Overview of Heifer

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There's so much luck involved in getting funding that I don't see how anyone can make generalisations about the "worth" of individual students, funded or otherwise. As other posters have pointed out, all the research councils have their pet topics and there are some things that are just never going to get funded. I know brilliant people without funding, and people who got funding and squandered it (e.g. someone in my dept with ESRC funding now going into year 6 with no good reason). I got my studentship back in the good old days of ESRC quota funding - there were only 3 of us that applied for 2 studentships. So although I look like I got some amazing funding, in reality, it wasn't that difficult to get. Similarly, my husband didn't get funding for his first year, then applied - with the same proposal - and got full AHRC funding for the remaining 2 years. So the funded/not funded categories are rather blurred in reality.

Frankly, people that need to use something like funding to make themselves feel superior to others need to evaluate their concept of self-worth.

Rant over :-)

Publications vs Teaching experience - which is worth more?

I got a research associate post on the basis of publications - I do have teaching experience, but they weren't interested, and didn't ask me anything about it at interview (social science). On the other hand, my husband has 6 single-author publications, and a reasonable amount of teaching experience and hasn't had a single interview yet despite applying for over 20 lectureships (humanities). Having said all that, I am considering applying for a lectureship and when I contacted the head of school informally he also didn't ask about my teaching experience but wanted to know how many publications I had that could be entered into the REF.

It seems totally unpredictable and, from my experience, knowing someone in the department seems to be the only way of getting anywhere.

Help! my Viva is on Friday

Well done! I'm so pleased for you. did they ask you about future research plans in the end? enjoy your rest and then blitz those corrections!

Post-doctoral fellowship pay

I know!! Next on the list is going on a holiday that doesn't involve youth hostels, and choosing restaurants because they are nice rather than on the basis of whether or not you can download a buy one get one free voucher...

Post-doctoral fellowship pay

I'm on £24, 877 (do I get an extra star for precision?) which will rise to 26k when I pass my viva. At my uni this is the standard starting rate for all research jobs "below the bar" i.e. without PhD. Seems like an absolute fortune after living on my studentship...I've started shopping in Waitrose and everything...

Help! my Viva is on Friday

Dear Postwoman,

first off from all the other people I've known that have taken vivas major panic with a few days to go is completely normal and you are not clueless/unable to answer questions/obviously going to fail! I think Sue is right, its nerves that are stopping you from clearing your mind and coming up with answers that are clearly buried in your brain somewhere!

For the 'why are you interested in the topic' question, try starting at the basics. What did you do in your bachelors degree that led you towards your thesis topic? When did you realise that no one else had done the topic before? What clues have you had from others (e.g. peers) that your topic is worth studying? What were the puzzles that you wanted to solve at the beginning and how did they change over time? Was there a particular book you read or conversation you had that sparked your interest or changed the way you thought about a question?

If your contribution to knowledge is methodological, that's fine! You have pushed at a boundary and found a new way of answering old questions. I would say that my own research is exactly the same - sure I know a little bit more about the government department I studied but my 'big revelation' was that a new methodology brings completely different insights that can in the future be applied elsewhere.

For the "what next" question, there are lots of different ways of answering this. You could extend the existing study (i.e. by using more case studies, finding more participants). You could use the methodology you have developed to research a different area. You could use a different methodology to research the same area. Or you could go for a different answer entirely and talk about planned publications. No one's going to come back and check in 6 months time whether you have actually done these things so if the real answer is "go on a long holiday" then just make something up!

I really hope it goes well and please come back on here and let us know :-)

Worried about failing viva

Hi Cleverclogs,

just wanted to show some solidarity really as my viva is in 13 days time :-(

My supervisors have never really talked about my work in terms of substantial/insubstantial but then I'm in social sciences and my supervisor passed his thesis despite only doing 6 interviews. As I understand it it's very difficult to fail outright and from what you said it seems more likely that they'd ask you to do some more data collection because what you've got isn't enough to justify your conclusions. Having said that I think almost every viva includes questions about how the findings justify the conclusions and it's more about giving a robust defence.

Is it possible that you can pin down the sceptical supervisor about exactly what he thinks the problem is - it must be something specific - and then you can prepare a defence. Maybe you could ask for a mock viva so he could help you prepare to answer the difficult questions. It seems really harsh that he's happy to insinuate flaws in your work but not willing to help you overcome them.

Good luck with it all.

