Passed, with minor corrections

I am very pleased and extremely relieved to be able to (finally!) announce that I have passed my PhD viva – and with only minor corrections! This good news comes after more than five years of hard work and emotional turmoil, and I am just so thankful that my PhD Dreams are almost a reality.

The preamble:

I submitted my PhD thesis at the end of October. At the time, I had hoped that my viva (oral examination/defence) would be just before Christmas. However, there was a slight glitch that meant everything was delayed. But the outcome is such that I will still make the July graduation ceremony, so it all worked out in the end!

Because of the delay, I mostly ignored my thesis for nearly three months after submission. (Part of that was due to a post-submission illness.) It wasn’t really until the start of February that I started to really prepare for The Big Day, as blogged about here.

On the day of my viva, I woke up at 5am (after a slightly disrupted sleep). I showered, put on a suitable dress for the occasion, and painted my nails. I arrived at my office just before 8am and unpacked my bag, then I headed down to the canteen for a full breakfast (with extra bacon!). Then, I waited nervously for my 10.30am start time.

My thesis was examined by Sheila Webber, Senior Lecturer at the University of Sheffield iSchool (external examiner) and Dr Laura Muir, Associate Professor at the Edinburgh Napier University School of Computing (internal examiner). My Panel Chair (viva moderator) was Professor Ben Paechter, Director of Research in the School of Computing.

My Director of Studies, Professor Hazel Hall, also joined me at the viva to take notes. She sat behind me so that I would not be tempted to look towards her for input, but also so that any facial expressions she might have made didn’t throw me off.

I went into the room prepared with my trusty water bottle (my medication makes this a necessity!), two pens, several sheets of blank paper for notes, a handkerchief (in case of tears), and my thesis. I also brought with me a tummy full of butterflies and a mixture of fear, excitement, worry, and hope.

The gritty details:

At the start of the viva, the plan for the examination was explained. The plan was to go through my thesis chapter-by-chapter, with questions alternating between the examiners (for the most part). As the questions were lobbed at me, I found myself examining the motivations behind them. Is this a question about clarifying a confusing sentence? Is it because they were trying to tease out the finer details about my methods? Is the question meant to challenge something that the examiners held different views about? Or is it because they want to see how (clearly) I can defend my position?

Some questions were easy for me to understand (assume) these motivations. Especially when in the process of answering it was clear that my response was “the right” response. But the motivation of others was a little harder to pin down, especially when it because clear(ish) that the examiners were coming at the thesis from a different perspective to my own.

Throughout the process, I found myself gauging how well the viva was going. I felt that I was heading towards a “pass, with corrections” but I couldn’t quite pin down if that would be minor corrections or major corrections.

It all felt quite positive and I felt (mostly) confident when answering questions and defending my work. I even felt that I stayed (mostly) on point and didn’t go off into a rambling tangent, something that I sometimes do when I am nervous.

And then I was blindsided by a bus! One of the examiners started down a path of inquiry that I was absolutely unprepared for. There was a back-and-forth that lasted what felt like about 5 minutes at the end of the viva that made my heart sink into the pit of my stomach. From that point on, I was no longer able to control my fragile emotional state and the tears started to fall (good thing I had that hankie, right?). I was certain that this was the thing that was going to take me from a pass with corrections to a resubmit (with or without a new viva). It was a horrible feeling and was, by far, the worst moment of my viva.

[Note: This isn’t to say that I think the questions were unfair or unwarranted. The examiners were fair, kind, and encouraging throughout the entire experience.]

At the end of that line of questioning, there was a very short (1-2 minutes) wrap-up chat where I was asked if there was anything I would like to add about my thesis as a whole. This was my opportunity to give my work a final sales pitch. But by that time, I was too emotional and felt too defeated to say anything more.

With that, I was asked to leave (along with my Director of Studies) so that the examiners could chat with the moderator to confirm the outcome. During that time, I sat in Hazel’s office, unable to stop the tears because I was certain I would be resubmitting my work based on the “bus” questions. Hazel, however, felt that I was still in the passing lane. She walked me through some of the (many, and high quality!) notes that she took during the viva and shared her own interpretation of the outcome. That helped to dry my tears a bit, although I wasn’t as convinced as she was.

The wait in Hazel’s office felt quite short. It might have been about 10 minutes – 15 at the very most. We were then invited back to the examination room by the chair. I was feeling a little more positive by that time (thanks, Hazel!) but I was still quite sure it wouldn’t be the result I was hoping for.

However, when I walked in the room I was greeted with smiles, a “congratulations”, and the words “passed, with minor corrections”. I was extremely surprised at that outcome, given the bus that had knocked me over just a few minutes earlier. But a short conversation followed about the “bus” incident and it was made clearer to me what the examiner was hoping for from that specific line of questioning.

