Research staff

‘The New Academic’: great blog for PGRs and ECRs

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Nadine Muller has launched an excellent new blog for postgraduate researchers (PGRs) and early career researchers (ECRs). In her own words…


The New AcadmicIn November 2012 I launched The New Academic, a continuing series of blog posts on all things academic, aimed at postgraduate and early-career researchers. Rather than lengthy personal accounts, The New Academic aims to provide short tips and guidance – however subjective – on key academic activities.

I now write to you with two requests (besides hoping you will visit the blog and comment, or even recommend it to others):

  1. If you are a researcher and would like to propose a guest post on a topic of your choice, please get in touch with me. Posts may be personal accounts of your experiences in academia generally, or may address specific issues you’ve encountered.
  2. Considering recent announcements of funding cuts, the next season of The New Academic (starting May 2013) will be dedicated exclusively to the experiences of part-time and/or self-funded postgraduate students, who can, unfortunately, often find themselves overlooked within departments (though of course this isn’t always the case) and within the academic landscape. If you were or are a part-time and/or self-funded postgraduate and would like to contribute a post about your experiences, please do get in touch. I already have a list of 30+ people on my potential author list for this series of posts, and the more voices are heard, the better.

Please feel to get in touch with me via admin@nadinemuller.org.uk or n.muller@ljmu.ac.uk, and feel free to pass this message on to anyone you think may be interested. Any comments and suggestions are gratefully received, as are suggestions for guest posts.

I hope you’ll find the blog a valuable resource – as you will see, it lays no claim to being a universal database of knowledge, but to simply provide useful “beginners'” information and overviews which I hope will be of help to other postgraduate researchers and early-career academics.

All the best and thanks for reading,

Nadine

Dr Nadine Muller

Lecturer in English Literature & Cultural History Liverpool John Moores University Dean Walters Building

Twitter: @Nadine_Muller

Website: www.nadinemuller.org.uk

QR codes

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QR codeIn case you’ve been perplexed by those funny little squares that have been appearing all over campus, they are QR codes – short for Quick Response code. Although the look like tiny Rorschach tests, they are actually a scannable code, capable of holding any type of data. They originated in the automative industry and were used to manage inventory, but are now much more widely deployed to enable those armed with smartphones to find more information on a particular product or service by pointing them to a website.

There are more imaginative uses, too. You might have noticed an outbreak of QR codes in the Library, allowing you to quickly report rowdiness in the quiet areas. With a flick of a wrist, you can summon a Librarian to tell them to shhhhh.

If you already have a smartphone, then you’re just a few short steps away from being able to take advantage of this new technology. There are a number of free apps available. For Android, the most popular scanner is by ZXing and there’s a similar product available for the iPhone.

Sadly, as it with the case of any innovation, there are some annoying people who have devoted a lot of time to adapting QR codes for malicious use. Be careful where you point your smartphone, as some codes will direct you to dodgy sites intent on stealing your details. They are in the minority, however, and most will simply help you access information and services quickly and easily.

Should you want to generate your own QR codes, there are many website that will allow you to do this for free, including qrstuff.com. And if you want to find out more about the technology behind these strange blobs, there’s a very good article on Wikipedia (the QR code above will also take your there).

Do let us know if you come up with any imaginative uses of your own.

Raising your academic profile with LinkedIn

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Are you making the most of your LinkedIn profile? Personally, I’m uncomfortable with self-promotion, but I do engage in it. Researchers have to ‘put themselves out there’; ‘engage with the wider researcher community’ and other such clichés. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but clichés are not untrue. We know that doing these things will help us to raise our profile. Maybe not immediately, but making ourselves visible in social networking platforms, on websites, in online communities *will* have benefits that come later.

Researchers who do engage on some level with digital self-promotion tend to have wider networks than those that refrain. Your profile is available to others, often tagged with keywords, perhaps accompanied by PDFs of your conference/journal papers and slides from your presentations. People will find you! With the recent opening of Google Scholar Citations (did you see Martin Eve’s guest post on this?) you are now even more discoverable.

What about LinkedIn?

In the light of newer, shinier platforms, LinkedIn may look a little like ‘facebook for grown-ups’, which I think underestimates the reach and potential of using it. I know someone who was invited to take part in a cross-disciplinary group in the states, through making contacts and publishing her CV on LinkedIn. This was a paid job, not an internship. Recently a colleague told me that at least one large employer in the UK has stopped using application forms for recruitment – they ask only for the applicants LinkedIn profile. Scary as this may be, it’s also an opportunity in disguise. Your LinkedIn profile makes your skills and experience available to a huge number of professionals in all areas, including other academics and researchers. But it does mean to you need to keep it up-to-date, and make sure you’re making the most of it.

