‘The New Academic’: great blog for PGRs and ECRs

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Nadine Muller has launched an excellent new blog for postgraduate researchers (PGRs) and early career researchers (ECRs). In her own words…

The New AcadmicIn November 2012 I launched The New Academic, a continuing series of blog posts on all things academic, aimed at postgraduate and early-career researchers. Rather than lengthy personal accounts, The New Academic aims to provide short tips and guidance – however subjective – on key academic activities.

I now write to you with two requests (besides hoping you will visit the blog and comment, or even recommend it to others):

  1. If you are a researcher and would like to propose a guest post on a topic of your choice, please get in touch with me. Posts may be personal accounts of your experiences in academia generally, or may address specific issues you’ve encountered.
  2. Considering recent announcements of funding cuts, the next season of The New Academic (starting May 2013) will be dedicated exclusively to the experiences of part-time and/or self-funded postgraduate students, who can, unfortunately, often find themselves overlooked within departments (though of course this isn’t always the case) and within the academic landscape. If you were or are a part-time and/or self-funded postgraduate and would like to contribute a post about your experiences, please do get in touch. I already have a list of 30+ people on my potential author list for this series of posts, and the more voices are heard, the better.

Please feel to get in touch with me via or, and feel free to pass this message on to anyone you think may be interested. Any comments and suggestions are gratefully received, as are suggestions for guest posts.

I hope you’ll find the blog a valuable resource – as you will see, it lays no claim to being a universal database of knowledge, but to simply provide useful “beginners'” information and overviews which I hope will be of help to other postgraduate researchers and early-career academics.

All the best and thanks for reading,


Dr Nadine Muller

Lecturer in English Literature & Cultural History Liverpool John Moores University Dean Walters Building

Twitter: @Nadine_Muller


QR codes

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QR codeIn case you’ve been perplexed by those funny little squares that have been appearing all over campus, they are QR codes – short for Quick Response code. Although the look like tiny Rorschach tests, they are actually a scannable code, capable of holding any type of data. They originated in the automative industry and were used to manage inventory, but are now much more widely deployed to enable those armed with smartphones to find more information on a particular product or service by pointing them to a website.

There are more imaginative uses, too. You might have noticed an outbreak of QR codes in the Library, allowing you to quickly report rowdiness in the quiet areas. With a flick of a wrist, you can summon a Librarian to tell them to shhhhh.

If you already have a smartphone, then you’re just a few short steps away from being able to take advantage of this new technology. There are a number of free apps available. For Android, the most popular scanner is by ZXing and there’s a similar product available for the iPhone.

Sadly, as it with the case of any innovation, there are some annoying people who have devoted a lot of time to adapting QR codes for malicious use. Be careful where you point your smartphone, as some codes will direct you to dodgy sites intent on stealing your details. They are in the minority, however, and most will simply help you access information and services quickly and easily.

Should you want to generate your own QR codes, there are many website that will allow you to do this for free, including And if you want to find out more about the technology behind these strange blobs, there’s a very good article on Wikipedia (the QR code above will also take your there).

Do let us know if you come up with any imaginative uses of your own.

Raising your academic profile with LinkedIn

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Are you making the most of your LinkedIn profile? Personally, I’m uncomfortable with self-promotion, but I do engage in it. Researchers have to ‘put themselves out there’; ‘engage with the wider researcher community’ and other such clichés. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but clichés are not untrue. We know that doing these things will help us to raise our profile. Maybe not immediately, but making ourselves visible in social networking platforms, on websites, in online communities *will* have benefits that come later.

Researchers who do engage on some level with digital self-promotion tend to have wider networks than those that refrain. Your profile is available to others, often tagged with keywords, perhaps accompanied by PDFs of your conference/journal papers and slides from your presentations. People will find you! With the recent opening of Google Scholar Citations (did you see Martin Eve’s guest post on this?) you are now even more discoverable.

What about LinkedIn?

In the light of newer, shinier platforms, LinkedIn may look a little like ‘facebook for grown-ups’, which I think underestimates the reach and potential of using it. I know someone who was invited to take part in a cross-disciplinary group in the states, through making contacts and publishing her CV on LinkedIn. This was a paid job, not an internship. Recently a colleague told me that at least one large employer in the UK has stopped using application forms for recruitment – they ask only for the applicants LinkedIn profile. Scary as this may be, it’s also an opportunity in disguise. Your LinkedIn profile makes your skills and experience available to a huge number of professionals in all areas, including other academics and researchers. But it does mean to you need to keep it up-to-date, and make sure you’re making the most of it.

In this presentation, Sue Beckingham, Education Developer, takes you through why you might want to set up a LinkedIn profile, and how to manage it to make sure you’re accessing the best that LinkedIn can offer. There is a transcript available to accompany the presentation on the SlideShare website. Let us know how you get on.

Using Skim with Scrivener for researching & writing your Thesis

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Every Wednesday night, between 19:30 and 20:30 UK time [1], a ‘brood’ [2] of doctoral researchers from different time-zones gather under the Twitter hashtag #phdchat, for a synchronous chat about different aspects of doctoral research.  The week before last, the selected topic was the Literature Review.  I mentioned that I often used Skim alongside Scrivener (on a Mac), and was asked if I could explain my workflow a bit, which is what I’ve tried to do here. Read the rest of this entry »

Digital networking – a doctoral researcher’s perspective

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Guest blogger Liz Thackray, doctoral researcher at Sussex whose research spans the disciplines of Sociology and Informatics, discusses how digital networking can reduce the doctoral-lonliness in different ways.  Check out Liz’s own blog and researcher profile.

