Tag Archives: doctoral students

Three Minute Thesis Competition

Today I (Clare) will be a judge for the 3M 3 Minute Thesis Competition. This competition is found in many universities.

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition is a University-wide competition for doctoral students, in which participants have three minutes or less to present their doctoral research to a panel of non-specialist judges. The challenge is to present complex research information in an engaging, accessible, and compelling way. ​​

This competition is a unique opportunity for graduate students to showcase their innovative and significant research to a wider audience, across disciplines within the University, and to the broader public. It is open to the public and adver​tised within the community.​ 

Graduate students must summarize their thesis (topic, methodology, findings) in 3 minutes. They must present their research in accessible language so that others not familiar with the field can understand it. They can only have 1 ppt slide (which is static), no props, no notes ….

I watched the winner from last year, Daiva Nielsen, and it was amazing. Her research in nutritional sciences examined a large number of participants who were given diet guidelines based on their DNA. There was a control group who just got regular diet info. The group with the specific diet guidelines made much bigger gains (or losses). I highly recommend you watch the video because it is fascinating research made accessible – both content and presentation are so interesting. For those of us who do doctoral supervision this process might beneficial. My thesis supervisor used to tell me that I should be able to summarize my research in 1 sentence, 1 paragraph, and 1 page. I tell my doc students you should be able to explain your research to my mother – no technical language and no jargon. Enjoy the video – here is the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvHqTgjCSu4&index=12&list=PLV7zOJyRGNPP2zAt6XFcQCV7hPNpElPFd




The Next Generation of Academics: An Uncertain Future

The Teaching Assistants in Toronto’s two largest universities are on strike. The issue is not simply one of money. I (Clare) read with interest an article about the strike in the Globe and Mail today. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/for-10000-of-canadas-young-academics-on-the-picket-lines-theres-a-lot-more-at-stake-than-42-an-hour/article23346532/

One of their major concerns is future employment. The article by Simona Chiose provides some startling statistics re: supply and demand. In 2012 there were 6,393 PhD graduates yet between 2008-2011 there were only 3,030 new full-time faculty positions. Graduates are being hired to limited term or part-time positions, not full-time tenure stream positions. And those of us in universities know that more and more courses are being taught by part-time faculty and that trying to survive on a salary of course stipends (which tend to be abysmally low) is nearly impossible. The Teaching Assistants with whom I have worked over the years have been hard-working, smart, keen, and committed yet their future is dim. The life of a grad student is hard. Let’s try to make their future more secure.

The Sitting Disease

As a doctoral student I find myself sitting for hours in front of the computer without stretching or sometimes even moving. I suppose I have always known that sitting for hours on end couldn’t be good for our health, but the scientific community is now claiming our sitting habits are leading to “the sitting disease.” Below is an info-graphic with some alarming facts and statistics on our sedentary lives.

We’ve become so sedentary that 30 minutes a day at the gym may not counteract the detrimental effects of 8, 9 or 10 hours of sitting.” ~ Genevieve Healy, PhD


As I sit here writing this blog post, I realize I haven’t had a stretch or a walk in a while. So, I’m going to take a short break, bundle up (it’s freezing here in Toronto!) and take a walk around the block. Learn more about how sitting is harming our health at: http://www.juststand.org

5 rookie researcher mistakes

As we get ready to start a new academic year, I (Clare) found this advice for new graduate students extremely helpful and accurate. Excellent suggestions relevant to all graduate students.

The Thesis Whisperer

One thing I have learned over the years I have been Whispering is, although the problems they face are similar, no two research students are alike. What works for one person may not work for another. For this reason I have developed a habit of ‘reverse advice’ lists, for example: “5 classic research presentation mistakes” “Are you getting in the way of your PhD?” , “5 ways to fail your PhD” and “5 ways to poster = fail”.

I like a reverse list because it highlights the problem more than the suggested solutions, leaving you free to choose your own.

This time of year I attend a lot of research student orientation sessions around RMIT, where I usually give my  ‘top five newbie mistakes’ talk. I tell students there’s no need to take notes because I have blogged it (yet another reason to keep up a blog by the way)…

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New Moms: We Are Here for You

Leah McLarenLeah McLaren, a columnist for the Globe and Mail (our national newspaper), wrote an open letter to the wife of Peter McKay (Canadian Justice Ministry). McKay has been embroiled in a scandal regarding leaked emails he sent to his staff for Mother’s and Father’s day:

“The Mother’s Day email hailed women for the home and childcare duties they perform before arriving at the office, while the Father’s Day message made no mention of diapers or school lunches, and instead praised them for “shaping the minds and futures of the next generation of leaders.” http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/mackay-enough-has-been-said-about-sexism-controversy-1.1889490

In McLaren’s article she talks about the challenges of being a new mother (McKay’s wife, Busy MomNazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay) recently had a baby. On our research teams we (Clare and Clive) have a number of new Moms who are juggling work, study, childcare, and …. Although they do not complain I (Clare) can see the exhaustion written all over their faces. I witness how their confidence ebbs as they so often feel like they are not doing enough, they are not carrying their weight on the team, they are not spending sufficient time on their research, and on and on. McLaren advises Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay:

No matter how overwhelming it feels now, while your son is small and dependent, remember that one day it will change. The former you – the activist and author and tireless campaigner who never had spit up in her hair or a soother in her handbag – is still there, lurking at the back of your neglected shoe closet. She might have receded for the moment, but she will emerge again. And in the meantime, here’s a tip: Don’t be afraid to ask your husband to do more. I know he’s busy.

Check out the full article are: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/article19344705.ece

Given the way careers unfold many female doctoral students and new faculty are new Moms. Take heart – you are doing plenty and do not forget that that you are smart women who deserve to be in academia. Brush that guilt off your shoulders. The exhaustion will pass and you will be stronger and wiser. Remember, we are here for you and will continue to be here for you because you are our valued colleague and friend. Print off McLaren’s article and when you need a boost, read it (mind you it might be at 2:00 a.m.).

Writing = Thinking

Pooja DharamshiAs a doctoral student, learning to write academically has been a challenging process. My doctoral supervisor shared a piece of wisdom, but it was not until I began writing on a daily basis that I understood what she meant. “Writing is thinking,” she often said. As a novice writer, a blank page was a daunting and, often, an overwhelming sight. Through practice, I have learned that getting my ideas out on paper as soon as possible (without worrying about style, grammar, or clarity) is an invaluable strategy for me as it kick-starts the writing process. Once I see my ideas on the page, I begin to make more sense of them and begin the revision process. I have come across two helpful books related to academic writing: 1) Style: Lessons in clarity and grace (Williams, M. & Colomb, G., 2010) and 2) The clockwork muse: A practical guide to writing theses, dissertations, and books (Zerubavel, 2001). Both  booka emphasize and articulate my supervisor’s advice that writing is thinking. Zerubavel notes: “One of the most common misconceptions inexperienced writers have of writing is that it is simply a mechanical process of reproducing already-formed ideas on paper. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In reality, writing is virtually inseparable from the process if developing our ideas.” (p. 48).  Pooja