Academic Job Interviews: Collected Resources

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Job interviews can be intimidating, but  being well-prepared can help counter those nerves (Source: The Job Network).

I recently got my first academic job interview, after several months of silence and rejection emails. Unfortunately I wasn’t offered the job, but it was still good experience for me, and it was a huge step in the right direction in terms of getting an academic job. Whilst I was preparing for the interview, I spent time reading blog posts and webpages with advice about interviews, and other people’s experiences of interviews. Below are links to the ones I found particularly helpful.

Vitae: Academic Job Interviews provides advice about how to prepare for a job interview, what kind of research to do beforehand, what kind of questions to expect (the questions are assuming that the job is research-based though, there are no questions about teaching), and giving presentations.

Guardian Higher Education Network: Written by Steve Joy, How to Shine in an Academic Interview has some helpful tips on how to prepare for interviews, including sharing experiences with others, and orally practising your responses to typical questions.

Jobs.ac.uk: In Succeeding in Academic Interviews, Neil Harris  has some good general tips about interviews, including body language.

The University of Edinburgh Careers Service: Academic Interviews has a link to a comprehensive list of typical questions.

Dr. Nadine Muller: Academic Job Interviews is a detailed blog post written by Dr. Caroline Edwards, who has experience from both sides of the interview process.  It has typical questions, as well advice for all stages of an interview day, including lunch, which you might be expected to eat with the other candidates and members of the department. An Academic Interview recounts an interview that Dr. Muller went to, at which she was ultimately successful. At this point she had only recently finished her PhD, so the post is particularly helpful for those at a similar stage.

If you are currently looking for an academic job then I wish you luck, and remember that you are not alone!

RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2017: The Geographies of Everything

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The RGS-IBG Annual Conference is held at the Society’s headquarters in South Kensington two years out of every three (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I spent most of last week at the Annual Conference of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of the British Geographers (RGS-IBG). It is one of the biggest events in British academic geography’s calendar; this year there were more than 1600 participants and 380 sessions. This was my third time at the conference (my previous trips were in 2016 and 2014), and as always, I had a brilliant time. One of the things that I love most about geography is that is such a broad and varied subject; you can study the geography of anything and everything. The conference really brought that home. I attended a wide variety of sessions, on topics from digital geography to the geographies of dissent to historical geography.

For the last year, I have been on the committee of the RGS-IBG’s Digital Geographies Working Group. As part of that, I looked after the Group’s Twitter account during the conference, so I went to several digital geography-themed sessions, including really interesting sessions on the role of the digital in commemoration, and the geography of video games. Digital geography relates to a whole range of different elements of academia; it can be a topic of research, a method of research, or a way of communicating research. My interest in digital geography comes from thinking about the ways that social media and the internet is used by protesters.

Because of the topic of my research, the geographies of dissent was also a big part of the conference for me. Conferences are a great way of keeping up to date with new research in your field, and they also allow you to meet the people doing that research. I presented my research in a session called Geographies of Activism and Protest, and a had a brilliant time meeting the other presenters and discussing our research. There was also quite a large audience as well, which was especially nice considering it was the final session on the last day. I also went to some really interesting sessions on the geographies of opposition, political geographies of the event, populism, and anti-colonialism.

When I’m at a conference, I also like to go to some sessions that have nothing to do with my research or any other commitments, but just sound interesting. I went to the second of three New and Emerging Research in Historical Geography, and heard some great papers on Scottish travelling fairgrounds, the property of eighteenth-century widows, and the practice of Victorian monarchy, amongst others. The  conference’s opening plenary, on decolonising geographical knowledge, was brilliant, and I went to a lecture on land titles that was much more interesting than it sounds!

Big international conferences like the RGS-IBG are exhausting, and sometimes a bit bewildering. But they are also great fun, and can be incredibly rewarding. At the RGS-IBG, you can find geographies of all kinds, and I personally think that embracing that variety is a great way to make the most out of the conference.

