Tagged: hack

University Email: A PhD Exit Strategy

This post marks the third instalment in an occasional series on the underbelly of the PhD.  This week: Developing your exit strategy.

email iconSo you’ve submitted your PhD. Congratulations. OMG, you did it. Two gold-embossed hardbound copies handed over.  Maybe some tears.  Now you simply have to extricate yourself from postgraduate life and reconnect with the real world, your friends, your family and get some hobbies and exercise.

Of course, things do not stop, or even start properly here. There are administrative tasks that you will have to undertake following submission, for which there may be little information available. So let’s come to the point; this post is not about moving on, job hunting or developing your research career: it is about sorting out your university email. Thrilling, I know – but bear with me.

First thing’s first. Your email account has been an academically sanctioned identity for three or more years. And, unless you have a particularly benevolent institution that guarantees email for life, your account is about to end. Full stop.  You may receive a letter asking you to ‘forward all important emails to an external account’ before your account is sedated (suspended) and put out of its misery (erased). If, like me, you have come to rely on your university email, you need an exit strategy, fast.

First you need to recognise how important your email account is. My university email had been honed over the years; I’ve backed up chapters of my PhD and numerous other documents by emailing them to myself. My Outlook address book was incomplete – but the Outlook search function gave me access to details of hundreds of connections. The account also automatically sifted listserv messages from groups I’ve subscribed to, filing them for me to read, or search for specific keywords when I had time. These included:

In addition, all the projects I’ve worked on, applications I’ve made, files I’ve sent and received, funders I’ve communicated with, institutions I’ve visited – everything is recorded in my inbox.  In short, email represented a resource too important to lose, especially given the fact that networks and contacts are essential to next steps in academia. Now, two essential factors come into play. They’re so important; so you can quote me.

  1. Your email is not yours. It belongs to your university.
  2. Your university email address constitutes and validates your academic identity. This signifier is about to expire.

These two facts have various implications. Each requires action.

Step 1: Check the conditions of closure for your university email. At Nottingham, the process of suspension and closure was scheduled over a period of three-six months from my final submission date. My account was due to be suspended three months after submission (ceasing to function) and then deleted three months after that. Note: If you are at Nottingham, you still need to check this. Don’t blame me if conditions have changed.

Step 2: If you haven’t already got an alternative email account, you need to set one up. If you are considering changing your personal email, now is a good time.  In addition, you need to update any mailing lists, social networks, webpages and blogs so they point to your new address.

Step 3: Next set up a notice on your email account (using the Out of Office function) as soon as possible, to let everyone who emails you know, automatically, that your email address will be closing on a given date. This message should include a new email address where you can be reached, along with any other contact details as you see fit. Encourage people to update their address books and start using your new email to instigate communications and respond to messages.

Tip: If your University uses Outlook, you can set your Out of Office function up so anyone emailing you will only receive your closure notice once. If you are giving three months’ notice, you might like to reset this message each month to ensure no one slips through the net.  Adapt this rule as necessary.

Step 3: To reiterate: Your email is not yours. It belongs to your university. If you want to export your email, you have to take action. I was anxious to export my mailbox, so I contacted my institution’s IT Support Team. They indicated that I could export my email as an Outlook Data File (ODF). However, this would require their intervention, and advance permission from the University Registrar. I then contacted the postgraduate administrators in my Department to establish what was required for making this request formally. There were forms to complete, permissions to be gathered, and an appointment to be made with IT Support whilst I still had access to my PhD office desktop. The final steps at my institution were fairly smooth, and I received my email (all 200MBs of it) directly to my portable harddrive, in person. As soon as the file was made, however, my email stopped, so be aware that you need to schedule your email export carefully.

Warning: To access the emails and files contained in my ODF file, I required a new version of Outlook Express, at some expense.

