Category Archives: communication

An adventure

Late last year I set a goal to attend a conference in 2013. I was aiming for a local conference but my supervisor suggested I try for an international one, the biggest in my field, with an abstract submission date a little over a week away!  That was one frantic week as I learned how to  squeeze my 11,967 word thesis (who’s counting?),  into a 500 word correctly formatted abstract.

The next hurdle was working out how I would get to the conference if I was accepted. No one else in my cohort had been to an international conference, so I took to asking a few kind students further on in their PhD about what they knew and who might be ‘in the know.’ Eventually, I was granted permission to be absent from placement and coursework, should my poster be accepted and sorted out my funding.

Months passed. I honestly thought I had Buckley’s chance of being accepted (over 200 people weren’t because so many had applied). To my surprise I turned out to be one of the lucky ones who was accepted to present a poster at the conference. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to a conference, an international conference, and I was even going to be able to squeeze in a short visit to relatives overseas. I barely had time to process any of this though because the lead up to the conference was horrendous! I was juggling placement, work as a research assistant, coursework, an assignment, conference prep and packing. This chaos as I tried to ‘land a few planes’ before I left as the Thesis Whisperer would say, was the inspiration for the fire-fighting duck post from a few months ago. The trip was well worth the chaotic lead up though and full of new experiences: my first time travelling by myself (though I was occasionally able to share the journey), in Europe and at a conference.

Being all alone in a non-English speaking country did not faze me. Aside from almost professing my love for a particular food instead of ordering it (do not trust Google Translate!!), I did quite well. My proudest achievement was ordering double-sided photocopying.  The only problem was that when I started picking a few useful phrases and colloquialisms and had learned how to say them without completely mangling them, people thought I was fluent! Whoops!! Far from it.

My limited knowledge of the language only got me so far though. For example, I had nothing to work with to tell a salesperson that I wasn’t interested in her hand creams, though my ignorance resulted in a free sample so all’s well that ended well. I also realised that while my travel prep had involved making sure I knew the name of common landmarks, numbers and how to ask for directions I had overlooked ‘excuse me’ and ‘sorry.’  I felt horribly rude not being able to apologise and so had to resort to facial expressions and mime. I’ve always admired people living in a country that does not speak their first language but I’ve even more respect for them now.










The town I stayed in was beautiful. I loved the mix of the old and the new, wandering down cobbled streets with a cathedral on one corner and Zara on the other! Trying the local fare was also an adventure, you were just as likely to be handed four beers and not the four plates you asked for!! I’d love to go back one day, armed with a deeper understanding of the language.

The conference itself was awesome, in the literal sense; there were almost 2000 attendees from all over the world! It was fantastic to meet some really famous and  lovely researchers and PhD students who shared my research interests. People were genuinely interested in my research too taking hand-outs or requesting them when I soon ran out of them. It can be easy to forget that people other than yourself and your supervisor might be interested in your research too!

Meeting other PhD students was interesting too. They came from universities from the exotic to the well-known and from small research groups to large research groups with seemingly unlimited funding and samples. There were also cultural differences too, in the way people networked and  in their lives back home. It opened my eyes to the competition but also to the opportunities, shared interests and collegiality within the global research network. Maybe I will consider at least applying for an international post-doc, who knows? I do know that I very much like my university  though, and ideally,  it’s where I’d like to end up.

My conference adventure left me with several gifts. First, a greater sense of confidence; if I can fend for myself in a foreign country and muddle through in a foreign language, I can do anything! Second, hope; academia is incredibly competitive but there are some amazing opportunities out there, including international conferences, if you can combine hard work with enough serendipity to secure them. Third, my adventure left me with a stronger sense of belonging; at the local level, I got to know our little research team better and at a broader level,  I feel more part of the research community and that I do have a role to play in it, however tiny.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained!



