October 01, 2013

The first meeting with your supervisor

(This post was originally posted as part of the Insider Secrets 2012 campaign)

"A Warwick student since 2006, a postgraduate since 2010, I am completing a PhD in the Department of History on post-war English welfare and social work. Originally from Cambridge, I like cycling, squash, and playing with cats." - Thomas Bray

As you take the final faltering steps towards their office door, raising a shaking hand to quietly knock, a million images of the supervisor can race through your mind. Maybe they’re just a giant brain, alone in a room? Possibly they are like Sauron from Lord of the Rings, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-evil? Or perhaps they’re just you, an eager postgraduate…but thirty years down the line?

As long as there have been postgraduates, there have been supervisors, and as long as there have been supervisors there have been rumours. In my very first year as an undergraduate, I heard about one supervisor who set his office on fire whilst replicating a PhD student’s experiment. Whether this is true or not is immaterial, but it does go some way to illustrating the explosive reaction that can result from the meeting of a supervisor and their student.

So, it is completely understandable if nightmares about your supervisor keep you awake at night. Hopefully, all of this trepidation will disappear once you actually meet them. Because, guess what, your supervisor has almost certainly gone through the same thing. And they too will have spent time wondering what their new student will be like, whether they will work hard and be passionate about their project, whether they will produce drafts on time and take the inevitable criticism well. It is highly likely that you chose them to be your supervisor, and the fact that they accepted you means that that crucial first step is in the past.

So, with all the rumours and the apprehension behind you, how best to go about those first few meetings? Here are some tips:

1) Be honest. In the first few meetings, you will probably spend some time discussing your expectations of postgraduate work, as well as your personal strengths and weaknesses. Over the course of your work together, these will all become explicit, and there is little point in presenting yourself to your supervisor as someone you are not.


2) Listen to, consider, and take heed of their early advice. Only one of you in the room will have done a PhD or a dissertation before, and the chances are that your supervisor has seen a number of them to completion. Having said that, they will not always know what’s right for you, in which case I refer you back to the previous point: be honest about yourself.


3) Be prepared for criticism, or to make difficult decisions. It is quite possible that your supervisor will be excited about your whole project, and will think it all perfectly possible. On the other hand, they may feel that it is unfeasible, or that some of it is outdated. Since this is your PhD or dissertation, which you thought up all by yourself, it can be easy to get defensive. While you should not be afraid to defend your research and your methodology, it is important at this early stage to consider such long-term issues. Your supervisor will be heavily invested in this project as well, so it is in everyone’s interests to be realistic.

All of this should help you to get off on the right foot with your supervisor, and to lay the foundations of some pretty ground-breaking research. Over the coming years, you’ll be seeing a lot of each other. Although they may sometimes feel like your worst enemy, they should ultimately become one of your best friends. Make those first impressions count.

P.S. For further tips and insight, have a look at my later article on making the most out of your supervisor. Combine the knowledge of the two, and your supervisions will soon be SUPERvisions (although it will do nothing for your skilful use of puns).


My First PhD Mistake

(This post was originally posted as part of the Insider Secrets 2012 campaign)

"...Just about finished after three years in a Business School (Nottingham first, and then Warwick from January 2011). A midwife researching midwifery leadership." - Bernie

We all make mistakes. Apparently, it's what makes us human. However, mistakes feel horrible, and like most people, I don't like making them. I like admitting them even less, but on this occasion I think it's a good thing...

My first PhD mistake is one that has followed me around for the whole three years: being fearful. Generally, I hide this quite well - when I worked as a midwife, fear was a huge force in making me practice to the best of my abilities - I was terrified of getting something wrong, or of missing something important - and yet, the students I mentored always thought I was super confident! I think my previous career as a musician helped with this - there's a lot of bluffing to be found in the world of musicians!

However, when I came to do the PhD, my sense of fear reached a new level: I was afraid of not being clever enough, of not being capable of managing my time well enough, of looking at the wrong thing in my thesis, of not being able to write effectively or correctly, of being a midwife in a Business School... the list is endless.