 

How to Write PhD Acknowledgements: Collected Resources

I have had some feedback that the blog posts I put together on resources for writing thesis Introductions and Conclusions. The latest thing I turned to the internet for help with is my Acknowledgments, and I’m glad I did. Although the Acknowledgements aren’t assessed, they are significant, not only because it’s important to thank the people that have helped and supported you, but also because it says something about you as a researcher.

Doctoral Writing SIG: Writing the Acknowledgements: The Etiquette of Thanking suggests who to thank and what order to thank them in in order to avoid causing offence. Reading and Writing the Thesis Acknowledgment: Support, People and Identity is a guest-authored post by Lila Mantai who conducted an analysis of 79 thesis acknowledgements to explore what kinds of support PhD students value most. It made me think about the purpose of the acknowledgments, and how they might be perceived by others.

Newcastle University Writing Development Centre: Acknowledgements is a short post that provides some useful vocab if you run out of ways of saying “Thank you to…”

For Acknowledgement: Useful Expressions for Acknowledgement: Samples and Examples has a somewhat longer list of possible vocab. What’s Acknowledgment? provides a brief introduction to acknowledgments and what they should include. It is aimed more towards journal articles than PhDs, but it still came in handy.

Patter: I’d Like to Thank…The Important Work of Acknowledgments is a brief reflection on what the author of acknowledgments gets out of them. It points out that acknowledgements can situate a researcher in academic networks, showing the reader the author’s scholarly context. This is something I hadn’t thought about before.

Times Higher Education: The Best Academic Acknowledgments Ever is perhaps a better indication of what not to do rather than good practice, unless you want to passive-agressively criticise someone, or propose to your partner. It may be a reminder that it’s all been done before, so it’s probably not worth trying to be original or witty, unless you’re very good at it.

How to Write a Good PhD Introduction: Collected Resources

I recently collected together all the help I found and advice I was given for writing my thesis conclusion, so I thought I would do the same for the Introduction. Below is a list of all the blog posts I found helpful, but if you were only going to take on one bit of advice I would say make it this: Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to write your introduction. It may be the shortest chapter in your thesis, but it isn’t easy and it’s important to get it right- first impressions matter! With that in mind, below are the links to some blog posts I found useful:

PhD Life: Your Thesis Introduction. This blog about doing a PhD is run by the Research Exchange at the University of Warwick. This blog post has some very helpful ideas about things you can do to get started on your introduction, and it makes the whole thing feel a bit less intimidating.

Explorations of Style: Introductions  is a general post about how to write and structure introductions. Structuring a Thesis Introduction applies these principles specifically to writing up a PhD, which is a very particular form of writing. Explorations of Style is written by Rachael Cayley, an associate professor in the school of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto.

Patter: The Thesis Introduction. I found this blog post helpful for explaining why my research matters, something I have been grappling with for quite a while!

James Hayton PhD: Leaving Your Thesis Introduction Until Last? It Could Be A Mistake… I found this post a little bit to late to follow Hayton’s main piece of advice- I had written everything else by the time I started to think seriously about my introduction. It might not be too late for you though!

Doctoral Writing SIG: How Long is a Thesis Introduction? Changing Thesis Structures. This post considers the importance of following accepted guidelines when it comes to writing a thesis introduction. Every thesis is different, but it can be a risk stepping too far outside of what is considered normal.

How to Write a Good PhD Thesis Conclusion: Collected Resources

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I asked the internet for help writing my PhD conclusion, and I got a great response! (Photo: Horia Varlan)

A few weeks ago, I started drafting the conclusion of my PhD thesis. I had absolutely no idea where to start, so I hit Twitter and Google looking for advice. I tweeted the PhDForum asking for advice, and got a brilliant response. As well as loads of good advice, it also gave me an emotional boost, reminding me that I am not going through the PhD process alone. I also found some great blog posts and websites. So I thought I would put a few of the best tweets and links together in a post of my own, in case they were of any use to anyone else.

I used Twitter’s newfangled Moments feature to collect up all the Tweets I received, they can be found here.

