digital research

Bookings open for Vitae’s Digital Researcher workshop (20th Feb)

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Word cloud for Digital Researcher

  • Did you know social media can be used to enliven your career and not just your social life?
  • Do you blog & tweet and would like to know more about online tools which can help with your research?
  • Whether you’re social media savvy or social media shy this one day workshop will give you an opportunity to explore how new technologies can enhance your research and your career. This course is a hit so book now!

Following our very successful Go Digital workshop last year Vitae and The British Library are running:

The Digital Researcher 2012, February 20th, London

audience: postgraduate researchers and research staff

Vitae logoIn addition to registering for the event, there will be plenty of opportunities to get involved online. We’ll be posting details about what’s happening shortly. In the mean time, why not check Vitae out on Twitter using the #dr2012vitae hashtag, through Facebook, or alternatively, write a blog post about your experiences with technology and tell everyone about it through your favourite social media!

Something to start the conversation: Michael Nielsen’s TED talk on Open Science

Digital networking – a doctoral researcher’s perspective

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Guest blogger Liz Thackray, doctoral researcher at Sussex whose research spans the disciplines of Sociology and Informatics, discusses how digital networking can reduce the doctoral-lonliness in different ways.  Check out Liz’s own blog and researcher profile.

Doing a doctorate is a lonely journey – but does it have to be, in a networked world?

Open any handbook on getting a PhD or becoming a research student, and it doesn’t take long to learn that one of the characteristics of the experience is loneliness. Instead of being in a large undergraduate group or smaller taught postgraduate group of like-minded students, it is all too easy to be in a situation where you have nobody around who you can easily talk to about either life or study. As a new research student in an unfamiliar university, it can be difficult to even get basic information, like where are the toilets and is there anywhere to boil a kettle. Even when familiar with the environment, it can still be difficult to find somebody to go to lunch with, or somebody interested to hear that the cat has just had kittens – everybody around can seem so busy and so focused on their own research that it can feel that they can only be interrupted if the rapture really has arrived – and even that may not merit disturbance.

However, talk to most research students and what they want is to be in a community of like-minded individuals with opportunities to share the joys and despairs of the doctoral journey – as well as an occasional pint or a chat about the aforementioned kittens. Supervisors also will speak of how important it is for research students to have colleagues to share their learning with.

This blog isn’t about finding a solution to the conundrum of why it is so difficult to attain the collegiality everybody seems to acknowledge is so desirable. Rather, I want to point up some of the ways that the loneliness of the research student can be remedied through judicious use of the Internet.

Social networking

It is probable that most people reading this blog will have heard of websites like Facebook and LinkedIn, but may not have considered these as antidotes to doctoral isolation. True Facebook is a good place for keeping in touch with friends and family, and LinkedIn for developing a professional profile, but both offer the opportunity for sharing the pain of the journey, keeping in touch with other research students and joining groups of people with similar interests. OK, a bit of discipline might be required to avoid Farmville, but the advantages probably outweigh the disadvantages.

Sharing resources

As doctoral researchers, we acquire vast bibliographies – things we have read, things we mean to read and things we don’t know if they are worth reading. Resources like Mendeley, a free, online, referencing site, and Diigo, social bookmarking, are useful, not only as online repositories – and therefore accessible anywhere there is an internet connection – but because they offer the opportunity to set up and join groups and share resources. Both sites provide facilities for writing personal notes on resources that can be shared with others. If I am looking for a resource in such a group, I can read colleague’s reviews and use them to help me decide whether or not to read the article or webpage or whether to move on to something more helpful to me.

Site designed to provide resources to researchers including PhD students

There are a plethora of sites aimed at doc and postdoc researchers. Some are university based like this, but others have been developed as personal blogs by knowledgeable individuals like The Thesis Whisperer. Some have a specific purpose, like how to get published (e.g. PhD2Published), while others are more general in content (e.g. Vitae) but often have specific content aimed at postgraduates. You may have noticed that most of these sites are blogs and be wondering how to know when additional content is added. One of the simplest ways is using a RSS feed aggregator, such as Google Reader – check out the post Really Simple Syndication (or why RSS feeds are useful).

Support community in 140 characters

While the above sites all offer resources, they do not really solve the problem of finding somebody to share a coffee with or how to get a quick answer to a perplexing problem. This is where micro-blogging may assist. Most people have heard of Twitter, if only because of recent press reports of broken injunctions. Fewer people are likely to know of Plurk. Both sites offer the opportunity to register and create a network of followers and people to follow. Initially, it can be confusing, but the use of hashtags (a word preceded by #) can make it much easier to find like minded people. Over the last few months a large number of doctoral students have started using the hashtag #phdchat and organising a thematic tweet-up on Wednesday evenings. Personally, this is my current favourite for meeting knowledgeable colleagues and talking about all things doctorate-related. What is more, a question posted using the hashtag any time of day or night seems to elicit a response.

