My final (?) RD6 review

My last (hopefully, my last!) RD6 review meeting was this afternoon. I say my last because I am hoping (praying!!) that I will have submitted my PhD thesis before the next round of these 6-monthly review meetings take place. So… let’s all hope together that this was my last!

Unfortunately, I was not as far along in my thesis writing as I had hoped to be when I met with my full supervision team today. But I am feeling mostly confident that I have things under control.

I felt a bit frustrated admitting to my panel chair that I have not delivered any completed thesis chapters to my PhD supervisors. And I felt even more frustrated because I don’t have an honest idea of when I will be able to do so. I mean, I’m working on things, but I have been struggling to find a way forward!

Still, I was left feeling confident enough to know (to think, at least) that I will be able to submit my thesis before summer gets into full swing. I was also left feeling confident that I am ready to submit my RD12 form, which is the determination of my viva examiners.

Over the next several weeks, I will be writing, writing, and writing. And when I have time, I will do a bit of writing, too. After all, as much as I like my supervision team, I don’t really fancy meeting them for another RD6 review!

CSI summer meeting: A brief recap

Earlier this month, the Centre for Social Informatics group at Edinburgh Napier University’s School of Computing met for our bi-annual meeting. These meetings are a great opportunity for all of us to come together to share the great work we’ve done over the previous six months, and to discuss our current and future research projects and aims.

The meeting was chaired by Emeritus Professor Elisabeth “Lizzie” Davenport. Others in attendance were Hazel Hall, Alistair Duff, Colin Smith, Laura Muir, Tom Kane, Gemma Webster, Ella Taylor-Smith, Iris Buunk, Lyndsey Jenkins, and our newest PhD student, Alicja Pawluczuk. We also had a guest from the Centre for Computing Educational Research group, Pritam Chita, join us. Oh, and me. I was there, too.

I had intended to share individual updates for everyone. However, I know that if I try to write it all up, linking to the appropriate projects and stories, I will never get this posted. (And I will continue to fall behind on my other tasks.) So, below is a more general update for you.

The group shared a wide range of updates including successfully published papers and conference acceptances; collaborations both within and outside of the university; invited talks and presentations; and applications for funding bids and research proposals. The group also shared a number of updates about successful funding bids, winning awards, and the excitement of Ella’s PhD graduation next week.

Over the next six months, I expect there to be even more great updates—including, hopefully, my thesis submission! And maybe I’ll be in a better place to share a more detailed recap of the next meeting, too!

CSI Napier: Investigate, interrogate, imbibe

Last week, we held our year-end Centre for Social Informatics (CSI) meeting at Edinburgh Napier University’s School of Computing. The bi-annual meeting was an opportunity for members of the CSI team to come together to discuss our research (investigation) activities over the previous six months, with an opportunity for questions (interrogations) afterwards. And, of course, since it was so near to the start of the Christmas holidays, at the end of the meeting we toasted the end of a successful year with a bit of Prosecco (that’s the imbibe bit*).

The format of these meeting is fairly simple: Each team member is given 5 minutes to share an update on their research and engagement activities. After 5 minutes are up, there is time for other CSI members to ask questions or to share other pieces of relevant and helpful information.

Time-keeping being what it is, however, these 5-minute sessions are known to take a bit longer than 5 minutes at times. That is, of course, until our centre director (and my supervisor, Hazel Hall) showed up at last week’s meeting with a 5-minute sand-based timer. Whilst we laughed at the excitement over such a thing, I think we can all recognise that it was a great way to keep everyone from going over their allotted time. (And it worked. Mostly.)

Ideally, I would be able to share a short summary of what each member presented at the meeting. However, I wasn’t really expecting to blog about the day so I didn’t take notes. (I will do that next time though!) You can find bio pages for CSI members here though, along with information about their research.

I can share with you the information that I presented though. So here goes:

I will share larger, more detailed posts about each of these things in the coming weeks—along with a couple of other exciting stories and announcements about my PhD dreams.

If you’re reading this thinking how fantastic it must be to be part of such an interesting research group—you’re right!

And if you’re thinking you might want to join the group as a PhD researcher, you’re in luck—because there are studentships available!

Stay tuned in the New Year (and maybe before then!) for some great posts about my PhD progress!

* I didn’t imbibe. How very, very unlike me! 🙂

A successful RD6 review

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

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

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

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

But moving on …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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!

Tangling with the digerati

I 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.

Presenting 20 in 20

Yesterday was my first full-on presentation as a PhD student. It was a 20/20 presentation*, meaning I had to present 20 slides for 20 seconds each and was given to the Faculty of Engineering, Computing, and Creative Industries (FECCI).

If you know me, you know I’m not actually good at “keeping it short”—especially when it’s a topic I’m excited about. So the idea of a 20/20 presentation freaked me out! Twenty slides, with only 20 seconds of chatting each? Impossible!

Six minutes and 40 seconds of chatting using as many (or as few) slides as I needed to convey my message would have been so much better, and wouldn’t have left me feeling rushed.