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Filed under academic culture, Clinical Phd, communication, conferences, Goals, milestone, PhD, Reflections

Serendipity / se – ruhn – dip – i – ti /

I’m not a particularly competitive person, but a few weeks ago I entered a competition to communicate my research. I enjoy public speaking, so I thought it would be a bit of fun, would help me understand my research better and might get my research ‘out there’. I was right on all three counts. However, as a result of the competition, I also managed to inadvertently recruit a participant, win money and other prizes, meet some great people and score an interview about my research! Serendipity indeed, I certainly didn’t see any of this coming!

By definition, serendipity is the “happy accident,” the unexpected stroke of luck, but wouldn’t it be great if you could attract serendipity and the success that seems to come with it? Well, it may sound like an oxymoron, but I think you might be able to. Humour me…

A dice with number 4 upside.

Chances are you’ve heard someone who is a success in their field being posed the million dollar question, how did you do it?! Maybe you’ve even asked someone yourself, perhaps a friend, colleague or relative? Some people seem to be able to describe the ‘how’, but other people reply that they “just did it”. If we look a bit closer though, it’s obvious that these things don’t just happen, no one really wakes up to discover they’ve become a pop sensation, Oscar winning actor or cutting edge scientist overnight.  A series of serendipitous events might be the culprits in each case, but something still had to spark that serendipity and I think that this spark is something we have control over.

So how can we attract such serendipity? What are these sparks? Cal Newport has written a series of posts at his blog Study Hacks* about the sorts of things that spark “serendipity” for students and professionals, resulting in their successes. For instance, a guest post by Ben Canoscha suggests that being open to random ideas and experiences can yield unexpected benefits, while Cal’s Zen Valedictorian series  emphasises focussing on one thing, doing it well and then capitalising on the low hanging fruit. The best thing about these ideas, is that they’re achievable; they highlight that success isn’t something that just happens to other people, whomever those other people might be, it can happen to you or I, if we go out and actively seek it.

So maybe serendipity is an oxymoron because in reality, those happy accidents aren’t always so accidental.

* I highly recommend Study Hacks. I’ve been following the blog since high school, and I find it very helpful. It’s always interesting and full of new ideas.

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Filed under Clinical Phd, communication, Reflections, Research

I did it!

Over the last few weeks I’ve been waiting to start running my study, anticipating what it would be like to step into the role of a tutor and preparing to give a presentation about my research. Happily, I can now say that within the space of one week, all that waiting, anticipating and preparing is over.

On the other side of the classroom…

I am now officially a tutor. I was nervous as I waited for my first class to file in but once I started it was a lot of fun, the time flew by and, I grew in confidence. Surprisingly, the most difficult aspect of tutoring proved to be remembering which tutorial I had told what, because I ran them all back to back. Next time I have a content heavy rather than discussion focussed tutorial I plan to keep a check list of what I have covered to avoid repeating myself. No doubt each tutorial will keep me on my toes in one way or another, but I’m enjoying it.

Data collection begins

I’ve also started running my study. To my pleasant surprise it’s quite popular; the sessions I advertised were snapped up almost immediately. I was even able to administer the psychological tests with reasonable fluency.  Running my study is going to be great practice for psychological testing. However, as with any study, I’m now identifying all the tiny aspects that you never anticipate causing problems but that inevitably do. This has caused me a few headaches in the last week but having checked in with my supervisor for some advice I think things are now under control.

A problem shared…

This week also saw me share my research problem with the faculty in the form of a presentation. I like public speaking but the hour beforehand I was definitely nervous. Once I got up there though I felt  fine and managed to field a few responses to the questions that followed with my supervisor’s help. These questions will be helpful in terms of shaping the lens through which I present my argument.

All in all, what a week!

My tired kitty.

My tired kitty. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Filed under A day in the life, Clinical Phd, communication, running a study, tutoring

Hitting the Wall

English: Bricks in a wall.

