New roles for a New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My thesis: Submitted!

And with that, I have submitted my PhD thesis for examination and thesis season is over!

The last few days have been spent finishing up my thesis, all with an aim submitting on Halloween (success!). That included finishing my conclusion chapter and writing my acknowledgements page. These final days were also spent making sure that all of my references were accurate and that the fiddly little things like automatic bookmarks were rendering properly.

Once the document was finalised, I set everything up for printing. I intentionally planned it so that I was printing after office hours so that I wouldn’t have to worry about hogging the printers. After all, a thesis is a fairly long document and I needed four copies: Two for my viva examiners, one for my mock viva examiner, and one for me.

To save time, I sent the thesis to print as two separate print jobs, each with two copies. That way, I would take advantage of the two printers in the print room. It took about 30 minutes to print the four copies, and another few minutes to straighten the pages and (meticulously) fold a couple of double-sized pages for the appendices. I also included coloured cardstock in between each chapter for my own copy of the thesis. This way, I can add section tabs to the cardstock so that I can easily flip to the correct chapter when I am revising or during the viva itself.

After I finished printing, I carefully wrapped each copy in paper and called my taxi-driving landlord for a lift home, cradling my “babies” the entire way.

The next morning, I woke early and got the bus out to my university’s print shop. There, Gordon bound the documents whilst I waited. And then I took another bus to my campus where I panicked a bit (and got a bit teary) before heading upstairs to the research office to officially submit my thesis.

To be honest, submitting my thesis was quite an emotional and self-doubting experience. Although, to be honest, the entire PhD process was more emotional and self-doubting than I had expected! I won’t get into all of that today though, as I plan to share a series of posts (over time) that reflect on my experiences with the PhD process.

But yes, my thesis is done for now; it has been submitted. And that really is something to celebrate!

Of course, submitting my thesis is not the end of the PhD journey. No, there are still a few steps remaining before my PhD Dreams are realised. The first of these steps is my viva (oral defence). After that, I will be asked to make amendments to the thesis before I submit my final, hard-bound thesis. And then, finally, I will graduate.

A research grant, by proxy

Earlier this year, I worked on writing a grant application to The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland with my colleague, Dr Gemma Webster. And I am excited to say that the application has been accepted under the Trust’s Research Incentive Grant scheme with Gemma as the Principal Investigator (PI).

The research project is called “Social media by proxy: Strategies for managing the online profiles of adults with dementia”. This work will investigate the lived experiences of people who act as “social media proxies” for adults with dementia in their care.

As the PI and lead applicant, it is Gemma’s experience and role as an established academic that allowed her to make the application (newbies like myself almost always need to ride the coattails of more senior researchers). And it is her experience that will guide the project so that we are in a better position for getting our work published and (hopefully!) creating an even larger funding application that will help us continue our research.

The inspiration for this research comes from Gemma’s past work with vulnerable adults and the recognition that the use of social media by older people is increasing whilst instances of dementia diagnoses are growing. Further, my own doctoral investigation into the role of online information in the building and management of personal reputation found that some participants have helped or noted concerns about vulnerable individuals in their lives and their use of social media. When considered together, we determined that the role of social media proxies for adults with dementia was a relevant and timely topic that warranted further research.

My role in this project is that of the research assistant. I will be work on the literature review, the design of the study, and data collection. I will also work with Gemma to analyse the results from our data collection and to create research outputs.

We plan to use a combination of participant diaries and in-depth interviews as data collection tools, a process I used for my PhD thesis. Participants (social media proxies) will keep a diary for a set amount of time where they will keep notes related to the online activities they undertake as proxies. This will include information about the specific tasks they undertake as well as any reflective thoughts they have about the tasks. Interviews will take place after the diary-keeping exercise and will include a range of topics related to participants’ roles as social media proxies.

We plan to report on this research through (1) a project report; (2) an academic journal article; (3) guidance materials for social media proxies (for example, leaflets); and (4) an article in The Conversation. A dissemination event for stakeholders will also be planned towards the end of this project. That event will include care home workers, carers of dementia patients, local authority officials, and members of third sector organisations that provide support to vulnerable and/or incapacitated groups.

On a personal note, I am grateful to Gemma for providing me the opportunity to work with her on this project. It will be my first piece of work after submitting my thesis, and it kind of serves as my first external grant (by proxy, in a round-about way). I am looking forward to learning from Gemma as she supervises my work and I’ll try not to let her down!

For more information about this research project, please contact me (f.ryan@napier.ac.uk) or Gemma Webster (g.webster@napier.ac.uk)

12 tips for a 20×20

Last week I presented at the 8th annual Information Science Doctoral Colloquium (iDocQ). The presentation was in the form of a PechaKucha, also known as a “20×20”. These presentations can be quite fun and exciting, especially if you are a confident and experienced communicator. However, if you are neither of those things, the idea of presenting 20 slides for 20 seconds each (for a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds) might be a bit daunting.

This presentation style seems to be quite popular in the academic world—at least here in the UK. However, there seems to be a lot of confusion over what a 20×20 is (as well as what a 20×20 isn’t). And that’s where this post comes in.

OK, then. What is a 20×20? In the original form, they should be delivered as 20 images, on 20 slides, that each run for 20 seconds.

However, it seems that the image part has been overlooked by many in academia. That means that you see a fair amount of 20×20 slides that are filled with text. Lots and lots of text. Of course, that is not always the presenter’s fault. Often times, the person organising the talks doesn’t know what a 20×20 is meant to be (or has decided that they don’t care) so the only instructions presenters have is that they must have 20 slides over the course of a 6-minute, 40-second talk. Some organisers might insist that the slides automatically forward every 20 seconds, and others might not realise that little rule.

