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Honours

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Whether you want to cultivate a career in criminology or Chinese relations, or have aspirations in art curation or architecture, the Postgrad Expo this Saturday 31 August is the place to start.

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Research degrees provide access to like-minded peers and a very deep understanding in a very narrow field. However, the ability to express our ideas in an engaging way outside of our fields, or to think about our research in professional or even commercial contexts beyond academia, are areas that are often neglected. But where do we find the training resources needed to hone these skills, and how do we find the time to practice them?

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An interest in science fiction and history – and the influence of some inspirational teachers – put Benjamin Pope on a study path that’s taken him around the world.

Now back at Sydney Uni after completing an exchange year at the University of California, Berkeley, where he conducted research with a Nobel Laureate and travelled to an observatory in Hawaii to work with world leaders in astrophysics, Ben has received a University Medal for his honours thesis and is about to start his PhD. “The example of those who've taught me has cemented the importance of nurturing the individual interests of students and helping them find the right field to kindle their excitement”, says Ben, but he didn’t start out with a career in astrophysics in mind.

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Thesis.

The word alone is enough to send shivers down any student's spine, to churn stomachs, to cause an uncontrollable panic attack. But it's a whole different story when you're actually writing one.

Then, your thesis becomes like your child; your unique little creation that you so tenderly nurture from infancy to adulthood.

And like every parent, you only want what's best for your thesis, and hope that it will one day grow up into an impressive, knock-me-down-with-a-feather, first class (potentially publishable) thesis.

And that's when things can start to go wrong.

Suddenly, you're gripped by the fear of handing your baby over to some anonymous reviewer who is going to scrutinise, analyse, and criticise it.

You start to feel like a guilty parent. Maybe you haven’t put enough time into raising your thesis. Maybe you've missed out on the most important months. Maybe you should have done more. Or something else. Or just given up.

No.

Remember, you did what you thought was best at the time. And you can only do what you think is best now. And then, like a parent wishing their child well when they’re old enough to leave the nest, you will have to let your thesis go.

Trust that you’ll get there in the end. Some theses mature quickly. Others are late bloomers and won’t mature until they absolutely have to.

But one way or another, you’ll get there in the end.

And trust that you will have done a good enough job to allow your thesis to fend for itself once it’s out on its own in the big bad world.

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Freshly back from Nanjing, I've started Honours in physics and astronomy, and as part of this I'm over in Hawai'i working with my co-supervisor, Frantz Martinache, at Subaru Observatory on the Big Island. This is the third science-related trip for this degree, which is something I'm deeply thankful about. This blog began as a bit of an essay on some experiences I've had in the last week over here in Hawai'i, so it's quite long and I do go into the science a bit - but if you're interested, read on!

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Things have gone eerily quiet here in Psych Honours world. The Facebook group is no longer buzzing with activity, mandatory seminars are over, the statistics exam (the horror. The horror) is a distant repressed memory, and there is an overwhelming sense that any time we now spend at uni will be, for all intents and purposes, “voluntary”. Thesis work has officially taken front and centre.
Us rat runners are in the labs at all hours of the day, human researchers are cursing the first years who cancel participation in their experiments at the last minute – it’s all quite glamorous really.
So what advice would I give to those who are considering enlisting for the Honours Special Forces next year?

First of all, don’t ask a current Honours student for their advice. People who are effectively bundles of stress mixed with a delicate combination of sleep deprivation and junk food self-medication are not the most appealing advertisements for Honours enrolment. Rather, ask someone who’s already been through it and lived to tell the tale (hopefully).

Second of all, go into Honours with rational optimism and realistic expectations. Yes, it’s a ridiculous amount of work squashed into an equally ridiculous time frame. Yes, it will be stressful, unpredictable, and laborious at times. Yes, you will more than likely question, at least once every few weeks (if not more often), why on earth you signed up for this in the first place. But at the same time, you will learn a ton of new things as well. Not just academically, but about how to work more efficiently, about what drives you and where your interests truly lie.

