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February 2013

Hello everyone - it's been a busy month!


This newsletter is a few days late because I started my new job as director of research training at the Australian National University. It's a wonderful job! I'm enjoying meeting so many new and amazing people however adapting to the new job routine has been complicated by living 500kms away.

While I am on campus (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) I have been living in Burgmann College. It's a vibrant community of students, both undergrad and post-grad, and a fun and fascinating introduction to ANU. As I write this I am listening to a band practice in the common room... I guess we all have to start somewhere :-)

Flying in and out each week takes a lot of time and energy, but I'm slowly getting the hang of it and getting some things done. Our team has launched a new Research Masterclass program for ANU staff and students. Once I get my technology sorted out, I hope to be able to live stream some of them so you can participate from far away.

I popped off to Queensland this past friday to give a lecture to PhD students at Griffith University on Edupunk. Thanks to everyone who made me so welcome, and to Dr Chris Bigum for writing this lovely summary of my lecture.

The good thing about all this travel (besides the frequent flyer points!) is that I've had time to catch up on my reading, on and offline. So here is this the February wrap up of interestingness from the web discovered on the web, mostly via Twitter.

Reading and Writing

I enjoyed this piece from Rohan Maitzen "On blogging and intellectual Curiosity" in which she extended on some thoughts I offered on my PhD2Published blog post "You make me want to throw up: why do some academics hate blogging?" Rohan echoes my own sentiments about academics who do not read blogs and ponders on the reason why:

"Maybe it’s just a pragmatic fear of being overwhelmed in that way that holds some academics back. That’s not the general impression I get from the derisive way some of my colleagues still talk about Twitter or blogs, though: for them, the lack of engagement does seem to bespeak contempt, disbelief that there could be any merit in spending one’s time with such frivolity. (How they don’t realize the implicit insult to me when they say such things baffles me! Do they think I’m an idiot, then, to bother with all this?) Then there are those who overestimate the technical effort involved, or who don’t know about basic tools like Google Reader that simplify the process of sorting through multiple sources. There’s also simple inertia: people have a certain way of doing things, a certain workflow, a certain relationship to their reading and their computers. Whatever the inhibitions or prejudices involved, I think they all hint at an unfortunate lack of intellectual curiosity..."

For those of you who find writing onerous, perhaps you might consider publishing your findings as a graphic novel? That's what Gareth Morris did anyway and he writes about the reasons why, and the process they went through, on the LSE Impact blog.

The discussion about the form a thesis / dissertation might take continues in this post from the Chronicle which reflects on new and emerging forms of scholarship and how they might relate to the PhD. The importance of tending to the methods section in a conventional thesis was highlighted in Pat Thomson's excellent post on writing a methods section. If you are just beginning your PhD you might find this post by the 3 month thesis on understanding academic literature a useful guide.


This article "Australia's scientists substandard: report" in Melbourne's local paper 'The Age' caused a stir when I tweeted it and rightly so. The chief scientist of Australia, Ian Chubb's comments about the value of the sciences vs humanities raised the ire of scholars such as Ben Kraal who asked: "Does the Chief Scientist have a policy position that humanities research funding should be cut to bolster science funding? Do current funding priorities direct funding away from the sciences?".

The poor discussion of citation metrics in the Age article prompted an entertaining and enlightening rebuttal from my favourite statistician, @thesadistician. In his excellent post, demolishing the figures quoted by the reporter, The Sadistician takes apart the math and makes a compelling case for thinking beyond citation measures as a way to judge the quality academic work:

"... scientists at any level, and in particular Australia’s Chief Scientist, should know that past performance is no guarantee of future success. You only have to look at the music industry to see this truism demonstrated time and time again by the “one-hit wonders”. Basing funding decisions on past performances or the citation count is doomed to failure, for it will, at best, only maintain the status quo."

Academic Culture

My post "Academic assholes and the circle of Niceness" went completely NUTS on social media. Although I've written on such topics before, nothing has resonated like this. So far the post has had over 51,000 views and generated 167 comments - some of whom disagree with my basic premise that academia can do without assholes and still have a robust culture of critique. It's already the second most popular post ever on the Thesis Whisperer, just behind "How to write 1000 words a day and not go bat shit crazy" (which has had 2 years to reach anything like that number).

The piece came to the attention of the Times Higher Education, which published excerpts in its Scholarly Web section and the influential US website Inside Higher ed, who interviewed me by email. I was pleased that Inside Higher ed sent my piece back for comment by the original author of the book I cited, Bob Sutton and the researcher who did work on the way nice people are perceived as less intelligent than nasty people, Tess Amabile. The post prompted people to send me others in the same vein. I found this reflection on women leaders, via @meganjmcpherson, to be particularly interesting and worth a read.

Amongst all this negativity, it was lovely to read "On getting a PhD" from the Gukira blog which reflects on the value of the process:
"I missed the space where I could encounter my intelligence and my stupidity; I missed the company of those who, like me, similarly encountered their intelligence and their stupidity. I missed the setting where a certain way of thinking could happen and mattered. Mattered not because it was recognized as groundbreaking or significant; not because it won awards; not because it offered social capital. Mattered because our being together as thinkers, as co-thinkers, enabled a certain way of being in the world."


Those of you, like me, who use Evernote will no doubt have discovered by now the site has been hacked and you will need to change your password. Hopefully no confidential data has been leached from the site, but it certainly gave me pause for thought about how much information I store up there.

On the subject of working cultures, this post on composing your own advisory board, which @mnot sent me, is written for entreprenuers, but could easily be adapted to PhD study. It outlines the type of people you should look for to help you work through any new set of ideas.

For some reason I started exploring the world of instructional videos on You Tube - boy is there a lot of useful stuff out there! Check out this silent, but useful video on "Asking research questions" and this rather long one on doing a literature review. I'd like to look into doing a few of these, you know in all that spare time I have :-) If you are interested in producing these things, this list of screen cast tools might come in handy.

For the scrivener fans amongst you, this post on annotations and comments in Scrivener is very useful as is this video. If you are in event planning HELL like I am, this post from Nadine Muller on organising a conference which has some good time saving tips. If this newsletter has encouraged you to go and explore Twitter, you might appreciate this link on how to decode a Tweet.

Book reviews:

This month, mostly on the plane I read "Herding Cats: being advice to the aspiring academic manager" which was amusing and informative in equal measures (oh, and here's a fun video of actual cat herding).

I finally downloaded "Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking", which caused me to reflect on my own academic style. It's full of interesting stories, research and reflection on being introverted and, I think, a good guide to the kind of people you often meet in academia.

My thanks to @catspajamasnz (aka Joyce Seitzinger) for gifting me a copy of "How to be a woman" by Caitlin Moran; an extremely funny and personal memior of feminism which is a powerful read.

If there's a book you think I should read or review for the blog, please let me know via email - details on the blog.

Until next month,