Tag Archives: Research

Necessary Skills for a Successful PhD student

So you have got the PhD checklist and you have brushed up on your time management skills but what other skills are you going to need to get through this PhD?

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So that chart may look a bit scary (particularly as this is not even an extensive list) but here’s the good news – you must already have some of those skills otherwise you would not have come this far in your academic career.

However it is a good idea to identify any weaknesses you have at the START of your PhD. That way you can you can:

a)      Plan for where you have difficulties / tasks will take you a bit longer to complete

b)      You will be less stressed when it comes to the really important stuff like doing the data analysis, writing up and getting published.

c)       You will finish your PhD with more and / or stronger skills than you had before

One way of improving your skills (particularly IT skills) is through sessions that your University might provide. Although you may be tempted not to sign up to these sessions because they can take time out of your working week, they will be worth it in the end. So if you sign up to these early (in your 1st year) then at least these sessions won’t be eating into precious time to write up your work.

The careers service at your university should also be able to point you in the direction of workshops / seminars etc. both internal and external to help you with your personal development.

Sounds like a good idea? But wondering how you are going to fit it all in and keep track of it all?

Well there are tools that can help you with improving your skills and help you keep tabs on your progress!

One of the good resources that I know of is the Vitae Researcher Development Framework Planner

(http://www.vitae.ac.uk/researchers/291411/RDF-Professional-Development-Planner.html)

This tool allows you to identify areas of improvement and keep records of what you have done to make improvements. What I really like about it is that it allows you to set deadlines for improvements which helps motivate you to actively change your skill set so you do make improvements at your own pace.

Alternatively you could set up plans / time scales using programmes such as Excel and Project planner*.

Well that’s it from me. I hope my final piece of advice is useful to you, putting you ahead of the game before you have even started. Have fun and good luck!

-Dr Fran-kenstein

*other programs available.

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Survival Guide for a PhD Student

We’re ending this week with our final scheduled blog posts that are all to do with the actual PhD process, and being able to survive throughout, up until the very end! So here is a survival kit we’ve knocked together for you:

  • A Diary or an electronic Calendar is your best friend!
  • To-Do Lists are also good chums of yours

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  • Compile a useful list of resources for reading material
  • Make and keep a Reading/Writing schedule
  • Find some motivational quotes and articles. Maybe stick some on your wall. And fridge. And on all your clothes so that you’re constantly reminded of why you’re doing what you’re doing and why you should keep at it!
  • Make sure you have de-stressing activities (exercise, books, video games, knitting) at your disposal, and use them wisely (not for procrastination!)
  • Have a Happy Place/Thought that you can ‘go to’ when necessaryimage
  • Officemates (if you have an office)/Colleagues/Other PhD Students, people who are also doing what you are doing – find them, and keep them.
  • Put “No” in your toolbox. Learn how and when to use it and you just might not end up having to do everything all at once whilst juggling 15 coffee cups and leaping through flaming hoops all the while belting out “Oh My Darling Clementine” at the top of your lungs.
  • Confidence – believe in your work and your work will believe in you! (Also, other academics and your supervisor)
  • Perseverance. When the going gets tough, the tough get going! But not you, you stick it out!

Most importantly – make sure you enjoy the ride! It won’t be easy but it doesn’t have to be hell.

Dr. Neo, out!

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After the PhD

After the PhD

Diagram from “The Scientific Century” by the Royal Society. Their caption reads “This diagram illustrates the transition points in typical academic scientific careers following a PhD and shows the flow of scientifically-trained people into other sectors. It is a simplified snapshot based on recent data from HEFCE, the Research Base Funders Forum and for the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s annual Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey. It also draws on Vitae’s analysis of the DLHE survey. It does not show career breaks or moves back into academic science from other sectors.

