Workshop report for DISIPRAC: Digital identity security information practices of citizens

I am pleased to share with you the final report from the DISIPRAC workshop held in Edinburgh on 27 February 2020. The workshop was held at Edinburgh Napier University as part of a research project called “DISIPRAC: Workshop report for DISIPRAC: Digital identity security information practices of citizens”. This work was undertaken by myself and my Centre for Social Informatics colleague, Peter Cruickshank.

In the report, we provide a summary of the workshop and provide some evidence of a number of issues around the management of digital identities based on a series of scenarios. We are not making recommendations in the report, although we do hope that the content might inspire others to start thinking about solutions to some of the issues that were raised at the workshop. The report covers:

  • The service user, including issues and risks associated with helping them
  • The role of the helper or “proxy”, including associated challenges and points of conflict, and the role of guidelines and training
  • An overview of the terminology, including identity, issues with the word “proxy”, and the role that trust plays
  • Some implications for systems design

The next steps that Peter and I will take on this project includes academic dissemination in the form of conference papers and posters and the creation of a roadmap for future, related research. We want to use the findings from this to support a larger-scale project on information proxies and real-world online identity management.

We are keen to continue engaging with practitioners and community volunteers, so we would appreciate it if you could help by sharing with us your thoughts and feedback related to the contents of the report and (importantly) the next steps or related future work that you think we should consider.

Download the workshop report:

The full report (.pdf file) can be accessed from the Edinburgh Napier University Repository here or download the file here.

Also available is a template (.docx file) for the scenario worksheets. This can be accessed from the Repository here or you can download the file here.

These documents are provided with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA 4.0) license. Please share changes and examples with the original authors, Peter Cruickshank (p.cruickshank@napier.ac.uk) and Frances Ryan (frances@francesryanphd.com).

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with Peter or me if you have any questions or feedback.

A new job: Research Fellow in User-Centred Innovation for Accountable AI

Today marks my first day as a post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen where I am working in the School of Natural and Computing Science as part of an interdisciplinary, EPSRC-funded project called RAInS (Realising Accountable Intelligent Systems).

Working with the RAInS project team and external stakeholders, my primary responsibilities for the next two years will be to investigate issues of trust and accountability in intelligent systems (AI). This will be done using qualitative research methods to answer questions surrounding the accountability of systems related to specific use cases.

For the non-AI folks, you can think of this (very, very simply) as looking at who/what is “responsible” when a self-driving car goes rouge or when AI-based hiring decisions are racist/sexiest.

The research was originally planned as a series of hands-on co-design workshops, but given the current state of the world (COVID19), we might need to re-think how best to proceed. I have been thinking about potential (digital) methods over the last couple of weeks and I am sure that we will have a few conversations about how to proceed in the next couple of weeks.

For now, I am just getting myself up to speed. I have several documents and literature to review to provide me a good overview of the project from background literature and proposals to research summaries and workshop artefacts from other research partners. I am hoping that by the time I get through those files we will have a better idea of how to proceed.

It is a bit of a strange start, given that we are on lockdown orders as part of the UK’s COVID19 response. This means that my work will be done remotely for the foreseeable future. I just hope that it won’t be long until I can move into my flat in Aberdeen and start meeting my new colleagues face-to-face. In the meantime, thank goodness for technology!

Registrations now open for a workshop on the digital identity security information practices of citizens (DISIPRAC)

Registrations are now open closed for a workshop related to how information workers help people to manage their digital identities. The event (27 February 2020) is part of a project called DISIPRAC: Digital identity security information practices of citizens and is being undertaken at the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University by myself and my colleague, Peter Cruickshank.

Through this work, we are investigating the security information practices associated with digital identity, in particular, the sharing of log-in details and to develop the concept of “social proxies” for managing digital identities.

This workshop (27 February 2020) is best suited for professionals, citizen support and advocacy groups, and other similar stakeholders who work with adults in the community.

Registrations are now closed. View the event page here.

