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 »

Credit where credit is due: who’s in your thesis acknowledgements?

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It’s a cliché that just after creating a new document called ‘Thesis.doc”, the doctoral researcher finding him- or herself in ‘writing-up mode’ will inevitably start writing the Dedication and Acknowledgements.  Stereotyped and tired this image may be, yet it is not a million miles from the truth.  But, let’s pause and remove the veils of cynicism for a moment, because there are good reasons for why the myth is rooted in reality…

The Dedication: who’s your champion?

At the writing-up stage, we have committed a staggering quantity of energy, time and money towards our doctorate.  We have made great sacrifices, most likely starting with small things like sleep and recreation, moving up the scale possibly to health and relationships.  We have worked hard.  And through it all, we have persevered. What keeps us going, through the years of research, culminating in what will probably be the longest piece of academic writing in our career?

Sometimes it isn’t a ‘what’, but a ‘who’ – someone we have kept in mind throughout the doctoral journey, a champion if you like.  This person or persons may be living or dead, near or far.  They will have been the ‘who’ we think of when we’re dragging ourselves through the tough times, and of course when we are celebrating the good times. We want our champions at our graduation ceremony.  We want to make them proud.  I bet you already know who your champions are.

The Acknowledgements: who’s in your your support team?

We know we couldn’t have achieved so much alone – there’s a  support network behind every researcher, and it’s often bigger than we first think.  The tip of the iceberg starts with friends, family, and supervisor.  Go a little deeper though, and we find many more who deserve credit: housemates, library staff, lab technicians, department administrators, postdocs, IT technicians, mentors, archivists, proof-readers, participants, interviewees, researcher communities, bus drivers, bar staff, academics from other institutions, transcribers, office-mates, programmers, et al.

These folk are essential to the progress we’ve made, like the production team is essential to a movie, so let the credits roll.  Let our support team have the recognition they deserve, for the part they have played.  And once we start this list, it’s hard to stop.  We remember every single friendly face, shoulder to cry on, helpful suggestion, handy piece of advice, constructive critique and useful recommendation that has come our way during the doctorate.  We remember every kind email, every motivating chat, consolatory hug, and every bit of practical and emotional support bestowed on us by these wonderful people.

Who reads the credits?

The movie analogy fails us here.  Most of us, at the end of a movie, care little about the credits.  Yet the Acknowledgements section of our Thesis will probably be the most thumbed page of the whole thing. I know it’s the first page I read when looking at somebody else’s thesis.  We’re a curious species, us researchers, it goes with the territory.  I often joke that my thesis will be read in it’s entirety by a grand total of three people (my supervisor and my internal and external examiners).  My Mum will have a good go, though I wouldn’t want to bet on her not skipping a few chunks.  But I bet the acknowledgements get more airing than the rest of it put together, even in these bright new days of open access repositories.  In fact, especially in these bright new days of open access repositories.

The thing is, most of the wonderful people on the roll-call of our support network won’t get to read our thanks to them.  That’s where Time for Some Acknowledgement comes in.  The Time for Some Acknowledgement blog is where you can post your thesis acknowledgements on the internet for the whole world to see.  The blog is run by George Julian, and she will take submissions of your acknowledgements in pretty much any format: scanned pages, word-processed, handwritten, photographed – it’s up to you.  The blog has thesis acknowledgements from all over the world, and makes interesting reading (remember that curiosity?).  It’s also searchable, so you can have a look at who’s thanking who in your own institution – useful if you worry you might have forgotten someone.  Of course you could also use the search function to find out if you appear in someone else’s acknowledgements…

I leave you with a sample from a recent post to the Time for Some Acknowledgement blog, entitled “The path to becoming a doctor is littered with distractions. I’d like to thank those distractions for making me the person I am“:

I would like to thank many people who have helped me through the completion of this dissertation. The first is my advisor, Steve Harrison, who is captivating, honest, and the true embodiment of a mentor. In combination with the mentorship of my advisor, I am blessed to work with dynamic and intelligent committee members Dr. Dennis Kafura, Dr. D. Scott McCrickard, Dr. Enid Montague, and Dr. Deborah Tatar. I would also like to thank the Computer Sc … Read More

via Time for some acknowledgement

My viva experience

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Apologies for the radio silence here on the blog, I was taken ill suddenly.  I am now convalescing, and thought I’d post this, as I started writing it just before I became unwell.  My viva was on the 24th September, and people often ask what it was like, so I thought I’d put my thoughts down in case they became useful to others…

Notes on my Viva

Just a note: I found my viva exam to be one of the most positive experiences of my doctorate.  If you’re looking for viva horror stories, you’ll need to go elsewhere, sorry.

