New roles for a New Year

Welcome to 2019! I am very excited about the New Year because it means new roles (and changing roles) in my academic life. It is bound to be a busy year but, hopefully, it is an exciting and energising year as well.

The “changing” role is that of my PhD student status. Whilst I am still a PhD student (I’ve not graduated—yet!) I have submitted my thesis for examination. That means that I am not starting out this year with plans to work on various chapters of my thesis or conducting PhD-related data collection. I am no longer planning long thesis-writing sessions, there are no more “PhD weekends”, and I am feeling a lot less stressed about how my thesis will come together.

Of course, my plans to have my viva out of the way before the end of last year didn’t work out very well. And that means that I have yet to have my PhD examined. But the viva has been scheduled, so things are looking good.

My changing student status means that I am in a sort of PhD Purgatory—that state between submitting my thesis and my PhD being granted. During this purgatory period, I will prepare for my viva whilst looking forward towards my larger academic career.

Excitingly, there is also a new role to celebrate in my academic life. That is the role of Research Assistant on a Carnegie Trust Research Incentive Grant. The research project is called “Social media by proxy: Strategies for managing the online profiles of adults with dementia” and will investigate the lived experiences of people who act as “social media proxies” for adults with dementia in their care. (Read more about the project here.)

This new role is quite exciting because it is my first research role outside of my PhD. The project is only funded for six months, but it is a good opportunity to work on a small project that will (hopefully!) lead to something more substantial. It is also an opportunity for me to work on research other than my thesis, which was starting to wear me down a bit. (Although I am now excited to do more research with the rest of my PhD data. I think I just needed a bit of a break from it all!)

In addition to new and changing roles, I am also continuing my role as an Associate Lecturer here at Edinburgh Napier University. In the new trimester, which starts mid-January, I will be delivering tutorials for a first-year module called Introduction to Human Computer Interaction. There are around 260 students in the module and they are divided into five different tutorial groups, of which I will be running three.

As part of my Associate Lecture role, I will also have a role as a supervisor for several “Group Project” teams. The teams will be working on small projects for a wide range of organisations. My role will be more project oversight than anything else, with quick and targeted 15-minute meetings with each group each week to ensure they are making progress and keeping to schedule. This will be my first time supervising students and I am looking forward to the opportunity. Although my supervisor role isn’t quite as substantial as, say, that of my PhD supervisors.

As I enter into this new phase of my academic life, I am looking for my next bigrole. That means that I will be spending a lot of time applying for academic jobs and post-doctoral fellowships. I will also spend time working on grant applications and investigating other opportunities that will allow me to further my research and build my academic career.

Yes, this New Year is looking quite promising. So “role” on, 2019; role on!

Applying for the next phase

I submitted my first post-PhD life job application today, which I am counting as a milestone moment (hence the celebratory bubbles illustrating this post).

The application is for a lecturer post at a Scottish university which would incorporate elements from my PhD experiences with my “past life” as a communications professional. The post is also well suited to my undergraduate and master’s level degrees, which relate directly to my professional career, which helped to inform my PhD research.

It is a strange feeling to be looking forward to the next phase of my academic life, especially when I’m not quite finished with this phase. (I am close though; very close!) Although, I suppose it is fairly standard to start looking for jobs during the last few months of doing a PhD. (Not that I am generally one to do things the “standard” way!)

When I first saw the post advertised, I thought it looked interesting. However, I dismissed it because I’m just not good enough. (Imposter syndrome, you understand.) But then one of my PhD supervisors sent me a link to the post and said that it was right up my alley. So I gave it another thought and decided, yes, I can totally do that job! (Confidence is a wonderful thing.)

However, as I started to pull my application together I began to worry that maybe I wasn’t a good candidate after all. So I threw some talking points together and sent them off to a (non-academic) friend, along with the job specs. He replied back with excitement, declaring that the job was perfect for me and that I should most certainly apply. (He works in career services and hasn’t steered me wrong yet!)

With my confidence growing stronger each day, I sat down and wrote out my supporting statement. Then I went for a run so that I could talk through a potential interview in my head. (I know: I’m crazy.) By the end of my run, I had a better idea of how to finish up my statement and was starting to feel really excited. In fact, I spent an hour or so making edits before I took my post-run shower. (Too much information, I know.)

As today’s deadline fast approached, I sent my CV off to be reviewed by a couple of trusted colleagues and friends. And when I was finally ready to share my supporting statement with my reviewers, I was pleased with the positive feedback I received. (Being told you have a strong application by people you admire and who have proven academic track records is a real boost!)

When I hit the submit button on my application, I felt a wave of satisfaction come over me. I felt very confident and I knew that I submitted something that is worthy of consideration.

Of course, I also felt a bit of doubt because, well, imposter syndrome. Again. You understand.

