Tuesday, December 31, 2013

French Lessons for UK Higher Education

part of the Sorbonne university in Paris, France
Sorbonne university in Paris (Wikipedia)
by Louisiane Ferlier, The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/dec/19/french-higher-education-lessons-for-uk

Louisiane Ferlier lectures in early modern intellectual history at Jesus College, University of Oxford.

In their 2004 publication, Universality or Specialisation?, Christian Allies and Michel Troquet summed up the dilemma faced by the French higher education system.

For France, the existence of an "international education market dominated by the English speaking world" has made adapting to competition particularly difficult.

Although Allies and Troquet adequately highlighted the complicated consequences of this choix cornélien, or predicament, almost 10 years later no clear strategy has been adopted.

Neither the French ministry of higher education, its academic institutions, nor the academic community itself (that elusive mystical unicorn of a beast) have opted for universality or officially endorsed the specialisation that is evidently taking place.

Perhaps like no other, the French higher education system is fragmented. It is composed of a constellation of administratively independent institutions and offers a large range of curriculum from the highly selective classes préparatoires to the most universal of bachelor degrees.

Rather than trying to redress the growing inequalities resulting from this fragmentation, French higher education has followed the specialisation route following the 1999 Bologna process.

The slant towards research and the curtailing of the general educational vocation of French universities, noted by Allies and Troquet, was at its peak under Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency.

Taking into account these considerations, I'd like to reflect on what is left of universality in French universities and what British higher education can learn from it.

Universality is the hydra-like founding myth of European universities - try cutting one of its many heads and two will grow in its place.

The idea of a universal right to higher education is still alive and well in France. The low fees of the non-selective French universities are proud markers of its egalitarian system - as universities are seen as contributing to the common good, they are financed by the community.

Yet, with around 25% of students enrolling who do not obtain their diploma and a high percentage of reorientations (transfers), they fail a considerable proportion of students in this idealistic mission.

The British pragmatic imperative to lay the debt on the individual might be a more powerful incentive for students to succeed.

Universities are also seen as universal places of knowledge. French universities offer students as many courses, combined subjects, and joint curricula as possible.

As opposed to the narrow subject specialisation imposed to undergraduates in Britain, it is possible for a French student to follow up to a third of his or her term's worth of courses in another department.

Topping the lack of flexibility in British curriculum (poorly justified in employability terms), the growing closures of departments in British universities damages further their claim to universality.

Université Universelle is the name of a lobby group that has campaigned since 2011 to help foreign students study in France.

This group brings together academics, writers and students alike and insists that French universities will lose their dynamism, creativity and attraction if they fail to recruit among foreign students. However, it seems to ignore other reasons for the lack of allure of French higher education.

Once upon an enlightened time, French was an academic lingua franca. Remnants of this golden age are: the poor level of English among several generations of French academics, a highly developed pride for our language (well-founded, naturally) and a large number of invaluable academic journals that now fail to find a readership outside of the Francophonie.

Today's lack of reach for the French language and the still poor command of English in French academia, should be counted as factors in the failure of French higher education to attract universally, along with excessive red tape and incomprehensible fragmentation.

What lesson can French universities learn from all this? That universality should not only be defined as a programme but also developed on the existing strength of our system. The lesson for British universities comes from the Université Universelle group itself.

The past months have seen sporadic strikes in British higher education. What these revealed to me was that it is cankered by a lack of cohesion, a lack of idealism and a certain inability to organise itself or voice its concerns in an audible way to the general public.

French education might not always deliver in statistical terms but it still offers powerful lessons in social and political cohesion. Perhaps Britain should appreciate this messy French way and try to find its own mystical unicorn: a cohesive intellectual community.
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5 Myths About Our Schools That Fall Apart When You Look Closer

PISA-results (Photo credit: cwasteson)
by , Upworthy: http://www.upworthy.com/5-myths-about-our-schools-that-fall-apart-when-you-look-closer-6?c=upw1

A special Upworthy series about work and the economy, made possible by the AFL-CIO. Read more, then check out more in Workonomics.

When the OECD releases the PISA report every three years, many people use the ranking to claim public education in the U.S. is failing and push their corporate education reform agenda.

But looking at the data, lessons that can be learned from the highest performing countries point in a completely different direction. For more information: http://go.aft.org/pisa #ReclaimIt

So, basically, conversations about the U.S. education system often revolve around misconceptions. Here's some clarity.

Credits: ORIGINAL: By the American Federation of Teachers.
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Dr Jekyll Writes: Binge Writing as a Pathological Academic Condition

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde po...
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (Wikipedia)
by Pat Thomson, Impact of Social Sciences: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2013/01/21/dr-jekyll-writes-binge-writing-as-a-pathological-academic-condition/

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education at the University of Nottingham. 

Her current research focuses on creativity, the arts and change in schools and communities, and postgraduate writing pedagogies. 

She is currently devoting more time to exploring, reading and thinking about imaginative and inclusive pedagogies which sit at the heart of change. She blogs about her research at Patter.

The practice of academic writing has a tendency to be viewed as a pathological condition - with certain behaviour, like writing for extended periods of time, listed as particularly harmful. 

But Pat Thomson doesn’t think this prescriptive approach gives enough credit to academic writers who are more competent at finding a writing framework that suits them than this limiting diagnostic approach implies.

A confession. I like a good writing binge. I sometimes find it’s the only way to get something done. I have to immerse myself completely in a topic and its associated readings in order to make sense of it.

Now I don’t do this very often. I’m quite able to write a paper or a chapter in a series of shorter writing time slots and I often do.

But sometimes, and it’s to do with the topic and how comfortable I feel with it and how hard it is, sometimes I just have to work away at something for long slabs of time.

I know the concern about binge writing is that some people do it and it’s very unhelpful and unproductive. And some people don’t write at all because they think you must have long periods of time in order to do anything and that’s not the case.

Fine, I don’t dispute that. What worries me is when the notion of don’t-write-for extended-periods of time becomes a kind of universal maxim. Applicable all the time and everywhere.

I recently went back to look for the origins of the term binging in relation to academic writing. I couldn’t find any earlier reference to it other than in an article Robert Boice wrote in 1982 in Teaching of Psychology 9(3).

Since writing this, Boice has continued to work on ways of dealing with writer’s block and other forms of writing dysfunctionality.

Boice’s seminal writing book Professors as writers: A self help guide to productive writing (1990) lists a range of writing behaviours which cause distress and lead to chronic academic under-production.

