Poster parcel pizzazz

I’m heading to the iFutures: Research into Practice Conference in Sheffield early next week to present a poster. It’s the same poster I presented at the SICSA Conference in St Andrews in June, but I’m pretty excited about the opportunity to share my research plans once again.

I’ll share a review of the conference afterwards though. This post is all about my poster parcel and my need for a bit of pizzazz. (Sorry, this isn’t an academic post, it’s a PhD life post!)

I didn’t have time to get a poster tube before the St Andrews conference and spent the entire train journey panicked about it getting dented and dinged. (I might be a bit fussy about these things.) So I knew without a doubt that I would need a better transport system for my next trip around the block.

As a “starving student” I couldn’t bring myself to buy a nice cloth or leather poster carrier. No, my budget would only extend to a generic poster tube.

But I’m creative and resourceful, so I wasn’t going to settle for just a plain tube. No, my ego would bow to that.

I thought about printing some of my swirls then découpaging them onto the tube, but I didn’t have decoupage on hand or the glue to make it with. Then I thought about drawing on it or just covering it with stickers, but that just seemed too… boring.

So, I wrapped it with yarn and added a row of star stickers to the top end. I also “extended” one end since the lids on either end dipped in, meaning the “perfect” sized tube wouldn’t allow for both ends to be sealed completely. (If you’ve used a cheap poster tube, you probably know what I’m talking about.)

Here’s how I did it:

First, I extended one end. To do this, I carefully glued the lid to one end without fully closing it. I used a sort of epoxy goop that was lying around the house to do that. I then took three strands of wool and began wrapping them around to hide the lid—using the epoxy to secure the wool at this point. (Are you following this?)

Once I went about an inch around the tube, I realised the epoxy would be too messy and switched to a heavy duty double-sided tape to secure the rest of the wool. I worked my way around switching out colours until I was about an inch and a half from the top.

Then I punched a hole in the tube to bring the wool inside. From there, I looped it through two holes I punched in the top lid (with some slack) then back to the initial hole in the tube to tie it off. This provided me with a lid that can’t be lost! (You can never be too careful, you know!)

One of the reasons I tied the wool off like this was because I feared it would unravel if I wrapped it all the way to the top. And that’s where the star stickers came in—as a way to decorate that last little bit of tube.

And there you have it—a poster parcel with a bit of pizzazz!

(Here’s what I started with, if you wondered.)

  • Total cost: $£1.82
    • Tube: £1.49
    • Tape: £0.33
    • Epoxy: Free (spare from housemate)
    • Wool and stickers: Free (from a box of craft stuff given to me from a friend)
  • Total time: 1 hour
  • Total happiness: 100%

The conference circuit

I’ve had a busy few weeks of conferences and seminars and am finally catching my breath again. I had originally planned to share each of these events separately, but I was fighting off the deadly common cold for much of my time on the “conference circuit” so never got around to it. Still, this is a good exercise in getting back to my PhD blog!

The first conference was the SICSA PhD Conference, held in St Andrews. The two-day event was open to Scotland-based computer science and informatics PhD students and provided opportunities for workshops and presentations.

I jumped at the opportunity to present my first academic poster at the event and was pleased to have been shortlisted for a prize. (Sadly, I didn’t make the final cut, but it felt good to be shortlisted for my first poster out of the gate!)

The following week I attended the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science (SGSSS) Summer School in Edinburgh. It was a bit difficult to decide which seminars to attend, and I admit that one or two of them were the wrong choice, but I gained a lot of useful information from all of them. (Yes, even the wrong choice ones.)

The best takeaways from the week were a better understanding of my own philosophical leanings (as they pertain to research) and some great insights into the design of mixed methods studies. And, of course, I made some excellent connections with other PhD students and some of the academic presenters.

Last week saw me travelling to Glasgow for the SGSSS Research Methods in Information Science workshops at the University of Strathclyde. I was very excited about the literature review workshop as that’s my biggest task for the summer. I’ve attended a couple of shorter literature review sessions, but this one gave such a great explanation of a narrative literature review that I feel everything else makes more sense now.