That is just a small taste of some of the online resources that can help to break down the loneliness and build networks and communities. Like anything worthwhile, becoming a part of a network or using a social web resources demands some effort, but the rewards are well worth it. Incidentally, if you want to find me online, look for lizith on Twitter and lizit in most other places, or follow my blog at

Vitae researcher activities in 2011

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Activities for postgraduate researchers and research staff

Vitae is now on Facebook! You can keep in touch with Vitae via Vitae fan page and Vitae GRADschools alumni page!

We’re also on Twitter:

The Researcher Development Framework is a useful career tool to enable you to identify skills you want to develop further, create an action plan and record evidence of your progress with the Professional Development Planner. Find out how other researchers have used the tool.

If you’re thinking ahead to your options for the future, the careers section of the Vitae website is full of information, including handy hints on writing your CV.

The balanced researcher” booklet offers information to help prioritise and manage the many demands on your time. “The creative researcher” booklet offers practical information and advice for researchers on being creative in a research environment. “The engaging researcher” booklet offers practical tips on how public engagement can benefit you, your research and the public with whom you engage.

Podcasts from the Digital researcher event are now available on  and iTunes ( . Vitae speak with Aleks Krotoski about being a digital researcher, and participants are interviewed about the day.

If you are a researcher with aspirations to manage your own research team, a new resource for PIs on the Vitae website will give you an insight into the role of principal investigator.

Develop your public engagement skills and keep updated on public engagement activities via ’the public engagement blog’

The Engaging Researcher – This one day highly interactive workshop has been designed for researchers who are new to, or have some experience with public engagement. It will be held in Liverpool on 30 June 2011

Activities for research staff

Research staff blog is a forum to discuss topics relevant to personal, professional and career
development for research staff. If you are interested in getting involved or learning more about it, please visit or contact Tennie Videler at

Advancing in Academia is a one-day event aimed at postdoctoral researchers which will address how to succeed in a competitive and complex research environment. It will be held in Birmingham on 12 September 2011

Activities for postgraduate researchers

What’s up doc?‘ is a new blog which provides a forum for postgraduate researchers to share experience, give information and tips on matters relevant to them in a fun, yet informed way.  It replaces GRADBritain, which has been a popular online magazine written by and for postgraduate researchers studying in the UK.

Some of the topics currently on the blog are:

  • Wade in on whether ‘Silver researchers’ (those doing a doctorate at a later stage of their career) offer a contribution to the postgraduate community
  • Is the imposter syndrome rife among postgraduate researchers? Do you feel like an imposter?
  • Read tips on presenting: One Moment’s Monument: Presenting Conference Papers
  • Online publishing and plagiarism: keeping alert – What are the issues, and how to deal with them?

Sign up to PGR Tips and receive useful tips on different aspects of your research. The latest issue on your professional development

Careers in Academia – NEW EVENT – is a one-day event aimed at early career postgraduate researchers which will address how to succeed in a competitive and complex research environment. It will be held in Birmingham on 13 September 2011

GRADschools 2011

Bournemouth, 14 – 17 June A FEW PLACES STILL AVAILABLE!
Windermere, 11 – 14 October

Audience: postgraduate researchers
The bookings are open for the 2 national GRADschools in 2011. Vitae GRADschools are designed to take an ‘experiential’ or ‘learning by doing’ approach. Whilst there is some element of presentations and information giving, for the most part, you will be actively participating in the sessions and activities. All courses are 3 days long and open to 80 postgraduate researchers.

British Library Growing Knowledge exhibition

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British Library logoThe Growing Knowledge exhibition demonstrates the vision for future digital research services at the British Library, and provide a test bed for the evaluation of digital research tools and services that have the potential to support researchers’ needs. The exhibition consists of a number of features including digital signage, video demonstrations, interactive welcome animations and a prototype ‘Researcher’s tabletop’ application.

You are invited to attend one of the special sessions being run on Mondays, where you will be able to sample each of these components and hear an introductory talk by a British Library curator. A team from UCL is evaluating the initiative, and a researcher will be at the exhibition, too, and would like to chat to you about the tools and applications in my role as a researcher You can book an evaluation session at:

However, if you can’t visit on a Monday (or at the set time), but would still like to attend, please contact the researcher directly at:

New Exhibition at The British Library on digital research

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Found this circulating on a JISCmail group:

Growing Knowledge: The evolution of research

12 October 2010 – 16 July 2011

Join the debate and take part in our exciting new exhibition of innovative digital research services and tools. #blgk

Visit our new exhibition and tell us what you think.

