Are we there yet? Looking back during phase II field work

Interviewing.  Transcribing.  Planning for interviews. Negotiating interview appointments.  That’s about it.  But how am I doing?

Phase II research interviews to date:

  • Activists: 33% [+100% pending]
  • Learned societies: 40% [+50% pending]
  • Publishers: 70% [+30% pending]
  • Funders: 67% [+83% pending]
  • Academics 55% [+25% pending]

That’s since 2nd July when I sent out my original requests to interview.  Pretty good response from the academic and publishing community, and with some gentle prompting the rest have been pretty good too.  Pretty sure I’ve had my longest and shortest interview for this phase already…but I remain to be surprised.

Time to start picking my wave II academics I think.  Also…still trying to work out which is any governmental doors to knock on, as I really don’t expect to have much success in getting people on the phone there!  Also, think I might need to approach another half dozen learned societies from my list just to round out my figures.

Research Interviewing: Tips and Insights

For the past couple of weeks my professional life has been pretty much filled with three things: arranging, conducting and transcribing interviews.  It’s been two years since my last round of semi-structured research interviews, and it’s been interesting in how my approach this time has benefited from my prior experiences.  So I thought I’d share some of these experiences on conducting effective and pain-free research interviewing.

Preparation

Proper preparation & planning prevents piss poor performance

  • What do I want? Before starting to recruit for my interviews going back over my research plan, and refreshing in my mind just what I wanted to find out.  Only then did I start to craft my interview questions.
  • Script-writing: Yes I work from a script.  No, I don’t use exactly the same words each time.  Yes, it is no more than one page of A4 (so it can sit on my document reader stand during the interview).  I use a lot of emboldening to pick out the key headings, so my eye can jump to them easily in the heat of the interview itself.
  • It’s not 20 questions: One thing my previous batch of interviews taught me is you can get a lot of information with just a few, well crafted questions.  In fact, with too many questions you may find that the interviews run on and on and on…  Last time I think I asked too many. This time, I’m focused down to just 4.
  • Lead them in: My interview scripts have leading statements that frame/contextualise what I’m about to ask.  This helps make it clear what I’m talking about and interested in, rather than just leaping in with question, question, question.  I want my interviewees to open up to me – not feel like they’re on the other end of an interrogation.
  • Follow ups matter: For every question I ask, I have at least one follow up question to dig a bit deeper, or to help to prompt an interviewee who is less than chatty.

Recruitment

I choose you Pikachu!

  • Justify your sample: I know at some point down the line I’ll need to justify WHY I chose a particular set of potential-respondents to approach.  Some (major UK research funders) may be a small enough group that approaching them all is ok.  Others (any UK academic) is such a broad a varied group, that taking great pains to write notes to myself explaining my rationale for selection will make writing this up later easier.
  • First contact: I agonise over the recruitment emails I send out.  I keep them short and to the point (since I have to assume my potential candidates will be busy and not bother to read that much.  text).  Tell ’em who I am. Tell ’em what I want.  Tell ’em how much time it’ll take up (not much is a good idea).  And keep the tone professional, positive, and engaging.  I expect at best a 50% response rate from each sample group.  Less than 25% and I’ll need to revise my approach.  More than 50% and I’ll be delighted.  For my phase 1 interviews in 2013 I scored a 67% response rate…which was stunning!
  • Responding: I also find it’s good to have a longer email pre-written going into more detail about what I’m doing and what I’m looking for from my candidates is essential.  It saves time as I can just copy and paste it into responses, and then modify.  Easier than having to write everything out by hand.  It’s also the point where I explain about important ethical considerations like recording and anonymisation options.
  • Record keeping: I’ve a spreadsheet with everyone I’ve contacted with key information including: when they were contacted, any response, email and phone details.  And then I colour code it I can tell in a glance how my various groups of potential recruits are going.  Also, were there are follow ups to do (I get some who say “I’m busy now, but please contact me in three weeks”) I make them stand out with red-text action points.
  • Overbooking: For interviews that might last an 15-20 minutes, I clear a full hour in my schedule.  From past experience some interviewees will run long – and rather than cutting short a valuable exchange, I want to make sure that I’m not going to be checking my watch every few minutes.
  • Review and reminders: Keep checking your records every (working) day to see how your recruitment is going.  I have a two-three week schedule to send out reminder emails to those from whom I’ve heard nothing, or who promised to reply but haven’t.  If I hear nothing from them, then on to my second wave…
  • Sample waves: For the groups where I’ve got a lot of potential candidates, I’ve ascribed waves of contact.  So I’ll approach and then later remind them.  But if I’m still short of candidates for a sample group, then it’s onto the 2nd wave, and perhaps even a 3rd wave.
  • Targets: One mistake I made in my first round of interviews is I never really had a cut off point, I was ready to talk to any one who responded to my recruitment emails.  This meant I didn’t have a clear exit strategy.  This time I’ve agreed with my supervisors the min/max numbers of my sample – so I know when I hit them…I can be ready to close down that part of the research.  Although, if one or two extras pop up, I’d probably include them in the sample…but no more, my time is finite.

