Thursday, February 20, 2014

Asking about the thesis: 5 rules, 4 analogies and a self-aware thesis

Before I started writing my thesis, I made a twitter account for it. I recently downloaded the archive of its tweets to my excessive amusement. I forgot at one point it tweeted in frustration:

@JodiesThesis: Also, if you don't want people to ask about me, STOP TALKING ABOUT ME!!!

I am now one of those people who can ask a PhD student (or Masters student) about their thesis without currently working on a thesis myself. Now that I'm on the other side though, the taboo on asking doesn't seem as obvious as when I was inside. 

This Golden Era* PhD Comic says it all really
*Golden Era = before my thesis

A friend just messaged me that she shared my post on "Rules for talking with a thesis writer" to a group of friends recently after explaining that asking about the thesis was not helpful. She was glad to wake the next day to messages of loving support.

So I thought I'd reflect on how I successfully ask about the thesis now that I am not bound by concurrent suffering.

1. I ask when I'm available to listen at length
I ask when I'm catching up for coffee, not when I'm chatting on facebook. I ask when I haven't seen them for a while, not when I see them every week.

Marathon runners
...uh, where are the women? That's not supposed to be part of the metaphor

Consider the analogy of the PhD as a marathon. You may have certain checkpoints where you assess how you're going, whether you're ahead or behind your goal time, whether you need to speed up in the next leg, or pace yourself for the end. You don't want to be asked every 100m how it's going. And that's what it can end up with thesis writers - maybe you don't ask every day, but somebody does. And it gets tedious.

2. I ask when I can encourage without dismissing
I tell them they can do it, but I don't deny their fears. I don't broadly sweep it under a generalised opinion that they're smart so therefore they must be able to do it. There are very smart people who have not finished PhDs. An important part of the thesis is managing the stress, guilt, and pressure, not just sitting down and writing endlessly. As I drew at one point, it feels more like battling a dragon than typing.

At the same time I keep an eye out for Impostor Syndrome. Then I ENCOURAGE WITH CAPSLOCK SO THEY HAVE TO BELIEVE ME!

3. I ask after we've talked about other things
The PhD does start to consume you completely and I know in the last month or two before I submitted, I didn't have room in my head to think about other things. My friend and I would be having coffee, talking about other things then zone out and suddenly burst out with an argument we could use in our thesis. We'd nod agreement to each other without really understanding more than vaguely then resume discussing coffee, or annoying people, or the weather, or all the things that will be better once we take over the university.

However here I think the useful analogy is not PhD as a full-time job, but PhD candidate like a stay-at-home parent.

Stay-at-home thesis-writing mum!
Image courtesy of Lean In / Getty Images collaboration to provide non-stereotyped stock photos of women

While they love their child (the thesis), they spend 24 hours a day thinking about it. They have their sympathetic parents group (PG study group/supervision panel/shut up and write crew) to talk to at length about it. And when they go out for coffee with someone from outside that world, it's really really nice to talk about something else for a while. Chances are they'll inevitably draw the conversation back to their Pride And Joy, but that's their choice. 

4. I know when not to ask
I don't ask if I know they're approaching an important deadline. I'll spend a whole hour talking about everything but the thesis - I'll ask about work, the family, the house, anything, because I know they don't need me guilt-tripping them into work.

The white rabbit is the thesis-writer's equivalent of an elephant in the room,
if the elephant was screaming "You're late! You're late! For a very important date!"

5. I ask because I've been there
The exception to the "Don't ask about the thesis" rule is that you can ask if you have first hand experience of writing a thesis.

I don't know exactly why. It's just a fundamental Truth.

However, between you and me, I think that if you take into account everything I've said, you can get away with asking.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Thesis Nuts and Bolts: Part 3: Printing and Binding FINAL COPY

This is the final blog in my trio this week on Thesis Nuts and Bolts. 

Now if you're in Adelaide and you ask your predecessors where to get your thesis bound, you'll probably hear that William Harley & Son Bookbinders is the only place in Adelaide which does thesis binding. It is in an old converted house just out of the city in Thebarton with a teeny reception window. I did try to look further; there are some interstate places that you could email your pdf to for printing and binding which I've heard do good work, but I was too nervous to trust Australia Post with My Precious or to trust colour choice when I couldn't see the materials in real life. 

Because we all know colour choice is the most important decision.

My mantlepiece-dweller
The other decisions you can make:

- Paper type/quality
- Title just on spine or extra for it on the front as well 
- A myriad of extra options: embossing, flourishes etc etc. 

The important thing is that it's a 24 hour service. No more no less. So if you drop it off at 3pm you can't pick it up at 9am the next day. (A student in front of me in the line wanted his sooner).