Of course, last week was also the 2014 iDocQ (also in Glasgow) which was by far the best of all of the conferences! OK, I have to say that because I was on the planning committee and chaired most of the day’s programme. (It truly was a team effort though, with Calum Liddle of The University of Strathclyde, Wachi Klungthanaboon of The University of Glasgow, and Chikezie Emele of Robert Gordon University all pitching in to do their fair share of the work.)

One of the delegates, Christine Irving, gave such a wonderful recap of the event that I’ll point you there for the full account!

I now have a bit of downtime (read: time to work on my literature review!) before my next conference (iFutures in Sheffield). I plan to present a poster and submit a paper for the conference proceedings there and am looking forward to yet another conference experience. And, hopefully, I won’t be sick this time!

[Photo Copyright Lynn Killick, one of my awesome office mates.]

Academic posters: Take one

I completed my first academic poster today, ahead of the 2014 SICSA PhD Conference in St Andrews next week. The poster is based on a 1-page abstract that I sent into the poster panel in April.

I struggled with how to design the poster because I thought I had to include all of the information from the abstract on the poster. That would have meant the poster was very text-heavy, which is something I’m not keen on. (I know many academic posters are mostly words, but I am more of a visual person.)

However, on meeting with two of my supervisors yesterday, I was told that wasn’t the case. In fact, they both agreed that less text is better! The decision was then made that I’d use this as a test poster to see how far I can push the boundaries between text and design.

I am not overly keen on my first attempt, but I am excited about the lessons I’ve learned so far. And I already have a list of things to change (improve!) for my next poster presentation in July.

My hope for this poster is that I will gain some useful feedback from the judging panel about what works and what doesn’t work.

And, of course, I also hope that I can win one of the poster prizes. But I have to be realistic and realise that a poster designed in less than 24 hours probably won’t win! (Still … fingers crossed!)

You can see a larger version of the poster here.

I hope that the poster is fairly self-explanatory (though I know it’s brief). If you’d like more information though, please do get in touch.

Stay tuned for an update on my first PhD conference next week. (And who knows, maybe I’ll be able to tell you I won a prize!)

[Photo Copyright Samuel Chinenyeze, one of my awesome office mates.]

Presenting 20 in 20

Yesterday was my first full-on presentation as a PhD student. It was a 20/20 presentation*, meaning I had to present 20 slides for 20 seconds each and was given to the Faculty of Engineering, Computing, and Creative Industries (FECCI).

If you know me, you know I’m not actually good at “keeping it short”—especially when it’s a topic I’m excited about. So the idea of a 20/20 presentation freaked me out! Twenty slides, with only 20 seconds of chatting each? Impossible!

Six minutes and 40 seconds of chatting using as many (or as few) slides as I needed to convey my message would have been so much better, and wouldn’t have left me feeling rushed.

Still, the rule was 20/20, so that’s what I did.

The takeaways were worth it though. Here’s what they were:

  1. Presenting my research in this manner did wonders for my confidence (after the freaking out before and during, of course). It also forced me to think more concisely about my message when explaining my research to others—especially those who are not social media researchers.
  2. I learned some great lessons for my next presentation. I learned that it would be best to prepare a 6-minute 40-second talk and then create the slides to fit in every 20 seconds. That way, it’s a cohesive talk rather than 20 short bursts of information.
  3. The next time I have a presentation of any length (and slide limit), I have a bank of slides ready to plug in when and where they’re needed.

Here’s a copy of my presentation if you want to see what my slides looked like. I know it doesn’t let you know what I said, but you can always get in touch if you want to know more about the presentation—or my research!

* This style is sometimes called PechaKucha, but as it’s a trademarked programme, 20/20 is the oft-used generic term.

[Photo credits: Copyright Hazel Hall 2014; used with permission]

Retreat, retreat!