In the hands-on workshop, we will work to understand the issues information workers face when supporting (potentially vulnerable) citizens to better cope with increased levels of security for government systems that are increasingly integral to their every-day lives. We will do this using a set of pre-defined scenarios over the course of the day, based around access to services provided by UK, Scottish and local governments.

When: Thursday, 27 February 2020 (9:30am registration, 4:00pm finish)
Where: Edinburgh Napier University’s Merchiston Campus
Who: Professionals, citizen support and advocacy groups, and other similar stakeholders who work with adults in the community (for example, librarians, digital literacy workers, and computer club volunteers)

Travel bursaries:
We have a small budget for travel assistance for attendees travelling from outside of Edinburgh. If you would like to be considered for a travel bursary, please let us know on your registration form.

Background information:
Over the last decade, most levels of government have been implementing a policy often called “digital by default” or “digital-first” in the name of efficiency and cost savings to prioritise online services such as Universal Credit and myaccount. At the same time, the security of online systems has been increasing, making it more challenging for everyone to actually accessing the services they need. This is bound to impact the information practices of many users. One result might be the temptation to avoid the use of some online systems altogether, but this is often not a practical option. Another could be individuals using risky behaviours with their digital identity, such as sharing passwords, with obvious implications for data protection and privacy. More information can be found here.

Please contact me if you have further questions about the event or the project as a whole.

What is TAPESTRY?

I have been working at the University of Dundee since April on an EPRSC-funded research project called TAPESTRY: Trust, Authentication and Privacy over a DeCentralised Social Registry. My role in the project is as a qualitative researcher looking at how individuals determine trust in real-world online environments, such as online health forums and online dating. But there is much more to the project than that.

The multi-disciplinary project is ultimately quite technical when compared to my own skillset and research areas. That means that I sometimes struggle to explain the full project. (I find it quite fun and easy to explain my part of the project though, which is nice!) In the end, I generally explain that the project aim is to build a tool that helps people to stay safe online.

But as luck would have it, we have just finailsed a short video that helps to explain the project in plain language with simple graphics. The video is about a minute and a half and is an easy watch, so check it out below.

And, as always, please contact me if you have any questions. I might not be able to answer the super-technical ones, but I can certainly talk about the human information behaviour side of the equation!

Published in Information Research: Build, manage, and evaluate: Information practices and personal reputations on social media platforms

My paper, “Build, manage, and evaluate: Information practices and personal reputations on social media platforms”, has been published in Information Research. The paper is co-authored with my PhD supervisors, Professor Hazel HallPeter Cruickshank, and Alistair Lawson and was first presented at the 10th Conceptions of Library and Information Science (CoLIS) conference in Ljubliana, Slovenia in June 2019.

The research draws from some of the findings from my doctoral investigation on the use of online information in the management of personal reputation and considers a single research question: “How do information behaviours related to personal reputation building, management, and evaluation on social media reflect citation practices related to the building, management, and evaluation of academic reputation?

You can read the full text on the Information Research website here.

ABSTRACT:
Introduction.
 The broad theme of this paper is the use of information to build, manage and evaluate personal reputations. It reports the findings of a study that considered the extent to which social media users replicate in online environments the established information practices of academics when they assess their peers. The three platforms considered are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Method. A multi-step data collection process was implemented for this work. Forty-five UK-based social media users kept journals and took part in semi-structured interviews.
Analysis. A qualitative analysis of the journal and diary data was undertaken using NVivo10. Information practices were analysed to considered the similarities or difference between social media practices and related practices deployed by academics related to citations.
Results. The findings expose the ways in which social media users build, manage, and evaluate personal reputations online may be aligned to the citation practices of academics.
Conclusions. This work shows where the similarities and differences exist between citation practices and related information practices on social media as related to personal reputations. Broadly, the findings of this research demonstrate that social media users do replicate in informal online environments the established information practices of academics.

Below are the slides from my presentation at the CoLIS conference to help visualise the paper a bit. And, as always, please do get in touch if you have any questions about this paper or any of my other research.

A workshop: Helping people to manage their digital identities

I have recently started work on a new research project, titled DISIPRAC: Digital identity security information practices of citizens. The project scope is to investigate the security information practices associated with digital identity, in particular, the sharing of log-in details and to develop the concept of “social proxies” for managing digital identities.