Step 4: Alongside action to export your email, make sure you also forward your most important emails, contacts and documents from your university inbox to your external address.  This is essential, as there is no guarantee that your university will release your email to you, in a format that you can access, at a time that suits you.

Step 5: People will continue to try your old email address after it expires. So at this point, you should consider your online profile. If someone receives a ‘message undelivered’ notice and subsequently types your name into a search engine looking for a point of contact, can they find you easily? You need to make sure that your academic identity remains publically intact as you move on (either within, or without) your Alma Mata. LinkedIn is perhaps the least social of the social networks, but I have found it functions well as an address book for academics on the move. Academia.Edu will also allow you to present yourself, your work and connections. These are two amongst a plethora of options.

Step 5: Recognise that many of your colleagues will not be taking the steps outlined above. Staying in touch with other students (now distinguished PhDs) from your class is important, but not always easy. Again, in my experience, unless your department routinely gives notice of who has completed their viva, corrections and submitted, colleagues can disappear from your wider peer group without a trace.  Facebook has proven to be where I have kept up with the majority of my class, particularly international PhDs, who graduated before and after me, and who are now spread all over the world. However, it’s important not to assume that everyone will be on Facebook, or want to be on Facebook.

So these are my 5 steps to email freedom. Any comments are welcome.


The Agony and the Ecstasy: Making Post Viva Corrections

Tips for Thesis-Making: The Second in an Occasional Series

This article marks the second in my very occasional series on the brute mechanics of getting your doctorate. As my last article (page numbering for your thesis) was a big hit, today I present some psychological and practical tips for dealing with post-viva corrections, alongside a small but significant service offered by Word that could save you significant heartache.

Much of the PhD’s final processes are shrouded in mystery. Yes, there are books and official guidance, for example, on selecting examiners and preparing for the viva voce examination, however, it is well known that no two vivas are the same. The distant country between the viva and graduation is even more mysterious. This enigmatic land was something I could barely countenance in the run-up to my own viva. It can be given scant regard in the “How To Get That PhD” books that garner every doctoral student’s shelves, simply because the corrections required will vary wildly between one student and the next. In this respect, corrections can be (wrongly) filed under ‘more of the same’.

If you are awarded your PhD with corrections, minor or major, the completion of these corrections may not be ‘more of the same’. Indeed they may be painful. If you have pushed hard to submit, perhaps testing yourself (and your dependents and supporters) to the limit, the elation of completing the viva can easily invert. Getting up the stamina required to keep going after what was meant to be the final hurdle may be difficult.  Your examiners report should be specific and it is to this end that you will be working. However, there are four additional points I would like to share. Take heed!

Attend Only to What the Examiners Have Requested

You now know your thesis inside out, having written it, and revised it for the viva. Part of the PhD process is learning to critically engage with your own work. As a result, at the end of your PhD you know that you would do things differently with the benefit of hindsight – moreover, you see the flaws in every chapter. Do not rewrite your thesis. Only attend to what the examiners have requested. This sounds straightforward, but requires vigilance.

Clarify Examiner Requests

There is a chance that some of the examiners’ requests are not crystal clear, or could be interpreted in varying ways. Check your examiners report very closely as soon as you receive it (or as soon as you can face looking at it).  If you do need to contact your examiners to clarify on any point, check with your supervisor or department on the correct protocol for this clarification and act on this advice quickly. If you are working to a new timetable (for example, for graduation, or time-limited corrections) you need to forefront this task, as you may have to make your request through a departmental intermediary who contacts your examiners on your behalf. From this point, your examiners may not be able to easily liaise to resolve your request quickly, particularly during the holidays or over conference season.

Note: if you are reading this pre-viva,  prepare to clarify examiner feedback during the viva itself to pre-empt this scenario.