Boice divides reluctant writers into two major groups - procrastinators and perfectionists. He lists the kinds of things that cause writing problems - distaste for writing, lack of confidence, lack of time, inability to start , inability to stop, being anxious.

He then goes on to list other conditions that affect writing - depression, phobias, dysphoria and psychological conditions such as hand cramping.

Boice’s approach to dealing with writing problems is basically a form of de-conditioning. Given that he’s a psychologist this is not surprising.

Beginning with spontaneous writing or free writing as a means of breaking the pattern, he then suggests the need to move on to what he calls generative writing.

This is where people write about the writing they have to do, and then use that as the basis for further generative writing which refines what was first written.

Boice suggests that in order to cement the new patterns of writing, writers need to organize their space and time so that they can write regularly and in conducive surrounds. He also offers solutions for relapsed writers, who fall back into old habits.

He proposes a four-step self-help plan for writing:

(1) automaticity - the use of spontaneous and generative writing to begin projects
(2) externality - making writing a priority by scheduling time and making commitments to deadlines
(3) self control - refusing negative self talk by monitoring negative thoughts, stopping them as soon as they are recognized, reframing them through a focus on relief at completion and then self rewarding (in other words do talking therapy to yourself)
(4) sociality - soliciting comments, establishing writing networks, developing a sense of audience.

Now this is all very familiar to most people, because Boice’s work has been very influential. It seems to work for a lot of people too. However, right now, I’m wondering about it a bit.

Why I hear you asking? Well it’s to do with the assumption of loss of control and self that all this implies. It’s as if somehow when we sit down at the computer to write, some kind of ‘bad body double’ takes over (oh and here’s a gratuitous link to Imogen Heap’s song of the same name).

When we begin to write we become some kind of scholarly Dr. Jekyll (and here’s a gratuitous link to James Nesbitt’s wonderful interpretation), nothing like our familiar functional and effective selves.

Of course Boice doesn’t say we actually foam at the mouth and skulk around in dark corners, but he does talk about panic attacks, uncontrollable shaking, and being breathless - and that’s in 60% of the people he deals with.

I guess he sees people who have those kinds of problems, but it’s a bit of a worry when that gets generalised out to the rest of the population …

Now, I do know a couple of people who suffer in this kind of way when they approach a writing task. However, it’s not a majority, it’s a tiny minority who are really afflicted.

Some people are a bit anxious and tense and the majority of us just expect it might be a bit difficult. And being a bit challenged is actually quite helpful, it’s not always a bad thing.

The teacher in me worries about starting to think about academic writing from a deficit position. I always begin writing workshops with professionals by asking them how many of them have had to write submissions for funding, or make a case for something to happen or not happen.

If they know how to do this, then they know how to make an argument. And if they have to write case notes, or report in writing on expenditure against a budget then they already know the importance of getting details down accurately and writing succintly.

I could go on, but the point is that most people arrive at doctoral research not only with several years of academic success (writing essays) behind them but, if they are already in the workforce, then they also probably have some experience with some of the major writing genres they are going to need to write a thesis or a paper.

It seems to me that there are probably two ways of approaching academic writing.

The first is as a widespread pathological condition where problems need to be diagnosed and remedies applied. The second is a respectful educational approach where the writer is assumed to already know things and is capable of using new intellectual resources to sort out what suits them and what doesn’t.

This is not about denying information of genre or practices - well I’d be out of business if that were the case, just for a start - but it does assume that the vast majority of writers - even those who are somewhat anxious - start from a position of competence, not deficiency and pathology.

That the kinds of processes used by Boice are good and helpful doesn’t negate my basic concern to start from a non-diagnostic and non-judgmental position.

I guess I just don’t want to assume a Dr. Jekyll lurks in all of us, I’ll go there when I spot the actual foaming mouth. Yes, and that means I will be saying out loud that bit of binge writing in moderation never did me any harm!

This article was originally published at Pat Thomson’s personal blog, Patter, and is republished here with permission.

Note: This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of the Impact of Social Sciences blog, nor of the London School of Economics.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Chances Of Getting Into College: 10 Most Common Mistakes - Updated

English: Ray Mansion, Dean College Admissions ...
Ray Mansion, Dean College Admissions Building, Franklin Massachusetts, June 2010 (Wikipedia)
by Paul Hemphill

High school seniors and their parents are in panic mode in the first half of senior year, making the following 10 mistakes:

1. No colleges have been selected, well, maybe two or three that friends have mentioned. Friends? Should my senior be listening to what their friends have to say about where to apply?

2. No colleges have been visited, no "comfort zone" of a right-fit college has been established yet. Shouldn't my senior have a "feel" for what kind of environment will work best, where they'll survive and thrive?

3. No resume done. No unique way to present my senior's strengths in a college interview. Will I have to answer college interview questions? Is this like applying for a job?

4. No college planning checklist of things that have to be done and when. How do I create one?

5. No teachers selected for recommendation letters. No special strategy on what the writer should limit his remarks to. And to avoid looking like every other letter that is nothing more than a list. What do I ask for?

6. Strategy on selecting colleges. Am I supposed to have a strategy?

7. Strategy on selecting a major already. I thought college was for taking time to figure that out. No?

8. The five most common writing mistakes students make in their essays. Wait! How would I know that?

9. Of all the college application essay topics, no topic has been selected. What topics are off-limits? Gee ... there are topics that are off-limits?

10. Strategy on getting more financial aid in case you get an offer of some aid. How do I do that?
Parents who hire a professional college admissions consultant have already covered these bases. My clients have been in "training" with me for the past year or two about the equivalent of their first jump at sky-diving, and the door is about to open at 5,000 feet.


I'd be in a little panic myself right now - that's only human. But my clients have been well prepared for this "senior moment," and things are going to be just fine.

That's compared to those who are at the same open door at 5,000 feet above ground, looking down in panic and wondering, "What do I do now?!" And their strategy is to "gut it out," and "hope for the best."

And they don't have a professional instructor to whom they are attached to make sure the jump goes smoothly and safely. They don't even know where the rip cord is, but they'll be asking their barber or hairdresser for the answer.

My clients are okay. Their friends aren't. That's really too bad. Who loses? Denial will be in full operating mode when their senior is in college for 5 years - there's a 63% chance of it - and students of my clients will graduate in four and several in 3 1/2 years.

And no one will take any blame because the cost will be enormous (the cost of one more year of college + one full year of lost income).

Ultimately, it's the student who loses, and loses big: bigger debt and lingering doubts about future career choices. And to think that these mistakes could have been avoided.

