RSES Writing Retreat at Kioloa

By Jess

At the end of November a group of PhD students from RSES headed to ANU’s coastal campus in Kioloa for the first RSES writing retreat.

As expected of a ‘writing’ retreat, a lot of us were writing, but there were also people reading, coding, making figures – any work that can be done from a laptop.

The days had timetabled writing sessions, which were structured in 25 minute long pomodoros1 with 5 minute breaks, and longer stops for morning/afternoon tea and lunch. Working in short intensive sessions with regular breaks really helped to keep focused, and with everyone on the retreat keen to get work done, there was a good sense of solidarity.

Concentration during a writing session (Photo: Jennifer Prichard)

Continue reading “RSES Writing Retreat at Kioloa”

PhD Status: It’s Complicated

By Kelsie

I recently crossed the 3 ½ year mark of my PhD, went off scholarship, switched to part-time, got a casual admin job, didn’t get into a graduate program, bought a bunch of IKEA furniture and received reviews for a paper. It’s fair to say that I’m giving a lot of mixed messages about my PhD status.

Continue reading “PhD Status: It’s Complicated”

Writing for the Reader

By Thomas

This is going to be a short blog post, because I actually want you to read a rather long article*. But I think every minute spend on reading it will be worthwhile your time. That is, if you do scientific writing (or going to do so).

The article explains how readers perceive a text and at which position in a sentence and/or paragraph they (i.e. all of us) expect to find which kind of information. If a text doesn`t concur with these expectations it will be really hard to understand for two reasons: (1) The reader puts emphasises on parts of the text that the writer didn`t inteded to emphasis and (2) the reader will “not get” the main point if it is hidden in a syntactically un-emphasised area of the sentence. To avoid these dilemmas the article gives tips on how to structure your sentences and paragraphs and illustrates these tips with different examples.

So without further ado:

The Science of Scientific Writing

Hope you will find it as helpfull as I did.

*Thanks to my supervisor for calling this one to my attention.


The how to, and how not to, guide to interviewing for the Australian Public Service (2)

By Kelly

Last week I started talking through the process of applying for positions in the Australian Public Service Graduate Programs. To recap, I covered some considerations for addressing the selection criteria. I applied to three departments; Department of A, Department of B and Geosciences Australia. All three had selection criteria, with the first two also requiring a written test, then all three a panel interview. In my opinion I did really poorly on the two written tests, partly because I was very used to writing in a different style and partly because I was losing the plot. As far as the interviews go I interviewed really well for two departments and the other SO badly that I actually started laughing part way through…In my defence I had finished writing my thesis at 2am and that particularly interview was at 10am, however even so I was such a loose cannon I’m surprised they didn’t have security escort me out. And herein lies the ‘how not to’ part of the post 🙂

Continue reading “The how to, and how not to, guide to interviewing for the Australian Public Service (2)”

The how to, and how not to, guide to interviewing for the Australian Public Service (1)

By Kelly


First, I must apologise for the delay in getting this post up. My brain appears to have softened post submission…. However I do appreciate those who ‘liked’ the fact the advice page was empty!

There are two questions on every PhD’s mind toward the end, first, will this ever end, and second, what on earth will I do next? Unfortunately the latter needs to be thought about during the former, so when all your energy should be focussed on getting over the finish line, more often you are writing endless job applications. Here in Australia one job option includes applying for the Public Service Graduate Programs. Due to our current government’s lack of faith in the merit of scientific research the Public Service is one of the few options with long-term security*. And so I ran the gauntlet for three different departments, lets call them Dept A, Dept B and Geoscience Australia. I did a great job on two of these, and a rather shocking job on another…hence the how to….and how not to.

