Why am I still writing?

I am still writing my thesis. Still. Yes, still. I am still writing my thesis. Oh my goodness, I am still writing my thesis!

When I began my PhD more than three years ago, I was confident that I would be one of those irritating students who submitted their work spot on time. And then, I hit a bump or two in the road. One of those bumps was more of a mountain than a bump, which didn’t help. But that was fine; I would survive!

After I recovered from that pretty miserable first year (a year that led me to reconsider if a PhD was for me), I got back on my PhD Pony and began to ride again.

I was picking up speed and making up for some of the time I’d lost in the first year’s Pity Party. The way I saw it was that I could still submit within three months of my three years. Yeah, that would be good. I could be happy with that.

And then, I hit a bump or two in the road. I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed. And then I got sick. And then there were more social stresses. And then I broke my ankle. And then, and then, and then… And let’s not forget about the second bout of extreme self-doubt that led me to reconsider if a PhD was for me…

[Enter more excuses, rationalisations, and justifications here… Then enter a few more for good measure…]

But it was all fine. I was starting to feel confident again and, even though I would definitely miss my three-year [impossible] goal, I was going to submit within three months after the three years. Well, maybe four months. Five? Six…? OK, seven. Seven months. Definitely no more than seven months. Three years and seven months. And that’s it. Really. That. Is. It.

So here I am, three and a half years into my PhD and I am still writing.

Because I can’t do it. The work has been so very overwhelming and I have struggled to find a way through my massive mountain of data. And it doesn’t help that my own physical health has been less-than-brilliant which has added to my stress, creating a crazy cycle of, well, crazy. (You can read about my May madness on my personal blog.)

However, I have been working some new approaches to my writing, and to my entire work-life balance system. And I think I am finally starting to gain some traction. Some of those changes mean that I am spending less time in front of a computer but, happily, I am more productive when I am working on a computer.

Over the next week or two, I will be busily (and manically!) working on completing my findings chapters which has been a massive, ugly, furry beast of a task. But if my new approach to work (and data analysis) continues to go smoothly, I should be able to succeed in this goal.

I am hoping (desperately!) that I will not face as many challenges when I start putting together the rest of my thesis. Because let’s be honest, my supervisors (as wonderful as they are) are probably getting really fed up with my ongoing delays!

And that, in a rambling nutshell, is why I am still writing. (But hopefully not for long!)

Connecting people, connecting ideas

On 22 June 2017, I will be running a one-day research symposium along with Professor Hazel Hall. The symposium, “Connecting people, connecting ideas” (CPCI), focuses on research priorities in Information Science as related to everyday life information seeking and information behaviours in online environments. This free event will be held at our Craiglockhart campus and will be geared towards UK academics, with an emphasis on ECR and 3rd-year PhD student participation.

Registrations are open now. Numbers are limited so please book your place early.

The programme will include an opening keynote presentation by Professor Simeon Yates (Liverpool), PI of “Ways of being in a digital age”, and a series of facilitator-led small group discussions. Delegates will help to influence the day’s discussion topics by completing a pre-symposium exercise using the Well Sorted tool, which will establish core interests prior to the day allowing us to group delegates into appropriate teams for advanced discussions of focused research priorities and methods.

The symposium provides an opportunity for participants to consider how to prioritise themes, and develop ideas for, their future research projects. It is anticipated that the knowledge and inspiration gained from the day’s outcomes can be used in a range of future activities including grant proposals, future publications or conference papers, and calls for participation in conferences and seminars. And, of course, participants will establish relationships with other researchers which can subsequently lead to future research collaborations.

PhD bursaries:
We are offering four (4) travel bursaries for PhD students. Bursaries will cover travel costs of up to £50 and award winners will be asked to write their experiences on social media. Bursary winners will be asked to disseminate information about the event. To apply, they will need to provide a short explanation of how they would do that using a short application form which will be emailed to eligible participants after they complete the registration process.

More about the event:
CPCI is funded through a grant awarded by Edinburgh Napier University’s Research and Innovation Office (RIO). It is part of our Pointer Projects initiative, which is a collection of research projects in the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University. These projects investigate themes related to online information including democratic digital engagement, information-seeking behaviour and use, knowledge management, and online communities.

Registrations are open now. Numbers are limited so please book your place early.

If you are unable to join us but are interested in learning more about the symposium or similar work and research (or even my own PhD research), please feel free to contact me.

Accepted for conference: “Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online”

My conference paper, Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online, has been accepted for Information: Interactions and Impact Conference (i3) in Aberdeen, Scotland. The paper is co-authored by my PhD supervisors and is based on some of the findings from one of the four research questions being investigated for my doctoral thesis (How do individuals use online information to build and manage their reputations?).

The conference will take place 27-30 June at Robert Gordon University. I will present the paper the morning of the 29th (full programme here). I have 45 minutes (including time for questions) to discuss the paper and share some of the key findings, which I’ve highlighted below.

