Be prepared

 By Neil Martin

Be prepared Image credit: Viktor Gurniak (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Presenting your research ideas at your confirmation of candidature is a scary prospect. I can remember a few sleepless nights thinking about my confirmation talk and all the possible things that could go wrong. However a successful presentation really does come down applying the Scouts motto “Be Prepared.”

What is confirmation for?

Your passage through confirmation of candidature involves writing a research proposal that articulates your research plan for your doctoral thesis. There is also an accompanying presentation through which you demonstrate your understanding of your research area and present a viable thesis plan that will take you through to the end of your doctoral studies. Following your presentation you will be asked some questions by your confirmation panel and members of the audience.

Prior to your presentation, the panel members will have read your proposal and formed some opinions and ideas on its quality. It may not feel like it at the time, but they are there to help. Their role is to cast an eye over your research ideas, identify any possible problems, and ultimately judge if you have a future doctoral thesis, for example: Is your research plan logical and well formed? Have you articulated your research questions? Are your ideas theoretically sound?

In the early stages of your thesis, there are lots of confirmation presentations, and it is well worth going to a few to familiarise yourself with the process. Confirmations are advertised regularly through the Redtrain bulletin, but make sure you go to as many that are close to your discipline as possible as they are the most likely to be similar in content to yours.

Preparing your slides

Given the effort that you have put in creating your confirmation proposal it is easy to leave your presentation to the last minute, however I would recommend starting work on this at least a month before. Ensure that your slides tell the story of your research including articulating the research problem, providing a theoretical overview, presenting your research questions, your studies, how you intend to analyse your data, and the possible implications of your research.

Remember not to clutter your slides with too much information (use more slides if necessary) and use diagrams where they may add understanding and context for the audience. There are some great resources out there on slide preparation so do a quick google search.

Practicing your presentation

Some of the best presenters spend a long time preparing their talks. The late Steve Jobs obsessively rehearsed product launches yet made them seem effortless.

If like me you don’t see yourself as a natural public speaker and feel quite anxious about your presentation, your best approach is to practice and rehearse as many times as possible. First of all, practice your presentation on your own until you know the contents of each slide. Make sure that you time each presentation to get a sense of how long you are likely to take on the day. You should be aiming for a presentation that lasts around 30 minutes and no longer than 40, so you may need to add or delete a slide or two. Once you feel more confident, practice with your partner or a close friend. They may not understand all the content but you can rehearse making eye contact and begin to get a sense of the flow of your presentation.

You should practice your presentation at least once with your primary supervisor. Your supervisor will often pick up on things that you will not. I can remember clearly in a practice run with my supervisor that he noticed that I was using the laser pointer in an annoying way when explaining a diagram describing my theoretical perspective. Rather than pointing at a specific element of the diagram, I was waggling the pointer all over the place, most irritating for the audience and something I was very conscious of on the actual day and did not repeat.

Familiarisation and imagery

One tip I would offer is to familiarise yourself with the room that you will be presenting in. If it’s a bookable room then try and book it out for an hour and rehearse your presentation. Understand where you will be standing and where the panel will be sitting, check also that the technology is working e.g., if you are plugging in your own laptop.

A useful technique you may wish to try is imagery. Imagery is a psychological skill that many elite athletes use in preparation for competition and may be used in a limited way to help you prepare for your talk. Although it requires a great deal of practice (I certainly would not describe myself as an expert), it may help you mentally prepare for your talk including manage your anxiety.

The images that you should attempt to create in your mind should be one of success. On your first visit to your presentation room, learn as much as you can about it for later recollection. Try to take in as much detail as you can about the room and then imagine yourself in that space successfully giving your presentation to a panel and the audience. Picture exactly where the panel and the audience will sit, consider the noise in the room and lighting and colour. Think about where you will be standing in relation to the audience. Imagine yourself talking authoritatively and in control about your research and answering the panel’s questions clearly and concisely.  You should try to be relaxed when using imagery and try to use all your senses to create the simulation.

Finally, if you have given a successful talk in the past, which undoubtedly you have, then draw upon these feelings as you prepare.  It’s not easy, but try to ignore those times when you were less successful. To the best of my abilities, I used some imagery techniques for my preparation, and it really helped me with my confidence on the day. It’s certainly a skill that I would love to master.

Confirmation day 

On your day of confirmation, turn up to your room as early as possible. Set up your presentation and do (yet another) check of your slides, by now their order will be very familiar to you. After that follow a routine that be suits you, you may want to go for a quick walk on your own, or chat to your supervisor or a friend. A few minutes before your talk, stand where you will give the talk as try once again to recall those images of success. Once the panel and the audience have arrived, you will be introduced by the panel chair and will be away on your presentation. From my memory those 30 or 40 minutes go very quickly!

