Friday, July 30, 2010

Lums and posters

As part of University-wide centenary celebrations, our school recently held an open day to catch up with our psych alumni (or ‘lums’, as termed by our head of school).

Head of School, Prof. Bill von Hippel welcomes our 'lums'.

The day started with a few short presentations about cutting edge research in the school. Prof. Kim Halford showed us evidence for the efficacy of his couples-based intervention, used to help deal with stressful events. Next, Prof. Jason Mattingley spoke about the emergence of cognitive neuroscience as a discipline and how neuropsychological conditions, such as synaesthesia, can inform us about how the brain works. Prof. Virginia Slaughter told us about her work on theory of mind and how it helps us understand autism. Finally Prof. Jolanda Jetten told us that having multiple social identities, as opposed to one, increases our quality of life in many ways.

Each of the profs giving their presentation.

There was also a poster session where a bunch of students, including Will, Matt, Wen, and I, got to show off our research to the lums (James could have presented his EPC poster but he lost it somewhere). Since I hadn't made a poster before, I saw this as a golden opportunity to get in some poster practice prior to the conference in October.

A bunch of ladies engrossed by my poster.

Here you can see Will digressing from his poster and educating the crowd with an impromptu lesson in eye-poking.
Will demonstrating the ‘two-pronged’ approach on a volunteer audience member.

Afterwards we had a small ceremony to congratulate our lums on their successes since leaving the school. Each had an opportunity to speak about their experiences here at UQ and it was great to hear what the school was like before I was born (did you know that McElwain was a real person and it’s pronounced MAC-Elwain?!) The lums spoke about how some things have changed (everyone used to be clinical, now there’s an even spread across all disciplines) and how some things are still the same (the tearoom still hosts lively lunchtime discussion).

Anyway, it was great to meet some of our lums, especially when we blew their minds with our research!

Thanks to Matt for most of the pictures :)

- Morgan

Are you studying Psychology@UQ and want to contribute to theuqpsycblog??Send Will an email to find out how:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Double black semester

Doing a PhD is like any other job where you’re entitled to take about four weeks holiday per year. Unlike fellow blogger Matt who sometimes spends his holiday rubbing shoulders with legends of psychology, I chose to spend my last holiday in beautiful Queenstown, New Zealand. I just got back from nothing but 10 days of snowboarding, hot chocolates, amazing restaurant meals, and wine tours.

Taking a break at Coronet Peak, NZ.

But for it to have been so much fun, this holiday actually took quite a lot of psychological preparation for me - normally when I go on holidays I fill my spare time with bits and pieces of work that I need to catch up on, reading journal articles in my spare time, and replying to emails of students’ questions.

The truth is, three years is not a long time to do a PhD (in the US as a comparison, a PhD program usually takes about seven years), so I had quite a bit of anxiety about losing almost two weeks of time that I could be getting a lot of work done. But what’s the point of going on a holiday if it’s just going to stress you out? That would be ironical.

I decided that I wasn’t going to look at any data, I wasn’t going to write a word of a manuscript, I wasn’t going to program, and I’d only reply to emails if it seemed urgent.

And it almost worked - I didn’t stress out about what I needed to get done, and I didn’t stress out about not doing any work for such a long period of time. I say it “almost” worked because I couldn’t help myself but to think about all the cool experiments that could be done involving snowboarding, but that just made me enjoy myself more.

For example, I’d like to know if beginner snowboarders’ estimates of the angle of a steep slope are less accurate than professionals’ estimates. I think beginners would overestimate the steepness of a slope, especially if they were standing up the top! Hopefully one day I can get funding to test this out.

So I’m back into things this week, madly scrambling to get an eye tracker working at QBI, learning a new programming language and getting an experiment running by next week, and preparing for tutoring for a subject I’ve never tutored before. It’s only week one, and this is already what my calendar looks like:


Are you studying Psychology@UQ and want to contribute to theuqpsycblog?? Send Will an email to find out how:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Earlier this year I told my boss that I wanted to start a PhD after I return from a conference in October. It would really be the perfect time to st
art. See, I’ve promised my girlfriend we’ll go to Brazil for the 2014 Soccer World Cup. The 2010 World Cup has just finished, meaning if I start after the conference in October, then it gives me just over 3.5 years to finish a PhD (and learn Portuguese) before holidaying it up in Brazil after I submit my thesis.

