The Inevitable Fall After the Rise

Cheer up you miserable old sod
Cheer up you miserable old sod

Should have known this was coming, after last week’s wonderful feedback (and I even had some more over the weekend), this week has rather pissed on my chips a little.  So I’m finishing off the term feeling exhausted, worn out and totally depressed with the world.

And I’ve still got a long hard slog over the coming week before a couple of days off over Easter.  I’ll talk more about my woes below – those of you who enjoy a good moan will at least get a little schadenfreude out of this; so it’s not a total loss I guess.  See, I’m starting to get more cheerful already…

Blog Revamp

Yeah, I’ve been threatening this for a while – and I’m now in the process of revamping the look and feel of the blog.  As I’m using the free version of WordPress I can only really make changes to the live site, so my regular reader (I think I’ve got one of them…possibly) might be a bit surprised that the site will keep changing over the next few weeks as I tweak the colour palette etc to get it just the right shade of vermilion.  I jest…possibly.

UKSG Conference

Lots of preparation for this, this week.  Didn’t think a 15-20 minute talk would need this much work.  I’m basing my talk around a couple of previous ones, but at the same time tweaking the narrative so it tries and segues in with my co-presenter Bryony’s (aka librarygirlknitone.  Been enjoying a smashing correspondence with Bryony, which reminds me how much I enjoy collaborative work!  While our talks our separate we’re trying to give it a bit of a ethnographic theme.  As of this writing I think I’ve got the talk down, although I keep taking more and more words off the slides to make them appear less texty (my default mode, what a shocker eh) and more pictorial.  Might see if I can’t work in some more of the ideas I got from this week’s lecturing buzz lunch as well.  Although perhaps not the drum loops.  Will be spending most of Sunday travelling up to Glasgow for the conference, so am glad that next weekend is Easter and I get a few days off, I suspect I’m going to need them.

As of Friday afternoon though it’s all sorted out, I just now need to sort out my clothes and pack for the trip.  How many hats it too many though?  Also having seen the weather forecast I hope I don’t have to swim across the centre of Glasgow next week.

Buzz Lunch

Freud's theory of psychodyamics vividly brought to life in my seminar
Freud’s theory of psychodyamics vividly brought to life in my seminar

Went along to a lunchtime seminar hosted by the NTU academic staff development people on The Lecture as Performance.  Sounded interesting for raiding for ideas to improve my own teaching practice (hey, the feedback was great but I could always be better and I know it!) and also for my communications workshop for FIL later this year.  Free hot lunch too, which was great – although catering did forget the first rule of serving food: hot food: hot plates, cold food: cold plates.  So as I ate my rapidly cooling mushroom and butter bean pie (tasty) I listened to talks from a former actor turned mathematician, an avant-garde urban historian with a penchant for drum loops, a man deconstucting the speeches of Barack Obama, and a chap showing off tricks using simple PowerPoint and free apps.  Well worth the attendance I thought as it sparked some ideas in my head for future workshops and lecturing practice.  Also nice to feel (if only ever so briefly) part of the lecturing family of NTU, rather than the outside PhD student who they just chuck teaching at and forget about (can feel a bit like that at times).  Was particularly interested in the use of a phone-driven voting app for lectures- so much more effective than having to hand out those little handsets.  Wonder if it works on all systems or if you need install rights?  I shall have to have an explore of this over the next week or so, as anything that drives more student interaction in sessions can only be a good thing.

I did particularly like the little factoid about people remembering more about the questions you asked than the facts you tell them in a lecture.  Makes them engage on a more cognitive level, which perhaps explains why seminars have such a good reputation for allowing students to get to grips with aspects of their courses better.  I think I shall be looking closely at my next conference and lecture slides and trying to embrace that idea a little.  Or shall I?

Teaching – Face to Face to Facebook

International communications this week looking at Radio Free Europe and its role in the 1956 Hungarian revolt.  Slightly confused for a minute as I didn’t think I was teaching history!  But mostly this was about discussing the moral and ethical issues around the application of soft power like radio in terms of destabilising or countering effective hegemonic control of a state.  First session of this was pretty informal as I only had three students – and they had a lot of questions about the exams, so get a little sidetracked.  All the same it seemed a positive teaching engagement so I’m not going to stress about it.

Also been dealing with a whole host of questions over the last week or so from students worried about or wanting advice on their essay.  Hopefully I’ve steered them all in the right direction without giving them too much overt assistance.  Tricky line to straddle, especially doing it all online (lacking an effective on site presence is a bit of an issue being a seminar tutor, and not one that’s going to be resolved sadly).  Feedback from the students seems positive here, so am hopeful that this means I’ve averted their concerns and I’ll have a stack of top flight essays to mark next week.  Although slightly terrified at the idea of marking about 84 scripts in a short period of time.