The dreaded questions

Having given your talk, you will be asked a few questions by the panel before opening out to the room.  It is impossible to know exactly what you will be asked, but it is well worth anticipating them. Prior to your presentation day, you can discuss with your supervisor possible questions. You should also critically assess your confirmation submission for further questions writing down and answering any possible questions that you think may come up. For example, you may be very quantitative in your research method and a panel member may ask why you are not using more qualitative approaches. On the day don’t feel the need to commit to all the feedback that you are given if you are not sure of a response then acknowledge the point and say that you will discuss further with your supervisor.

Don’t panic!

I hope these tips are useful to you. Remember to prepare properly and you will increase your chances of having a positive experience in your confirmation presentation. If you are anxious remember that the audience will be more sympathetic than you think and in fact we often draw off our nerves to excel on the day. Don’t panic (more easily said that done!) and good luck – it’s one of the big milestones on your PhD journey.

Below are a few links that may help you further.

How To Mentally Prepare Yourself To Give The Performance Of Your Life

5 classic research presentation mistakes

AIS – Imagery

Help it’s confirmation and I’m experiencing fear!


Confirmation of Candidature Couplets

By Debbie Mulligan

Congratulations! Today is your day

You’re off to great places, you’re off and away! (Seuss, Dr.; 1990)


Finally! How hard can it be

It’s about time and IT’S ALL ABOUT ME! (Mulligan, Dr.; 2030)


I’ve sweated and practised and sweated some more

If all else fails I’ve got cartoons galore


And a dvd with old men on bikes

I just hope it starts when it’s s’posed to- Yikes


I know, I’ll win them over with chocolate called Roses

And just for good luck, I’ll throw in some poses


The panel walks in and they all take a seat

I feel like they are the diners and I’m the cooked meat


Oh well, here we go, it’s now or never

Now is the moment to show them I’m clever


I deliver my speech and sit down with a sigh

Really Deborah, sit up straight, this is no time to cry


“I notice on page 10 you’ve used the word which…”

It’s then that I develop an unforeseen twitch


“Errrrrrrr, ummmmmm,” I mutter, stalling for time

How can they look at me like it’s such a big crime


No one told me this would be the longest hour of the day

My desperate thoughts start rambling and my mind starts to stray


I look around the room and my supervisor is nodding

Willing me onwards as my words just keep plodding


“The end,” says the chairman and graciously smiles

“The end,” says my battered psyche like it’s run 1000 miles


Thank heavens it’s over, I’m home on my bed

I’ve taken some Panadol for my poor aching head


Some chocolate and red wine are on the agenda

This could be the beginning of a very long bender………….


And then the next day my peers gather round for a report

I feel blessed and I’m grateful for all their support


This doctoral road is tricky, fraught with bends and dead ends

But it’s made just that bit easier with my new found friends.




Welcome to 2017! Letter from the Editor

To Our Distinguished Readers,

If you’re feeling like me, you may be wondering if the world has turned upside down as we move into the new year. 2017 has started with what seems like a sly sarcastic smile.

The here and now

The here and now

But it is no good waiting around for the future to rain down, be thrust upon us, or uncomfortably inserted. We, the truth seekers, thinkers, and questioning people of the world, must play a part in its creation.

This means there is only 1 thing to do: get down to some seriously rigorous research!

We will be starting the year off next week (and for a few weeks) with posts about preparing (physically, emotionally, and academically) for Confirmation of Candidature, from some USQ researchers who have lived through it.

We’ll have a look at the increasing emphasis on technology and Big Data in research, and some ways to build basic skills in Data Science.

Later in the year we will look more at the writing process. We will cover how to get started, how to keep going, how to improve your writing, and even get some advice on research blog writing!

There will be information about developing an online personal learning network (PLN) when you are conducting research away from a university or research institution.

Also, look out for some posts by awesome guest bloggers later in the year. *Sshh*

Most important of all: This is your space! Claim it.

If there is something you would like to see written about and discussed on ReDBlog, or you would like to write about your research journey, please get in touch! We love hearing from you.


Most Sincerely,

Tegan Darnell

Editor, ReDBlog


Loving the world of research

 By Tricia Kelly

What does the word “research” mean to you?  To me it is word that opens up an amazing world where we strive towards making the impossible possible.


I think about the research that has been undertaken in health and the positive life-changing outcomes of that research for so many people from babies through to the elderly. I think about the ripple-effect these outcomes have for parents, siblings, children of those that have better lives because a researcher engaged in research to make a difference.

