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Guest Post: PhD hacks

This post was written by PhD candidates Hannah Carle (RSB) and Lauren Bezzina (RSPhys). It was originally published at https://rockdocpress.wordpress.com/2021/11/03/phd-hacks/


Doing a PhD is bloody hard. The academic challenge is immense, but so is the personal one. 

2019 survey by Nature showed that more than a third of PhD students seek help for anxiety or depression, but the incidence of poor mental health is likely close to double this number. Poor mental health is difficult and it impacts research productivity and our engagement as students.

But to get the best set of advice together, I have teamed up this month with a fellow PhD student Lauren Bezzina, who has spent four years getting the balance right. Below are 8 tips and tricks we have curated together to help other PhD students operate at the top of their game. 

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Teaching during my PhD

Yamila Cajal is a PhD candidate in the Experimental Petrology group at the Research School of Earth Science (RSES), ANU. Her current research investigates the geochemistry of the Platinum Group Elements (PGE) applied to the prediction of copper-gold fertility in mountain belts.


The first time I had the chance to apply for a tutor position at university, I was halfway through my undergraduate degree at the Universidad de Concepcion (Chile). At that point, I had no idea what it was going to be like, or if I was going to like it or not, but I decided to give it a try. I am very grateful for this experience because it made me discover my passion for teaching and after that, I continued working as a tutor every time I had the opportunity. Even after graduating, when I was working in mining, I did not lose any opportunity to participate in outreach activities with the community, bringing rocks to local schools and talking to the students about what geology was.

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Disappearance and resurgence of the Mediterranean

Udara Amarathunga is a 3rd year PhD student in the Climate and Ocean Geoscience group at the Research School of Earth Sciences. His research interests include climate & ocean sciences, palaeoceanography, palaeoclimatology and physical oceanography.


The Mediterranean Sea has been an iconic landmark since the old days. Referred to as Mare Nostrum (‘Our Sea’) by the Romans, some of the world’s greatest ancient civilizations flourished around the shores of the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean is a landlocked basin, connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the narrow Strait of Gibraltar. These reasons made the basin an important route of trade, food, colonization, and sometimes war, highly influencing the cultural development of the region. But wait! What do any of these have to do with science? Let me explain…

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MeriSTEM: On the hunt for your favourite demonstration, location or display of science

Hello! This post is being written by your friendly video producing colleague from J8, Alisha Duncan. If you haven’t met me yet I’m the one who’s often seen traipsing around campus with a backpack and tripod, looking for my next victim presenter to film. I’m producing short educational videos for year 11 and 12 students, based on the work here at ANU. The videos will be used in a flipped classroom setting, so students can have more class time to experiment and get their hands dirty.

The first half of the Earth and Environmental Science videos have already been released to the meriSTEM community and they’re getting rave reviews, with comments like:

‘Brilliant module’
‘I learnt so much!’, and my personal favourite…
‘I like how this module challenges the curriculum descriptor’.

Continue reading “MeriSTEM: On the hunt for your favourite demonstration, location or display of science”

Bullet journalling your PhD

Tharika Liyanage (she/her) is a PhD candidate in the Paleobiogeochemistry group at RSES. She’s super curious about the early evolution of life and searches for fossilised molecules in ancient sediments to learn about microbial life in the distant past. In her spare time, you’ll find her at Questacon working as a science communicator or in her kitchen trying to figure out the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. You can find her on Twitter @thaliyanage.


During my PhD, I had to write regular reports to keep track of project progress. I struggled to write the first couple because when I flicked back through my lab book and calendar, I felt like I had done so little each day and achieved nothing over several months! In reality, I had been doing lots of little incremental things but I didn’t have a record of it. So that’s when I came across the Bullet Journal method.

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From Soup to Slime – Evolution and Revolution

Caleb Bishop is a PhD candidate in the Biogeochemistry group at the Research School of Earth Sciences. His research interests include Precambrian biomarkers, isotope geochemistry and Neoproterozoic paleoenvironments.

Read Part 1 of Caleb’s contribution to On Circulation – Reminiscences of a soupy beginning.