English: Bricks in a wall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It has been a weird week. I came back from holidays on Monday and hit “The Wall” by 10 o’clock  Tuesday morning. If you’ve ever been a student, you’ll have experienced The Wall: the state of exceeding one’s ability to focus on and contribute sensibly to the task at hand. This insidious ‘condition’ presents in a number of ways. In severe cases, the afflicted individual may find themselves transfixed by the sheer expanse of a blank Word document or perhaps giggling hysterically with a fellow student at something that, in ordinary circumstances, would not provoke even a glimmer of a smile (typical onset: exam revision).*

Luckily for me, I was able to move past The Wall relatively quickly, following a healthy dose of groaning aloud  (“AAAAAAHHHHH!”), and chuckling at the irony of having hit The Wall with the task at hand. Why was it so absurd ? Well, I was writing a presentation about my thesis, the third in fact in the space of about two months and I actually quite enjoy this sort of thing!!

I still don’t know what was tripping me up. Maybe it was having to recall all the details I had so meticulously culled from my last presentation, a three minute speech about my thesis for a non-specialist audience, so I could use these details in a ten minute presentation for a specialist audience? It might also have been my fear of accidentally lapsing into the wrong version of my thesis presentation if I used similar turns of phrase, given that I’ll be presenting them both within weeks of each other and I have a bit of a habit of memorising things, sometimes without meaning to. Who knows? All I do know is that right now, I’d rather just get up there and wing it! But I know I won’t, I rarely leave things to chance. To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail after all.

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Filed under A day in the life, communication, thesis, writing

Honours thesis presentation

I am one of those unusual (apparently) people who enjoys public speaking. I think it stems from entering competitions in high school, but I’ve never really been terrified of standing up in front of people and performing in some capacity, despite being a self-confessed introvert. Of course I still get nervous, I’m only human, but overall I enjoy it.

As part of a course requirement I had to give a fifteen minute presentation about my thesis to an audience of fellow honours students and faculty members. During the lead up I practiced my speech with a few friends and managed to more or less learn it by heart. I also attended another presentation session to get a feel for how they were run. My preparation was going well until I realised I’d made a stupid error with one of my variables, and that I  also needed to adjust my analyses. This meant that although my introduction, rationale and method section were fine, I had to re-do part of my results section and run a regression the night before! With advice from my supervisor, I had a clear idea of what I needed to do. I must admit though, I ended up working rather late that night trying to get my results in order, coaxing an unruly graph into submission and explaining my findings. It was all very unlike me, I’m definitely the kind of person who likes to start things early and work slowly and steadily.

Despite the last minute mishaps, the next morning I was looking forward to giving my presentation. I was also reassured because my friend and I had a back-up plan. In case no-one asked any questions at the end of each of our presentations we had devised ‘planted’ questions for each other to get the ball rolling.

I was first-up, just like old times. Before I knew it, I had come to the end of my speech, more or less without using my cue cards and I managed to get a laugh from the audience. To my apprehension though, I was greeted by silence. Not a single question… Had I rambled? Spoken too fast? Bored them? Before I could dwell on these speculations, my friend who jumped in with her ‘question.’ Thankfully, that seemed to be the cue for everyone else to contribute. I was so relieved. Mostly, I was asked about how I might explain certain findings and what the literature had to say. These were not too difficult to answer. Someone also gave me a great idea I might pursue in my PhD, if I get that far!

All in all it went very well and I received a few compliments from students and faculty members. I was on a high for the rest of the day. Another welcome development I attribute to the thesis presentations and the looming thesis deadline is the increased camaraderie between the honours students.  In the weeks leading up to the presentations it was not unusual to bump into other students in computer labs running last minute analyses, to chat about trying to make sense of data, findings that went in the opposite direction to predictions, or for some people what to do about their lack of data! It is always reassuring knowing that we are all going through the same challenges.

So, for anyone out there facing their own thesis presentation, enjoy it, it is a good experience and it can give you a fresh perspective about your project. Good luck!

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Filed under communication, Honours year, Research, thesis