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  • Mar 11 / 2015
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PhD Experience, Uduak Ntuk

Is that the time? How to keep on track during your PhD

By Uduak Ntuk:

Previously, Olivia Kirtley and Arlene McGarty have written about the effort that goes into research and the need to be organised when undertaking a PhD. As PhD students we don’t just encounter academic problems; there are also challenges in time management, motivation and creativity.  I thought I could share some practical ways to be more productive during the PhD journey, some of which are based on my personal experience – things I should be doing and things I have done.

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  • Mar 06 / 2015
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Profcast

The Profcast: Dr Marilyn Mcgee Lennon

The Profcast is back with this fantastic interview from Dr. Marilyn McGee Lennon, Senior Research Fellow in Human Computing Interaction at Strathclyde University:

Why did you become an academic?

I always loved researching stuff at school – before I really knew what research was. I never really minded what the topic was – as long as I was investigating, reading, gathering evidence, producing reports and disseminating results. It was only when I was then at University studying myself (starting at 16) that I thought that I could be a really good academic. I also love teaching (shh don’t tell anyone) which is unfortunately a little rare these days. I truly believe that if work hard enough at it I can get almost anyone to understand something. That can be quite an annoying trait to my friends and family but comes in really handy when assigned a challenging new course to teach. In my early career I always apologised for being an academic and told many people “don’t worry I am not a real academic” because I never wanted anyone to think I was aspiring to be a stuffy old professor in an ivory tower. It was only when I began to meet and work with other forward thinking, dynamic and diverse academics that I thought – maybe it is okay to have an academic identity after all and to not be afraid to say yes – I am an academic and I love it! Continue Reading

  • Feb 18 / 2015
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Profcast

The Profcast: Professor Danny Dorling

In this week’s Profcast we’re thrilled to have Danny Dorling, Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford, and expert on social inequalities, answering our questions.

Why did you become an academic?

I fell into it – the key thing was doing a PhD in Newcastle in 1989 – of the four of us who did one then in my year group, three are now professors.

If you were not an academic what would you be?

No idea – there is a big range of possibilities – on the basis of what other people who did my degree now do – I’d probably be middle management in a public sector utility. Continue Reading

  • Feb 11 / 2015
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Methods, Olivia Kirtley

So you want to go systematic? Three points to prevent you weeping into your keyboard

By Olivia Kirtley:

Conducting a systematic review has become somewhat of a rite of passage for PhD students.  Systematic reviews can sometimes get a bad press for being “boring” or “unwieldy”, but have the potential to provide critical insight into the state of an area of knowledge as we know it (or think we know it).  Often in the cold light of a systematic review, things that we thought were fact are revealed to be spurious.  Doing a systematic review is no mean feat however, from either a logistical or an academic perspective. Based on my own experiences of conducting a narrative systematic review, here are a few pointers to consider:

  • How many hits did I take again?

One of the most important things when conducting a systematic review is to be organised and keep copious detailed notes of every tiny little thing you have done.  And I really do mean everythingThis is a great excuse to go and buy yourself a nice new notebook or set up a shiny new Excel sheet to log everything you do.

Things you will want to keep notes on:

  • Your search terms (e.g. self-harm, suicid*)
  • The dates you conducted your database searches
  • Which databases you used, e.g. PsycINFO, Medline, PubMed
  • How many hits you got from each
  • The exact format in which you entered your search terms into each database (we’ll come back to this in a minute)

In addition to these notes, you should fill out (and include in your review) a PRISMA flow diagram.  PRISMA provides best-practice guidelines for conducting your review or meta-analysis, from producing an accurate, replicable search methodology, to what kind of things your review should cover.

Create an account within the databases you use, so that you can save your searches.  This will save you countless hours of trying to remember the exact format that you used to enter your search terms if your search times out or you end up having to update your review at some point.  Trust me on this! 🙂

You will also want to use some form of reference management software (e.g Endnote), so that you can transfer all of your search hits (not just the ones you think are relevant, that comes later!) to a place where they will not change, disappear or time-out if you get a phone call or start reading PhD Comics.