Blurred reputations: A pre-conference teaser:

The subset of findings to be shared at the conference are concerned with the ways in which private and professional lives blur online. The data analysed is relevant to information behaviours and literacies revealed four primary behaviours deployed by participants. These are: (1) portraying only parts of their personas for different audiences, (2) managing the type of information that is shared on different platforms, (3) managing the means by which they connect with others, and (4) undertaking various levels of self-censorship. For example:

Portrayal of persona parts for different audiences
Showcasing different aspects of a personality or different ‘personas’ is a tactic used to help build or manage professional and private reputations online. Personas may be deployed to minimise the levels of blurring between professional and private lives, with some participants actively and intentionally splitting out parts of their personas to ensure that they were maintaining an acceptable ‘professional’ reputation. This online presentation of personas aligns with Goffman’s seminal work about showcasing different aspects of one’s ‘self’ based on the situation.

Management of different types of information for different platforms
Similarly, participants interviewed for this study noted different information behaviours based on perceived audiences for their social networking sites and their understandings of a platform’s primary use. Whilst these behaviours are similar those related to personas, there is a nuanced difference in how the information shared across different platforms is limited. These behaviours are designed to create or manage a professional ‘reputation’ through the use of intentional strategies for the different types of information and vary based on individuals’ understanding of a platform’s primary purpose. For example, LinkedIn is seen as a professional platform whereas Facebook is seen as ‘private’.

Connections with others
The determination of a platform’s primary use also impacts how participants determine who to connect with. For example, as a professional platform, LinkedIn predominantly a space for professional connections, Facebook is viewed as a largely private networking platform, and Twitter falls somewhere in between. These determinations help to determine who participants will connect with on the different platforms, sometimes as a way of creating a public connection for the express purpose of reputation building. However, decisions on who to connect with on which platform can also be made to keep different groups of contacts away from each other.

Self-censorship
Self-censorship also plays a part in the management of this private/professional blur. These self-censorship behaviours are even more obvious when participants have professional connections on the platform in questions or when a colleague or employer might be able to gain access to the information. Indeed, some types of information might not be shared online in any form (for example, controversial views) whilst other types of information might be shared in a more controlled manner, such as with a subset of friends in a private group (for example, inappropriate photos). This is more important when an individual’s professional reputation is in question.

After the conference, I have the opportunity to submit the full paper for publication in a special issue of the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. If (when!) it is accepted and published, I will share a link to the publication. In the meantime, you can find a list of my current publications here on my website.

Determining examiners: A happy milestone

One of the vital elements of a PhD in the UK is the Viva, or “viva voce”. (Or, if you’re an American, the thesis defense!) It is an oral examination of the PhD research. It is an opportunity to discuss your research with an expert in your field. And, importantly, it is an opportunity to prove your worth in the Academy.

Before you get to the viva, you have to make sure that you have a qualified, knowledgeable examination team. The structure of that team might vary from one institution to the next, and even between disciplines. But one thing they’ll have in common is that the examiners will know their stuff!

At my university, the viva includes both an external and internal examiner with your panel chair acting as the chair and moderator. Supervisors are only allowed if the student says it’s OK, but they are not allowed to speak during the examination. (I am inviting my supervisors. They’re a wonderful support to me and I would be happy to have them there… if they dare!)

The examiners are generally identified by the supervision team (with potential input from the student) and are confirmed by the Research Degrees Committee. That confirmation is based on the relevant experience of the team and is determined based on a thesis abstract and the examiners’ CVs, relevant publications, and previous examination experience.

And confirming your examiners is a big deal! It means you’re getting a bit closer to your viva, which means you’re getting pretty darn near to submitting your thesis.

As for me, I submitted the relevant form (RD12) and accompanying information for approval today. Which means I’m close to being ready for my viva. Or, at least, it means I should be close! I still have a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, of writing to do. But I’m getting there. Slowly. Very slowly.

I don’t know if I’m able to share my abstract or the names of my chosen examiners yet. And I don’t know when the committee will formally accept my suggested people. So… I won’t share that information here today. But I did want to share this important milestone.

But for now… it’s back to that thesis writing thing that I should be working on…

My final (?) RD6 review

My last (hopefully, my last!) RD6 review meeting was this afternoon. I say my last because I am hoping (praying!!) that I will have submitted my PhD thesis before the next round of these 6-monthly review meetings take place. So… let’s all hope together that this was my last!

Unfortunately, I was not as far along in my thesis writing as I had hoped to be when I met with my full supervision team today. But I am feeling mostly confident that I have things under control.

I felt a bit frustrated admitting to my panel chair that I have not delivered any completed thesis chapters to my PhD supervisors. And I felt even more frustrated because I don’t have an honest idea of when I will be able to do so. I mean, I’m working on things, but I have been struggling to find a way forward!

