Anastasia Shchepetkina, PGSA President
My affair with public speaking began 20 years ago at the age of seven. I was MC-ing for the kids’ New Year’s carnival when my mind suddenly went blank. The memory of panic and terror is fresh to this day. Oh, that awkward moment of silence when I could not produce a single word of the painstakingly memorized script!
I re-lived that moment during my recent Thesis-in-3 presentation. Thankfully, 20 years later, my brain did not go into a deep freeze mode anymore, allowing me to deliver a more or less audible presentation. But it was not the perfectly composed speech I memorized! “Who said it gets easier the more you do it? It doesn’t!” - I fumed as I left the room. Well, I was over-reacting. Public speaking is an acquired skill; it can be learned and practiced. You nerves, brain and mouth can be trained to deliver a speech even if your guts are quivering with panic.
How many of us dread speaking in front of an audience? According to Uncle Google, “glossofobia”, or public speaking anxiety, affects up to 75% of the population. Reassuring statistic, huh? The bad news is: you cannot avoid it in today’s world - you’ll have to do work presentations, thesis defense, deliver wedding and funeral speeches or just explain math to a bunch of kids.
The good news is: you don’t have to learn it on your own. There is a whole lot of resources out there that will help improve your public speaking and make the process more enjoyable. Did I really say: “enjoyable”? Oh yes, and I mean it! That’s what I’ve been doing for the good part of this year. I joined Toastmasters. You see, practice is everything in public speaking. Knowing how to do it does nothing to combat the stage fright. Living through that fear again and again makes you a better speaker.
That’s what I and a bunch of other lovely people do every Monday night at the UC Toastmasters club. We look for opportunities to… fail. Because the more you fail, the more you succeed! Each meeting is structured like an official meeting with an opening from the chair, introductions of the speakers, prepared speeches by members, a round of impromptu presentations by members and guests, followed by the evaluations of the night’s presentations. Every speech and performance in another role (e.g.. chair) is evaluated by the fellow members, allowing for that precious feedback. This round of evaluations is the signature of Toastmasters, as each speaking role and performance receives instant feedback of commendations and recommendations, strengths and areas for improvement.
There were numerous occasions this year when I whole-heartedly thanked the practical skills and confidence I gained through Toastmasters, including the infamous Thesis-in-3! What’s more, whether you are eyeing academia, industry or a teaching job, giving topical presentations, introducing speakers, chairing committees will be a part of it. Practicing now will give you that advantage over another extremely well qualified recent graduate.
The questions is, do you prefer to fail and succeed or sit back and hope for the best? You don’t have to enrol in the club, but why not seize the next speaking opportunity when it comes your way!
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Have you given much thought to the words ”innovation”? or ”entrepreneurship” for that matter? The terms seem to be in high demand since the 1970 (fig.). Have you ever wondered if you’d be good at it, but never had a chance to try?
Imagine if you could!
Imagine if this University had it’s very own, first in New Zealand and not the last in the world,
Student Innovation Center!
Well… you totally could, because such entity is in the making! In fact, it will be launched in 2013.
So now is the perfect time to say what YOU really want from this Student Innovation Center.
And it may not be you who reaps the fruit - many of us will be gone (having successfully defended and graduated!) by the time it’s fully up and running; but think about the further generations of students! This venture is here to stay - UC really needs it and there is a bunch of very experienced and committed people getting it off the ground.
Most of us aren’t in postgrad study for the money - we do it because we are curious, love our subject, love research and want to open up new horizons. Remember that line in the definition of a doctorate: “must contribute new knowledge to the field”. Another quote I got from somewhere (without recording the original source - apologies to citation freaks and the actual author!): ”Thesis' contribution to knowledge rests on originality of approach and/or interpretation of the findings and, in some cases, discovery of new facts". We, postgrads, are highly driven individuals, who have the desire and the conscience to fulfill the moral obligation of “original interpretation” and discovery of new knowledge. I bet you want to be involved in creating something new and exciting – you wouldn’t be here otherwise! Here is away to take that originality of approach, the drive and the knowledge base to a whole new level.
What is this Innovation Center going to look like - run by students for students? Supported by the industry? Highly valued by the community? Offering advice and mentoring to those with bright ideas or/and a confused mush of what may become a great idea? Do you want it to be a place where an artist can talk to the engineer and they would agree to listen to an accountant? What essentials do we need to get right? And, importantly, do you want to be on the team and the SIC-community? (By the way, the name will be chosen by students - no place for my sick humour.)