Over the last decade, most levels of government have been implementing a policy often called “digital by default” or “digital-first” in the name of efficiency and cost savings to prioritise online services such as Universal Credit and myaccount. At the same time, the security of online systems has been increasing, making it more challenging for everyone to actually accessing the services they need. This is bound to impact the information practices of many users. One result might be the temptation to avoid the use of some online systems altogether, but this is often not a practical option.  Another could be individuals using risky behaviours with their digital identity, such as sharing passwords, with obvious implications for data protection and privacy.

Some system designers and system owners/managers are aware of the potential impact of this change and are starting to accommodate some users through “assisted digital” services, “alternative journeys” and models of guardianship or delegated identity. However, it is unclear if these capture the range of informal support that happens around social proxy practices and behaviours.

This is where DISIPRAC comes in. This work will be undertaken with Peter Cruickshank, my colleague in the Centre for Social Informatics, and has been funded by a research development grant at Edinburgh Napier University. Peter is the PI on the project (and my former PhD supervisor). He brings more than 10 years’ experience in researching how citizens adopt and learn how to use internet technologies for participation in democratic processes and to engage with government services online. This is complemented by my own research in information behaviour and practices related to online information sharing and use, including my PhD work and my involvement in another Napier project, Social media by proxy: Strategies for managing the online profiles of adults with dementia, and my work at the University of Dundee, TAPESTRY: Trust, Authentication and Privacy over a DeCentralised Social Registry.

At this time, we are conducting a literature review and beginning to plan for a workshop in February that will be used as our primary source of research data. The workshop will be for professionals, citizen support and advocacy groups, and other similar stakeholders. Its aim will be to understand the issues they face when supporting (potentially vulnerable) citizens to better cope with increased levels of security for government systems that are increasingly integral to their every-day lives. We will do this by working through a set of pre-defined scenarios over the course of the day, based around access to services provided by UK, Scottish and local governments.

How can you help? Send us your (anonymised) stories now!
We are compiling a selection of stories and examples for how people support others in relation to their online identities. If you have a story to share, please send them my way. All stories will be anonymised.

Ultimately, this project will address the gaps in current research related to users’ real-world information practices around their digital identity, particularly by citizens and customers in a non-discretionary context.

We are very excited to have a chance to find out more about this highly topical area. We will learn more about the relationship between identity (who we are) and digital identity (how IT systems recognise us), and we recognise that information practitioners in libraries and voluntary organisations are at the front line of the change in public services. This project is a great opportunity to make contacts and hear stories – and hopefully provide the basis for a larger future project.

Stay tuned for more information about the workshop, including how you can get involved. And, as always, please contact me if you have any questions!

[Note: Image by Michael Morrow, sourced on Flickr and used under Creative Commons License.]

A study on trust and online dating

As part of my work with the Living Digital group at the University of Dundee, I am starting to recruit participants for a study related to trust and online dating. I will be using qualitative interviews and focus groups for this study, and I am hoping to have about 20 participants.

This study forms part of a larger project that looks at how users establish trusting relationships online. In total, we will look at four different scenarios in which users make trust judgments online: e-commerce, health forums, online dating, and managing ‘Internet of Things’ devices. For my qualitative portion of the project, I will aim to outline key factors that contribute to trust behaviour in a particular online environment. These findings will then be further examined in future studies, which will contribute to the development of an automated system for authenticating the online identity of other users who you are interacting with.

You can learn more about the larger project, TAPESTRY: trust, authentication and privacy over a decentralised social registry, here.

If you would like to participate in this study, you can contact me or visit my recruitment page here. And, as always, please feel free to share with your friends!

The doctor is in: Frances Ryan, PhD

It has been a long time coming, but I am finally a doctor. Oh yes, I am now officially Dr Frances Ryan. The PhD kind of doctor, not the medical kind – just so that there is no doubt.

