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an interview, finally!!!!!!!!

Hi Chris

Massive congrats, I too had my first 'proper' interview for a postdoc on tuesday and was offered it - so there is hope for everyone!

The biggest lesson I learned from the experience was to know their project proposal really well - ask for a copy of the project outline/case for support if they haven't already given you it. You need to convince them that although you have your own strenghts (and you should give some thought to how you would like to go about doing the project) you will also be able to fit into a team and not be some maverick who marches in and tries to reinvent the wheel.

I also got quite a lot of questions in the interview about how the post fitted into my longer term career plans, what I envisaged publishing from the project and which conferences it would be appropriate to present at, and some more general questions where they asked me about my previous research experience.

I'm not usually a fan of the careers service but I arranged a mock interview with them and they were great.

Good luck!

2nd authorship, any good at all?

I think second-author papers done during the PhD are absolutely fine. I think the perception in my field (social science discipline) is that a paper written by 2 people is more of an equal joint effort (rather than one person's paper with another guy tagged on). 3 authors or more starts to look less stellar.

Also for REF purposes you can enter a paper where you are not the first author, so to potential employers you have got 4 papers that are REF-eligible.

Thesis Submission

Massive congratulations bilbo!!! Next you can look forward to the viva dreams :-) (I had one a few days before my viva in which the examiners said "we can only think of three questions to ask you" so it was over in about ten minutes...so disappointing to wake up and realise it hadn't actually happened!)

Sneaks, you CAN do it! I never thought I would finish my thesis, and even now I turn around every so often just to remind myself it's on the shelf behind me - but I did, and it is. Just keep ploughing on and refuse to let any "maybe this is all rubbish"/"it's all been done before" worries even cross your mind.

Finish in 3 years?

I finished mine in 3 years partly because, like you, the culture in our department is that everyone must complete in 3 (and with the exception of one person, everyone has). Although this is due to pressure from the funding councils (universities lose their studentships if their students overrun) I think it does actually benefit (most of) the students too. Obviously, for people who are having serious personal or research-related problems then pressure to submit is unhelpul. But I think, as sneaks says, a lot of people have slipped into a "4 years is normal" mindset that is not necessarily the case. I think in order to finish in 3 years my advice would be:

Write, write, write. Even if a lot of it gets cut out, the practice will make you a better writer. Also it will give more time for editing later on, which means less chance of minor corrections in the viva.

Keep your question defined; start fieldwork/data collection early and stop as soon as you have enough data. Accept that you can't address every issue that is raised - make notes of these for future research. Use footnotes in the thesis to indicate you are aware that there are avenues that you didn't explore.

Restrict teaching to modules that are closely related to your own field, and only do as much as will give you some experience for the CV. Lots of people are derailed by supervisors pushing them to take over their enormous teaching loads, and it is completely unfair on them.

Balance your desire to finish in 3 years with the need to get some publications. Finishing a PhD with no publications to your name is a weak position to be in if you are looking for academic jobs. Try to co-author (your supervisor may put you on as an author if you offer to do some literature reviewing or data analysis).

Don't waste your time with loads of courses (go to the essential ones, obviously, if you need to learn a new technique or software). My uni pressed us all to go and do things like voice coaching and speed reading, and they were of no use whatsoever to me. think about the kinds of skills that are either essential to you in finishing your research, or will be good transferable skills if you want to leave academia.

hope this helps. Good luck with your PhD!

Quick question - how many words for a 1 hour talk?

Thanks for all your replies. It's a seminar that I have been invited to give at another univeristy so it's kind of informal, but I also don't want to look like a total clown (and I get very nervous when giving talks) so I felt like having a written paper would be a comfort blanket. I think now I'm going to go for a halfway house with bullet points for the bits I know really well, and a few key sentences written out for the trickier parts.

Thanks again!

Post-doc Chat

Best things about being a post doc: getting invited to give seminars at other universities; being treated as an equal by other staff members; getting travel expenses paid without having to beg and grovel; opportunities that I never had as a student e.g. contributing journalism to industry magazines; getting to work on something other than my PhD!

Worst things: having to try and write some publications from my thesis in my spare time because current employers not very sympathetic to that; loss of lovely shared student office and now in manky open-plan where nobody ever speaks, let alone offers to make the tea; a lot of pressure to be constantly looking for the next job (I'm only on a 1 year contract) and the next funding application.

I think the hardest thing for me has been that when I passed my viva I felt like the thesis was finished and never wanted to see it again. trying to publish from it now is like getting blood from a stone - I am just so bored of it all and can't muster much enthusiasm for it, even though I know that publications are essential to getting a longer term, better paid job.

job hunting/cover letters

You could try www.prospects.ac.uk (not sure if that will get removed by the moderators but if it does try googling "prospects"!) - it has a lot of advice on CVs, covering letters, interviews etc.

in the mean time I would say publications are the number one thing that will improve your chances of getting a job, whether teaching or research, so concentrate your efforts on getting some good journal articles from your thesis. Check which are the most highly ranking journals in your field and aim for those. Also ensure you're up to date with conferences in your field and present at them. You need to hawk your thesis as much as possible!

good luck!