But my biggest, and most abiding, fear was of my supervisors. I had no idea about what the relationship between us would look like, and all my other fears were entwined with the supervisor issue - of not being clever enoughto please them, of not writing to the standard that they would expect, of not being able to shed some part of my midwife identity, even of just not understanding what they were asking of me.being fearful

Fear had such an influence on my experience of the PhD. I can honestly say that these have been the most rewarding, enjoyable and stimulating three years of my professional life, but when I look back, I really wish I had addressed my various fears earlier. Because really, I think I got it quite badly wrong: it turns out that my supervisors don't bite! My first supervisor has offered me a research fellowship when I finish the PhD years at the end of this month, and my second supervisor is very keen for me to go and work at his university when I finish that fellowship. From that, I can see that my fear of them has been unfounded, and that they really do believe I can do this work.

So my advice would be threefold:

1. Get to know your supervisor(s). After all, fear of the unknown is sometimes the worst thing. Find out what exactly they expect from you. Perhaps a timeline would be a good starting point (there is a post on Getting to Know your Supervsors by Thomas Bray).

2. Let your supervisors know you. I can remember thinking I must never let my insecurities come out in supervision, as they would then have no confidence in my abilities. I sort of forgot that my supervisors must have been through similar problems during their PhD time. And they could probably have offered me a lot of help in dealing with my various worries.

3. Embrace fear, deal with it, and then let it go. The dealing with it is the crucial thing - think about what it is you might be fearful of, and then seek help. Within the university, there are so many places to address the common fears - academic insecurities, writing problems, supervision issues. The help is there, we just have to find it at the right time!

Of course, you might not be like me. You might live your PhD life in a state of total confidence, and that would indeed be a lovely thing. But I guess that most people have some element of fear at some point - the trick is to get it out there and then move on.


September 29, 2013

Planning out the PhD First Year

(This post was originally posted as part of the Insider Secrets 2012 campaign)

"I'm a second year PhD student in Experiential Engineering at WMG, with a primary research interest in digital engagement and participation in healthcare." - Salma

Like everything else you do in life, if you plan your PhD well, the journey will be smoother (though I promise you there will still be many humps along the way and you may even have to change direction). The first year of the PhD is key to the PhD process as it will lay the foundation to the two years following it, and of course the stronger the foundation, the easier it will be to lay the pillars and finish the PhD successfully and on time. Having said that, the first year is the most daunting especially if you are new to research or to the university. Though there is no hard fast rule as to how or what you should spend your first year doing, many students tend to spend their 1st year finding their feet and doing preliminary secondary research, with year two spent doing their own research and year three spent writing up (it doesn't quite always work out that way though).

Planning is also an ongoing process and there are no hard fast rules as to how you should plan and manage your PhD, and what works for one person may not necessarly work for the next person. What follows below are some things that may help you better plan and manage your first year:

1. Organise regular Supervisions

The first thing you probably need to do is organise regular supervisions with your supervisor. The frequency of supervisions really varies across departments and supervisors and this is something you should discuss in your very first meeting. I started off with having one supervision per week in the 1stmonth, which then decreased to biweekly, and eventually came down to one a month. However, there is some concensus that every student should have a supervision at least once a month in the first year.

It may be a good idea to fix a bi-weekly/weekly day and time so that way it is fixed in your supervisor’s diary and in your diary too. You may have one or more supervisors and it is important to discuss the supervisory relationship and expectations from all parties. Questions to ask could include:

  • What is the best way to contact you?
  • Can I email you if I have an issue or a question?
  • Can I drop by your office if I have quick question or would you prefer I book an appointment?
  • How many days would you need to check a 5 page document for example?
  • Do you have any plans to take extended annual leave?

2. Map out a PhD Plan

Assuming you have a proposal already written, your supervisor and yourself should map out a PhD schedule plan. However, be prepared to be flexible as the plan is very likely to change as the year goes on. If you don’t have a proposal written and therefore can’t map up a plan, don’t panic. Just get started on mapping out a plan to write the proposal.

3. Keep and USE a diary

I can't emphasise this more. Whether it is a hand written diary or a computerised diary like the one on Outlook, you must keep a diary that you have regular access to and use it!

4. Gain specialist skills & training

Are there any skills that you require to do your research that you don’t have? The first year is a good time to attain those skills and familiarise yourself with research design and methodology. Discuss these with your supervisor and be prepared to find courses, seminars etc. which you can go to gain these specialist skills. These could be internally such as with RSSP or may be external to the university.

