Why you should use Twitter during your PhD | The Thesis Whisperer

According to Wikipedia (yes – how terribly un-scientific of me), is an online social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read “tweets”, which are text messages limited to 140 characters. Twitter is vital to the success of your PhD. Yes, you heard me read me correctly, a seemingly superficial social media site is a fundamental element that will contribute to the success of your PhD – if you embrace it!

Read more: Why you should use Twitter during your PhD | The Thesis Whisperer

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Liminal spaces: Writing retreat 2014

Liminal

lim·i·nal adjective \ˈli-mə-nəl\

1: of or relating to a sensory threshold

2: barely perceptible

3: of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition : in-between, transitional

In the liminal state between life and death

~ Merriam Webster Dictionary

During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.

~ Wikipedia

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Beautiful writing is not something that we automatically associate with a PhD thesis, which is more often than not seen as dry, and boring, technical writing. A means to an end. So when a PhD writing retreat begins with: “Write with the directness of a novelist, the choosiness of a poet, the rhythm of a musician, the colour of an artist”, you know it is not going to be a dry and boring week!

The retreat started with a creative overtone, in the form of a book reading by Australian writer Brian Matthews, which was carried through in a beautiful poetry reading by Rose Lucas. This creativity was encouraged in each of us when we each had to write and then share our own creative four hundred word PhD stories. Creating writing…ummm…yes...major challenge number one. We were gently nudged in that direction during our morning writing wake-up sessions, with short five-minute writing tasks such as “write about how you slept last night” and “share how you felt when you wrote/read your story out aloud”. The opportunity to find your own voice within academic writing, in an exceptionally supportive environment, is a revelation. Having to “write the perfect sentence” within a couple of minutes and then read it out aloud – well, let’s just say – for those whose know me – shock, horror. Not so much the reading out aloud part, but the perfect part. But it was done. No fuss. No pretentiousness. Breakthrough.

I thought it would be fair to say that we all learnt more through the collegiality of being in a house with a group of like-minded people than from the actual formal lessons at the retreat; but then, it has occurred to me that there was method in the madness, so to speak. The formal aspect of the retreat forced us out of the often-hermit-like-shells of our academic scholar comfort zones. The conversation that I had with my PhD – yes, read that again – I know, sounds crazy! but remember, breaking through comfort zones and being open was a key component of the week – during Lucia Nardo’s treasure-mapping spoke of letting my PhD do its work, allowing me to just document it. It has taken the pressure off me to be my PhD. Personally, this facilitated a positive change in the way that I approach my work. Breakthrough.

Solitary morning walks along the beachfront to watch the sunrise and just be. Walk-and-talk sessions with great iced coffee. The cooking teams’ challenge to cater for all manner of tastes and dietary requirements – I loved the ‘green food’ night, oh and my group’s unexpected need to use all the leftovers on the last night. Playing celebrity-head and ping-pong. The audience effect of quiet writing time alone, together – often with bottles of wine appearing, and quickly disappearing. The ever-present presence of Greg Denning – and then his wife! Watching out for wankwords. These aspects all contributed to the whole-istic nature of the week, which really appealed to me. Strangely, these were catalysts for work, not distractions or procrastination aids. Breakthrough.

I had independent conversations towards the end of the week around the idea that calling this a ‘writing retreat’ rather than a ‘writing bootcamp’ is likely to attract a certain personality type – one that we all identified with in some way. This is not to say that the retreat was full of introverts – on the contrary I think – but that we were all the kind of people who craved more. We all commented on being back to the drudgery on the forthcoming Monday, and that we hoped that the sense of achievement and capability would linger past the mundane and pressing habits of being back to real-life – and emails. I know that I had planned to ‘rage rage against the dying of the light’ (Rose Lucas – inspired) – but one week on I have come to realise that there is no need to fight against my old (procrastination) routines – the liminal space in my life created through my time at the retreat is spilling over, and new rituals and routines are already forming. Breakthrough.

Without fanfare.

S

PS: Thanks to Ron Adams, Rose Lucas, and Rob McCormack for facilitating the retreat. Lucia Nardo, thanks for coming to share your treasure-mapping with us. Also a big thanks to Federation University Australia for sponsoring me.

 

Research communication

There are many researchers who just get it when it comes to research communication. The best of these are not just focused on their Kardashian index (love this tongue-in-cheek article), but are people who are passionate and open about what they do.

Personally, my most influential example is my PhD supervisor @carolinefinch – who has probably encouraged me a tad too much when it comes to using social platforms to make connections and share my research message.