The conversation to follow was about the general next steps in the process. The first of these steps is that the examiners will write a formal letter outlining the corrections that need to be made. That letter will be sent to the research office at my university before a copy is sent to me. It is at that time that my official corrections time will begin.

With minor corrections, I will have two months to complete the changes before sending an electronic version of the amended thesis on for my examiners to sign off on. After that, I will have my final thesis bound for submission before graduation – which should be in July, barring any hiccups along the way. My Panel Chair reassured me that we could revisit my current non-PhD workload to ensure that I have time to make my corrections. (Although I don’t think that there should be an issue, I felt very supported to have been told this help is available.)

Once the viva was officially over, I was invited out to lunch with my examiners and Hazel. We enjoyed a wee toast with some lovely prosecco followed by a nice conversation about a wide range of topics not related to my PhD. (Which was nice!) After lunch, I made my way home as I was completely exhausted.

The personal reflection:

In a nutshell, my viva was not a fun experience. I know that isn’t what people want to hear, but for me, that is the truth. Although, I do acknowledge that my reflections might have been more positive without the aforementioned “bus” incident! (Also, it wasn’t a completely horrible experience.)

In the lead-up to the Big Day, I knew that my viva might be an emotional and exhausting experience. Like many of life’s big moments, I had invested my heart and soul into this. Thankfully, I know myself well enough that I knew I would be shattered from the experience. And that means that I didn’t make any plans to celebrate the day.

And I was right! The experience was so draining that I couldn’t truly be happy on the day. In fact, when I got home, I donned my pyjamas and cried a bit. I then had another glass of prosecco and called my parents to share the good news with them. Then I shared the news on Facebook (Twitter was saved until the following morning). That was the limit to my celebrations. (But not the limit to my tears!)

The following day I returned to the office and politely thanked everyone who congratulated me. But I still couldn’t celebrate because I was still too dazed from the experience. And now, three days later, I am still a bit “meh” about it all.

Maybe these feelings of apathy are because I know that there is still much work to be done before I graduate. Or maybe they’re because I am too busy worrying about what my next steps will be after graduation (there are so many questions about jobs, post-docs, and locations!). Of course, maybe these feelings are simply a bit of exhaustion.

But, ultimately, I have passed my PhD (subject to minor corrections) and that does make me happy – even if I can’t quite celebrate that happiness just yet.

Thank you, again, to all of my lovely cheerleaders who’ve encouraged me along the way. My PhD Dreams aren’t over quite realised yet, but they are almost a reality!

PhD studentship applications at Napier: Apply today

There are currently two fully-funded PhD places advertised within the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University. The studentships, which start in October 2019, are Skills Development Scotland Collaborative awards offered through the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science (SGSSS).

Key dates:
** Applications are due by Friday 22nd March 2019.
** Interviews are scheduled for Thursday 11th April 2019.
** The start date for successful candidates is Tuesday 1st October 2019.

The first of these studentships is for a doctoral study investigating work-based learning and industry performance and the second investigates career information literacy and the decision-making of young people.

If you are interested in these studentships, you can find the full details of each project, including eligibility criteria and the application process, on the current studentship opportunities page of the SGSSS website or by following the links below.

If you are interested in these studentships, you can find the full details of each project, including eligibility criteria and the application process, on the current studentship opportunities page of the SGSSS website or by following the links below.

Opportunity 1:
Work-based learning environments for fostering industry-relevant skills and optimal economic performance, supervised by Dr Laura Muir and Dr Colin Smith.

Opportunity 2:
Career information literacy and decision-making behaviours of young people, supervised by Professor Hazel Hall and Dr Pete Robertson.

The successful applicants will be admitted to the PhD programme at Edinburgh Napier University. Lyndsey Middleton, who is currently writing up her ESRC-SDS funded PhD study within the Centre for Social Informatics, has also blogged about these opportunities and her personal experiences doing a PhD in the CSI. You can read her post here: Come and study in the wonderful Centre for Social Informatics of Edinburgh Napier University! You can also read about our most recent PhD graduate Dr John Mowbray, who completed his ESRC-SDS study last year. You can also have a read through my own blog here to learn more about my own PhD experiences here at Napier (or feel free to contact me privately with any questions about student life here in the Centre for Social Informatics).

For further information about these advertised PhD opportunities at the Centre for Social Informatics, please contact Dr Laura Muir (L.Muir@napier.ac.uk) or Professor Hazel Hall (h.hall@napier.ac.uk).

Accepted for publication: “Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online”

Last month, I was notified that a journal paper I wrote has been accepted for publication. The paper, “Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online”, was co-authored with my PhD supervisors, Peter Cruickshank, Professor Hazel Hall, and Alistair Lawson. It began life as a peer-reviewed conference paper at the Information: Interactions and Impact Conference (i3) in Aberdeen, Scotland and has since been expanded and refined for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science.