At the moment, the SIC concept incorporates courses, a pre-incubator ”hatchery”, a mentoring scheme, lots or workshops and team-based challenges. The concept has been approved and the project business case is in development. SIC has a green light - what we drive, how fast and how far is up to us, but it’s gonna be a sweet ride!
Get That Feed!
Feed Reader: Knowledge and procrastination right at my fingertips - conveniently linked to my gmail account.
How do you keep on track of the new papers in your field? My PhD is in a highly saturated field of cardiovascular disease and mechanisms of oxidative stress. There are tens of somewhat relevant papers published daily on the subject. The only way to surf this information tide is to sign up to the RSS feeds with the names of the most prominent labs and researchers in the field.
Conveniently, every day I open my Google Reader and have it spit out the fresh literature according to my requests. Do you make good use of the feed readers, which are also called aggregators? There are plenty different ones to serve every working style and aesthetic taste.
Another great use of this tool is to get a regular feed of my favourite blogs. These are full of wisdom and useful tips about the PhD experience, amazing science, thesis writing advice and many more.
Just to name a few thesis-related ones, I subscribe to:
The Thesis Whisperer - amazing resource, regularly updated, often entertaining and full of relevant tips on the whole PhD experience from procrastination to writing papers, dealing with supervisors, spouses or cats (not really!) http://thesiswhisperer.com/
patter: generally interesting stuff, uni- and academia-related. One of the recent examples is travel diary: what academics do in hotel rooms http://wp.me/p1GJk8-a6
I could not help but re-tweet this recent pearl from The Literature Review IQ: Dear supervisor, I baked you a literature review – It’ll make you want to vomit http://bit.ly/JSr22Z
I highly recommend James Hayton’s http://www.threemonththesis.com/ Although the website and the blog have been changing recently, some of the content is really spot on!
The downside of the whole aggregator concept is that you can be feedin’ on the info at the expense of real work! For a person like me (confession, sad face) lacking in willpower and motivation (only at times!), this great resource can become a procrastination trap. Imagine how easy it is to open an article on the “how to burn through your thesis” and get lost in reading the good advice without actively applying it! Say, I’ll open it on a Monday morning thinking: “Oh yeah, I’ll read this for half an hour - it’ll boost my productivity”. Three hours later I wake up from the growls of my stomach because it is lunch time! And I have to admit, - to my advantage, I do not read the news!
So, watch it - aggregators and blogs are a great tool if used wisely and sparingly! The resource is fascinating - it makes so much easier to keep up to date with the world - whether it is the big wide one or the one within the bounds of your thesis.
Writing for my honours thesis was disastrous and I promised to never go through it again!
It was my fault - time management was a vague concept to me back then.
I ended up compiling my 52-page (a baby!) thesis document on the day of submission. I’d just finished arranging the graphs when my computer froze and the infamous word processor had to be restarted. Needless to say the recovered file did not contain the most recent changes.
I was doing the same thing with my doctorate files about a year ago when I thought: “hang on a minute, I’ve seen this before - there should be a better way!”
That thought changed my writing practices forever.
Reality is - there are countless ways to streamline your research and writing. There are a dozen excellent programs out there; all you need is to start looking. I’ll name just a few here.
Mendeley. Seamlessly manage and integrate research articles into your cyberspace, annotate pdfs, cite as you write, share with colleagues, access from your iPad - you name it. (Also check out: Zotero, Papers for Mac.)
Scrivener is my favorite, I admit to being biased. Not free but affordable, this program is great for creating long and complex documents, highly intuitive (one day to learn) and packed with useful features. I can arrange ideas, notes, import pdfs, label my half-written paragraphs in a dozen useful ways. It is so liberating!
LaTeX. I hear it is the best for document preparation, but the lack of GUI intimidates me. I do not get along with the command language, but these LaTeX editors may be worth a try: LyX, TeXmaker. LaTeX is irreplaceable if your have a formulae-rich document.
If you’re brave enough to give it a go, check out the “Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX2” online and Math department’s website for tutorials.
Evernote. A nifty app that allows you to grab the essence of your web surfing session and store it for later reference. Take snapshots of webpages, write short notes on the go and email them to yourself, use it as a virtual notepad or diary and share with colleagues.
Prezi, the zooming presentation editor. Visually appealing, Prezi gives your presentation that edge. Create, store and run your presentations online and offline.