Personally, I would thoroughly recommend it.
Now, time to get back to that stubborn rat of mine who’s taking a painfully long time with lever-press training.

To check out more information on post-graduate study, visit the link below:
http://sydney.edu.au/future_students/postgraduate/

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It's the time of year when most Honours students are writing their theses. But what is my project about? To spare the reader from fatigue I will summarise briefly:

I am investigating light response in a cyanobacterium, Acaryochloris marina. This organism is special because it lives in environments enriched in near-infrared light. I am specifically interested in phytochrome, which is the main red light photoreceptor in plants and bacteria, and how it might regulate responses to light. To do this, I have 1) taken a molecular evolution approach place A. marina's phytochrome in the phytochrome superfamily, 2) cloned this phytochrome into E. coli and expressed it with the aim of characterising it, and 3) performed some physiological experiments on A. marina in different light conditions.

There! I hope that wasn't too boring. Alternatively, if you find any of that interesting, just email me :).

Other than thesis writing, I've been buying cheap books. The university was selling old library books in the Great Hall a week or so ago. If my camera was working (it broke in China) I would show you a photo of the 4 boxes of science fiction books I bought.... for $20! On the grand scale of science fiction reading I am considered ignorant - but I guess that's going to change! Do scientists prefer science fiction? I have a scientist friend who once said:

"Bah! Fiction! Read a real book," as he opened the latest tome by David Haig. As an ashamed fan of the BBC series "The Thin Blue Line", I was confused by this. See Google for some help with that one :). Yikes!

Anyway, back to it.

Bleh.

30 Mar

...percrawling away is necessary when flight cannot be achieved (37). Although canopy leaves are no more nutritious than shaded leaves and increases the beetles risk of being eaten, fasteratenearpeakefficiency(31).‘ Skimming’reliesuponaccesstolargefoodsuppliesforadequatenutritionasmore energy and nutrients are wasted under high GPR than they would be if they were extracted at a lower rate: In other words, nutritional gain under high GPR requires consuming the equivalent of for example, six meals per hour at high Tb, whereas the same could be extractedBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH with moderate GPR and lower Tb but with maximal NAE by slowly processing one meal per hour. One reason why Chuckwallas benefit from this strategy is that it can gain more nutrients per hour by mareach intake targets necessary for growth (10,29). Regulating protein and digestible carbohydrate intake strongly influences selective feeding by herbivores (30). Short-term adjustments of Tb can be used to improve ximising its GPR than it WAFFLEWAFFLEcan by maximising NAE. For example, an animal eating six meals per hour may only skim two milligrams of nutrients per meal in an hour with rapid GPR versus 10 milligrams per meal at a lower Tb. Therefore the overall nutrient gain is greater for the animal with higher GPR because it would gain two milligrams of nutrients more per hour than the animal that maxim...

IT'S THESIS TIME!

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There's a month and a half worth of experiment time to go...

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Hello the Internet,

Recently I’ve been running a pilot study of my experiments to figure out what level of replication I will need to answer my questions (see the first blog for the general questions!) and identify any dodgy aspects of my current set-up. As with all pilot studies (or perhaps just mine...) the first study went wrong, so I didn’t actually end up recording anything. During the first trial, the locusts (in groups of one, three or five) were thrown randomly into cardboard arenas (made of high-tech apple boxes stolen from the recycling bin) and filmed every ten minutes from a video camera perched both precariously and wisely upon two milk crates and a bucket.

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Today I took the train to Whoop-whoop to help my fellow honours sacrificial lamb – erm, student – find field sites for his honours project.
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Here he is, trying to look for spiders up a tree – Science, you’re doing it wrong...

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Howdy kids,

Well, it’s already three months in to the Magical Land of Honours, and EVERYBODY wants a piece of action!