But the doubt is also relevant as the post is for a permanent lectureship position in an area that is not (quite) the same as my PhD. And I am not (quite) a PhD. (But I am within the timeframe they stated.) And it is not overly common for new PhDs to land a permanent lectureship right out of the gate.

At the very least, I hope that my application gets me an interview. Though as I’ve already started dreaming about a new “I got the job” work bag, I will be a bit crushed if I don’t manage both an interview and a job offer.

But, I am perfect for the job. I really do meet (or exceed) the specifications for the role and I have the passion and commitment to excel in the position. Yes, I am very well qualified for the post and would make a positive contribution to the university.

“They’d be so lucky to have me,” she says, forgetting all about that previously mentioned imposter syndrome.

However, if they do not agree with me, at least I now have a bit of experience in applying for an academic post. And that’s what life is all about: Experiences!

A special shout-out to my colleagues and friends who took the time to review my application materials. When I get the job, I’ll buy the celebratory drinks!

Now, on to the next milestone!

Teaching to learn; learning to teach

As my time as a PhD student (hopefully) winds to an end, I am beginning to look towards my career as an academic. My hope is that part of that career includes teaching, which is why I eagerly accepted the opportunity to teach a module at Edinburgh Napier University this term.

More accurately, I accepted the opportunity to co-teach alongside a more established and experienced educator, Professor Hazel Hall.

My official title is Associate Lecturer on a module called Knowledge Management (KM). The module, which is half-way over, is being delivered to a group of 4th-year honours students in the School of Computing.

The module’s content includes lectures and activities related to approaches to KM, knowledge capital, KM infrastructures, and techniques for the creation, capture, classification, exchange, dissemination, and use of knowledge for competitive advantage and corporate growth.

By the end of the term, students will be able to: critically assess the general principles of KM; make effective use of the principles of KM in organisational settings to increase effectiveness; examine KM processes and tools for organisations; develop KM teamwork activities in organisations; and demonstrate sound understanding of theory and practice in KM.

I am sure that the students felt overwhelmed when these learning outcomes were shared on the first day of class. And I cannot imagine how overwhelmed I would have felt if I were teaching the module on my own.

However, whilst my role is one of “teacher”, I am also there as a learner. That is, a learner of teaching through co-teaching.

Some of it is quite easy though. For example, I feel quite confident in the task of speaking in public and sharing knowledge to an audience. I find delivering presentations and workshops to be energising and enjoyable. And I feel that when I deliver learning events, people do learn.

However, delivering a one-off workshop is not the same as delivering a multi-week module to a group of undergraduate students. And that is part of what I am learning from my teaching experience.

Thankfully, I am learning from someone who has a proven ability to deliver the module!

Hazel has taught the module for a few years now and has developed a strong programme of lectures, readings, personal study assignments, and in-class activities. This means that I have been able to see what a well-developed module looks like from beginning to end. Being able to see the entire term’s plan set out in front of me eliminates much of the unknown “fogginess” that I would expect if I were starting from scratch. Instead, Hazel knows what works well (and what doesn’t) and has learned through experience how best to deliver each segment.

From the administrative side, Hazel and I are both well-organised which means that her way of preparing for each class (and the module as a whole) suits my own working style—even though our overall organisational styles are not identical. Seeing how Hazel has organised materials (print and electronic) has given me a lot of ideas for how I can combine her methods with mine to improve on the ways I might have managed things without that insight.

Over the next few weeks, there will be more learning on my side as we near exam time. I am a tad nervous about marking all of those essays, but I imagine the students writing them will be a tad (or more!) nervous, too.

One of the things I’ve learned from teaching so far is that I was right in thinking that I would enjoy it. Although I know that the never-ending planning and administration that goes along with the role will bring a bit of stress and chaos on occasion, I feel that the rewards will far outweigh those (potential) negatives.

So, that’s another feather in my CV-hat (which you can view here).

A broken summer

It’s been more than six weeks since I declared this to be my Thesis Summer. And honestly, I had great plans to be extremely productive, and I was actually on track to succeed. I was getting things done. I was accomplishing goals. My to-do list was getting to-done so well that I thought I might actually exceed my Thesis Summer goals.

And then, a little over three weeks ago, I went out to buy a pack of crisps and broke my ankle. (The crisps survived if you wondered.)

I was upset that the broken ankle would mean my 2016 running goals needed to be abandoned. But I remember thinking that it would be great for my Thesis Summer goals. After all, my leg was in a walking cast/boot and I was told to rest and keep my injured appendage elevated. It’s just an ankle… it won’t impact my ability to work on my PhD.

Right?

Wrong!

I was in so much pain and discomfort in that first week that I probably didn’t even hit the 25% productivity mark. And in the second week, I was struggling to hit the 50% productivity mark. But week three was a bit better, averaging 50%(ish) productivity.

I’m now half-way through week four and have been back in the office since Monday. And thankfully, I am a little over that 50% productivity mark for the week (so far).

