Human Factors in Road Safety – Part 1

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Road-safety I have been trying to write this post since November 1, 2014 but due to some unforeseen reason it was never saved. Sometimes the connection was too pathetic to write a complete post. Once even the computer was dead. All these led to an obscene amount of delay on writing this post. In this blog so far I have concentrated upon the PhD process. What to expect when you start, Literature Reviewing, PhD viva and similar academic things. I though it is only fair at this point to write something about my own research.

My thesis was titled: “An Approach to User Centred Road Design: Blending Distributed Situation Awareness with Self Explaining Roads.” All that psychobabble in simple words mean designing a road which instantly tells you what is going on and what to expect with least mental effort. The first logical question to be asked at this point is, “how can a road tell us this? It is just plain physical road. I should be more attentive while I drive.” Have you ever noticed in your day to day life that certain objects helps you instantly interpret its functions and use it seamlessly? For example, in my parents’ kitchen there are two taps. One is for hot water and the other is for cold. There is no sign on either of them which one is which. So, after a lot of trial and error I have figure out which one is which. And mind you I live in a desert so hot here is VERY HOT WATER. This is an example of poor design of the taps. There is no interaction between the user and taps. Unless you burn yourself there is no way of knowing ‘what is going on’. This is called ‘Situation Awareness’ (SA). The tap, the sink, water and I make a system. For a painless tap usage there needs to be adequate SA in the system. This SA is maintained by SA transaction. So, there is a broken SA transaction between me and the tap hence the burn. Sport enthusiasts can also understand the same thing from the game of cricket.

Now coming back to my thesis. The concept mentioned above is highly applicable in driving and in my case car driving. The road in front of us has plenty of infrastructure features. This information will be overwhelming if it wouldn’t have been the cognitive processes which helps makes sense of the environment. The road itself needs to tell its users what is going on. Is this possible? How can a road be so active? Good news is it is possible. Bad news is this has a number of antagonists. Many still view road accidents as driver’s fault. Many of us are still of the view that if we are not able to use a gadget then it is our fault and reading the manual over and over again is the answer. However, very few realize that it is also the way the gadget is designed which is restricting its ease of use. Similar concept applies to road safety. Road safety is a joint effort of the road system (driver, road design, other road users, vegetation, road markings, etc.). Therefore the fault does not always lie with the driver. Driver error is an indication that something else is wrong in the road system hence, efforts should be directed towards that.

In my thesis I have exploited this idea that road safety is a system’s issue. I have used the theory of ‘Distributed Situation Awareness’ to prove the same empirically. Now my thesis is not only restricted to situation awareness although it is a pivotal element of it. Another very important aspect of my thesis is ‘Self Explaining Roads’ which I will deal with in my next post. I will now close at this note and hope some of you if not all will be eagerly waiting for my next post regarding human factors.

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Literature Review

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Blog3.1In most of the students I have seen students essentially spot a gap in literature and propose research questions through literature review. This enables the students to choose a methodology for the research which you follow and get some interesting results; that you discuss and propose future research questions. So that in nutshell is your PhD. Therefore, it is fair to conclude that literature review is the first and the most important step of your PhD. Unfortunately, literature review is not a cakewalk. My PhD supervisor once said, “it is a difficult thing to do. Many academics also stumble reviewing literature.” True to the last dot. In this post I thought it is better to shed some light on this critical step.

Read the key literature carefully. Key texts are usually not too many in number. But they will provide a lot of references for you to explore and form an opinion. Many times thesis on similar topics can also be very useful. Secondly, it will also give you the some line of enquiry. Once you get that line of enquiry you can read in that direction. After exploring the key texts it is a good idea to form a structure of your review. That is, form headings only. When you write under a heading you will see some potential sub headings emerge. Cater to those and as subheadings and if necessary go for sub-sub headings. Don’t go for more subs than that. It is very tempting to spend a considerable time in structuring and re-structuring your review. Do not fall into that trap. Just jump to writing once you have the headings and the literature. Some databases you might find useful in researching are, “Science Direct”, “PubMed”, “Ebsco” and “Google Scholar”. Obviously, these will vary depending on the subject.