Teaching – Media Communications

A bit of a confusion behind the scenes next week, wonder if the students were even aware of it?  Had the plan for a seminar on the power of images in hand, despite the lecture showing up as being about propaganda in the timetable.  Decided there must be a cross over…but no turns up there’d been a slight hiccup in the planning – as this was supposed to be a week for a tutorial on their PR campaigns rather than a seminar.  But as we had the material for the seminar it was decided to go ahead with that anyway.  Turned out the lecture was on the role of images in the media (including a potted history of art and image) – which was fascinating.  Great lecturer I’d not come across before with a wonderful relaxed and deeply informative style.  Just a little embarrassed that only 12 students out of almost 200 turned up for it.  I know we’re near the end of term but…wow.  I had 7 to my seminar (out of 26) so actually my %age attendance rates are a lot higher.  Not quite sure the students quite got what this week’s seminar was about mind you, but I could be wrong.  Possible they’ve done aspects of this in other modules so this might have all been pitched at too low a level for them.  Ah well.  Shame really as it’s the last time I teach this group – just seminars and assessed presentation sessions for the rest of the year now.  Going to miss them, as they’re by far my liveliest mix of students – which makes interacting and teaching them a whole lot easier.

Thesis

Supervisors seem to be on silent running since my email last week.  After a week I sent them off a gentle reminder, to hear on Friday that they’re snowed under and will get back to me after Easter.  Fair enough, but does leave me slightly in limbo.  Guess I’ll just have to finish off all my marking and conference funding applications and get bookings in place for the Vienna conference in the meantime.  And then move onto sorting out my next phase of interviews.  And catch up on my reading.  Actually, when I think about it, I suspect I’ll manage to fill all the time very, very easily.

Future Employment

I'm more Captain Slow than Clarkson, truth be told
I’m more Captain Slow than Clarkson, truth be told

Never thought I’d end up in the same position as Jeremy Clarkson this week, only you know, without the violence.  Went in to discuss my potential lecturing next year as ideally I was looking to expand my role a bit, even up to a day or two part time.  I’m acutely aware that when my studentship ends this summer I am going to be very, very broke and I can’t rely on Mrs Llama to pay for everything  – we’ve had three years of being not very well off, and this will exacerbate matters.  Turns out though dept aren’t permitted to keep me on now I’m this far through the PhD as they need me to complete on time so that that their PGR stats don’t take a hit.  (I’ll try not go off on a rant about marketised HE subsumed by aspects of neoTaylorist measure here…).  I could totally see their point from one direction, as I too would like to be able to finish this PhD before the end of time itself and move on to the next stage of my career.  But I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t expecting this when I went in to the meeting – so I did my best not to sound like a deflating balloon throughout the rest of the discussions.

I will say they were really nice about it, and I could tell they were annoyed by the situation as well, so I’ve ever sympathy for the akward situation they’re in as well.  Especially as I can well understand it’s a position a lot of PhDs find themselves in .  On the positive side of things, and I’ve got to remember that there are a lot of positives about this whole experience, at least they told me I was an excellent teacher, which was great to hear.  Even if it isn’t going to keep the wolf from the door come September.  Did make it clear at least that I can work, as the university can’t stop me finding other employment, and will write me a stunning reference.  They just can’t provide it.

So what does this mean for me?  Well on the down side it pretty much destroys any plans I’ve got for holidays or LARPing type adventures unless I can find somewhere else to employ me in the meanwhile.  Suspect I’m a bit old for bar work.  So feeling a bit of a total failure right now, as my self-confidence has taken a right old nasty knock from all this.  Not really a rational thing, and I know I’ll cheer up in a day or too, but I might have to mooch around over the weekend doing positive things like updating my CV and scanning jobs pages.  Frankly, glad I’ve got the UKSG conference to go to next week as I need the distraction.  Debating hanging a “For Hire” sign around my neck at it or maybe just taking a batch of short CVs to hand to some people.  Not sure if I’m enough of a tart to do that, but I guess I might have to be – Mrs Llama has expensive tastes I need to cater for!

And of course I’ve still got 4 more weeks of teaching to come after Easter to look forward to, so I shall have to just enjoy every moment of what has been a great experience and opportunity for the past couple of years.  Not that many PhDs here get teaching experience, and that I have is something for which I’ll continue to be grateful.  I just know I’m really going to miss the weekly contact with…you know…people.  Working as a humanities PhD from home was ever isolating, and this was a brilliant distraction from that.  And at least now I have no excuses for not knuckling down and finishing the thesis.  If I can just get my supervisors to let me push on to the next bit!

Unbreakable

Working my way through Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Better Call Saul in equal measures in my off moments, hence the title.  Enjoying the optimism in the former, and the dark humour in the latter.   Did find that Mrs Llama does not approve of me watching comedy in bed at night, as I keep waking her up by laughing too loudly.  May have to resort to reading books again.  I know, dark days if I have to read outside of office hours!