5. Plan and manage your day to day work

Think about how you will manage the multiple projects that you may be working on. This could be by using something as simple as having a to-do list document on your computer or using a more sophisticated tool such as Microsoft Project 2010. Making key milestones at the beginning of each month/term and sharing them with your supervisor helps too.

6. Have a set number of 'working hours'

The PhD is generally very flexible and that is why it is important to manage your time well, as it is easy to get off track and for some it is easy to disappear off the radar. Some PhD students come into the office and work 9 till 5, and go home and forget they are doing a PhD. Others work far more flexibly, and some even work through the night instead of the day. Your department or supervisor may already have a preference, but if it doesn’t I would still recommend you set yourself ‘office hours’ whether they are during the day or night, and based in the office, home or in the library. Especially in the first year it is easy to over (or under work) yourself and with no strict deadlines and no one looking over your head, it could lead to an imbalance between work and life. Therefore, set yourself some rules based on working hours and things may go smoother.

7. Start using a reference management tool

This also a good time to start using a reference management software and work out how you will organise your documents (numbering, versions, format etc).

8. Be aware of Internal Deadlines

Your department may have internal deadlines for PhD students such as the annual progress review interview. Make sure you ask your supervisors about these, so that you can plan for these in advance.

9. Schedule Holidays and Chill out time in your diary

This is very important and something that many PhD students in their first year neglect. Alongside planning your PhD work plan, also plan your holidays and chill out time into your diary. Discuss this with your supervisor if you are unsure about how many days you should take off.

10. Keep the end goal in mind

My parting advice would be to go easy on yourself in the first year and remember the the first year is the first step of the research training process (aka the PhD) and the end goal of the first year is to familiarise yourself with the field so that you can find and refine your research questions, and then start planning for your own research. Everyone takes a different journey to get there, and there will be many hiccups and blips, so don’t panic too much if you feel like your peers are way ahead of you and have already preseneted at a conference before you! It is all part of the process, plus you can always play catch up in the second year! :)


Planning The Year Ahead

(This post was originally posted as part of the Insider Secrets 2012 campaign)

By now, you’ve seen/heard/read about a lot of exciting things that you can expect when you arrive on campus (finally!). While these are served as a preamble into easing into the rigorous, yet enjoyable postgraduate life at Warwick, there are several things that need to be factored into planning out things long term. Many of us take up a course at an international university with the hope that we will be exposed to a vastly varied pool of students who have some similar tastes. This is not always the case, and the main purpose of this post is to highlight the type of “external pre-commitment” that can ensure you have no qualms about planning your year(s) ahead.

First off, it is highly advisable to get acquainted with exact dates of term times, as these will be useful when attempting to plan your breaks (or vacations). If you plan to stay on for more than year (research students), then this will be particularly a useful page for you to visit, as year-wise information is provided about term dates. Having understood the limits of your term time, you can then proceed to see what kind of events you can attend most definitely, and mark them out in your calendar.

Once you’ve had a look at all the events, you would also want to bear in mind the preparation time for the exams that most courses require you to take. The dates of the exams will be provided in either your course handbook, or on the webpage. If you have any assignments that you need to find the deadlines for, then it is best to look on your department website for anything related to coursework submission deadlines (including past years’ deadlines), so as to get an indication of internal deadlines you might want to set for yourself.

Finally, as you think about the end of the year (too soon?), it’s best to take into account that the undergraduate population at Warwick outnumbers that of postgraduates by quite a margin. There is most likely to be reduced service (in terms of buses, eating out etc.), events (departmental and SU) as well as enthusiasm in general. Planning the summer vacation nearly a year in advance is obviously something that isn’t easy to do, but it’s worth bearing in mind that campus life virtually comes to standstill, as dissertation work among other things keep most people busy.

Again, there’s a natural tendency to worry yourself sick when you have a look at all this information well in advance, but it’s definitely an aspect of postgraduate life that you wouldn’t want to overlook or dismiss with claims of a “taking-things-as-they-come” approach. While everyone has their own way of planning and coming to terms with the year that lies ahead, it’s always best to make use of all the resources available, so that you don’t get caught in the headlights of the rude shocks that we all have come to utterly despise!

Plan ahead, and stay ahead of the curve – you never know, you may become more resourceful than most others on the course, and getting involved in organizing events is never a bad idea. Keep your eyes peeled for the post on the SU, as well as other extra-curricular activities on campus.