Please remember you cannot include every possible literature in your review. Therefore, you need to stop researching and start writing at some point. If you feel too guilty for not doing more literature search then please do remember you will get a chance to update your review before submission to external. A good literature review is not the one with obscenely high number of literature but the one which is succinctly written. Hence, more time should be spent on writing it.

Compare and contrast is said to be the essence of literature review. Very true! But I would like to say compare, contrast and summarize are very important elements of literature review. Try to have a sentence or two when closing a heading. Try to avoid too many tables and figures. Review is basically a testimony how well you can put our point forward using the available literature. This is the very basic of academia. Hence, much effort should be given on writing in simple words rather adopting a shortcut and putting forward a point through graphs and tables. Use it when it is extremely important.

Keep writing in the format of the thesis. Use automatic numbering and referencing software. I just wrote a good review and that was that. I did pay the price of formatting and referencing just before my submission. It is extremely important that you keep writing in the prescribed format and reference as you go along. This is not only for literature review but for the rest of the chapters as well.

Set yourself a reasonable deadline and get your first literature review draft ready by then. Don’t linger it. If you do that it is likely you get plenty of feedback from your supervisor and then it will polish what you have written. Hence, adhere to deadlines by following a schedule. Finally, literature review gets the ball rolling for writing. You have the pace and are pumped once you are finished doing literature review. Therefore, do not stop writing. Keep writing. Writing is a skill which keeps getting polished as you write. Therefore, don’t stop writing after you finish your review.

If you are stumbling then make use of “vitae”, “jobs.ac.uk”, “library workshops” and keep reading. Don’t hesitate to seek help if you are stuck.

Preparing for PhD Viva

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PhD viva – the moment of truth! You work on your thesis for 3 solid years and in some cases over 3 years to successfully defend your masterpiece from your examiners. I have been extremely lucky in this. Armed with prayers from my friends and continuous useful feedback from my supervisor on my thesis my viva went like a dream. Having said this, I do realize this is not the case with everyone. Therefore, this blogpost is aimed at PhD students (obviously) and specifically to those who are getting ready to defend or are one the verge of completion. Nonetheless, those who are not in either of the above stages can also benefit.

Since you have written your thesis, you have nurtured the project from the very beginning; you know it the best. This means you know what its strengths are and what are the possible pitfalls. To a large extent these pitfalls need to be addressed in the last chapter where you talk about your conclusions and recommendations. So if you haven’t or were not planning on catering to these then do it. Once you submit it there is nothing you can do really. So what you submit; know it inside out. Good things, bad things. Don’t fuss or get unnecessarily tensed about what you haven’t done in your thesis after you submit. One mistake I did was referencing. I did mess up some references. I knew I did that but I thought since its references and at at the end it is not very important. I was wrong!!! Correct referencing and having all references in the reference list are extremely important. My second supervisor was very particular with this but many supervisors aren’t. So be careful.

The best way to prepare for your viva is know your thesis inside out. It is written everywhere and all the PhD research websites but it’s true to its very last word. But how do you read it? When you read your complete work for the very first time, read it like a book from start to beginning without a stop. Try to be quick with this. For an average size thesis (250 pages) should not take more than 3 days. Following that read every chapter carefully and come up with possible questions for each chapter. This is the sticky bit. I would say allot 2 days to each chapter. There is no hard and fast rule for time. Depends on individual and thesis really. But I devoted 2 days for each chapter to form possible questions and come up with answers. This stage should take around 20 days of solid reading. Important thing to note from here is giving yourself a schedule for each chapter and make sure you follow it. Therefore, I would say Study for 8 hours and take 3 hours out for relaxation/socialization. If needed then come back to what you were reading to stick to the timeline.