I think about the research that has changed the way we look at our interaction with the environment and our place in various urban, regional and rural ecosystems and the outcomes that improve our practices so that generations from now will be able to enjoy and care for their country, and in the broader sense, their world and universe.

I think about the incredible research that has led to huge improvements in almost every aspect of our lives from the food we eat, the roads we drive on, the bridges we cross, the cars we drive, the buildings we work in, the homes we live in, and even the insect repellents we use to keep the mozzies at bay!

All these amazing advancements that we sometimes take for granted have only come about because of research and dedicated researchers.

In previous posts, authors have shared the journeys they have been on with their research – and many of these are about making what seem like impossibles in our lives (such as juggling family, work and study commitments) into the possible (such as achieving Confirmation or getting through to the other side and completing their thesis).  Having completed a Master of Applied Science by research as well as my Doctorate, I know first-hand just how tough it can get sometimes, but found that the elation at reaching various milestones along the way helped immensely. Tap into the network of researchers and research support you have around you – the interaction with others at various stages of the research cycle can provide great tips and tricks to help keep on track and motivated.

So if I sound like I am passionate about research, I am! In fact, I’m so keen that I have made research my career.  I am one of the Research Librarians from the USQ Library Team.  Based at the Springfield Campus but working across all campuses, my role is to support researchers in Health, Engineering and Sciences while my colleague, Tegan Darnell (the awesome editor of this Blog!), supports researchers in BELA.  We work in combination with a fantastic team of Liaison Librarians to provide the tools, training and support for research students and academics on-campus and online. For more information about the services provided please check out our “Help for Researchers” page on the Library’s website.

Digital You

By Tegan Darnell, & USQ Library

As a researcher, you need to be especially aware of your online profile. Research and other outputs need to be found and read, and that means found online.

I often say, “If it isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.” This means YOU! You need to know what is already out there about you, whether you like what people see, and whether your work is actually ‘find-able’.

Researcher profiles

Creating and maintaining your research profile can be as simple as ensuring your USQ profile & ePrints publication list is up to date, but we highly recommend that all USQ researchers also have an ORCID ID and a Google Scholar profile.

USQ Profile

If you are USQ staff, this is your primary profile, and where many people will find you. You should include – a photo, descriptive text, most recent and most notable publications.

Google Scholar

Many people search Google Scholar because it’s easy. Google Scholar indexes “scholarly materials” – it includes a very large number of scholarly databases, but not commercial websites, and not law reports.  Google Scholar also indexes books and book chapters. This is good for humanities and social science academics (though not perfect). You can manually add publications that aren’t already in Google Scholar.

You can export your Google Scholar citations to a spreadsheet, and then add in citations in judgements or government reports etc. to make a more complete record of your citations and impact. Include in your profile – a photo, USQ email address, research areas, and the URL for your USQ staff profile as your “Homepage”.

Google Scholar will suggest a list of publications to you.  You “claim” the ones that are yours. You can also opt to allow Google Scholar to automatically keep your profile up to date.


ORCID is a non-commercial organisation providing permanent digital identifiers for researchers.  This is a unique number that’s associated with you.  You can use this in ePrints, when applying for grants, and when submitting articles for publication.  It ties all publications and funding under any of your name variants to you.

Go to and sign up. Include a description of your research interests under “Biography”.

You can include links to websites in your profile.  We recommend you add links to your USQ profile and your Google Scholar profile. If you have publications in Scopus or a ResearcherID, we highly recommend that you link those author IDs to ORCID so that both profiles are automatically kept up to date. This will be particularly relevant to researchers in the sciences. If you have data-sets in ANDS you can also link these to your ORCID profile.

In future, USQ’s systems will be able to use your ORCID ID to automatically harvest information about your publications and funding from other places (for example, from Scopus).  This means that will need to manually tell the University less about your output, and the University will be able to report more fully and accurately about all your publication and funding activities.  All of this will save you time!

Social Media

Social media are increasingly being used for purposes other than being ‘social’. Academic networks such as LinkedIn, ResearchGate, and are used by researchers around the globe to keep in contact with colleagues and collaborators.


The most popular Social Networking tool for researchers is Twitter. This 140-character micro-blogging site can be invaluable professionally. As a ‘real-time information network’ it can connect you to just about anything that sparks your interest and give you up to date access to what is happening in your field. is a platform where you can share research papers, monitor deep analytics around the impact of your research, and track the research of academics you follow. Placing your publications and presentations on social media will make it easier for others to encounter your work, not only because they are available on a social network, but also because they improve the search engine optimisation (SEO) of your research.


