ahead of the curve” when it comes to working remotely. I still wonder how ahead of the curve we might actually be!

Since starting my PhD in August 2019, I have experienced several awkward video-conferencing moments. I have confidently discussed my thesis topic on mute; I have sneezed in rapid succession without muting. My kids have attended several meetings behind my back, and the time-zone difference between Melbourne and Manila led me to go online at the tail-end of one session. I guess what I am saying is that I have already made some of the awkward adjustments to graduate researcher life on Zoom!


Tuesday, 5 May 2020

On pandemic lockdown while away from home (Sandi James)


In some upcoming RED Alert posts we are going to be hearing from La Trobe graduate researchers who are (for lots of different reasons) outside of Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic. To begin this series, I invited Sandi James to tell us about her experience of sheltering in the UK after arriving for a conference. 

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This is the weirdest situation I have been in. Ever. And I have been in some weird situations before.

Originally, I came to the UK to present at a conference and a short 10 day visit to Ireland. I arrived in Ireland on the 8th March. It’s now the beginning of May and I am still here in the UK. I’ve lived and worked in South East Asia for the past 7 years, other than a recent 6 month stint back in Australia, so Malaysia is my home. My plan was to return to Malaysia where, on 30th March, I was meant to resume my posting as a Senior Lecturer in the Medical Faculty of a University there. That plan is temporarily on hold for now as I can’t get into Malaysia until the country’s borders are reopened.

So here I am.