@Scienceofsport of The Science of Sport recently tweeted a seven-tweet series on science communication that I really identify with:

  • This @TEDTalks from @DavidEpstein is really excellent: Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger?  Weaving narrative with science is a skill we should all learn
  • 7 quick thoughts coming up on the importance of #science communication, stimulated by @davidepstein‘s #TEDtalk
    1. Scientists need to take more ownership of the wider communication & translation of knowledge. Otherwise they’re doing only half their job
    2. This means they must pay attention to, & work on, understanding how people want to receive complex messages, & learn how to deliver them
    3. It’s difficult only because research is often not purpose-driven enough, with a clear need. Communicating without relevance is impossible
    4. Why hope that your life’s work will make a broader impact thanks to someone else (assuming you want this), when you can own it yourself?
    5. Failing to do this leaves doors open for misrepresentation of science. For every Epstein, there are dozens of Syed/Gladwell examples
    6. That said, we aren’t marketers or salespeople. Balance between accuracy & appeal is tricky. Being relevant does not trump being right
    7. Find even 1 way to make your important work understandable or “sticky”. You won’t be selling your soul, you’ll just expand your influence

Two superstars when it comes to research communication are @thesiswhisperer of thesiswhisperer.com fame, and @AstroKatie of astrokatie.com – in my opinion they are very good examples of how online platforms can be used to become the voice in your field.

Another sport scientist who I have learnt a lot from is @jacquietran of jacquietran.com. I met her for the first time only recently at the Be Active conference after being in communication with her for a while on Twitter. We have written a blog post together on workflow and productivity. Jacquie is known for her excellent sketchnotes:

 

Your online presence cannot be avoided, and is not just about personal branding anymore – it has evolved to be more than that. Don’t worry about your professional and personal profiles, just be yourself!

S

There are no such things as accidents*

“An accident is often understood to be unpredictable – a chance occurrence or an ‘act of God’ – and therefore unavoidable. However, most injuries and their precipitating events are predictable and preventable”.*

I recently delivered a lecture on sport safety for a group of third year university students and, as usual, I introduced myself with a short overview of my background and how I came to be in Australia. In all, it took a couple of minutes of the forty-five minute session. I was there to discuss the more ‘important’ work that my PhD focuses on.

Today I have been compelled to reflect (and to get these thoughts onto paper the internet).

The sport safety work that I was there to share will have significance in the years and decades to come, but the first couple of minutes where I told my story resonated more than the ‘important’ work ever could.

Why?

Because there are no such things as accidents*.

People respond to a narrative that is personal. As researchers we learn to relay the facts, to get to the point. This is particularly true at conferences and lectures, and as a result this is what we become accustomed to. Often the passion that underpins why we became researchers is lost in the pressure to sell our work in a manner that seems more professional. No real passion beyond the flustered behaviour sometimes seen when we are challenged, and no real personality to reflect our humanism.

This does not mean that the importance of the work is undermined in any way, but that the delivery is suited to the audience and built with an informative narrative in mind. Finding the delicate balance between the importance of the work, the traditional delivery, and the narrative may take years to develop; but if we as scientists expect people to believe in our cause then we need to find a way to share our passion deliberately in a well thought out presentation. In my opinion, this Ted Talk on statistics by Hans Rosling is a great example of this skill.

Perhaps I am just a naive PhD student, or perhaps this is something that we all need to reflect on.

My sincere thanks to the student who caused me to reflect.

S

*Davis, R.M., & Pless, B. (2001) BMJ bans ‘accidents’: accidents are not unpredictable. British Medical Journal. 322; pp 1320.

IOC World Conference on Prevention of Injury & Illness in Sport, Monaco 2014

The first major conference that I attended to showcase my PhD research was the International Olympic Committee World Conference on Prevention of Injury & Illness in Sport, held in Monaco in April this year.

The work that I presented was published as an abstract in the British Journal of Sports Medicine:

S Bekker, P White, A Donaldson, J Cook, B Gabbe, D Lloyd, CF Finch. (2014) “What is the role of key sports safety agencies in the development and dissemination of sport safety policies for community sport settings?” British Journal of Sports Medicine 48 (7), 565-566. 

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My PhD research in the media

In April this year a piece was published in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and The Border Mail highlighting the importance of my PhD research around sport safety policy.

Here are some excerpts from the article by Professor Caroline Finch:

“Although sports clubs have a responsibility to protect their players, little is known about the safety policies and procedures adopted by community sports clubs. There is no overarching sport safety policy available for clubs to implement in Australia.”

“This (research) would mean all Australian sports players would be covered by a single sports safety plan that can be easily accessed, adapted and implemented in a variety of community sports club settings.”

“Imagine if, in five years, we could say the majority of sporting clubs had signed to a program to keep all their members safe. Not just their elite players.” 

S

*Please note that the articles incorrectly stated that I am from Monash University, I am actually based at the Australian Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention (ACRISP), Federation University Australia.