In this presentation, Sue Beckingham, Education Developer, takes you through why you might want to set up a LinkedIn profile, and how to manage it to make sure you’re accessing the best that LinkedIn can offer. There is a transcript available to accompany the presentation on the SlideShare website. Let us know how you get on.

Credit where credit is due: who’s in your thesis acknowledgements?

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It’s a cliché that just after creating a new document called ‘Thesis.doc”, the doctoral researcher finding him- or herself in ‘writing-up mode’ will inevitably start writing the Dedication and Acknowledgements.  Stereotyped and tired this image may be, yet it is not a million miles from the truth.  But, let’s pause and remove the veils of cynicism for a moment, because there are good reasons for why the myth is rooted in reality…

The Dedication: who’s your champion?

At the writing-up stage, we have committed a staggering quantity of energy, time and money towards our doctorate.  We have made great sacrifices, most likely starting with small things like sleep and recreation, moving up the scale possibly to health and relationships.  We have worked hard.  And through it all, we have persevered. What keeps us going, through the years of research, culminating in what will probably be the longest piece of academic writing in our career?

Sometimes it isn’t a ‘what’, but a ‘who’ – someone we have kept in mind throughout the doctoral journey, a champion if you like.  This person or persons may be living or dead, near or far.  They will have been the ‘who’ we think of when we’re dragging ourselves through the tough times, and of course when we are celebrating the good times. We want our champions at our graduation ceremony.  We want to make them proud.  I bet you already know who your champions are.

The Acknowledgements: who’s in your your support team?

We know we couldn’t have achieved so much alone – there’s a  support network behind every researcher, and it’s often bigger than we first think.  The tip of the iceberg starts with friends, family, and supervisor.  Go a little deeper though, and we find many more who deserve credit: housemates, library staff, lab technicians, department administrators, postdocs, IT technicians, mentors, archivists, proof-readers, participants, interviewees, researcher communities, bus drivers, bar staff, academics from other institutions, transcribers, office-mates, programmers, et al.

These folk are essential to the progress we’ve made, like the production team is essential to a movie, so let the credits roll.  Let our support team have the recognition they deserve, for the part they have played.  And once we start this list, it’s hard to stop.  We remember every single friendly face, shoulder to cry on, helpful suggestion, handy piece of advice, constructive critique and useful recommendation that has come our way during the doctorate.  We remember every kind email, every motivating chat, consolatory hug, and every bit of practical and emotional support bestowed on us by these wonderful people.

Who reads the credits?

The movie analogy fails us here.  Most of us, at the end of a movie, care little about the credits.  Yet the Acknowledgements section of our Thesis will probably be the most thumbed page of the whole thing. I know it’s the first page I read when looking at somebody else’s thesis.  We’re a curious species, us researchers, it goes with the territory.  I often joke that my thesis will be read in it’s entirety by a grand total of three people (my supervisor and my internal and external examiners).  My Mum will have a good go, though I wouldn’t want to bet on her not skipping a few chunks.  But I bet the acknowledgements get more airing than the rest of it put together, even in these bright new days of open access repositories.  In fact, especially in these bright new days of open access repositories.

The thing is, most of the wonderful people on the roll-call of our support network won’t get to read our thanks to them.  That’s where Time for Some Acknowledgement comes in.  The Time for Some Acknowledgement blog is where you can post your thesis acknowledgements on the internet for the whole world to see.  The blog is run by George Julian, and she will take submissions of your acknowledgements in pretty much any format: scanned pages, word-processed, handwritten, photographed – it’s up to you.  The blog has thesis acknowledgements from all over the world, and makes interesting reading (remember that curiosity?).  It’s also searchable, so you can have a look at who’s thanking who in your own institution – useful if you worry you might have forgotten someone.  Of course you could also use the search function to find out if you appear in someone else’s acknowledgements…

I leave you with a sample from a recent post to the Time for Some Acknowledgement blog, entitled “The path to becoming a doctor is littered with distractions. I’d like to thank those distractions for making me the person I am“:

I would like to thank many people who have helped me through the completion of this dissertation. The first is my advisor, Steve Harrison, who is captivating, honest, and the true embodiment of a mentor. In combination with the mentorship of my advisor, I am blessed to work with dynamic and intelligent committee members Dr. Dennis Kafura, Dr. D. Scott McCrickard, Dr. Enid Montague, and Dr. Deborah Tatar. I would also like to thank the Computer Sc … Read More

via Time for some acknowledgement

Organising a Conference: first hand experience from a doctoral researcher

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Guest post: Aristea Fotopoulou (doctoral researcher in the school of Media, Film and Music) reflects on her experiences of setting up and running the Digital Methods and Feminist Approaches one-day graduate conference.

