managing research risks – riding the wave of #phdpandemic

A lot of research doesn’t go to plan. Researchers encounter a few hiccups along the way and in order to avoid problems, they make adjustments to their process. The research goes ahead, just slightly differently.

But what usually goes wrong in research? The most common problems in the kind of research that I do are things like failing to recruit enough people or places, participants withdrawing or refusing permission for their data to be used at some point, research staff leaving in the middle of a project, one of the research investigators getting ill.

These kinds of hiccups are not surprising. They can be imagined, and then planned for. Then, if they do occur, it doesn’t come as a complete shock, and you already know what to do.

In the normal run of things researchers seeking funding often have to produce a risk management schedule. They have to anticipate things that might go wrong, things like those listed above, and decide whether these are a high, low or medium probability. Then they put a contingency plan in place. Then they go on.

But only very occasionally a research project doesn’t get off the ground. Or it has to close down prematurely. Occasionally up until now, that is.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone put…

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Social aspects of doctoral writing, courtesy of Marmalade the rabbit

By Susan Carter

You probably don’t pay much attention to the image we have as our banner branding the DoctoralWriting SIG blog. Take a look at it now—there’s a hand at the keyboard of a computer, and it holds a ballpoint between two fingers telling of work on both hard and soft copies and thinking across both. Over to one side there’s the top of a notebook and a document held together with a binder clip, evidence of all the reading and interconnection of texts that sit behind academic writing.

That’s a pretty neat image for a blog on doctoral writing, right? But what you do not know about is the back story to this image, a story that contains a rabbit. This post discusses why the rabbit is missing as an analogy to what you might leave in or take out of doctoral writing.

The photograph is Claire’s, and it features her daughter at work some eight or so years ago. Why would she have taken such an image of her daughter’s writing hand at work? Well, the original photograph included the family’s pet rabbit, Marmalade, performing the loyal-pet task of sitting with her while she worked, and looking as though it was interested.

I mentioned in my previous post how acknowledgments fairly often mention gratitude for loyal pets,…

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In Time of Crisis – Be Kind

In A Time of Crisis

You might think that our present, extraordinary and challenging global circumstances might call for ‘patience, flexibility, practicality and ability to withstand misfortune’. All of those traits do indeed need to be practiced now as we, individually and collectively, try to traverse a landscape that changes every day (so far, always in a bad direction). In fact the full quote that prompts me to cite those fine characteristics is ‘The rearing of sheep calls for patience, flexibility, practicality and ability to withstand misfortune.’, a quote from The Last Wolf, a book subtitled The Hidden Springs of Englishness in which the author Robert Winder ascribes much of the Englishman’s character down to sheep-tending in the past. I found I had jotted this sentence down somewhere, because I thought it sounded like the qualities needed to complete a PhD and might form the basis of a blogpost (I still believe that would have been possible), but having stumbled upon it this week in a fit of trying to put some order into my life by a quick tidy up, it seems equally apposite now in a vastly different spirit.

However much we all wish to avoid the misfortune referred to above so we don’t have to withstand it, we can…

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Take A Break Before It Breaks You

The PhD workload can weigh quite heavy at times. Zakiyya explores how taking breaks can actually increase productivity, as well as improve well-being.

Sometimes it all just feels like a bit too much. Too much to get done, to think about, to keep on top of, to pursue, to remember, to… you get the point. And sometimes it feels like that’s just the PhD life, that’s what you signed up for, so you just have to deal with it. Muddle through. But actually, no.

Pause. Take a minute. Breathe. You are unlikely to make any meaningful progress when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Taking a break often helps me to find perspective. There’s a whole big world of laughter and joy out there, and this stressful moment in the grand scheme of things is just that, a moment.

One of the best parts of my day is plugging in my headphones, switching on a long-form chatty podcast and just going for a walk around campus for an hour or so. On stressful days, it gives me some time to unplug, a chance to look away from my computer screen for a while and allows me to come back to my work feeling refreshed. It’s not always so easy to leave work behind, but even then, I find going for a walk gives me space to think through my problems and I often return to work…

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Life as a writer outside the boundaries of academia

17 March 2020
by researchwhisper

Alex Goldberg is a scientific writer and social media manager for GA International.

He has a PhD in biology and previously worked as a postdoc in toxicology and medicine, having studied chronological lifespan in yeast, anti-neoplastic small molecules, and the biology of lymphangioleiomyomatosis

You can find Alex on LinkedIn.


Photo by Filip Kominik |

Photo by Filip Kominik |

No one who aspires to a fancy job as a tenured research professor in the life sciences should read this article.