And links to the blog posts and websites I found, with a short description, are here:

The WritePass Journal: Writing your PhD Thesis Conclusion A nice short summary of what a PhD conclusion should do, what it should include, and some top tips. Also has links to other advice on how to write conclusions. WritePass is an organisation that students can pay to write essays etc. for them, but the WritePass Journal provides helpful advice on a range of topics, for undergraduates as well as graduate students.

Patter: What Not to do in a Conclusion, Part One: Christmas Present Five A discussion of four common mistakes in thesis conclusions.Patter is a blog run by Pat Thomson, a Professor of Educatuon at the University of Nottingham. It is a great source of advice for all aspects of academia. Conclusion Mise-en-place. Christmas Present Six A blog post about preparation you can do before writing your conclusion to make the writing go more smoothly. It poses six questions to answer before you start writing.

Global PAD Open House: Writing a Conclusion Not quite as relevant as the other posts mentioned here, as it its about conclusions generally rather than just focusing on a PhD thesis. However, it does talk about the need to be interesting and avoid being too formulaic, which I think could be an easy trap to fall into when other advice pretty much gives you a checklist to follow. Global PAD Open House is developed and maintained by staff in the Centre of Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick.

PhD Talk: Writer’s Lab: How to Write your Conclusions, Part II: Doctoral Dissertation Provides some helpful practical tips, such as putting all your chapter conclusions into one document to use as a starting point. PhD Talk is a blog run by engineer Dr. Eva Longsoght and contains some really helpful advice.

DoctoralWriting SIG: How to Make a Great Conclusion Recommends starting a folder for ideas about your conclusion about halfway through your PhD. For those already beyond that point, it has a freewriting task that might be helpful. Doctoral Writing SIG is a forum for those interested in doctoral writing.

James Hayton PhD: What Goes in the Introduction, What goes in the Conclusion? A brief blog post about the differences between an introduction and conclusion, which might be helpful if you are writing them both at roughly the same time. James Hayton is a PhD consultant.

5 Reasons Why I Love My PhD

Some bits of your PhD are tough, and some bits are damn hard. I have been going through a particularly difficult stretch recently; I am coming into the last few months, and everything is taking about twice as long as I need it to. On some days, it is difficult to remember why I signed up for this in the first place. But I do love my PhD, and I want to hold on to that, so I made a list of all the things about my PhD that I enjoy:

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I have always enjoyed spending time in libraries, and I’ve certainly been able to do a lot of that during my PhD! (Photo: Tony Evans).

1. My topic. I have always loved history and geography, and protest is a topic I’ve been interested in since the Student Tuition Fee Protests in 2010. I was an undergraduate, and it was the first time I got involved in protest. The connections between my experiences and my studies in Geography were obvious. London is a fantastic city to research as well, I love being able to spend my days finding out more about the people and events that have shaped the history of one of my favourite cities in the world.

2. Working in the archives. Whilst I was conducting research on the Gordon Riots, I spent quite a bit of time in the Rare Books and Manuscripts room at the British Library. I consulted the diary of John Wilkes, radical politician and perpetual pain in the neck of the government in the middle of the eighteenth century. I got a little thrill knowing I was touching pages that he had written. I also just enjoy spending time in libraries and archive reading rooms, surrounded by books, in peace and quiet. The Bishopsgate Institute Library in London is a particular favourite of mine, it is exactly what a good library should look like!

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I loved exploring Chicago during time out from the AAG (Photo: Llinos Brown).

3. Going to conferences. Conferences are long and tiring, but I really enjoy them. They are great opportunities for finding out about the latest ideas and research, and for meeting new people, and catching up with others that you met at previous conferences. Doing a PhD can be a lonely experience, and conferences are an enjoyable social respite. They can also be an excuse to travel; last year I was lucky enough to go to Chicago for the Annual Conference of the Association of American Geographers, and I had a fantastic time exploring the city.