ResearchGate will help you connect with researchers who aren’t on, but ResearchGate also text-mines the publications you’ve uploaded to find out who you’ve cited; they add both researchers you’ve cited, and researchers who have cited you, to your network, as well as colleagues from your department and institution.


Set up a LinkedIn profile to improve your visibility and to network with other researchers. LinkedIn is built for business people, not academics, so you will need to translate the traditional scholarly CV into the format on LinkedIn. Make sure you add a photo, make your profile ‘public’, and work hard on getting your ’Headline’ just right. In your ‘Summary’ section, provide concrete details about your research and why it matters.

Your mission?

Google yourself (*psst* Make sure you are logged out of your Google account first!).


  • decide on what you would like your online profile to be,
  • improve the accessibility of your outputs by making available what you can, and
  • communicate and interact using tools such as a blog, or Twitter.

For more information on Social Media for researchers, contact your Research Librarian.


Waiting, waiting, waiting …

By Fiona Russo

This year, I have waited.  A lot.

I have waited for acceptance into the program, for the provision of a dataset we’re trying to acquire (for which we are jumping through some crazy hoops including a full ethics application!), for a rare text to come in, for the outcome of a scholarship (unsuccessful) and then a fellowship (undetermined) application, for feedback from my supervisory team, for publication peer reviews, for ethical approvals, for Confirmation – it can seem like a series of never ending waiting rooms with no doctor in sight (pun intended).

I’ve been ticking along with the mindset that this is all just administrative, and therefore outside of my control.  I’m on someone else’s timeline, one task in their long list of things to do.  Next year, I tell myself, I’ll be Confirmed and ready to start my studies.  Next year, it’ll all be down to me.  I can set the pace, and things will naturally pick up.  Perhaps it’s the optimist in me, but I’m really excited to ‘just get down to business’.

I can hear the dissonant cries of my HDR colleagues from here – and I know how naïve that sounds.  My second- and third-year peers are still waiting.  They’re waiting for recruitment of participants, buy-in from partners, allocation of resources, feedback from supervisors, peer reviews, texts, and so many other things.

When we submit writing to our supervisors, it’s difficult to decide how many changes we should be making before their feedback is received.  When we submit papers for publication, should we just forget about them entirely or keep updating references and making editorial changes in the intervening weeks (or more likely months)?  When is it better to reluctantly admit that our target for recruitment is unachievable and alter the study rather than wait for more respondents and risk the timeline?

There’s a strange dichotomy in pursuing a PhD.  On the one hand, it’s a very solitary, self-guided journey.  On the other, we find ourselves often at the mercy of other stakeholders and their rules and timelines.  This can interrupt the flow of output in a dramatic fashion, and I certainly find this myself.  I am a time-poor mother of four, the eldest graduating this year and the youngest entering a Special School prep year in 2017.  My energy is frenetic because I have strictly allotted ‘work times’ that have to be productive. As the old adage says, ‘if you want a job done quickly, ask a busy person’.

My question to other HDR students is this:  how do you manage these ‘waiting periods’?  Is it just a matter of having multiple tasks on the go at any given time so that when one hits the proverbial brakes you can just concentrate doubly on the other?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Wishing you all unimpeded progress into the holiday season and beyond!

Oh dear, my world has just crashed, why not attempt a PhD?

By Peter Burling

A relative latecomer to the world of successful academic pursuits, I began my second assault
on the world of study at the very young age of 50. There were two forces contributing to this
decision. The first was the a dislike of the quality of employment I had secured when returning to the workforce after fifteen years of house-husbanding. The world had advanced a little in those 15 years, I needed new skills.

The second was a hangover from my youth, a desire to once and for all establish the truth or
otherwise of those vocational guidance words, “You can do anything you want”. These words I did feel were a cop-out used on anyone with an IQ above 90, helping the guidance officer avoid having to actually do something for you. But that was my schooling, now I was once again inflicting the books and exam timetables upon myself, as I set out to see how far I could go.

So my journey stepped through the Bachelors, a Graduate Diploma and then into a Masters
as I sought to quench the rekindled desire for knowledge. Yes, across this period usable skills also accrued rapidly, many of which, as a volunteer network administrator for a school, went into immediate use. There were also many real life learning events as I accrued the full deck of results bar one. I fell one mark short of the elusive high distinction.

