sIREN workshop: Designing interdisciplinary research projects

siren-bannerLast month, I attended a seminar on interdisciplinary research projects at the University of Edinburgh. The seminar, Designing Interdisciplinary Research Projects, was the first in a series of six interdisciplinary themed seminars being organised by sIREN (student-led Interdisciplinary Research Network).

There were four talks during the half-day event, covering various aspects and attitudes towards interdisciplinary research. The first of these was given by Professor Richard Coyne, who spoke about the “reckless researcher” and the idea that there can be challenges to interdisciplinary work, including levels of credibility across a number or domains and an over-broadening of research themes and focus.

The second speaker, Professor Ewan Klein, talked about the “X-T-C of data”. Here, he presented the idea that there are many unknowns (X) when working in a cross(x)-disciplinary manner and cross(x)ing information forms such as words, tables, and figures. The T represents the challenge of finding both breadth and depth in an interdisciplinary project—which can be especially challenging if you are trying to cross disciplines without a well-formed research team. The C then represent the culture of communication in interdisciplinary work with three stages: (1) not understanding, (2) kind of understanding, and (3) realising that what you thought you understood was wrong and that you don’t actually understand.

Professor John Lee then spoke about “Pervasive Interdisciplinarity”, asking the question “why should we be interdisciplinary?” His reply was simple: “Why not?” Lee argued that the idea of different disciplines is merely an illusion with overlapping and blurring edges everywhere. He also suggested that we might be more at risk if we try to overly distance ourselves from other disciplines. However, he did recognise (quite rightly, for the audience) that this might be a difficult hurdle for those working on a PhD, as finding the appropriate supervision team (and later, PhD examiners) might make some cross-overs improbable.

The final talk of the day was given by Dr Stefan Bilbao, who shared a real-life interdisciplinary scenario by speaking about The NESS Project. Dr Bilbao urged the audience to remember that the differences in both the training and administration practices can be quite different between disciplines, creating challenges along the way. He also spoke of the dangers of “discipline hopping” and how a lack of singular focus could mean risking a shallow understanding of the field. However, he acknowledged a potential payoff through the potential for gaining new knowledge based on merged disciplines.

I found all the talks interesting, as my PhD relies on a wide range of disciplines to create a (rather loose) theoretical framework. And though my PhD itself isn’t interdisciplinary, I can really appreciate the challenges and dangers of an interdisciplinary project. In fact, my research project has been long-designed (and all my data collected and coded!) so the seminar will not have impacted that part of my PhD. However, as I enter the vital part of actually writing up my thesis, I feel it is beneficial for me to have conversations with others about the pros and cons of interdisciplinary projects as this may play a role when I discuss the next steps of my research in my thesis.

The seminar was also a great way for me to start thinking more about my post-doctoral career, as it is possible that my future will include a lot of interdisciplinary work. And with my pre-PhD work all being done outside of the Information Science discipline—both professionally and academically—I am already well-versed in bringing non-IS views to the discipline.

There are five more seminars in the series. The next installment is “Challenges and limitations of existing research methodology: Inventing new methods of interdisciplinary research” on 7 December 2016. I am especially looking forward to this one as I am keen to shake things up a bit with fun and quirky research methods in my post-doctoral life. (My PhD is already branching out in a small way from standard Information Science methods.)

As of this writing, there are still spaces available, so be sure to register today… before this sentence it out of date!

The buck stops here

Note: This post was originally shared on my personal blog. So please forgive me if it’s a bit more touchy-feeling than you would expect. But, as I am researching online information and personal reputation, I suppose it’s a good example of how information is shared differently for different audiences for the building and protection of personal reputation!

2016-10-27-the-buck-stops-hereThat’s it folks: the buck stops here. Actually, I suppose I should say the pound stops here. Why? Because my last PhD stipend payment was today, and that means I have no more money coming into my bank accounts—bucksbobsquids, or otherwise—until I am finished with my PhD and I get a job.