I’ve been meaning to update this blog for a while now, but have been in retreat mode. And when you’re in retreat mode, sometimes blogs get ignored. (I am suppressing the urge to say “sorry about that”, for reasons explained below.)

Retreat No 1: I’ve been busy and stressed trying to meet a few deadlines, meaning I’ve retreated into my own little world—a bad habit, I know. This retreat mode was also because I was (am, in some cases) unsure about things. Like, what do I share here? What’s relevant? What do people want to read? Who’s my audience (Mum!)?

I am still unsure about a lot of these things, but I’m going to take a page from my personal blogging experiences of “blog to blog” when I’m shying away from writing. (It’s like the writers’ trick to “just write any old rubbish” as a way of getting the useful juices slowing.)

But that’s the “poor me” retreat mode so let’s move on to the fun stuff!

Retreat No 2: This was a real retreat with some of my fellow School of Computing PhD students to a loch-side retreat centre near the Highlands. It was simple and short but gave me the opportunity to share a short presentation of my research with some of my fellow students and teaching staff, who then provided a bit of feedback.

One of the most valuable bits of feedback was from one of my supervisors who suggested that I stop apologising—for my research; for being on the “soft” side of computing science; for not having all the information. (I then apologised for apologising too much. A problem I really do need to fix as I do it in all aspects of my life and it impacts my confidence. See first paragraph.)

And as this was my first official presentation as a PhD student, I thought I’d mark it by opening a SlideShare account so that I can share it with you!

(Yes, there was fun activity stuff at the retreat, too, as evident by the “selfie” of me after a cycle ride to a ruined castle.)

But it’s time to move on from retreats and talk about what’s next and what blog posts you can expect from me in the near future.

The biggest thing is that I’ll be giving a 20/20 presentation next Tuesday that will expand on my retreat presentation—and will hopefully see me not apologising.

After that, I will have a few conferences to talk about (assuming my abstracts are accepted!) and will be able to share a bit more information about my literature searching and current reading lists. There might even be an opinion/commentary piece or two if I can get the courage to share my thoughts with you.

What I say about “They Say/I Say”

It’s not often that I review books, but as it’s a bit of an academic “thing to do” I’ve decided that I will start participating in the practice. (Well, at least for some of the academic-y books I read; I’m sure the world doesn’t need yet another glowing review of the amazing works of Ian Rankin.)

I attended a training session on writing literature reviews the other week (presented by Dr Anne Schwan) and took on board the recommendation to read They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing (Graff and Birkenstein, 2014). In fact, as luck would have it there was a new edition being released the following week so I took the opportunity to pre-order it on Amazon.co.uk so that I’d have the latest-and-greatest version.

In a nutshell, They Say/I Say is an introduction to the art of writing an argument and creating an academic conversation. It is easy to read and offers examples and templates throughout the book—with useful exercises at the end of each chapter so that the reader can immediately put the concepts to test. Further, the authors use encouraging language that may help less-experienced students or academics overcome potential fears about not having the academic know-how or “credentials” to create arguments.

I feel that the book gave good (though sometimes basic) advice on how best to present an argument in a way that allows the conversation to continue. It helps to explain the process of—and the need for—summarising someone’s argument, as well as some “best practice” techniques for how and when to use quotes. (With an emphasis on making sure that quotes are relevant and to the point.)

My favourite thing about the book—and what I believe is the most useful reason for owning a copy—is the templates provided throughout the text. I feel that they work similar to a thesaurus by providing suggested ways to phrase an argument, in the same manner that we’d use a thesaurus to find alternative words so that we don’t continue to describe a flower as beautiful over and over again. After all, reading “He said…”, “He said…”, and “He said…” all in a row can get boring. But if you throw in a “The author notes that it could be argued …” from time-to-time is like describing that flower as prepossessing.

The third edition also includes new sections for writing about literature, using templates to revise, and even writing online. Further, the authors have launched a blog, continuing the lessons and conversation online. (I have added the blog to my RSS feed so that I don’t miss any updates.)