September 28, 2013

The Joy of Blogging

(This post was originally posted as part of the Insider Secrets 2012 campaign)

"...Just about finished after three years in a Business School (Nottingham first, and then Warwick from January 2011). A midwife researching midwifery leadership." - Bernie

I have to say, I'm probably a bit biased on the subject of blogging. Before coming to Warwick midway through my PhD, I'd never written a blog in my life. I had often written a diary at various points in my life, and I was writing a research diary as I went along the PhD road - but these were two quite disparate things. And essentially, they were private.joy of blogging

I can remember writing my first blog - it was on the subject of applying for NHS ethics, of all things. But that's been the driving force for my blog posts - whenever something occurs to me, whether it's closely linked to the PhD or not, I've tended to write it down for everyone to see. On the one hand, that's actually quite exposing, and there have been times when I've hesitated before clicking 'Publish now'. But on the other hand, I've really enjoyed sharing my experiences with the people around me, and looking back through my posts, there's not one that I regret writing.

And my experiences have been quite varied - I've written about my family, my midwife identity, life in the Business School, methodological issues, being unwell, the writing up process, decisions about external examiners - really, a reflection of the whole PhD experience. There was a moment when I realised just how 'world viewable' the blog really is - I was mentioned in the Times Higher Education, and I discovered the joys of being partially quoted. And then there have been the responses from people all around the world to things that I've written - it's been fantastic to discuss issues with other people facing similar thought processes.

But really, the best thing of all has been the chance to JUST WRITE. Just write anything. Anything at all. Really, how freeing is that?! Because that's the point about the PhD Life blog* - it can encompass any part of any contributor's PhD life! Sometimes, I look back at some of my posts, and I can see how the journey has progressed much more than I can from looking through my research diary - the blog really encapsulates EVERYTHING about this experience.

As a writing process, the blog has been hugely valuable for me, as someone who struggles in the confines of academic writing. Here, I write in my real voice. The happy, or sarcastic, or jokey, or ranting, or sometimes a bit down, voice - but always mine. It's been a beautiful antidote to the kind of writing that's been expected of me elsewhere.

So to anyone thinking of contributing to the PhD Life blog, I'd say DO IT!! You never know where it might take you, who you might meet along the way, and the pride you might get from seeing your thoughts influence others.

And one last, personal, thought: for my children, this has been an easy way to see what it is that I actually do in my study, and how the work is going, and how they have added to my experience. In fact, for my husband as well - the blog is a lot easier to understand than my random mutterings about social identities and groups of midwives...


*EDITOR'S NOTE - Not a PhD student? No problem! This Postgraduate Hub Blog (the one you're reading right now!) is for all postgraduates to share their experiences. Drop us an email at pghub@warwick.ac.uk.



September 27, 2013

Twitter and the Thesis: 10 benefits for the PhD

(This post was originally posted as part of Insider Secrets 2012)

"I'm a second year PhD student in Experiential Engineering at WMG, with a primary research interest in digital engagement and participation in healthcare." - Salma


twitter-bird11.jpg

Twitter can benefit the PhD in many ways. Below I document 10 ways PhD students can use Twitter (this is an edited version of an article mine that was first published on the Networked Researcher website, and the prezi version of the article is available here).

1. Join the research community:There is a large research community on twitter. For example:

#phdchat is one such example of a PhD research community, where tweeps (people that use Twitter) share experiences of their PhD and advise fellow researchers. #phdchat also runs a live chat on twitter which runs on a Wednesday evening at 7.30pm BST and from Australia on Wednesday morning at 9am.

#twitjc is a Twitter Journal Club which provides a place where doctors, researchers, authors and medical students can discuss publications relevant to clinical medicine. It runs at 8pm every Sunday.

2. Share your research and publications: Using Twitter you can share your research or disseminate your findings. It is also an effective way to share your publications or conference papers/posters. If you are looking for citations and hits to your article, it is a good way to achieve this.

3. Interact with the ‘outside world’:It is an easy way to keep up with the outside world, whether that is fellow colleagues, researchers from other universities, companies in your industry or even conferences. You will be updated about conference dates and submission deadlines.