Depending on the discipline many PhDs will have equations, values and statistical usage. My suggestion here is be thorough with it. Especially in those areas where statistical tests are used; know the rationale of using it. For instance, “why did you use independent sample t test instead of paired sample t test?” “What is statistical power?” “Why ANOVA and not MANOVA?” and many more. So in a nutshell know your figures and equations well.

In most of the cases I have seen students usually get somewhere between 4-6 weeks of time between their submission and viva. It is likely that after submitting you won’t feel the need of keeping updated with the recent literature in your field. Because you have written your thesis and updated the literature so what’s the need? In your viva there will be instances where you will be required to prove your point or make a point. But how do you make it meaningful and scientifically sound? You quote published studies and ongoing research. Hence, it is essential to stay on top of your game i.e. stay up to date with the current literature even after you submit.

Your PhD viva is like an interview. So the questions and answers you prepare need to be practiced to death. You need to be familiar in hearing your own voice too! So practice like you would prepare for a conference. Also make a list of possible generic questions such as “main findings of your research”, “why did you use XXXXX model and not YYYY model?”, “what would you have done differently”, and many more. There are resources that can help in these kind of questions; jobs.ac.uk, vitae, postgraduate forum, le.ac.uk, @PhDforum (Twitter).

Don’t put your examiner on a pedestal. He/she is also a person, an academic, travelled on a similar road as you. You can visualize your examiners to be the gatekeepers of academia. Respect him/her but don’t just blindly conform to his/her opinions. Put forward your own opinion. Support it with recent studies and listen carefully. Given there is so much pressure on the PhD candidate that they get too nervous and don’t even listen carefully. Ask him/her something if you couldn’t understand the first time. Also you are very much allowed to chew on the question you are asked and write some important points which will constitute your answer.   He/her might paraphrase it for you.

Have a mock viva with your supervisor. That is the time when you can also know about the examiner. If the supervisor knows the examiner then he can advise you what the examiner is like. If not then at least you can benefit from you supervisor’s experience. Before  mock viva have a set of questions ready to ask your supervisor. Mine went on leave before my viva and I didn’t ask much questions at my mock viva so I struggled with the unaswered questions till the very end.

Finally make use of YouTube. In my case I didn’t get any support from the department I was in. Nor did I get any support from Academic Enhancement. So I saw countless videos from “Nottingham Graduate School”. It is a very good resource. Examiner, students and those who recently defended have put up videos there. They either work or are an alumni of The University of Nottingham. This will give you a very good idea of the feel of the viva. It will also give you an idea of what to wear. You don’t want to look like you have just finished gardening and came to defend your thesis. Wear something comfortable but formal(ish). Semi-formal would do too. Try to avoid jeans.

Your viva is probably the only place where you will get an opportunity to discuss your work to a person who is familiar with the research. Therefore, take it as an intelligent academic discussion of your research. I really enjoyed mine and certainly now miss the chance of discussing and even learning from people who have done similar work like mine.

Best of luck!!

Unemployment…Post PhD

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The word “unemployment” itself brings a strange kind of depressing feeling to the reader. What makes it worse when you are unemployed after a PhD as it is really the highest university degree you could get.

When I was finishing up my PhD and even when I was leaving Britian with my proud provisional letter of PhD completion no one thought that I willl be unemployed. Nor my parents, nor my friends, nor my not so close friends. They thought I will be a hot cake in the job market and be employed in no time. But guess what, I am unemployed ! I finished my PhD on July 31, then came back home (to India) on August 29. After that went to a different city for a conference and an interview but no luck. So effectively I unemployed from September 9. I have no idea what lies ahead.