4. Teaching. I have been lucky enough to get plenty of teaching opportunities during my PhD. I’ve had a go at marking, demonstrating, lecturing, and running seminars, and I’ve enjoyed most of them. I’ve also helped on the undergraduate field trip to New York.

5. Writing this blog. There have been several occasions over the last few months when I have considered taking a hiatus from Turbulent London, or at least decreasing the frequency of posts in order to concentrate on my thesis. Every time I have decided not too, because I enjoy it too much. The writing style comes to me more easily than the formal academic style, and it feels great when someone responds to a post. So I’m going to try and keep it going for as long as I can.

So there you have it; 5 reasons why I love my PhD. I think it’s really important to be open about the negative elements of postgraduate study and academia, but sometimes you just need to stop and take stock of all the good things.

Book Review: Revolutions without Borders- The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World

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Revolutions without Borders by Janet Polansky.

Janet Polansky. Revolution without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World. London: Yale University Press, 2015. 

Back in May, I went to a seminar given by historian Janet Polansky organised by the London Group of Historical Geographers. I enjoyed the seminar so much that I got the book so I could read Polansky’s arguments in more detail. And I wasn’t disappointed; I think Revolutions without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World is a very good read.

In the late eighteenth century Europe and the Americas went through a period of political turmoil which saw revolutions “From the Americas to Geneva, the Netherlands, Ireland, the Belgian provinces, France, Saint-Domingue, Guadaloupe, Poland, Martinique, Sierra Leone, Italy, Hungary, and Haiti” (Polansky, 2015; p.2 ). The American and French Revolutions are by far the best known, but almost no country surrounding the Atlantic Ocean remained untouched. Ideas, information, and people circulated back and forth across the Atlantic in an age before the Internet, telephones, even a postal service. Revolutions without Borders is about how these radical ideas and individuals traveled, both adapting to and shaping the contexts that they found themselves in.

Two centuries before the Arab Spring, without social media or even an international postal system, revolutionaries shared ideals of liberty and equality across entire continents. Theirs, too, was an international movement connected by ideas that traveled.

(Polansky, 2015; p. 3)

Polanksy structured the book by source material- each chapter is devoted to a different method of circulation such as official decrees, rumours, letters and travelers. Overall, I like this unusual approach because it brings archival research to the fore, which a lot of history books tend to gloss over. Different sources contain different kinds of information, and the structure of Revolutions without Borders highlights this. However, structuring the book in this way does necessitate some jumping back and forwards in terms of time, which did prove a little confusing on occasion. There is a Dramatis Personae and a Chronology, which may alleviate the effects of this confusion for some.

Sometimes when you read a book it resonates with current events. I experienced this whilst reading Revolutions without Borders. Chapter 9 focuses on itinerant revolutionaries, individuals who traveled the world during the revolutionary period, sometimes running from failed revolutions, sometimes running towards budding ones. Many of these people, including Benjamin Franklin, who lived in London for two decades*, had high hopes for the future of cosmopolitanism. They dreamt of universal citizenship, where a traveler would be welcomed as if returning home wherever they went in the world. Unfortunately this dream was not to be, and as the 1790s progressed travelers returning to America from Europe were shunned as dangerous radicals. The dream of universal citizenship struck a chord with me as I was reading this book, in the aftermath of the EU Referendum, and I couldn’t help but think that Benjamin Franklin would be disappointed with the result of the referendum. Universal citizenship seems that much further away now.

Revolutions without Borders is well-written and accessible. Relevant to both historians and geographers, I think it would also be enjoyable for those who read for leisure.

*The house where Franklin lived whilst in London is now a small museum, to which I would definitely recommend a visit.

The Postgraduate Forum: When Human and Physical Geographers Meet

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Last week I began my eighth year of study at Royal Holloway (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Last week was my eighth Welcome Week at Royal Holloway (although it was still called Fresher’s Week in my day!), and my fifth as a postgraduate. Every year, as part of the Welcome Week programme in the Geography Department, two PhD students organise the Postgraduate Forum, a one-day conference in which current PhD students present their work. It gives current PhD students the chance to present in a friendly environment, and introduces new Masters and PhD students to the breadth of postgraduate research going on in the department.

