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I'm currently working on a DPhil in HCT at the University of Sussex. This section of the website is for an on-going 'learning diary', for me to write my thoughts and notes on various courses and my thesis.

Entries in group (1)


Learning the ropes

We have a weekly lab meeting, during which people in the group take it in turns to practice talks, or get group feedback on projects, or share knowledge, along with keeping the group in touch with the latest university news. In one of these last term Ben du Boulay took us through a process of reviewing a couple of (carefully anonymised) papers aimed a the young researcher stream for an upcoming conference. The benefit in this is obviously two-fold - the new researchers in the group get to see how the people reviewing papers think, and the other researchers get a chance to compare the way they review papers.

Whilst the styles of writing in the two papers differed quite a bit and a couple of us found that a little distracting, most of the reviewing process did concentrate on the content. That is quite reassuring in some ways! 

I found it interesting that both papers were on experiments that were planned, rather than had already been done. They were therefore talking about proposed methodology, and there was a greater focus on situating the research. One thing that was strongly recommended by the researchers in the group but had been done by neither person was to spell out the potential difficulties they see with their methodologies. It does look as though the word limit was quite stringent, but with no discussion section I think that is a useful point. It could also be a brave move to point out the potential problems with your proposed project!

At the end of the meeting, in spite of a huge number of questions and holes picked in both papers, all the senior researchers present agreed that they would recommend the two papers for acceptance. The reason given was that the two students would really benefit from the feedback that they would undoubtably be given, whereas a 'perfect' paper would have been less likely to produce that sort of useful feedback. Apparently this was a reflection on the two papers being for the young researcher stream rather than the main conference, which is an important distinction to understand.

I've not yet tried writing a paper, but with this and the weekly reading group we are being exposed to things that our fellow academics see as being good or bad practice. I think in some ways this is a fascinating example of a community passing on the norms to the new members, whilst at the same time confirming those norms with each other. Attendance at these meetings therefore seems to be an important part of preparing for a career in research, by understanding the standards we will be expected to adhere to.

There's an awful lot more to this getting a PhD lark than first meets the eye!