The author's college-related website is http://www.planning-for-college.com

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Paul_Hemphill

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Montessori Childhood Development Series: Art

Montessori classroom modern day
Modern Montessori Classroom (Wikipedia)
by Veronica Rodriguez

Art in a Montessori school classroom is used in a variety of different ways.

At the most basic level, art will teach the child to use a pencil and draw lines.

But many of the exercises placed on the practical life shelves are artistic in nature; which often include cutting, weaving, sewing, and stencils.

Art is one of the many ways children express themselves. Art is a way for children to communicate their feelings and emotions. In a Montessori environment, they provide open-ended art activities that help children explore and use their creativity.

Art, along with all areas of the classroom, gives children a solid foundation for future growth. Through art, they are exploring, creating, expressing, and developing self.

Montessori style of learning provides a rich art area in the classroom, giving children a chance to choose their medium: paints, pastels, clay, pencils, and/or crayons.

When it comes to art, it is the process not the outcome that is important to the child. A child interacts with the world differently than adults, children work to develop self rather than develop a product of some sort of monetary gain.

Their focus is to have fun and grow. Once a child creates something, they do not feel the need to keep the product. It is the process that gives them satisfaction and inner joy.

Many teachers receive artistic "gifts" from their students all the time. But for the students it's more about moving on to the next art expression than creating something specific for a certain person. That's why art from a child is always so unique and sometimes very strange.

Montessori training programs emphasize the process of creating art versus the product. This means that children should be encouraged to explore and experiment with a variety of art mediums without being made to feel that they should complete a specific project that looks a certain way.

One important difference in how the art shelf is presented in a Montessori classroom as opposed to a traditional preschool classroom is that all children have access to it at all times and they may freely choose which skills to practice at any given time.

In a more traditional setting, art materials may be out only at certain times and/or their use may be more directed by the adults than by the children themselves.

Montessori used the term "cosmic education" to indicate both the universal scope of lessons to be presented, and the idea that education in the second plane should help the child realize the human role in the interdependent functioning of the universe.

Classroom materials and lessons include work in the arts. Through Montessori a child is able to express themselves to the fullest.

"The human hand, so delicate and so complicated, not only allows the mind to reveal itself but it enables the whole being to enter into special relationships with its environment ... man 'takes possession of his environment with his hands.' His hands, under the guidance of his intellect transform this environment and thus enable him to fulfill his mission in the world" - Maria Montessori.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Veronica_Rodriguez

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BOOK REVIEW: A Tale of Two Cultures: Qualitative and Quantitative Research in the Social Sciences

by Maria Kuecken, Impact of Social Sciences: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2013/05/26/book-review-a-tale-of-two-cultures-qualitative-and-quantitative-research-in-the-social-sciences/ 

Maria Kuecken is a Ph.D. candidate in Economics at the Paris School of Economics - Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne University.

Maria teaches graduates and undergraduates in Applied Econometrics and Mathematics.

Specializing in development economics, her own research focuses on the determinants of educational quality in developing countries.

She has blogged on a variety of issues for the European Journalism Centre, worked on educational projects in Rwanda, and interned in the Health Division of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Read more reviews by Maria.

In A Tale of Two Cultures, Gary Goertz and James Mahoney argue that qualitative and quantitative methods constitute different cultures, each internally coherent yet marked by contrasting norms, practices, and toolkits. 

The authors seek to promote toleration, exchange, and learning by aiming to enable scholars to think beyond their own culture and see an alternative scientific worldview. 

Those instructing research methods will find the book a particularly helpful teaching tool, writes Maria Kuecken, with clear examples and case studies throughout.

Between camps of quantitative and qualitative researchers, a discussion of research methods is one that usually incites more contention than cooperation. But, according to Gary Goertz and James Mahoney, conflict doesn’t need to be the norm.

By carefully dissecting each methodological tradition in their book A Tale of Two Cultures, Goertz and Mahoney do social scientists a great service by promoting mutual understanding and appreciation of both quantitative and qualitative research methods.

Goertz and Mahoney frame their book with the assertion that “the quantitative-qualitative disputation in social sciences is really a clash of cultures.” Like different cultures, they explain that each tradition abides by its own sets of practices and beliefs.

And while there is potentially a great deal to be gained from cross-over between the two, more often than not cross-cultural interactions are waved away or, at the very least, misunderstood.

Gary Goertz and James Mahoney are both social scientists themselves - the former is a political scientist at the University of Arizona and the latter is a professor of political science and sociology at Northwestern University.

Both have extensive chops in teaching and writing about research methods, which explains why A Tale of Two Cultures is easy to follow despite its technical subject.

The authors encourage social scientists to avoid knee-jerk reactions deriving from an aversion to or preference for one particular methodological tradition.

Instead, they maintain impartiality, reminding the reader that both traditions “are appropriate for different research tasks and are designed to achieve different research goals.” Put simply, no tradition is better than the other.

Moreover, to reduce the clash of cultures as simply “numbers versus words” is to make an unhelpful and misleading simplification. Adopting the cultures approach thus allows Goertz and Mahoney to initiate a breakdown of the two research traditions in a systematic and nuanced fashion.

An important take-away is that some analogies which seem useful on the surface can instead be misleading. The authors emphasize early on that there is a translation problem across cultures. For example, the quantitative researcher is equipped with probability theory and statistical tools.

Qualitative researchers don’t typically consider their tradition as one that is explicitly couched in mathematics but, as Goertz and Mahoney explain carefully in their mathematical prelude, logic and set theory support this paradigm.

They demonstrate how applying fuzzy-set math as a formal tool in qualitative analysis can produce useful distinctions with quantitative analysis as well as illuminate the translation problem across the two research cultures.

A simple demonstration is the seemingly straightforward comparison between using either statistical multiplication or the logical AND to aggregate data. While analogous, they result in two entirely different mathematical procedures since the latter requires taking the minimum.

Thus, when taken to the mathematical roots, attempts to translate directly from one culture to another can be misleading. But it is not just the mathematical values that differ; norms and procedures do, too.

Quantitative social scientists tend to begin investigations of causality by hypothesizing the impact of a particular cause on an outcome, while qualitative social scientists take the opposite approach, starting their investigation with a given outcome and working in reverse to find the causes.

Choices such as these direct quantitative researchers to pursue methods of estimations that yield average effects of specific variables across samples, while qualitative researchers focus on a multivariate approach which leads them to look for explanations that fit a group as well as individuals within said group.

The authors make similar distinctions regarding concept and measurement in each methodology as well as the qualitative within-case analysis (and its implications for both traditions).