Slowly, we bright young things are being transformed into caffeinated zombies (below), so grab your tin-foil hats, lest we catch you and try to suck your brains out through your earholes...

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Hello, the Internet!
I’ve just started doing Honours in Biology with the Behaviour and Physiology Research Group run by Prof. Steve Simpson here at the University of Sydney. I’ve had a rabid obsession with biology and ecology for quite a long time. I once owned a small colony of guinea pigs (species name) which became so in-bred over time that they rebelled and built a nuclear device out of lucerne pellets and launched a sneak attack on the rabbits next door. I will never know why.

But back to the reason why I’m writing this – HONOURS! What is it all about?

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Apologies for the lack of entries! Things became rather busy. Let me explain.

I took four subjects last semester because I want to finish my undergraduate degree this year (so I can do any of a few things that I have planned, including - fix up some health problems, travel to London, move to Melbourne, get a full time job, etc.) As a consequence of this decision, I was busy. Very busy. I chose subjects that required a lot of reading and even more thought - third year English subjects especially, and pre-Honours subjects. If you are looking to do honours make sure you find out what is required from the faculty or department that you are studying under. You probably need to complete the requirements for a major and a bit more, and possibly take some specific subjects that teach you about research or other things necessary for an honours degree.

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With just over a month to go before my honours thesis is due (34 days to be exact – not that I’m counting), reality has hit. Smack bang in the middle of my head, in a mind-numbing way that only a 20, 000 word limit can. So, just like the flowers are emerging in the glorious weather of spring I thought I’d emerge from my hermit-like world to reflect a bit on honours - what it is, why people do it, and how on earth I got here.

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If you had told me in second year that there would be a time in my university life that I would make it through four weeks of semester having only visited Manning Bar twice, I would have laughed in the face of your naivety. Manning was my second home, for lazy lunches in the sunshine, afternoons that drift into evenings on the balcony, or concerts & club events that rock the stage. I knew the tech guys, the bar manager, the Access office crew, and the guy who booked the gigs. You could go alone and know there’d be someone there to talk to. We’d catch up and joke about our growing qualification… a Masters in Manning.

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It’s twenty to midnight and I cannot help plunging into an existential crisis, the kind you are far more prone to when it’s so quiet you can hear the fridge humming and the crickets outside. But it’s not the silence that’s killing me, its what’s sitting across from me on the couch….

Some may call it ‘child’s play’ but I wonder whether there is a level of skill you loose as you grow older. Not everything can get better, more sophisticated, and developed, can it?

I have to find some excuse or scientific explanation for the fact that I am an absolute failure at “Bop it”. As I desperately grab at the buttons on this battery operated children’s game I keep one ear cocked for any sounds of stirring from the kids I am babysitting. I have saved my tomfoolery for after I put them to bed, and thank god because my highest score seems to have stagnated on 9. Which makes me feel like a right twit when you put it into context - the young one now slumbering (in a room decorated with frog pictures) has his highest score set at 188.

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Honour Bound

25 Sep

Today's riddle:

What is:
- 130 pages long?
- has a word count of 21813?
- includes over 140 000 characters?
- references 110 items of primary sources, and 147 secondary sources?

MY THESIS!

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Ode to Rod

21 Aug

As an Honours student, I have devoted a sizeable chunk of my year to studying in Fisher Library.

I use the computer labs there, I search for books there, I look up journal articles online, and as an added bonus, I am able to order books from other libraries if the Fish doesn't carry them.

This process is called Document Delivery, and today, I'm going to tell you all about the man who runs the DD show: Rod.

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Long time gone

17 Aug

My thesis is due in less than two months.

My body has been replaced by ten buckets of stress and a half a dozen bits of nervous wreck.

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When you were a child and someone asked you "what do you want to do when you grow up", did you ever answer: "I want to change the world"?

I have. And one thing you quickly learn about social change is that sometimes the biggest changes happen because of the actions of a small few...

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Everything you ever wanted to know about uni but were too afraid to ask....
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