How to design an award-winning conference poster

A good academic conference poster serves a dual purpose: it is both an effective networking tool and a means by which to articulately communicate your research. But many academics fail to produce a truly visually arresting conference poster and so opportunities to garner interest and make connections are lost. Tullio Rossi offers guidance on how to produce an outstanding conference poster, considering the scripting, concept, design, and logistics.

Six academic writing habits that will boost productivity

What’s the secret to a productive spell of writing? Chris Smith shares insights gleaned from interviews with a diverse group of academics, from which a number of common academic writing habits stood out. These range from the simple acts of scheduling and setting self-imposed deadlines, to both formal and informal accountability partnerships and the use of “freewriting” techniques which help authors write their way out of blocks.

Playing the game: academics have bought into the competition and become complicit in their exploitation

The managerialist logic that has permeated universities has had a clear impact on academic work. To Senia KalfaAdrian Wilkinson and Paul J. Gollan, academia has become like a game, with academics competing with each other for just a handful of permanent positions and focused completely on accumulating the capital (publications, grant income, etc.) needed to secure one. Rather than resisting the demands placed upon them, academics have primarily complied and in doing so become complicit in their own exploitation. This raises significant questions about resistance in the academy; unions may not be powerful enough to subvert the managerialist logic, highlighting a need for other avenues for facilitating challenging voices.

Ad hominem attacks on scientists are just as likely to undermine public faith in research as legitimate empirical critiques

Media coverage attacking the character and trustworthiness of a scientist can diminish public faith in the research findings of that scientist. Ralph M. BarnesHeather M. JohnstonNoah MacKenzieStephanie J. Tobin and Chelsea M. Taglang have investigated the degree to which such attacks do undermine trust in that scientist’s research, and the relative impact of various types of ad hominem attacks. Perhaps surprisingly, purely ad hominem attacks, such as accusations of a financial conflict of interest, for example, prove just as effective in undermining public faith in research findings as direct criticism of the empirical foundations of a science claim.

Postdocs trying to transition to non-academic careers should be offered more support by their supervisors and universities

Despite the position being billed as a stepping stone on the way to tenure-track academic employment, many postdocs, discouraged by their poor prospects, are questioning their career choices and instead looking to non-academic jobs as an alternative. However, as Chris Hayter and Marla A. Parker reveal, making this transition is not as easy as it might first appear.

The neurotic academic: how anxiety fuels casualised academic work

As higher education undergoes a process of marketisation in the UK and the activities of academic staff are increasingly measured and scrutinised, universities are suffused with anxiety. Coupled with pressures facing all staff, casualised academics face multiple forms of insecurity. While anxiety is often perceived as an individual problem for which employees are encouraged to take personal responsibility, Vik Loveday argues that anxiety amongst academic staff should be understood in two ways: as a symptom of casualised work in an increasingly competitive environment; and as a tactic of governance, ensuring compliance.

How to make the most of an academic conference – a checklist for before, during and after the meeting

Going to an academic conference is an exciting opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals and exchange stimulating ideas. However, to make the most of a conference requires a lot of hard work before, during, and after the meeting itself. Marta Teperek provides a checklist of things to do at each of these stages.


Is peer review bad for your mental health?

Amidst fears of a mental health crisis in higher education, to what extent is the peer review process a contributing factor? It’s a process fraught with uncertainty, as authors try to forge something constructive from often mixed feedback or occasionally downright unhelpful comments. Helen Kara stresses the importance of being aware of the effects of uncertainty and taking steps to reduce its impact. Focus on what you can control, prepare for different outcomes, acknowledge how you’re feeling, and make sure to practise self-care.

Writer’s block is not a struggle with your writing but with your thinking. Write your way out of it

Most graduate writers who are struggling with their writing are actually struggling with their thinking. It isn’t a psychological block, but rather the intellectual confusions endemic to the process of communicating sophisticated research. To Rachael Cayley, these confusions are real and can have deleterious consequences for writing, but when we treat these problems as conceptual problems in our thinking we create the space to use writing as a strategy to solve them. The writer’s block label may just be further alienating us from our own writing; write your way out.

PhD students supervised collectively rather than individually are quicker to complete their theses

Given the choice, most PhD students would prefer to receive individual supervision rather than be supervised alongside their peers as part of a collective. This is understandable, given the undivided attention and precise, directly relevant advice one would receive. However, Hans Agné and Ulf Mörkenstam have compared the experiences of individually and collectively supervised students on the same doctoral programme and found that collective supervision, during the first year at least, is correlated with significantly shorter times to thesis completion compared to individual supervision.

Writing a page-turner: how to tell a story in your scientific paper

People love stories. We watch, read, tell, and listen to stories every day. Despite this, most researchers don’t think in terms of story when they write a journal paper. To Anna Clemens, that’s a missed opportunity, because storytelling is easy to implement in your manuscript provided you know how. Think of the six plot elements – character, setting, tension, action, climax, resolution – and the three other story essentials – main theme, chronology, purpose. You’ll soon outline the backbone of your narrative and be ready to write a paper that is concise, compelling, and easy to understand.

A PhD by publication is a great way to build your academic profile, but be mindful of its challenges

The PhD by publication is an option increasingly available to doctoral candidates. This model can be a great way to build an academic profile but has unique challenges of its own too. Shannon Mason and Margaret K. Merga anticipate and offer answers to some of the questions candidates considering this model might ask; including advice on co-authorship with a supervisor, time management, coping with rejection, and capturing the evolution of your understanding of your research.

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