For a book that celebrates the complementarities between quantitative and qualitative research methods, it is unsurprising that the authors wrap up with a call for more mixed-method research.

While a completely sensible suggestion, it is also a bit ironic, considering that the book’s tendency to focus on sociology and political science risks making other social scientists feel excluded.

Yet, all social scientists do in fact have something to gain from the discussions presented here, especially by being more open-minded to the value of exchanges.

A Tale of Two Cultures is an informative read for social scientists, especially those who find themselves specialized in one culture of research instead of the other (which, of course, is most of us).

If one is absent a background in either culture, Goertz and Mahoney provide clear examples to illustrate their arguments. Thus, those instructing research methods will find the book a particularly helpful teaching tool, even if some may take issue with the ‘two culture’ approach.

After all, promoting appreciation and exchange of research methods through better understanding is indeed a worthy goal.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

10 Software Tools for More PhD Productivity and Less Headaches

Cover of "The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5...
Cover via Amazon
by , Next Scientist: http://www.nextscientist.com/phd-productivity-software/

PhD productivity is a common struggle among PhD students.

We think that the right software will improve our productivity.

The truth is that we spend too much time figuring out what the best tools are. Let’s fix that.

I started my PhD and I had new tasks that required software tools. I thought that using the right software would keep my PhD productivity high.

But there is so much out there to try. Different programs, versions, prices, platforms and on and on.

I started trying so many alternatives for project management, file synchronisation or handling my literature.

I spent so much time trying software that my PhD productivity went down. I was keeping myself busy with trying software and reading reviews of tools.

If you are a nerd like me you might enjoy trying new software for a while. But if you are normal, you might find it a pain in the ass. If you want to move fast in science, figuring out the best software for your tasks is a waste of time.

Allow me to use a bit of business jargon here.

Focusing On What Matters In Your PhD

A baker makes bread. His primary process (his core business) is to make bread. One of his secondary process (what enables the primary process) is to clean his bakery.

Having a clean and tidy bakery allows him to make bread. A clean bakery allows him to get a quality certification that guarantees the hygiene in his business.

If the baker spends most of his time on his secondary process, cleaning, he won’t have much time left for making good bread. His business will suffer.

As a PhD student your primary process is to do science. Software is a secondary process, it enables you to do science.

You have to spend as much time and mental capacity on your primary process, doing good science and as little as possible on your secondary processes.
I want to help you to discover the best software without having to wast time finding it. You can have a bigger impact if you use that time for real science.
Let’s say again now with using the style of The 4 Hour Work Week. Being efficient at secondary process tasks (like trying new software) is a waste of time. You want to be efficient effective at your core business (doing science).

Do you see the difference between efficient and effective? When you are effective at doing science your PhD productivity goes through the roof.

Yes, that’s cute! But at the end of the day you have to use software, right? There’s no way out.
True. So how do you decide what are the best software tools for your PhD? Are there any rules of thumb to choose software for your PhD?

Since I am asking it, then the answer must be yes, there are some rules of thumb. Duh! 

3 Rules Of Thumb To Choosing Software For Your PhD

a. Choose simple software

Forget software with a gazillion functions. Look for simple software. So simple you could use it in a gazillion different ways.

b. Choose the software your colleagues choose

This makes your life easier when you need to share files or when you don’t know how to do something and need to ask for help.

c. Choose software that syncs your data

Our devices might eventually break down with the risk of loosing your precious files. Use software that syncs via Internet your files across devices. Even better, go for those that also store copies in the cloud.

OK, so far so good. You already know what to look for in a software tool. This should save you some time that you could use for real science.

You know what could save you some more time? Getting a list of the software that best fits that criteria and that you will need for sure during your PhD.

Let me introduce you to 10 software tools you will use most of the time. Not only this, they will make your life easier and painless (at least from the software side of things). 

10 Software Tools That Boost PhD Productivity 

Task Management (aka to-do list), Wunderlist

I am talking about PhD productivity here. Therefore I should start with the software tool that always comes to mind when thinking about PhD productivity: a to-do list software.

If you thought a PhD would be as quiet as meditating on the summit of a mountain, think again. We receive daily lots of inputs. Do this, send that, prepare that. Add this figure to your paper. Send reminder to boss. Register to the course Literature Review Boot Camp.

The best way to keep track of what to do is our good old friend to-do list. If you are old school you might go for a piece of paper. If you are a bit hipster a Moleskine could be your choice. If you want to go paper-free, you have to try Wunderlist.

Wunderlist is simple, it just keeps a list of tasks. You can group them, for instance if they belong to the same project. You assign (or not) a date to your task. You have an automatic list with delayed tasks and those you should finish today.

Wunderlist syncs your to-do list between devices (Windows, Mac, smartphones, tablets, web browser).

I dump all my tasks in Wunderlist, both private and work related. Since it works everywhere, I can check my work activities in my work PC and my private tasks at home from my Macbook.

Wunderlist is (a) simple software that (c) syncs your data.

Download Wunderlist here

Literature Management, Mendeley

During your PhD you are going to spend a lot of time doing three things: reading papers, reviewing literature and formatting the citations in your publications.

Mendeley can help you with that. It’s quite simple and it syncs everything to the cloud and between computers (so your papers are not lost when your computer breaks down).

Here’s how it works. You download the PDFs of the papers you want to read. You dump them in Mendeley. Mendeley annotates all the title, authors and other info. It syncs the papers to the cloud and other devices.

When you are writing your paper, the Word or OpenOffice extension allows you to insert your citations in the correct format of the journal you want to publish in. And that’s it. No hassle.

Mendeley is (a) simple software, (b) that colleagues use (in my case) and (c) that syncs your data.

Download Mendeley here

Handling Information Deluge, Evernote

Here’s one of the must have software tools for PhD students. It’s worth every penny. But wait, Evernote is free. Even better!

Evernote does two difficult things in a simple way. It stores all sort of information you throw at it and it finds this information when you search for it. Forget about bookmarks in your web browser, a folder with photos and screenshots, text files with your notes or documents with drafts.

Evernote creates notes with whatever you find on the Internet, with screen captures, with photos from your phone, with PDFs or simply those you write yourself. Everything in one place. And when you look for them, you just need to search for them a-la-Google.

Evernote is (a) simple software and (c) it syncs your data.

Download Evernote here

Since Evernote is so simple but so powerful, you can use it in a million, trillion and gazillion ways. If you want to learn how to squeeze all the juice out of Evernote, please read Evernote Essentials.
Evernote Essentials is the Bible of Evernote.