When I say “a long time coming”, I mean that my PhD Dreams began with my undergraduate degree way, way, way back in 1999. At the time, I had hoped to move directly from my undergraduate work at Central Washington University into a master’s degree followed, hopefully, by a PhD. But after meeting a cute boy during my undergraduate year abroad, I put my postgraduate dreams on hold so that I could get married and do all that lovey-dovey family stuff. (No regrets!)

Later, with the full support and encouragement of my husband, Paul, the plan changed to doing part-time postgraduate studies whilst we raised our family (we were getting ready to adopt from the foster care system). But my beloved Paul died before I was meant to begin my studies, and so I put my dreams on hold so that I could relearn how to breathe. (No, really. When you become a widow, you can forget how to do simple things like breathe, eat, sleep, laugh, and even hope…)

But, eventually, I managed to find the strength to return to school for a master’s degree. And at some point during that degree path, my PhD Dreams were renewed. I was privileged to be offered three different PhD placements and I happily accepted the one at Edinburgh Napier University.

My PhD studies began in November 2013 under the supervision of Professor Hazel Hall (director of studies), Alistair Lawson (second supervisor), and Peter Cruickshank (third supervisor). Whilst the “ideal” PhD journey is about three years, my journey took a bit longer than that. Which isn’t uncommon, but I am a bit disappointed at myself for not finishing sooner. (Some of the delays were out of my control, but I have to acknowledge that some were down to me and my self-confidence – or lack thereof.)

In the end, I submitted my thesis on Halloween (2018) just shy of five years after beginning my studies and my (slightly delayed) viva took place in February 2019. I was quite keen to complete my minor corrections in time for the summer graduations, so handed in my corrections a tad bit early (so not everything about my PhD was delayed). After all, graduating on the 4th of July is a pretty cool thing for an American – especially one who is the daughter of two United States Marines!

And so, finally, here I am: Frances Ryan, PhD. Or Dr Ryan, if you prefer.

Of course, this dream could never have been realised without the encouragement and support of others. So, thank you to all of my family and friends in America, the UK, and in the virtual world for helping to see me through this crazy adventure!

I am not certain where life will take me next. Ideally, I will be able to remain in Scotland working as an academic for the foreseeable future. But I am a realist (begrudgingly so) and I know that I will have to be open to opportunities wherever they might be. (If you know of a job opportunity I should consider, please get in touch!)

And now that I have accomplished this great dream of mine, I suppose I should start thinking about the Next Big Thing. After all, having a big goal to focus on is what keeps me going!

You can watch the ceremony on YouTube below. I enter the stage about 6 minutes in, so no need to watch the entire 90-minute show!

Build, manage, and evaluate: Information practices and personal reputations on social media platforms || #CoLIS10

I am in Ljubljana, Slovenia this week to attend the 10th Conceptions of Library and Information Science (CoLIS) conference, where I will be presenting a paper related to some of my PhD research.

The paper is titled “Build, manage, and evaluate: Information practices and personal reputations on social media platforms” and is co-authored with Professor Hazel Hall, Peter Cruickshank, 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 and considers a single research question: “How do information behaviours related to personal reputation building, management, and evaluation on social media reflect citation practices related to the building, management, and evaluation of academic reputation?”

ABSTRACT:
Introduction.
The broad theme of this paper is the use of information to build, manage and evaluate personal reputations. It reports the findings of a study that considered the extent to which social media users replicate in online environments the established information practices of academics when they assess their peers. The three platforms considered are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Method. A multi-step data collection process was implemented for this work. Forty-five UK-based social media users kept journals and took part in semi-structured interviews.
Analysis. A qualitative analysis of the journal and diary data was undertaken using NVivo10. Information practices were analysed to consider the similarities or difference between social media practices and related practices deployed by academics related to citations.
Results. The findings expose the ways in which social media users build, manage, and evaluate personal reputations online may be aligned with the citation practices of academics.
Conclusion.
This work shows where the similarities and differences exist between citation practices and related information practices on social media as related to personal reputations. Broadly, the findings of this research demonstrate that social media users do replicate in informal online environments the established information practices of academics.

I will be presenting on Wednesday, 19 June during the “Information Management” session (13.00-14.00; Room 4).