The research community at Royal Holloway is split into three research groups: the Centre for Quaternary Research (which is where you’ll find the physical geographers), the Politics, Development and Sustainability group, and the Social, Cultural, and Historical Geography group (which is where you’ll find me!) For most of the year, these three groups operate quite separately, although there is quite a lot of overlap between the PDS and SCHG groups. On just one day a year, at the Postgraduate Forum, these three groups come together to share their research with each other, and I think it’s great.

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Ashley Abrook very helpfully adapted his presentation to suit his audience, and included an explanation of what the Quaternary period is (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Geography is a a very broad academic discipline which encompasses a wide range of topics, methodologies  and theoretical approaches. For example, the Forum was organised this year by Rachael Squire and Rachel Devine (who did a fantastic job, by the way). Rachael Squire’s PhD is about the geopolitics of the ocean, focusing on the US Navy’s Sealab projects during the Cold War. Rachel Devine’s PhD is about trying to find evidence to support a new theory about what caused a period of cooling during the last interglacial transition (apologies in advance if I haven’t summarised the projects well!) You couldn’t get much more different than that, and because the different areas of geography can be so diverse, you don’t often get human and physical geographers in the same room discussing each other’s research. Which is why  the Postgraduate Forum is such a good event. In the space of just one day we heard about: using the size of fossil teeth to investigate past climates; a radical eco-squat in Camden; the response of vegetation to centennial-scale climate variations; the tensions involved in being a black Christian rapper from Ealing; using rocks to reconstruct the movement of glaciers;  and whether or not the Estonian government’s use of digital technologies are creating a more transparent and accountable form of government.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the RGS-IBG Annual Conference acting as a social nexus. I was kind of joking, but the analogy actually works quite well here too. The Postgraduate Forum brings PhD students together who otherwise might never interact. At the Postgraduate Forum, I met second- and third-year PhD students who are studying in the same department as me, but who I have never met before, because we’re not in the same research group. In one respect, it’s a shame that I haven’t had the chance to get to know them until now, but on the other hand I’m really pleased that we get this chance every year.

So whilst I hope, for the sake of my sanity and my bank balance, that this is the last Postgraduate Forum I will attend at Royal Holloway (as a student anyway- I’ll gladly stick around if they’d pay me!), I hope that it carries on for many more Welcome Weeks.

The RGS-IBG Annual Conference: A Social Nexus

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The Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers Annual Conference took place this year at the RGS-IBG in Kensington (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

I spent most of last week at the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers (more commonly known as the RGS-IBG to save time!) Annual Conference in South Kensington. It is the fourth big international conference I have attended since I started my PhD, and apart from being more familiar with big conferences and how they work, I noticed one big difference from my previous conference experiences: I know people now. During the tea breaks, lunch breaks, and drinks receptions, I could be fairly confident that I would find someone I know to talk to. Not that there’s anything wrong starting a conversation with a stranger; I did a little of that too. But knowing that I could probably find someone I already knew to talk to make the prospect of networking less intimidating.

The overarching theme of the conference this year was Nexus Thinking. One of the latest buzzwords in geography, a nexus is a space of connections, of junctures, and of interaction. It got me thinking about the way in which conferences bring people together from a wide range of geographical locations and subject areas- they function as social nexuses (see what I did there?).

I saw lots of people that I know at the RGS-IBG, many that I haven’t seen in quite a while. There were previous Royal Holloway students who have now moved on to further study at other universities; current Hollowegians who I haven’t seen since the end of the summer term, or who I don’t normally get to talk to in the day-to-day life of my PhD; and people that I only really see at conferences.

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Myself with some fellow Hollowegians during a lunch break. From left to right: Ben Newman, Rachel Squire, Innes Keighren, Hannah Awcock (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Many of them were fellow PhD students, whose PhDs I have followed via conference papers and chats over tea and biscuits, lunch, or a drink in the pub at the end of the day. I have watching from afar as their research has developed and progressed, and it was really nice to see them last week, as we all come in to the final stretch.