Get involved:

  • Search large audio files and uncover clips that are relevant to your research
  • Explore maps using advanced geospatial technologies
  • Manipulate content across multiple media and save your work to return to later
  • Find out about new online resources and collections specific to your research


You can access many of these tools and content over the web so you can experience the exhibition online or continue your guided journey here if you have already visited the Library.

Follow what people are saying about the exhibition on Twitter – #blgk

Help us evaluate

To help us understand your research needs for digital technologies, and to support your research requirements in the future, we would like you to tell us what you think.

When you visit the Growing Knowledge exhibition at the British Library or online, we will ask you to rate what you see and join the debate about the Library’s vision for its digital research future.

We will also be holding some growing Knowledge evaluation sessions at the Library. These will offer a short introduction to the Growing Knowledge content and concepts, a chance to explore the exhibition in detail, and a discussion with the Evaluation team. The sessions will take place on Mondays throughout the GK run, and last for approx 1.5 hours.

If you would like to sign up for one of the evaluation sessions and contribute to the Library’s digital research future, contact the Evaluation team now:

Your journal needs YOU: *Excursions* seeks associate editors

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*Excursions*, the Journal for Interdisciplinary Research, is based in the Sussex Doctoral School, and run by Sussex doctoral researchers.  The journal is Open Access (freely available to all), online, and most importantly: peer-reviewed.

Which is why Excursions is looking for doctoral researchers and early career academics from all disciplines, to join their editorial team.

So if you’re interested in adding that something extra to your academic CV, come and find out more at one of the our introductory training sessions, to be held throughout the year. This term’s dates are:

  • Weds, 3rd Nov, 2pm – 4.30pm in Friston Building  FR 117
  • Fri, 19th Nov, 2pm – 4.30pm in Pevensey 1, 0A2

Places are limited, so please book yours by email: by 2nd November.

We look forward to meeting you!
The *Excursions *Editorial Board

What is Excursions?

If you missed the launch, here are the links to our four-part introduction to the Excursions journal: from inception to launch of the first issue:

  1. Sussex interdisciplinary e-journal to launch
  2. Beginning Excursions: The First Steps of a Postgraduate Journal
  3. OJS: e-Journal technology / Excursions – The Image
  4. Excursions: The Editorial Process and Structure of an Interdisciplinary Journal

And the recent call for papers:

  1. Excursions journal: call for papers. Theme=”virus”

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:

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…

‘Quick search’ and ‘Subject search’ sets in the Electronic Library – a blunt tool for researchers?

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Search options in Electronic LibraryA doctoral researcher asked me about the QuickSearch and SubjectSearch options in the  Electronic Library:

Why is it that I cannot select either a) all sets; or b) no sets?

Good question.  So I asked Helen in the Library’s Research Liaison section, and she very helpfully gave the following explanation…

Quick search and Subject search…. I must admit I’m not the biggest fan of these as search tools for doctoral students and in any 1-2-1s I tend to suggest that people use the databases individually. My reasons are that not all databases can be searched using Quick/Subject search, that the results often come back in a strange order so the 50th ranked article may be more relevant than the 1st, and that people may really need to tailor their search terms for particular databases (eg needing to be more specific with search terms within a database that searches the fulltext like JSTOR, not needing to use terms like ‘psychology’ in PsychInfo but needing to use them in the big, general databases). If they’re all being searched at once you lose the ability to do this.

Phew, I don’t mean to be negative about it, it’s a great resource for undergrads who just need *some* articles, not a comprehensive search. Dphils may want to use it to get a sense of which databases might have useful results but may struggle when it comes to more systematic searching.

To actually answer your question, the sets in Quick Search cannot be altered and each set searches databases for a particular subject area that have been selected by the staff here. It’s designed so people can just start searching. It is, however, possible to customise the sets in Subject Search so that you basically create your own set of useful databases that can then be searched. There’s a guide to doing this in the yellow box on the front page of the Electronic Library that would probably be more use than my efforts to explain – there’s a webcast option or a standard PDF guide. I think there is a limit to the number of databases that can be searched at once or it would just take far too long to get any results.

Hope this helps, feel free to send anybody my way if they have any more questions!

So there you go :)  If you’d like to ask further questions of Helen, you can email her at