Source: Dr. Emily Cross, Bangor University – “Getting the most out of your PhD: Expectations, Organisation & Strategy” (presentation)

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December 16, 2013 · 9:34 pm

Interview Dos and Don’ts

DO dress appropriately and professionally – whether this means wearing a suit or just a sensible (think visiting conservative relatives) outfit, make an effort, be tidy, and tick that “good first impression” box!

DON’T make inappropriate comments, rude jokes etc. Remember this is a professional setting, so even if you are made to feel very comfortable, watch what you say very carefully! The interview lasts from the moment you see the interviewer to the moment you are no longer in each other’s company. Even if you are not answering a formal question, or are just having a chat, you are still being assessed, so make sure you don’t say anything you wouldn’t say during an interview!

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DO make sure you know exactly where you’re going and how to get there. It is important to show that you are able to think ahead and plan successfully. And on a related note:

DON’T be late! Leave at least half an hour before your appointment if you don’t know the area or building, to allow yourself time to get lost! If you know the place well, then arrive at least fifteen minutes in advance.

DO prepare. There are plenty of resources online with example questions, read them, practice answering them, and make sure you are comfortable with your answers. Look in your application for questions that might arise, make sure you can answer just about everything concerning your research!

DON’T PANIC! The panel knows you are nervous, and they expect that you might make some mistakes. If you do, don’t flail or make a big deal out of it, compose yourself and move on.

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DO study up on your interviewers (if you know who they will be in advance), and make sure you know how to address them and how they are relevant to the position you are applying for!

DON’T ask your interviewers what their work is on, if you would like to talk about it, do your research, read a couple of their papers, and bring it up if relevant!

DO say if you don’t know something! They WILL know if you are making something up, and it will make you look much more unprofessional than admitting that you don’t know the answer to a question, then offering possible solutions like where you would find the information from.

DON’T take all the time in the world to answer questions! No one will be timing you (in most cases) when you are given a certain amount of time for questions, so make sure you are on the ball and aren’t wasting time. Even if what you’re saying is impressive, if you take 40 minutes to complete a 20 minute interview that will create a bad impression.

DO ask questions. You can either prepare these in advance or wing it, but having a couple of interesting questions about the post or the work is what makes a lot of interview candidates stand out. Be one of them! But,

DON’T ask stupid questions. Now while it’s true that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, there are some that you just shouldn’t be asking in an interview setting. These are anything practical to do with the position that you can find out via admin routes (hours, pay etc.) and especially anything that was already in the grant/proposal/advert. 

And anwyay, what’s the worst that could happen??

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Pr                                                         es

ent                               ation

matters.

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(Moving on swiftly..)

So Dr. Fran-Kenstein’s already addressed quite a few practical presentation tips, and I won’t labor the point! Instead I’m going to talk about a couple of secrets I’ve learned from my experience giving multiple types of presentations, and evaluating my fair share too, in the hopes that I can alleviate some presentation jitters.

During my undergraduate course we had to attend a class, led by a fellow student, whose sole purpose was to enable presentation and public speaking practice in an academic environment. I spent two years leading some of these classes, and I can easily name the one thing that stands out to me as the most hair raising, cringe worthy faux-pas a presenter could ever do. Cue the “I’m sorry I’m just a little nervous”. STOP right there. You NEVER start a presentation by telling your audience that you’re nervous. The same goes for nervous fidgeting, sighing, or any overt behavior that displays nervousness. It is completely unnecessary to inform your audience that you are feeling nervous. I can tell you there is not a single person out there that doesn’t know what it feels like to address a room full of people, and the terror it can induce! Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t be feeling nervous, it is a completely natural and justifiable experience in this context. However, this is precisely why when you tell your audience that you are feeling nervous; it’s like admitting that you are more nervous than is expected. And this can easily be interpreted as lack of preparation, a lack of practice, or a lack of confidence in your abilities. And if the first thing you do before you’ve even started, is tell your audience that you’re going to try to convince them about something you can’t even convince yourself about, you’re not getting off to a great start. “But I hate public speaking!” I hear you cry. Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to love it, you just have to BLAG it!