Get Evernote Essentials here

File Back-up / Sharing / Sync, Dropbox

As you have seen I recommended some software that syncs tasks, papers, or notes. How do you sync other types of files like code, photos or documents? The answer is Dropbox.

When you install Dropbox in your computer it creates a folder called ‘Dropbox’. The contents of this folder are sync’d with ‘Dropbox’ folders in other computers or Dropbox apps in smartphones and tablets. Additionally, Dropbox sotres a copy of your files in the cloud to make sure you don’t lose a file under any circumstances.

How to use Dropbox for your PhD? Easy, drop all your PhD files and folders inside the ‘Dropbox’ folder. Install Dropbox in other devices. Sync. Done. No more “I can’t work on it because the file is in the other computer”.

Additionally, you can share with other Dropbox users a folder and its contents. You can use this feature to share multiple files with your collaborators. Remember when your email provider said you cannot send that files because it’s too big? Dropbox fixes that.

Do you know a real PhD productivity killer? Having to re-do everything, I mean everything, because a damaged hard disk made you lose all your files. Dropbox would save your ass in that catastrophic event.

Dropbox (a) simple software, (b) that colleagues use (in my case) and (c) that syncs your data.

Download Dropbox here

Using Software From Other Operating System, Virtual Box

Now we are going to get a bit computer nerdy, but do not be afraid. Here’s a common pain with software in science: the program you want to use cannot be executed in your current operating system (OS; like Windows, Linux or Mac OS). When does this happen?
  1. With legacy software, aka freakishly old software. It hasn’t been updated anymore and it uses some old libraries, so for instance, it can only run on Windows 95.
  2. Software developed by other scientists that is not compiled in your SO. So that good willed scientist built a program that is the golden standard in your field, but it only runs in Linux, and you have Windows 7.
The simple solution here would be to buy a computer and install the SO you are missing. Or…you virtualise a computer using VirtualBox inside your current computer. Then you would install the needed SO in that virtual computer and the desired software.

With VirtualBox you can have as many virtual computers with different SO’s as you want. VirtualBox is (b) software that colleagues use (in my case).

Download VirtualBox here

Writing, Word

Writing papers is one of the important tasks in your PhD. True, most of the time is spend doing real research. But you will show your research to the world with your publications. Do you know what happens before you publish one of your papers as a PhD? Endless feedback on your draft.

Don’t worry, it gets better as you gain experience. For my first publication I got a ton of feedback. For the second paper just half a ton. And so on.

Now back to writing papers. You have to use a text editor. Since you want to get digital feedback (not unintelligible cramped handwriting on the sides of your printed draft), you need to use the same editor as the person giving the feedback. And it’s going to be Microsoft Word 99% of the times. So there you go. Get yourself Microsoft Word.

Truth be told, I use also other editors. I like Pages and Evernote for preparing my blog posts.
Scientific fields with a high formula to text ratio in their publications use LaTeX as editor.

Social sciences PhDs have recommended Scrivener, which I used to write my ebook 17 Simple Strategies To Survive Your PhD (don’t forget to download it, it’s free). Word is (b) software that colleagues use (in my case).

Get Microsoft Word here

Handling Data And Plots, Excel

During your research you are going to produce some data and store it as a table. Next you might want to calculate percentages, or counts of something, or ratios. I don’t know, something.

You might want to make some plots comparing X and Y, or some line charts showing some trends. Those plots will be some of the figures in your next publication. I know, Excel images in a scientific paper are not very sexy. But hey, who hasn’t done it at least once in their career?

Excel is (b) software that colleagues use (in my case).

Get Microsoft Excel here

Slides, PowerPoint

Let’s talk now about making slides. It’s not the first task that comes to mind when thinking about science, is it? Well, during my PhD I have made plenty of slide decks. Mostly for conferences or little group meetings.

You know the drill. You attend a conference to present your scientific results. You go on stage. You first slide is on the main screen. Your legs are shaking. Thanks to the organisers for inviting me.

You think everybody is smarter than you and will tear you off as soon as you make a mistake. My name is … you feel the sweat drops sliding in your back. The title of my presentation is … your vision gets blurry. 4 years of work summarised in 20 slides. The will laugh. You pass out.

Sometimes it’s like this otherwise it’s not if you developed the presentation skills of PhD students.
But the important part are the slides. They are made in PowerPoint. Why?

Well, everybody uses PowerPoint. Many conferences only allow presenters to use PowerPoint slides. They say that they cannot guarantee that other formats will work well. But Julio, Keynote on a MacBook always works well at the first attempt.

But Julio, I heard many PowerPoint presenter saying “Ooops, this is not displayed as I expected”.
You are right, but if you want to present at conferences you have to swallow it. PowerPoint is (b) software that colleagues use (in my case).

Get Microsoft PowerPoint here

Web browser, Chrome

Browsing the Internet can destroy your PhD productivity. It can also help you find the information you need and answers to some questions.

It’s time to talk about the software tool that is going to help you answer a question. It’s a big question. Probably the most interesting question in the course of your PhD.

Is the new lab intern single?

That scientific curiosity should be addressed. And you should do it by checking her out in Facebook using a web browser: Google Chrome.

Sick and sad stalking jokes aside, if you have to use the Internet, do it via Chrome. It’s a clean, beautiful and easy to use browser. I have used most of the browsers and I can say that Chrome feels like it was developed by people who like to spend time on the Internet.

A last tip: install the Evernote plugin for Chrome so you can create a note from any website directly from Chrome. Chrome is (b) simple software and (d) better that Internet Explorer.

Download Google Chrome here

Music, Spotify

I don’t know how I would have gone through my PhD without music. Music to cheer me up on a grey day. Music to focus while writing. Music to keep me awake while doing repetitive tasks. Music to stream to my smartphone. Music to boost my PhD productivity. Music to activate my resourcefulness while programming. Music to survive a PhD.

All this music came from Spotify (and a bit from Youtube). But mostly Spotify. I gladly pay for the Premium version. For me it’s worth it. I got tired of downloading music, and loading it in a MP3 player, and updating my playlists. Spotify was just so convenient.

Let music boost your PhD productivity! Spotify is (a) simple software that (c) syncs your data.

Download Spotify here
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How to Teach English to Non-Native Speakers

Please Teach Me English
Please Teach Me English (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Chris A. Harmen

Teaching English has become a popular way for native speakers to see the world and earn a living at the same time, but it's not exactly easy!

If you've never taught before, you might not be sure how to start.

