Postgraduate Corner

Ashleigh Watson, Postgraduate Portfolio Leader and the Postgraduate sub-committee:

2017 Postgraduate Day

Welcome session and poster exercise

Like all good ice-breaker activities, the ‘Poster Exercise’ was a cleverly crafted (pun intended) practical activity with a deeper purpose. Postgraduates were organised into groups, provided with craft materials and invited to create a poster that captured a common theme in their research projects. The activity of doing craft provided a simple focus around which conversations could flow. Participants discovered previously unknown connections between their research and opportunities for collaboration and support. The posters were photographed and posted on Twitter. This encouraged participants to create a Twitter account (if they didn’t already have one), comment on the poster and further build their new connections with others.

Panel: A day in the life of real sociologists

This panel, facilitated by Luke Gahan, gave postgraduates a glimpse into the working lives of sociologists inside and outside of the academy. Vicki Williams and Gaye Mackenzie showed us that sociologists have a valuable skillset outside of academia (and that people are impressed by the title, even if they are a little fuzzy on what a sociologist is!), while Dan Woodman and Shanthi Robertson talked about the less-visible aspects of academic life (spoiler alert: so many meetings).

Workshop: Meet an academic mentor

This session connected small groups of postgraduates with established academics for a casual conversation. Participants were invited to develop questions about academia (publishing, work/life balance, the higher degrees process, etc.) in advance and bring them to this session. The casual conversation with an experienced academic who was not connected with their own institutions or research projects provided a unique opportunity to ask questions and receive insights that people might not be able to gain from their project supervisors. It also presented an opportunity to meet a senior academic in their field, creating the prospect for an ongoing connection.

Practical tips for tutoring and lecturing

In the first split session of the afternoon, we heard from four different academics about tutoring, lecturing and learning and teaching research. Alex Page shared great practical tips for engaging students and improving our own practice. He unpacked the tutor’s role as the point of contact, face of the course, mediator, bar setter and helping hand. He also shared with us 10 tips for being a good tutor. These included focusing on student learning, passion, encouragement, preparation, empathy, professionalisation, and reflexivity. Rosemary Hancock and Louise St Guillaume spoke specifically about teaching sociology, and contextualised much of what Alex said within the discipline. They gave us great practical activities to employ and helped us think through how to assess tutorial activities for different curricula and within different classes. Edgar Burns ended the session by talking enthusiastically about learning and teaching research. He showed us how we can use our teaching experience in learning and teaching research and introduced us to journals that publish research in this field, and others that take teaching sociology as their focus.

Publishing your PhD research

In this session we heard from the current editors of TASA’s two journals, the Journal of Sociology and Health Sociology Review. Joanne Bryant from HSR spoke to us first, giving us some great insights into the role of a journal editor, the editorial board, what metrics mean and how we can understand the value of these as researchers, and how to understand what a journal is looking for from their aims and scope and the kind of work they publish. Kate Huppatz and Steve Matthewman elaborated on Joanne’s talk as it applied to JoS. They talked us through how the publication process works from start to finish, what work reviewers do and how they approach the task of reviewing, how to understand the niche that a journal works to scope out within a particular field, and then how to target our writing to journals once we understand what editors and reviewers are looking for.

Managing a PhD project

This featured a line-up of three experienced PhD supervisors: Nicholas Hookway, Martin Forsey and Peta Cook. Responding to questions about overall project management, the panellists shared practical tips for managing our time while keeping the big picture in mind. They also spoke about being prepared for things to change and how to navigate this uncertainty while still keeping on track. In response to questions about juggling multiple tasks at once (e.g., teaching and publishing), Peta Cook suggested mapping out a career plan with your supervisor and making sure that the other things you say ‘yes’ to are aligned with that plan. For students about to start or in the early stages of a PhD, this session provided tips and tools for taming the PhD monster in 3–4 years.

What comes next? And how do I do it?