Practical pickiness:
On the practical side, the book is an extremely good value at around £12 for the paperback edition. It’s small size and light-weight materials make it easy to toss into your book bag for easy access when writing at the library.

However—and this is where my slightly obsessive-compulsive nature comes in—I was less than pleased with the book’s overall print quality.

First, the cover is a printed and coated card stock which feels weird to the touch. This printing method also means that the cover insists on curling upwards, meaning it will always look open when sitting on a desk. Next, the paper is (not too) thin and has a slight shine to it which is a little annoying as it gives off a slight glare from overhead lighting and doesn’t have the nice feel that other, less glossy papers have.

Again, this is my own personal brand of crazy and has nothing to do with the book’s substance and academic usefulness. (I am just very fussy about some things; don’t get me started on wonky staples!)

Recommendation:
Short and sweet: Yes! I recommend you get this book—or at least check it out from the library! (I’ve not been asked or paid to give this review, I just really like the book and believe it will be a useful tool.)

Finding a method to my madness

[To jump right in] Last week’s panel review meeting went rather well. I was (as predicted) worrying about (mostly) nothing and the review was a simple(ish) chat about my progress to date. Of course, there had been an expectation that I might have had a bit more work to show as it was a “6-month review” but when it was explained that I started late and was therefore only at my 4-month mark, it all started to make sense.

One of the biggest things I took away from the meeting was that I really need to start giving more thought to my research methodologies. I mean, it’s great that I know I want to research how people manage their reputation online, but how do I actually accomplish that? (Yes, these are things you need to think of as a researcher!)

(In fairness to myself, I have known all along that I would need to pin down my methodologies, I’ve just yet to actually put a stake in the ground.)

Do I use in-depth interviews to really investigate how individuals manage their online reputations?

Do I use a large-scale survey to determine the percentage of people who do x, y, or z in the management of their online reputations?

Do I hold focus groups with the hope of generating a bit of conversation around topic?

Do I use observational tools, looking at publicly available data and information to make conclusions of what people appear to be doing—or not doing—in an effort to manage their reputation?

Or do I use a combination of methods?

And what about the validation process? How will I go about validating my research, especially if I’m opting to use in-depth interviews and case studies?

As you can probably tell, I don’t actually have an answer to these questions. In fact, the more I try to find an answer, the more I start to ask more questions! (Ah, the questions-answers-questions loop. It can be frustrating at times.)

So in an effort to help me determine what methods to use in my research, I’m doing what any good researcher would do: I am researching!

I am currently re-reading research articles to determine the varying methods that have been successfully implemented in the past. From there, I hope to be able to identify a couple of methodologies that seem likely to fit with my project.

At the same time, I will be accessing other PhD theses to see what methods others have used—as well as what methods others have eschewed—and their reasoning behind those decisions.

Over the weekend, I will make a list of further research articles to read, in the hopes of expanding my knowledge of existing studies so that I can better determine what methods might work for me. And—with a bit of hard work and a touch of luck—by next Friday’s supervision meeting I will be ready to talk to my supervisors about 2-3 potential methods.

Importantly, all of this research into research methods will also help me with my next big milestone: The completion of my RD4 form, which is an expanded research proposal that will include my intended methodologies.

As always—I’m open to input from others so please feel free to point me towards some great resource you think I should be considering!

Prepping for the panel

Tomorrow is my first panel review meeting for my PhD and I’ve spent the past few days prepping for it. (And stressing out about it just a little bit.) These meetings are meant to take place every six months though my first one is happening less than four months into my studies because I started later than the traditional September start. That early review has me slightly stressed because I feel that I won’t have as much accomplished as most people would at their first meeting, but I’m sure it will be OK.

This review is fairly simple. It will take place with me, my supervisors, and my panel chair and is an opportunity for the chair to determine if I’m on track—and if my supervisors are doing their jobs correctly. (I believe they are, but I confess that I don’t actually know how to judge that. Still, I believe they are.)