Still, the rule was 20/20, so that’s what I did.

The takeaways were worth it though. Here’s what they were:

  1. Presenting my research in this manner did wonders for my confidence (after the freaking out before and during, of course). It also forced me to think more concisely about my message when explaining my research to others—especially those who are not social media researchers.
  2. I learned some great lessons for my next presentation. I learned that it would be best to prepare a 6-minute 40-second talk and then create the slides to fit in every 20 seconds. That way, it’s a cohesive talk rather than 20 short bursts of information.
  3. The next time I have a presentation of any length (and slide limit), I have a bank of slides ready to plug in when and where they’re needed.

Here’s a copy of my presentation if you want to see what my slides looked like. I know it doesn’t let you know what I said, but you can always get in touch if you want to know more about the presentation—or my research!

* This style is sometimes called PechaKucha, but as it’s a trademarked programme, 20/20 is the oft-used generic term.

[Photo credits: Copyright Hazel Hall 2014; used with permission]

Prepping for the panel

Tomorrow is my first panel review meeting for my PhD and I’ve spent the past few days prepping for it. (And stressing out about it just a little bit.) These meetings are meant to take place every six months though my first one is happening less than four months into my studies because I started later than the traditional September start. That early review has me slightly stressed because I feel that I won’t have as much accomplished as most people would at their first meeting, but I’m sure it will be OK.

This review is fairly simple. It will take place with me, my supervisors, and my panel chair and is an opportunity for the chair to determine if I’m on track—and if my supervisors are doing their jobs correctly. (I believe they are, but I confess that I don’t actually know how to judge that. Still, I believe they are.)

To prepare for the meeting, I have talked with my supervisors about my progress so far. I have also prepared an updated project plan, a listing of training events that I’ve attended and plan to attend, a reading list, and an updated draft of an essay I’m working on around reputation, identity, and information.

I’ve also tried to re-read as many relevant articles as possible so that I can be prepared for any questions that might arise.

I know that the chair isn’t out to get me, but I am still quite nervous about this process. (Hopefully those nerves will ease as I get used to these review meetings.)

Of course, tomorrow is also my 40th birthday and I know that I will be extremely aware of the time throughout the meeting because my plan is to leave the meeting, change into my birthday dress, and the run to the train station in time to catch a train to Glasgow where I will meet up with some friends for pretentious cocktails.

And that all means that I might forget to let you know how the actual meeting goes. (Apologies in advance for that.)

Over the next couple of weeks I will work to get some of the documents listed above up on the site. That way you can see the sort of things I’m working on.

Now, back to stressing out about tomorrow’s big meeting. (Which is better than stressing out about the big 4-0, which I’m not fussed about at all!)

[Note: That photo is actually from when I was in the final stages of writing my master’s dissertation, but it’s still fairly representative of what my study area looks like at the moment.]

Finding some clarity: It’s about reputation (not privacy)

I’ve spent the past few weeks reading about privacy, identity, and reputation so that I can try to resolve a few questions I have about where I want to take my PhD research. My area of interest is reputation, but with so many elements impacting reputation it can be hard to interpret the map with all of my thoughts and ideas.

I admit that it’s been extremely frustrating because I’ve found myself heading down so many paths that have been filled with more distraction than relevance and I was starting to wonder if I’d ever be able to find a path that could bring me a bit more focus. (I understand this is a common problem at the start of a PhD, so I haven’t felt like a failure because of it—but it hasn’t built up my confidence, either.)

Thankfully, this is where my supervisors come in! They’ve “been there; done that” so are able to help guide me in the right direction. (Yay!)

I developed a very rough draft of an essay on privacy, identity, and reputation—and the relationship between the three—and sent my supervisors a copy ahead of yesterday’s supervision meeting. I was very unhappy with the draft because it seemed so [enter several negative adjectives here], but in the end it was a very useful tool because one of my supervisors took the time to write a summary of key points on a white board for us to discuss—and that discussion led to a great amount of useful waypoints.

By the end of the meeting, I was filled with a renewed sense of excitement because I could see the path a little more clearly. There is still a bit of fog and I’m sure there will be a few rough patches to traverse, but I feel that this path will lead me to a couple of major roads before too long.

Moving forward, I will start to look a bit more at the idea of online identities and their relationship with reputation—and I’ll try to remember that my PhD is not about privacy*. I’ll be investigating issues of multiple identities (personas/personalities) including pseudonyms and anonymous accounts and how they’re used in an online environment—as well as some of the recent discussions around requirements for the use of “real names” by organisations like Google and Huffington Post.

I hope to have a bit more clarity on my research soon, at which time I will try to be a bit less vague in what I’m sharing. In the mean time, if you have any great resources you wish to share with me on reputation and identity, please feel free to contact me or comment below!

* I’ll talk about my desire to keep privacy on the fringe of my research later—after I’ve clarified it all a bit more in my own mind.