  • Writing
    • Caught myself writing the conclusion to the chapter in my sleep on Tuesday night.  Still totally stressed out about it, and so frustrated about how long it takes me to write and edit things.  Mrs Llama has been a saint by doing some proof reading – and mostly being very rude about my use of commas and semi-colons.  Finally shipped it off to my supervisory team late Friday afternoon.  Current word count on the thesis now stands at a tiny 77,868.  Or enough to stun one small charging rhino if I printed it out and threw it at them!
  • Teaching
    • Got asked if I wanted to teach again next year.  There was little more I could say other than “Yes please!”.  Well that and “Any chance of something a bit longer term?”.  Well, it pays to be cheeky and the worst they can do is say no.  Well okay, they could say “Don’t be so cheeky, no!”.  Have to see how this pans out, but I have loved teaching the students here at NTU, and it would be great to develop it into a little something more than the occasional seminar.  After Easter I am penciled in for my first proper lecture on a 2nd year course.  Will worry about writing that…erm, after Easter?  Actually I will be adapting some of my earlier talks, as it’s about OA.  I just need to amplify some of the political-economic dimensions of it in the analysis.  Wonder if I’ll need to write a seminar as well?
  • Media Communications
    • Looking at Press Releases this week, although the content of the seminar felt a little similar to what we had done around journal articles earlier in the term (tried pointing out this synergy to the class, not sure they quite got it).  Not the most engaged of seminars, in that I could get the students to crank out some good headlines but fell a bit in flat in getting them to create some standfirsts.  Ah well, hopefully it’s given them enough of an idea about the form and style for press releases for the assessment, which was the core goal.  Do find myself wondering how well some of the groups are working together, as it all happens out of sight…hope any that run into any real difficulties let me know.  Probably being paranoid and they’ll all produce lovely bits of assessed work.
    • Flagged up that one of the weeks of the presentations gets a second marker…all be it a jolly decent academic who’ll give them all a fair crack of the scoring whip.  Should also ensure I’m fair and even handed in my marking!
  • Face to Facebook
    • This week we were looking at Facebook and its role in creating/representing/distorting our personal representations to others.  You’d think this would be a subject that would be quite a zesty one to get into, but no I struggled a bit with it.  I think this was in part due to a not especially easy to adapt seminar.  There’s the nub of some good ideas in there but certainly for the first group I struggled to turn it into a digestible format.  I suspect if I’d had a few more hours to spare to refine it then I’d have been able to craft something more workable, but I’m limited in the time I can feel I can devote to it, so just went with a fairly simple adaptation.  Found myself doing a whole lot of talking with the groups, which I guess is no bad thing – except I was really hoping I could get them to think more intently about their own praxis.  The Friday groups were slightly hampered by the fact that the 2015 UK solar eclipse was in progress…but actually despite my running commentary on the subject the students got more into the topic.  Perhaps it was because I was ready to discuss it more this time, or perhaps they just had more to say.  Either way I came away thinking it was a better couple of sessions all told.
    • Should say thanks to all the Fb friends whose approaches to using social media I referenced and commented on as representing particular societal or critical insights.  So big high-5s in no order to John, John, Sarah, Kaye, Giles, Ju, Gary, Sian, Valérie, Ed, Kate, Jo, Dana, Ellie, Ed, Cassie, Catherine and any parent who posted a world-book day photo in my stream.  Also my mum and dad who despite not being on Fb (or in one case top-side any more) also underscored some valuable cultural observations.  You were all invaluable insights, splendid friends and I promise I was far ruder about my own social media presence!  Most of you won’t read this bit anyway – so you’ll never know I consider my Fb interactions to be some form of long running ongoing experiment ;)
    • Also had the horrible thought that I’ll have 80+ essays to mark in a week’s time.  Fun that will not be.  Going to have to find a way to maximise my effort/minimise the time it takes to get through them – although I can see I’ll be pulling some late evening’s marking in order to get through them and stay on top of my own studies.
  • Conferences
    • Heard my paper for the FIL 2015 conference in Manchester on effective communication has been accepted.  Not until late June which means I won’t worry overly about writing it for a while.  Mrs Llama is a bit miffed that I might be away for her birthday as it clashes with this conference.  Pointed out I should be back home for part of it, and also that she went off to work on my last birthday anyway!
    • Put my booking in for the ISIS 2015 Conference in Vienna (no not that ISIS – International Society for Information Studies).  Also finally got an answer from the Graduate School about some funding.  Not as much as I’d hoped, but I’ve put in a formal request for it now and it looks like that’ll contribute to it.  Also looks like my dept head has a few quid I can apply for as well, which is fabulous – as it means I won’t totally wreak my life’s savings just to go to a conference!  Have to fill in a long form though.  Gah.
    • Also put in an application for a travel scholarship, although as there’s only 2 of these for the whole university I suspect there is only a slim chance I’ll get it.  But it was an interesting exercise chasing some funding, something I know I’ll need to get used to as an academic.  If, that is, I get any kind of academic job at the end of this!
  • Book reviews
    • Finally made myself write one of the two book reviews I’ve got pending (The James Bond Encyclopedia) at the start of the week.  Managed to avoid using too many bad puns, which I’ll count as a success.  Will tackle the next review, next month I think.  Or maybe I’ll take it on the long train ride to Glasgow.  Not sure but I think I’m getting close to passing the 100 book reviews mark…which is some kind of minor achievement.  Then again I’ve been writing these since I was working at York Uni, and that’s 5 jobs ago now (or 10 years)!  Still a goodly number though.
  • Research Profile
    • Some months ago the uni finally offered to give all us PGR students a research profile page, with a massive 4 papers being able to be listed.  That’s a laugh, given I’ve over 30 articles published…not to mention almost 100 book reviews.  Oh, and those book chapters I’ve written.  And let’s not even count the reports okay.  As usual, university systems for PGRs are designed to cope with non-mature students with little life experience.  *sigh*  Anyway, wrote mine before Xmas…and finally this week it was announced they’ll go live.  Next month.  Suspect they’ll not be that much use, but it will be nice for the uni to admit publicly I exist as a PGR sometime before I leave!
  • Student Feedback
    • Got my first batch of student feedback this week.  Can’t share the comments for data protection reasons…and also because a lot of them made my head swell.  They were a lot of very complimentary ones.  Some good observations for improvements as well, that I’ll try and take on board, and try not to be too complacent.  If anything I’ll have redouble my efforts to keep up my standard of lecturing!