Firing up

I had not been nervous really until the actual day of the viva.  Then it started to come on in the morning, building slowly, until early afternoon, when I started to feel drenched in fear.  Immediately before going in at 3pm, it was at its utter worst.  The viva took place in my internal examiners office, and as my Supervisor escorted me from the cafe, I felt I was walking the walk of doom.  I shook hands with my examiners, and sat at the table, in front of a small bottle of water with a plastic cup.

My internal examiner started off apologising for not having arranged tea.  He said that the viva would not be very long, and that it was unusual for a candidate to be told this in advance.  I wasn’t to read anything into this, the fixed duration of the viva being set by the train and plane times arranged for my external examiner.  We had two hours, and we kept up a good pace throughout the exam, and as it was, I felt I could have discussed some topics for longer, though I must say that I didn’t feel rushed or that we missed anything.

First gear

I was still exceedingly nervous at this point, and the first thing I was asked, was to talk for 10 to 15 minutes about the background to how my research came about, the journey that I took, and the highlights along the way.  I can sometimes waffle.  Really waffle.  Sometimes when the handbrake on my mouth is released, and after several metaphorical miles of talking, I can discover to my horror that my brain has been humming away in neutral for the entire journey.  I’m also blessed/cursed with self-awareness, so I *know* I sometimes do this, and I *know* how awful it is to find myself doing it.  So I worry about doing it, and become absurdly vigilant, often stopping mid-sentence and saying things like “ok, I should shut up now”, or “…erm, that didn’t answer your question, did it?”.  Despite all this, and after a very cautious start, I soon got into the rhythm of it, started to trust that my brain was firing on all cylinders, and found myself weaving a fairly coherent and competent narrative around the six experiments that form my thesis.  About 8 minutes in, I finally started to relax.  I realised I *did* know my work very well, that there was an interesting story to be told, and that they story was mine to tell.  And I started to realise that I had an audience of two avid listeners, who were hanging on to everything I said with genuine interest.  This had not happened to me before.

I don’t want to paint an impossibly rosy picture, so know this: that first question was the easiest.  I did not fully relax at any point during the 2 hours I was in there – but I think that must be right.  It is an exam.  The culmination of five years of my life: 3 of active research, and 2 of (on and off) writing.  You cannot relax if you stimulated, excited, alert and interested, and I was all of these.  Also, I was painfully aware that my thesis was not as tied up as it should have been.  For reasons I won’t go into here, I had run up tight against the wire with submission times, and some sections were mere vignettes rather than critical analysis.  I was fairly confident that my experimental methods and results were sound.  But I knew that the introductions and conclusions they were wrapped in were less so, and in some cases almost insubstantial. I was fully expecting what we commonly call “major corrections”, and praying not be offered an MPhil or failed outright.

Full throttle

We progressed through my thesis, stopping here and there so my examiners could question me further.  This wasn’t the page-by-page slow death I had previously imagined, and the questions seemed to fall into three loose categories:

  1. To explore in depth or recap something I had written about
  2. To establish something I had not written about, and perhaps should have
  3. To consider the what-ifs of my research (especially as my conclusions and discussions were not very strong)

This seemingly meandering route through my thesis took me by surprise – a lot of  the sections I had made notes on, and the majority of what I thought were glaring holes in my critiques, methods or research, were skated over or not touched on at all.  A couple of points that I had previously thought quite minor, we explored in great depth, and I found myself doing some proper hard thinking.  There was one particular section that I knew was very thin, and I had been prepared to be grilled on it quite hard.  In the end, I was asked a couple of minor questions, and it was left at that.  It’s only now, with the benefit of hindsight that I can see that I wasn’t pushed on that section because it wasn’t central to my argument.  And the sections I was stretched on, were very central to my argument.  Sounds obvious now, doesn’t it?

Throughout the viva, I felt I was being asked to look at my work from other viewpoints, and it wasn’t always easy.  Some of the questions I had to ask to be rephrased because I didn’t understand them, and a couple I started answering and had to be stopped because I had grasped the wrong end of the stick and proceeded to beat myself over the head with it. In one cringe-inducing instance, my internal examiner had to paraphrase my mangled answer for me, so that the external examiner could understand my response, whilst I sat nodding dumbly.

Most of the time though, it did feel like a discussion, with the questions being prompts.  My examiners posed some interesting ideas that I hadn’t thought of myself, and many of which will be very useful when revisiting my thesis.  Getting another’s perspective on your own research is useful, talking to two interested senior academics about your research is valuable, and having that dialogue with the person who is at least the UK, if not world expert in your field (the external examiner), is priceless.  Perhaps it is because I felt like this – I saw my viva as an opportunity, and not as a trial – that I feel so positive about the experience, and got so much from it.

