Monthly Archives: June 2016

My first marking experience

By Ruth Wagstaff

The first time as a marker can be daunting.  At least that is how I found it.  I have spoken to other PhD candidates who took to marking like a duck takes to water, and I am the first to admit  I have a lot to learn from the marking “ducks”.  But this blog is not for the marking ducks.  This blog is for those feeling daunted by the prospect of marking.   It is a reflection of my first marking experience, the strategies that I would use next time round, and proof that it is possible survive and thrive.

Not every essay will be easily understood.  Sounds obvious.  The undergraduate essay is designed to allow the marker to see how a student is thinking and is linking concepts.  Essay writing is a complex skill, and it is not uncommon for literacy skills to suffer as students take their first steps in writing an academic paper.  The end result is that the argument can be as difficult to find as car keys tossed aside because one was too busy to put them in their usual place.

Strategy – have realistic expectations of essay standards .

Marking can be mentally draining.  That shouldn’t have come a surprise.  But did.  It took a lot of concentration to understand the essays, to assist with helpful comments,  and grade according to the marking criteria.

Strategy – take breaks, do some weeding, have a cuppa, and ring a friend for a quick chat.

Marking is not a walk in the park.  I had a visions marking while relaxing outside in the sun–a cuppa in one hand, and the other tapping out helpful comments.  Reality was very different– I was inside, stressed, and wondering why had I said yes.  And why was I stressed?  I didn’t understand role as a marker, and what was expected of me.

Strategy – ask the lecturer questions about anything related to the marking, and be honest with how I am coping.

Navigating new UConnect tabs can be like opening up treasure chest or Pandora’s box.  I have a confession. I thought I would be an expert at navigating UTeach.  I am an expert at JustU, ULearn, and  UAsk.  But, quickly realised that I was no expert because I could not find the link to access the assignments.  I had visions of crashing the USQ computer systems and deleting vital student information. (Have I mentioned I have a tendency to catastrophise?)  Once I finally admitted that  The Markers Guide was making no sense, I sent an urgent SOS to the lecturer.  The lecturer made one phone call,  the problem was identified, and in less than five minutes I had all the access I needed.

Strategy – forget pride, and ask for help because I am not expected to know everything.

So, my first marking experience was characterised valuable lessons about expectations, being kind to self, and that I have a tendency to catastrophise. I was also reminded me of the incredible resource that we have in USQ staff.  It was no walk in the park, but it was a worthwhile experience  And yes – I will do it again and put the strategies into action.

The Wandering Researcher

By Jenny Olson

Hello fellow researchers,

I am a PhD candidate and the focus of my research is active lifestyles in regional Australia.  My mixed-methods research is taking place in inner-regional Southern Queensland.  I am really enjoying learning about the lifestyles of people in these regional communities.  The challenge for me is that I don’t exactly live in the environment where my research is being conducted.  In fact, I live some distance away … in Japan.

I am quite accustomed to life as a distance student. My undergraduate studies were also undertaken at USQ in external mode, while I worked full-time on the Gold Coast.  I moved to Japan at the beginning of my Honours year as a result of my husband’s work.  As an undergraduate I had access to the Study Desk, which facilitated regular communication with my fellow students and my lecturers.  I relied heavily on the online forums for academic guidance, but also for social support.  I felt part of a virtual community.  So many resources were available from the Study Desk.  Every learning style catered for.  It was truly a wonderful experience.

In the early stages of my PhD I struggled a little bit with the absence of my old friend the Study Desk.  Yes, technically it still exists, but in a necessarily different form, with the absence of the structure provided by weekly topics that are relevant to course work.  Most importantly, the previously relied upon avenue for social support was missing.  After a few months I was really missing the connection with others.  Suddenly Japan seemed a lonelier place than it had before.  I started to wonder if I could really get through the long slog, and whether my research area was worthwhile – some classic ‘Imposter Syndrome’ thinking (The Thesis Whisperer, 2015) came in to play.

After a rough few weeks I decided that it was time to help myself.  I had a trip to Australia planned in the coming weeks, and I decided to make the most of it.  I booked a meeting with the student counsellor at Springfield.  I planned a number of meetings with my supervisors and others, to talk about aspects of my research.  The most important thing I did though, was to reach out to some of the other PhD students working within my team (Innovative Mental Health Solutions).  I set up a lunch meeting at the Tavern near the Springfield campus.  My world opened up.  We shared professional knowledge.  We shared personal stories.  We encouraged each other.  I had found the social support that I was missing.  I realized I was not alone.

