The Post-PhD Conversation


My PhD graduation.

This is the conversation you have with your partner, your PhD supervisor, your peers, mentors, sponsors, or those who have long ago finished their PhD.


It’s that conversation where you go in with the obvious question –

what do I want to do after my PhD?

– and come out with a plan.

Let’s look at what your conversation might be. Here are 5 options.

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Moss Lady


e regnans landscape2


I looked around. I swore I heard someone calling out. The silver wattle swayed. The mountain ash towered. No. I must have been dreaming. I was tired. I reckoned I still had enough daylight to do one more site but maybe the three I had done would do. I was stuffed. I shook my head and refocused.

“Helloooo? Moss Lady. Are you there?”

I wasn’t dreaming. The Melbourne Water crew thought it amusing that I would spend my days looking for moss. ‘Moss Lady’. It was novel and easier to say than my real name, so it stuck. I doubt they actually remembered my real name.

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How a childhood outdoors shaped my ecological career



As a child, getting out in the Australian ‘bush’ was a regular event (image taken ~1982)

My father scanned all the family photos and it has been interesting to compare the places we visited back in the 1970’s and 1980’s with what they look like now. But what also struck me was the importance of our holidays, from my childhood to now.

Filing the photos made me realise that for me, my childhood camping trips with my family in the Australian bush are what I would class as my first and most significant childhood introduction to ecology. I also believe it influenced why I chose to become an ecologist.

What was your first significant encounter with the environment as a child?  Do you believe it influenced your subsequent career choice?

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The Dos and Don’ts in an interview

(or, Why a music performance is similar to an interview)

1fe511d7b7fdbf9753a53795d540e5f6The first position in my field that I applied for was before handing in my Hons. thesis, and I had started working before giving my defence. The first position I applied for after my PhD I was accepted into without an interview. The next applied for position I didn’t get, after that I gave a 70% performance in a post-doc interview and got the position, and recently I was knocked back.

Getting knocked back can take the wind out of your sails but learning from your mistakes and moving forward with positivity is much more productive. And today I tried again. Continue reading

Writing an academic book review


A few titles recently sent out for review

For a previous blog, I wrote about what it was like to be a book review editor for two ecological journals. I am constantly asked questions like: What is the process for writing an academic book review?  How does one choose a book to review? Which journal should it be published in? How does one write a book review?

The following three Parts give some answers to these questions. Whilst the reviews I commission and edit have an ecological flavour, the answers below can apply to all academic book reviews.

Part 1. Choosing the book.

Part 2. Selecting the journal.

Part 3. Writing the review.

Because this post is long, I have split it so you can skip sections. Read each Part, or select one to answer your question. Bookmark this blog and come back to it later. Overall, I hope you find what you read useful and/or stimulating for your next book review. Continue reading

The Ecological Book Review Editor

A few titles recently sent out for review

A few titles recently sent out for review

Late one Friday, in November 2008, I hit send. I knew it was poorly worded but my email was gone.

“Not sure where I put your last email – but just wondering if you still needed applicants for this position?”

I began as the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) Book Review Editor for the journals Austral Ecology (AE), and Ecological Management and Restoration (EMR), in March.  My third child was ~4 weeks old. Was I insane? Perhaps. Thanks to the previous editor, Ian Lunt, I was well equipped – his description of the role was detailed and methodical. I still use his guidelines and what few questions I had were quickly responded to.  I was ready.

My reasons for wanting the role were partly selfish. My post-doc had wound up, and given we were still collecting data, there were few papers on the radar (>20 have generated from the project since). I’d gone back to work 5 months after my eldest was born, so it wasn’t as if I couldn’t work. However, finding work in ecology was getting harder, and moving wasn’t an option. How many women do you know in ecology who work part-time/full-time with 3 or more children? I realised I now walked around with a label on my forehead – “she has three children”. I needed my career label to cover the label that now says “OMG now she has 4 children – she definitely can’t do it!” I needed to keep ‘in the loop’ and this was one way. Continue reading

The ‘dumbed down’ thesis

When I describe my profession or the title of my PhD dissertation to fellow ecologists, the language I use can be very different from that used with those who are not familiar with the work. It’s not being pretentious or egotistical. It is simply speaking to your audience. Something we fail to do well at though is just that, speak well about our work to an audience who are not familiar with our language or work.

Ecology is not a common profession, and 20 years on when asked ‘what do you do?’ my response is still mistaken for something else; ‘Oncology’ is the most common.  An ecologist is somewhat of a rarity at my children’s school. Parents are familiar with titles such as ‘geologist’, ‘botanist’ and ‘zoologist’. As such, when asked by parents I used to simply state my profession as a ‘botanist’ or ‘scientist’. Given people are not familiar with the ‘ecologist’ title, when launching into a description of ‘what I do’- let alone a description of my PhD thesis – I was conscious of sounding like a ‘know-it-all’.

Without realising it, by not stating ‘I am an ecologist’ and using an alternative title, I was insulting someone’s intelligence, as well as my own. I don’t do this anymore. I now state my profession and, if needed, explain exactly what I do. For the more we explain it, the better informed everyone will be of what an ‘ecologist’ does. I still choose my words carefully; I don’t go over the top and I don’t dumb it down to far.

However, dumbing it down can actually be a great icebreaker and opener, as well as a bit of a laugh. Continue reading