I use Papers for Mac to search for and import articles; it automatically stores them in a specified location and annotates for referencing (Mendeley does the same). Because my supervisor uses Endnote, I sync the two libraries. I arrange my ideas, make notes, do all the preliminary work in Scrivener, then write the full document in Scrivener, inserting references in the Endnote format. I then compile it into PDF or MS Word and screen for Endnote citations. Easy!
I encourage you to find the workflow that suits your needs. Invest a couple of days into research, a couple of weeks into learning the new software and streamlining the workflow and you’ll save yourself months of frustration.
Your time is valuable, your good spirits are even more so. You have a choice, there is ALWAYS a better way!
Postgrad Profile - Kris Vavasour
Postgrad Profile - Kris Vavasour In another of our postgrad profiles, media and communications Honours student Kris Vavasour talks about the sometimes uncertain nature of the Honours year – particularly one that is experienced around an earthquake.
Greetings from the twilight zone, otherwise known as the Honours year. When you think of postgraduate students, Masters and PhD students are probably top of mind – after all, that's what a postgrad is, right? Well, not quite. As one of the PGSA exec found out earlier this year, there is no official definition of a postgraduate student here at UC. Having spent two part-time years doing Honours, I can say that occupying this strange middle ground has been interesting.
We're that other, almost invisible, kind of postgrad. We've gone past the bulk barn lectures and end-of-year exams that typify undergrad life, but have not yet embarked on the grand projects that consume Masters & PhD students. It's a bit like being at intermediate school – stuck in limbo until you get to join the big kids at high school.
I've learnt many things over the last couple of years, including the fact that planning is essential, but so too is adaptability. We've all had to adapt over the last year, to all kinds of situations and in different ways than many of us ever anticipated. The September 2010 earthquake not only made my house uninhabitable, it also scrambled my brain, making concentrating on data crunching and essay writing almost impossible. Somehow I made it through (thanks to understanding lecturers and blessed deadline extensions), and came back for my final two Honours papers this year.
2011 hasn't exactly been easy either – we can probably all agree on that. The February earthquake caused many disruptions, not only to the University and to our city, but to the study plans of many of us. For me, Honours part two has been a disrupted journey. I was at uni for the initial meet and greet gathering on Friday, February 18th, and was supposed to attend my first lecture on Wednesday 23rd. As we all know, on Tuesday 22nd, the earth shook violently and our world changed yet again.
If not for the February earthquake, I'd be finished Honours by now, as my original plan was to take two first semester papers and then work for the second half of the year. For various reasons, including changed work commitments, I ended up taking two second semester papers instead. Although it wasn't without its own dramas, it has proved to be beneficial in the long run, and has led to interesting research opportunities.
My research interests have changed a little since I started this process. Last year I was researching student perceptions of offensive language on television and radio for my COMS401 project, and analysing the pop music played at sporting events for a Sociology paper. If the September earthquake hadn't happened, I would probably have been planning further research in this area. I could think of worse ways to spend a year or two – watching sports matches & listening to music did seem quite an enjoyable prospect.
Instead I find myself pursuing earthquake-related topics, as I now have a strong fascination with the many different aspects of our changing social and physical landscape. As part of my independent media course (COMS 407), I made a radio documentary about local life and entertainment that aired on National Radio on September 4th, the anniversary of that first quake. It's called Entertaining Shakeytown and features music from The Harbour Union album as well as interviews with local characters and entertainers. You can listen to it online via the Spectrum programme page on the Radio NZ website (www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/spectrum).
My other Honours paper this year is CULT 401, which looks at culture, globalization, and new technologies. Discussions with a visiting Erskine professor about actor network theory and post-disaster use of media and communication methods has led to me conducting another survey. If you have a little time to spare (hey – you're still reading, so I have to try!), please check out this survey on media use and communication here in Canterbury over the last year. If you only arrived in the city this year, your opinion and experiences are still valuable for the project, as most questions relate to the events from February onwards. The survey is open until Sunday October 2nd, so please share the link among friends, family, workmates, and flatmates – the more the merrier! http://canterbury.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_0N8koLaQgyEFjeY
As someone who has never been inclined towards anything even remotely mathematical, I'm not entirely sure why I keep inflicting statistical analysis on myself. But when you want to know what people think, you have to get out there and ask questions which leads to unavoidable data crunching ( and the resulting headaches!). I must say though, I'm glad I don't have to physically conduct all these surveys. I've even – shock horror – enjoyed using the Qualtrics survey software that UC has signed up for, as it makes online survey creation and management quite simple. Which is a good thing, because regular, everyday life is complicated enough round here these days.
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