One thing that students first experience during a Master’s or PhD is the conference circuit. These conference events are where students and career scientists of all levels come together to present their own research, discuss work with peers, and network to start up new collaborations. There are multiple things to consider when it comes to conferences, but two we want to focus here on are deciding which kind of event to go to, and social networking at conferences.
This post focuses on some of the ways in which postgraduate students with a learning disability –specifically dyslexia – can go about getting the best form of support from their supervisors to meet their specific needs. It may also be useful for supervisors themselves in assisting their students. This is from my own personal perspective and experiences during my time as a PhD student together with the assistance which I have had from my University.
I was a poor undergraduate student at the University of New South Wales (Australia) – engaging more with the social and sporting aspects of university than with the academic side of things – until I undertook an honours research year. I then engaged and developed a passion for independent research, and ultimately excelled. Yet as the first member of my family to go to university, I was not clear on the career trajectory available to me, and when my honours supervisor suggested I do a PhD I readily agreed and then we stood looking at each other awkwardly until I left the room.
At some stage during any career when applying for a position you will find yourself in an interview. You will be sitting behind a glass of water and nervously looking up at an interview panel glaring back at you, while your brain is churning and wondering what they might or might not expect you to answer. An experience, I believe, most of us have very mixed feelings about, to say the least. On the one hand, being there means that your written application stood out, that you have come further than probably quite a few others. On the other hand, however, an interview can feel like the deciding moment of your future academic life, where a small glitch might mean you’re back to square one. An interview can surely have all the ingredients for an intimidating and very stressful experience, and if you come to think about it good nightmare material. So the most important advice is: don’t, just don’t think about it, at least not all too much and only in specific ways.
During World War 2, those in charge of Allied strategic bombing were trying to reduce the number of their bombers that were shot down by German fighter planes. Looking at bombers returning back from sorties they noticed that they typically had most received damage from flak and bullets in certain places, and decided that these areas should be reinforced with additional armour. However, a statistician, Abraham Wald, made the counterintuitive suggestion that instead they reinforce the areas where they saw no damage. As Wald pointed out, the bombers that made it home had survived the damage that they could see; damage to other parts of the plane meant that it never made it home to be inspected.
If someone had asked me five months ago if only three weeks after graduating I would pack my bags to move to the United States, I would have turned around to see if they were talking to someone else. Yet, a few days after finishing my masters in biology at the University of Konstanz this February, I found myself buying a one-way ticket to New York.
When talking about work-life balance, people usually refer to “life” as being the fun part and “work” as the stressful and tiring part you mainly do to earn a living. In my opinion it is difficult – if not impossible, to draw such a clear line for researchers in science. For me, being a scientist is first of all not only a job but a deep passion and a way to see the world! Even when I’m on holidays I enjoy reading science books and I might come up with new ideas for my own work. Consequently, work and life cannot strictly be divided, as science is both for many people. However, as we all know, science is a tough world, which demands a lot and puts considerable pressure on us to deliver quality research. The result: our enthusiasm to do science can sometimes turn into frustration as neither “work” or “life” is satisfying.
When I started my PhD (NERC CENTA funded) my cohort were asked if anyone would be interested in organising a student conference, which was to become an annual event as part of our training program. I – somewhat short-sightedly – immediately raised my hand in eager anticipation of CV and experience building opportunities. However, I was somewhat surprised to find everyone else a little slow off the mark, and at the time put it down to people being a bit shy. I don’t want to put anyone off before reading on, but later I discovered that their lack of enthusiasm was probably driven by foresight and not nerves. Either way, at the time I thought it was a great idea and having persuaded two other recruits to join me, set about making plans for our student conference.
Over the past 12 months, members and visitors to the lab have been meeting weekly to discuss a topical paper from the literature. In our journal club, a different person picks a paper each week for everyone to read, and explains the paper before leading a discussion about the questions, methods, and results. Given that the journal club is taken as a class by undergraduate and masters students (who present most often), we have also focused on details of the writing—how has the presentation of the ideas, methods, results, and discussion contributed (either positively or negatively) to our perception of the quality of the paper?
Coming up to about 18 months of cumulative fieldwork in Africa (starting with dwarf mongooses in South Africa and moving on to vulturine guineafowl in Kenya), I am ready to share a few tales. Giving a “general description of a fieldwork day” is an oxymoronic task, as two days in the field rarely resemble one another. Sure, there is some routine in data collection times and protocols, but in my experience of working in the wonderful field of behavioural ecology, the animals run the show.