Quick question - how many words for a 1 hour talk?

Hi all,

I need to give a one hour presentation about my work and I was wondering if anyone knew roughly how many written words that is equivalent to? i'm guessing I'll need it written out because improvising from bullet points for that length of time is pretty intense!


URGENT! citing as 'in press'

As far as I understand it, "in press" is a paper that has been accepted for publication. "In preparation" refers to something that is still being written and "in submission" for something that is currently under review.

ESRC Research grant - what do you buy?

As far as I know you are allowed an extra year as a registered student before the ESRC start getting peed off (although in practice it is the university that puts the pressure on, because they stand to lose future funding if a student takes longer than 4 years). Unfortunately the money stops after three and I've never heard of anyone getting an extension to their funding.

however, if you're just going to be writing up you should be able to pay the reduced rate for fees, and at my university they do sometimes find the money to cover the fees for students, particularly if it is obvious that they are only going to need an extra couple of months. It could be worth asking in the department if there are any pots of money; alternatively you could try and get a part-time RA job (does anyone in your department have a funded project on the go, which they could find money from to pay you for some data collection, for example?).

potential employer

Hi someone3,

I'd just like to echo chrisrolinski's post - not because I want to rain on your parade in any way, but I got my hopes up about a job I applied for recently and was absolutely gutted not to get it and for a while it really put me off applying for anything ever again. So just a warning really - if you don't get an interview don't take it personally and don't let it put you off in the future! (incidentally, I was encouraged to apply for the job by the head of dept but they then got 150 - yes 150 - other applications from people most of whom were far more qualified than me).

In the future it might be a good idea to ask a few informal questions when you see a job advert e.g. what the priority areas for the department are, if there are any teaching requirements, if there is any flexibility in the start date etc. - it can help you tailor your CV to the job, and it also puts your name in their minds.

One other thing to bear in mind - often the procedure for job applications is that someone in Human Resources will sift through the CVs and throw out any that look irrelevant/under qualified - so the academic assessors only see a tiny proportion of the applications. So if you don't get an interview, don't assume that the guy who replied to your email was leading you on or lying to you; he might not even have seen your application.

But very very good luck with the application!

ESRC Research grant - what do you buy?

I claimed for travel expenses to fieldwork; a dictaphone; conference fees; conference travel and accomodation. I tried to claim for the fees to join a professional body (the political studies association - it was mandatory to be able to present at their conference) but the university turned it down. The whole experience of trying to claim the money was like getting blood out of a stone because the ESRC only paid it in quarterly installments so if you'd used more than your £180 or whatever that term we weren't allowed to claim any more until the next installment came in - even though it was guaranteed that all the money would come in eventually. They also took months to give us the money, while staff expenses were cleared in a couple of weeks.

I think the basic philosophy is that the money should only be spent on fieldwork or things that count towards "research training" but I've known other people use the money for books as well.

Maybe you could ask your department for a statement of the types of things they are willing to cough up for?

What is the official date of the PhD award?

Hi Danzig,

My graduate school told me that the date that appears on your pass list is the date you are formally awarded the PhD, not the date of your graduation. So for me I passed the viva early november, appeared on pass list late november, graduated december. On my CV I put PhD awarded november 2009.

If you haven't already been sent a copy of your passlist (or a letter confirming you have passed) I would ask at your graduate school/admin office.

Telling tutor about personal problems affecting my studies - advice please

Hi Natassia,

First off I'm so sorry you're having a difficult time, and well done for coping alone so far. I know how difficult it can be sharing personal problems but I just wanted to offer a bit of encouragement. I suffered from depression during my PhD and it took me a long time to tell my supervisor as I felt, like you, that everyone thought i was doing just fine and would think less of me. As it turned out, my supervisor was brilliant and told me that he was being treated for depression himself, and two other PhD students in the department also told me the same. Mental illness is such a common phenomenon (although a hidden one, because of the perceived stigma attached) that you might be surprised by the sympathy and understanding that you get from people.

Secondly, you say that you don't want to ask for mitigating circumstances because you would "feel like a failure". In my undergrad days I contracted laryngitis days before an oral exam and asked for mitigating circumstances. Does that sound like failure? Mental illness is an illness, just like other forms of illness and I think you should be less hard on yourself. Having said that, I do understand that you don't want to feel like you got a good mark "just because" you asked for a concession. Maybe you could decide in advance exactly what you want to tell your tutors and why - are you telling them "just so they know", because you want concessions, or because you think it might affect your future performance? Being clear about why you are telling them might make it easier for you to decide how to phrase it.

I hope this helps and I hope that you get the support you need.

Party thread for Viva Passers!

Olivia, Danzig, Someone3, cleverclogs -
Huuuuuge congratulations!