Why you should go to that workshop…

This post is by Lilia Mantai who completed her teaching degree at Georg-August University of Goettingen, Germany. She has been teaching at Macquarie University, Australia, and working as a Research Assistant at the Learning and Teaching Centre for several years. She is currently conducting PhD research on the role of social practices and researcher development in the doctoral student experience at Macquarie University.
Connect with Lilia on academia.edu, researchgate.net or follow her on Twitter: @LiliaMantai

Do you remember when you signed up for that 90min HDR workshop, and 10 min before the workshop the following questions raced through you head:

  • Should I go?
  • Am I going to learn something that will progress my PhD?
  • Can I afford to leave PhD land for whole 90 minutes?

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 9.25.53 pmThis post is for you, and everyone who feels guilty about doing “stuff” that apparently has nothing to do with your PhD.

Here is the story:

It was a sunny Friday morning in my PhD life, again another week almost over and nothing to show for it. Well, nothing that shows a word account at least. But this week has been different.

Tuesday I came back from Canberra where I organised an undergraduate research poster exhibition in… wait for it… Parliament House. Yap. Undergraduates got to present their work to Chief Justice French and MP John Alexander and the likes. Awesome.

I felt inspired.

And guilty.

How has it contributed to my PhD? Wait for it. I’ll come to that.

Wednesday, first day back to school after a week away from PhD land due to RA work commitments, I discovered I signed up for that How-To-Blog workshop, which sounded sooo much cooler weeks ago when I signed up, because it is a FANTASTIC opportunity for personal and professional development you.just.don’t.miss.

My gut signalled I should be really getting back to my desk. But it was Macquarie’s annual celebration of Learning and Teaching week and as a current staff member of the host centre (and yes, admittedly and occasionally suffering from academic FOMO) I HAD to see what was going on, so I went. I’m glad I did. Because you get to read this.

Because on Thursday, I felt energised, I even forgot about my daily flat white intake, and just scribbled, pencilled, wrote. The undergraduate students inspired me to produce something close to a Nobel Prize worthy type of work. And that blog seminar made me think of ways to communicate my research that I haven’t really considered before.

The week continued.

Thursday afternoon I watched the 3MT contestants at Macquarie battle it out in front of 200 people, some putting on an Oscar ripe performance. I felt intimidated and inspired. A strange mix of feelings which I thought I’d meditate on during my yoga night class, which I prioritised to wine & cheese that day (scandalous, you should ALWAYS wine & cheese for networking). Following the How-to-stay-sane-in-your-PhD speaker I (body)-balance and –combat through my PhD (courtesy of Macquarie Uni gym).

And then it was that sunny Friday morning.

Again weeks ago, I had signed up for that Early Career Researchers Development Day offered by our Faculty, a professional and personal opportunity not to be missed.

It had better been AMAZING, I thought, if I was to invest a whole day of my so short PhD life, not producing anything that can be assigned a (publishable) word count. Well, I took notes (which I turned into this blog).

I went, even though I felt poor for time, but more than that I felt I may be intruding. Are PhD students (PhDs) considered Early Career Researchers (ECRs)? I had never heard anyone call PhDs ECRs or vice versa. What if I was not supposed to be there? One last thing about me: apart from occasional FOMO escapades I hate to cancel things last minute and let people down. So I went (and found a few other PhD fellows, ha!).

I’m glad I did. Because this is what I sneaked away from the session, which every PhD candidate should have gone to (well, the ones who are courageously considering a life after PhD in academia anyway).


Because we are expected to become authorised scholars during our PhDs and even develop an identity as an academic or researcher! And if you are not lucky enough to have friends and mentors (not only supervisors) to guide you, you may want to invest your precious time into these workshops. I’ll focus on two sessions here (yes, there was more):

  1. Career Planning, Work-Life Balance, Which Activities to Prioritise, General Advice

Bingo! It’s got PhD students all over. Guess what, PhD candidates are crazy busy, but so are ECRs, established academics, sessional staff, admin people, stay-home mums (probably busiest job ever), single people, even kids! Life’s busy for everyone nowadays. We have s(t)oo many options, s(t)oo many opportunities.


  • Know what you want.
  • Aim high, eg. go for best journals (worst they can do is say no).
  • Meet the Who’s Who in your area of research.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Don’t say NO to opportunities that sound like “fun” (if you can fit them in).
  • Go for quality publications (but as a PhD student you want some rather than zero publications).
  • Plan ahead, your research and your personal life.
  • Know thy roadmap, know thy milestones. Know thy requirements.
  • You are essentially trained as a professional writer, so write much and often.
  • Be your own supervisor.


No one can tell you what to do, you have to make choices for yourself, the ones that fit your life- and work-style, your circumstances, your outlook on life, your gut feeling.

  1. Collaboration, Mentoring and Supervision

Whaaa? Academics actually do that? I hear rumours, but often see closed doors.


