Monthly Archives: July 2016

Serendipitous Family Moments

By Ruth Wagstaff

I am sure that I am not the only PhDer who feels somewhat disconnected with their children.  I spend a lot of time on the computer reading or writing.  I also work 4.5 day/week, parent a son in grade 12, support a daughter at a distant university, and try to stay connected with my Dad, step-mother and eldest son.  Like many women studying, I do not have the support of a husband or partner.  Recently though, I have found that the skills that I am developing as I journey through uni is changing the relationship with my children in unexpected ways.

Recently my daughter was writing her first “serious” literature review and asked me to help her. She is in her third year of a performing arts degree, and has just completed her first research methods course.  In the process of helping her with formatting and writing style, I learnt a lot about her own struggles. It was a time of genuine learning for both of us.  I also learned a little more about the fine detail of APA.  All of this was unexpected, and helped each other to appreciate each other as adults on the life long journey of learning.

I have also seen my still-at-home-completing-high-school son begin to blossom.  He seems to understand that the PhD is part of a belated adolescent phase in which I am rediscovering myself after my marriage breakup.  Consequently, he will pick-up a broom, put washing and and out, empty and fill the dishwasher all without having to ask.  Sure, he finds that continual mess is stressful, but the key is that he owns it now, and picks up after himself. But he also tells me he does it because he knows I have deadlines to keep and time is precious.

On the other hand, when the still-at-home-completing-high-school son is under the thumb with exams and due assignment, I pick up the slack and do more.  We have learnt to work as a team.  The only rule is to look at the whole picture in a person’s life and help others to avoid melt down. Before you think this to too perfect you, we still have moments of melt down, but we have learnt to look beyond the moment, say sorry even if we think we are in the right, and to be kind to each other.  Before studying, these life lessons were just words but now they are embedded into our lifestyle.

A specific serendipitous occasion was the night my still-at-home-completing-high-school insisted that we watch Zootopia on Netflix.  I had become so absorbed in marking that life existed of work, mark, sleep.  My son reached out to me and in doing so reminded me of the world outside my quest. It was a single act of care and insight that touched me deeply.

So from now on, rather than seeing the PhD as a journey that separates, I will remember it as a time when it brought the family together.  My parent journey includes the cutting of parent/child bonds we can develop adult/adult bonds and live as independent adults.  I am already  proud of my children’s transitions into adults, of their independence, and how they support each other.  And on graduation day, we will all be celebrating.

USQ’s Inaugural Software Carpentry Session

By Francis Gacenga

This week 29 USQ researchers staff and students from across USQ’s research institutes, centres and faculties participated in the first ever Software Carpentry Workshop in Toowoomba.

Image courtesy of USQ Photography

USQs Inaugural Software Carpentry class

Software Carpentry workshops aim to help researchers “get more done in less time and with less pain by teaching them basic lab skills for research computing”1. The hands-on workshop at USQ’s Toowoomba campus covered basic research computing concepts focusing on task automation, data management, program design, and version control. A common challenge faced by most researchers is getting the most done within time and funding constraints. IT systems are designed to help but sometimes create complications and get in the way. The researchers who attended the Software Carpentry Workshop were introduced to ways of getting the most of IT services and systems to efficiently complete common research tasks.

The researchers first learnt how to automate common tasks such as directory, folder and file management, using pipelines of commands and how to build efficient and automated workflows using the Unix shell, a computer operating system commonly used in Virtual Machines (VMs) and High Performance Computers (HPC). A basic introduction to programming with Python was provided and participants familiarised with using Python for data analysis and presentation. The participants got an introduction to automated version control using Git and learnt how to use Git to track changes, version and merge files while keeping repositories in sync across different computers facilitating collaboration among different people. The workshop provides an essential foundation in getting the most out of research computing and data services and infrastructure provided at no cost to researchers at USQ by the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources (NeCTAR)2, National Computational Infrastructure (NCI)3 and Research Data Services (RDS)4 through the QCIF (Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation)5.

The event has received positive feedback and there are an additional 15 who have expressed interest in attending a second session to cover statistical analysis. The workshop provided a gentle introduction to working with a computer command line interface, opening up new possibilities and resources that enhance researchers outcomes and experiences. The format of Software Carpentry Workshops make it easy for all to learn as no background training is required. At the workshop there were three instructors and seven helpers in the room ensuring that help was always available when required.

The lessons covered are available online for the participants and anyone interested to access freely online at There is also a vibrant and very helpful software carpentry community online that is ready to provide ongoing help as well as ongoing local support from QCIF’s eResearch Analysts.

The workshop was organised by the Office of Research Development, sponsored by the ReDTrain initiative, supported by QCIF and the Software Carpentry Foundation and administered by certified instructors and volunteers from UQ and USQ. Researchers had opportunities to learn as well as network over the two days. The workshop was a success and there are plans to run more Software Carpentry Workshops in the future. If you would like to learn more about Software Carpentry or are interested in attending a workshop contact the author of the blog at




Why my doctorate is NOT a PhD…

By Tegan Darnell

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is a doctoral qualification which has been formally awarded by universities since the Middle Ages.

A university class, 1350sA university class, (1350s).

The aim of a PhD is usually to provide someone with the skills they need to become a ‘scholar’. But, what if you don’t want to be a ‘scholar’?

In Australia, today, the PhD is one of a number of Doctoral level degrees that meet the criteria for Doctoral study, which the highest level of qualification according to the Australian Qualifications Framework.

There are 3 main types of Doctoral degree in Australia;

  1. A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD),
  2. a Professional Doctorate (eg. DEdu, DBA, DEng, etc.), or
  3. the Doctor of Professional Studies (DPS).

