Nadine Muller has launched an excellent new blog for postgraduate researchers (PGRs) and early career researchers (ECRs). In her own words…
In 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):
- 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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, 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,
Dr Nadine Muller
Lecturer in English Literature & Cultural History Liverpool John Moores University Dean Walters Building
In 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.
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.
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…
If 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.
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:
and the Researcher Blogs feed:
– 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…