4. Get answers to your research related questions:On twitter there are many helpful people who will answer your questions, whether they are research related questions, questions related to your study, or questions related to your own interests.

5. Network:Twitter is a useful networking tool, using which you can meet people who follow similar interests to you. As a researcher interested in healthcare and technology, I have ‘met’ many people from the healthcare industry and also many doctoral researchers. You can also use twitter to recruit participants for any of your studies.

6. Share your experiences:It is a good idea to share your experiences, whether they are research related or otherwise. Once you share your experience (whether positive or negative) you will soon find others who are experiencing the same, if not similar experience, and you can have a good ‘ole banter together; but more importantly, learn from each other too.

7. Keep tabs on your competition: Who is doing what and when? This will give you a good idea of what is going on in your field. You could fade in the background and just keep tabs on everyone else.

8. Collaborate:Have you got an idea but unsure whether it will work? Or are you thinking of using a research methodology but unsure whether it is appropriate? Send out a tweet with an appropriate hashtag (such as #phdchat for research issues) and before you know it, they’ll be others giving you (free) advice!

9. Keep up-to-date with your research:Follow people who have similar interests to you and you will be updated with all the research in your area (again for free!). No need to worry about missing out now.

10. Follow conferences you can’t attend: Use Twitter is to follow conferences that you can’t attend. People attending a certain conference usually tweet using the conferences #hashtag. As long as you know the #hashtag, you can read the entire on goings and sometimes even pose questions to the presenters through other twitter users at the conference. Interact without paying the conference fee!




Social Media

(This post is based on Get Connected by Temilola Oladepo and Get Found by Anirudh Tagat)

Social Media is a great way of promoting your work and staying connected with the latest developments within your discipline and the community at Warwick. Whether you’re a seasoned tweeter or just getting started here are a few of our suggestions of people to follow during your time at Warwick. Please share your own suggestions in the comments!

First things first, make sure you're following us! The Postgraduate Hub is on Twitter and Facebook sharing important information about and for the postgraduate community at Warwick, tweeting interesting articles and info from elsewhere and giving you the oppurtunity to easily keep in contact with us online.

The Wolfson Research Exchange is also on Twitter and Facebook posting relevant news, information and events for the research community both at Warwick and further afield. With over 2000 Followers our accounts are an excellent way of sharing your research or getting the word out about your event.

Warwick University keeps you up to date with University-wide news on Twitter and Facebook and you can also follow the newsroom for all the latest research and news from the uni.

There are a good number of Facebook Groups to follow on the Groups at Warwick University page (not affiliated/endorsed by the University).

The Library shares news and information through its own Twitter account. Whilst the Teaching Grid and Learning Grid's also have their own accounts if you're interested in keeping up to date with what's going on in those spaces.

Other useful Warwick based accounts include:
@WarwickArts
for all the latest updates from the Arts Centre.
@WarwickCareers
for great advice and articles on furthering your career.
@WarwickPostgrad for more info for postgraduates at Warwick Uni, they are also on Facebook.
@WarwickRSSP for information about workshops, events and resources for postgraduate researchers from Warwick's Research Student Skills Programme.
@IASWarwick
for the latest news and events from the Institute of Advanced Studies
@LucyGill09
your postgraduate sabbatical officer @WarwickSU.
@WRAP_ed and @WRAP_papers will keep you up to date on news and the latest material added to the Warwick Research Archive Portal.

Many of the Departments at Warwick also have Twitter accounts to keep you up to date with what's going own, be sure to check your own and add them!

Relevant Non Warwick Accounts include:
@research_uk is the official twitter feed of the Research Councils UK.
@thesiswhisperer for tips, advice and the latest blogposts from the Thesis Whisperer blog
@researchwhisperer as above but more directed toward ECRs
@GdnHigherEd, @TimesHigherEducation, @tele_education for the latest higher ed news from those papers.
@jobsacuk for career advice in the Higher Education sector.
And finally, @qikipedia for an endless esoteric and amusing facts!


Useful Hashtags

New starters can use the #Warwick2013 hashtag on Facebook and Twitter to share their experiences arriving at Warwick and you should also be sure to check the #uowpgtips hashtag for the inside track on getting settled quickly.

The Library uses the #JustASK for you to post queries or report issues.

Other Hashtags you might like to keep an eye on include #PhDChat, #ECRChat (for early career researchers), #postgrad, #academia, #research, #highered and #edtech.