The RGS-IBG Historical Geography Research Group too, have been an intermittent presence throughout my PhD, particularly at the annual Practising Historical Geography conferences. The more established members are so supportive and generous with their time, never seeming to get tired of the incessant questioning from postgraduate students.

Sometimes when I am sat at home at my desk staring at a computer screen for hours on end, a PhD can feel quite lonely. Last week I was reminded that I have become part of a community; a group of people who know and understand what I’m going through, and that feels really nice. It might be a largely long-distance community, that requires a social nexus like the RGS-IBG Annual Conference to bring us together, but it is one that means a lot to me. And I am now confident that I will always be able to find someone to eat with during the conference lunch breaks.

The Self-Motivation Society: PhD by Timetable

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I have found timetables a useful way of motivating myself during my PhD (Photo: Altug Karakoc).

A PhD is a very individual experience; everyone works in different ways, and finds different aspects challenging. For me, one of the hardest things has been keeping myself motivated. Doing a PhD, it is largely up to you how you spend your time. You might get guidance from your supervisors, you might have work, family or other commitments that you have to work around, but ultimately it comes down to you. Self-motivation is a really important part of doing a PhD!

When I started my PhD, I had 3-4 years to write 100000 words, a mammoth task that seemed both hard to comprehend and far away. It was difficult to know how much work I needed to do each day, week, month, in order to get it done. I tried to stick to a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday schedule, but it was easy enough to talk myself into an afternoon or a day off if I got a more appealing offer, or even if I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind. My favourite argument I used on myself was “well, 9-5 Monday to Friday is a social construct anyway, so why should I stick to it?”-  I wonder if that one works on employers? Now, as I approach the end of my third year, the panic has set in but I still find it hard to motivate myself to work on occasion.

Something that I have found useful in recent months is timetables. I never used to find them helpful, I was never one of those people who made revision timetables in the run up to exams, for example. At Royal Holloway, PhD students have to undertake Annual Reviews to make sure they are still on track. One of the materials you have to produce for the annual review is a timetable of the work you plan to do over the next year. I must admit that for the first few years, I made the timetable then promptly forgot all about it. However, as the end of my PhD started to loom, I decided to try and make a timetable and actually stick to it.

I planned out every week until the end of my PhD, including conferences, teaching, and time off. I included self-imposed deadlines, on which I have to send pieces of writing to my supervisors, so I have concrete objectives to work towards. And for the most part, I have found it very helpful. I know what I need to get done by the end of each week, and from that I can work out what I need to do each day. It is helping to keep me focused and motivated, as well as breaking down the PhD into chucks that are more manageable.

I have also discovered one important caveat, however. Timetables are only helpful for as long as they are actually helping. There is a fine line between good pressure, which forces you to get on with things, and bad pressure, which puts your mental health at risk. Sometimes things happen which you didn’t predict, and sometimes specific tasks take longer than you anticipated, despite your best efforts. When I was writing up my most recent case study, it became obvious that I just didn’t have the material to analyse the issues convincingly. I had to spend another two weeks doing more research. It put me behind schedule, but it was necessary to ensure I come out with a good quality PhD. In fact, I have revised my timetable several times since I decided to take it seriously. I have even moved my self-imposed final deadline back by a month, because it was becoming clear that my previous date was unrealistic (I was aiming for December, I am now hoping to submit by the end of January. Royal Holloway requires me to submit by the end of September 2017, so I still have some wiggle room). My timetable isn’t set in stone; it is there to help me, and if it’s not helping me, then I can change it.

As I have said, the process of doing a PhD is different for everyone, and what I find useful might not be helpful for everyone, or even anyone, else. However, I think its important for PhD students to talk openly about our experiences, and discuss what works and what doesn’t. So please let me know if you’ve tried timetables, and if so, whether or not they’ve been useful to you.