Ready for iWeek!

I am heading up to Aberdeen today for a week of i-conferences with other members of the Edinburgh Napier University “CSI” team.

The first of these conferences is a day-long doctoral colloquium, iDocQ. I was on the organising committee last year, and am looking forward to being there without an operational role this year. I’m even starting to look forward to the “one-minute madness” presentation all of the attendees are expected to give.

But it’s the second conference that I’m really, really excited about. The Information: interactions and impact (i3) conference focuses on the interactions between people and information, and how this interaction can bring about change. It is extremely relevant to my own research, and I am hoping to make some great new contacts over the week.

Excitedly, this will also be my first experience of presenting an academic paper. I’m a little a lot nervous because I’m certain that I will fumble over my pronunciations—causing panicked flashbacks to my days in speech therapy—but I’m hoping that I can laugh through any mistakes. (Actually, I’ve built my talking points around words I’m comfortable with. It’s only during the Q&A that I might get thrown a tongue twister!)

More on all of this later though. After all, I still need to finish packing!

How not to write a literature review: Part 2

As many PhD students will tell you, doing a literature review can be a daunting task. And for students in social sciences, that task begins when your studies begin… and it would seem that it never ends! Well, at least that’s my personal experience with the things. After all, I’m half-way through my PhD* and the thing still isn’t done. It just keeps growing, and growing, and growing.

Of course, hindsight being what it is, I know where I went wrong. And if I had it all to do over again, I would be in a place of happiness right now. Or at least I wouldn’t be quite this frustrated with the process. (Well, that’s my working theory at least.)

Part of the problem I’ve run into is that I am studying outside of my comfort zone. I am doing a PhD in information science, but my background is communications and media and culture. And I thought (incorrectly!) that my background in social media would have set me up for this experience. But I was wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Only I didn’t realise how wrong I was until after I’d compiled a fairly lengthy (and decent, if I can say so) literature review. It was a comprehensive review of literature about social media and reputation. And it really covered a wide breadth of disciplines—all helping to substantiate my research.

And then someone mentioned a few researchers from within the field of information science that I’d not really looked at before. After all, the papers weren’t about social media and had (I thought!) a very tenuous link to my work.

But I was encouraged to keep reading. So I read. And I read. And I read. And all of the sudden, I found myself understanding the connections—and understanding so much more about the domain of information science.

Now, I find myself reading even more—and growing my review even further. But I’m also realising that I’ve made a massive mountain out of a mid-sized molehill.

So, knowing what I know now, what would I have done differently? (Other than the “write early; write often” lesson I wrote about before.)

The truth is, I don’t know. I think that maybe I needed to ask different questions at the start of my literature searching. Or, importantly, I should have recognised earlier on that I was in a discipline that was unfamiliar to me so that I could have started to read some of the “introductory” texts earlier than I did.

Yes—that! I should have stopped to realise that I didn’t fully understand the field of information science so that I could have built a stronger foundation from the start. Instead, I’ve had to backfill large sections of my knowledge.

The good thing is that my literature review is starting to make a lot more sense now. And—hopefully!—this extra work now will save me some effort and frustration when it comes time to write up my thesis.

The other good thing is that I have learned some important lessons about literature reviews, my new field of study, and—importantly!—myself.

There is still much work to do—for my literature view, my PhD, and my own self-esteem—but I’m getting there. Slowly.

And maybe now that I am feeling a bit more confident, I’ll be able to write here on Just a PhD a bit more. (I’ve been ignoring this place because I haven’t felt worthy of writing about a PhD when I haven’t even felt worthy of doing one!)

So, that’s a bit more on how not to do a literature review. Hopefully, by the end of it, I will be able to give some great insight to how I will do my next one!

* Well, I’m half-way through my PhD studentship anyhow. At this rate, it’s going to take me a bit longer than the three years of funded studies. So that’s a stress I’ll have to worry about eventually.

Provisional wins: Abstracts, bursaries, and conferences

I received an email today that gave me a bit of a confidence boost, so I thought it was time I (finally!) share a couple of happy PhD accomplishments. I should have shared some of this earlier, but I was feeling very unsure of myself and I was worried about sharing good news too soon. But I’m ready now. (Even though I’m still bracing for the bad news.)

So, here goes!

John Campbell Trust Bursary
The first bit of news is that I applied for a grant to the John Campbell Trust in November 2014 to allow me to travel to the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) in St Louis, MO, in November 2015. I received notification of my acceptance just before Christmas, but I wasn’t confident enough to share the news. After all, attendance at the conference also hinges on the acceptance of my abstract.