Do Not Create Blockages

When attending to your examiners report, some corrections will be more substantial than others. Corrections can range from typographic errors – to significant chapter revisions. You may find that you do not deal with some of these rewrites as quickly as you planned – in my case I found I became seriously stuck on two occasions. In truth, I had already answered my examiner’s requirements, but I was obsessing over details that simply weren’t important. In reterospect, I think I was, by this point, close to burn out. I have seen other postgraduates in similar positions. As previously stated, this kind of attention to detail is a symptom of your critical and expert engagement with your field, you are now aware of the limits to your expertise and the weaknesses of your thesis. As stress increases, the ability to make sound decisions about prioritising within your work becomes befuddled and there is a tendency to slip into cyclical thinking that slows you down. You will not be able to resolve every wicked philosophical issue that your PhD touches on.  You must recognise that what you are experiencing is common to postgraduates in your situation. Make your arguments, as the examiners have requested, and move on. Do not look back.

If the issue is writer’s block Sifter has 5 great tips on getting going.

Create an Examiners Report: Review your corrections using Word

It is good form to submit a short report with your revised thesis to highlight for examiners where you have made the changes they requested (with page and chapter references) and any other changes (for example editing for length, or rectifying typographic errors).  If you have been making multiple changes across various drafts, it can be easy to forget quite what you did, and where. Moreover, it can be easy to underestimate the time that writing this report will take. As a result, I recommend the following step-by-step cheat for Word users as an opening gambit.

With the following ingredients you can create a document that clearly highlights all the changes you have made to your thesis. You will need:

  • A clearly labelled COPY of the thesis that you originally submitted to your examiners pre-viva.
  • A clearly labelled COPY of the current, final version of your thesis.

We are going to create a new document from these two files that merges them together and highlights (using Show Changes) where alterations have been made. Note, the following instructions work for Word 2007, but the functionality remains in other versions of Word.

Open Word with a blank document.

On the Review menu, select Combine.

Selecting Combine via the Review Menu in Word 2007
Selecting Combine via the Review Menu in Word 2007

From here you will be presented with the opportunity to open your original document (the submitted thesis) and the revised document (your new version). Click “OK” and a new document will open, combining the two files and highlighting the changes that have been made. Save this under a separate file name.

For earlier versions of Word, the process will differ. From memory, Word 2003 requires that you open your newest version of your thesis.  Go to the Tools menu, through which you select Compare and then Merge Documents.  You will be given the option to select a file. Select your original Thesis. Then click on “Merge into Current Document”. You will now have a version of your thesis that highlights all the changes you have made over the course of your revisions. Save this under a new file name.

With your corrections highlighted in this way, you can skim your combined document and review your examiners report for anything you’ve missed.

Any comments or corrections are welcome, as always.

Journal Hacks for PostGraduates

Impact and Dissemination: two words to strike fear into the heart of any research student.  However, sharing your research is important, particularly in emergent and interdisciplinary fields, where research can become lost between academic genres. Publication is also increasingly necessary for bagging an academic post following study.   Fortunately, there are several straightforward ways for you to get your research Out There. For those with a finished thesis this may mean publishing a string of papers stemming from the PhD across several journals. For others, it may be preferable to publish a thesis online in a University or Open Access repository (for example nottingham Universities etheses repository), or with a Creative Commons licence in a personally hosted space. Importantly, the two may be mutually exclusive: some journals will not publish research that is already in the public domain for copyright reasons. As a result – consider which approach you will adopt, and which you can reasonably achieve.

With debate raging over the future of academic publishing, copyright and closed versus open access models of publishing your publication decisions may be swayed by ethics, politics, practical issues of audience share, accessibility and/or consciously aligning yourself with institutional values. In any event, between and amongst these controversies there are other opportunities available for sign-posting your work at both the middle and end of your studies. In each of the following instances I sketch options available to PhDs, postgrads and even…undergraduates.

Using a Journal to Circulate your Abstract

Last year, the journal of Disability and Society launched a ‘completed thesis’ list section to their journal to encourage new PhDs to share their research with a wider research community and help build Disability Studies as a discipline.