Continue reading “The how to, and how not to, guide to interviewing for the Australian Public Service (1)”

‘F’ is for Finished

By Kelly images-1

It has been so very long since I wrote a blog post I barely know where to start. In this instance, I feel compelled start at the end…


The first article I ever posted was called ‘M’ is for Midterm and finally, two and a half years later, I get to write ‘F’ is for Finished! I have learned so many things since that first post, about blogging, about research, probably most importantly about deep-sea coral (that was* after all my PhD topic) and an AWFUL lot about myself; some things that I shall carry forward and a few things that I shall gladly leave behind. The whole process of doing a PhD is often described as a roller coaster, which was most definitely the case for me. The extreme highs were coupled to some rather uncomfortable lows. So perhaps I was naive to think that the ride ended on the day of submission, and I was not entirely prepared for how strange it would be to put my feet back on the ground. Like the astronaut returning from space readjusting to earth’s gravity, I discovered on my own re entry, that perspective on Planet PhD was so different to that on Planet Earth that I needed some time to learn how to walk again.

I’ll save my survival tips for another post, although I will say that Evan pretty much covered most of them in PhD: Epilogue. What I’d like to tell you about is the incredibly surreal period that culminates in the days leading up to (my) submission, and in my next post, the days that follow **.

Continue reading “‘F’ is for Finished”

PHD: Epilogue

By Evan

Last time I posted on this blog, I was in a pretty stressful state of being. Deadlines were piling up, as I was preparing for a presentation at the AGU Fall Meeting (BTW, the presentation was a success). At the end of the post, I concluded by saying:

I think the best cure is to work hard and get things done!

Well, it is late April, and here I am sitting in Japan, a week removed from handing in my PHD thesis (note, this post was written April 25). I have spent the past week not thinking about it! I have to say, I had hoped that I would have completed things at least a month earlier than I did, but that is not how things worked. It came down to the wire, and the hours piled on much more than I would have liked. For those of you who are in a PHD program, but not yet at the end point, here are some comments on my experience. Continue reading “PHD: Epilogue”

Thesis Bootcamp: 0-10,000 in 48 hours

By Kelly

Sometimes it feels impossible to wade through all the email that floods in to your inbox everyday; the journal alerts, department emails, university emails, human resources updates etc., etc. I’m sure a lot of you, like myself, hit delete before reading half of them. Well a couple of months ago, as I hunched over my desk, glaring at the empty screen wondering why I couldn’t will Chapter 4 of my thesis to write itself, an email appeared advertising a THESIS BOOTCAMP being put on by the wonderful folks at the Research Skills Training Unit. If I’m honest I was probably procrastinating and reading anything that meant I could put off writing.

Howeverparticipating in the Thesis Bootcamp was a pivotal moment in my PhD. Perhaps THE moment when I realised I was actually going to finish.

Continue reading “Thesis Bootcamp: 0-10,000 in 48 hours”


By Nick,

from wronghands1.wordpress
from wronghands1.wordpress

Over the past few months I’ve been writing a bit less on this blog, as I began writing on my thesis, and preparing to maybe start possibly looking at the possibility of perhaps at least inquiring about potential future employment, or lack of. It seems like its been the right time for the younger generation to get to grips with the blog. Kelly has already given her final PhD talk, which was typically amazing. Brendan has done likewise. And with myself and Evan also writing up and hoping to be out of here soon enough its high time the young whipper-snappers get to grips with some good old fashioned science communication!

But in the last month, I’ve written quite a few more posts, getting back to my old once a week effort. The reason for this: Procrastiblogging. Its a great way of putting off the real important writing for some light-hearted, still interesting bits of science. My writing isn’t going too well at the moment. For the first two or so months it was all going swimmingly, I was writing well, making some pretty graphs. But its all started to come to a halt. Perhaps what I’ve written so far has just been the low-hanging fruit, that I’ve written the easy chapters and am now getting into the harder nitty gritty that I’ve been avoiding. Evan has a post going into the grind of slow writing coming up soon.

So instead of tapping out words onto the page of my thesis, I’ve been blogging instead. It has helped! So for those writing a thesis, a blog-post can actually help relieve the sense of getting nothing done all day. And for those in the lower-years starting to take on the blog: get writing. Someday all that you see here will be yours.

One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here, and will rise with you as the new king
One day, Simba, the sun will set on my time here, and will rise with you as the new king

Procrastibaking also helps – Amaretto and Chocolate cupcakes = yum

Eating An Elephant

By  Aimée

Most people say that the last few months of your PhD are the most productive.

What do they know?  Such sweeping, general statements though well-meant can be quite deceptive.

