A successful RD6 review

2015.09.11.rd6-review-successI had my RD6 review meeting last week, and am very pleased to say that it went very well. The RD6 review is a six-month review as part of Edinburgh Napier University’s research degree framework. It is part of the larger progress review process, and is something that I tend to get very nervous about.

I will admit that I went into last week’s meeting filled with apprehension. And this is why:

I had a rather unhappy first year of review meetings due to (now resolved) conflicts on my panel. (I won’t go into the details here, but please know that my university and my supervisors were ace in helping me resolve the conflicts*.) That first year left me with such poor self-esteem that I had actually spent the better part of three months wondering if I was best to leave my PhD programme.

That first year also left me so very unsure of myself that I am still finding it difficult to be productive. I am still worried that everything I do will be unfairly criticised. (I’m OK-ish with constructive criticism, it’s the non-constructive stuff I struggle with most.) Frustratingly, that uncertainty and fear means that I sit in front of my computer unable to put my thoughts into a tangible form.

But moving on …

I spent most of July and August working on a small pilot study and the report for that made up the bulk of my review materials. I stressed and stressed about how it would be received. And, to be honest, I was preparing myself to be told there was no way I would be allowed to continue my PhD. (See? Low self-esteem!)

Anyhow, I got into the meeting expecting the worst. And when my panel chair said, “So, tell me about your pilot study” I was waiting for it to be ripped to shreds. Instead, I was met with several great follow-up questions that all led to a wonderful conversation about the next steps of my study.

It was all so very positive that I was on Cloud 9 for the next couple of days. And it’s really helped to boost my confidence—and my excitement about my research. (Though it would have been fair to have got my hand slapped for my slow progress.)

I am still struggling a bit with my self-confidence and uncertainty, but I can really feel that I’m happier now. And that’s really helping to boost my overall productivity.

As for Just a PhD, I am hoping that the return of my confidence will also signal a return of my blogging abilities… because there’s a lot of great stuff that I want to share about my fabulous PhD life!

* If any fellow PhD students are experiencing conflicts, I am happy to share my experiences in private along with the lessons I learned along the way. The biggest lesson is that you need to advocate for yourself early. Which is really hard when you’re floundering in the deep end of the PhD student pond!!

Presenting a paper: Assessing the available and accessible evidence

2015.06.28.aberdeen-conferenceI spent the past week in Aberdeen* for a couple of academic conferences. It was a great experience that allowed me to meet with other information science academics and to present some of my research. And, importantly, it was an opportunity for me to learn a bit about my academic self!

This was my first time delivering a paper at an academic conference and I’m pleased to say that it went quite well—despite my self-esteem-based fears.

My presentation was based on the literature review for my PhD thesis, which concerns how online information contributes to the determination of personal reputations. I worried that my childhood speech problems would trip me up during the presentation or—worse!—that people would think my research was [enter negative descriptors here].

However, other than getting a bit flustered when I was given my “five minutes” warning, I think it went rather well. I didn’t trip over my tongue (though I did have to use my special “speech therapy reminders” for a few words) and people actually seemed interested in my research.

Overall, the week’s activities have left me feeling a bit more confident. I can better see how and where my research fits within the wider domain of information science. I can also better see how I can proceed with my research.

I made some great contacts over the week** and engaged in some wonderful conversations with some well-established academics who seemed to have a bit of enthusiasm about my research. I now have several pages of notes to transcribe—much of which will help me to finalise plans for my pilot study.

Up next is to submit an abstract for another conference and to get my pilot study approved. Then I can go off and finally collect some data. Maybe then I’ll start to feel like a real researcher!

Here is a link to my presentation slides. Please do get in touch if you have any questions about the presentation or my research in general.

* Scotland, not Washington or South Dakota
** I even met with a couple of those contacts in Edinburgh the day after the conference. It was weird playing “local guide” in Edinburgh—as an American! But I do love showing off my adopted home. My “Heartland” as a friend calls it.

How not to write a literature review: Part 2

2015.06.20.not-lit-reviewAs 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

2015.03.17.yayI 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!)

Official status: PhD student

2013.phd-dreamsI 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.