James recently began his PhD and it took him about two months, from starting his application to getting the acceptance email, to become an enrolled Ph
D student. Even though there was a hiccup with his application I think the transition from impostor to PhD student was pretty quick and seamless for James. Since his topic and supervisors progressed naturally from his work as a research assistant, James didn’t need to spend time coming up with a new topic or getting chummy with an academic he hardly knew (although you could argue that was what he did throughout his time as an RA).

Unlike James (and others), I don’t have my heart set on a particular topic or supervisor, I just want to do a PhD! By all rights that should make my decision much easier but it hasn’t. People have offered me advice about picking topics or supervisors. Some say to ignore the topic for now and to just think about the supervisor that I want to work with. On the other hand, some have said that the supervisor doesn’t really matter, it’s t
he topic that counts. It’s safe to say I’m still feeling pretty confused...

I get back from the conference in three months. If it took James two months to get accepted, then I’ve got a month to find a supervisor and a topic before I submit my application!! Stay tuned!

If you are a veteran PhD student please feel free to leave advice in the comments section :)

(See you in Brasil!)

Are you studying Psychology@UQ and want to contribute to theuqpsycblog??Send Will an email to find out how:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Three months down (and how many to go?)

I started a PhD in March of this year, and I would like to share the experience of my first three months.

People react to my new ‘profession’ in academia in difference ways. Some are impressed (“Wow, you’re doing a PhD?!”), some are disdainful (“You’re still at uni?”), some are horrified (“Academia? But they make no money!”), and others, my favourite, are interested (they let me harp on about my research). It appears that people have different ideas about what a PhD involves, and it turns out I didn’t really know either.

I had vague notions of conferences in exotic locations, flexible work days, doing exciting research, and other glamorous activities. Those first three months certainly brought me back to earth.

My 1st week was full of excitement. I was ready to get to that ground breaking research with my new office, new computer, two knowledgeable supervisors and that mysterious flexible timetable. My war hardened friends told me I’d get over it soon enough and they were only too right.

By the 2nd week I was considerably subdued, having difficulty coming up with that perfect topic, and wondering what I was supposed to do with all this free time. The 3rd and 4th weeks are hardly worth mentioning, other than to say I was beginning to wonder what I had got myself into. All that friendly advice that finding a topic takes time wasn’t helping to fill my empty days.

Finally, week 5, and I thought I had found a topic I could get excited about! Unfortunately, through a complicated process involving excessive reading and supervisor meetings, I was shot down. This left me feeling very lost and confused, and over the next few weeks, I seriously began to consider if I should be doing a PhD. Was I really cut out for a life of research, with a constant uphill battle for ideas, grants, positions, time, and failed experiments? All around me were people at various stages of their research careers, excited to be coming in on weekends and so passionate about the research they were doing. What was I doing wrong?

My turning point was when I sat my supervisor (Phil Grove) down and told him all my worries. For any prospective PhD enthusiasts – listen when people say your supervisor is there to help!! He dismissed my feelings of unworthiness and told me that it takes time.

This wasn’t a revelation, but for some reason, this time it sank in. I realised a PhD isn’t supposed to be easy! It may seem silly, but it took me three months to realise that academia is just like any other job, with its good and bad days. You need to be passionate about research, but ultimately the key factor is persistence. It isn’t something to be impressed or horrified by, but if you must – be both! Academia is just a bunch of crazies who are really passionate about research, working really hard and having a lot of fun.

In case you’re wondering, I’m now happily ensconced in my lab, working on an experiment for my very own topic, very happy that I persisted.


Are you studying Psychology@UQ and want to contribute to theuqpsycblog??Send Will an email to find out how: