Training myself

In my recent posts, I have explored the possibility of professional development for GR supervisors. In fact, exploring it so well, I’ve written a course proposal to deliver online training for GR supervisors, incorporating discussion groups, reflection and engagement with the literature in a heutagogical approach.

Reflections and black holes

As I’ve been thinking more about this, I’ve been reflecting on my own supervisory holes, and one that keeps on raising its ugly head is that I don’t know how to help my students with their writing. Writing is commonly given as the biggest challenge that my students face. They hate writing, hate sharing drafts and hate reading the feedback. To be honest, I’ve hated reading and giving feedback and wondered how we can be at such a mismatch.

When I look into the water, do I see myself reflected back?

Formally writing formal writing

Last year (oh horrible year of the pandemic and Melbourne lockdowns), I decided to start an informal writing course for my students and ran a 6 week (then 7, then 8 week) weekly get together to discuss elements of a paper and writing. We covered some weekly topics below- and I’ve started up again this year with a new one ‘titles’.

  1. Writing, why do we love it or hate it?
  2. Abstracts
  3. Literature reviews- how to map the gap
  4. Effective literature reviews
  5. Writing methodology and result sections
  6. Conclusions
  7. Editing and proofreading
  8. Figures and tables

How did I run this course and find all these materials? Simple; I followed someone awesome on Twitter (@WriteThatPhD; thanks Dr Mel!), and copied some exemplars, and followed the links to some papers. There is a good example below- a nice link to an article, a well regarded journal article, and a line-by-line examination of the structure. A nice hook we saw in lots of abstracts is the ‘here we show…’ section, straight after the knowledge gap. General feedback from students ‘super helpful’, ‘helps me with my writing’, ‘love the structure’.

I’ve expanded my horizons (and google searches) and have come across a Coursera offering ‘Writing in the Sciences’. I’ve done the first week already (along with 224, 598 others), and find the material very useful. I’m not sure whether to direct my students to this course, or to use this material thoughtfully when giving feedback!

A friendly screenshot: full details at

But what does this mean for my professional development?

This is important and underpins my theorising on encouraging academics to be continually learning and upgrading practice and reflecting on the process.

In reality, I have found an example of ‘enculturation’ and I’m using skills in exemplar management to display how ‘things are done’ in science (Lee et al, 2007). I’m encouraging my students to become members of a disciplinary community and I’m reinforcing ‘critical thinking’ skills by analysing texts and helps ’emancipation’ by debating approaches and content.

Lee & Murray (2015)

I’m moving through a form of adult learning, which Mezirow (1991) refers to

moves the individual towards a more inclusive, differentiated permeable (open to other points of view), and integrated meaning perspective

Mezirow (1991) p. 7

Surely a good thing. And while I can start to chart these circles of reflection, practice and change myself, the challenge is to help my GR students understand that this is happening to them, as an intentional or unintentional, consequence of their graduate studies (Stevens-Long et al 2012). Perhaps the heutagogical framework I have investigated needs to be thought of in the context of transformational learning. Once more into the literature I go…


Lee, A. (2007). Developing effective supervisors: Concepts of research supervision. Information Services, 21.

Lee, A., & Murray, R. (2015). Supervising writing: Helping postgraduate students develop as researchers. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 52(5), 558–570.

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Stevens-Long, J., A. Schapiro, A., and McClintock, C. (2012). Passionate Scholars: Transformative Learning in Doctoral Education. Adult Education Quarterly, 62, 180.

Training the trainers!

Not a post about shoes, but more about the challenge of providing flexible, online, relevant and (yes, you guessed it) essential training at the University. Here, I want to consider how best to deliver learning to the professoriate.

The discussions by my learned colleagues Heather Gaunt, Solange Glasser and Matt Absolom have crystallised how the structure and pedogogy of teaching underpins the learning that can be done, and importantly for this discussion, the possibilities of authentically engaging the learners.