Communal Confessions

Mine was actually the result of trying to be nice, but that doesn't make it any less cringeworthy. When I was an undergrad there was a lecturer I really liked (ok, fancied) and he basically got forced out of the department. I knew he had recently had a book published so I sent him an email saying that I would miss him teaching us and that by the way, I had really enjoyed his book. I didn't think anything of it until I met him in the street a few weeks later. It turned out there had been a problem at the printers and the publisher had recalled all the copies of the book - it had never even been on the shelves. So he wanted to know where I'd got my copy of his book from. I had to make up this really elaborate lie about how my sister works at another university library and she had got it for me. THEN, he says "oh I did my PhD at that university, I'll call in at the library and ask them to take it off the shelves"! I don't know which is the worse prospect: that he knew I was lying all along and thought I was a total moron, or that he believed me and turned up at the library and looked like a total nutter!
I still feel bad every time I think about it.

Where do I start with my course?

Hi cobweb,

I think it's fairly normal. My advice would be:
1) make contact with your supervisor. He might be busy/slow off the mark/forgetful or not getting in contact for some other reason that is completely out of your control. So a quick email to remind him of your existence and the fact you could use some guidance is a good idea. And in my experience people value proactive students, so don't worry about being 'pushy'.
2) make sure you have fulfilled all your paperwork obligations e.g. formally submitting your proposal, signing up for training courses, registering with the library/graduate school etc - ask existing students or the departmental secretary if your supervisor isn't around.
3) set yourself a reasonably small but achievable research goal. Probably something that will help you begin your literature review. you could start compiling a list of references, group them under headings and make a start with some reading? Don't just sit at your desk trying to tackle the whole research question at once - it's impossible. Also don't start comparing yourself to everyone else - it really doesn't matter how much it seems like the others are doing.

hope none of this sounds patronising - I struggled a lot at the beginning, too. The first few weeks are often the worst, honest!

a quick question about publication etiquette

Is it ok to reuse titles of papers, i.e. if you've given a conference paper and then publish a similar paper in a journal? I've spent ages thinking of snappy titles and I'd like to recycle them but I get the feeling it's not the 'done thing'.

Any ideas?

Not Sure How To Handle This

Hi Delta,

It seems like the only way to avoid a potentially embarrassing/awkward situation (current supervisors finding out from other people that you are trying to leave) is to sit down with them and talk about it. If you do decide to leave, the next place will no doubt want references from them anyway, so it would be best not to burn any bridges with them. Are they the kind of people you can talk to informally about your worries? It might be that if you have the "I'll soldier on" personality that they think they don't need to talk to you much about your progress and haven't realised how worried you are about not finishing.

If you do decide to stick it out, surely there must be jobs that would value your qualification (outside academia?). Is there anything that interests you which you could seriously investigate - entry points, salary etc - to make a more informed decision?

Ok. I can't remember things i wrote 3+ years ago.. and i feel like what i have written is enough for a PhD

Hi JoJo. First off, I think you should congratulate yourself that your thinking has moved on so far. It would be pretty weird if your initial thoughts were as good as your current ideas! Maybe one strategy would be to cut out the older stuff and leave it in a separate file, so that when you prepare for your viva you can think about the 'journey' that your thesis has taken. All of the reading you do over the three years has some kind of formative influence over the finished product, even if it doesn't make an appearance in the final thesis.

I also think your plan to stop reading might be a good one. I'm a total neurotic and would have read forever if it wasn't for my supervisors telling me to concentrate on the task in hand (writing!). I also think that, in my case at least, reading can be a form of procrastination when I'm finding writing too hard.

It sounds like you are almost there. Keep going, you can do it! It's suprising how quickly it all comes together in the end. From a recently submitted Heifer.

How do I start a Reading Group?

We have a few in our department, each with a different theme. Basically once a month we meet up to discuss a journal article or book chapter that has been circulated in advance. The person that nominated the reading gives a brief introduction then we spend an hour (usually over lunch) talking about it.

Maybe you could start by sending an email round the department/group asking people for suggested reading and then put together a schedule of monthly meetings?


Sugar free polos - only 80 calories in the whole packet. Or else I chew strong minty gum which puts me off eating anything else for a while because of the taste clash!

Anyone else submitted and waiting?

Hi Cakeman,

Sorry to hear about your situation. I had two supervisors, one of whom never read a single thing I wrote and would even admit that he had only started looking at my work on the tube on the way to our supervision meeting... the other one was great though. Is there anyone else you can pass it to, for reassurance?

Congratulations for getting to this stage though, you should feel proud of how much you've achieved without the support that most of us take for granted!