Avast There Me Torrenters

  • Writing
    • Chapter is done!  Just going back over it and giving a grammatical polish so I can send it to my supervisors on Monday.  The sense of relief is…almost palpable.
  • Teaching
    • Face to Facebook
      • Aha me hearties, this week I be talking about media and cultural piracy, so I was.  Arrrrhhh!  I was asking the questions, likes, does not the corporate world’s appropriate of common and collective myths, legends and stories represent just as much a piratical response, damn ya eyes, as the humble torrenter of Hollywood’s products, me trumps.  And yeah, trying very, very hard not to talk like a pirate throughout the session – not helped by continuing to play Assassins Creed: Black Flag in my spare time.
      • Some interesting points of discussion were had from the students, although a few of the video sources I was showing them in regards to the topic have dated rather quickly.  Talk of “How many downloads do you have?” in a Spotify-streaming kind-of-world has rather shifted the debate around downloading, to the sustainability of new models of capital/revenue extraction.  Did try and not get too carried away with the whole copyright vs free culture debate, as i could have probably ranted on the topic for a long, long time.
      • In the light of Sky ISP handing over torrenters’ data to a rather disreputable company this week, it’s a story and topic for discussion that’s not going away!  But then do we expect anything other than compliance with the Media Industries’ anti-piracy agenda from Murdoch PLC eh?
      • To add to the fun this week we were doing the module feedback forms (early so as to capture as many student comments as possible, as numbers will tail off more in the coming weeks).  This means I lose a good 15-20 minutes of prime seminar time, but hopefully it does give the students sufficient time to make their opinions on the course known.  Given that one or two of them were less than happy with some of the recent lectures, I suspect there’s a bit of a flaming in there.  Just hope my teaching is still up to snuff for them, heaven knows I put everything into it – I was knackered by the time I came home!
    • Media Comms
      • Unsurprisingly this week a 2/3 full class, since the assignment was launched for the students.  They’ve got to pull together and present a PR Campaign after Easter to me.  Rather looking forward to it, as frankly my group has got some splendid students who I just bet will surprise me with the professional polish they’ll bring to the job.  Although I can see a few are a bit terrified of the idea of standing up and presenting to me.  Plan to coach them as much as I can in the coming weeks in the nuances of making a good pitch, so when they come to do it it’ll be as much of a breeze as it’s possible to be for something that’s credit bearing.  Going to be interesting trying to mark ‘em mind you.
      • Also had a nice chat with one of the lectures on the course who I’ve not spoken to much before.  Chatted about performance styles and lecturing, and discovered we’re both off to the same workshop in a few weeks on the very subject.  Nice to have that kind of professional conversation, as I rather miss that kind of interaction.
      • And yeah, as it’s module feedback week we got to fill in these forms as well.  Had a great discussion with one of the students about modules next year, which I’ll paraphrase below:
        • “Which modules are you teaching next year?”
          “I don’t teach 2nd year modules.  Think they won’t let me until I get my PhD”
          “(pause) When do you get your Phd?”
          “Well I’m a third year now, so all being well sometime next year”
          “Great, so you’ll be teaching us in our 3rd year then!”
      • I’ll take this as nothing more than a lovely compliment – although of course it all presupposes that NTU offers me a contract beyond this year (and even beyond that once I get the PhD), so I’ll try not to get too excited.  Half tempted to suggest the students wrote “Offer Gareth a contract” in their feedback, but that wouldn’t be very ethical of me.  Then again, when I’ve bills to pay – who’s got time to be ethical! ;)
  • Conferencing
    • As of this writing (it’s Friday) it’s been 9 days since I first asked the Graduate Office for information.  It’s been 4 days since I repeated my request.  Both times I got their “We reply in 3 working days” auto-reply.  But still nothing.  Piss poor service level, but then speaking to my fellow PhDs it seems they suffer the same service levels.  Really is poor.  I’ll be visiting in person next week as it seems the only way to get a response.  I’ll also be kicking off booking the conference stuff, as I can’t leave that off much longer either.
    • On a more positive note I did a Webinar for Glyndwr University on Wednesday.  Nothing special, but it’s the first time I’ve done a lecture like that – felt a bit weird, espeically when my feed of the listening room at the other end went blank after 10 minutes (of a 30 minute slot).  Seemed to go down well, although watching the feed afterwards I think if I do one of these again I’ll have to fiddle with the camera/lighting a bit more – as my shiny bald head was a bit terrifying!  You can watch the session video (if you’re inclined).
    • UKSG – yeah, need to write my talk for this next week.  It got put off this week so I could write the Glyndwr session.  Hopefully as I’m reworking some earlier talks as the core of it, it shouldn’t be too hard.  I hope.