I came back home to Japan, and my PhD world seemed much brighter.  I regained the belief that my research was worthwhile, and that I had the skills and wherewithal to see it through.  I also knew that ongoing social support was going to be critical to my success.  I kept in touch with my fellow students by email, Skype and Facebook.  I arrange social lunches and coffee when I am in town.  I also decided to get involved with the Postgraduate Research Student Society (PReSS) as an executive member of the club, with a focus on advocating for the needs of external students like myself.  (PReSS is a club for all postgraduate research students at USQ.  For more information please email PReSSclub@usq.edu.au)

I also try to be more active on social media.  I joined the PhD Owls group on Facebook (for older wiser learners).  I am still mastering the art of Twitter (@JennyLOlson) and LinkedIn but am finding them to be a useful way to connect with a broad range of like-minded people.  I have also discovered that Twitter is an excellent way of keeping up with new publications/research in my area of interest.  I would love to connect with any fellow research students through these mediums, so please reach out.  As a keen amateur photographer I also have an account on Instagram (the_wandering_researcher).  I do believe it is important to maintain interests beyond that of our research, for our mental health, and for the perspective on our research that can only be obtained by stepping away from time to time.

On the subject of stepping away, I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to travel on a number of occasions over the past year.  This has led to a bit of a juggling act on occasions.  Much of my research has been conducted in airports, on planes, and in hotel rooms (particularly in the middle of the night if I am jet lagged).  This has taught me to manage my time, whilst still taking time out for the fun stuff.  I have also learnt that even a 5-minute window of time can provide the opportunity to tick off a job on the never ending to-do list that we all have.   Sure, there are times when I need to sit for longer periods and write.  But a lot can be achieved in the shorter windows of time as well.

Overall, I have learnt that the experience of a wandering researcher need not be a lonely one.  I am so grateful to my supervisors, fellow PhD students, and many of the staff (both professional and academic) who have provided professional support as well as social connections that have significantly enhanced my experience of higher degree research.

Data Management

By Robyn Edmanson

As an information professional and fledgling researcher, I care about data management.

Why?

Because funding agencies, journals, and other stakeholders increasingly require you and I, the data producers, to share, archive, and plan for the management of our data. We need data management and curation knowledge and skills that support the long-term preservation, access, and reuse of data.

Effectively managing data also helps to optimise research output; increase research impact; and support open scientific inquiry.

I’m doing the Australian National Data Service’s 23 (research data) Things training to help me manage our research data throughout the entire data lifecycle from project planning to the end of the project when data ideally are shared and made available. Not simply stored on the mercurial USB, but in a trustworthy repository such as QRISCloud which is QCIF’s (Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundations) trusted online repository.

To Mark or Not to Mark: That is the Question

By Ruth Wagstaff

Wow! An invitation to mark real undergraduate papers was on the top of my daily emails.  I knew at some point in my PhD I would mark.  It just seems to go with the territory of being a PhD candidate.  Now I was face to face with the big question,”To mark or not to mark?”.  I decided to take on the challenge, and in the process learnt that there is a time for marking and a time not for marking.

In all honesty, I took on the marking because I needed money.  Marking offers a good hourly rate.  I dropped from a 5 to 4 day working week so I did not go insane while juggling work, family, the dog, and study.  This one job would make up for wages lost, so I felt like I  had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Besides, the contract said that I could mark an allotted number of papers in a set time frame, and I knew that with clever time management I would have no problems fitting the marking into my already tight schedule.  I figured that if a paper or two took longer than the allocated time, I could order a home delivered pizza, and the dog could wait for her walk for a few days.  I was absolutely convinced that I had the time.  I had to have the time because I needed the money

Once the marking started, I went into panic mode.  I felt very inadequate.  The time to mark a paper sometimes took two to three times  longer than the allotted marking time.  Not only did the dog missed her walks, I ate several home delivered pizzas, and the washing was thrown into the dryer.  You see, when I start to learn a new skill, it takes me far longer to carry out the task than someone already experienced.  I did get faster at marking, but it still took me longer than the allotted time.

Marking is a skill that PhD students need to learn.  It is part of our apprenticeship. I also believe that ultimately, it will help me become a better writer.  I am unlikely to do mark again until I am a full-time on-campus student, but, I will mark again and the dog will have less walks, I will eat home delivered pizza, and the clothes will go through the dryer.

So, what is my answer to the marking question?  My answer is do not mark only because you need the money, because if time is money, there better ways to make it.  Mark because it is an essential skill to  acquire, and will ultimately assist in your own development as an academic writer .