When you're trying to teach English to non-native speakers, watch your idioms, slow down your speech patterns and use basic vocabulary that's easy to understand to help your students become successful.

Lastly, don't forget about classroom management!

Even if you're teaching adults, it's important that you have adequate classroom management skills so that your class isn't running the show.

Watch the Idioms When You're Trying to Teach English

When you're a teacher, it's vital that you watch what you say carefully. Saying things like 'It's time to hit the books,' or 'This homework should be a piece of cake' will likely be met with some serious confusion.

Do you really want your class to slap their textbooks or bring you a piece of cake the next day? If not, it's important to watch these types of phrases and idioms. They'll just confuse beginning students so you should wait until your class is more advanced before you introduce these phrases.

Slow Down When You Speak

If you've ever heard someone else speak another language, you know that it can seem confusing, especially if they're speaking rapidly. To help your students understand when you're trying to teach English, slow your speech way down.

Use pauses in between sentences so that they can process and understand what you're saying. While it's unlikely that your students will understand every word, if you speak slowly, they'll be more likely to figure out your general idea and they'll be able to fill in the blanks.

Use Basic Vocabulary

Additionally, make sure that you're using words that are basic and uncomplicated - now is not the time to show off your extensive vocabulary.

Additionally, you can help your students' vocabulary by labeling things in your classroom, such as the chairs, desks, door and anything else that's inside your classroom. Once your students have a basic understanding of vocabulary, then you can move on to expanding their vocabulary with synonyms.

If you're trying to teach English to adults, you will likely need to teach some specialized vocabulary. For instance, businesspeople may need to understand certain business or industry related terms.

For this reason, it's vital that you understand who your students are so you can tailor your lessons to their needs and requirements.

Classroom Management is Also Important

Don't forget about classroom management techniques, they can be especially important with adults. You may have a class full of students who are eager to learn, or you could have one joker who tries to run the show.

There's no one perfect classroom management technique that will work for every situation so it's important to have a variety of techniques at your disposal. If you can, talk to other people who teach English overseas to get ideas and tips that you can implement in your own class.

If you're getting ready to teach English to non-native speakers, use these tips to help your students become successful in their new language.

For over 20 years, AIDC has been helping native English speakers with information on how to teach English in Abu Dhabi. These jobs can provide teachers with one of a kind experiences they'll never forget. To learn more about teaching English overseas, please visit http://www.aidcinc.com/.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Chris_A._Harmen

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University of Melbourne Wins Tender to Develop Student Resilience Framework

The University of Melbourne logo
The University of Melbourne logo (Photo: Wikipedia)
on Premier of Victoria - Denis Napthine: http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/media-centre/media-releases/8824-university-of-melbourne-wins-tender-to-develop-student-resilience-framework.html 

Victorian students will learn how to make good decisions, when to ask for help and develop relationship and self-awareness skills through a new set of resources being created for schools.

Minister for Education Martin Dixon said the Victorian Coalition Government was partnering with the University of Melbourne to develop a Resilience Framework to support schools in teaching life skills.

"Education is more than teaching numbers and words - it's about preparing students for life during and after school," Mr Dixon said. "Victorian schools already have a strong wellbeing focus - making sure every student is supported to succeed at school.

"The Resilience Framework takes the next step - teaching students how to make good decisions when faced with life's challenges."

The Resilience Framework is an online resource that brings together a range of social, well-being and health resources in a one-stop-shop for schools.

The framework covers education about drugs, sexuality, respectful relationships, health promotion and developing social and emotional skills which are critical to improving academic performance and success in life.

University of Melbourne project leader Associate Professor Helen Cahill said the university was excited to be developing a key resource for Victorian students. "The Resilience Framework will equip educators with evidence-based approaches to promoting social and emotional wellbeing and health education in Victorian schools," Dr Cahill said.

"The University of Melbourne has extensive experience in developing resources for Victorian schools, including "Get Ready", a drug education resource for secondary schools."

Mr Dixon said the resources within the framework would be developed to suit different age groups. "The Resilience Framework is designed to educate students in a way they can relate to," Mr Dixon said.

"It includes resources for classroom use, for VCE and VCAL students and for parents and students to use at home. Schools can use the Resilience Framework to complement and support the discussions parents have at home with their children."

The framework will be released to schools in mid-2014.

Mr Dixon said the Resilience Framework is one of a wave of reforms in Victoria as a Learning Community to improve the wellbeing of students and staff at Victorian schools.

"The Victorian Coalition Government wants all Victorian schools to be safe, supportive and inclusive places, and that is why we are rolling out a raft of new resources, programs and supports for schools."

"With our Victoria as a Learning Community reform agenda, Victoria is taking the next steps in creating a learning community to make our school education even better." The new resources will also include:
  • Managing Challenging Student Behaviours professional development for teachers;
  • School-Wide Positive Behaviour Support grants program;
  • An online toolkit for principals, including advice and resources on how to effectively deal with aggressive parent behaviour.
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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Teaching English Tips: How To Be A Successful Teacher

English: Teaching and Learning
Teaching and Learning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Chris A. Harmen

If you're interested in moving abroad for a job teaching English, you'll likely find that it's quite different than being a teacher or tutor for native speakers.

However, before you move to start your new career, consider brushing up on some tips to help you become a better teacher.

These aren't the only ways to become successful, but they can certainly help your students learn the language.

Tip #1: Speak Entirely In English

If you've ever tried to learn another language, you know that it can be difficult, especially if you're trying to go back and forth between your new and native tongues.

Studies have shown that immersion classrooms are more successful, mostly because students are forced to switch their brains over to the new language.

If your students are just beginners, they may have problems following along so make sure that you write down any necessary information, such as homework assignments.

Students may need to look up a few words in a translation dictionary before they truly understand, and having the instructions written down will help ensure that they can complete the assignment at home.

Tip #2: Encourage Everyone To Speak Up

Instructors aren't the only ones who should be talking throughout the class. Students should feel free to speak to each other, without worrying about being mocked for making a mistake.

Learning a new language is difficult and everyone needs to actually say the words in order to be effective in their new language! Don't let a few outspoken students run the class though.

Teachers should make an effort to call on each student at least once a session to ensure that everyone is progressing as they should.

Tip #3: Require That Students Write In English

Have you ever met someone who's fluent in another language, but they can't read or write it? These are often people whose families speak other languages, but they learn another in school.

To help your students become successful in all parts of speech, make sure they write, as well as read and speak in the new language.