September 26, 2013

Digital Tools

At the Wolfson Research Exchange and PG Hub we are always looking for new technologies and digital tools that will improve the way that we work, so, as I am about to embark on my own PhD, it seemed like a good time to find out what’s out there for the tech savvy postgraduate. Here’s my list of top digital tools I already use or will be giving a go in the next few weeks.

(Some of the below recommendations are taken from original posts by Salma Patel , Anirudh Tagat and Jonathan Critchley)

Organiser Apps

· Calendar – Your digital calendar of choice will probably depend on what devices you use or accounts you already have. Those using (for instance) Gmail or Outlook may well find it useful to use the calendar application within those services (one less thing to log in to) whilst others may prefer to get a separate app for their phone or tablet as a replacement for ye olde academic diary. The sensible thing is to stick with just one and check it regularly; maybe even the one on your office wall so long as you remember to update it. This is a case of do as I say rather than do as I do; personally I use the outlook calendar connected to my work email at work (we share access to our work calendars amongst our team to make organising meetings easier) and my Ipad calendar in my personal/academic life as it can feed events from Facebook and can push notification reminders to me.

· Wunderlist (alternatives include: Toodledo and Workflowy) - alongside my calendar I also use Wunderlist to keep track of what I need to get done. This simple little 'to-do list' app is available across most platforms meaning you can update any number of lists from wherever you are. Being able to organise your lists, set due dates and highlight important notes makes this a very versatile tool allowing you to keep your work/academic/personal/reading lists separate but never miss the important things and bringing me one step closer to eliminating the litter of post-its on my desk!

· Trello (alternatives include: Basecamp) is a free web based project management application that allows you to organise projects as boards which contain cards organised into lists. Trello is very visual and you can share boards with other users to keep track of group projects, an excellent method of eliminating those confusing email chains! The only drawback is that you have to be connected to the web to use it.

Evernote (alternatives include: Springpad)

The Evernote tagline is “remember everything” and it might just do what it says on the tin. I have been using Evernote for about 6 months now and it has changed the way I organise significantly. Using a system of “Notebooks” that can be organised into “Notebook stacks” Evernote allows you to save “notes” in practically any format (text documents, audio, video etc…) allowing you to keep all your own notes and research in one place.

Evernote really comes into its own when you start exploring the slew of additional apps and add-ons you can use with it. Combining with Penultimate, for example, allows you to handwrite notes or diagrams on your tablet and save them straight into an Evernote Notebook. The Evernote Clearly browser add-on allows you to read articles and blog posts without the distracting adverts and surrounding content, combine it with Evernote Web Clipper and you have that fascinating article you don’t have time to read immediately saved to a Notebook for later. Always losing your important emails in the tidal wave of spam? Add the Evernote button for Outlook and save that essential travel information to an Evernote Notebook with a single click (well two clicks anyway!).

DropBox (alternatives include: Google Drive, Spider Oak)

Back up, back up, back up. I trust we’re all well drilled in the importance of saving copies of our work by this point in our academic lives and Drop Box is great for doing just that, allowing you to keep your valuable content on their secure cloud storage. However, Drop Box is also the ideal way of accessing your documents across devices and sharing documents with others. Once downloaded Drop Box appears as a normal folder on your computer allowing you to save files to it, or simply drag and drop/ copy them over, they are then saved to the cloud and accessible from any device with Drop Box installed.

IFTTT

This is probably one for the more enthusiastic techies. If This Then That is an online service that allows you to create connections between different “channels” using the “recipe” If This (Trigger) Then That (ACTION).

At the time of writing IFTTT is compatible with 71 channels including Facebook, Twitter, Email, Evernote, Hootsuite and RSS. It essentially allows you to borrow or create recipe’s that mean that an event in one of these channels - say you favourite a tweet - causes an action in another - that tweet is saved to an Evernote folder. To start with it is definitely easier to find other people's recipes that do approximately what you want and adapt them rather than start from scratch but with more and more users and channels the scope for what you can do with IFTTT is always increasing.

Currently I use IFTTT to auto-tweet about new blog posts added to our blogs, save all new events from certain Research Network RSS feeds to a folder on Evernote and to save all new articles on higher education from the leading broad sheets to a different folder on Evernote (again using their RSS feeds).

