In the footsteps of others

The University of Birmingham eTheses repository has a fantastic new look and improved functionality, so now is a great time to have a browse through previous UoB theses.

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A research thesis is a very different piece of writing from anything else you may have produced before, and from anything you will need to do in future, and as such, it can be difficult to understand exactly what is required, particularly in terms of structure and style.  Looking at previous theses can provide really useful examples to help you navigate this unique form of academic writing.  Continue reading “In the footsteps of others”

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Helen writes: getting started

In the first of a new occasional series, Writing Skills Advisor Helen Williams gives advice on getting started with your thesis writing.

In 2018 I started at the University of Birmingham as a Writing Skills Advisor, and when asked to contribute to this blog I considered the hardest part of writing my own thesis.

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Helen Williams, Writing Skills Advisor, Library Services

Fittingly, ‘getting started’ was often the toughest task for me, which also felt apt for a first blog post. Preparation is essential in drafting effective writing, and there is a lot that you can do encourage this process before putting pen to paper. So, to start, here are four tips for getting started. Continue reading “Helen writes: getting started”

Abstracts: art or science?

With calls for abstracts currently open for the 9th BEAR Postgraduate Researcher Conference and the Research Poster Conference 2019, now seems like a good time for a post on writing good abstracts.

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Research Poster Conference 2018

One way to think about conference abstracts is that they are a sales pitch for your presentation/poster.  You are trying to sell your presentation first of all to the conference organisers, and then if accepted, to the conference attendees who will be using the abstracts to decide which presentations to attend and which posters to seek out.  Continue reading “Abstracts: art or science?”

Advice? Take it or leave it.

As a PGR, you are no doubt receiving plenty of advice from many different sources, not least (I hope!) this blog and any development workshops or online courses you are completing.  I’ve recently seen this excellent post by Amber Gwynne on The Thesis Whisperer blog, and it’s got me thinking about giving and receiving advice.

Amber gives a number of really good suggestions for contextualising advice and deciding which pieces of advice you should take or leave.  I would recommend you read her post.

[T]here’s an awful lot of advice out there. And then there’s just awful advice. So, how do you separate the wood from the trees … ?

Her advice (!) can be summarised, in my view, as a two-step process: contextualise the advice from the giver, and be highly self-reflective when considering whether it can usefully apply to you.  It’s this second point that I want to pick up in more detail. Continue reading “Advice? Take it or leave it.”

Viva la examination

When deciding whether to award a research degree or not, the examiners have two things at their disposal:  the thesis and the viva.

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You may feel anxious about the latter because you have never experienced an examination of this type before, and you are uncertain about exactly what you expect.  You may also feel that the viva requires skills that you don’t use regularly – but in this you would be wrong.

Continue reading “Viva la examination”

Specialization and overspecialization through your research: the forest and the trees

In this post, Alex Feldman, a recently completed PGR in the School of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology, shares his thoughts on specialisation.

It’s a jungle out there, as the old cliche goes. Although we prefer the seemingly protective ivory walls of academia, we still live by the same law of the jungle. Whether we say “publish or perish” or “eat or be eaten,” some truths endure whether we’d admit them or not. You want to advance in your field, but you don’t want to be disposed when your field’s fashions change; such is the academic’s conundrum.

I’m no expert on academic fashions, but it depends on your circumstantial approach. Whereas conventional wisdom once advised planting your flag in some underpopulated area and holding on tight, you’re also aware we now have newer standards to follow: inter-disciplinary research, cross-field inquiry, discourse analysis, etc.

You need to specialize in something to be taken seriously in that field. Continue reading “Specialization and overspecialization through your research: the forest and the trees”

Happy New Year!

2019 has begun, and I hope you got what you needed from the recent Christmas break. Here’s looking forward to a happy 2019!

Have you made any new year’s resolutions for 2019? The New Economics Foundation have developed an evidence-based Five Ways to Wellbeing, and you may find inspiration for your resolutions here.

Continue reading “Happy New Year!”