The journal cites this as as an important resource for readers, as well as a mode for sharing the names of new entrants to the discipline. Embracing new entrants in which way, is an important step for any learning community, be it focussed on a journal or a wider discipline. Junior researchers contribute new ideas to any discipline. Moreover, boosting the status of undergraduate and postgraduate researchers in the production of knowledge, promotes what Tang, Xi and Ma (2006) identify as the ‘scale free’ or egalitarian networks that prove more effective for knowledge transfer than traditional hierarchical networks.

I submitted my 100 word synopsis several months ago, and I recently received notice that my abstract will be included in the December issue of Disability and Society (Volume 26, Number 7). The information I submitted ran as follows:

  • Name of author: Sarah Lewthwaite
  • Thesis title: Disability 2.0: Student dis/Connections. A study of student experiences of disability and social networks on Campus in Higher Education.
  • University awarding degree: University of Nottingham, UK, PhD 2011.
    At university many undergraduates depend upon social networks such as Facebook to enter student life.  Using accessible internet-enabled interviews with 18 disabled students from three UK universities, this qualitative study examines disability as a socio-technical, networked experience. Networked publics are found to be highly normative. For some disabled students the network supports ‘normal’ status. For others, the network must be resisted as a form of social domination that is punitive and disabling. Foucauldian analysis demonstrates how, in each instance, social andtechnical network conditions propel students towards disciplinary techniques that mask diversity, rendering disability invisible. As a result, disability is both produced and suppressed by the network.

When drafting this text I was aware of a tension between the language of internet research / digital sociology (“networked publics”) and a wider Disability Studies audience.  I would not claim that this abstract is by any means “plain language” or summarises a 100,000 word thesis adequately. However, I do feel that my most important conclusions are outlined and key words gesturing to specific methods and discourses are highlighted (“Foucauldian”, “accessible”).

If you are a scholar in disability research, I highly recommend that you add a submission to the “completed thesis” to your post-phd ‘to do’ list. If you are working in another discipline, you may want to check journals in your field for similar opportunities, or request that this kind of space is developed.

Position Pieces and Student Perspectives

A second opportunity for postgrads is available in the form of a position piece. These are often short communication papers (not necessarily requiring data and hard research) that assert a new perspective on a research domain. Postgraduates are often uniquely positioned to supply these viewpoint pieces, bringing fresh ideas into a field. I was invited to submit such a paper to the journal of Learning Media and Technology who have a Viewpoint section combining postgraduate perspectives with more established arguments. This kind paper allows you to position your arguments within a field without exposing unfinished data. Check the journals in your field for similar opportunities.

In addition, Student Perspective sections are also valuable.  Disability and Society have launched a ‘Student Perspectives’ section for such papers. Again, this offers an excellent space for position pieces exploring any topic relating to disability research. The journal’s invitation for submissions runs as follows:

We have established a section within the Journal, entitled Student Perspectives, in which student papers will be published. Papers will be refereed and can explore any topic related to disability issues and questions. The papers must be authored by students undertaking under-graduate, postgraduate or research degrees. The papers need to be between 3000 and 7000 words (maximum).
The papers should:

  • Provide an adequate review of disability studies literature.
  • Have clearly acknowledged sources.
  • Be specifically written for the Journal taking into account its ethos and audience.
  • Conform to the academic requirements of the Journal
  • Where necessary adequately discuss the methods used.
  • Have particular attention paid to the presentation and analysis of empirical data.
  • Pay attention to the Journal’s policy on language.

The paper should not be a straight reproduction of work produced for academic assessment.
Submission details are the same as for main articles. See link to Instructions for Authors.

This is great for sharing an angle on a final year project, MA/MSc/MRes work or early PhD findings and literature that brings something new to the field, but might not constitute a full research paper.  It may also also offers a useful sandpit for those researching outside traditional social disciplines where a project may be undertaken but rarely disseminated outside a department, despite valuable findings (Computer Scientists, I’m looking at you). Importantly, Disability and Society invite both undergraduate and postgraduate submissions, so if you are undertaking research or developing a position at any level of university study – you have the opportunity to enter the refereeing process and potentially share your research in a international academic journal. Guidance is published on the Disability and Society webpages.

All of the above are possible, in addition to more traditional forms such as Letters and Book Reviews. If I have missed anything, or if you have additional thoughts, please comment.

Page Numbering for Your Thesis

Tips for thesis-making: the first in an occasional series.

Your university or department will supply specific guidance on page formatting and the presentation of the thesis, but in my experience (and the experience of PhD students around me) finding the information on how to achieve correct presentation of a thesis using Word is surprisingly difficult, as is remembering the process once you’ve worked it out. In particular, issues of page numbering (sounds simple: it isn’t) and combining separate chapter documents whilst maintaining/generating Endnote references without duplication (sounds complicated: it is) can add hours to tight submission timescales. In this first post I address page numbering. This is not a beginners guide to Word. This is aimed at people with reasonable proficiency.

I know what you want to do. You have combined all of your chapters and additional appendices, abstract etc into one document. You have saved the thesis file. You have backed up the file, diligently, in a million different places. You now need a Title page without numbering, the following pages (your acknowledgements, abstract, table of contents, table of figures) require Roman Numerals, your thesis then begins on what needs to be Page 1, the first page of your first chapter and run throughout the remainder of this substantial document. Of course you know what you want do to. Now we just have to get Word to do your bidding.

First, remove any pre-standing page numbers from your document. Next, on the Home menu, go to the Paragraph section and select Show/Hide Formatting button (to ‘show paragraph marks and other hidden formatting symbols’). This will allow us to see the formatting interventions we are about to make. 

A Word Menu is shown with the Show Formatting button highlighed
A Word Menu is shown with the Show Formatting button highlighed

The next step is to insert a Section Break between the early pages of your thesis and what will be Chapter 1 Page 1. The Section Break is the key. In Word 2007 (my current edition) the section break is found on the Page Layout menu as ‘Breaks’. Firstly, make sure you have selected the area where you wish the page numbers to be differentiated (the page before Chapter1). Now, go to Page Layout > Breaks. It has a sub menu (pictured) containing Page Break options and Section Break options. Select “Next Page: Insert a section break and start the new section on the next page”. The Section Break may alter formatting around it. Keep the section break and make whatever changes need to be made to keep everything else in its place.

Page Layout menu shown with Breaks submenu and Section Break option
Page Layout menu shown with Breaks submenu and Section Break option

 Now we add the numbers. Above the Section Break, select the Insert menu. From there, click next to Page Number to access the Page Number Menu. Select “Format Page Number”. In the box marked “Page Number Format” select your preferred numbering for the opening pages of your thesis.

Next, with your cursor still in the opening section of your thesis, insert page numbers in the usual way. This should give you your desired numbering for the opening sections of the thesis.

To add usual numbering to the main part of the document you need to return to the Page Numbering menu. Select “Format Page Number”. In the box marked “Page Number Format” select your preferred numbering for the remaining pages of your thesis.
Move your cursor to a section of the thesis after your Section Break (where usual numbering is intended). Now insert page numbers in the usual way. At this point you should have number i, ii, iii, iv, through to 1, 2, 3, 4, for the whole document.

But what about your title page? This is currently page i, and it doesn’t look great. Click your mouse in the footer of the first page. A new Design menu is activated at the top of the Word window (pictured). In the Design menu, go to the Options sub menu, and tick the box marked “different first page”. This will remove the number from your title page.

The Design menu is shown with the
The Design menu is shown under the Header and Footer Tools tab. From here the Different First Page can be selected.

Congratulations, you’re done! If you have an automatically generated Table of Contents, update it now to see the results.