Here, I want to consider the thorny topic of training the Professors. This is a very real issue for the University more broadly, and I’m sure many who are reading here would have shared a coffee with a colleague, complaining about the mandatory training delivered online. Sigh. Tedious, but necessary. But there are other areas where ongoing and professional development is essential as the world, regulatory requirements and graduate attributes change. Modifying delivery, making it flexible and making it accessible is important and imperative.

I’m talking about PhD training (graduate researchers in UMelbourne-speak). The Australian Council of Graduate Research has listed 6 principles of best practice, and at number 5 we can find the one relevant to this discussion.

Supervisors must provide guidance to graduate research candidates in the design, conduct and timely completion of the research project, support in publication and dissemination of research findings, and advise on the acquisition of a range of research and other skills as appropriate to the discipline and the background of the candidate.Supervisors also play a critical role in the development of both research and transferable skills to equip candidates with graduate attributes relevant to the breadth of employability opportunities open to post doctoral candidates. (Graduate Research Good Practice Principles, n.d.)

The 2016 Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) review found that Australia-wide, we have a robust and transparent graduate researcher training program, which made excellent contributions to knowledge, underpinned by a strong examination process and development of research skills (McGagh et al., 2016). However, the gaps were seen as making links to industry and and thus making research more relevant to Australia’s economy. This leads to a priority to drive confidence in the quality of GR students, by (amongst other things), increasing professionalism of supervision.

The last priority is the one we need to focus on. It is clear- there is a real and present need to adequately train our GR for the professional world. Students need professional, transferrable and disciplines specific skills. How can we equip GR supervisors to deliver these skills? Professors are excellent at delivering technical and discipline specific training and have great exemplars in how to deliver this training as they were trained this way themselves. But how do we encourage the professoriate to help students develop other areas? Refer them to other experts or train the professors to deliver other skills?

A thread on Twitter has captured my interest of late, and has sparked lots of discussions from academics and researchers on Twitter about what needs to be explicitly taught to GR students. Lots of grist for the mill, but what is the best way to present these gems across a discipline and institution? How can we support supervisors with platforms and mechanisms to support their GR students in these areas?

Professional development for GR supervisors is improving but there is still a way to go. I propose that a different framework should be approached, and have developed a padlet to note these ideas.

My reading has taken me the style of instruction which underpins subjects or courses to deliver content. I’ve wandered briefly into rhizomatic learning (eek!) but reading more about heutagogy makes me think this is a better approach. An excellent review by Moore (2020) considers lifelong learning and reviewed literature to apply heutagogy to adult, higher education and professional development, and specifically references development of extra skills of faculty (= professors). While noting a lack of critical studies which examine the value of assessment in heutagogical approaches, I think there is much to examine for utility to higher education. Of particular note is the focus on learner autonomy, which is certainly appropriate for the professoriate!


Graduate Research Good Practice Principles. (n.d.). ACGR. Retrieved May 2, 2021, from

McGagh, J., Marsh, H., Western, M., Thomas, P., Hastings, A., Mihailova, M., & Wenham, M. (2016). Review of Australia’s Research Training System. Report for the Australian Council of Learned Academies.

Moore, R. L. (2020). Developing lifelong learning with heutagogy: Contexts, critiques, and challenges. Distance Education, 41(3), 381–401.

Everything is happy underground

Some of my research is involved in understanding the mechanics, diversity and consequences of microorganisms in the soil. I have some formidable colleagues who work in this area, and I wouldn’t call myself a soil scientist. However the workings of yeast, bacteria and fungi in communities is a source of constant delight and I am happy to use this ecosystem to test my theories and expand knowledge.