In this post I am going to say a few words about the process of setting up the Digital Methods and Feminist Approaches one-day graduate conference, from inception to organisation, to implementation, from my perspective as doctoral researcher on the conference committee.

This was a good experience overall. I personally initiated the conference and sent the Call For Papers (CFP) to my supervisors for feedback. They were the ones who suggested Robert Funds so I went on to apply for funding before circulating the CFP. From then on, Nick Till, the MFM Director of Doctoral Studies assisted with the application process. I found the application process demanding but helpful as it made me clarify what the aims of the conference exactly were. It also helped with developing a basic idea about budget planning. The scopes of the day were to give voice to interdisciplinarity, to talk about methods, and bring together researchers who are positioned as feminists in their work. With these in mind, the CFP was re-drafted in order to accommodate the Funds requirements in a way. At the same time, we were offered funding from the Research Centre for Material and Digital Culture (RCMDC) of the Media, Film and Music (MFM) School.

Once funding was secured, the CFP was circulated to internal and external email lists, but also to relevant schools and departments in other universities [namely the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), Brighton and Sussex Sexuality Network (BSSN), Womens Studies, the Media, Cultural Studies and Communication Association (MeCCSA) ]. We located these by visiting various University websites and looking for their media, gender and digital humanities departments or research centres. We also called papers and registration via non-academic community lists like the Feminist Activist Forum, Feminist Fightback and the Queer Mutiny Brighton list, as we tried to engage with a broad definition of ‘feminist’ – both academic and non-academic. Eventually, different positions within feminism were not explicitly heard during the day, which highlights how asking what ‘feminist’ or ‘queer’ is in approaches and methodologies is important, especially when these words operate as umbrella terms for sets of assumptions. As Adi Kuntsman, one of the invited keynote speakers, noted, the event mainly concerned white, middle-class, educated and gender-normative feminism. This kind of criticism we take on board when thinking about future events.

Apart from this, feedback was overall quite positive. We encouraged participant feedback through questionnaire which also had open space for comments. Some of the participants felt that the programme of the day was intense and that time for breaks and discussion was not enough. Everybody seemed pleased with the catering provisions. As delegates in other conferences, we had noticed how difficult having a satisfying conference lunch may be when one is vegan, and/or gluten-, nut-intolerant. For this, we  wanted a menu which was vegan, gluten and nut free, and appropriate provisions were made by Sarah Maddox, the Research & Enterprise Coordinator of the MFM School. Sarah also kindly took care of the travel cost reimbursement for speakers and generally all other aspects of management of our budget.

Connections with other researchers were drawn, both during and after the conference, which was one of our objectives. For example, Anne Welsh, one of the speakers, wrote a review about the day in the UCL Digital Humanities blog. She also eagerly tweeted during the day, along with Karen Burrows, one of our Sussex-based MFM researchers, and Catherine Redfern (the f-word), one of the invited keynote speakers during the day (the archive of the tweets here). We have also now linked interested delegates with the RCMDC email list, where information about upcoming events is posted.

Finally, we would like to thank all who helped with the conference, and especially the MFM School Office people, the Doctoral School and the RCMDC for all their support.

Qualitative data analysis with NVivo

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NVivo is qualitative data analysis software, designed to assist you in your research.  Unfortunately, it won’t find the answers for you, but it does a cracking job of organising your data and helping you to interrogate it.  You can link your data internally and externally, use demographic variables, and explore relationships between participants and ideas.

In NVivo, an analytical project is broken down into two main parts: sources (the data) and nodes (containers for the coding of ideas or categories).  Sources can be created in NVivo or imported to the project as documents of various types, such as interviews, field notes, project journals, images, or audio files.  Nodes are created for any topic or category relevant to the project, and can be connected in ways to allow you to visualise and discover new connections.  Sources or nodes can be  explored either by browsing or by running queries.  The ‘Externals’ folder of NVivo is used to link to documents held elsewhere that can be associated with your project.  You can open the file in its native program and then record information on it in NVivo.  The ‘Memo’ function allows you to add your thoughts and ideas on the project.

It’s quite difficult to grasp the potential of NVivo without having a particular project in mind.  As a researcher in English Literature, it’s not an obvious tool I would expect to use.  However, I was soon able to see how it would help me in my own work.  For example, I’m currently working on an edited collection of interviews with late-Victorian women writers.  In NVivo I can import the documents and then code the content to identify patterns.  If I’m looking to compare their working environments, I could go through each interview to find where they mention this subject and then code it as a “working environment” node.  In future, I could quickly generate a document collating all those references, either as just a list of citations, or as contextual paragraphs.  The real power of NVivo is being able to quickly grab data that refers to a single theme or concept.

‘Cases’ are used for grouping together all data concerning a particular participant, and attributes can be assigned to them, eg gender, nationality, age, marital status.  Once the data was in place for my project, I could use the search tool to find all instances of unmarried Scottish women writers talking about their working environment.   The data can be generated as mind maps, showing the relationships and structure, and the results can be pasted into Word as an image.

I’ve only really scratched the surface of NVivo’s potential and there’s all sorts of other good stuff, such as the ability to analyse and annotate sound and video files.  The main disadvantage is that it’s not a particularly intuitive package and requires a certain amount of commitment to overcome the initial brain pain.  My preferred learning style is a chunky manual and a large cup of tea, but NVivo really needs a workshop.  Fortunately, Technical Skills for Researchers (formerly SciPS) will be running sessions throughout the coming academic year.  We’re also organising a surgery for existing NVivo users so they can get help with their own data.

NVivo has much to offer those whose research involves interviews or case studies. Although not vital in my particular field, it is nevertheless a useful tool and one that I shall continue using.

Really Simple Syndication (or why RSS feeds are useful)

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With our aggregated blog feed “Researcher Blogs” growing fast, we now have 7 contributers.  But what if you want to subscribe to the Researcher Blogs feed and read the posts from somewhere other than the Doctoral School blog?  Today’s guest blogger, Liz Thackray (lizit) explains…

RSS iconIf asked what Internet facility I would most miss, RSS feeds would come pretty high on my list. It is a facility I use daily for keeping up with news and information. At it’s simplest (and it does call itself ‘really simple’), I am able to click on the orange and white icon on any page where it is available and choose to add the page to my Google Reader account. Each time I open Google Reader, I am shown instantly how many updates there have been and I can choose to view them – and because it just shows me the headlines, I can decide which to read in full and which to ignore.

If you haven’t discovered the Commoncraft videos, they are brilliant for describing various technologies, and there is an excellent one explaining just how RSS feeds work. It also describes how to set up Google Reader for accessing RSS feeds.

Locating Google Reader
Locating Google Reader

Although there are other RSS readers, I find Google Reader is most convenient: my browser home page is set to Google, so it is quick and easy to click on “more” and on “Reader” and check what unread changes there are. As I have to actually go to the Reader page, I don’t get annoying pop-ups every time there is an update, but I choose when to check the feed and whether to read the updates. It can still act as a displacement activity, but it is my choice if I choose to be distracted!

I find RSS particularly useful for keeping up to date with blogs. I subscribe to around 60 at the moment plus the new Researcher Blog feed available from the Doctoral School blog. It keeps me in touch with what other people are doing, and I can get involved in discussions with other researchers on aspects of their work – or my work – which are of interest. I’ve found quite a number of senior academics and others working in my field are prolific bloggers, and it is handy to know what they are thinking about and working on – or to see their holiday photos and remember they are human too!

I also subscribe to some of the BBC feeds to keep me in touch with what is going on in the rest of the world.

If you haven’t set it up yet, I do recommend setting up an RSS feed and subscribing to both the Doctoral School blog:

https://doctoralschool.wordpress.com/feed/

and the Researcher Blogs feed:

http://www.google.com/reader/public/atom/user%2F10800301496241934271%2Fbundle%2FResearcher%20Blogs

– it’s another way of building up the community and of breaking down that sense of isolation too commonly experienced by DPhil students!

… and if you have a blog – do remember to fill in the form and get it added to the Researcher blog list…