Tip #4: Make Teaching English Fun

Your class will learn better when they're having fun, even if they're adults. Nothing will put your class to sleep faster than a dry, boring lesson.

Instead, use games and other teaching gimmicks to make the lesson enjoyable for yourself and your class. Pictionary and charades are especially fun, as well as spelling bees and 20 questions.

If you notice that your class prefers certain games to others, try to adapt them for different lessons. Or, ask your students to come up with their own game to teach the class - when they're directly involved in their own education, they'll be more likely to be successful.

These aren't the only ways teachers can be successful when they're teaching English to non-native speakers, but they're certainly a good start. If you can, connect with others who are teaching English and work together to share ideas and strategies that will help you - and your class - to be successful.

For over 20 years, AIDC has been giving native English speakers the chance to find jobs in Abu Dhabi teaching English. These jobs can provide teachers with one of a kind experiences they'll never forget. To learn more about teaching English overseas, please visit http://www.aidcinc.com/.

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Chris_A._Harmen

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Doing a PhD Can be a Lonely Business But it Doesn’t Have to Be

(almost) all of the completed dissertations in...
Completed dissertations (G A R N E T)
by Hamza Bendemra, Australian National University

Completing a PhD is no small feat. It requires both high intellect and a great deal of tenacity.

But it can be lonely at the top, with many PhD students struggling with stress, feelings of isolation and depression.

The pressure can mean that many don’t see their degree through and drop out early.

But there are ways you can cope and increasingly many PhD students are turning to social media as a way to share their experiences and support each other.

Doing a PhD in Australia

In Australia, the average time to complete a PhD is around four years. In Europe, completing a PhD takes about five years while the average is seven and a half years in the United States.

According to a recent report from the Group of Eight (Go8) universities, between 2000 and 2010 the number of doctoral enrolments at Australian universities grew by 68% (from 27,966 to 47,066) while completion increased from (3,793 to 6,053 per year).

In 2011, there were a total of 118,396 PhD graduates living in Australia, which means having a PhD puts you - literally - in the top 1% (academically speaking that is).

In Australia, research students perform close to 57% of higher education research - yet many complain about a lack of support and feeling isolated. Indeed, surveys of Australian doctoral graduates show they rate the feeling of isolation as a major difficulty.

Looking at the drop-out rates, it is clear that many students lose the motivation to complete their studies. I found no recent Australian figures but in the United Kingdom, the failure rate can exceed 40%. And in the United States, only 57% of doctoral students complete their PhD within 10 years.

Many PhD students complain of a lack of support and feeling isolated. Piled Higher and Deeper by Jorge Cham - www.phdcomics.com

The very nature of the PhD process is prone to create a feeling of solitude. It often requires long stretches of work, much of which is done alone in an office or a lab. And trying to come up with the innovative edge to make your PhD stand out, will inevitably induce a great deal of stress.

Social media: a new lifeline

Increasingly, a number of PhD students are turning to social media to meet and support each other as they take the long and demanding journey of completing their PhD.

For many, social media breaks up the routine and creates a sense of community by linking up like-minded PhD students across several universities.

Blogging is also becoming increasingly popular as an easy way to document the research process. But it can also help in getting students to practise one of the greatest obstacles to finishing their thesis: writing.

Some academics are also encouraging students to write blog posts during their PhD - Dr Inger Mewburn and her blog The Thesis Whisperer is often shared in PhD student circles.

There are other sites like Study Hacks which helps students find the best way to study and 3 Month Thesis which offers a guide to a “painless PhD”.

There’s also Graduate Rise, a newly founded platform designed for PhD students to connect with each other (built by yours truly) and Research Whisperer, a blog similar to Thesis Whisperer but more focused on research in general.

Most importantly, being part of these communities and forums allows you to share your worries and ask for help. It can also help you to realise that your experience is not that uncommon amongst other PhD students.

Blogging is also a great way to have an impact and disseminate your research and can nurture a sense of optimism as you’re working through challenges and documenting your thought process.

It is also a great way to learn to deal with feedback, as harsh as it may seem at first - a key aspect of an academic career.

The Twitterverse and #PhDchat

Other social media tools such as Twitter are also proving to be quite useful for early career researchers and PhD students. A quick search of tweets featuring the hashtag #PhDchat will show thousands of tweets linking to various articles on how to efficiently tackle your research.

For PhD students experiencing extreme loneliness, Twitter has become something of a lifeline. It is also a great source of information and an efficient way to look for help, providing that is, you link up with people in a similar field as yours and expand your network.

In the era of social media, increasing your exposure and visibility through these tools is a small investment for a potentially large return that can aid with your research.

Nowadays the PhD is considered to be the summit of formal educational achievement and PhD programs tend to attract some of the best and brightest. The support within universities is not always in place, and without that support, the next generation of experts will not be nurtured.

Social media is providing one way for students to connect. After all, with that many voices of encouragement and support, it’s much harder to feel alone. 

Hamza Bendemra is the founder of GraduateRise.com

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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2013, The Year That Was: Education

Peter Whish-Wilson gives a Gonski
Peter Whish-Wilson gives a Gonski (Photo credit: Greens MPs)
by Bella Counihan, The Conversation

For most education watchers, this year has rushed by in a policy blur.

So much so that we thought we had better launch our very own shiny Education section just to help you keep on top of things.

The launch of the Education section - an area close to our hearts - meant we could finally give education issues pride of place.

And what a time to do it - yes, this year was the year of Gonski. And whether it was a conski or goneski, this one word - derived from businessman David Gonski’s review into schools funding - went from symbolising a policy vision to becoming a political football in a few short months.

In amongst some spectacular political flip-flopping and mishandling from both sides of politics, the basics of the funding reforms managed to hold on - sort of.

Our authors tried to cut through the morass and explain the equity and disadvantage problem in Australian education and the reasons the Gonski panel looked into schools funding in the first place.

As inequity hit our policy debate, private school girl Ja'mie hit our airwaves, reminding us of the stereotypes that we still harbour about private and public schools.

Our best-read education story since our launch was one that went back to basics - why some kids can’t spell and why spelling tests won’t help.

In fact, literacy and student performance became a flash-point this year because Australia’s results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests and National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) were underwhelming to say the least.

Because of this, we saw the revival of an old debate about the best way to teach children to read and write. Some said phonics, some said whole of language but back in the classroom, the best approaches still weren’t getting to where they’re needed.

In all that pessimism about literacy, the big picture globally is quite different, in fact literacy rates overall are on the up. So we wondered - what would a more literate world look like? It turns out, pretty much everything from crime rates to global health would improve.

