How not to write a literature review: Part 1

2014.11.07.not-lit-reviewWhen 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

2014.10.20.tangleI 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.

Life in a digital fishbowl

2014.08.18.skeptics-talkI 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

2014.07.23.ifutures1I 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

2014.07.23.ifutures2On 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.]

Poster parcel pizzazz

2014.07.19.poster-pizzazz1I’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%