I got them to print as well as bind. Firstly because I wanted the final copy to be professionally printed and secondly because I was no longer at uni to exploit the printing facilities. I did get quotes from both WHarley and Whiteslaw (first link that appears if you google "thesis binding") so I could decide how many copies to get. I even made a spreadsheet (my dad was proud). At a rough count, of the 281 pages in my thesis, only 41 pages were black and white if I kept the coloured headings. This includes blank pages. However if I changed the headings to black, it would be 190 pages black and white, with 91 colour. It's a substantial difference. 

I changed the headings to black and white. 

I must say I was very happy with the result. It's quite lovely. Looks subtly better than the examination copy I printed on normal paper with the university printer.

Though this may be just part of the pregnancy analogy of thesis writing: I'm quietly convinced my thesis is prettier than anyone else's. 

I went to the printer's two days before I intended to submit. I took my brother along to help choose the colour, so the blue above is largely his choice, otherwise I would've been there for hours saying  "Blue? ... or Green? Blue?... or Green? Green? ... or Blue?" I took the file on a USB key (which I hung around my neck on a necklace to keep it close to my heart*) and when I copied it onto their computer, I opened it and scrolled through it for no particular reason. I then found a random university shield (presumably from one of the appendices) had replaced the label on an early figure. For no apparent reason. I panicked momentarily, considered leaving it, then confirmed I could email them the pdf to them that night and still get it in time.

Moral: It is worth going more than 24 hours before you need to. Because shit happens.

I was quietly convinced something would go horribly wrong, but nothing did. 

Another very important thing for the University of Adelaide students to be aware of is the THESIS ALLOWANCE.

Yes! They will reimburse you $840 for a PhD or $420 for a Masters for the printing and binding!
If you submit within candidature and if you were on a scholarship. 

The catch? You have to find the form! 

A colleague reminded me of it (thanks Margareta!) so I went looking. Could not find it for the life of me! So here's a direct link at the time of publishing. If however that doesn't work, search for "Thesis Allowance Claim Form" on the website. It ended up being located in the Grad Centre page (okay) under Forms & Information (makes sense) then under Nomination and Payment of Examiners (... WTF?!)

So even printing and binding five copies, with 91 colour pages per copy, the reimbursement covered my full costs.

Huge relief. Again I was quietly convinced my claim would be rejected even though there was no reason. 

Electronic version and copyright

The last important point to make is about the final electronic version. The part where you stick a pdf copy of your thesis on a CD, I'm sure you can handle. The tricky part is the copyright.

In my thesis I had diagrams that I'd either scanned in from books, or replicated, or adapted, or downloaded from the website (thanks LCT!). But more importantly I had oodles of music notation copied from the texts of the students I had studied. OODLES!

The tricky thing is that it's YOUR responsibility to obtain copyright permission for the online version. Finding out how to do that, and how that applied to notation students had transcribed of a bass line was hard. I asked around: three people referred me to a fourth who had referred me to the three people in the first place. Nobody really knew.

The clearest information I could find was this page from Monash University. Thanks Monash!

Top tip 1: Start researching any copyright permission you a) might need b) might be able to get earlier rather than later. After you submit your examination copy but way before you get your results. Because it can take months to obtain.

Top tip 2: If you can't, some anonymous librarian will remove the copyright material from your thesis pdf. You just have to give them a list.

In the end, the following contained content to be completely or partially removed from the online version of my thesis for copyright reasons:
  • 11 of 51 Tables
  • 20 of  39 Figures
  • 12 of 13 Examples
  • 2 of 21 Appendices
You see why I suggest you should look at it early.

It also means if you access the online version of my thesis, it will extensively discuss the multimodality of music notation without displaying any music notation. So if you're really interested, drop me an email and I'll send you a copy. 

So that's what I did for printing and binding. I hope that helps some of you Adelaideans know what to expect. If you have any questions drop me a line!

*true story.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thesis Nuts and Bolts: Part 2: Printing and Binding EXAMINATION COPY

Often the only time near-submitters make contact with the outside world is to ask previous submitters where they went to print and bind the thesis. So I thought I'd spell out the options.

This is very specific to Adelaide and to University of Adelaide. But hopefully some of the issues will hold true of other places.

The rules are simply that you need to provide three hard copies of the thesis for examination plus an electronic copy on a CD. They recommend soft bound but not necessarily which type of binding.

You'll probably want a copy for yourself as well, and your supervisor(s) might want one as well. If they have to argue for you in moderating the examiner's reports, it helps for them to have a reference text.
For the final copy, you need to provide one hard bound copy and one electronic copy on a CD. (I'll discuss printing and binding the final copy in the next blog post).