This paper considers online information sharing practices used to build and manage personal reputations – specifically as it relates to the blurring between individuals’ private and professional “selves”. The findings are formed from my larger doctoral investigation into the role of online information and reputation. The main findings show that:

  1. The portrayal of different personas online contribute to the presentation (but not the creation) of identity.
  2. Online information sharing practices for reputation building and management vary according to social media platform.
  3. The management of online connections and censorship are important to the protection of reputation.
  4. The maintenance of professional reputation is more important than private reputation.

 

My own use of the three platforms considered in this research (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook) share a lot of commonality with the findings in this paper. (Note: There are many variations, which you can read in the full paper.)

Like most of the participants in this study, I use LinkedIn as a professional networking platform and as an electronic CV. I have connected with a few people from my private life, but it is overwhelmingly filled with professional contacts. I only post information related to my professional life there, and I am quite put off by the idea that the site even asks me for my birthday and marital status (two bits of information that I don’t feel need to be divulged on a professional networking site).

I use Facebook as a private social networking site. I am quite strict about not connecting with current colleagues on Facebook (I have allowed for one exception) and only connect with former colleagues if they pass the “friend” test. I do not use Facebook for professional networking. I do, however, share some information related to my professional life on Facebook, as I find that my professional life blurs with my private life and personal interests at times.

Twitter is a mixed bag for me. For a while, I mixed my private and professional personas on one account (it was started as a private account). But then I realised that I needed to have two separate accounts, so I’ve branched off a bit.

When I share information on LinkedIn or my professional Twitter account, I have a standard rule of thumb: It should be related to my professional activities or interests. I rarely have to consider the negative implications of information I share because I try to avoid the political side of academics. (Though this is not a hard and fast rule.)

Sharing information on Facebook or my private Twitter account requires a bit more thought. This is because I am aware that (1) information shared in a private setting can find its way to a public or professional setting and (2) my social and political views are contrary to those of many of my connections. To address the first issue, I ask myself if the information is something I would be happy to share with my grandmother or my (fairly liberal) priest. If the answer is no, the information does not belong online. To address the second issues, I ask myself if I will stir up trouble with or offend certain connections. If the answer is yes, I will consider (a) not sharing the information, (b) sharing the information in an altered state, or (c) changing the privacy settings to hide the information from some people.

Of course, there is a lot more to how I manage the blurring between my professional and private information online—just like the participants in this study. To read more about how they manage the blur, you can download the paper here.

As always, I am very happy to answer questions about this paper or about my research as a whole.

Download:
Blurred reputations: Managing professional and private information online

Cite:
Ryan, F., Cruickshank, P., Hall, H. & Lawson, A. (2018 in press). Blurred reputations: managing professional and private information online. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science.

And please do share!

Building identity online at #ASIST2017: A poster presentation

I am leaving for Washington, DC tomorrow morning to attend the 80th Annual Meeting of the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIST), where I will be presenting some of my research in the form of an academic poster. The presentation will be held during the President’s Reception on 30th October (6.30-8.00 pm) at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City (Independence Level, Center A).

The poster is titled “Building identity in online environments: an Information Science perspective” and was co-authored with my PhD supervisorsPeter CruickshankProfessor Hazel Hall, and Alistair Lawson. The research draws from some of the findings from my doctoral investigation on the use of online information in the management of personal reputation. Specifically, this work concerns an aspect of information behaviour and use related to the creation of online identity, which is addressed in one of my four research questions: How do individuals use information to build identities for themselves online?

This qualitative study used participant diaries and in-depth, semi-structured interviews as data collection tools. It involved 45 UK-based participants, and data collection took place between October 2015 and January 2016.

The content of the poster shares findings related to three areas of identity building. These are:

  • The creation and use of online “personas” and identities
  • The use of anonymity and pseudonyms through information sharing – or concealment – practices
  • The ways in which private and professional selves blur or merge together in online environments

The main finding presented in this work is that individuals present elements of their offline lives using online information to showcase different “personas”. However, they do not do this with the intention of building identity. The findings explored in this presentation are contextualised with reference to identity building in the more formal setting of academic reputation management, i.e. through the use of citations.

Please stop by the poster session to learn more about this research and my doctoral studies as a whole. You can also find me during the coffee breaks or other social activities.

Not in attendance? Don’t worry! As part of my “professional persona” I like to share information online. The links below will allow you to engage with my presentation from afar!

⇒  Poster download (low-res for online viewing)

⇒  Poster handout with further information

⇒  Full abstract from Edinburgh Napier University’s repository

If you have any questions about this research or the doctoral study as a whole, please contact me.

If you wish to interact in real-time, you can ask me questions on Twitter (@FrancesRyanPhD) or follow along with the conference using the hashtag #ASIST2017.

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).