  • This is not a magnum opus.

You’ve read every single one of these X studies a hundred times and you know them inside out.  If someone asked you how many participants ate breakfast on the morning of the study in Bloggs et al (2014), you could tell them and also say how many sugars they each had in their coffee.  You want to show everyone that you know all of this information. Don’t.  This is a systematic review, not a magnum opus.  It is not supposed to be an all-you-can-eat buffet of details about each study, it is a finely curated set menu which only includes certain, relevant details that are specific to your research questions.

Leading onto the last point, which is…

  • This message could not be delivered…

Systematic reviews are usually longer than other types of papers, but this does not issue you with an automatic licence to bore the socks off people or for lazy (or even zero) editing.  Just as you would do with an empirical article, always ensure you trim the fat; keep the paper as lean as possible and make sure that your take home messages come through loud and clear.  Your systematic review should not be a 50 page list or read like a bibliography.  Even though you are looking at previous work, the insights and conclusions you arrive at should be new, interesting and move the area forward.  This type of paper is about synthesis, not repetition.

As that great orator, Dr Kelso, once said “nothing in this world worth having comes easy”.  Doing a systematic review can be tough, but you will get there!  It is a great learning process and a fantastic opportunity to develop detailed expertise in your area.  Who knows?  Maybe your new insights could provide the platform for a quantum leap in your field!

Do you have any top tips for conducting systematic reviews? We’d love to hear them in the comments or on our Twitter feed @IHAWKES1.

  • Feb 04 / 2015
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Matt Jamieson, PhD Experience

After your PhD – what’s the next step

Photo by Rama Krishna. © 2016. © CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.

Photo by Rama Krishna. © 2016. © CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay.

By Matthew Jamieson

In the months before began my PhD I worked in a shopping centre in the suiting department. During this time I would tell my colleagues I would soon be a doctor (though not a proper one) and, being mostly undergraduates, they seemed suitably impressed that I was embarking on what was presumably quite a professional career. This reaction made me feel like I knew where I was going. I was an executive academic, with shiny shoes and wearing a slim fit shirt and tie. Continue Reading

  • Jan 28 / 2015
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Arlene McGarty, Methods

A good thesis is a finished thesis!

By Arlene McGarty:

I bring you my first IHAWKES blog from the “preparing to write up” phase of my PhD. And boy, what a nice phase it is. It’s that point in a PhD when all the research has been conducted, the stresses of recruitment and data collection are a distant memory, that never-ending analysis did in fact end, yet the dreaded “writing up” phase has not fully begun. It’s a very welcomed, albeit short, period of calm in an otherwise hectic process. So, in a bid to prolong the serenity a little longer, I’ve put together 5 top tips which I’ve found particularly helpful as I prepare to write up.

1. The writing should have started a long time ago

You’ve probably heard this from day one of your PhD, from everyone that has ever done a PhD. And I’m sorry to jump on the bandwagon, but they’re right – writing as you go makes a huge difference. It’s not a case of starting chapter one on day one, but simple things, such as taking notes whilst reading or drafting method sections when data collection procedures are still fresh in your mind, will prove extremely useful as you prepare to write up.

2. Plan ahead

It’s important to develop a general plan for your thesis and think about how it will be structured, what your chapters will be, and to familiarise yourself with your Institute/College thesis guidelines. This initial plan will give a structure to what you’re writing and soon you will start to see how different elements of your thesis fit together. As you prepare to write up, a plan of each chapter – detailing the information to be included within each section and subsection – will keep your writing focused and will let you view your thesis as many small, achievable sections of writing, rather than a single, daunting piece of work.

3. Set deadlines

Deadlines are an important aspect of keeping the writing process on track…and I love them! If it were not for deadlines, I’d still be aimlessly trawling through BMJ Christmas issues and watching Still Game best bits on YouTube. When it comes to writing up, working towards a thesis submission deadline that is months away is unrealistic and more than a little demotivating. Set short-term deadlines with yourself for sections of a chapter and plan deadlines with your supervisor/s for sending them completed chapters. If you struggle with keeping deadlines you set for yourself, get a friend involved who can encourage you to stick to it.

