I have no idea what I am doing!

By a PhD student

The first year of this PhD is coming to an end I am not even sure what PhD stands for (pretty hard degree). I am sure I have spent (most of) my days doing something, but what do I have to show for it? A title to a project that makes people ask questions that I have no idea how to answer.

kitten

We all came from honours or similar degree where our hands were held and we were walked through how to do everything. Finally, you became an expert on your (tiny) subject. That year, you achieved so much, in only ten months!

Now comes the PhD (prolonged happiness depleter) and ten months have flown by and all I can tell you is what not to do if you’re trying to grow crystals. We have blundered our way through these first months, feeling guilty for achieving very little, very slowly, and looking out longing for a hand to hold.

But I believe we are learning, if very slowly, and better yet, teaching ourselves how to learn. I know we know a lot less than many of the people that work here, but you have to realise (in some cases), they have been studying geology for longer than you have existed. You may get lost in a conversation or not know what that acronym stands for but if you ask a question then you will know! It’s that simple.

This year, a lot of us started a PhD (pondering hopelessly deep) and we’ve been learning from each other’s mistakes. It’s a bit of blind leading the blind, but at least once someone falls down a hole they let the rest of us know to avoid it! We will get through this; get more efficient, more knowledgeable, more confident and become a real researcher.

By the end of these 3-4 years we will once again be experts on our tiny aspect of geology, graduate, get to call ourselves doctor and realise….

dog

Pyrites of the Caribbean

This is an announcement by the
RSES Bureau for Football Propaganda Reporting

A team of students from the Research School of Earth Sciences is competing in the ANU`s 2014 Mixed Summer 9s Soccer Football Competition. The team (“Pyrites of the Caribbean”) started with a lucky dominating 4:3 win over “Bayern Neverlosen”. At no point during the game did the team lack structure on the field and the intermediate score of 1:3 was simply the result of an ingenious plan. Rumors that the team just came up with some sort of positioning during the halftime break were clearly true devised by the enemy press.

If you want to see any of the games of the team and support it, then you can do this on mondays over the coming weeks on the ANU`s Fellows Oval:

20/10/2014 6:00pm against “Multiple Scoregasms”

27/10/2014 6:00pm against “Shramrock Rovers”

03/11/2014 6:50pm against “Suarez biters”

10/11/2014 6:50pm against “Sneaky Soccer Superstars”

17/11/2014 6:50pm against “Bayern Neverlosen”

24/11/2014 6:50pm against “Shramrock Rovers”

01/12/2014 6:00pm against “Multiple Scoregasms”

08/12/2014 6:00pm against “Suarez biters”

15/12/2014 6:00pm against “Sneaky Soccer Superstars”

Synchrotron or megatron? These 7 questions should help you find out!

By Mike

This is a synchrotron. It's big, round, and the coffee is crap

This is a synchrotron. It’s big, round, and the coffee is crap

As I write this I am in a sort of…academic hangover. Days of excessive research has led to a groggy feeling, general tiredness and probably a lingering smell of beer. I have been at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, the ESRF in the south of France, firing high powered X-rays at tiny crystals. By rapidly accelerating electrons around a huge circular structure, light is generated, firing off the ring in tangents, that can do pretty much anything scientists could possibly want. However, there seems to be some confusion regarding the difference between a synchrotron-a research structure, and megatron-the leader of the decepticons. If you are faced with something and you don’t know which one it is, these simple questions should help you find out:

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Stuck

By Tanja

Hi everyone! It’s been a while, eh?

With my revolution slowly grinding to a halt (I haven’t decided about this yet) due to a very strong opposition, I have turned to better things to do. Like my own research. Mid July I have done my midterm and received excellent feedback and guidelines on how to proceed.

After a month off, I almost felt like working again, so I happily jumped into my glorious research. A month in – I am stuck again.

Behold! Most common geological formation in my glorious research.

Behold! Most common geological formation in my glorious research.

I am pretty sure a majority of you (if not all) know how this feels. After all, we have a word for it – the Valley of Shit. One moment you’re happily working on one aspect of your research feeling all good and mighty, and then… something creaksand stops.

You can’t move it. You try gently poking it, then pushing it, then you apply a crowbar, and then you straight out throw stuff at it hoping for some magic.

And the thing … doesn’t … even … budge … a little!

It turns into one of those things from fairy tales – you have to say some sort of magic words, but you don’t know what they are. You turn to other aspects of your research, all the while thinking – “I’ll get back to this” – and then after a while you realize those routes are blocked as well. They are all depending on those magic words.

Foreground: You. Background: Your current goal.

Foreground: You
Background: Your current goal

At times like these I feel like I have no clue as to what I’m doing, or why I’m doing it in the first place. I look around me and see my officemates staring at important looking figures and graphs on their screens, concentration welded into their faces. I hang out with other students and see them go after a while leaving me with the words “I have to try this” or “I have to do that”…. Everyone seems to know what they’re doing. When I ask them about it, they all say they feel exactly like me, most of the time. So how do you do it then? How do you find the magic words? What do you do after you’ve tried everything you could think of?

This is not the first time I’m stuck. In fact I think 75% of my PhD so far I was stuck. Usually I try everything I can. Then I try everything that is so stupid that I wouldn’t ever consider trying it, but I’m desperate. Sometimes, incredibly, this helps. Turns out your problem was something stupid that you hadn’t thought of, and you’re lucky – moving on, magic words worked.

Problem solving

Problem solving

If that doesn’t work, I despair for a while. Then I despair some more. Then I can’t take it anymore and I finally turn outwards for help. This means I go around and talk to people I think could help me. If they can’t help me, I turn to people who probably can’t help me, but I still do it. Among all the truly amazing people in this department someone will have the solution. Maybe it will be a direct solution to your particular problem (“I had this happened to me once…”), maybe it will just be an area of this person’s greater expertise (“let me just take a look at this one tiny detail here…”), maybe they will have a better idea than you, or they will come up with something you hadn’t thought of (“have you tried xy?”) or maybe they will just encourage you.

My most recent help came in the form of a very encouraging conversation just before lunch time today (October 1st). This wasn’t even related to my being stuck right now, it was a conversation addressing different problem entirely. But overall it made me look at things a bit differently – most of all, I left with the message that PhD is learning, it’s a process during which I am developing new skills that I can’t possibly learn anywhere else. And the important thing is people outside (the department, the academia…) will appreciate these skills, because not everyone has them.

It’s not easy, it was never supposed to be easy, but we are all developing skills and evolving in a particular way that makes us better at how we approach problems. Looking at it that way, I realize that I am actually working on myself as well as on my own project. And yes, I do want to be better at what I do and who I am, so I will try and take all the stuff I already threw at my immovable block and build them up so high that I can climb over it. Probably this stuff will collapse a few times, I will be frustrated still, but I will find a way to climb it.

How do you deal with your immovable blocks?

When is the real ‘end’ of a PhD?

IMG_20140922_153019Recently a number of the original OnCirculation contributors have reached the ‘end’ of their PhDs including Evan, Kelly, Nick and myself; however this has led to the question, ‘When is the true end of the PhD?’ or in popular terms ‘Can I call myself a doctor yet?’. Here in Australia, the PhD approval process is different to many other countries, based on our relative isolation from the rest of world. In this post I am going to talk about the various ‘end’ points and where they fit into the process. These stages are what I have been through or still have to come here at RSES, but are similar to most departments around the country.

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The how to, and how not to, guide to interviewing for the Australian Public Service (3)

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This will make sense if you read the rest of the post, I swear.

By Kelly

Welcome to Part 3 of my recent foray into the public service recruitment process. I’ve discussed the selection criteria and the written assessments, so today we finish the tour with the panel interviews. I interviewed for all three departments that I applied to and witnessed some very diverse styles of inquiry. In each instance, the questions were given 5-15 minutes before the interview, to allow the candidate to make a few notes. I was incredibly well prepared for Department ‘A’ and Geoscience Australia and was able to weave my skills in with their existing programs. I had a clear understanding of each departments strategic vision and an arsenal of examples that showed how I ‘fit’ within these directives. At both interviews there was much smiling from the panel, as they scribbled notes as I ticked all the right boxes. My weaving was elegant, I had clearly done my homework and if they didn’t want my basket of skills then that was okay with me, as I don’t think I could have presented them any better.

Then there was Department B, where rather than weaving it was more like throwing balls of yarn in random directions while laughing maniacally. I kid you not, it was that bad.

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Not-so-serious Sunday 49: Diatom Art

By Kelly

It’s been such a long time since I posted a ‘tangentially related to geoscience’ post, but after seeing this clip I just couldn’t resist. Enjoy!

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