Working at my desk—with a proper desktop computer, rather than a laptop—is certainly helping my productivity. However, I am finding it impossible to comfortably elevate my leg without my back and neck becoming uncomfortable. And that means I am constantly re-situating myself, which isn’t helping me to increase productivity.

In the next day or two, someone from the university’s occupational health team will come to evaluate my workspace. At that time, we will try to find a good temporary adjustment for me whilst I continue to heal. And with luck, that will mean that I am able to return to full (or near-full) productivity levels whilst I continue to heal.

Frustratingly, it means that I have fallen behind again. (And that I can’t run. But I’ll try not to whinge about that here.) I know that people understand, but that doesn’t help me feel less bad; less upset. It’s just that I’ve had so many little setbacks over the course of this PhD and it’s really wearing me down!

So, I am sorry that I’ve not shared weekly blog posts with you over my Thesis Summer (as I promised to do). But hopefully, an increase in productivity will mean an increase in blogging, too. Because I do have some positive things to share, too! (But not today… I’ll save them to help me increase my post count!)

As for the broken ankle, I have to wear a walking cast/boot for another 2.5 weeks solid. Then I’ll alternate between the boot and a regular shoe for another 2-6 weeks until I’m strong enough to walk completely on my own.  Happily, I am allowed to run again (slowly and for short distances) sometime in October—but I’ll be away at an academic conference so I’ll wait a few extra days for that exciting milestone.

You can read a two-week update on my personal blog here. (A four-week update will follow soon.) And if you have any clever ideas for how I might make myself a bit more comfortable whilst working at my desk, please do feel free to share!

Another year closer

Note: This post was originally shared on my personal blog. So please forgive me if it’s a bit more touchy-feeling than you would expect. But, as I am researching online information and personal reputation, I suppose it’s a good example of how information is shared differently for different audiences for the building and protection of personal reputation!

Another note: I am still recruiting participants, so do get in touch if you’re interested in talking about how you manage your own personal reputation with online information!

And now for the story:
Yesterday marked two years since I began my PhD studies. And that means I am another year closer to being Doctor Ryan. It’s a title I’ve longed for since I first began my bachelor’s degree all those years ago, and being this close to actually having it is pretty exciting!

The journey hasn’t been without its rough patches. But it has continued despite the bumps in the road and I expect I’ll reach the end eventually.

Of course, in a perfect world, my two-year mark would mean I am just one year away from submitting my PhD. However, the world isn’t perfect and I’ve managed to do what most PhD students do: I’ve fallen a bit behind. Part of that is due to my own low self-esteem and inability to manage my time. Part of that is because I struggled to get my head wrapped around a new discipline, as information science is not where my academic background was. And part of that was a human-related struggle with someone who helped to make my first year or so a little more (emotionally) challenging than it should have been.

However, I am confident that I will catch up at least some of that time, and I expect that my submission date will be closer to the three-year mark than to the “latest date you can submit” mark. (I hope that’s the case, at least!) It’ll just be a matter of really pushing myself to stay on task. Something that I feel is a little easier now that I’m in the fun “data collection” stage of my research.

So yeah, things are really looking up now. I am feeling more confident about my abilities. I am feeling excited about my research. And I am starting to actually believe that—one day—I will be the proud owner of a PhD. Not too bad for a stupid girl with dyslexia, huh?

As this place is meant to be a representation of all aspects of my life, I will aim to talk a little more about my PhD progress moving forward. I do admit that I have been avoiding it for a while because I didn’t want to sound whingey when I was struggling last year. (Apologies to those who suffered the whinging in person.)

Anyhow … thanks again for all of your support over the years!

It’s pilot time!

I have finally entered the empirical research stage of my PhD, and I am so very excited about it! In fact, it’s the first time I’ve actually been excited about my studies in many, many months. (Yes, the literature review part really did drag my spirits down.)

The pilot is testing out the methods for the first stage of my empirical research. It involves a two-step process for participants. The first step is to keep a diary for one week where they will record some of their thoughts and process regarding their social media use. I will then review the diaries prior to the second stage, which will be in-depth interviews.

I have recruited eight participants and have a couple of extra people in place in case one of the first participants can’t complete the study. That means eight diaries and eight interviews to transcribe. Which is a lot of work, but it will help me to determine how much time I need to set aside for the main study.

I will be done with my data collection by the end of July. Then, I will try my best to figure out how to analyse all of it without going crazy. I expect to use NVivo for coding my data, but I tend to be a bit tactile as well, so might find myself working with hard copies of at least some of the data.

Once the pilot is done, I will be in a position to fully plan the next stages of my main study. I expect that there may be a few tweaks based on the pilot, but that’s what the pilot is for!

Stay tuned for details!

Presenting a paper: Assessing the available and accessible evidence

I 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

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.

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!

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!

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.