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!

2013.phd-dreamsAnd 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!

2015.07.08.pilotI 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

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.

A slightly confident step forward

2015.03.05.step-forwardYesterday 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!