The past couple of months I’ve been waiting for this productivity bug to get ahold of me and totally take over. I expected that by now I’d have all my ducks in a row, ideas sorted, figures done, written up more than half my thesis with guns blazing.

One thing for sure is that I will not tell anyone the end is the most productive. It gives people false hope. Not a false hope that everything will be okay, because that bit is true: it WILL be. But a false hope that for some reason it will be easy and straightforward. Somehow you will be gifted with astuteness, creativity, efficiency and motivation at the end. It is part of the mythology of a PhD.

Continue reading “Eating An Elephant”

Word Count = 0

By Nick,

The blank page
The blank page

Following on from this moment last month, I have now sat down to write. The blank page sits before me empty, waiting for some kind of wisdom or insight that I have gained over the last three years of experiments, conferences, and plenty of time analysing data. The calendar sits there quietly, six months to go. An eternity, and nothing at the same time. I stand at the metaphorical tunnel entrance, the light at the other end a mere rumour. How do you even start a thesis?

Every journey begins with a single step, every thesis begins with a single word.

Lets get to work.

Also: no-one told me about the snake part:

The Penny Drops

By Nick


Oh dear God,

So the realisation finally came today, that I have to finish my PhD, soon. I’ve just been working on the Application for Extension of Research Scholarship. The form I need to fill in to get a further six months (from 3 years, to 3 years six months) of funding in order to get my PhD finished.

This means I really have to get working on writing now. No more lab work, less time playing around with my data. And more time writing, writing and writing some more. My original aim of finishing at christmas suddenly looks like a mountainous task. The end of my six month extension at the end of February looks bad enough.

Compared to a couple of months ago, it all suddenly feels quite daunting. I am going to have to work very very hard for the next few months in order to finish.


When things stall…

Michael Leunig
Michael Leunig

By Claire

First thing I need to make really clear, is that I love my PhD. I love what I’m researching and I love the people I am working with. Up until this point, I have been really lucky. My PhD has been a breeze. You hear all the time about people who come to loathe the research they are doing a couple of years in to it. I am not one of those people. I am one of the lucky ones who have coasted through so far. I still enjoy what I am researching and I enjoy coming in to work each day.

That is until now.  Continue reading “When things stall…”

Write that journal article in 7 days

Peer-Review-Cartoon2By Claire

I have spent the afternoon at a seminar titled, “Write that journal article in 7 days”, put together by the Research Skills and Training Centre at ANU and wanted to share some of the wisdom I’ve soaked in. The seminar was presented by Inger Mewburn, a.k.a. The Thesis Whisperer and hopefully will yield at least one journal article over the next few months (I have at least three that I really should be writing up now!).

The article writing process is spread out over seven days, with quite manageable chunks to do on each day.

(As a caveat to the “7 days” promise, you need to already have data etc ready to go and at least some preliminary ideas on what the article will be about)

The presentation can be viewed online via the Thesis Whisperer blogsite, but here is my interpretation of the process. Continue reading “Write that journal article in 7 days”

How to write a thesis with a short attention span

I had two Siamese cats growing up and one looked a lot like this, perhaps that is why I can’t stop laughing…

By Kelly

What? Oh right yes, how to write a thesis with a limited attention span. I’ve spent the last four months running around like I’ve stolen something. I’ve been multi-tasking somewhat precariously, with the flurry of activity only hindering actual progress on a handful of occasions. (I don’t want to talk about loading the wrong standard on three separate occasions, while trying to find out why my standardized values were wrong). But the hard work has paid off and I have more data than I presently know what to do with*.

After being in such a frenzy though I’m finding it a little difficult to sit at my desk and write all day. I’ve grown accustomed to 10-12 hour days but they involved a variety of activity, some completely mindless, like weighing out the wrong standard over and over again. As it turns out, I can only focus for 90 minutes at a stretch, and then my mind starts to wander. And if I can manage four such sessions in one day, then there is cause for celebration. Continue reading “How to write a thesis with a short attention span”

T minus 11 months and counting

By Kelly


I’m thinking of installing foam panels on my bedroom ceiling. No, don’t be weird, I mean that I shot out of bed this morning with such a fright that I almost ended up creating a new skylight. It’s the 11th of January, which means that I run out of scholarship funding in exactly 11 months. Heard this all before? Yes I did have a bit of a meltdown a few months ago…then discovered I can’t count (or perhaps read) and my submission date (which includes a 6 month extension) is not November, but December. But now that extra month has disappeared, and I’m not entirely sure that my ability to read and count has improved!