Writing Software
Chances are you are currently using a word processor that you're fairly happy (or at least very familiar) with but there are reasons for considering trying out something new.

If you’re the sort of person that finds themselves spending as much time choosing fonts and testing different formatting options from the first line of your first draft onwards, or if you just want to spend your hours in front of a screen looking at something a little aesthetically easier on the eye, then you may want to consider the move to a simpler text editor such as Simplenote (alternatives include OMMwriter) which offers a somewhat paired down writing environment that might help improve your productivity.

At the other end of the scale, when it comes to your epic doctoral thesis you might want some software that offers you a lot more flexibility in organising your work: Scrivener (alternatives include: yWriter) was originally designed for authors and offers a plethora of features that allow you to keep track of your notes and progress and re-organise your work without having to laboriously search through copying and pasting or saving your sections into separate files. Unlike most of the other tools I’ve mentioned Scrivener isn’t free but you can try it on a 30 day free trial (which gives you 30 days of actual use not just 30 consecutive days) and there is a discount for an Educational Licence.

Referencing Software
There are a range of dedicated reference management software designed to make organising your citations just that little bit easier. Popular choices include: Mendeley, Zotero and Endnote (see Ruth Pearce’s earlier blog post on Endnote here). It may be worth giving a couple a go early on to find out which you prefer.

Presentation software

We all grew up with Powerpoint and a well-designed slideshow can get the job done, but for something a bit more sophisticated check out Prezi. Prezi is fairly easy to get to grips with and can add a lot of impact to your presentation. Best of all it doesn’t require any additional software to run a Prezi presentation so you can be sure you’ll be able to present from anywhere.

Social Media

Social media is a great way of sharing your work and keeping up to date with the latest developments in your field but it often moves so fast it can be difficult to keep track, here’s a couple of handy tools to help with that!

· Hootsuite (alternatives include: TweetDeck and Sprout Social)
is great if you use social media a lot and over several platforms allowing you to view all your interactions from a single Dashboard. Particularly useful is the ability to see several "Streams" (including Twitter lists) from a single view and the ability to schedule posts and messages to go out in the future.

· Twitterfall allows you to keep track of certain hashtags in real time; ideal for following conferences or for following along with #BBCQT!


Blogging

· Warwick Blogs (alternatives include: WordPress and Blogger) Blogging is a great way of sharing your research and experiences. Warwick University has its own blogging platform (which hosts this very blog!) that allows all staff and students to run their blogs, but there are plenty of other free platforms that you may want to check out. Don’t forget, this blog is your blog too; if you have an idea for a post on the Postgraduate Hub or PhD Life blogs then let us know!

· Feed Aggregators allow you to collect new posts to your favourite RSS (and Atom) feeds (such as the ones used by most blogs and news sites) or otherwise customise the news content you receive to be collected and read in one place. Popular examples include Bloglines and Feedly alternatively you could just have IFTTT feed your favourite blogs straight into a “to Read” notebook in Evernote!

The Library Proxy: This last one’s Warwick specific and really useful for accessing the University library’s wide range of digital resources when not on campus!


So there you go, a motley collection of digital tools that might be useful in your postgraduate endeavours, give them a go early on, whilst you still have the time, and see which ones might work for you, but also remember this bit of advice from Johnathan Critchley’s earlier blog post on this topic “don't sell your soul to the digital devil. As cool and useful as it is, tech can be unreliable (I have a habit of forgetting to charge my stuff and having it die on me in the middle of work). It can also be a distraction, thanks in no small part to Facebook and Twitter. It also doesn't do much for your health (or social life) to stare at a screen 24/7. For these reasons, I also have a nice, elaborately-covered, nicely-papered notebook which never leaves my side.”

If you’re interested in reading more about how digital tools can enhance your work I highly recommend this guide from Seedpod with Plymouth University (it’s digital researcher focused but relevant to all postgraduates).

Got a favourite digital tool I haven’t mentioned? Comment and let us know what about your favourites and I might well give them a go!


September 25, 2013

Support Services for International Students

(This post is based on My Fun Days - Thanks to the Warwick Support Services and The Residential life Team by Sruti Das Choudhury)


Sruti wrote a couple of blog posts for our campaign last year about her experiences as an International Student using the Warwick Uni Support Services; here are some of her thoughts and suggestions.

