Category: College

Building research leaders and supervisors with Hugh Kearns

Are you sometimes worried about the progress of your research students and what happens with them?

Hugh Kearns, a Sligo-born research coach from Australia, ran two courses on this topic in the last week of January in Dublin: Building research leaders and Research supervisor support& development workshop. Hugh gave us best-practice tips, some of which I bring in this post.

Figure 1. The long road to project completion
  1. Supervisor vs advisor
    Language matters. While both of the above terms imply a person who ‘sees’ more than the other person, nobody’s view is really super-ior in science. A more experienced researcher can provide an add-itional perspective on student’s work only.
  2. PhD students never die; they just fade away
    Proper supervision perfects students. Busy advisors often overlook this simple truth. A PhD research project is a long-distance run that requires a lot of motivation and support. The former can be instilled by the latter. Think about your time before you take on a research student.
  3. Give them small victories
    Midway through the project, many students fade away simply because of the time that it takes to complete it. Breaking the bigger task into smaller steps creates opportunities for instilling a sense of mastery when students complete a smaller step, for example, a paper on a related subject.
  4. That’s enough – stop now
    The advisor’s perspective and experience is most valuable here. Data collection can go on forever. The literature review can reveal new and interesting studies all the time. This way, the research project won’t end. The golden rule applies to this problem perfectly: Less is more.
  5. GYO PhDs…
    Mentoring relationship and quality of the mentor are the most important factors of a successful student project. If the student and mentor have a chance to work together on a smaller project first, they can better decide whether they want to continue working on a PhD. A great way to start growing your own PhDs is to advertise your research topics on your website or notice board: “Here are the topics that I’m interested in supervising”
  6. Listen to your tummy
    Our research intuition is often the best indicator when deciding about a new student or when the progress is slow. If your tummy tells you something’s wrong, step back and take a moment to think about what caused it.
  7. Meetings build structure into a relationship
    Each mentoring meeting should have an agenda. Ask to student to take the ownership of agendas and meeting minutes, e.g., send in advance, remind me of what I’m supposed to do? Where’s the agenda?
  8. Airtime?
    If your speech takes too much of the meeting airtime, the student might not learn anything. Good questions for prompting students are:
    Tell me what you’ve been doing? Tell me what you think we’ve agreed? Tell me what you’re going to do next.
  9. Quick sneak peek at your results
    Some students might find it intimidating to send whole chapters for review by their mentor. To make it easier for them, you could ask then to send you an outline, a draft or bring a copy to the meeting. The key is to instill hope that the review won’t be shredded their work into pieces.
  10. Grains of sand on the beach
    Some PhD projects lead to Nobel prizes, but most don’t. Most graduate students understand the impact they can make on the world, but it’s no harm to emphasize that however small, their work counts.

The second workshop was part of the new Research support and supervisor development programme at the University College Dublin. This programme is targeted at both new, inexperienced research supervisors and those more experienced staff who would like to refresh their knowledge in the area. The 6 last-Friday workshops will be based on sharing of practices with experienced supervisors and students, case studies, open forum discussions and knowledge sharing with colleagues on policy in the research supervisory field. Watch this space for my observations from these workshops.

Facing the fear: alcohol and mental health conference in Ireland (#facingthefear)

On Wednesday, 20 November 2013, I’ve attended this conference in the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin, Ireland. The conference was organized by alcohol action Ireland. What were the fears that the presenters encouraged us to face? Read about them below

Dr Bobby Smyth started his talk with a brief intro into the ways by which culture and language shape attitudes about drinking – a cultural learning to drink. He saw teens as apprentice adults, learning by observation. The age when they start to drink has gradually lowered during the Irish boom. Who’s fault is that? The alcohol industry and crazy sports sponsorships play a role. Also, “our culture encourages us to drink to overcome low mood”.

Teens learn to wipe on the shoulder of vodka. If they continue to “bathe” their brain in alcohol soup, they are rolling the dice – can we stop it rolling or roll it safely? Dr Smyth provided their book as a guide for dealing with some of these issues (see Fig 1).

One of the key drinking motives is the social motive – alcohol is a social lubricant. This is reflected in the language too. Eskimos are surrounded by snow all year round and have 100 words for it. There are 120 words for the state of alcohol intoxication in Ireland. People have stopped having fun sober. Moral language of industry-sponsored sites is often substituted for more effective strategies. Slogans like drink sensibly can hardly foster behavior change.

Prof Ella Arensman spoke about the focused on health& women, especially on the seasonal patterns of self-harm and public holidays.

Dr Conor Farren addressed the relationship between alcohol and mental health issues, including depression. He also showcased his book (see Fig 2).

Dr Philip McGarry spoke about alcohol’s impact on mental health in Northern Ireland.

After lunch, the delegates came back for a panel discussion featuring Dr Claire Hayes, John Higgins and Fr Pat Seaver.

Watch the speakers’ presentations here

Does enthusiasm improve outcomes?

What drives you at your research work?

What do you want to do when you grow up?

What jobs did you have before your career in research?

These, and other, questions came to me during my recent sabbatical in Portland, Oregon. I had time to reflect and step back from the hectic research life. The frenetic chase for money and articles can disconnect researchers from their internal motivation – their primary drive.

If goals are too distant, and are obstructed by too many obstacles, they can get out of site. Continuous re-connection with personal motivated and awareness of own goals keep us driven. Enthusiasm can improve professional performance.

In his book, Clueless in Academe (2003), Gerald Graff argues that schools should use students’ drive to read sports or music magazines for academic purposes. Their interest, if directed properly, should one day bring them to libraries, he hopes.