Continue reading “T minus 11 months and counting”

Copy editting

By Kelly

Have you ever looked back on piece of work and felt slightly horrified when you realise there is typo on your title page? Don’t laugh I have a friend who submitted his thesis, not just a blog post, only to discover a mistake in the title. Or perhaps like me you tend to write so slowly that you are rushing by the deadline -how can it take me an entire day to write a page of intelligible text- leaving little time on that final polish. And speaking of polish, I have another friend  who – just before handing in her Honours thesis-  noticed that her spellcheck had changed petrography to pornography through the entire document. Surely the examiner would see the funny side? Continue reading “Copy editting”

Pointers for Proofreaders

By Malte (guest contributor)

I attended a short course on proofreading and editing this morning and thought I would share some insights. The reason I went to the class in the first place is that my midterm report, a massive piece of writing, is coming up and I really needed to get some practical hints and pointers for my proofreading. There is a lot of good reading on this topic already out there but I want to stress the following points:

(1)   Format comes first. Look at other theses in your area, journals, or even international style guides and decide early on what kind of format you want to use. Then build a template in your favourite software and stick to it.

(2)   Consistency is everything. This includes all the styles you use, your spelling (e.g. Australian English vs. US English), formatting and use of abbreviations. The only time it’s recommended not be consistent is if your writing is bad and flimsy. Don’t consistently write badly but stop and take a break. Even just opening a new document to start fresh and copy and pasting selected parts of your work can help quiet a lot.

(3)   Outline and prepare your chapters. This point can’t be stressed enough as it will greatly reduce the amount of confusion in your writing and will save you a lot of time. The way I do this is by writing my table of contents first and then adding 1-2 sentences per chapter that describe what I want to say and what I will use to develop the idea. This also gives you a framework if you stumble upon some great article that you want to include in your work but it doesn’t fit the current chapter you are working on.

(4)   Edit and proofread for one thing at a time. If you focus on one aspect during your proofreading and check the whole document you will be much faster and more consistent in your corrections. Work your way down starting with possible errors in titles, subtitles and figures, basically things everyone will notice but you. The search function in word is your best friend here. Personally I have to check all my documents for double and triple spaces between words as I tend to hit the space bar while thinking. Very   annoying.

(5)   Read the first and last sentence of your paragraphs. This will help you to get a feel for the structure of your writing. It sounds weird but I found it very helpful to check if the order of my paragraphs is working and allows for a natural development of the argument.

(6)   Read sentences out loud. I mean the actual sentence that you wrote at 2 am and not the one in your head. There can be a huge difference and it forces you to look at your text very carefully. It will make you sound like a crazy scientist. But that’s a plus right?

(7)   Leave time between your editing and proofreading. Reading your text 30 times a day won’t help and you will miss obvious mistakes. It is a much better and efficient strategy to leave your text alone for a few days or hand it to a friend so you can get a new perspective.

(8)   Practice your editing and proofreading on other peoples work. This is a great way of increasing your skills and to learn about what other people are doing. It also gives you that good feeling of accomplishing something without having to work on your own stuff that was supposed to be done weeks ago.

(9)   Use citation software. Not really news but if you have avoided it so far it’s better to start sooner than later. There are many alternatives out there so try out some different ones if you are unsure. Be very aware of databases crashes (backup!). Nothing worse then losing all your references a few days (hours…) before submission date.

(10) And finally: Writing is thinking. I often have to start writing before I truly understand some specific topic or argument. This writing is often very crude, but it turns out to provide a great resource to go back to during this whole midterm writing process. It is much easier to stitch together a literature review if you have already written about some of the articles you are going to use.

Overall the class was useful and surely motivated me to work more on my midterm. Of course I didn’t do that today. But before you raise your finger and point at me for procrastinating and talking about writing instead of getting anything done – so are you by reading this.

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