On Warwick Uni’s participation in the HOST homestay program:

“I have numerous memorable days in my Warwick life, but my Christmas eve and New year’s day spent with a British family in a nice traditional British house in Birmingham is the most lovely among all. Our university is subscribed to the UK's national HOST homestay programme, which offers its international students with the opportunity to spend a weekend with a British family anywhere in the UK. I really consider myself very lucky to avail this opportunity with my best friend asthe visit was to be very honest beyond our expectations; the hosts were very generous, and treated us like their daughters. It was a wonderful weekend with full of activities, day out and interesting conversations helping us to know a lot about English culture. We had a gorgeous dinner party and greeted the New years day with fire crackers!”

The International Office run events and trips:

“Thanks to International office which also guided trips to several interesting cities of UK throughout the year with a reasonable transportation cost. The best thing about this is, the bus will depart from the campus in the morning and it will drop you in the campus at the end of the day. Its a nice experience to explore a new place with lots of Warwick friends guided by the University tour guide!”

On the importance of the Residential Life team:

“Every residence hall on campus is provided with an excellent network of support staff called the Residential Life Team … University of Warwick has a range of student support services, e.g. counseling services, disability support services, medical support services, etc. If you are not sure where to go and whom to talk to deal with any problem, your resident tutor is your first point of contact-they will be able to put you in touch with the right people … In essence, resident tutors are chosen very carefully through a competitive selection process so as to be a role model and they really do what they can do to ensure that all the occupants of the block gain valuable experiences of living on campus by making their time at Warwick worthy, motivating and memorable. So, keep residential life team with you to enjoy your campus life, achieve unforgettable memories, and above all, to be cared for in absence of your near and dear ones here at the University of Warwick!”


Read more about the Support services available at Warwick here.


Support Services

(This post is based on Support by Devian Patel and University of Warwick Support Services by Sruti Das Choudry)

At the PG Hub and Wolfson Research Exchange we aim to be your first port of call for any postgrad queries you might have but there is also a great network of Support Services available to all University of Warwick staff and students including; on campus health centre, counselling service, residential life team, chaplaincy, disability support services, and many more.

Starting as a new postgrad can be a stressful time; sometimes, just talking helps. Nightline, is a student-run, confidential, and non-judgemental peer support service. Open 9pm to 9am every night of term you can call, email, or stop by for any reason and they won't judge you or tell you what to do.

The University Counselling Service provides an opportunity for all students and staff at the University to access professional therapeutic counselling so that. By respecting your values, choices and lifestyle, the counsellor can work together with you towards making choices or changes that are right for you.

The Student’s Union Advice Centre also provides independent, free, and confidential advice for all Warwick students in case of on-campus or off-campus housing problems, financial problems, part-time work opportunities, immigration issues, etc.

The University Chaplaincy and Islamic Prayer Hall are situated just behind Senate House. The Chaplaincy is home to the Christian (Catholic, Anglican, Free Church), Jewish and Muslim Chaplains, who are always glad to meet students and staff socially and pastorally.

Every residence hall on campus is provided with an excellent network of support staff called the Residential Life Team who will live alongside with you within the Halls of Residences to assist in ensuring the provision and delivery of an effective system of student support. Your resident tutor is a good first port of call if you are having personal or family problems or are just feeling homesick and is the person you should go to with any accommodation issues.

Within your department your personal tutor is an academic member of staff, assigned to each student on arrival at Warwick, who will act as the initial point of contact for discussion of academic and pastoral matters throughout your time at Warwick.

If you have any questions, of course feel free to email (pghub@warwick.ac.uk), or even pop in to the Hub and we will do our best to help.


Most recent comments

  • Youssef and Zhou, you are very welcome! I'm glad it was useful. by Salma Patel on this entry
  • Fab resource! I would add the hashtag #acrwri (academic writing) and the twitter account @PhDForum, … by Jennifer Kitchen on this entry
  • I think this is all very important advice. However, speaking as a PhD student who isn't living on/ne… by Jennifer Kitchen on this entry
  • It's helpful for my first year of PhD. THX! by Zhou Dai on this entry
  • Great post with lots of useful tools. You've already mentioned it but my favourite is DropBox. I wis… by Rhiannon Taylor on this entry

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