Tagged: postgraduate

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.


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.