Happy underground indeed. Some new concepts and challenges in microbial ecology of soils. Here, the hierarchy of challenges is placed under Distribution, Function and Prediction.
Figure from Soil Microbial Biogeography in a Changing World: Recent Advances and Future Perspectives
Haiyan Chu, Gui-Feng Gao, Yuying Ma, Kunkun Fan, Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo
mSystems Apr 2020, 5 (2) e00803-19; DOI: 10.1128/mSystems.00803-19

This week, I was reading about rhizomatic learning and after a discussion with Thomas, decided to compare and contrast with Bloom’s Awesome Taxonomy. Let’s face it, Bloom’s structures underpinned my learning about the structure of teaching and learning, and I have spent many happy hours in meetings discussing the use of action verbs to describe subject and course intended learning outcomes.

Benjamin Bloom should be thanked for providing fodder for extensive discussions about verbs in T&L meetings.
Image credit: Wikipedia (

But are they easily comparable?

Colourful, edged and categorised- teaching skills and conceptualising learning based on a pyramid. Build one on top of the other, gather skills and apply to higher learning attributes. Image courtesy of Vanderbilt Uni (Creative Commons License) accessed via×366.jpg
Rhizomatic learning represented as interconnected nodes from fungal mycelia. Messy, unpredictable, monochrome, no beginning and no end.
Richard Giblett (2009). ‘Mycelium Rhizome’. Pencil on paper. 120 x 240 cm, $11,000 incl gst, unframed Retrieved from:

The messiness of the rhizome does not fit well with the structural approaches to teaching and learning within the academy. But for higher level courses, and to meet complex graduate attributes, there maybe some more to learn in this space!

My colleague, Heather Gaunt and I will be exploring in more detail in our presentation coming up in week 6. Stay tuned 🙂

Connecting life and leisure: Twitter is work

I’ve been overwhelmed with the reading load lately- an online subject about teaching online and a collaborative chapter on bread yeast, which is due all too soon. I love a reading challenge like the best of them, but I’m wafting from tab to tab, Zotero to Mendeley, blog to Canvas and not making much progress. There have been some things I have enjoyed though. The hefty tome which seems to be the original node: Scholarship Reconsidered (Boyer, E. L. (1990). brings out all the items I think make me like my job (most of the time) at ‘The University’. I’m not going to pretend I’ve read it, but most of these new papers spring from this item.

The tome of knowledge. Image source Wikipedia (creative commons license)

Within ‘The University’ there is a lot to take from the interpretations of this work. Boyer argues that there are four interrelated areas: Scholarship of Discipline, Integration, Teaching and Application which should take up the interest, time and breadth of activities for an academic (Boyer, 1990). My new foray into teaching is really looking at SOTL (scholarship of teaching); but with my thinking stimulated by reading of Greenhow & Gleason (2014), a reconsideration is in order.

Greenhow & Gleason (2014) have taken the base of Boyer’s work, and interpreted each of the domains in a ‘social network’ light- bringing together literature, studies, examples and making suggestions which scaffold social media and interactions to each of the domains of scholarship. How can social media be part of our scholarly activities?

Let’s take it one Boyer dimension at a time and begin with SOD- original research that expands or challenges current knowledge in a discipline. Here is were we put our classical and authenticated knowledge, compiled by experts in the field, through argumentation to produce findings and disciplines. I’m a little hazy on how this can be used to my own area of bench based microbiology; but certainly the gatekeepers of knowledge can be challenged by using Twitter to criticise an article in Science in the example given by Greenhow & Gleason(p. 5, 2014) to illustrate explicit review. Surely a way to challenge the hierarchy- and used to devastating effect.

Next up is SOI, where interdisciplinarity is valued and measured and where new intellectual questions can be asked (and maybe answered) by integration of disparate disciplines. Using a connectivist approach, ‘gettin’ on the socials’ could be a wonderful way to create or articulate a network of relationships across disciplines. There are some fine examples of research teams using collated data, analysing user patterns and the like for advancing knowledge. Indeed, I can think of a great sourdough bread project which harness the socials to collect data (here). Masters of the discipline!