In 2006, I began a second and concurrent journey when my wife of 29 years (partner for 31)
was handed the diagnoses of breast cancer. So now to my burgeoning academic career and status as a weird hours part-time worker were added the roles of number 1 supporter, cheer quad leader and sometimes carer. For nine months we floundered, struggled but made it through the obstacle course of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It did have some highs, as we were both able to spend the 6 weeks of radiation therapy in Sydney. As the effects of chemo wore off, it allowed us to explore events such as sculpture by the sea.

In 2013 as I finalised my Masters submission, I was thrown the challenge of extending parts
of my Masters research into a PhD. So I organised a supervisor and went into discussions on how to attack the research and even what we would actually cover. This development stage was also able to include my wife as she had by this stage retired. Then in September 2013 someone cut the cable ties that held my life together.

The first notice was the diagnoses of breast cancer secondaries in the bones. No time frame,
just a certainty of the final outcome. Not long after this was the release of restructure plans for my department with staff reductions. This rolled into possible, probable and finally definite loss of my planned supervisor. This news sparked a series of meetings with associated departments in an attempt to continue the idea of chasing one of those floppy hats that prevail around doctoral achievement. This unfortunately ended with a simple statement from my then university, that they simply were not interested, I should try elsewhere.

So in March 2014, in the middle of corresponding with 13 Universities around Australia,
New Zealand and Singapore, I graduated as a Master of Computer Science. Standing by my side
was my very proud wife, currently mid-stream in a chemotherapy set. The correspondence turned into a positive response from USQ which then blossomed into the much needed supervisor, and finally at the end of July enrolment, just after the start of Semester 2. This was initially off campus, but it was enrolment and while my wife did not expect to see me finish, she had seen me start. We also made plans to come up from Tamworth, where I was living at that point, in September to meet the team and to see the Japanese gardens. Those plans shattered on August 20th.

So began the whirlpool of grief, anger, self doubt, pressure of commitment to my late wife
that I would give it a go, and of course the worst of all loneliness. Some forms of cancer tend to
erode things like relationships slowly. So you man up and do what has to be done. But then you
realise that you have lost it all, but over a period of time, rather than instantly. So in the end I pulled out of that first semester, took the next one off and then restarted.

So after 2 years I have sold out in Tamworth, moved to Toowoomba, encompassed the highs and lows of a new developing relationship, and am now studying on campus. Where will it all go? I am not sure, but there is one certainty, no matter what the final result, it will have been a journey of self learning.

We All Make a Sacrifice or Two

By Ruth Wagstaff

Today is the fifth Saturday in a row I have prepared for an “open house”. Yes, I am
selling my house; that humanly engineered cave that has protected me from the weather, that
has my belongings scattered around it, that has provided stability while I have raised my
children to adulthood, and that been my l’ttle haven for the last five years. Selling my house
is part of the sacrifice that I have made for higher level study.

As I walked away from the house and the real estate agent walked into it, I realised
that every PhD candidate has a sacrifice story. We all give something up to achieve a dream.
What each of us sacrifice is unique to ourselves. The struggle to give up becomes apparent to
each of us, to our families, to our friends, and to our colleagues and supervisors at different
stages of our PhD journey. How each of these networks responds to the struggle may even
determine the likelihood of completing the journey.

As I walked away from the house, I asked myself why does each PhD candidate have
to sacrifice? As I thought about it, I realised my Doctor friends tell me is that the PhD
journey changed them. Their findings did not change the world, but it did change their
world. These friends tell me that they learnt something about who they are, their priorities,
and their humanity. The doctorate was as much about personal growth as academic and
professional growth.

As I walked away, I wondered if the PhD was worth the sacrifice of my home. The
conclusion I reached was that no PhD was worth any sacrifice but the PhD journey is. A
PhD is not the testamur, the academic robes, or sitting with the academics at graduation. It is
about the personal changes, the realisation that I do not know it all, that I have a lifetime to
learn, and that I can be comfortable with me. It also about learning how to be an active and compassionate listener. I could learn all this by making other choices, but I have chosen a

I am sure that the stories of sacrifice will continue for as long as there are PhDs. Each
sacrifice will have its own personal meaning and inspire someone.. And when we put all our
stories together, there is a wealth of insight into the meaning of the PhD journey. At the end
of the journey, we will all contribute some unique and original piece of knowledge because
that is the nature of a doctorate. But in my opinion, at the end of the journey, each of us will
have learned something unique and original about ourselves, and that is what we will share
with the rest of world.

Next weekend will be the sixth open house. Maybe, a buyer will be amongst those
who inspect the house. Whatever happens, I am one more week into my journey–a journey
that will change my outlook forever. It is a journey that I do not take alone, because we all
make sacrifices and we all grow.