Am I worried about not having an income? Yes, I am. A little bit, anyhow. After all, I am looking at another 8–12 months before I graduate. Which means it will be about 8–12 months before I am in a position to get a job (and therefore, and income!).

But I knew this day was coming and so I have planned for it. I have saved back a little bit of money from each of my monthly stipend payments over the past three years. And that means that I will have enough money to see me through to graduation.

I am also quite blessed in that I have a rent-free place to live for the duration of my studies. That’s because at the start of my studies a friend offered up the guest room in his home, knowing that a PhD would be unaffordable if I had to pay Edinburgh rents. Whilst I’ve given him a (small) chunk of money, I have not really paid towards my lodgings. Which is the main reason I was able to save enough of my stipend payment each month to cover me through the next few income-less months!

Or at least I will have enough money if there are not major catastrophes that require me spending my savings—or that mean it takes me more than 12 months to finish. But as long as I manage to buckle down and write, write, write, I should be OK. And I have a plan for how I will manage to get those 80,000 written up, so that should help to keep me on track.

If I have done the sums correctly (and if I find a job by the slightly extended time frame I gave myself) I should be able to manage without further financial help. And I should be able to do it all without too many financial sacrifices on my quality of life. Of course, this is largely because my lifestyle is already one of (voluntary) frugality: I find great pleasure in saving money and reducing my spending!

And despite my income ending today, I should have a bit of money left in savings by the time I get a job—if I get a job—which means I won’t go further into debt. (I still have a small personal loan that helped me to bridge the gap between starting my PhD and getting my first stipend payment. And then there are those pesky American student loans from my undergraduate days that will follow me to my deathbed! But I digress…)

Anyhow, this post isn’t a plea for help or a poor-me tale hoping for pity. Instead, it is another illustration to show that I am moving a little bit closer to achieving my PhD Dreams. After all, the end of the stipend means I am officially in writing up mode. And writing up is the key to completing the thesis and graduating!

So the buck stops here and it stops with me. And that means the responsibility for completing my PhD is mine and mine alone. (Though I know I will have the support of my PhD supervisors, family, and friends along the way, too!)

Wish me luck!

Awarded: The John Campbell Trust Bursary

logoLast year I made a successful application to the John Campbell Trust’s Conference and Travel Bursary fund. I was extremely pleased when the award was confirmed, but between the Christmas holidays and other (excitedly successful!) conference travel and news delayed my public announcement.

However, I am about to put the bursary to use and there is a new round of applications being accepted so I thought today would be a good day to finally share this great news!

The Trust is a registered charity (No 802262) and is managed by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Processionals (Cilip). Started at the bequest of the late Dr John Campbell, an early member of the Institute of Information Scientists, the Trust is administered by a board of trustees chaired by Adrienne Muir. Applications are accepted in two rounds, and the next deadline is 18 November 2016 (followed by a second round, due 9 June 2017).

There are two calls for conference and travel proposals in 2016/17:

First call:
Submissions due by 17:00 on 18 November 2016
Winners will be informed by 12 December 2016
Winners should complete their itinerary by the end of December 2017

Second call:
Submissions due by 17:00 on 9 June 2017
Winners will be informed by 3 July 2017
Winners should complete their itinerary by the end of June 2018

Applications are also being accepted for Student Research Bursaries, with the same deadlines as above.

As for me, I will be using my conference and travel bursary to attend the ASIST annual meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, which begins next week. This is the first time the annual meeting has been held in Europe and it is an excellent opportunity for me to meet with information science professionals from around the globe—whist staying relatively close to home. I will also be attending a doctoral colloquium whilst there, in addition to participating in some other student-specific activities. (Oh! And I’ll be attending as an ASIST member, which is nice!)

I encourage you to apply for a bursary of your own, and/or to share the information with other information professionals. And if you need more convincing, stay tuned for my post-conference update, or follow my adventures on Twitter at @CleverFrances, which will surely inspire you to go after your own John Campbell Trust bursary!