To prepare for the meeting, I have talked with my supervisors about my progress so far. I have also prepared an updated project plan, a listing of training events that I’ve attended and plan to attend, a reading list, and an updated draft of an essay I’m working on around reputation, identity, and information.

I’ve also tried to re-read as many relevant articles as possible so that I can be prepared for any questions that might arise.

I know that the chair isn’t out to get me, but I am still quite nervous about this process. (Hopefully those nerves will ease as I get used to these review meetings.)

Of course, tomorrow is also my 40th birthday and I know that I will be extremely aware of the time throughout the meeting because my plan is to leave the meeting, change into my birthday dress, and the run to the train station in time to catch a train to Glasgow where I will meet up with some friends for pretentious cocktails.

And that all means that I might forget to let you know how the actual meeting goes. (Apologies in advance for that.)

Over the next couple of weeks I will work to get some of the documents listed above up on the site. That way you can see the sort of things I’m working on.

Now, back to stressing out about tomorrow’s big meeting. (Which is better than stressing out about the big 4-0, which I’m not fussed about at all!)

[Note: That photo is actually from when I was in the final stages of writing my master’s dissertation, but it’s still fairly representative of what my study area looks like at the moment.]

Finding money

I think that one of the hardest things about doing a PhD might be finding money. For my own studies, I know that I would have been unable to proceed without a studentship or other large funding source—which makes me very grateful to have been offered more than one studentship when I was seeking a place to study. (Sadly, I’ve heard many stories from people who’ve been unable to do a PhD because they weren’t so lucky.)

Whilst some people awarded studentships no longer need to find additional forms of finance for their studies, as they’re offered a tuition waiver as well as a small living stipend, that’s not the case for every student in recipient of a studentship.

For example, I am on a studentship but as an international student, I have to pay the difference between domestic and international tuition out of pocket. (Which is a lot of money for someone like me!) And that means I will spend my years as a PhD student applying for scholarships to help cover the gaps.*

Yesterday, I applied for my first scholarship of my PhD career** and I am now trying to find others that I may qualify for. I’ve decided that I will apply for as many scholarships and grants as I can get with the idea that finding “too much” money one year can help off-set a lack of money for another—but I have to remember that I am only one of many applying for the same pots of funding.

I have a list of scholarships that I will be applying for when they open up for the 2014/15 academic year and I am constantly on the look-out for more. But I’m also realising that I need to start looking at travel grants and conference scholarships so that I can further my training and knowledge by attending academic events throughout the UK, Europe, and even the world.

I am not stressed out about money (right now) but I realise that many PhD students (and students in general) spend a lot of time worrying about their finances and I imagine it makes a big impact on the amount of time they spend worrying about their studies.

So, what is this post about? I guess it’s a bit of an introduction to one of the general topics I’ll likely be covering throughout my studies: Finances!

Yes, part of Just a PhD will be devoted to talking about how I am working to add to my PhD budget—as well as how I plan to stretch the limited funds I have now. Those things will include scholarship applications, paid opportunities through the university (if there are any), and my own frugality which I’ve been perfecting since my teen-aged years.

And if you know of any great scholarships I should be applying for, please do give a shout! Every little penny counts and as soon as I have a bit more financial security, I can spend less time worrying about money and more time doing important things like PhDing!

* I have been blessed with a place to stay in a friend’s home until I can find funding, which means that I am not at risk of starvation or homelessness. Having a bit of stability helps! (As does having generous friends!)

** I applied for a few before I began my studies but have yet to be successful. I won’t give up though!

Working out where to work

Last month, I shared with you my struggles for finding just the right place to work. I was finding it difficult to figure out how to manage my reading without being distracted—and without finding myself squirreled away at home all the time.

To find a solution, I decided to spend three weeks testing out various locations and work patterns. Though, sadly, I’ve not yet found an answer to my problem.

I did learn, however, that trying to work in more than two locations on any given day doesn’t work because I spend too much time settling into the new location—and too much time wondering when it’s time to move onto the next. However, two locations seems to work just fine—as long as I am clear about what my tasks will be at each location.

So, what’s the solution?

To be honest, I don’t really know!

But I do know that I read better away from the office and that I find resources for reading better when I’m in the office. I also know that I am able to write wherever I am—though it seems that my best focused-in writing sessions come right after lunch or dinner. (Yes, a full tummy helps!)

In the last week of my location testing, I found that I was giving myself clear tasks to complete at each location. A day’s tasks might be split up like this:

I would “assign” myself the task of reading two journal articles at home whilst eating breakfast and enjoying my morning coffee, after which I would make hand-written notes summarising each article before going to the office. On arriving at my office, I would have the task of typing up my notes then searching through databases for any new articles to add to my reading list. Then, on returning home in the evening, I would read another (short) article or search for interesting pop-culture stories related to my areas of interest (blog posts, opinion pieces, forum discussions—that sort of thing).

So I know that I work best in different locations. And I know that I work best with clear tasks in mind. But what I don’t know is how to stay focused on tasks—or how to prioritise them!

I guess that means it’s time to investigate some time management techniques!

(Thankfully, I am still feeling a renewed sense of excitement about the path I’m on, which is helping to keep me focused!)

[Photo note: This is a view of my comfy weekend reading spot: Home on my couch with my life-long companion, Tiger, listening to my hometown country station (KXLE Radio) streaming on the tablet and taking occasional breaks to draw abstract swirls. What a wonderful way to spend a weekend!]

Finding some clarity: It’s about reputation (not privacy)

I’ve spent the past few weeks reading about privacy, identity, and reputation so that I can try to resolve a few questions I have about where I want to take my PhD research. My area of interest is reputation, but with so many elements impacting reputation it can be hard to interpret the map with all of my thoughts and ideas.

I admit that it’s been extremely frustrating because I’ve found myself heading down so many paths that have been filled with more distraction than relevance and I was starting to wonder if I’d ever be able to find a path that could bring me a bit more focus. (I understand this is a common problem at the start of a PhD, so I haven’t felt like a failure because of it—but it hasn’t built up my confidence, either.)

Thankfully, this is where my supervisors come in! They’ve “been there; done that” so are able to help guide me in the right direction. (Yay!)

I developed a very rough draft of an essay on privacy, identity, and reputation—and the relationship between the three—and sent my supervisors a copy ahead of yesterday’s supervision meeting. I was very unhappy with the draft because it seemed so [enter several negative adjectives here], but in the end it was a very useful tool because one of my supervisors took the time to write a summary of key points on a white board for us to discuss—and that discussion led to a great amount of useful waypoints.

By the end of the meeting, I was filled with a renewed sense of excitement because I could see the path a little more clearly. There is still a bit of fog and I’m sure there will be a few rough patches to traverse, but I feel that this path will lead me to a couple of major roads before too long.

Moving forward, I will start to look a bit more at the idea of online identities and their relationship with reputation—and I’ll try to remember that my PhD is not about privacy*. I’ll be investigating issues of multiple identities (personas/personalities) including pseudonyms and anonymous accounts and how they’re used in an online environment—as well as some of the recent discussions around requirements for the use of “real names” by organisations like Google and Huffington Post.

I hope to have a bit more clarity on my research soon, at which time I will try to be a bit less vague in what I’m sharing. In the mean time, if you have any great resources you wish to share with me on reputation and identity, please feel free to contact me or comment below!

* I’ll talk about my desire to keep privacy on the fringe of my research later—after I’ve clarified it all a bit more in my own mind.

Prezi or PowerPoint: Can I have both?

I spent a chunk of my day in a very useful Prezi workshop as part of my on-going Vitae Researcher Development Framework training. I wasn’t sure what I would get out of the day, but I’m really looking forward to trying out the new presentation software.

I’ve been an enthusiastic (but not too enthusiastic!) user of PowerPoint for many years and whilst I really enjoy the platform, I am often excited about the latest-and-greatest technologies. After all, moving forward can be a lot more exciting than standing still.

I viewed Prezi as an opportunity to present slideshows with a bit more “wow factor” than PowerPoint allows. And after tooling around for a bit today, I have to say that I was right—there are some amazingly “wow” things you can do with Prezi. (Here’s a good comparison of the two.)

The problem, however, is that I can’t do everything with it.

I admit that my limited use isn’t enough to give a full-on critique of the software, but I’ll go ahead and share my initial thoughts anyhow. If you have anything to add (for or against!) please feel free to comment away.

So, here are my initial thoughts:

Pros:

  • It’s free! (And with an educational license, you get more goodies for free!)
  • You can get artistic with the fully zoomed-out view, giving your presentation a nice “designed” feel
  • It’s online and presentations can easily be shared with links or by embedding them

Cons:

  • It’s all online (unless you pay the big bucks!) meaning you need an Internet connection
  • Despite being able to download your presentation, you need an Internet connection to best show your presentation—especially if you have embedded videos
  • Motion-sickness can be a problem for some audience members

Ideally, I’d like to combine Prezi and PowerPoint features to create the perfect tool for me—and maybe one day some smart software developer will do just that. In the mean time, I must admit that I will be sticking with PowerPoint for any in-person presentation I have to give (not that I have anything on the horizon!). But I think I’ll give Prezi a try for online purposes in an effort to learn the tools a bit better—and in case they ever make some of their online features available offline!

Oh! Here’s the presentation I created today. It’s not much, but it’s a good place to start! (And here’s a link to my Prezi profile!)

(But seriously—if you have any thoughts on the matter I’d love to hear them.)

Reading habits

I’m struggling a bit with my reading habits just now and have decided to spend the rest of January getting a handle on them.

As you may know, the first year of a PhD is filled with reading. Lots and lots of reading. You’re reading through a massive collection of materials on your topic and writing notes about what you’re reading—all as part of your literature review.

The reading and taking notes part is actually pretty easy to figure out, but I’m struggling with how to find the best place for reading and taking notes.

What I know is this:

  • I can’t spend 8 hours in my office reading and taking notes because it’s too “stuffy” for me to read there and I’m constantly on edge waiting for someone to walk through the door.
  • I can’t spend 8 hours in a comfy coffee shop reading and taking notes because I’m a starving student and can’t afford to buy all those cups of coffee. (Actually, I’m more of a mint tea drinker.)
  • I can’t spend 8 hours at the library reading and taking notes because it’s much too quiet and I fear sneezing or coughing which means I’m very self-conscious.
  • And I can’t spend 8 hours at home reading and taking notes because that would provide too many distractions (Oh look! There’s a shelf that needs dusting …) and it would also mean I’d be home all day, every day.

I also know that I feel oddly guilty if I’m not in my office 8 hours a day. I feel like I’m “skipping school” or something. (Is this common for PhD students or am I alone in this weirdness?)

So, what do I do?

The simple answer is this: I need to find a way to combine my reading-and-note-taking locations throughout the day so that I’m putting in a “full shift” but so that I’m not losing out on productivity by constantly being on edge for some disturbance to happen.

The complicated solution to that answer, however, is what I’m struggling with.

But, as I am meant to be a researcher, I’m going to research! And I’m going to research by testing potential solutions and analysing the results.

With three full weeks (plus a full day) left in the month, I am going to start trying out different combinations of study locations to see what works best for me. There will be combinations of reading at home, in coffee shops, at my office, and in libraries at various times throughout the day. The number of locations I visit in a day will be switched up, too.

And, hopefully, by the end of the month I will have found a good pattern that works well for me. (I need a pattern; I work better with patterns!)

Of course, there’s always the risk that in my excited attempt to find a productive combination, I will work harder to be productive. In which case, even if I don’t find an ideal solution to my problem, I’ve hopefully been more productive than if I just stuck with the status quo.

I would love to hear from others on how they’ve managed to combine working locations to increase productivity. So, thoughts and suggestions for this eager reader?

Lost in databases

I began my PhD nearly a month ago and have been spending much of that time searching for books and articles relevant to my topic. I’ve done basic library searches and I’ve done some minor database searches—most of which have brought me at least some results for useful reading materials.

But basic searches aren’t really enough when you’re trying to find articles on a focused area, which means I have to figure out a series of slightly complex databases.

I think that one of the biggest problems with databases (for me, at least) is that there are so many different ones I need to check and each one has its own format. There’s Nexis and the Web of Knowledge and the IEEE—and many, many more.

There are so many databases that have so much information that I’m getting lost.

My hope (and my guess) is that I will find my way around everything as I continue my research. I am hoping that I will start to instinctively know which databases to consult based on what type of information I’m searching for at that moment. And I am hoping that as I become familiar with each one, I will get used to how to use the search functions (which vary from one database to the next).

For now, I am learning how to manage and document all of the information so that I know where I’ve found things—and where I can find them again if needed. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge at the moment because I’ve not attempted such a monumental task before, but I am learning. Slowly but surely, I am learning.

One day, I hope to be sharing with you some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way. In the mean time, however, I am open to any tips and tricks that you may want to share with me.

[Photo of “original” databases. Credits to shindoverse. Sourced from Flickr and used under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.]

What’s in a name?

The first post on a new blog can be hard to write sometimes because I don’t necessarily want to jump right in, but an introduction would really just be a re-hash of an “about” page. Of course, if I take too long to decide how to start, it might never happen. So I’m going to do a combo jump-right-in/introduction post to get the ball rolling.

I’ve been thinking about getting this blog up-and-running for two or three weeks now but I had a lot of decisions to wrestle with before I was ready to start.

What platform would I use? Would I self-host or use a free platform? Would I buy a domain or have a secondary domain (blogger.something.com; something.wordpress.com)? And, importantly, what would the blog’s name be?

The platform was easy enough: WordPress—because I’m familiar with it, I trust it, and my emergency tech friends understand it.

Then I chose to self-host on my existing DreamHost server account. This is because the self-hosted WP platform means no ads and that I can alter the templates and CSS to my heart’s content without having to pay add-on fees.

Of course, the choice to self-host also meant that I would be purchasing a domain—a decision that meant I had to think about what I wanted to call the site.

For a while, I thought I’d have my name in the domain: A PhD for Frances (a nod to some of my favourite childhood books); Doctor Frances Ryan (with a disclaimer saying “future” doctor); or even just a sub-domain off of my personal website (phd.personalsite.com).

But then I realised that I didn’t need my name in the domain—I just needed it to be descriptive. Of course, all the short-and-sweet PhD blog domains are already taken, which meant I had to get creative if I didn’t want to end up with something like SocialMediaPhDResearchStudentJourney.com.

In the end, I realised that the domain needed to be simple. It was, after all, just a little site about my little PhD. Just a site; just a PhD.

Ah-ha! Just a PhD! I like that. It’s simple. It’s easy to remember. It works on several levels. And—importantly!—the domain is available!

And all of the sudden, Just a PhD was born.

Just a Phd.

I am just doing a PhD. Like it’s not important or something; like it’s not a proper job/grown-up activity.

You’re not really going to be a doctor though, you’ll just be a PhD.

I don’t have time for anything else—just for my PhD. (I like to think that won’t be true. But I’m sure I’ll be proven wrong at various points.)

This site is just about my PhD.

And, of course, I am known as simply “Just Frances”.

See—it works on several levels!

So, just to get the conversation going: Can you see any other ways to interpret the idea of “just a PhD”? Or do you have any anecdotes about the interpretations already listed?