The Tunnel at the End of the Light

Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train
Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train

This week has flashed past – and I suspect because I’ve been grafting at a higher than normal rate.  Or at least it seems like I have, perhaps it’s due to the brighter days and the touch of sun we’ve been having as we start to emerge from winter’s embrace?  Frankly though I feel like I could do with weeks about twice as long as they are to get everything I need to do done.  Ah well, we work with what we have, and short of some sort of space-time inverter landing on my doorstep this weekend I guess it’ll have to do.

  • Chapter writing
    • Ongoing, closing in on being done early next week.  At last.  Probably.
  • Teaching
    • Face to Facebook
      • A week looking at the ethics around WikiLeaks and in particular at the Chelsea (Bradley) Manning case.  Interesting topic with some real meat to it I think, especially as it’s one that illuminates a lot of what we’ve previously examined with respect to journalistic freedoms and the role of the press in supporting Western liberal democracies.  Sadly though I think trying to get into the ethics around “Was Bradley Manning/WikiLeaks morally justified in releasing the Iraq & Afghan War Logs?” was a bit much for most of the students.  They had that look on their faces that said “Please Mr Llama, just tell us the answer to this one…”  Not that there is a straight answer to what is a complex question with a hell of lot of multifactoral issues around it – I mean, I certainly have my answer…but I’m not 100% sure my answer is any more valid than their suggestions.
      • Also gave some general feedback on the reflective essays I marked.  No one lynched me so the feedback must have been useful.  Either that or they’ve got voodoo dolls of me somewhere full of pins…
    • Media Communications
      • Click to enbiggen
        Click to enbiggen

        The build up towards the students’ big assessed PR pitch started this week, which meant I rather expected like last time we closed in on the seminar that I’d have a very full class – seeing some faces I’d only seen once before.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!  Smallest seminar group yet (6!) which doesn’t bode well for next week when I suspect I’ll be splitting people up into groups…at this rate I’ll be drawing random allocations out of a hat.  Anyway the seminar was a potted version of the assessment (take a product, build a marketing campaign around it) and was actually rather lively.  Not sure I’d class it as fun for the students as they had to pull together a presentation inside of about 40 minutes; but they rose to challenge pretty well.  Hopefully these few will take the lessons to heart in their assessment and produce the higher quality outputs.  I do slightly have a vision of myself as a Simon Cowell like role for this, as I will have to sit in judgement over all the presentations.  Poor sods, I can remember how terrified I was of doing presentations as an undergrad (how times change); but these are media students so perhaps they’ll not have that problem.  We shall see!

      • In terms of group assignments…I think VG Cats this week might have nailed this one.
  • External commitments
    • Heard back from the conference in Vienna, they’ve accepted my paper.  Huzzah…now I need to work out how to fund it.  I’ve discovered via a friend that there’s a small pot of AHRC funding I can call on for overseas events.  This was rather news to me, but good news – it’s controlled by the Graduate School, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised it’s not been well communicated!  I think I may be able to call on all three years worth of it, which means I’ll have covered about 2/3 of the conference costs (Mrs Llama who is better at figures than me pulled together some draft costs for this).  I’ve also spotted a bursary to apply for AND sent a begging letter to my head of dept to see if there’s any local funds as well.  Hopefully one or two of these might contribute from this leaving a massive hole in my finances!  That said, at time of writing I’m waiting for all these various people to get back to me, so doubtless next week I’ll be able to move forward on booking etc.
    • I also got approached to take part in an online briefing at Glyndwr next week about open access.  I think this means my Sunday afternoon is going to be spent researching and preparing for this.  Hope my Internet doesn’t drop out in the middle – as it has occasionally been known to sometimes (thanks BT).  I only picked the brains of some of my old OA chums for info, and they were all most splendidly forthcoming.  Fingers crossed I don’t arse this one up!  (See students, I DO still get performance anxiety!)
    • Also another nibble from elsewhere about a talk, said yes and doubtless it’ll evolve over the coming weeks into something.  So nice to get asked, and it does help me to continue to up my game and presentation stylings.
  • Training
    • Got a notification of a session on The Lecture as Performance to my staff in box.  Sounded rather good, and it’s only a couple of hours towards the end of the month so signed up for it.  Mentioned it to some of my students who queried why I, of all people, needed training in lecture performance (I think that’s stylistic praise, rather than marking me as an OTT theatrical lecturer).  Frankly one can always learn a few more tricks, I answered, not to mention if my other currently pending conference workshop comes off I’ll benefit from drawing on some of the ideas in this session I suspect.  Interestingly I think this’ll be the first local NTU training event I’ve gone to (other than research seminars which I guess don’t quite count).  Might be nice to meet some other lecturers as peers for a change.
  • Conferences
    • Need to start drafting my UKSG talk next week.  Only three weeks away really, so can’t leave this much longer – unless I want to just go freestyle with it…nah, that’s a terrible terrible idea.
  • Blog design
    • I think it’s time I changed this blog’s template…don’t think it’s helping readability much.  Might have a tinker over the weekend to see if i can’t find something that looks a bit sharper.
Say his name
Say his name