There are few important learning points here which I want the readers to know and understand. I made many mistakes in the job front when I was doing the PhD. Firstly, I was very relaxed and didnt think about work at all. I actually went with the flow. Heard other people’s good experiences and didn’t apply for jobs until the very last minute. Like every PhD every country is different. You know your country’s condition the best. People who advised me about jobs were from far richer countries than mine and therefore hardly had any problems in finding a job. To a large extent jobs also depend on the subject you studied. People who advised me were mainly from structural engineering backround so no problems there. Their country as such has very less unemplyment problems. I guess the learning point here is since you know your country and its situation the best, you prepare for it accordingly. If getting a job is hard; work towards it early, make appropriate contacts. To be honest, it dawned on me that I have a tough road ahead at the end of my Phd viva where my examiners asked me if I have a job lined up.

Another mistake I did I was undecided what I want to do for a long time. I guess to some extent I am still undecided. At the begining I wanted to work in industry. Then I wanted to work in consultancy as a junior consultant. Later I wanted to work in Oil and Gas. It was much later I made up  my mind for Academia. I have mentioned this in my earlier posts that everyone has different skill set. Just because a certain group of people are going on a certain path that doesn’t mean you will do that too. This hopping between professional choices was to a large extent fuelled by my friends as I wanted to be with them. Again I realized it much later that nothing in life is permanent. People with whom I want to be with will eventually move on too. An obvious transition from PhD is a postdoctoral positon. Therefore I strongly believe if I would have made up my mind before I would have worked in that direction viz. keeping an eye on fellowship dedlines, attending more conferences, writing more papers. The point of this paragraph of psychobabble is identify your strengths early; ask yor supervisor to help ; make use of university career advisory service and work towards enhancing your employability that will make use of your strengths.

Final point is publication. Good publication record is pivotal for good employment. The problem with me is since I have come back I am facing unemployment problem. This has lowered my motivation to do anything. Here my productivity is shamefully low if any actually. The point to learn here is “strike when the iron is hot”. It is best not to take a break and hibernate after you have finished your PhD. Write up the papers in one go. I also have this feeling at the back of my mind what if I write all the papers and submit. I won’t have nothing to do then. Hence, unconsiciously I am avoiding to write.

To conclude this super gloomy post, if you are in a similar situation as I am then DON’T GIVE UP ! There is a poem in hindi which I find very motivating. The crux of this is failure is a stumbling block. Get over it and try again. The divers who go deep in the ocean in search of treasures come up empty handed many times. But he doesn’t give up. He goes back again and again until he finds what he needs. Also, a point here to remember is don’t loose motivation. Once you loose that you loose half the battle. Respect others even those who are not doing high profile jobs. Don’t take out your frustration on them. If you are enterprising enough then you can start your own consultancy. Getting involved voluntarily with an institute/organization of your area is also a good option. And finally, keep applying.

My Impression of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)

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Apologies for not posting anything for a while. Reason being I am home now and have terrible internet connection. It is 250 kbps! So being online means only checking emails or satifying burning facebook needs.

Since I have got back I have been to Indian Institiute of Technology (IIT) and interacted with numerous IIT academics. I was actually invited to IIT for a road safety talk. For those of you who don’t know about IIT; here is a bit of information about them. They were started by India’s first prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru just after independence. When it was started it was one of its kind. The economic condition of India was such that it needed more people trained as engineers and in other disciplines of physical sciences. Therefore, they started 7 of them in different states of India. Recently (in 2011) the governement have set up more of them because of the high demand among students to get into them.

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The above figure shows the distribution of IITs in India as of 2014.IIT takes the best students (according to +2 exam results/ A levels) of the country. Those who graduate from them have high salaried jobs and most of them have settled abroad. USA in particular.