Ideally, 20×20 slides should be image-based no text. However, this can be a bit challenging for academics who are accustomed to developing text-heavy presentations. (But don’t do that. Really. Less is more!) Slides should not have any animation or transitions. Slides should also be set to advance automatically.

But why? It’s because the slides should be there to add visual stimulation to your intellectually stimulating words. They should not require your audience to read and should never include information that is vital to your talk. So, skip the detailed graphs and tables. (A 20×20 talk should be able to be presented without slides and still be just as informative.)

Heck, even for those of us who enjoy presentations, the idea of such a restrictive format can be a challenge. And with my habit of ad-libbing and going on wee rambles about a sub-point, it’s even more of a challenge! But I have learned a few tricks to make 20×20 presentations a bit easier to plan, prepare, and present.

Before you start putting slides together, have a think about what you’re going to say.

  • Prepare your spoken words before you prepare your slides (talk it out and time it as close to 6:40 as possible). Think very clearly about the theme of your presentation and start to build out your presentation. Your talk might be a single, descriptive storyline (Mary had a little lamb) or it might be a series of interconnected points (research questions, methods, findings, and conclusion). Either way, you are sharing a narrative that must flow together with ease.
  • Break your spoken words into 20-second segments (based on ideas or themes) then practice those segments. Think of your talk as sections or chapters and put breaks into the talk as those sections come along. Don’t forget to include pauses in each segment. Those pauses will give you time to breathe whilst your audience has time to process the information you’ve just shared with them.
  • Give each point or idea the time it needs! You can use more than 20 seconds for a point, but all points should fit with multiples of 20 seconds. If you need a full minute to make a point, take a full minute! But give some thought to how you’re delivering those 60 seconds so that you can switch-up the slide image to reflect the point every 20 seconds. For example, if your point is about social networking sites, you might change the image to reflect a different aspect such sites every 20 seconds, as it relates to the point. (You cannot use the same slide twice; each slide must be different.)
  • Make a note of non-vital sentences that can be dropped if you start to fall behind. This will allow you to catch up a bit, even if it takes 2-3 slides to get back in synch. A few seconds’ lag-time is hard to avoid for beginners, but it is better to drop sentences in the middle so that you finish on time. That way, you still have time to deliver your punchy, vital concluding sentences—and maybe even take a theatrical bow!

 

Now that you’ve got your talk ready, you can begin to illustrate it. Yes, this is the point when you can start working on your visuals.

  • Think of your talk as a visual storyboard. What one image illustrates each 20-second segment? If you’re talking about Facebook, there are lots of obvious options. But if you’re talking about something a bit vaguer, this is your chance to get creative and whimsical. For example, if you’re talking about the history of modern beer production, you might use a photo of hops growing on a trestle.
  • Find image inspiration on Google or Flickr. If you don’t know how to illustrate a point, enter some of your keywords into a Google image search to see what comes up. This can help you to see how others visualise your concepts, which might also help you to think more creatively about how you present your work in the future.
  • Mind your copyrights! It is easy to just swipe images from the Internet, but be mindful about copyright infringement. Wherever possible, use works that have a Creative Commons copyright (or get really creative and take photos of your own!). Also, pop a wee copyright attribution on the slide. If done correctly, these do not need to detract from the presentation. (You can see examples of how I’ve done copyright attributions on my SlideShare presentations.)
  • Practice, practice, and practice some more! Ideally, you can do this in front of an audience that will provide you with practical, constructive feedback to help you improve your delivery. But if that is not possible, consider recording yourself so that you can see how well you do. Or, ideally, do both! It can be awkward watching yourself present, but it can also be a great tool for improving your presentation skills.

 

Right. Presentation day is here now, and you should be ready to go. Here are four more tips to get you through the day.

  • Dress for success on presentation day! For me, that means I wear smart, professional clothes and shoes that I am comfortable in. (And never a new stuff. I like to test-run my important clothes!) I realise that some research students present in their every-day clothes (which might be tattered jeans and a t-shirt) and that is considered acceptable in modern society. However, I personally feel that presenting your research is also an opportunity to present yourself to potential future colleagues or employers. So, put on your Sunday best (or similar) and strut your stuff! (Yes, I realise that sounds a bit snobby. Sorry.)
  • Remember your pauses and remember that you have specifically built in drop-sentences that you can ditch if you start to get backed up on your 20-second intervals. If you find that you’ve talked faster than your slide changes, just take a big breath and let the slides catch up to you. And if you’ve talked really fast and need more than one big breath, shrug it off and make a joke (practice those ahead of time, too).
  • Step away from the podium. Unless you need to be near the microphone, step away from the podium and stand where your audience can see you. (But don’t block your slides!) You have practiced this talk. You know your subject. And your slides are all images that will automatically advance every 20 seconds. So there is no need for you to stand by the computer. Be brave; come out and engage with the audience!
  • Have fun! Presentations can be quite stressful, especially if you don’t have much experience. However, 20×20 presentations are an opportunity to have fun whilst challenging yourself in a laid-back atmosphere. It’s quick and punchy, and it can be a chance to show that you can have a sense of humour when things go wrong.

 

During my time as a PhD student, I have relaxed my rigid ways so that I can be more in line with how others present 20x20s. That means that I will sometimes use a bit of text (only a bit!). I have also started to use simple diagrams and paired photos on some slides. However, I have decided that I am going to return to the basics with my next 20×20.

Of course, I will also need to revisit my tips above because, as you can see, I didn’t do any planning or practicing for my last go. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great. So, if you want to know what a 20×20 looks like when you haven’t prepared, here you go!

Photo credit: Alicja Pawluczuk and iDocQ
Video production and editing credit: Dr Bruce Ryan (no relation)

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!