Friday, 23 July 2010

Dance your PhD

PhDs or any form of research can be incredibly frustrating. The nature of what you are doing means that things do not work out as planned and often take 10x as long (for no apparent reason). People that have not undertaken a lot of research may not understand this and may presume that it is down to bad planning of the person involved, sometimes it is, but more than often it is not. I can plan for Great Britain. Day plans, week plans, yearly plans - but I cannot plan for experiments spontaneously not working, or fire alarms interrupting experiments or other random events that seem to happen when an experiment is in mid flow (if aliens were to land they would do it in the middle of a very expensive, very important experiment). As you can probably tell I am going through one of these frustrating times - everything I am doing seems to be failing on me or has come to a complete standstill. HOWEVER, I am not going to moan about how rubbish a PhD is... as many people in the Internet forums seem to . I have chosen to do this, I do enjoy it ... and I WILL finish this in 3 years.

I have chosen another way to spend my morning ..... DANCE YOUR PhD! A craze from the country where nearly all crazy ideas come from (the US & A) ... Just search on YouTube for 'Dance Your PhD' and I guarantee you will no longer be annoyed or frustrated with your life/PhD, and a whole world of good feeling and laughter will come your way. It is the best idea I have seen in a very long time - no longer will people have to worry about explaining what exactly your PhD is on, or what you are doing with your life, everything can be made clear and simple via the medium of expressive dance and YouTube. As an added bonus you can actually win real money for your efforts. This is like Glee, but waaay geekier. Glee for scientists.....

This is my personal favourite, mostly because it involves some Daft Punk, ass wiggling and stripping:

More info about the 2010 competition can be found here -

Maybe the media could take this mainstream and report all science topics via expressive dance? It would probably make things clearer than they are today.

I will keep you posted, I am off to plan my dance :-)

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Anyone here a Doctor? YES, ME! Oh no, not that kind of Doctor - Gillian McKeith (not PhD)

Last week I gave in, I put aside my pride and joined Twitter. The only people that I thought might be interesting on Twitter are Ben Goldacre, Tim Minchin and Stephen Fry, so I added them and began to follow.......Oh how glad am I that I joined last week!!! Much to my delight (although probably not to my supervisors) I got to watch the unfolding of Ben Goldacre (actual Doctor) vs Gillian McKeith (not a medical doctor, dubious PhD). If you do not know what this debate is about - check out this link for a quick summary of what happened. People are covering this amazing spectacle all over the Internet as it unfolds (and I am sure there is more to come) so I am going to discuss - what does being a Doctor mean? Who is a Doctor? Can you trust people that call themselves Dr ... and what on earth is a PhD?!

Doctor type 1 -  Medical Doctor, usually found in hospitals/GP surgeries looking a bit ropey due to overwork and stress. These people have studied Medicine at a university. Medical Schools in the UK are governed by the GMC, in the US they have a similar system through the AAMC. This is in order to ensure that all students with a degree in medicine are capable and educated to a certain standard. All of these courses are deemed to be 'equal'  - therefore churning out equally able trainee doctors. More training then has to be carried out before medical graduates can practice as GPs, Surgeons, Consultants etc. Other countries have similar systems and to practice as a medical doctor in the UK you have to be approved by the GMC. These people are trained and well equipped to give advice on various health topics. Gillian McKeith is definitely not a medical doctor.

Doctor type 2 - PhD/Ph.D./D.Phil. Where PhD means - Doctor of Philosophy. These people are called Dr as recognition for their expertise in a certain field - usually where they have researched and studied a certain field or topic for a number of years. This is where it gets a bit complicated..

The requirements for a PhD differ from country to country but the main point is, wherever you study for a PhD you have to demonstrate that you have carried out novel, independent research. In the UK this is generally done by researching a topic for 3-5 years then summarising the work in a thesis - the PhD student is then examined on the thesis. The thesis exam or viva is carried out to to check that the thesis is PhD standard and to check that the student is worthy of being granted a PhD.  Students are examined by an internal examiner (from their university - but not their supervisor) and an external examiner who is generally an expert on the PhD topic to be examined. Some countries require a presentation to a panel and a certain number of published papers before a PhD is granted. Basically, as I said above you have to demonstrate novel and independent research into a topic and prove to others that you have done this. PhD thesis are usually kept in the university library and are freely available for others to read. Some PhD thesis contain confidential information and therefore are not available (this can happen if the research is done on something patentable, such as a new drug) but thesis are only kept confidential in these instances for a certain period of time (e.g. 5 years).