So that’s some info about IIT. Why I am writing about it specifically at PhDperience ? I guess as an engineer it is very likely most of the students/academics have come across IIT.  IIT prides itself as an institute of national importance producing excellent quality work. When I met few academics of IIT in a recent conference I was shocked and appalled by their level of job disatisfaction. Especially from IIT Kharagpur (KGP). One of the academics with whom I shared a cab confessed that their resource level is so low that he has to send his data to his alma mater for analysis. To top it the beaureaucratic procedures are so complex that he will retire (his age was 42ish) by the time he is able to buy one instrument. I found it to be alarming at an institute which claims it has the best resources in the country to train young engineers. Another academic of IIT Kgp complained of the very high number of classes an academic is supposed to teach in one year. It is so high that they hardly get any time during the WHOLE YEAR for research. This does explain why IITs despite having a good pay structure is unable to attract academics. Almost all the IITs suffer from ‘faculty crunch’. This means people who are not qualified enough are assigned to teach to make up for the gap. Nepotism breeds in such an environment. Very fatal for Higher Education.

IIT Gandhinagar is a stong supporter of interdisciplinary research ON PAPER ! Academics have no outward push for publication and research. Nor they are encouraged strongly for seeking any external funding. Hence research has taken a backseat despite claiming all over the website that it is a center for groundbreaking research. It is a widely known and accepted fact among academics that excellent reading and writing skills are pivotal for higher studies. I couldn’t beleive my ears when one of the recently appointed Assistant Professors of IIT Gandhinagar actually defended the poor reading and writing skills of the students. He said, ” no one is good at writing in the begining”. I strongly disagree! The academic did say that they have an annual writing center where students are taught good writing skills. However, I strongly disagree to this too. Academic writing is an art and needs continuous practice. What is needed is much more writing based ie essay based assessments rather than exams. Much worse is that there are no institute level rules for plagarism. This is actually the death of research!

The quality of a university is also determined by the level of students. This I found heartbreaking. One of the postdocs in Cognitive Science department who has recently finished PhD from the same institute seems as if he hasn’t gained anything from his research degree. For one of my theories, his questions was, “have you heard of XYZ theory. That’s the most popular theory. So I am going with the majority.” How can anyone who has just finished a degree whose aim was to teach a student to become an independent researcher decides for going with the flow. He should evealuate the evidence in front of him and make his own case irrespective of the majority and present it purposefully. I guess that’s where good reading and writing skills come to use. Independent thinking and new ideas cannot flourish in IIT ! I guess that also explains why IIT has not produced since its inception something innovative for India. I tmoght have but for America.

 Universities of National Importance in India such as IITs where they should focus on innovation and producing future leaders is busy producing engineers who are ready with their passports to serve America. I am actually not surprised after coming from IIT Gandhinagar about the persistent brain drain problem of IITs . Most of the senior academics (Professor mostly from IIT Kanpur or IIT Bombay) are very keen to know why I left Britain and chose to work in India. Living abroad aparently is the best as it gives more money. Another example how the academics of the institute are completely oblivious to the ‘on paper’ ethos of IIT that is, producing the brightest minds to serve India. It also seemed to me that they are unaware of true meaning of education.

 A good institution should also have excellent administration. This is again absent from IIT. Arounf £200 which was supposed ti be reimbursed to me in third week of September is still pending. We are in the middle of October already ! I guess the only goal IIT is working towards is producing students who can earn a lot of money without actually enjoying the subject. Academics who are apparently of ‘excellent quality’ are unable to stir interest in the students for their subjects.  As a result a very high number of engineer opt to do MBA (Masters of Business Administration) after engineering. The two degrees has no connection whatsoever. Here I must again mention the bashful recently appointed (November, 2013) Assistant Professor whom I mentioned before. According to him “the ball is in our court. We receive faculty application everyday”. I guess the ball is not used well in IIT Gandhinagar then.

A university should open up minds of young students to the exciting world of new innovative research. Encourage them to take interdiciplinary research. Strongly emphasise on publication of student and staff but unfortunately IIT has become a machine. A machine that can work and understand in a certain way and not open at all to new ideas!

You are also a person !!

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When we start a PhD why do we automatically forget that we are social animals too ? Our lives are much more than being caught in a vicious circle of reading, writing, eating and sleeping. We do that also on weekends !!! Therefore, this blog posts to those students who have forgotten that they are also a person despite being a PhD student.