B: Be Prepared. If you’re a nervous speaker, you want to make sure you know your presentation like the back of your hand! If you don’t rely on cue cards, you can move around freely, look at your audience, point to the screen, and generally allow yourself the freedom of being fluent in your topic so as to create a more confident appearance.

L: Leave Room for Error. Sometimes, things just go wrong, and it’s important that you don’t let technical errors, word finding problems, or a difficult question spin you into an irrecoverable panic. Again, your audience is not alienated from you, they have all been in the same position as you, and they have all probably encountered some issues whilst presenting before. They really are more forgiving than you give them credit for! Smile, laugh it off, take a deep breath, apologise for the error, just say if you don’t know something and carry on with your presentation.

A: Act Confident! Don’t tell your audience that you are nervous or unprepared or insecure. Don’t fidget, stand your feet comfortably so that you have a firm base on the ground. Make sure your hands aren’t wringing together, or playing with something while you talk. Speak loudly, clearly and at a good pace (practice at home, film yourself and nail your presentation voice!). Look at your audience, and don’t worry, this doesn’t actually have to involve looking at anyone specifically! Scan your eyes over the room slowly and make sure you’re paying equal attention to every part of the audience, and focus your eyes on items that are in between speakers or to the back wall of the room. Engage with them!

G: Gesture, Gesticulate and Gesture Some More. Body language matters! Making sure your hands are free is important not only because it will stop you from fidgeting nervously, but also because you can then use them to emphasise your points, by employing useful, informative movements. On the other hand, don’t let your nervousness or excitedness get the better of you, if you’re flailing around the room like seaweed in a whirlpool (how’d you like that metaphor huh?), this will have the complete opposite effect, and detract from your presentation instead of add to it.

And with that I leave you with the ever inspirational Ron Swanson and his words of wisdom:

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Dr. Neo

More information on giving kick-ass academic presentations:

http://getalifephd.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/how-to-give-fabulous-academic.html

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December 10, 2013 · 7:26 pm

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December 10, 2013 · 7:25 pm

Finding the Fun in Funding! (Unfortunately it is not quite that easy, but hopefully this blog will provide you with a useful start in the hunt for funding).

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Generally advertised studentships already have funding. But not all of them, so you may need to look for funding if it is not already sorted for you. Some studentships will only cover tuition fees but not other aspects such as living expenses, training, conferences etc.  Therefore you still might need to look for funding.

This can be tricky. One place that you can start your search is by looking on the websites of research councils. There are not that many different councils (in the UK) if you want to do a PhD in Psychology / Social sciences / Neuroscience. Therefore these can be competitive so start looking ASAP!

Some research councils that may be of interest:

Research Council UK

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Medical Research Council (MRC)

Another option is applying to be funded by a charity or a business. This may be a great way for some people to get funding. Usually this route means that in order access funding (if your application is successful) you have to work for the organisation that is funding you. This means that on completion of your PhD you will also be able to put work experience on your CV and you may even be offered a position at the company you worked for!

Some Charities and Businesses that you may want to look at:

Wellcome Trust

The Nuffield Foundation

Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland

Waterloo Foundation

The British Academy

This is not an extensive list of charities / businesses so if you have an idea and think that a relevant organisation may be interested in funding you then contact them.

*Be careful when filling out applications for funding. Some will only give funding to specific areas of research so make sure you read the eligibility section.

Self funding

This may seem like the most undesirable option but as a last resort if you really, really want to do that PhD you might need to consider self funding.  There are two ways in which you can do this. One option is working part time. However if you are going to do this you may want to consider doing your PhD part time to accommodate for this. The second option is that you can access a Personal Career Development loan.  This allows you to borrow money for your education and usually you only pay back after you have completed your studies. However it is best to check this out yourself either on bank websites or by speaking to someone (who has way more knowledge than me) in branch about the T&C’s.

So now you know your options. You now need to decide on one, think of a back-up option and get going!

-Dr Fran-kenstein

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