There are a couple of choices.
1) Print the copies yourself and take the papers to get bound
2) Print with one service and bind with another service
3) Take the electronic file somewhere and get them to both print and bind

I printed the thesis myself. This was for two reasons. Firstly, I was having the problems I mentioned in the last post with random page breaks and printing it myself would allow me to keep an eye on it. Secondly, and most importantly, I had lots of colour in my thesis and that would've cost a fair amount to print. 

There are several considerations in printing it yourself though. If printing at home, you have to have oodles of ink and paper. There is a high chance you will run out of both. If printing on campus, do you have enough credit to print it at uni? I still did so that was fine. If using an office printer, remember you are going to be printing at least three copies of a very large document, so you are going to be majorly hogging the printer. Do consider who's going to be around and wanting to use the printer. For me, this was OK because I was printing in the evening when most had left, though my friend and I were taking turns printing.

Top tip: I wasted a ream of paper before I realised that saving the file as a pdf would display the file as it would be printed out, including any glitches. This may seem redundant; surely the print preview option does this. As I mentioned I had page breaks appearing, and there's a myriad of tiny things that only display when you print. So rather than print out several copies to check, save it as pdf, then go through it with a fine tooth comb.

Once I had printed my four copies (three to submit and one for me), I got them bound at the university's Image and Copy Centre. It only cost $8 per copy and I think the turn-around time was about an hour. A colleague had before me got copies comb bound and thermal bound to compare; her thesis was much bigger than mine, and she concluded the thermal bound was much much better. I agree with her recommendation although one caution is make sure they put a cardboard backing on it; I ended up with clear plastic on both covers and it looses some structural integrity. They did have convenient plastic CD sleeves which were handy to stick in the back (I had my corpus on a disc as an appendix). 

One of my examination copies, thermal bound

Things to be aware of: There are peak times for the Image and Copy Centre. If you're wanting anything done around the start of the semester, realise there will be thousands of course guides and reading packs being printed out. Contact them ahead of time so you know how much time to allow.

As I finished printing late one a Wednesday evening, I took the bundles of paper to Officeworks to get bound, thinking they might do a more professional job. However, it was the week before Christmas and they wouldn't be ready until the following Monday. I couldn't handle that long a wait, so took them to the ICC the next morning. So it is worth calling around various places and finding out not only how much it would cost but how long it will take.

If you are going to comb bind it, you can possibly do it yourself if you have access to a binder at an office. I did this with my honours thesis and it ended up a little wonky.

Some things to consider
Some places, like Officeworks, print black and white on one machine and colour on another. If you have a large amount of colour in your thesis, this might be an issue. One colleague had her thesis printed in black and white, then printed the colour pages herself and substituted them before getting it bound.

If you have submitted and have any tips or warning stories, please share them in the comments below!

So those are the tedious details of printing for examination. On Friday I'll publish my last post on the Thesis Nuts and Bolts by recounting the minutia of the examination copy. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Thesis Nuts and Bolts: Part 1: Formatting

When the time comes to submit a thesis, there are so many decisions to make, so many little details to figure out, and so many guidelines to adhere to, that it can be overwhelming. When my time came, I asked my colleagues who had submitted within the previous twelve months everything I could think of about where and when and how. So in the spirit of passing on the information, I'm writing it all here for those of you submitting after me.

However, there is a LOT of information. So I'm making a week of it! Monday, Wednesday and Friday I'll be posting blogs about formatting, printing and binding the examination copy, and printing and binding the final copy!

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, though, some of this information will only be relevant to Australian PhDs, some only to Adelaideans, some only to University of Adelaide students. And even then, some of the official requirements may have changed so don't just rely on me.

At the very least, I hope you get forewarned of issues you may face and decisions you may have to make.


I combed through the Thesis Specifications form to find the official requirements for formatting. They're easily summarised: 
  • The title page is content is prescribed.
    Note: on the final submitted copy you keep the original submission date (could not find this stated anywhere though!)
Title page

  • You must include a table of contents, an abstract, the originality declaration & library consent, and acknowledgements.
  • The wording of the declaration is prescribed. (See the Thesis Specifications page for latest wording)
    Note: you only have to use the publications declaration if you're doing a thesis by publication, not if you have previously published.
My declaration (wording for 2013)

  • The rest of the thesis should be a "clear and legible font", such as Arial Narrow 12 or Times 12.
  • Margins should be no less than 35 mm on inside edge and 15 mm on other edges.

That's it. 