So PhD is hard. We all know it ! But it is also a time when you are in university sorrounded by plenty of students from various backgrounds. That’s an essential element of PhD experience. If you are from the university where I did m PhD from and if you are not internationalizing then you are missing out. Britain has numerous international students. Every student gets his/her culture to the U.K. to the very university. Hence, we should not miss out on any of that exchange. Likely that you are not going to do another degree after PhD so where can you get such a scintillating international exposure. When I was doing my PhD I was ver blessed that I got to know a whole cross section of people from around the world. I met here people from Montenegro, the first woman actuary from Palestine, Sudan, Rawanda and Macedonia to name a few. My best friend in Edinburgh was from Czech Republic and m other two very good freinds were from The Netherlands and Kent. I lived with a girl from Greece then Inverness and then Iran. The essence of writing all this is I couldn’t have done this and I am very glad that I did if I would have stayed in my cocoon or my comfort zone. So how we go about doing this ??

Student Union is a great place to start. I have always been very vocal of a good relationship between the student union and the school. The student union has done its part or rather have been doing its part of selecting a postgraduate officer every year. The postgraduate officer essentiall forms a bridge between the student union and the school. I sincerely urge all the PhD students to support your school officer by going to the postgradate events. In majority of the cases they are the organizers of it and also paints a good picture to student union president/excutive committee. Any committee will only invest money or time to any group only if the group comes forward with its issues, makes its presence known and shows a interest. It is a MISCONCEPTION that student union is only for undergraduates. it is only for everyone and they have events for eveyone. Please do go and get some nes experiences there. Another way you can get involved is as a freshers helper during the freshers fair. You will feel youn after that ! Student Union posts are always open to election after a year. Few places you can get involved as postgraduate research are Postgraduate Officer and International Officer. They are excellent opportunities to know what is going on in a wider student body. Personally, I have felt international students are always under represented here but then no one can force anyone.

Most of the British universitites have a chaplaincy. In this respect Heriot-Watt is especially lucky because the chaplaincy here is very secular in nature. They are open most of the times of the year and is an area of socialization. Again the chaplaincy requires volunteers, helpers and people to attend in general what they organize. In addition they also provide food and drinks. Attending these is a wonderful break from your research and a fabulous place to make new friends. This is resource and its FREE. Please do not hesitate to stand up or participate there.

I have noticed many PhD students would go somewhere only if there is a chance of further qualification, job prospect or some form of career counselling. It is good to be focusses but it is not good to be so stressed. Too much stress is harmful. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. You do not want to be Jack, you want to open your mind to the rest of the world through university, through your PhD. Actually, thats what your postgraduate experience is all about. PhD will certainly train you intellectually and academically but there is much more to life than that. You also need to make memories, those moments which make you smile when yu look back. Socialization, correct choice of friends is a way to do that.

I started my PhD when I was 23 and finished around at 26. Therefore, most of the PhD students around me were a lot older and already had families. In that light I do feel very weird in reading what I wrote above but again that’s my observation and also what I though most would benefit from. Mental health shouldn’t be ignored during the course of your PhD. There are some other places also where you can meet people and discuss more about PhD. They are are The Edinburgh PhD students mainly hosted by PhD students Edinburgh University. Their gatherings are very social and happens once a month. You can also get involved with the public engagement ; Beltane in case of Heriot-Watt. This has peole from many domains and they host things like PhD in an hour monthly. PhD in an hour is very good where you speak about your research to a group of PhD students at a cafe shop. Finally, you obviously have your lovely reps who spend a considerable part of their PhDs to plan and do things for students in their school.

Managing Your Supervisor

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After my previous blog post on “what you need to know when you start your PhD” I have been overwhelmed with the positive comments and feedback. So I decided to write another one on “manging your supervisor”. Another reason for writing this post quicker than the scheduled date is I am still unemployed and basking in my own glory which must stop now though.