When you look into your family photo album, alright Grandpa might look a little pudgy around the corners, but he can hardly be mistaken for an oversized amoeba. However, science tells us that is precisely what he is (several orders, and perhaps several membranes, removed)! So why the change? What caused the primordial soup to give up its bathtub? And how come my dear Grandma is currently serving me a slice of chocolate cake, and not an oversized Prochlorococcus? Early eukaryotes had quite a job reclaiming the oceans from the well-established bacterial world, but with a bit of help from a freak climatic catastrophe they instated a new world order entirely. This is the story of their glory; a victory that augmented our history, and made you a possibility.

Continue reading “From Soup to Slime – Evolution and Revolution”

Reminiscences of a soupy beginning

Caleb Bishop is a PhD candidate in the Biogeochemistry group at the Research School of Earth Sciences. His research interests include Precambrian biomarkers, isotope geochemistry and Neoproterozoic paleoenvironments.


Eukaryotic organisms have a deep evolutionary history, expressed, in part, through morphological and molecular fossils. Early eukaryotes faced a dichotomy of obstacles that challenged their survival, however with a bit of help from a freak climatic catastrophe, they overcame these obstacles to present us with the world we recognise today full of incredible biodiversity in flora and fauna. We owe much to those tenacious early few microbes. This is a light-hearted overview of what we know of their opening chapters so far, the very beginnings of complex life.

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Getting the most out of a virtual-conference

Shubham Agrawal is a PhD candidate in the Seismology & Mathematical Geophysics group. You can read more about Shubham’s research on his personal website.


2020 taught us numerous new things and exposed us to uncharted waters. No one could have guessed the 600% increase in the zoom stock prices, or the meteoric rise in sourdough baking, or that it is in fact possible to communicate science without leaving a significant carbon footprint.

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An Amazing Race to begin a PhD at the outbreak of the Pandemic

Stacey Servito Martin is a second year PhD student in the Seismology and Mathematical Geophysics group at RSES. You can find Stacey on LinkedIn.


It’s unusually windy today”, my supervisor remarked as a choppy Lake Burley Griffin came into view from between the trees on Parkes Way. He was driving me from the airport on 20th March 2020 to my quarantine facilities at Ursula Hall in Acton. The gusty conditions also meant that the plane I was on moments before, a nearly empty Qantas QF812, made a turbulent descent into Canberra. I remember thinking, “You made it this far, this tin can better not go down now…..”. Every uneasy flyer will commiserate. But that afternoon the relief I felt far exceeded anything I normally associated with the thump of the landing gear on the tarmac. This time around the relief came from a sense of knowing that my life was going to be okay. I had made it into Australia (for the first time ever) with just hours to spare.

Continue reading “An Amazing Race to begin a PhD at the outbreak of the Pandemic”

QEMSCAN – helpful tool to find out more information about rocks

Monika Misztela is a PhD candidate in the Experimental Petrology group at RSES. She is currently involved in a project about the Platinum Group Element geochemistry and fertility of magma systems.

Quantitative Evaluation of Minerals by Scanning Electron Microscopy (QEMSCAN) is a relatively new method that analyses rock minerals. It combines energy dispersive X-Ray spectroscopy (EDX) and back-scattered electron brightness (BSE) to capture analysed samples’ geochemistry at each point at the predefined grid scan pattern. It provides many interesting pieces of information, such as:

Continue reading “QEMSCAN – helpful tool to find out more information about rocks”

Iceland – geological wonderland

Monika Misztela is a PhD candidate in the Experimental Petrology group at RSES. She is currently involved in a project about the Platinum Group Element geochemistry and fertility of magma systems.


Iceland is a small country in the North Atlantic Ocean with a population of about 365 000 people and over twice as many sheep. The country of fire and ice, trolls, whales, puffins, wild horses, mushrooms, northern lights, waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes, lava flows, geysers and plate tectonics. For me, Iceland is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. I had a chance to spend there three weeks, soon after the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in 2010. As an undergrad student, this trip taught me more in 3 weeks than general geology course in the whole year. Having such a big impact on me, I would like to share some of the trip’s highlights with you.

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On the search for 21st century resources: critical metals in the Proterozoic Mount Isa Inlier

Ross Chandler is a PhD student in the Experimental Petrology and Geochemistry Group at RSES. His research is focussed on critical metal deposits where he studies the formation of, and exploration for peralkaline volcanic- and IOCG-hosted rare earth element deposits.


