Talks in the Universities of Lincoln and Sheffield

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Next week I’ll be in the UK Midlands giving two talks on my PhD Research into Non-Linguistic Utterances. One in the University of Lincoln (on the 7th May) where I will be hosted by Dr. Marc Hanheide and then at the University of Sheffield (on the 8th) hosted by Prof. Roger Moore.

A good networking opportunity and perhaps even work prospects as I’m looking for a new job (my contract with Plymouth Uni comes to an end at the end of August this year). Should be good fun! 😉


PhD Viva passed!

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So today I passed my PhD viva and am now “officially” a Doctor of Philosophy! My examiners were Prof Angelo Cangelosi (internal) and Dr Kai Arras (external). My chair was Dr Davide Marocco. The viva itself lasted two and a half hours and included a 30 minute presentation where I gave a brief overview of my Thesis. I’ve passed with “minor corrections”, which means that I have three months to complete what I am told is a very short list of things by my examiners (they indicated that 3 months is more than ample time).

The viva itself is a strange beast which I have seen compared to a snake fight. Though the PhD defence takes many different forms in different parts of the world (ranging from public defences, to no defence at all), in the UK it involves having the PhD candidate/student, examiners and any chairs locked in a room for a few hours and going over the Thesis. The examiners are allowed to ask anything that they feel necessary and the student must provide good convincing answers, obviously. The purpose of this process is essentially three-fold. Firstly to confirm that the student is indeed the author of the Thesis and conducted the work themselves. Second is to assess whether the work is novel and pushes the boundaries of the field. Finally, it is to determine whether the student is able to conduct a program of research independently.

While the process begins with the nerves running a little high (at least in my case), they soon settle and the Q&A session becomes an very clear academic conversation and discussion of the work that has been presented. This may sound daunting and perhaps even a little dubious to some, but I found it to be a very enjoyable experience. Very few people will read a PhD thesis properly and in-depth, and a PhD viva is a unique opportunity to showcase your work and have a mature and productive discussion about the work, its implications and of course the limitations. As a result, you may well come out feeling very inspired and full of ideas and thoughts that you may have originally missed. This is all very good!

Some advice for any future PhD candidates reading this, do not fight all the way. Your work will not be perfect. Defend where you feel strongly about something, but also concede where you need to. This is not about proving that your work is perfect and flawless. This is about demonstrating that you understand the process of research and are able to identify where the strengths and weaknesses are within the work that has been done. You have done a program of research, and you need to demonstrate that you are an able researcher, able of conducting novel and relevant research in an independent manner…

Best of luck to any students reading this!

Pimp my graph, yo!

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Have you ever opened up a Journal article that you’ve been really excited to read, but after a quick flick through it an generally left with a slight feeling of anti-climax? Ever been to a conference and been disappointed by the talk that sounded like it was right up your street? Perhaps you have submitted a paper or article that has come back with before average reviews? I know I have, and there is no denying that there are many, many reasons for this in each case. However, I recently stumbled upon a little strategy that can help, particularly if you are the author of an article or the person giving a presentation. I’ve unofficially coined it graph pimping, but it is actually something that I saw was done by Bilge Mutlu and the students in his lab.

While I think that we like to believe that scientific research and peer-review is a process that is unbiased when it comes to how things look visually, I tend to get the feeling that this is not strictly the case. In fact, it seems that people tend to pay attention and exhibit a desirable reaction to things that are basically visually appealing – people like eye candy. It gives a good initial impression of things, and depending on who you’re dealing with, this may lead to a make of break situation, particularly if you work in Marketing. And let’s face it, as a researcher there is quite a serious element of self promotion and marketing that is involved.

MatLab Original Plot Adobe Illustrator Pimped Plot

So, as for pimping a graph, take these two graphs above as an example. They both show exactly the same information, however I think that most people would agree that the graph on the right is far more visually appealing than the one on the left (which is a standard MatLab bar plot). What I’ve done is take the MatLab plot, and run it through Adobe Illustrator and given it a serious make over. What is astonishing is that the effort is minimal, while the return is rather substantial in my view. By simply adding a gradient background, tracing over some lines, using a different font and adding a splash of colour, you can turn a MatLab monstrosity into a rather nice looking graph.

Now, I’ve not seen any scientific study that shows that this can directly impact the chances of your next Journal article getting published, but I do certainly think that pimping those figures can’t hurt your chances when it comes to review time. Same goes for your PhD Thesis… 😉

PhD Viva date set!

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So, nearly four months after I submitted, I have a date for my viva! 11th March 2014 @ 11:30. My internal examiner will be Prof Angelo Cangelosi, and my external examiner will be Dr Kai Arras from Freiburg University, Germany.

Fingers crossed! 🙂