Many students are not interested in academic topics. Their motivation is weak and affects results. At my final undergraduate exam from personality psychology, the examining professor disagreed with Graff’s assertion. He was convinced that students should spend more time studying subjects which they disliked than their favourite subjects.

Although I disagreed with him, I fully endorsed his conclusion that the disliked subjects are likely to attract less practice time, followed by academic failure, provided that students’ talents do not compensate for lack of practice. At the same time, I think that students need not to excel in every subject. Each day has only 24 hours and no one can do everything – some things have to be neglected. Students need to prioritize their activities. The decisions about preferences shape their lives and future careers. Natural interests are likely to draw students closer to themselves, leading to better self-understanding. Natural interests should be supported.

Book:
Gerald Graff (2003). Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003, 320 pages

Re-entry shock – you can’t go home again

Culture shock is defined by Wikipedia as the “difficulty people have adjusting to a new culture that differs markedly from their own. A reverse culture shock a.k.a. “re-entry shock” or “own culture shock” is a state when returning to one’s home culture after growing accustomed to a new one produces the same effects.

First culture shock hit me when I arrived to Portland, Oregon, in March. I thought it was over then and that there will be no more surprises about adjusting to my normal life in Europe. I did not know that the second culture shock comes when people return to their home country. Many students on exchange programs experience it. Here’s my rant.

Big surprise

The shock of the transition to Portland, OR, was surprisingly weak. It took me only a couple of days to adjust and embrace the new life there. The easier this transition went, the more difficult the second transition was.  It was new and unexpected for me. The beginnings were really difficult, manifesting in confusion and other negative feelings.

Business as usual – as if we never left

My normal life, as I knew it before, was over. Most things remained the same. The things I hated before are still there and I still hate them. But I was not the same at all. I could not avoid a feeling of disconnect between the past and the present life. Another fellow told me a story of how on her first day at work, everything turned as it was in a split second. There was just one word of her boss and just one look of her colleague and she was back to her old relationships.

Repulsion

Stereotyping and hostility towards host nationals were not as new to me as other re-entry symptoms. When we came to Ireland first time, everything and everybody looked very different. This time, my eyes became very critical this time, though; every small weakness of the new-old country seemed like a giant disadvantage.

Physiological stress reactions

I was lucky not to have any serious stress reactions, but some of my friends suffered. Depression was lurking in the background and sometimes jumped into Facebook statuses, e.g. “I have grown two wings but I can’t fly”. Examples of what happened to people who came back included divorce, no house, no job, mood swings, or people at work are not welcoming them. Compulsive eating/ drinking/ weight gain occurred too: another fellow have lost 5 kg while on fellowship but upon her arrival she toured her family for 2 weeks and gained that weight again. My mother in law lived in UK for five years and when she came back home, she wanted to return to UK immediately.

Disappointment – inability to apply new knowledge and skills

People aren’t interested in my experiences from abroad. I will never be able to use the knowledge I have gained abroad. Ambitions and competition hinder cooperation, people see you like their enemy. In the previous country, if they saw you being good at something, they supported you. Here, they envy you and try to make it harder for you. This country is broke and there are no growth opportunities. There are no money, no jobs. I could do much more if I stayed there. Smart people struggle to survive here. How can they live in such miserable conditions?

Rootlessness – I don’t belong here

Feelings of alienation and withdrawal are common symptoms of culture shock. I felt that people aren’t nice here. They don’t appreciate if I smile at them or if I start talking to them. They don’t like me and don’t understand me. I feel so weak here, so helpless and isolated. I need their response or feedback. I need to engage with them. People see the “wrong” changes when they look at me. “You’ve lost weight” somebody said and I didn’t believe her. Three other people said it later. This was not the type of change I was proud of or that I wanted them to recognize.

Boredom

The shift from a big town in a big country to a smaller country was dramatic. This is a small town, there’s nothing here. This is nothing. No life, no culture, no fun. It is boring. Services are undeveloped, ineffective and slow. They are not customer orientated. People are dull and everything is made on such a small scale that it doesn’t even matter. Everything is small. Cars, trains, houses are small; I need more space to live better. Bicycling is unsafe, there are no bike lines and cars don’t share the road with cyclists. The streets are dirty and the greens are overgrown; nobody cuts them regularly.

Our flat is very small; we need to move out to a better place. I don’t like this area; I don’t understand how I could live here before. We threw away most of our things when we came back home. Our home was not our home any more. This state is well phrased in the saying “you can’t go home again,” first coined by Thomas Wolfe in his book of the same name.
Hope

When people return home after living abroad, it can take a while to adjust to their home country. Some don’t get used to it at all. I had the privilege to meet people who succeeded in bending their new lives. The new life wasn’t great. They lived in small apartments and struggled financially. But at least some of them enjoyed what they worked on. It was a demanding and low-salaried job, and often not just one. This gives me hope that things can get better. This country doesn’t have big events, venues or communities, but there are many small, which can serve the same purpose.

Helping agonist patients with alcohol problems: A NEW guide for primary care staff

What should doctors do differently when screening for alcohol use and delivering brief interventions for agonist patients in primary care? General principles remain the same like for other people, but:
  1. the screening and treatment processes should be more systematic and proactive in all problem drug users, especially in those with concurrent chronic illnesses or psychiatric co-morbidity,
  2. lower thresholds should be applied for both identification and intervention of problem alcohol use and referral to specialist services,
  3. special skills and specialist supervision is required if managing persistent/dependent alcohol use in primary care.