Over the next few weeks, I will be giving thought to my abstract for the conference. It will be based on a poster that will discuss early findings from my empirical work (possibly my pilot study). That means that I need to start making some solid headway into the design of my study!

If my abstract is accepted, I will plan to attend the conference in the autumn. After the conference, I hope to travel to Washington State to meet with a couple researchers from the University of Washington’s iSchool.

Assuming all of this happens, my parents are thinking that they will “meet me in St Louis” and we’ll all drive back to the great Pacific Northwest together. (And once the academic stuff is out of the way, I’ll stick around for Thanksgiving with my family.)

Information: Interactions and impact (i3) Conference
The second bit of news is that I submitted my first-ever paper abstract in January for the Information: Interactions and impact (i3) conference at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen*. The abstract was based on a literature review looking at the role of online information in the determination and management of personal reputations. I admit that it was a bit of a challenge to write because I needed to find a balance between summarising the literature review and selling the idea, but I managed. Mostly.

And that brings me to the third bit of news, which is that my abstract has been provisionally accepted for presentation at the conference!

When the email came in this morning, I was afraid to open it because I was sure it would be a straight knock-back. But instead, I was asked to make some revisions to the abstract. After that, my acceptance will be re-evaluated.

I know that doesn’t mean I’m a shoo-in, but I really was pleased to learn that I wasn’t rejected flat-out. Plus, even if I don’t end up getting accepted, I am being given an additional chance to improve my academic communications skills.

Hopefully, it won’t be long before I’m telling you that my re-submitted i3 abstract is accepted. So stay tuned for that. (And feel free to send positive thoughts and such my way, too!)

It’s a little frustrating because these wins are all still provisional, but they’re positive things so it’s worth shouting about them a bit. After all, I’ve not been told I’m rubbish, so that might mean that I’m actually not too bad. (Yeah, I must work on this low self-esteem a bit more.)

* That’s Aberdeen, Scotland, not the Aberdeen in my home state of Washington. Just in case anyone thought I’d be home for a visit this summer. Sorry; I won’t be. (But I hope to be there for Thanksgiving!)

A slightly confident step forward

Yesterday was my RD6 review meeting, and I am pleased to say that it left me feeling confident about the next stages of my PhD. Or at least, it made me feel as if I’m starting to find my bearings.

This was my first review meeting since my RD5 meeting in December 2014—which wasn’t finalised until February 2015—and was also my first meeting with my new panel chair. So where an RD6 would normally be a 6-month review with someone who “knows your story”, I had a review covering a very short period of time with someone who was unaware of conversations at previous review meetings.

All of that made it a bit of a disorganised meeting, but it was a very productive and positive meeting—because of, or in spite of.

We talked about my overall research topic and the next stages of my research, as well as some of the expectations for future 6-month review meetings. (My next RD6 will actually be the first time I’ve had a full six months between review meetings, an administrative quirk based on my slightly late start date.)

I am still a little frustrated because I feel like I’m a bit behind in the process, but I am starting to see how I can catch up now. I am also aware that some of my struggles were due to administrative issues that caused me a great amount of distress and uncertainty—things that I think should improve now that changes have been made.

So, what’s next?

Well, firstly (and most importantly!) I am feeling more confident now and am therefore feeling a little more excited about my work. That means that I am actually looking forward to the next steps.

My next couple of supervision meetings will be dedicated to helping me focus on some solid milestones and deliverables as part of my aim to firm up my line of argument. Then, I will start to really think about (and plan out) my methods.

This new confidence—and new insights from my new panel chair—has also helped me to identify some questions to ask my supervisors about the next stages. I’ll spend some time this evening making notes of those for my next meeting.

If all goes well (please, God, please!) I will be working on initial interviews soon. Yay!

Starting conversations: Questions of gender

As part of my role as a student ambassador for Edinburgh Napier University’s Connect Network, I’ve spent a bit of time in the foyer at the Merchiston campus trying to get people talking about women in STEM. (Along with co-ambassador, Melanie Robinson, of course.)

Last week, we decided to use our time to ask passers-by three quick-and-easy questions, with the aim of (1) gauging the thoughts of others and (2) engaging in a bit of conversation about women in STEM.

In total, we had 45 willing participants—each rewarded with a small pack of Haribo for their efforts—and whilst the results might not be scientific, they were pretty interesting. Below are our questions, the results, and our feedback on them.

1) Did you know that a woman invented frequency-hopping, the technology behind things such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi?
Of the 45 participants, only one person had a vague memory of that information, and even then she couldn’t be certain that she knew for sure. Most people were very interested to hear that, not only was it true, but that the woman was a 1940’s Hollywood starlet and that it was created as a signal jammer to deter torpedoes during WWII.

We’d like to think that they’ll remember that fun fact every time they connect to a WiFi hotspot!

Results:
Yes, I knew that! (2%)
No, that’s news to me! (98%)

2) True or False: It is important to breakdown gender stereotypes before children start school.
The responses to this statement was an interesting one. Our first person answered “false” without hesitation, but explained that she was only here for six months (a Chinese student on an exchange) and that her cultural views were different. Others stopped to ask what we meant by gender stereotypes before they went on to answer “true”.

Interestingly, two men noted that they knew the “socially acceptable” answer was “true”, but they didn’t think that was the right answer. They seemed slightly uncomfortable to admit such a thing, but felt that someone needed to. A third said it would depend on which stenotypes were being questioned.

So that’s 41 solid “true” repliers, 3 for “false”, and 1 fence-sitter.

Results:
True (91%)
False (7%)
Undecided (2%)

3) What percent of engineering and technology undergraduates are women
Unsurprisingly, 18 out of the 45 thought this number was 40% or higher (3 of those were 50% or higher). A further 17 believed the number to be in the 20-30% range, with only 10 people guessing less than 20%—and seven of those thought it was in the single digits.

The truth is that only about 12% are women—a fact that seemed to garner surprise by most people, especially those who thought the numbers would be in the 40s.

This question seemed to spark a lot of curiosity, with people wondering why the numbers were so low and what we could do to improve things. (A perfect opportunity to explain that Connect and Interconnect exists was one of many ways to help.)

Results:
More than 50% = 7%
40-50 = 33%
20-30 = 38%
Less than 20% = 22%

All-in-all, it was a learning experience for us as well as our participants. Hopefully, our next attempt at starting conversations will lead to even more interesting results. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions and the results.

Connecting the crossings

Last week I visited the construction project site at the new Forth Replacement Crossing with a group of female engineering and built environment students from Edinburgh Napier University. The visit was arranged by the Connect Network for female students studying computing, engineering and the built environment, for which I am a student ambassador.

Whilst the trip was primarily designed for engineering students, my ambassador status got me a seat on the tour—something I was keen to go on because I enjoy learning new things, and I really enjoy having special access to pretty much anything. (It’s one of my many, many quirks.)

But when I got there, I could actually see how computing students would be interested in such a massive civil engineering project, too.

Oh, yes, computers! In addition to the amazing engineering feat of designing and building a bridge that will be 2,633 meters long and 210 meters high (the tallest on-shore structure in Scotland!), it will boast 1,200 sensors to monitor the bridge.

And then there’s the Intelligent Transport System that is being built to help manage traffic as it approaches the bridge. It will be the first time such a system has been used in Scotland and will include things such as variable speed controls and signage as well as metered ramps.

I suppose that I knew there was a lot of computers used in modern engineering projects, but I never really thought about it before.

But then, I’m doing a PhD in the School of Computing and I still struggle to think of myself as anything other than a student of the humanities!

I’m pleased that I went along on the day’s adventure because I think it gave me yet another way of looking at the connections between different disciplines. It would seem that the whole world is one, big, interdisciplinary adventure after another!

And when it comes to the role of women, we’re there making our mark on all of them! (You know, to bring it back to the Connect Network.)

Official status: PhD student

I am pleased to (finally!) be able to say that I am officially a PhD student. That might sound a little strange to those who know I began my studies more than a year ago, but the way things work at my university, you are only registered as a generic research student until after your first-year review. (This annual review is known as the dreaded RD5 here at Edinburgh Napier University*.)

Unfortunately, my own RD5 timeline got a little skewed because there were glitches in scheduling the meeting, followed by (minor) changes to my academic support team, which meant that the official form-signing bits were delayed by nearly three months.

More unfortunately, because of my own low self-esteem, I was convinced that it was all a sign that I wasn’t good enough; that I wasn’t PhD material.

It’s that second one that has really played havoc on my emotional and mental states over the past several months, meaning that I have been unable (or rather, unwilling) to blog about my studies. (It would have come across as poor-me, which no one wants to read!)

It has also meant that I haven’t been excited about my work. I allowed my fears to stop me from seeing a bright future, because I was too busy letting those same fears convince me I’d have to go back to being a waitress in my rural hometown. (Yeah, those Whatifs are kind of melodramatic in their depictions of reality.)

But now, I am feeling confident for the first time in months. I am once again looking forward to the hard work that a PhD will entail and I’m ready to re-motivate myself.

Yes, now that I am officially a PhD student, those PhD dreams have ceased feeling like nightmares.

So, what’s next?

Over the next few weeks, I will be thinking about my research methods in preparation for my empirical work. This will mean a lot of literature searching and reading (and writing, of course) but it also means that I’m starting to look into my own investigation, rather than the investigations of others.

I am also hoping that this new-found confidence and excitement will see me working in a more focused manner.

If all goes the way I hope it will, I will have a lot of great stuff to share here.

And for those who’ve been subjected to listening to my hysterical woes and fears of failure, thank you for putting up with me. Hopefully there will be less of that now.

* It’s dreaded, but it really isn’t anything to fear. In fact, I can see the benefits to the process, even though my own delay caused me much grief. But then, I do love a good administrative process. When they work.

2015 PhD resolutions

It’s a new year, so it must be time to make new resolutions! Generally speaking, my resolutions are tied to my long-term goals. They are designed to help me focus on the larger picture and, I’m pleased to say, I am pretty good at keeping them.

To that, my 2015 PhD resolutions are as follows:

Create a better, more productive work routine
The idea here is to divide my time better so that I have clearly defined blocks of time for reading, writing, and research. As it is, I feel a little guilty for spending time on certain tasks and that takes away from my overall focus and productivity. I hope to develop a routine that allows me a set amount of time each day or week to read the “fun” stuff (blogs and forum posts around my subject areas, for example) as well as the “real” stuff (academic articles and books, for example). The thought is that I will be able to fully focus on each task if I’m not feeling guilty about not doing something else.

Part of this will be looking at dedicated writing times and places. Over the next few weeks, I will work to determine the best way to divide my time and hopefully it will mean that I am enjoying more productive hours each week.

Set time aside each week for administrative tasks
Oh yes, the admin must get done! Yet inevitably emails go un-archived and papers go un-filed. That means my virtual and actual desktops have stacks of important things that are difficult to find. And that means I spend a lot of time shuffling through emails and papers I don’t need, just to access the ones I do. If I would just devote a bit of time to these things in the first instance, I would save myself a lot of time (and stress!) later.

Part of this will include a small administrative job I have with the school as part of my stipend. It will also include time set aside for maintaining this blog, which I hope to utilise a lot more as I start working towards my empirical research.

Build in guaranteed personal time
Much like the guilt I feel reading the “less serious” stuff for my PhD, I feel very guilty any time I’m doing non-PhD stuff at home. That guilt means that I’ve yet to finish reading an Ian Rankin novel that I started a few days before my PhD began more than a year ago! It also means I’ve yet to start on a new crocheting project or to make note cards for my Mum. And sometimes it’s even meant that I neglect my running—which means I’m neglecting my personal goals and resolutions.

Part of this will be working on my personal goals of being nicer to myself! It will also mean that I will allow myself to enjoy non-academic reading and to work on other projects without feeling guilty. Importantly, it will mean running more…which will help me to stay focused and energised. And that can only help my larger PhD and life goals, right?

So there you have it: My three 2015 PhD resolutions.

To add a wee disclaimer: I am not silly enough to think that these things are going to happen tomorrow. They are intended to be works-in-progress and I hope that over the next few weeks or months I will have formed new habits to help ensure I can make these things happen. Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey!

A year in the life of a PhD student

Today marks one calendar year since I matriculated as a research student at Edinburgh Napier University’s School of Computing. At the time, I was filled with excitement and a bit of trepidation.

I went into the process with the notion that most of my first year would be spent reading, reading, and writing. I also went into it knowing that there would be training and learning opportunities. And, as I often do, I went into it knowing that there would be moments when I wondered if I was good enough.

There have been some definite highs in the last year. But unfortunately, there have been a few self-inflicted lows because of the aforementioned self-esteem issues.

The lows can be summed up as this: Literature review!

The highs, however, need a bit more space. So how about a list? (I do love a good list!)

In the last year:

» I started a fabulous new PhD blog;
» I gave a presentation to the entire faculty;
» I presented two posters (and made an awesome poster tube!);
» I attended some great conferences;
» I gave my first public presentation;
» I attended some fabulous events;
» And, of course, I submitted my one-year review materials.

Now that I’m heading into my second year, I can honestly say that I am filled with excitement and a bit of trepidation once again. I am hoping that I’ll have more opportunities to present my research, and I’m hoping to get at least one (hopefully two!) publications in the next year.

I don’t know exactly what Year Two will look like yet, but I will try to post a bit more about the process. My hope is that over the next year this blog will develop into three general categories: My academic journey; my views and opinions on my research area; and my take on student life, from living on a budget to balancing studies and socialisation.

So pleased stick around!

How not to write a literature review: Part 1

When I began my PhD studies nearly a year ago, I did so knowing that the first year would be, essentially, writing a literature review. I was told over and over again that it was all about reading, reading, reading, and writing.

Everyone I spoke to assured me that I would feel lost and confused. I was told to expect to feel like a failure; to expect to doubt myself. I was told that I would be reading more than ever before—and that some of the reading would be a waste of time.

Keep reading. Keep reading. Keep reading.

Those words echoed in my mind over the first eight or nine months.

But then—all of the sudden—I realised I wasn’t doing enough writing! In fact, I was doing very little writing.

Why? Because I didn’t know how.

I had done so much reading that all of the ideas were running wild in my head. I couldn’t corral them; I couldn’t control them.

When I attempted to express my ideas on paper, I felt that I wasn’t “good enough” to critique the works of others. I felt that I wasn’t clever enough to put my words and my opinions into the mix.

Eventually, I found a bit of confidence to start writing but it was a challenge. There were so many thoughts in my head—so many references to reflect on—that it was overwhelming. It was so overwhelming that I didn’t know how to organise my thoughts.

Soon, the overwhelming feelings morphed into fear which morphed into serious self-doubt—which only made the writing more challenging.

But I needed to write. So I did. I just wrote and wrote and soon I had 6,000 words. But the structure was confusing and there were lots of repeated ideas. Still, I kept writing. And eventually, there were more than 10,000 words. But the structure was still too confusing and there were still too many repeated thoughts.

The solution? Stop writing!

Yes, by that point the document was so confusing that I needed to start from scratch. I needed to build a new structure and start from there.

With the help of one of my supervisors, a new structure was determined. And then I started my word count over at zero. Oh, what a sad day that was!

With the new structure decided, I opened up a fresh document and began moving text across from the old one. I moved it bit-by-bit, starting from the top of the new document, working my way down. By the end of the first day, I was back up to 3,700 words. And by the end of the first week, I was up to 6,000.

But the words were better quality; the words flowed better and actually made sense.

Eventually, I found myself with a literature review of nearly 12,000 words, which has formed part of a larger annual review report of nearly 17,000 words (that’s 68 pages if you wondered).

I’ve sent the annual review report off to my advisory panel and now I have a week and a half to wait and wring my fingers whilst I stress and panic that it won’t be good enough.

And I will stress. Every single day. Because I am now so convinced that my literature review is absolutely horrible and there’s no way I’ll pass my annual review.

But just in case I’m wrong, I will continue to reflect on the document so that I can improve upon it for my main PhD thesis.

Of course, if I could start all over, I know what I’d do differently. And I’m going to try to remember those lessons when it comes time to start on my methods chapter (up next!).

So what’s my advice to someone starting out today? That’s easy: Start today!

Start putting your thoughts on paper immediately. They might be wrong; they might be conveyed in a casual or even half-baked manner; they might get deleted later. It doesn’t matter. Write! And write right now!

Why? Because you’ll get your ideas out of your head and onto a piece of paper (or a computer screen). Because you’ll have something to show your supervisors, who can help guide you in the right direction. Because you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. Because you’ll have something to look back on later, showing how far you’ve come from Day One!

In between now and my annual review meeting later this month, I will be taking some time to read more about research methods for my investigation. But I’ll be reading with my pen and pad handy so that I can write as I read.

As you can tell, I’m running a little massively short on self-esteem just now. Hopefully I’ll be able to share some positive outcomes soon though!

Tangling with the digerati

I spent an evening hobnobbing with some of Edinburgh’s “digerati” last week as part of a product launch for a new mobile dating app. It was a great experience and seems like a fun little app, so I thought I’d share a bit about it all here.

My invitation to the launch came not because of my non-partnered status*, but rather because of my status as an “Edinburgh Digerati” which made me laugh. Firstly, because I think the word is silly (sorry, it is!) and secondly because I don’t feel that I deserve a place among the “elite”. But someone did (or does) so I happily accepted the invitation. (Plus that, I can’t turn down free food!)

Of course, my research interests mean that I am very interested in what the actual digerati are doing. And it seems that many of them are equally interested in my research. Which means I had several really great conversations about online reputation management and—due in part to last night’s purpose and venue—how online dating can impact individuals’ online and offline reputations. (I’ll share more about that another day.)

So, the app!

The app is a new product called Tangle and is available for download through Google Play and Apple’s App Store**. The idea is that you can connect with people you walk past during the day, meaning you can turn that passing glance into a lasting relationship. (Or not.) It also allows you to go back in time to see who you may have passed when you were out-and-about but not looking at the app.

I downloaded the app at the launch and decided to keep it on my phone for a bit to see what it was really like. Which I feel a little weird about because I’m not in the market for a new beau, but curiosity got the better of me!

After having a wee play around with it, I found it easy to use and rather intuitive. However, I wasn’t happy that I had to link with my Facebook account (there isn’t another option at this time). And I’m a little weirded-out by the idea that people can see when I’m nearby. (Though you can turn off the ping and/or block people if you want.) But I’ve been assured that the privacy tools and processes Tangle uses means you’re safe.

I initially set my parameters for people in my own age group which meant that I only got two pings. Realising I’d need more pings to see how the app worked, I extended my range to all available age groups. This expanded reach didn’t deliver as many pings as I’d have hoped for, but it did make a difference.

In my travels around Edinburgh, Midlothian, and Stirling, I received pings/notifications for about 10 Edinburgh-based men (all under 30 years of age), one from a 30-something man in Midlothian, and nothing from Stirling.

But that makes sense as 1) the app is being marketed towards folks in their 20s right now and 2) the marketing is taking place in Edinburgh at the moment.

Honestly, I think the app is a fun idea and I can see how someone would enjoy using it once there are enough users to fill up your screen with potential matches. If I were a single woman in my 20s, trying to meet new people, I can see how this would be an extremely fun way to do it.

But I’m 40 and quite frankly, I feel a bit too old for the tool.

However, I am quite flattered that a handful of people have liked me on the app. But as I’ve not liked them back, I don’t know who they are. (If you’re one of them and are reading this: It’s nothing personal.)

As for me, I’m excited to follow up with some of the people I met at the launch to talk about my research and to find out how their various techy businesses are progressing.

[Please note this review has not been solicited, bought, or paid for in any way. (I did get free pizza and beer at the launch, but not as payment for this post.) This is not meant as an endorsement and is merely my thoughts and review on a new mobile app.]

* I hate saying single because I don’t feel single. But I hate saying widowed because, well, yeah. So forgive the weirdness of that sentence.
** The lack of a hyperlink isn’t because of my preference for non-Apple things (yes, I’m one of those people); it’s because I can’t find a good link. Go to Tangle’s website to access the download.

A Woman of STEM!

Tuesday was Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and as part of the celebration, I attended a dinner hosted by Equate Scotland and Edinburgh Napier University.

[Note: Click here to skip the personal epiphany stuff and go straight to the event recap.]

My personal celebration of women in STEM began earlier than that, however. In fact, it began when I woke up and saw the reminder on my phone. That was when it finally dawned on me that I am a “Woman in STEM”.

As I thought about my place within the STEM community, I realised that I am a poor advocate for the group. Not because I don’t believe that women are (more than) capable of excelling in STEM subjects, but because I have never truly considered myself a part of the community. My lack of connection with the community stems (pun slightly intended) from my background in the humanities, media, and culture, but also from my fringe status within the field of technology.

You see, I am nearly a year into my PhD within Edinburgh Napier’s School of Computing, but I have struggled to think of myself as a “computer person” because I am investigating online reputation management—not computers. I suppose I can’t help but feel that my studies are about media, communications, and society, rather than computer-based.

Slowly but surely, however, I’ve been breaking through the (self-imposed) barriers and have been feeling more and more comfortable with the thought of being lumped with the computer scientists and technology folks—even though I still feel better connected to the fields of media and communications studies.

But I can find comfort in more than one place, right? After all, as a long-term expat, I feel just as comfortable identifying with my home nation of America as I do with my adopted home of Scotland. And if I can (eventually) have dual nationalities, why can’t I have dual academic disciplines?

So, yes. I am a Woman in STEM. (Actually, I am a Multi-Disciplinary Woman. Which is empowering in its own right.)

By the time I arrived at the dinner, I was feeling more comfortable than ever with my place within STEM. And as I began to chat with the other guests, I realised more and more that we’re all from diverse backgrounds—some that are directly related to STEM subjects; some that are not.

And then when the speakers began to take the stage, I knew—without a doubt—that I was in the right place.

I digress…

The evening’s programme began with an address from Edinburgh Napier University’s principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Andrea Nolan (OBE), who spoke about the changing climate for women in STEM within the university—including the high number of female staff in the School of Computing.

Professor Hazel Hall then spoke about the university’s Athena SWAN bronze submission and the overall environment within Edinburgh Napier’s STEM subjects. She was rightfully pleased to point out that 21% of the university’s STEM professoriate is female—which bucks the trend of the UK’s benchmark of 16.5%. On the other hand, she noted that women are still under-represented on some important committees.

However, in keeping with the positive theme of the evening, we were reminded that there are mechanisms in place to help improve opportunities for not only women staff, but for current and future women students in STEM.

Linda Somerville, director of Equate Scotland, spoke next about the overall outlook for women in STEM. She shared some rather disappointing statistics, such as a recent survey by Prospect of over 2,000 women in science, engineering, and technical roles that showed 30% of women felt their careers had been hindered by their gender—a percentage that increased with age, as nearly 40% of women over 50 felt that way.

Happily though, Linda pointed out that Equate Scotland has been giving direct support to women over the years—the impact of which has shown 83% of women assisted feel more confident about their careers and 24% have obtained new jobs.

The evening ended with a keynote address by Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell who shared her personal journey from her time as a child in Northern Ireland, through her university studies at the University of Glasgow and the University of Cambridge, and her fascinating and varied professional life that included the discovery of pulsars.

Dame Jocelyn’s frank discussions of the harassment she endured during her studies and her feelings of imposter syndrome seemed to resonate with the audience—as did her experience as a “trailing spouse” whose career came second to that of her husband’s and to the demands of motherhood.

Keeping with the evening’s positive theme, however, Dame Jocelyn points out that her “succession of jobs, rather than a career” provided her with great opportunities in a number of fields—and helped her to develop an impressive career in the end.

There were three things Dame Jocelyn said that I felt really made the day a success:

  • It takes a long time to change society and society’s perceptions.
  • It’s OK to celebrate the differences between women and men.
  • We need to re-write women into history!

I hope that others in attendance found the evening as uplifting and positive as I did. It truly was a great celebration of Women in STEM and I’m looking forward to seeing the momentum continue.

Back to my own personal epiphany, I’ll share with you the thoughts I had on my walk home after the celebration.

Like many things, changing perceptions, norms, and attitudes takes time. But we are changing them. Step by step, little by little. Ada Lovelace made a difference. Dame Jocelyn made (and continues to make) a difference. Women and men like you are making a difference. I am making a difference.

The things we do today—the societal norms and expectations we challenge today—will impact the women and men who follow after us. I am excited about my role in creating a better tomorrow!

Happy (belated) Ada Lovelace Day!

[Watercolour portrait of Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (Ada Lovelace), by Alfred Edward Chalon (1780-1860). Image in public domain, accessed from Wikimedia Commons. Photographs of Professor Hazel Hall and Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell copyright Frances Ryan, 2014]

Defining and organising the Internet

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged here, in part because I still haven’t figured out how best to use this space and in part because I have too many muddled thoughts in my brain to know what to share.

To address both of those issues, I’ve decided to use a tactic that works for my personal blogging habits: I’m going to attempt at using this space to work through some of the confusion I’m facing. The hope is that the act of writing my thoughts down will help me to clarify them, but that it will also give me the opportunity to seek feedback from others.

So, here goes!

Two of my goals for the next week are to 1) source some simple definitions of a few technical terms and 2) create an organisational chart of the Internet (highlighting my main areas of research).

Both of these things will be used in my thesis to guide the reader in their understanding of my approach to the topic of personal online reputation management.

First, the terms I want to define. Initially, I want to start with the broad terms found in the middle of the organisational chart. Those are:

But I may also need to add other definitions such as blog, forum, comments section, etc.

Or maybe those belong in a table somewhere?

Or maybe in a glossary?

How do I decide what terms to define within the main body of my work and which to simply relegate to a glossary?

Now, onto the organisational chart. (Full-size PDF here.)

(Don’t worry: the cat won’t be on the final version, despite theories that the Internet is actually made of cats*.)

I am starting with cats “The Internet” then attempting to identify the main areas under that umbrella. For now, those are the World Wide Web; interfaces for email and SMS; and peer-to-peer file-sharing, FTP sites, and VoIP services.

I am only planning to expand on the sections I’m investigating, so will only be expanding on the World Wide Web category from there.

Under the World Wide Web, I have listed social media (Web 2.0); databases and organisational and informational websites; and static websites (Web 1.0).

And from there, I’ve placed social networking sites under social media.

Here are some of my questions:

What am I missing from each level?

How much detail do I need to go into?

Do I list examples on the chart on in the descriptive text?
(Example: Blogs under social media; Facebook under SNSs)

Am I completely off-base in my thinking?

Any thoughts and opinions you have to share would be greatly appreciated. And hopefully, I’ll have my head fully wrapped around this all by next week, at which time I’ll share an update.

Thanks for helping!

(Oh, and I suppose I should make a joke about how organising the Internet feels a bit like herding cats, too.)

* There’s a video about it and all! Please note that there may be questionable language used around the 1-minute mark.

Life in a digital fishbowl

I gave my first full-on public talk last night and am pretty excited about how it went. The talk, titled “Life in a digital fishbowl: Managing your reputation online”, was part of the 2014 Skeptics on the Fringe line up in the Edinburgh Fringe and was given to a nearly full house. (Thankfully, it was a rather small venue so wasn’t too nerve-racking!)