Not attending the conference? Don’t worry! The presentation slides below will allow you to engage with my presentation from afar.

If you have any questions about this research, my doctoral work as a whole, or about potential collaborations, 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 #CoLIS10.

My thesis: The final version

My PhD thesis is now complete and, more importantly, the final, hard-bound version has been submitted to the research office. This marks the last hurdle in my PhD journey, ahead of my graduation on 4 July. (The perfect date for an American to graduate!)

The final version of my thesis reflects the amendments that I was asked to make after my PhD viva in February. My edits were classed as “minor” which meant I was given two months to complete them (from the date of the formal corrections letter, not the date of the viva). That meant that I had until 28 May to work through my thesis again to make the necessary updates, before sending the corrected thesis back to the research office for the next steps.

To make the best use of my time, I started out by classifying the edits as simple, moderate, and “difficult”. That way, I was able to work on different types of edits based on the level of thinking that my brain was ready for at different times of the day or when conflicting priorities meant I had less uninterrupted time for working on the document.

I found most of the edits to be quite easy, even after marking them difficult. However, there were a couple of edits that I struggled with. Although I didn’t struggle because they were challenging, rather I struggled because I was overthinking things. Thankfully, the overthinking was the worst of it and the changes were all made with (relative) ease.

After the edits were complete, and approved by my examiners, all of the relevant paperwork was sent to the Research Degrees Committee for their final sign-off. Then, once I received the letter from the committee saying that my award was confirmed, I printed off my thesis for the final binding.

Today, I handed in the final printed thesis (and emailed an electronic version) to the research office. And I confirmed the title of my thesis. And confirmed my application for graduation. And confirmed my graduation gown hire. So, that’s my PhD done.

Almost… After all, I still have one more step before I am Dr Ryan.

The next (and final) step is now to walk across the stage to collect my degree. It’s been a long and winding road, but I’m finally (almost) done!

My new post-doc at Dundee

I started a new job last week and I am quite excited about it. The job is a short-term contract as a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Dundee (through November). During this time, I will be working with Professor Wendy Moncur on an EPRSC-funded research project, TAPESTRY: Trust, Authentication and Privacy over a DeCentralised Social Registry.

The TAPESTRY team is studying the socio-digital design of trusted services, and developing novel blockchain and machine learning solutions for identity assurance. It is a collaborative project between the University of Surrey’s Centre for Vision Speech and Signal Processing (project lead) and Centre for Cyber Security, the Department of Media Communication and Design at the University of Northumbria Newcastle, and the Duncan Jordanston College of Art and Design at the University of Dundee (that’s where I am).

The aim of the project is to investigate, develop, and demonstrate new ways to enable people, businesses and services to connect safely online, exploiting the complex “tapestry” of multi-modal signals woven by their everyday digital interactions. Through this project, the team will develop a de-centralised registry that stores trails of users’ digital activity, enabling users to share portions of it to prove they are trustworthy – without giving away so much information that it violates their privacy. By doing this, the work will de-risk the Digital Economy, delivering completely new ways of determining or engendering trust online, and enabling users and businesses to make better decisions about who they trust online.

Now, if you’re wondering how I managed to land a job on such a techy project, it’s simple: Sometimes the technical side of life needs a bit of the human side of life to help weave things together. (weave, tapestry… get it?)

To that, my role on the project is to run two qualitative studies looking at different aspects of determining trust in online environments. I am just starting to get my head around the details of what I’ll be doing, so I won’t get into the details here just yet. However, I will share more about this work as time goes on.

This will be my first time contributing to a large-scale study of this kind, which will be a learning experience in its own right. I will also be balancing this role along with my post-doctoral work on my “social media proxies” project, as well as completing my thesis edits. So, I expect it to be a fairly chaotic few months. But chaotic in a good way (I hope!)

Wish me luck!

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!

My thesis: The viva version

It’s been a while since I wrote a post about my thesis. In fact, I haven’t done so since I submitted last October. At the time, I expected that I would be blogging about my viva before the Christmas holidays, but there was a glitch in the process that meant everything was postponed.