Rear-view Mirror

I think It helped, too, that there had been a 5-month gap between my thesis submission, and my viva – something that frustrated me a bit at the time.  This isn’t an unusual length of time, but it was enough that I was able to let go of my thesis for a while, and it helped me get a more objective stance on it (though of course you can never be completely objective about an x-thousand-word thesis that took three years to research).  I went and reintegrated myself into other aspects of my life for a while, and when I returned, I certainly found myself being less precious about my research, more open to new ideas, and more accepting of constructive criticism.  Above all, I realised I was ready to “kill my darlings”.  I doubt I would have felt this way in the first three months after submission.  All things need time to mellow, and I’m glad I had the time and space to do so.

Rejoining the highway

Back to the viva… Afterwards, I was asked to leave the room while the examiners decide upon their recommendation to the exam board.  They came to get me shortly afterwards (15 mins or so?) and we returned to the exam room.  The examiners wanted me to know that I had viva’d well – that I had given considered answers, that I had shown a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of my research and thesis, and how it might fit into the overall field.  Then they worked through the first three outcome categories allowed for on the Sussex form shown here:

First 3 viva outcomes at Sussex
First 3 viva outcomes at Sussex

Category a) is rarely awarded.  Both examiners said that they disagreed with the way the outcomes are worded – they could no recommend outcome b) because the amendments permitted under this category are specific, and my thesis needed more revision than that.  But they didn’t agree with category c) either – they felt that there was too great a gap between b) and c), and they both objected  to the use of the word “fail” that applies to category 3.  (As it happens, I believe Sussex is in the process of reviewing the wording on these forms, but the wheels move excruciatingly slowly in HEIs).  So, the recommendation from my examiners was to be outcome 3, but they agreed that I need not sit another viva, and that my internal examiner could approve the corrections.  This all sounds a bit flat when written down, but it was actually very encouraging, and my external said that there was “at least one, if not two papers” to be had from my thesis – and to this point I had thought there was none!  I was also advised that I should take some time to immerse myself back into the literature before diving in to make corrections – and I shall be heeding that advice closely.


Afterwards I felt elated, excited about my work, energised and re-motivated.  I also felt a little intellectually knackered.  You know that feeling your body gets the day after a hard workout when you’re not used to it?  That’s how my brain felt.  Good stuff. 🙂

Questions I remember being asked (as I best remember them, not word-for-word):

  • Could you talk us through the background of how your research came about, and the journey you took, including some of the highlights you encountered along the way?
  • Your literature review on SSS[1] starts with Prof A’s 1981 paper, and work on humans.  I wondered if you’d considered going back to earlier work with animals, such as that of Prof B, as it may be central to some of your later work on learning?
  • There seems to be an absence of dissenting voices in your review – have you come across the argument that SSS does not exist, that the measurements might be a reflection of the wanting / liking dichotomy?  For example from Prof C, or Prof D?
  • The bulk of your research relies upon a single dependent variable.  What is your reasoning behind that, and how might it affect your conclusions?
  • You refer here to phenomena Y, could you expand on this please?
  • On page xx you outline two opposing theories of Z – could you explain a bit more about how the theories contrast?
  • Could you tell me how Flavour-flavour learning works?  Why, for instance, would a novel flavour become more liked after exposure with a sweet taste such as sugar?  And how would that be attributed to flavour, and not to energy learning?
  • You make the assertion of hypothesis H1 here, and it looks like you base that on a single published paper.  Is there any other reason you might expect X to be the case?
  • All your experiments use a fixed portions of food.  What made you decide on this method?  Can you think of any limitations using fixed portions might have had on your results?
  • All your data is collected from VAS (visual analogue scales).  Can you think of any other measures that might have been appropriate to take?
  • Experiment 1 presented some unexpected group differences at baseline – have you any thoughts on why this might be?
  • In Experiment 2, your results show a significant linear contrast, and would probably show a significance for a quadratic contrast too.  But this relies on the way you have ordered your categorical experimental conditions. How was this ordering decided, and was that before or after you collected the data?
  • Experiment 3 is underpowered – could you talk us through how this came about, and why you decided not to use some of the data?
  • The effect you found in Experiment 2 is absent from Experiments 3 and 4 – do you have any thoughts on why this might be the case?
  • You did an additional ANCOVA (analysis of covariance) on the data for experiment 4.  Do you think that conducting a similar analysis on experiments 2 and 3 might reveal some more answers?
  • Did you collect this sort of data from participants at different time points in the experiment?  So you could go back and look at that to see if those data provide more answers?
  • It is interesting that you used materials and methods in experiment 6 that worked well for other researchers, but didn’t provide you with the same effects in your work here.  What are your ideas on reasons for that?
  • How might expectancy effects have interfered with your results in the final two experiments?
    What could be done to improve the design of this experiment?
  • If you were to go back to the beginning of your research, what would you do differently?

[1] phenomenon that is the focus of my research

See Also

What happened after the viva? Dealing with major corrections: Part 1 and Part 2