4. Make use of other people and resources

Even though writing a thesis is a very individual piece of work, there are still plenty of people and resources to support and guide you through it. Within the University, there are numerous classes to help you develop the skills required for writing up. There are also books and endless online resources covering writing strategies and techniques; however, top tip 4.1, make sure that reading about writing doesn’t distract you too much from actually writing! Then there are the people around you – fellow PhD students, staff, and supervisors will have a wealth of do’s and don’ts when it comes to writing. Remember, however, that everyone is different, so find a writing routine that works for you.

5. Look after yourself

As the end becomes nearer, there’s a feeling that the more you work the sooner you’ll be finished, which makes non-stop writing seem oddly tempting. However, the most important part of writing up is you, so if you’re not in good health your thesis will suffer. It’s important to get away from writing now and again, so don’t forget to keep active, socialise, and relax.

Finally, as I reflect on my top tips, I find myself questioning the validity of my opening comment – am I really in the “preparing to write up” phase? Maybe this is not a standalone phase but a continual and gradual process over the course of a PhD, as the skills and information required to write a thesis are accumulated and honed over time. As thesis writing goes, those little things you do throughout your PhD – going to classes, writing here and there – are the things your future self will greatly appreciate. And when you put all these little things together, the prospect of writing a thesis will not feel like the overwhelming task that it once did.

  • Jan 14 / 2015
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Academia, Ruth Agbakoba

Five top tips for writing a conference paper

© Pexels. 2014. Licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.

© Pexels. 2014. Licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.

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By Ruth Agbakoba

This is my first ever blog post for IHAWKES and I feel that it is quite a fitting time for me to reflect and share some of my personal experiences as a doctoral student.  I am a final year MRC DTP (Medical Research Council, Doctoral Training Programme) funded PhD Student evaluating the implementation of the Living It Up project (a digital health and wellbeing service) which is part of a £37 million UK wide programme called DALLAS. I am particularly interested in a) how innovative digital technologies and services can be used to enhance health and wellbeing and b) how such interventions can be routinized into people’s daily lives. The project is supported by NHS 24, Scottish Centre for Telehealth and Telecare (SCTT), the Scottish Government and Innovate UK (Department of Health). Continue Reading

  • Jan 07 / 2015
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Profcast

The Profcast: Dr. Gozde Ozakinci

A new year, a new profcast! Today we’re talking to Dr. Gozde Ozakinci, Lecturer in Health Psychology at the University of St Andrews.

Why did you become an academic?

For me, it was a natural attraction. I liked being around people who were excited by ideas about how humans/animals ‘worked’. I also had the fortune of attending a beautiful university in Istanbul (http://www.boun.edu.tr/en_US). I just fell in love with the idea of teaching and doing research with enthusiastic and smart students  in a beautiful environment. And initially (like many psychology students I guess), I thought I’d also combine it with clinical psychology practice. I had done some volunteer research assistance in some labs in my university in health psychology. And I really liked it. But I was not ready to give up my ‘I want to be a therapist’ goal yet. But doubts were creeping in. So, after I finished my degree, I took a year out and went to Cardiff and spent a year in a psychiatric hospital as a community service volunteer. There were 6 of us there and we lived in the hospital too! Oh the stories I can tell but I’m digressing… And there I realised my passion for psychology was in the health domain and not in the clinical world.. I did an MSc  in health psychology at UCL and had the fortune of being supervised by Profs John Weinman and Charles Abraham. And the rest is history! Continue Reading

  • Dec 03 / 2014
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Academia, Katie Gallacher

Treatment burden: a new agenda for research across the globe

By Katie Gallacher:

Health care providers across the globe are facing one of their biggest challenges yet: the increasing volume of people with chronic disease, and the enormous proportion of those with multimorbidity (more than one long term condition). It seems however, that whilst trying to keep up with demands, governing bodies and policy makers have forgotten one important thing…the patient experience.  Continue Reading