For the record, this week’s writing, studying and teaching preparation has been accompanied by the Breaking Bad Spotify soundtrack.  I’m almost to the end of BB now, and feeling a strong desire to go back and watch it all over again from the beginning.  So nice when something you’ve heard raved about by others turns out to be as breathtakingly good as you hoped it might be.  Unlike say Fortitude ;)

Oh and I’ve started playing Elite: Dangerous (under the handle Cmdr Llordllama naturally).  I currently suck so badly at this it is unreal…hoping to get slightly better over the coming weeks and especially when Mrs Llama heads off on her long overseas trip next month (to the land of llamas!).  Apparently nudging a hair trigger on your flightstick inside an orbital dock is severely frowned on my sector security forces…

And The Jukebox Played Nothing Cos it’s Bust

Not bobbins.
Not bobbins.

10 points if you pick up this week’s title is a quote from the not-at-all bobbins Frank Sidebottom‘s version of The Smiths’ Panic.  I’ve been listening to a lot of Frank in recent weeks (after watching the eponymous film) while I’m working and I just keep discovering stuff of his I’ve never heard before.  Brilliant, funny, funny stuff.  Think I’m going to need to make a side trip to Timperley next time I’m over Manchester way to visit his memorial statue.  Although he is very rude about llama in Zoo Scrapbook. This week then I:

  • Teaching
    • Media Communications
      • Much fun was had (well by me at least) looking at the work of Edward Bernays (father of PR) and considering how we can use it to construct adverts that speak to the hidden desires and motivators of the public.  Not to mention exploring how the group mind works and can be influenced by marketing.  It was a really buzzy seminar with a lot of chatter, and some excellent comments from a lot of the students – so I’m marking it up as a win.  Hopefully they got something good out of it intellectually too, as I got the impression they’ve found the last two weeks of lectures very heavy going.  Not helped by only 20-30 students out of a cohort of 180 turning up – the lecturer this week was more than a little put out by it!  Oh yeah, and I decided to show both a brief clip from Python (Life of Brian) and the following Mad Men clip to really illustrate how to apply these psychoanalytical approaches in making a marketing/advertising pitch.  For me it’s long been on of the real defining moments of the series, and going back to consider the psychological undertones just made it all the more enjoyable.
    • Face to Facebook
      • Onto collaborative creativity this week, a topic I feel more naturally at home in.  So a video from Charles Leadbeater (fun fact: he co-created Bridget Jones’ Diary) and discussions around the ideas of collaborative peer production (although skirting around Benkler’s work, with which I’m fairly familiar).  At least one of the groups didn’t seem that energised by the whole thing – not sure if they were expecting us to look more at Wikipedia (that was the lecture focus).  But as this was only the example of a really successful peer collaboration we didn’t really dig into it too much more.  Reworked the seminar a little for the other classes to see if that helped and it did a little bit, although still a fair amount of heavy lifting.  I’d be fascinated to find out how much the module deviates from what the students expected it to be, I guess since I’ve taught the whole thing before I can see how the whole thing hangs together logically…but I do wonder if some of the topics and seminars seem a bit left-field to them.  Ah well, at least I got one group chatting somewhat animatedly about how to replace a competitive neoliberal capitalist political economy with something embracing more collaboration in its ideological framework.
      • Speaking of which How many of these people have you met in your seminar? I think I can recognise some of these archetypes in my audiences…  Thank you The Tab!
    • Marking
      • Finally ploughed through the 40+ essays I had to mark.  Tried not to bitch (too much) about not really getting paid to do this, while focusing on making sure I gave each student who’d submitted some useful guidance and feedback.  On the whole the standard wasn’t bad at all, which was heartening.  Hopefully if they take account of my comments their actual assessed work will be nothing short of magnificent.  As I’ve told them a few times, I’d love nothing more than to hand out handfuls of 1sts!  We’ll see what the reality is over Easter!  Started uploading all the marked essays on Friday…only to discover I’d missed a couple.  Gah, bloody useless VLE – the backend is so clunky to use.  Then again as a student the front end is pretty poor too.  Still, guess it’s better than having to physically collect the essays (like the module leader seems keen on) and mark them by hand.  Online FTW really from my perspective.
  • Chapter writing
    • Two steps forwards, 1 step back.  It’s been the main focus on the week…and has edged closer…and closer to being done.
  • Conference proposal
    • Battled with the online system to submit my other (more academic) conference proposal for an hour or so.  Finally got it done, and now won’t hear anything until late March.  Suspect it’ll be one of three responses a) Accepted, no comments b) Rejected, no comments c) Told to rewrite for acceptance.  My gut feeling is probably b or c.  Frankly my confidence in myself and my scholarship is really at an all time low right now.  *sigh*
  • Online speaking
    • Been asked if I’ll do a short slot in a couple of weeks for some academics over Skype.  Exciting, but waiting to hear a few more details.  Hope they’re happy with some off the cuff speaking as I don’t quite know where I’ll slot in any preparation time – I must….must…must focus on the chapter to the exclusion pretty much of everything else right now.  Although I’m going to have to draft my UKSG talk in the very near future too.
  • Frustrations
    • Oh nothing new here, other than stressing about ever finishing the chapter, stressing that my work isn’t good enough, depressed over the utter isolation I’m living through as part of the PhD experience.  Not seen or spoken to a fellow PhD in months now, which can’t be healthy.  Thank Grud I’ve my undergraduate students to at least inject a little bit of humanity back into my weekday routine.