I was very excited to have been invited to speak and spent the last couple of months slightly anxious about how it would go. After all, this was the first time I’ve done something like this. Though whilst I felt rather awkward the whole time, I’ve been told by others that I didn’t seem nervous at all. (So either I’m going to be a great public speaker one day, or I’ve been told some kind tales to fluff my ego. Or both!)

I broke my talk into three sections: An introduction to my background and my research; some further insights and examples into issues of reputation, identity, and information; and a bit of homework in the form of some tips and tricks for monitoring and managing online information.

I tried to make it a bit relevant, though I’m sure I may have lost or confused one or two people, as I didn’t really know the best way to piece the different bits of information together. The key takeaway was that there is more information online than you might realise, and that you are not necessarily in control over it! (Not in a completely scary way.)

I had a couple of supportive friends and PhD supervisors in the audience to lob (easy!) questions to me if no one else asked any. But—thankfully!—the audience seemed more than interested in asking questions of their own.

Overall, the experience was a great opportunity for me to think about how my research fits within my own field as well as society as a whole. Importantly, it was also a great opportunity for me to gain a bit of confidence. (Something I feel I’m lacking at this point in my research career.)

It also gave me the confidence to state my opinions on issues of online reputation management, so I will try to share some of them here with you.

Below are the slides from my presentation. There isn’t too much text, so they won’t really help to give an overview of the talk. But if you have any questions, feel free to contact me!

(See write-ups from the Edinburgh Skeptics here or my supervisor, Professor Hazel Hall, here.)

[Photo Copyright Professor Hazel Hall]

iFutures 2014: Research into practice

I attended the second annual iFutures Conference in Sheffield yesterday. This year’s theme was “Research into Practice” and was very informative for me as a first-year PhD student. It was also an opportunity for me to present my poster “Online Reputation Management in a Digital World” for the second time.

The conference began with a keynote address by Professor David Bawden of City University London. His talk, “Information research: Still versus the practitioner?”, discussed the relationship between academics and practitioners and questioned whether communication between the two groups is flawed. Bawden continued on to talk about issues of publication and the differences (benefits and cautions) between publishing in academic journals, professional publications, and blogs.

After the keynote, there were paper presentations and a couple of Pecha Kucha-style talks. The topics seemed to centre on open access and information literacy—both subjects that I am keen to know more about. I found it especially useful to hear how the presenters are approaching their research at the different stages of studies, but I also found it useful to see a variety of presentation styles.

I also found the student presentations interesting because I often feel out of place in the information science and informatics realms because I can’t help but think I’m a media person because of my previous educational and professional backgrounds and because I’m studying social media. I think the more I hear from others within my discipline, the more I will see the connections between my research and that of other information and informatics researchers.

But I digress…

In the afternoon, we broke into two workshop sessions. I chose to join the session “Disseminating your research to maximise impact” run by Sheila Webber of the University of Sheffield. The session gave a good overview of ways to disseminate research and looked at issues of sharing the right information on the right platform. Whilst some of her talk was a review for me (issues of managing your reputation) there were some great takeaways that I hadn’t considered. Webber has made her presentation available on SlideShare, so be sure to check it out.

Finally, the day ended with a closing address by Professor Nigel Ford of the University of Sheffield. Like the keynote speaker, Ford spoke about the connections and tensions between academics and professionals in the dissemination of research. He also used several cosmology analogies to discuss the linking up of scattered points within research. It was very interesting and I truly appreciated how his talk looped back around to points made at the start of the day.

My favourite knowledge tidbits from the event were:

  1. Discussions about the divide between academics and practitioners
  2. Views and opinions about open access for academic research
  3. Learning more about what other PhD students are researching

On a fun, personal note, I was very flattered when I noticed that one of the posters had some similar design elements to mine. The author said she’d found my poster online when searching for inspiration and that’s why she had those similar elements. (Yes, this did wonders for my ego!)

I was also very pleased with the compliments on my poster tube—and then had to laugh when others were trying to determine which plain, brown tube was theirs at the end of the day. (Another ego moment, I admit.)

And I can’t forget a great big thank you to the organising committee for all of their hard work in setting up the day’s event. I was really pleased with the entire day and will look forward to seeing next year’s event come together!

Want to know more?

– Check out the conference proceedings here—and be sure to give special attention to my poster abstract!
– Find Tweets from the day’s conference using the “ifutures” hashtag here.

[Photo of me with my poster is copyright Leo Appleton, one of fellow PhD students in the Institute for Informatics and Digital Innovation.]