National reports confirmed the importance of early childhood education at a time of big change in the sector. But reforms to increase salaries for some childcare workers and to improve the quality of early childhood education began to unravel.

After having five ministers in just one year, Australian universities also saw their fair share of ups and downs.

Despite promises of smooth sailing for the sector, we saw funding cuts announced, moves towards deregulation and cutting red tape, the prospect of a Commonwealth takeover and a review into the uncapped system just for a start.

But the higher education stories you were interested in looked at the real life experience of university life, including for those poor lonely PhD students, and a reality check on the use of so called “smart drugs” and academic doping.

Technology in education was another a big ticket item. If last year was the “year of the MOOC” - as the New York Times put it - then this year saw some of the hype around so called Massive Open Online Courses fizzle.

In fact, one of our best read articles took a closer look at one of the MOOC experiments - Udacity - and why it’s failing to fulfil the big promise of democratising higher education.

The prospect of getting rid of teachers and replacing them with “schools in the cloud” also got you reading, as did our continuing coverage of all things open access.

We also shed some light on the state of maths and science education in Australia with our series of expert articles - culminating in some heavy-hitting policy talk in Canberra. And it was a good thing too, as it turns out not many young people really understand climate change.

So without further ado, here’s our top five best read since Education launched …

The top five most-read stories since launch

Why some kids can’t spell and why spelling tests won’t help
Lost for words: why the best literacy approaches are not reaching the classroom
Doing a PhD can be a lonely business but it doesn’t have to be
Ditching Gonski: what’s so unfair about funding based on need?
Gonski is gone but can anything be salvaged?
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Friday, December 27, 2013

Lecturers Need Research Time Off-Campus to Best Teach Students

Excavations at the site of Gran Dolina, in Ata...
Archeology dig, Gran Dolina, Spain (Wikipedia)
by , The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/dec/20/lecturers-research-impact-on-teaching

"When the film was in development, there was a point when I was really struggling to make the script work," says director John Roberts, a two time Bafta award-winner who also lectures at Royal Holloway, University of London.

"Later on, I set it as an exercise for my students. It was about giving them a real problem I'd had to grapple with - how would they find a creative solution that made sense?"

Roberts' new film, Day of the Flowers, is set in Scotland and Cuba and features ballet star Carlos Acosta.

The lecturer invited students on to set as both extras and assistants, and used their observations of the practical reality of film-making to spark tutorial discussions.

In the current debate around higher tuition fees and what purpose universities exist to serve, he argues that providing students with a combination of practice and theory is vital in equipping them for working life.

This means, he says, that it's "vital" for lecturers to have a professional life away from university, "and really be engaged in their own industry in order to be the best teachers they can be and offer something special to students."

The chance to gain genuine insight into working practice, particularly in highly competitive industries, is the holy grail for soon-to-be graduates desperate to stand out from the crowd.

And applying academic study into practical reality can feel hard to do, so an academic who takes the trouble to involve students in their professional practice is likely to be very popular indeed.

"There are fantastic books on museology, on the politics of display, for example, but such resources rarely cover the practicalities of curating an exhibition," observes Gemma Blackshaw, a reader in art history at Plymouth University, who recently developed the National Gallery's 2013 autumn-winter exhibition for the Sainsbury Wing.

Rather than simply completing the high profile contract and enjoying the kudos, however, Blackshaw actively involved her students in the process of bringing the exhibition into being.

"How are loan negotiations handled; what happens when a painting isn't in the right condition to be put on display; how can you write a 40-word wall label for a visitor with a reading age of 13; how can exhibition design reinforce exhibition concept? Students were fascinated by these questions - dry study became rich experience," Blackshaw says.

Close contact with someone working on the "inside" also means that students start to grasp more about the realities of what her working life is like. "Students are always surprised at how collaborative exhibition projects are," she says.

"This isn't about working in an ivory tower, but co-operating with experts from the creative and cultural industries: restorers, architects, graphic designers, writers, editors, education officers, press officers and journalists. Academic research is just the starting point."

Many students who choose a degree in art history - or indeed any other subject where you might struggle to see an obvious career pathway - get worried that job options are being closed off to them.

But in fact, says Blackshaw, "a degree in art history, combined with experience of working with a lecturer who is both a university and a museum professional, widens their options, and this is often a source of great relief!"

For oceanographer Irene Delgado-Fernandez, who works at Edge Hill University near the Sefton coast, making the difficult, dynamic landscape of beaches and sand dunes come alive for students is critical to their deep understanding of the subject. "It is only by hands-on direct experience in the field that this is possible," she says.

Delgado-Fernandez regularly involves undergraduates in her research projects, helping them become familiar with field techniques and computer modeling in a live context that develops students' ability to adjust and adapt as a project requires.

Clearly, it takes extra effort and planning to involve undergraduates in ongoing academic research, but it's worth it because they don't just gain a level of practical competence, says Delgado-Fernandez - they gain skills that would be hard to come by just by reading.

"Students may simply evolve to a richer and more complex level of thought in class," she explains.

"They become more aware of the difficulties associated with investigating the natural world and the decisions that need to be made in research projects. They also become significantly more receptive and open to discussion - it assists in the development of independent and balanced views on topics."

Beaches are one thing. Finding yourself in a career in which tragedy stalks every one of your working hours might not, by contrast, seem that attractive. Even the most hardened student might balk at the prospect of working on mass graves on sites where massacres have taken place.

This, however, is where Ian Hanson focuses his research expertise. Now deputy director of forensic science for archaeology and anthropology at the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP), until recently he was a senior lecturer at Bournemouth University and still teaches there.

He says that even in this highly sensitive subject area, it has, with careful project design, been possible to involve students in elements of research for which there was a genuine need to get results.

"Having observed the difficulty in locating buried bullets at crime scenes and graves, we set MSc students the task of testing what happens to bullets when they're fired into the ground or are buried," he explains.

The experiments showed the best way of searching for and finding the maximum amount of ballistic evidence - a method which the ICMP has since taught to teams of investigators in Iraq who excavate mass graves.

For student researchers, the motivation that this type of meaningful contribution to society - both nationally and internationally - can foster is immense, Hanson observes.

And that passion for their subject is highly sought by employers who are looking to differentiate between a multiplicity of applicants for scarce jobs.

Prospective undergraduates who want to squeeze every last drop of value from their university experience might do well to ask: do lecturers just talk to us here, or will they let me learn alongside them as they explore and discover and interrogate their research interests beyond the lecture hall?
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