Still, I was left feeling confident enough to know (to think, at least) that I will be able to submit my thesis before summer gets into full swing. I was also left feeling confident that I am ready to submit my RD12 form, which is the determination of my viva examiners.

Over the next several weeks, I will be writing, writing, and writing. And when I have time, I will do a bit of writing, too. After all, as much as I like my supervision team, I don’t really fancy meeting them for another RD6 review!

A grant for a grant

In November, I submitted a grant application to an internal funding competition at Edinburgh Napier University. The application was made along with my PhD supervisor, Professor Hazel Hall and I am pleased to say that the bid was successful.

The grant will support two separate, but related, activities. The first is a one-day networking symposium that will take place in June 2017. The theme of the symposium is research priorities in Information Science as related to Everyday Life Information Seeking (ELIS) and Human Information Behaviour (HIB) in online environments.

By the end of the day, participants will have prioritised themes for future research. Their ideas will have been prompted by the keynote speaker, and by the other delegates in group sessions. The participants will also have established relationships which can subsequently lead to future research collaborations.

The second activity is writing a larger grant proposal. This will be for an external grant to support a postdoctoral research position within the Centre for Social Informatics at Napier. The postdoctoral work will build upon (1) the outputs of my PhD work (anticipated submission summer 2017) and (2) ideas generated at the symposium.

I will begin work to plan the symposium later this month and will increase my time spent on the project over the next few months. That will be even easier after I submit my thesis in the spring. Then, in June and July, I should be working full time on the symposium and the grant proposal. As the grant spending needs to be completed by the end of July, I may be finishing up the grant proposal on my own time, but that’s the life of an academic!

I will share more details about the symposium as planning gets underway in the spring. In the meantime, it’s back to that thesis I’m meant to be writing!

Published: A Gen-X perspective of online information and reputation management

My paper, ‘Managing and evaluating personal reputations on the basis of information shared on social media: a Generation X perspective’, has been published in Information Research. The paper is co-authored with my PhD supervisors, Peter Cruickshank, Professor Hazel Hall, and Alistair Lawson and shares some early findings from my PhD research, specific to my Generation X data subset.

The paper was presented at the Information Seeking in Context (ISIC) 2016 conference in Zadar, Croatia, this past September. (Slides are available here and can also be found below.)

Some of the results shared in the paper indicate that:

  • Participants view their online identity (or identities) as representations of their offline personas. In some cases, personal and professional personas are kept separate by using different online platforms for different aspects of an individual’s offline life.
  • Self-censorship is a key tool in the management of reputation, with censorship activities varying based on the platform and perceived audience.
  • It can be difficult to identify information behaviours that elicit positive evaluations of others, yet negative evaluations can be made in an instant if someone shares information (for example, a tweet or Facebook post) that is in stark contrast to their own views and opinions.
  • The levels of intentional reputation management vary, and is more often concerned with how the information will be received by others, rather than the impact on their own reputation.

The full study is expected to be completed in spring 2017. The full results will combine the Generation X subset with data gathered from an equal number of Generation Y and Baby Boomer participants. At that time, the three datasets will (most likely) be combined to discuss information behaviours based on the four research questions as a whole, rather than as generation groups. However, I hope to be able to pull at least some generational-based data for future small reports, papers, or posters.

The full text of the paper is available in Information Research, along with other papers from the ISIC conference. Below is an abstract and the presentation slides. Please do get in touch if you have any questions about this paper or my research as a whole.

Managing and evaluating personal reputations on the basis of information shared on social media: a Generation X perspective

Ryan, F., Cruickshank, P., Hall, H., Lawson, A. (2016). Managing and evaluating personal reputations on the basis of information shared on social media: a Generation X perspective. Information Research.

Abstract
Introduction. The means by which individuals evaluate the personal reputations of others, and manage their own personal reputations, as determined by information shared on social media platforms, is investigated from an information science perspective. The paper is concerned with findings from a doctoral study that takes into account prior work on the building and assessment of reputations through citation practice, as explored in the domain of scientometrics.

Method. Following the practice of studies of everyday life information seeking (ELIS), a multi-step data collection process was implemented. In total forty-five participants kept diaries and took part in semi-structured interviews. In this paper fifteen of these participants are represented.

Analysis. A qualitative analysis of the data was undertaken using NVivo10 to consider the information practices of one of three age group cohort generations: Generation X.

Results. Results generated from this initial analysis show some clear alignments with established knowledge in the domain, as well as new themes to be explored further. Of particular note is that social media users are more interested in the content of the information that is shared on social media platforms than they are in the signals that this information might convey about the sharer(s). It is also rare for these users to consider the impact of information sharing on personal reputation building and evaluation.

Conclusion. The analysis of the full dataset will provide further insight on the specific theme of the role of online information in personal reputation management, and contribute to theory development related to the study of information seeking behaviour and use.

sIREN workshop: Designing interdisciplinary research projects

Last 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!

That’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!