Critical metals are defined as metals considered vital to the economic well-being of the world’s major and emerging economies. These metals are becoming increasingly important in the development of modern and green technologies in which they play a vital role due to their unique physical and chemical properties. The rare earth elements (lanthanides + Sc + Y) are an example of a critical metal, being ubiquitous with the technologies of modern life. In particular, the rare-earth elements neodymium, dysprosium and praseodymium play a crucial role in the transition to a low carbon future. Their addition to magnets increases magnetic efficiency and maximum operating temperatures and as such they are indispensable to renewable power generation in wind turbines, and in motors for zero-emission electric vehicles. An interesting aspect of a large number of critical metals is that they have only recently become useful to modern day technology and were previously unsought, or even discarded when they occurred alongside traditional commodities. REE are an example of this, often ending up in the tailings or waste stockpiles of mines that were targeting other commodities.

Continue reading “On the search for 21st century resources: critical metals in the Proterozoic Mount Isa Inlier”

Adventure in the Andes

Yamila Cajal is a PhD candidate in the Experimental Petrology group at RSES, ANU. Her current research investigates the geochemistry of the Platinum Group Elements (PGE) applied to the prediction of copper-gold fertility in mountain belts.


About a year ago, I was sitting in my desk in Canberra, trying to plan a fieldwork to the Andes of Central Chile. The area I wanted to visit is located in the eastern part of the Maule Region, which is only suitable for performing fieldwork during summer due to the alpine climate and high altitudes. Planning this fieldtrip was quite challenging because the area of study is located in a not very accessible zone (actually, in the middle of nowhere). 

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#MinCup: The Olympics of Minerals

Bozana Pasic is a PhD candidate in Experimental Petrology at RSES. Her research investigates the behaviour of silica in low and high temperature environments, and how to better understand the processes affecting its existence… well, everywhere.


The roar of a stadium when your favourite athlete places first on that podium is something that needs to be experienced, or so they say, cannot be replicated. The heart-stopping last few seconds of the event until the winner is declared, the adrenaline rush that emanates once that line is crossed or that point scored is something we can all relate to in one form or another, but that’s if you like sport.

What if you don’t like sport? What if you like something else? What if that something else is minerals, and what if you like minerals competing against one another? Well…

The Mineral Cup is for you!

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Pieces of the Red Planet

Aditya Patkar is a Ph.D. candidate in the Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry group at RSES. His research involves studying meteorites to unravel the mysteries of the early solar system as well as the formation and evolution of planets.

Interest in space exploration and habitation is at an all-time high, and our red neighbour, Mars, tops our list of most favourable destinations. There have been 14 different missions aimed at exploring and studying Mars through orbiters and rovers in the past two decades alone. While scientists are analysing the planet remotely using data from space probes that are worth billions of dollars, nature has delivered pieces of the red planet to us in the form of invaluable treasures – meteorites!

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An adventure on the Southern Ocean – Part II

Thuany Costa de Lima is a third year PhD student in the Seismology & Mathematical Geophysics group at RSES. Her PhD focuses on investigating the physical properties of the deep Earth structure in the light of seismological tools, from the inner core to the mantle.

In my first post on ‘An adventure on the Southern Ocean’, I talked about the multiple reasons for us to come on this research voyage. Today, I would like to elaborate a bit more on why this is one of the toughest field works a seismologist could ever do, share with you some of the amazing photos of the wildlife we could spot from the boat, and describe the real fun I had while living on a vessel!

Continue reading “An adventure on the Southern Ocean – Part II”

An adventure on the Southern Ocean – Part I

Thuany Costa de Lima is a third year PhD student in the Seismology & Mathematical Geophysics group at RSES. Her PhD focuses on investigating the physical properties of the deep Earth structure in the light of seismological tools, from the inner core to the mantle.

Below 40°S there is no law, and below 50°S there is no God.”

I recently heard this old sailors’ saying for the first time after stepping on-board the Marine National Facility (MNF) Research Vessel (RV) Investigator. I was far away from the Australian mainland, and close to accomplishing a ground-breaking milestone for scientists: using seismology to investigate the 3D structure of the Macquarie Ridge Complex!

Continue reading “An adventure on the Southern Ocean – Part I”

Chemistry of the Cosmos

22 October 2020

Rachel Kirby is a PhD candidate in the Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry group at RSES.  Her current research focusses on the role of gases and high temperature processes in the formation of early solar system materials.

When people ask what my field of research is, the quick answer is cosmochemistry and planetary geology.  But what does that mean? 

Continue reading “Chemistry of the Cosmos”

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