Doing a doctorate is a lonely journey – but does it have to be, in a networked world?

Open any handbook on getting a PhD or becoming a research student, and it doesn’t take long to learn that one of the characteristics of the experience is loneliness. Instead of being in a large undergraduate group or smaller taught postgraduate group of like-minded students, it is all too easy to be in a situation where you have nobody around who you can easily talk to about either life or study. As a new research student in an unfamiliar university, it can be difficult to even get basic information, like where are the toilets and is there anywhere to boil a kettle. Even when familiar with the environment, it can still be difficult to find somebody to go to lunch with, or somebody interested to hear that the cat has just had kittens – everybody around can seem so busy and so focused on their own research that it can feel that they can only be interrupted if the rapture really has arrived – and even that may not merit disturbance.

However, talk to most research students and what they want is to be in a community of like-minded individuals with opportunities to share the joys and despairs of the doctoral journey – as well as an occasional pint or a chat about the aforementioned kittens. Supervisors also will speak of how important it is for research students to have colleagues to share their learning with.

This blog isn’t about finding a solution to the conundrum of why it is so difficult to attain the collegiality everybody seems to acknowledge is so desirable. Rather, I want to point up some of the ways that the loneliness of the research student can be remedied through judicious use of the Internet.

Social networking

It is probable that most people reading this blog will have heard of websites like Facebook and LinkedIn, but may not have considered these as antidotes to doctoral isolation. True Facebook is a good place for keeping in touch with friends and family, and LinkedIn for developing a professional profile, but both offer the opportunity for sharing the pain of the journey, keeping in touch with other research students and joining groups of people with similar interests. OK, a bit of discipline might be required to avoid Farmville, but the advantages probably outweigh the disadvantages.

Sharing resources

As doctoral researchers, we acquire vast bibliographies – things we have read, things we mean to read and things we don’t know if they are worth reading. Resources like Mendeley, a free, online, referencing site, and Diigo, social bookmarking, are useful, not only as online repositories – and therefore accessible anywhere there is an internet connection – but because they offer the opportunity to set up and join groups and share resources. Both sites provide facilities for writing personal notes on resources that can be shared with others. If I am looking for a resource in such a group, I can read colleague’s reviews and use them to help me decide whether or not to read the article or webpage or whether to move on to something more helpful to me.

Site designed to provide resources to researchers including PhD students

There are a plethora of sites aimed at doc and postdoc researchers. Some are university based like this, but others have been developed as personal blogs by knowledgeable individuals like The Thesis Whisperer. Some have a specific purpose, like how to get published (e.g. PhD2Published), while others are more general in content (e.g. Vitae) but often have specific content aimed at postgraduates. You may have noticed that most of these sites are blogs and be wondering how to know when additional content is added. One of the simplest ways is using a RSS feed aggregator, such as Google Reader – check out the post Really Simple Syndication (or why RSS feeds are useful).

Support community in 140 characters

While the above sites all offer resources, they do not really solve the problem of finding somebody to share a coffee with or how to get a quick answer to a perplexing problem. This is where micro-blogging may assist. Most people have heard of Twitter, if only because of recent press reports of broken injunctions. Fewer people are likely to know of Plurk. Both sites offer the opportunity to register and create a network of followers and people to follow. Initially, it can be confusing, but the use of hashtags (a word preceded by #) can make it much easier to find like minded people. Over the last few months a large number of doctoral students have started using the hashtag #phdchat and organising a thematic tweet-up on Wednesday evenings. Personally, this is my current favourite for meeting knowledgeable colleagues and talking about all things doctorate-related. What is more, a question posted using the hashtag any time of day or night seems to elicit a response.

That is just a small taste of some of the online resources that can help to break down the loneliness and build networks and communities. Like anything worthwhile, becoming a part of a network or using a social web resources demands some effort, but the rewards are well worth it. Incidentally, if you want to find me online, look for lizith on Twitter and lizit in most other places, or follow my blog at

The Good Viva Video

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See the Doctoral School’s study direct site ‘E-Learning for Researchers’ for a new resource on preparing for your Viva:

For doctoral researchers everywhere, the viva is a daunting challenge,often approached with anxiety and confusion rather than careful preparation. Should candidates relax and hope for the best, panic, or prepare systematically for the big day? This 30 minute video by AngelProductions and Birkbeck, University of London, will help students to understand the viva and handle it well. It is now widely used in universities throughout the UK.

The Good Viva Video will help you understand:

  • What is a viva?
  • How important is it to your degree?
  • How do vivas differ between disciplines?
  • How can you prepare?
  • Should you relax or panic?
  • What are the roles of the internal and external examiners and your supervisor?
  • How are examiners chosen?
  • What questions should you expect?
  • How to use a practice viva
  • Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your thesis
  • What are examiners looking for?
  • Coping with examiners mistakes or aggressive questions
  • Understanding the outcome

If you have any difficulties signing into the site please contact

Slides and audio from Hugh Kearns workshops

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Slides and audio recordings from the Hugh Kearns workshops are now available on the study direct site ‘E-learning for Researchers’. These include:

  • ‘Defeating Self Sabotage’ (19th Jan)
  • ‘Turbocharge Your Writing’ (20th Jan)
  • ‘Creating the 7 secrets of highly successful research students (for supervisors)’ (20th Jan)

All researchers should have access to this site at:>

If there are any difficulties with access please let us know.