That glitch means that I didn’t return to my thesis until the end of January. (I haven’t decided if this is a good thing or not. I’ll make that decision post-viva!) I am now in full-on viva-prep mode, and I am dreading looking forward to a constructive examination.

I got a bit geeky and had my viva version bound with a light-weight, coloured cardstock in between each chapter. That allowed me to add sturdy tabs to each chapter so that I can easily flip to the section I want. (I even colour-coded the tabs so that all “like” chapters are the same colour.)

In addition to the main chapter tabs, I used writable Post-it tabs to mark out pages that are more likely to be referred to during the viva: my research questions, theoretical framework, study design flowchart, and participant details. These were placed on the top of the pages so that they did not add clutter to the main navigation tabs.

Small, narrow Post-It flags were also used to mark pages that need minor edits (for example, there is a missing colon on one page). These are also located at the top of the pages as to not interfere with the navigational tabs.

The rest of my thesis mark-up and notes are all hidden within the pages. Here, I have used different sized Post-Its to note minor edits or to clarify a point that might be a bit confusing the way I have it written. I have used larger edits to write down additional thoughts or to summarise more challenging or “technical” sections. This way, if I am asked about them during the viva I will be able to refer to my own notes about these things. Of course, that also assumes that I will only be asked about the things I’ve specifically prepared for. (I wonder what the odds are… ?)

My viva version thesis does not include any writing on the pages. There are no highlighted sections; no scribbles in the margins. Everything is done with notes on Post-Its. I just can’t bring myself to make any permanent marks on something that I worked so hard on creating. Although I am sad to say that the act of carrying “my baby” around with me has meant that the edges are starting to show a bit of wear and tear.

Anyhow, there are only two more thesis posts after this: One will be sharing the process of corrections and the other will be sharing the final product. It’s hard to believe that I am that close! In fact, my viva is so close now that my next post here will be about that. And, hopefully, it will be about passing my viva. So… stay tuned!

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).

Study participants wanted for research into helping older adults with social media accounts

I am currently recruiting participants for a research project that investigates how people help or support older adults to use social media accounts. Any help or support you provide to older adults or people with dementia at any age with social media is relevant (for example, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc). 

I am interested in speaking to you if you assist an older adult or a person with dementia to use their own social media accounts. If you think this might be you, please contact me at f.ryan@napier.ac.uk

You can also help by taking a short survey here:
https://survey.napier.ac.uk/n/smp.aspx

Participants will be asked to keep a diary related to the activities they undertake on behalf of the other person for two weeks, followed by an interview which can be conducted in person or via phone or video call. (Participants do not need to be a carer, but they should play a role in helping with social media accounts.)

If you are interested in taking part in this study, please contact me at f.ryan@napier.ac.uk.

More about this study:

The project is titled “Social media by proxy: strategies for managing the online profiles of adults with dementia” and is being undertaken with Dr Gemma Webster (PI). The work is funded by a Carnegie Trust Research Incentive Grant.

The work was developed based on Gemma’s previous work with people with dementia, carers, and dementia support organisations and my own PhD work on social media use. The combination of these research areas is strengthened by the fact that social media use by older adults is at an all-time high and the increase in people with dementia*. This brings the ongoing discussions of social media use in today’s society to a growing population of users.

The general goal of this research is to identify how people manage the social media accounts of older adults and people with dementia “by proxy”. This includes:

  • How “proxies” manage social media accounts for older adults or people with dementia in their care;
  • How and if people with dementia engage with their social media accounts (with or without support); and
  • What kind of support (if any) “proxies” have for managing these social media accounts.

For more information about this research, or to note interest in participating, please contact me at f.ryan@napier.ac.uk.


Note: This project has been given ethical approval by Edinburgh Napier University.

And please feel free to re-share this information on your own social media platforms!

*UK statistics: Nearly half (48%) of Internet users aged 65-74 and 41% aged 75+ maintain social media accounts. Further, there are currently 850,000 people with dementia in the UK with a predicted rise to 1 million+ by 2025.