So what this means is it can be single- or double-sided. There is no obligation to double space the body text. You can choose a non-Arial or Times font. You can have it size 11 or size 10 or size 11.5.

Top tip: Proofread all the ancillary information before the introduction very carefully. I have seen masters dissertations with sloppy typos in the acknowledgements or abstract. Even worse, I had a typo in my TITLE that I only noticed 2 hours after submission. I had prepared the title page several months before and it had an earlier wording. I had fastidiously checked every other part of the title page (I've seen also seen the month misspelt!) and I had played with various formats for the title (left-aligned, right-aligned, different font sizings), but I did not notice that it still said "legitimisation" instead of "legitimation" like my entire thesis. Let my facepalm be a lesson to you all.

What I did

Page 1 of my thesis

I used the Word defaults of calibri for the body and cambria for the headings with the attendant formatting variations for the various levels of headings. I also used cambria for excerpts from the texts I was analysing to differentiate them from quotes from references.
I used 1.15 spacing between lines, but 24pt spacing after paragraphs.
My margins were 4cm on the inside, 2.5cm on the outside, 2.54cm top and bottom.
I printed double-sided.
I used colour-coding in my analysis, and kept the default blue for the headings for the examination copy. 

I kept each chapter in separate files until I assembled them all in one giant Word file. (People will tell you this is Bad, but I had no problem).

Some implications to consider:

I was briefly tempted to use a free font I had downloaded; although it is lovely and would've visually distinguished my thesis from the mass, I couldn't load it on my university computer. When the computer can't read the font, everything gets messed up - paragraphing, pagination, aesthetics. Even as a pdf sometimes if the font is not loaded on the computer it can still be affected. So it's a safer bet to use a commonly installed font.
I heard recently that non-serif fonts like Century Gothic or Arial are easier to read on a computer screen. As all of our dissertations are electronically available these days, and most of our readers will read it on a screen of some sort, it's worth considering. 

Because I only had 1.15 spacing between lines and my margins weren't especially wide, I found it was aesthetically easier to read if I added a larger space between paragraphs (24pt).
Because I printed double-sided, I had to pay attention to the placement of the page number in the footer. I wanted it to be on the outside of the page (right side of the right page and left side of the left page). This is fairly easily done (just have different footers for odd and even pages), however you have to pay attention when you have section breaks and landscape pages as it can get out of whack. I also inserted some blank pages to ensure that the first page of every chapter was on the right hand page, as were the abstract, declaration, and acknowledgements.

Formatting gremlins:

I kept having seemingly random page breaks inserting themselves without my permission. It was only the day before I submitted that I figured out why it was happening. I had used cross-referencing extensively - I would insert a "cross reference" to an object (table, example, figure) so that it would automatically update the number if I rearranged things. When I was doing the final pagination (making sure objects did not break awkwardly over two pages or leave a single line of text on a page) I inserted page breaks to move objects to the next page. For some odd reason, if you insert the page break immediately in front of the caption label, the next time the file is refreshed (by closing and opening the file), it will ALSO insert a page break in front of the cross reference in text. I was left with a sequence like this:
Page 1: This can be demonstrated in
Page 2: Table 2 below.
Page 3: [Table 2].
I did my best to fix this but a few still slipped through to the examination copy, although I was purposefully not adding page breaks. However to my great embarrassment it was only after a solid hour of wrangling with it before the final submission that it suddenly occurred to me: the in text references no longer needed to be refreshable cross-references. THEY WEREN'T GOING TO BE CHANGED ANY MORE! So I just retyped them as plain text.

I tell you this in the hopes it will save the ream of paper I printed out trying to get it right.

I also had problems with images and labels moving around spontaneously between objects. I still don't know why that happened. I blame it on Thesis Gremlins. I can only recommend doing at least one read-through paying particular attention to objects and labels. It's too easy to skim over them.

So that's what I did for formatting. If you have any questions ask them in the comments. If you encountered any problems or want to share your stylistic choices, pleas share them in the comments.

On Wednesday I will post about the vagaries of printing and binding for examination!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

OPERATION: GAJette (Get A Job)

Hi everyone,

I'm looking for a job. If you know anyone who is looking to hire someone in the areas of communication and literacy, let me know or send them this link: It has my official resumes and other interesting and relevant information about me.

To be precise: I'm currently interested in positions such as communication officer, copywriter, research assistant or literacy support officer. Or anything in between. I'm happy to move anywhere in Australia or the world.

Thank you to everyone who has been keeping their ear to the ground for opportunities for me so far. I do really appreciate it.

As a bit of fun, here is a stick figure CV I created, because job searching often is more soul-destroying than fun. Enjoy.