The strength of the PhD is based on the thesis and the institution from which it was granted - much like how traditional degrees are judged. For example, a degree from Oxford = good. Degrees and PhDs can also be accredited from certain institutions e.g. a Geology degree can be accredited by the Geological Society ... this gives some some degrees more weight against others.

Gillian McKeith studied for her 'PhD' in Natural Health from a controversial unaccredited institution (not a medical school nor is it accredited by the American Naturopathic Medicine Association) in the USA. With somewhat excellent comedy timing it was revealed this week that this institution where McKeith 'studied' has now shut down -  see link.  Also her thesis is unavailable to read - but this book is supposedly a published version of her PhD. I haven't read it, but from what I have heard it would not be worthy of a PhD from any established UK institution. Ben Goldacre has covered this in much detail... and there we have it - twitter - '#gillianmckeithhasnophd'

Doctor No 3 - the Honorary Dr - this is when an educational institution gives someone they deem as doing a lot of work for a particular field (without studying at the university) an honorary degree/doctorate. These as far as I can see are handed out by universities as they wish and are not really seen as proper qualifications, but they are quite often an ego and publicity boost and people like to be recognised for doing good work. I believe Dr Ben Goldacre is receiving one soon from Loughborough...

SO the answer to my question is,  you can trust some Doctors and calling yourself Dr after studying for a PhD is fine (anyone with a PhD definitely deserves recognition for their work, very few get much  monetary recognition, so an ego boost is given instead). Misrepresenting your qualification (which is the accusation against McKeith) is not acceptable - although if you do not know how the system works then it is difficult to question what people are telling you. My Grandma does not understand the concept of a PhD - my parents barely understand what the point of it is, but they do know I will be called Dr .. in a few years. If you tell someone you are 'Dr so and so' and proceed to hand out advice about food and health - the majority of people will assume you are a medical doctor - someone like McKeith as a public figure who regularly gives out advice, should make it extremely clear what her qualifications are and what research she has done. A respected doctor of any description would happily do this - people rarely ask about PhD topics - let alone request to read their thesis, normally people would be flattered.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Women in Science

I haven't posted anything for a few weeks as I have been running up and down the country living in a field and giving presentations to my PhD sponsor.

I did manage a visit to the hairdressers (I seem to think more at the hairdressers than anywhere else, maybe its the massaging chair) which made me think back to one of my earlier posts Women in Science and the media where I had a bit of a moan about how women in science are often ignored by various 'women of the year' award type efforts in womens magazines. I never did get a response from the editor of  Red magazine ... Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to see an article in one magazine (2 page spread in fact) about L'oreals women in science award with an article that featured two proper lady scientists. It's great that a brand like L'oreal is supporting schemes like this (it does add a hint of glamour to the world of science) and its also great that the magazines are giving it some space (although I suspect L'oreal may have had to pay for the privilege). Unfortunately I can't find the article online, so I am unable to link to it, but here is the link to the L'oreals women in science website.

I managed to read two magazines in my time in the chair and I was even more surprised to see a mentoring scheme in Marie Claire which offered the services of a female scientist! Julie Mcmanus a scientist at L'oreal (it seems L'oreal seem to be pushing the boat out a bit here on promoting females in science, yey for them!) is offering to mentor one person for 6 months. I think this is a fab idea, I have learnt that mentors can be invaluable in the advice they offer  - no matter what job role you have (science or not) and I have also been told that they are incredibly useful at any stage in your career, many good managers still have mentors. Seeing a female scientist offering up her services in a womens magazine I think is incredible, I hope whoever she mentors makes full use of her! I also hope that it leads to more people getting involved with mentoring schemes!

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