  • Learn to be extrovert for academic purposes.
  • Surround yourself by supportive people.
  • Make friends, connect with others, find your peers.
  • Do not work with people you do not like, trust or feel uncomfortable with
  • Co-authorship is a sign of social skills.
  • Be honest to yourself and others re deadlines, workload, etc.
  • Act ethically and with integrity (be nice, it’s a small world out there)
  • Contact the BIG names and tell them about their research.
  • Get on grant and paper review committees early.
  • Ground rules of collaboration: communication, clarity, honesty.
  • Keep updated online profiles (if you have one or many).
  • Apply for grants with others (you have no idea how many options you have, ask your Research Office).
  • Get a mentor (different from supervisor), preferably 20 years senior than you to help you through the maze of academia, promotion, politics, etc.


Collaboration is like a relationship, it’s a give-and-take, you have to take care of one another.


Own your research, stand by it, it’s your legacy! You are essentially doing good for the society. And by the way, get over your ECR (here PHD) status quickly.

(And while the take away message may not be all that new and surprising, the inspiration this one day sparked was refreshing.)

So why am I writing this?

First, because my last week’s experience gave me back my mojo. So I wrote and thought and mind mapped and doctored on my PhD non-stop for two days. And even if it lasts for two days every hour spent away from PhD land last week was worth it.

Don’t ignore opportunities that could inspire you to be productive. Choose wisely and commit.

Second, because my PhD research is interested in supportive experiences in doctoral education.I am particularly interested in how social practices improve your PhD experience and help you develop as a researcher. I hope this post is helpful in one or the other.

I encourage you to go to that workshop, unless your child is sick and you really have to spend the afternoon with your mum and jam scones (all perfectly good reasons). Especially if you feel you want to. Be your own professional and personal developer. It’s your (PhD) life. Think what you want to be remembered for. But then again, everyone does it different.

Acknowledgement: Finally I’d like to thank Macquarie University for all the opportunities it continues to give me. I think we actually bonded last week. We’ve been getting along for almost 5 years now, but now I feel we got to the next stage of our relationship, we’re best mates now.

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12 thoughts on “Why you should go to that workshop…

  1. Rosalie Schultz says:

    “HDR workshop” – I don’t know what that is.
    Maybe some PhD jargon. Could you please explain the abbreviations and jargon?

    • Edward says:

      I believe that HDR means Higher Degree Research, so a HDR workshop would be a workshop aimed at PhD and Masters by research students. I’m a PhD student in an Australian University and that is where I have seen “HDR” being used.

      • Rosalie Schultz says:

        Thanks Edward
        All Google offered was High Dynamic Range (which might be correct but didn’t quite fit the context!)

  2. Tori Wade says:

    Can I suggest a whole post on the “Aim high the worst they can do is say no” publishing issue? Two things:
    – I reckon I wasted about 4 months of my PhD trying to get my papers into high-status journals. I knew that they wouldn’t be accepted but my supervisors said go on, the worst that can happen … etc. 4 months is a long time to waste for exactly the same result as I would have got if I had followed my own judgement.
    – One of my colleagues was so disheartened by serial rejections that he lost confidence and still hasn’t finished, and may never do so. He had a journal in mind for his first paper but he got persuaded out of it, wherein the problem started.

  3. Olga Walker says:

    I enjoyed this post as I have had similar experiences this week. I took a couple of short breaks from my study and felt very guilty. But, I had a couple of other chores to do that couldn’t wait. Well, it turned out that once I finsihed my other jobs, I felt really positive about achieving something. This feeling walked into the study with me later that day. I sat down with a cup of coffee and just opened up the folder and started working on an essay. Before I realised it I had finsihed the first rough draft which meant I had something to refine. Achieving small goals for me seems to be the secret to making progress on my project. Btw…why do we feel so guilty when we take a short break?

  4. J green says:

    Although well-intentioned this post has only made me feel that I’m not enough and that I’m not doing enough. I’ll add it to the long list of “HDRs should” blog posts on the Internet. I wish you all the best but the tales of yoga, wine and cheese and exhalations to own-it, just aren’t resonating in any helpful way with my experiences of gasping for air and treading water.

    • Zoe says:

      I’m not quite sure what to say, but I felt compelled to respond – I totally understand where you are coming from and I’ve often felt that I should be doing more or that I’m not good enough to get my PhD finished. It’s a serious issue…and perhaps one that the author of this blog post could have dealt with slightly differently. Despite good intentions, I still haven’t signed up for a yoga class either! But I’ve found other things which have helped me to find new methods of working and ways of staying productive. Honestly, when I get to the “gasping for air” stage I do try to take a proper break (ideally involving an activity away from my desk) – it always helps me. Hope you can find something that works for you.

    • Christoph Schnelle says:

      It is your energy levels that decide your effectiveness when you try to produce something. If you are in overwhelm (gasping for air and treading water) you don’t have any spare energy left bar survival.

      Another word for “low spare energy levels” may be exhaustion. To get away from exhaustion is very valuable. Sleep is one option, meeting people you enjoy meeting can be just as good or better.

  5. Jeremy L. Wells (@drjlwells) says:

    “Learn to be extrovert for academic purposes,” then
    “Be honest to yourself.” I’m a proud introvert, and so are many academics. The quiet, reflective individual used to be the stereotype for the scholar. What a shame it is to think in this confused, self-destructive way.

  6. S. A. Nichols says:

    “Can I afford to leave PhD land for a whole 90 minutes?”
    I love this quote. It put a smile on my face.

    By the way, the answer is no – but sometimes you have to sacrifice the time…

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