The final afternoon session demystified post-PhD life as Brady Robards, Alphia Possamai-Inesedy and Joseph Borlagden shared tips and tales from their experiences in applying for post-PhD positions. With refreshing candour, the panellists talked about how to frame the skills acquired during a PhD to meet job descriptions. Brady Robards provided a glimpse of the potential performance expectations faced by Early Career Researchers, and Joseph Borlagden showed us how to apply research skills to jobs outside of the academy. Alphia Possamai-Inesedy gave us valuable tips from the perspective of an interview panel member. For those of us on the cusp of transitioning to “the real world”, this session was timely and certainly took some of the anxiety out of post-PG life!

Reflections on the 2017 PG Day – Benjamin Lyall

Whenever a group of early researchers gets together in a structured environment, we often end up in deliberate modes, either talking very much about our research or not about our research at all. The 2017 Postgraduate Day offered a blend of these and much in between. We engaged in activities structured first-and-foremost to bring us together.

The idea of working with a small group to make a scrapbook-style poster representing research interests was a great way of meeting new people, cobbling together some kind of elevator pitch, and then listening and interpreting something about each other’s interests. We listened to presentations given by other emerging and senior academics about specific points of relevance, be it project management, publication writing, or teaching. Again, these were structured and presented in such a way as to resonate with individual research trajectories but also a wider set of academic responsibilities. It was refreshing to see so many different areas discussed, not just in relation to balance or workloads but together as part of a broader academic ethos.

The 2017 Postgraduate Day was a great way for newer TASA members to get a head-start on the larger conference, scoping out conference locations (and the best coffee), at the same time as meeting up with faces new and old.

Reflections on the TASA and WSU Event ‘Modern methodologies: Developments in doing sociological research’

On 15–16 February 2018, The Australian Sociological Association and Western Sydney University Institute for Culture and Society, School of Social Sciences and Psychology, and Graduate Research School co-hosted a two-day workshop for postgraduates and Early Career Researchers on ‘Modern methodologies: Developments in doing sociological research’.

This workshop brought together select postgraduates and ECRs to discuss and develop their methodological approaches. Over the two days we heard paper presentations and participant-led panel discussions on topics ranging from critical ethnography and working with vulnerable populations to creative approaches for interviewing and representing field work. Associate Professor Alphia Possamai-Inesedy from Western Sydney University delivered a keynote address on thinking critically about methodology, in which she spoke to creativity and flexibility in research and included a call to be more open, more slow, not presuppose, and explore the unanticipated in our research. Professor Sujatha Fernandes from Sydney University and Dr Demelza Marlin from Macquarie University joined us for a workshop on uncovering stories, patterns and subjectivities with our work. Emeritus Professor David Rowe and Dr Karen Soldatic, both from Western Sydney University, also joined us for a workshop on methods for transformation and impact. Overall, we focused on issues of reflexivity, positionality, cultivating good intellectual practices, collaboration with other researchers and participants, and ways of communicating the work we do as social researchers.

Participants reflected that ‘listening to speakers and participants who were being more creative and ‘arty’ with their projects motivated me to think outside the box with analysis and to push forward with a future project I had been toying with’. The workshop was ‘an inspiring opportunity… The group was friendly, inclusive and shared the highs and lows of the research process… I appreciated the honesty of the academics who came and shared their perspectives. Two days allowed time to connect with other participants and to reflect on common themes such as ethical research, that all researchers encounter blocks and difficulties, and the power of sharing ideas’.

As part of the event, participants collaborated to produce an event pamphlet. You can download a digital and print version of this from the postgraduate website, http://postgraduates.tasa.org.au This pamphlet includes the program and paper abstracts as well as our notes, questions, ideas, scribbles, marginalia and photos.

Huge thanks go to TASA and WSU for this event. I’d personally like to thank the academics who gave their time to participate – Alphia, Sujatha, Demelza, David and Karen – and to James Arvanitakis, Adam Possamai, and Megan Watkins from WSU for their keen support of the event. Thanks also goes to Christy Nguy from WSU and Sally Daly from TASA, plus the TASA Postgraduate Portfolio subcommittee, who provided great administrative and organisational support and without whom this event would not have been possible.

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