When you strat your PhD you will soon realize it is a 2 people game; you and your supervisor. In some cases 3, third player being the third supervisor. Therefore, it is imperative to make the relation between you and your supervior work. In my case I have been very lucky that I got a supervisor who is an expert in my research areas and a scintillating teacher. Therefore, this blog post will talk about some common tips to mange your supervisor.

Be punctual (ippy tip#1). Waiting or not turning up on time is a sign of disrespect. It means that you do not regard the other person’s time important enough to turn up on the scheduled time. Therefore, on the day of a meeting or a presentation please be early rather than late. Coming up early or on time in group meetings will also ensure that you have some form of respect for other students who are supervised by your supervisor. Remember in my previous blog I mentioned your PhD to be treated as a job.

Be prepared (ippy tip#2). Again, as I have mentioned in my previous post that this is to be treated as job and you need to be consistent so preperation before a supervisory meeting is essential. Your Phd supervisor is not only your supervisor. He is also a tutor , researcher, teacher and sometimes a course director. Therefore, the time he is giving you is percious and you need to make most out of it by being well prepared. Again, if you have to be well prepared you need to be studying beforehand to ask meaningful questions. Therfore, consistency in your Phd process is gain the key to have successful supervisory meetings.

Structuring your Phd meeting with your supervisor can go a long way (ippy tip#3). In the beginning of your Phd you will have a rough structure of your thesis. Something like, how many chapters you will have, what would those chapters have and what kind of statistics you need to have in those. Taking this rough structure to your meetings and deciding on a plan on the basis of that will help you and your supervisor to plan better and sticking to the original timeline of events. Your PhD in what my area (Human Factors/Ergonomics) is like a Hierarchical Task Analysis (HTA). you have a goal (to gain your PhD) and to attain that goal you have sub goals (chapters in your PhD). To get to those sub-goals you need to form plans (deadlines for each chapter/ experiments/write up). Thus, it very important to try your best to stick to plans as at the end it will contribute towards timely completing of your PhD. A very clever thing to do is always steer your Phd meetings in this direction, i.e., focus on small goals and plan immediate actions and occassionaly have a macro level view of where your Phd stands. This will ensure you and your supervisor have a shared understanding of where your work lies and how far it is from the target.

Many times it willl happen when your supervisor will suggest you to do something in your thesis which you don’t fell is appropriate or necessary. Or you might want to add something which your supervisor might feel is useless or can cause problems. A key point here is mutual respect (ippy tip#4). If your supervisor asks you to do something and you don’t agree then give some deep reasonable thought and then come to decide. If your supervisor is saying something it means he/she must have thought something about it and since he is already an established academic he might have thought it in ways that you might not have imagined. So think about his not so likeable suggestions try to reason it. Then discuss your thought process of why you think that something is not necessary with your supervisor. If he is a resaonable person which many of them are then he will understand or point out possible pitfalls in your thought process and you two might find yourselves in a very good brain storming session. Hiding something or not discussing your idea or not being honest is a mark of disrespect to your supervisor. It is like your have already assumed your supervisor will be closed to a certain idea so you decided not to talk about it. It is imperative not to do so. Remember neither you or your supervisor wants your thesis to be rubbish. Although it is not your supervisor’s thesis but it wil have his name in it. So he wants it to be of high quality. Furthermore, both of you love the subject/area and that’s why you are giving 3 and something years of your life towards it. Hence, trust him/her.

As said in the previous paragraph a key component of student supervisor relationship is mutual respect, hence please humble yourself. Please be honest about your strengths and weaknesses (ippy tip#5). If you don’t do that then it will be difficult for you to accept your supervisor’s feedback on your chapters. Also, it will  be difficult for you to write your PhD thesis in a way which can enhance your strentghs or spell out your streghths to your external and mask your limitations. It is also essential not to judge your supervisor (ippy tip#6) on the basis of his recent publications. For instance, I have been recently meeting several students who have been doubting their supervisors credibility on supervising them because they haven’t published much during their time as a supervisor to them. This is preposterous !! There can be several reasons behind that. Either he has been preparing for many papers which are to be published soon at one go, or he might be doing some experiments or some personal reasons. Think about your own publication record and use your supervisor as a knowledge resource. Do not judge.