Down to business: teaching. SOTL is stimulated active learning to encourage students to be critical, creative thinkers- and surely to pass their exams. Is it a good way to encourage engagement and instructor knowledge? Maybe…certainly being able to connect knowledge beyond the course materials will help in situating knowledge for the students, and likely improve my feedback to improve into the future. Using the analytics seems key- how many students are on Twitter and how are they linking it to me? Should my learning materials be open access? I love it when other people’s are- should I give it a go?

And finally, SOA- where the socials come into their own. Making links between theory and practice, application for unique skills and insights and ‘taking it to the people’. I love this explanation, and the work on graduate students, outreach, talking to different audiences (Greenhow & Gleason, 2014). Helps everyone, but I struggle to see how the authors have distinguished the SOI from the SOA. Different sides of the same coin? Talking to other disciplines and talking to the people might be the same. A bit hazy and a bit complicated. But I certainly agree that it is a good way to demonstrate your relevance if you are going for a job or promotion- likes, views, reads, comments all show how you are able to stimulate your audience, contribute to debate and lead scholarship within your area.

So does that mean that my Twitter procrasta-scrolling is work? Yes. Always.


Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Princeton University Press, 3175 Princeton Pike, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648.

Greenhow, C., & Gleason, B. (2014). Social scholarship: Reconsidering scholarly practices in the age of social media. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(3), 392–402.

Am I a digital native?

The quick answer is no, but it turns out no-one is really. Or maybe just those who pulled out the screwdriver and started fiddling round with the mother/hard board in the 80s.

I remember playing the games on the Commodore 64 when I was a kid, and trying to get the disk out of the classroom Apple computer (why oh why didn’t it come out?!). But I’ve never had an urge to look inside the box, and I can’t build or program or any of the fancy stuff.

But I love social media. I read a paper for an hour, then reward myself with a Twitter scroll. There are some super funny people out there- I love The Chaser headlines, #academicchatter and ‘asking for a friend’. A great way for me to advertise my work, my interests and to keep in touch with the general field of science.

I have reflected on how I use different social media accounts before today- I have a lurking, suspicious presence on Facebook, which is good for keeping in touch with community events and groups. Instagram is all my baking friends, and my feed is a homage to gluten. And Twitter is my scientific community. Linked In on occasions- this seems a good way to keep touch with commercial companies and industries, and researchgate is a good way to find out the collected works of a new colleague, student or collaborator.

Where does all this fit on my Personal to Institutional; Resident or Visitor axes a la VandR diagram? Here tis:

Created on the VandR website and screenshot because it didn’t save the first version…

My questions for teaching: Do I ask students to use the platforms I already use? Or do I join them (maybe they use wechat and tiktok?). Or do we meet somewhere in the middle?

Hello out there

I’m setting up my Edublog! What an adventure. Wish I could pay attention to the ‘how to’ guide…

And a bit more about me.

Zoom boom video 3 March

Associate Professor Kate Howell holds a position in Food Chemistry in the School of Agriculture and Food at the University of Melbourne. While the school is based on the lands on the Boon Wurrung and the Woi Wurrung, Kate is currently living and working on the lands of the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagalk Nations. Kate’s work takes her to Yorta Yorta country at the University’s Dookie campus.

Kate’s training in microbiology at the University of NSW as an undergraduate in bacterial genetics led to a PhD at the same institution. Her PhD studies were situated at the Australian Wine Research Institute in Adelaide and investigated how yeast ecology alters wine composition and makes a significant contribution to wine aroma. She followed this work with a post-doctoral position in yeast biochemistry at the University of Geneva, before being appointed at the University of Melbourne. Kate’s work focuses on understanding how microbial ecology and diversity affects the composition of foods and beverages. She has applied this knowledge to improving wine, beer, bread, coffee and chocolate flavour and is expanding this work into improving health outcomes for plant-based foods. Kate is an active member of the national and international academic community, and is continuing her work in teaching, with close links to industry partners and expanding her role in PhD student training and food and nutrition training at the university.