A PhD is used to show that a student can “conduct research independently and make a significant contribution to new knowledge” (USQ handbook), or, ‘be a researcher’.

A Professional Doctorate allows someone who is already a practising professional to develop theoretical and research skills within a specific field or discipline.

The Doctor of Professional Studies (DPS) allows you to combine your professional work with study and obtain an ‘interdisciplinary’ or ‘trans-disciplinary’ doctoral degree based entirely in your workplace.

While a PhD makes an original contribution to knowledge, the DPS specifically aims to make a significant contribution to practice. Outcomes do not need to be entirely academic, but can consist of artefacts such as project reports, software, or products.

Although it is established at a number of universities in the US and the UK, USQ is one of only two universities in Australia which offers a DPS .

The program Director, Dr Luke Van der Laan, is passionate enough about the program that I was convinced very quickly it was the right program for me.

I’m still convinced, 18 months (and many frustrations and tears) later…

For more information, see: Helen Wildy, Sanna Peden & Karyn Chan (2015) “The rise of professional doctorates: case studies of the Doctorate in Education in China, Iceland and Australia”, Studies in Higher Education, 40:5, 761-774, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2013.842968

The tyranny of distance

By Ruth Fielder

Another ReDTrain email arrived yesterday.

These emails arrive so regularly I could set my alarm to their arrival, but it is an alarm I could do without. The ReDTrain alarm is a bitter-sweet reminder of how far I live from campus: and it makes me feel lonely because I want to be with other PhD-ers. But being on campus is not an option for now. This is a third or fourth-hand story of another external PhD candidate’s (Ahhh*) battle with the tyranny of distance, and was shared by a fellow external PhD candidate (Jeezz*).

Ahhh lives in the deep tropical rainforest of far North Queensland. Ahhh’s problem was that his PhD was based in Toowoomba and he was allergic to cold westerly winds. So allergic, that his eyes and nose would run at the mere thought of cold or westerlies. The only viable way do the PhD was to enrol in an external program.

There were some good reasons to study off campus: no on-campus distractions, and he was still surrounded by the world he loved and knew. Supervision was via Zoom. Emails were a great way to ask quick questions The supervisor gave Ahhh her private phone number, so that when weekend supervision was needed or the unstable internet connection was down so he could stay in touch. Ahhh felt like part of a big fuzzy community.

One day, Ahhh was seized by panic and lost confidence. There was no way that this PhD would be a success. ReDTrain notices were informing him of candidates’ topics and by comparison, his topic was vague. It did not have real word application. It was insignificant. It was boring. His supervisor suggested that a face-to-face meeting and a week long campus visit was in order. So, Ahhh reluctantly made the flight bookings and drove 300kms to the closest airport. He was glad it was summer in Toowoomba–-the cold would not threaten his health.

Ahhh was taken back by not only the beauty of the Toowoomba Campus, but communication with his supervisors was much easier and productive. Face-to-face conversations flowed more easily than Zoom conversations, and responses to questions and ideas were instantaneous compared to email. He got more done in five days on campus than a month at home.
Rather than a distraction, campus activities added the richness of his on-campus time. It was not home, but he still managed a laugh or two while having a cuppa and lunch with Jeezz and others. Parting from campus was tinged with a little sadness and longing to return. He even experienced a twinge of jealously toward on-campus candidate.

I got a lot out of Ahhh’s story.

While external study has its perks, and zoom meetings and emails are critical for progress, extended campus visits are invaluable. And who knows, I may even make some lifetime friends. The ReDTrain alarm is no longer a bittersweet reminder of the tyranny of distance, but rather it keeps in me focused and serves to remind me of the fuzzy community I have decided to join.

* To protect the identity of candidates’ these are not their real names.

eResearch and Librarians

By Robyn Edmanson

As a librarian I’m interested in the future skills we need to support researchers. In the past decade, eResearch practices and processes have evolved along with library support services.

eResearch is:

‘research activities that use a spectrum of advanced information and communication technologies and that embrace new research methodologies emerging from increasing access to advanced networks, services and tool’

from The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations 2006

Since then, eResearch has grown both locally and internationally alongside the portability and sophistication of ICTs.

So too data collections, sample sizes and data management practices have evolved and improved as researchers, and librarians supporting their work, have come to grips with new skill-sets surrounding five key areas:

  1. Collaborative technologies: IM, Sharepoint, Google Tools, Social Bookmarking, new video conferencing technologies such as zoom
  2. Research data management: experimental, observational and/ computational data; data storage and curation; derived data and more
  3. Scholarly communication: Endnote, Zotero, Refworks, Mendeley; Creative Commons licensing; electronic publishing – both Open Access and subscriber; bibliometrics & altmetrics; institutional repositories; author identifiers, e.g. ORCID ID, Researcher ID.
  4. Visualisation: Learning Analytics and dashboards
  5. Data collection & analysis: qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods analyses, data mining, programming languages such as R and Python for meaningful information.

While librarians’ skills have evolved with advances in these key areas, data analysis is a new and exciting area of eResearch involving open-source software and a new digital mindset. The automation requirements of a lot of eResearch projects require programming and analysis skills which is where librarians can help with a new Library Carpentry Toolbox supported by the Australian National Data Service (ANDS).

Software training for librarians is an important new tool made possible with open source technology; important new skills to safeguard against data loss, enable data re-use and ensure against copyright mismanagement.

Editors Note: USQ eResearch is running ‘Software Carpentry’ sessions on the 18th -19th July 2016. Find out more about ‘Software Carpentry’ here.