Finally, treat your PhD as something you enjoy. You both enjoy actually. Don’t treat it as something you have to do because there is nothing else you could do in the real world. What you are doing is worthwhile and meaningful and your supervisor is there to support you academically in this enedeavour. So, take pride in what your are doing and be always open to new ideas. Again, don’t be intimadated by the horror stories of monsterous supervisors from your Phd freinds. Like every student every supervisor is different and so is his/her style of supervision. when you look back at it , you must look back at fond memories and a time of intellectual growth.

What I have written above is is my perception of the student-supervisor realtionship and somehow these have worked with me in my own PhD. However, there might be few things which I haven’t mentioned but can be true. Such as, should you have a informal relationship with your supervisor such as group meetings out of university, socials etc. But then again it depends on the student and supervisor and how they want to manage it. So the list to managing your supervisor is an unending one but the tips mentioned in this blogpost should go a long way.

Keep reading….

 

What you need to know when you start your PhD

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Having recently finished my PhD and being unemployed gives me plenty of time to look back at my 3 years 6 months of PhD. Clearly, if you have stumbled upon in this blog then either you are a PhD student yourself, comtemplating of being one or just know/luuvvvv me. Its been 12 days today since I defended my thesis and earlier today spoke about my viva to fellow PhD students under my supervisor. While talking to them it occured to me what I would have done differently or what I would want the new PhD students to know. So here is my first blogpost to that…

I started my PhD in terrible winter in Edinburgh in 2011. I came up from Derby (so glad !!) to start my PhD. I didn’t know anyone that time in Edinburgh except my supervisor whom I had written to earlier. So I guess here comes my first tip (Ippy’s tip #1) try to make some contacts before you come to a new city otherwise be prepared to spend few very boring months. Actually as boring as watching a wet paint dry. You can know people either through facebook group (International students at Edinburgh, New Intake 2011 (or whatever your year is) and word of mouth). Another thing you can do is search #PhDEdinburgh in Twitter. This should help you get some idea atleast. Fortunately, I have made friends very easily after first month. Later on that number only grew and all us became very close.

When you start your PhD , it’s a massive transition. It is not like an undergradaute degree or even a masters degree where you attend a set number of classes throughout the semester. It is very independent and self -directed (ippy’s tip#2). One mistake I did or perhaps because I was only 22 when I started that it took me a while to discipline myself and fit into this adult world of research. One way to discipline yourself is treat PhD as a job or as my supervisor calls it as an “apprenticeship”. Because that’s what it is . You need to come to your work/PhD office/workspace no later than 10:00 am and work althrough 5:30 pm everyday (Mon-Fri). PhD is a marathon where you need to run at a constant pace throughout. That pace might be slow but you have to be steady. It is not a sprint or atleast shouldn’t be treated as one like most undergraduate degrees are treated as. Since the work you are going to produce will be of high quality or be your legacy in the library so few sleepless nights and lazing around the rest is not  a good idea. Therefore, be slow but steady (Ippy’s tip#3).

Obviously when you are starting your PhD you will be a neonate in the PhD process. Although you might see people around you who are quite advanced in their research journey. This means while you are still doing background reading and hopping around in the research field you might see your felllow PhD students doing some serious writing and doing complex analysis. Please do not be intimadated (Ippy’s tip#4). Everyone has their own pace ,strengths and everyone’s research is different so you never know you might go past them in future. Go with the flow and enjoy the calm before the storm.

These 4 should help you to get stated in first six months of your PhD journey. My future posts will talk more about the PhD process such as literature review, more than a PhD, you are an expert and many more.