And finally…I think I’m feeling more like the post-doc here…kudos to whomever created this…although I’ve not got a source to cite!

Academic minions

Writing is Rewriting Writing that’s been Rewritten

No prizes for guessing what I’ve been spending the bulk of this week working on.

  • Conference proposals
    • Spent Monday writing the two conference proposals that are deadlined for submission at the end of this month.  One’s an extended abstract of ~2,000 words based on my research, or as I prefer to think of it – a bloody paper already – so that took the bulk of the time.  The other one is a brief 500 word communications workshop proposal, which took slightly less time to write – but more time than I expected to polish in terms of the phraseology. As you might expect, if I’m writing about communication…I really ought to be able to communicate that better.  Biggest problem was running out of synonymous terms for communication.  Twitter was a minor help…but still ended up rephrasing a paragraph just to work around the problem.  As always, writing is re writing.  Also Mrs Llama has been lovely here giving a bit of feedback in bright-red pen (we disagree on nuances of phraseology and style a lot, but she’s hotter on grammatical structure than I am).
  • Thesis chapter writing
    • Into the home run now – working on the brief specific applications of theory for Marx, Foucault and the autonomists.  Just the methods to briefly rewrite (they’re largely okay as they are) and I can share it with my supervisors.  I’d be lying though if I wasn’t lying awake every night worrying about ever finishing whole thing though.  Or how much of a re-write this 3rd version will need after the supervisors are through with it.  Stressed?  Yes.
  • Book chapter proposal
    • Did a minor edit on this, shared it with Andreas and got told to send it off to the publishers for consideration.  And now we play the waiting game.
  • Teaching
    • Media Communications
      • Into the first of two weeks looking at Freud, psychoanalytics and their application in PR, marketing and business.  Bit of a laugh in the lecture when the academic did a double take when i walked into the room saying “What are you doing here?”.  Always nice to be warmly welcomed, but then Neil has taught me philosophy in the past – and sat through one of my conference papers.  Having explained I was lurking cos I teach on the module I sat back and enjoyed an exploration of the psychoanalytic properties of objects.  Hence the seminar that followed later in the day tried to draw out the shared cultural myths behind everyday objects – with the idea that the students could then see how we can use unconscious desires to drive advertising in subtle ways.  And given they’ve an assessed presentation on the subject coming up, I do hope they were listening.  Also took the chance to reference my good chum and Creative Overlord of Moxie Creative (free plug, they’re great) Nora, who I know reads this blog every now and again.  And by referenced I of course mean “spoke highly of”.
    • Face to Face to Facebook
      • Probably the dullest seminar session this week on digital literacy.  When I look at the approach taken to teach this, versus the effort I used to go through back in the day at York Uni for my teaching sessions…well it’s a lot less labour intensive.  Not sure the students quite get it, and frankly I think I’d overhaul the whole session given half a chance.  As it was I took the original handout the lecturer this week had written and rewrote.  And after running the session on Thursday for the first time, rewrote it again in time for Friday’s sessions.  It’s still not the greatest bit of training literature…but now at least there’s more of a logical path through it for the students to take during the session (and in their own time) that should reap them some rewards.
      • Nevertheless I took advantage of the time with the students to talk about their assignments and the course in general, turning it into a general problem solving and reassurance session(s) instead.  Fair amount of exploration of academia.edu and social media, not a lot into the social bookmarking etc.  But at least they’re aware these tools exist and some of them might well take advantage of them.  Funniest thing was one of the students deciding to give one of my supervisor’s papers on academia.edu repeated hits…taking it from a handful to over 1,000.  Not sure it was the most productive use of his time, but I used it to illustrate the falsehood of relying only on quantitative metrics for assessing research quality!
      • On the other hand the discussions around their forthcoming essays (which I’ll be mostly marking over the Easter break…joy) were productive.  A few have it well in hand, and hopefully I gave those that were less sure a few pointers.  Huzzah.
  • Marking
    • As I’ve taken over two more groups, just at the point they got to hand in a practice essay for formative assessment, this means I’ve taken on a load more marking.  I’ve been knocking off at least 3 every night this week in terms of indicative grading and feedback, rather than face the horror of a whole day (or more) lost to marking them.  Not getting paid for all this marking is a bloody cheek, when it’s supposed to be part of the hourly rate.  But I’d not taught these students when they submitted these – so it’s easy to see how the university is exploiting my immaterial labour here.  Anyway the essays are for the most part not bad, although one or two of them as always are a bit sub-optimal.  Hopefully those students’ll take my suggestions for improvements on-board for their assessed essays due in a few months.  It’s far more pleasant to be struggling to work out which high-grade to give a paper, than to sit there agonising over whether to fail or just give a very low grade to a poor one.
    • And yes, part of me does wonder if this is a bit of hand-holding for them to massage their experiences of the course, rather than offering say 1-2-1 tutorials instead.  But then my poor students would have to do this in a lobby somewhere with me.  Not having an office space…yeah, that’s going to be the biggest issue I’ve had with the NTU experience as a student, and as a member of staff – even more so.
    • Still it’s been heartening to read some polished essays that are frankly better than anything I can turn out today, and to spot other’s making common errors that I still make too.  Marking these things really helps remind me of my own failings as a writer, and spurs me to try…really try…to avoid making them again.  But I suspect I will, all the same.
  • Reading
    • I’ve not been doing a lot of deep reading this week – but these two articles certainly struck a chord:
  • Opportunity
    • As they do, an interesting opportunity for later this year has floated into sight this week, via Mrs Llama – which is somewhat surprising.  Not sure if it’ll be suitable or workout, but I’ll be investigating this weekend…

Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Spin

So it’s been a few weeks since my last post – kinda keep meaning to get around to blogging and then having life (funerals, house renovations, mouse hunting etc) getting in the way. So here’s a speed through some of things I’ve been up to.

  • Thesis Theory Chapter
    • Still writing it.  Beginning to think I might be done with it this week with a good tail wind.  Of course this is the moment my supervisor is “super busy” of course so this’ll doubtless mean some delays once I submit it for review.  It is a lot better than previously and I can now talk about Foucault, Marx, Gramsci and the autonomists with a lot more ease.   So my education is benefiting.
  • QAA Review
    • Was approached (volunteered) to be a student mouth-piece for NTU’s QAA Higher Education Review panel for post-graduate researchers.  An interesting experience all round, and despite Mrs Llama’s skepticism over it as a good use of my time I’ve enjoyed being able to get my oar in.  As with all these sort of things at NTU it seemed some elements were happening a bit under a just in time approach to management – in that the first I heard about being involved was the Wednesday prior to the Tuesday evaluation via email.  That I’d been volunteered by my supervisor(s) or the university was interesting, I suspect it’s my role as former student rep that saw my name popping out of the hat a likely willing voice…but I never did find out just who it was whom put me forward.  Ah well, I can’t do research about activism and higher education without showing a willingness to be involved in shaping the sector when the opportunity arises now can I?  Interesting experience, although the one thing I took away is that the provision of support, facilities and resources for PGRs at NTU varies massively- I think AAH folks on on the poorer side of the dividing line too.  However, I seemed to be doing more academic work in terms of teaching and assessment than most, so there you go.  At least I got a chance to voice how awful the research training module had been…
  • Teaching
    • As of last week I’ve taken on two more classes for my digital/human communications module seminars – both of which seem fuller of students than my regular one.  Just keeping the one class for the media communications sessions though.  Nice to run the seminars more than once, as what doesn’t work with some groups of students works really well with others.  of course this does mean I’ve just taken on more marking commitments…sigh…wish the uni paid me for that time!  Speaking of which spent two days marking the student’s profile essays, which were a good read on the whole – they’d all pretty much grasped the ideas behind the assessment which was great.  Wonder how they’ll do in the oral presentation they’ve got coming up next?
  • Book chapter
    • Working on a propopals for a book chapter with my supervisory around issues of IPR and (c) in a post-physical/digital age.  Not sure we’ll get it accepted by the editors but worth a try.  Could always reuse it elsewhere.
  • Conference proposals
    • In the middle of writing two of these for conferences this summer.  Not 100% sure either will get in, but it’s worth a try I think.  One’s about general communications effectiveness and the other’s more about my research; which is the harder one to write – as in just picking one area to write about it a challenge!
  • Leicester Media Seminar
    • Went over to the University of Leicester to attend one of their research seminars about authentic ethnography and the Occupy Wall Street protests.  Very interesting session, although the Q&A did rather drag on.  Why do some people insist in asking questions that are in effect 5 minute statements about “How brilliant my research is”?  Doesn’t make for a lively back and forth frankly.  But worth my time, and hopefully I might see if any of their future sessions are worth attending.
  • Careers and employment
    • Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this a bit and trying to set a timetable of when I need to start really job hunting.  Pretty sure I can’t rely on something falling into my lap, but also pretty sure that I need to make sure I only take on something that allows me enough time to finish writing the thesis.  Balancing the need for income with the need to work, fun fun fun.  However, will continue my whispering campaign to get NTU to keep paying me to lecture at least!  Mrs Llama sent me the following “helpful” cartoon.  Thanks dear…
Post Doc Descent cartoon
Post Doc Descent