For those who wish to follow this career path, I can give only one piece of advice: make sure it’s EXACTLY what you want out of life.

Life as an Academic

I started out relatively modestly as a graduate student in the fall of 2004. I wasn’t sure if I wanted a career in film production or biology, and because going into film meant repeating classes and working at Starbucks simultaneously, I opted into a Master’s degree, which paid a bit of money and allowed me some flexibility to learn about something I loved and to figure out the rest of my career later on.

My project was fresh and interesting, and I was given every…

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We’re all anxious and uncertain too

Dear students,

With only a few days’ notice, all your in-person classes were cancelled, with promises of online content delivery instead. Your last week of term is in upheaval. All your plans, gone. And you have no idea what’s going to happen, not this week, not during the break, not next term. Everything is uncertain, everything is anxiety-making.

Dear students, we’re all anxious and uncertain, too. Many of us have never done online teaching before — we don’t know the software, we don’t have the hardware, we never imagined we’d be doing this without months of preparation — and those of us who were on strike last week have either had no time to think/prepare or had to break our strike to do so.

We’re sitting in our offices today doing our best, trying our hardest to ensure your education is not disrupted more than it has to, learning new software, sourcing new hardware. We’re constantly emailing colleagues, taking advantage of the offers of those who have done online teaching before to help us through Blackboard Collaborative Ultra, or Panopto, or even just simple things like “use a headset if you’re able to” (one colleague even offered to come in and video my whiteboard if I need her to), we’re chatting in WhatsApp groups…

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Pandemics and PhDs

The pandemic is upon us. My university is moving rapidly online with everyone who can working at home.

I’ve seen a lot on social media about how to teach online, whether to teach on line, and how to offer students support. I haven’t yet seen a lot about PhDers and their research. Well maybe a bit about labs.

Some of the people I work with are in the middle of field work, or just starting. They work in and with schools, galleries and community organisations. In other words, populous places which may or may not be closed for an indefinite period of time. Some docs are close to having enough data. Some aren’t. And because of the time-limited nature of the PhD in the UK, this data deficit might create real problems for them.

Up to three of the PhDers I work with have research which may have to be redesigned mid-way through. Redesigned so that their data is not entirely people-based, and/or not as comprehensive as envisaged. While I am confident that we will be able to sort something out, this redesigning is not an easy task, intellectually or emotionally.

The half-done problem won’t of course be confined to our small group.

I cannot imagine how many PhDers are currently worrying about whether they can do the research they want…

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War Widows’ Quilt on ITV London News


On Armistice Day 2019, Will Davies visited us at the first ever exhibition of the War Widows’ Quilt at The Queen’s House, Greenwich, where it was installed from 7-11 November 2019. Will spoke to representatives of the War Widows’ Association who had contributed to the quilt, as well as to lead artist Lois Blackburn (arthur+martha), and me in my role as the project leader for War Widows’ Stories. The result was a 2 minute feature that was aired as part of ITV London News on Armistice Day in both evening editions. And I’m pleased to say that, unlike other news coverage we’ve received in the couple of years (which, sadly, was often dramatised to the point of inaccuracy), it’s a sensitive piece. Needless to say, we were all thrilled with the exposure. Take a look below to hear about what the quilt means to everyone who has contributed to the project.


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Daily Express Devotes Double-Page Spread to War Widows’ Quilt


On 9 November 2019, the Daily Express devoted a double-page spread to the first-ever exhibition of the War Widows’ Quilt at the Queen’s House, Greenwich. Giles Sheldrick, Chief Reporter, interviewed women who contributed to the quilt, representatives of our partner organisation The War Widows’ Association of Great Britain, lead artist Lois Blackburn, and me as War Widows’ Stories project leader. Awful headline pun aside, it is worth noting that the quilt is actually not primarily intended as a “tribute” to fallen heroes, but as a tribute to and representation of the stories of the women and families they have left behind. Indeed, the quilt and the stories it tells often question the “heroes” narrative that pervades media and other public versions of the history of war and armed conflict.

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Sunday Morning with Ricky Ross – Remembrance Sunday


On Sunday, 11 November 2018, after the two-minute silence at 11.00AM, you’ll be able to listen to a feature on women and war that I recorded for BBC Radio Scotland’s Sunday Morning with … . Presented by Ricky Ross, the feature is a conversation between Ricky, Christine Morgan, who’s son Marc was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2004, war widow Anne Blair, whose husband was killed in the Troubles in 1979, and me. It was a privilege to speak to Christine and Anne and relate their experiences to some of the stories and wider findings of the War Widows’ Stories project. Thanks to Ricky and producer Ailsa for having me!

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