Conducting and Capturing

Tell me of your homeworld, Usul

  • Practice, practice, practice: I rehearse asking my questions in the few minutes before each interview. Just to make sure I’m going to make sense. It helps with my diction, it also helps make sure I don’tjustspeaksofastthatIgabble, which can be a bit of a problem for me.
  • Active listening: 5 minutes before each interview I give myself a moment of quiet.  I run through the questions as above.  I double check the interviewee’s contact details and web page, just to get a mental image in my head.  And I prepare to listen, as for an interview to feel like a conversation I need to be ready to react, amplify or reflect on what the speaker is saying during the talk.  Which means I need to make sure I’m not distracted by anything else…not even the postman! You can read more about my thoughts on active listening here.
  • Recording: Recording interviews for me is key as I need the accurate words spoken for my analysis.  For me a combination of Skype and MP3Skype Recorder work for me 80% of the time.  For face to face interviews, I’ve a very good quality MP3 recorder.  I could use my phone, but I find the stereo recording facilities of my recorder help when listening for transcriptions – I can mute my own channel a bit to make sure I can hear my interviewee better.  For the odd call I have to do on the mobile I’ve tried using my portable MP3 player with the phone in hands free mode (okayish sound quality) or ACR Call Recorder (better quality).  While the sound quality can be more variable than my Skype recording, if it’s the only way to speak to an interviewee, it’s a handy back up.
  • Best Speaking Voice: Since I speak with a rather affected received English accent (for reasons that I still don’t understand), thus I don’t generally have a problem with making myself understood.  I do however, try and keep an ear on clearly enunciating…but without sounding like I’m cold and distant.
  • Tonal Warmth: My interviews should feel, for the interviewees, as close to conversations as possible.  It puts them at their ease, and means they are more likely to reveal perceptions, observations or attitudes that they might otherwise shroud from me.  I need to put them at their ease, and keep them engaged throughout.  And yes, I spend the entire interview smiling, because it really projects positive emoitional reinforcement into my voice too.
  • Dress for Success: I have never conducted an interview in my pajamas, okay.  Why?  Well because you never know when an interview over Skype might flick on your webcam (it’s happened to me).  So I dress, just like I would if I was meeting the interviewee in person.  Helps also shift me into a professional mode of thinking I find too.
  • Make a Note of It: I have a dedicated note book for my interviews in which I write (at the start of the day) the time and names of all the interviews that day.  Just in case email goes down and I can’t check my schedule (happened once this week already!).  While I’m listening, I write down key words, underlining those points I perhaps want to ask the speaker to develop more.  It’s also part of my back up regime, just in case my audio recording doesn’t work – or if a speaker says something vital and the audio clarity chooses that moment to drop out.
  • Jesus Saves: I back up both the audio and the transcripts off site.  Why?  Cos I don’t want to lose them!  They’re precious data artifacts that I’m not going to get back.  Currently using Google Drive, although there’s a future post about me trying to find out where I can store them on my institution’s file space.

Transcribing

It’s only words and words are all I have…

  • Software: I did try transcribing just using audio playback on Windows Media player and VLC, using my keyboard controls for media.  Doesn’t work that well as you don’t really have the level of fine control to zip forward, and far more often…go back three seconds to hear something again.  I’ve been using Express Scribe since my phase 1 interviews and it is pretty good, and thankfully not too expensive to buy.  Plus it works with a foot-pedal…
  • Pedal to the Metal: I might feel at times like an audio-stenographer, but I found that using a food-pedal to play/rewind my audio files at least tripled the speed at which I can transcribe.  I use the Infinity USB foot pedal, and it’s a great little device.  Easy to set up and configure, and works happily with Express Scribe.
  • Headphones: Even with good speakers, it’s better to cut out the surrounding noise (and avoid driving any one else in your house/office up the wall) and listen to the playback on a good set of noise-cancelling headphones.  While I have in-ear ones, I much prefer for long periods of time the comfort and audio clarity of my Hyper X Cloud headset.  They’re also brilliant as a headset for conducting the interviews in the first place.
  • KISS Notation: As in Keep It Simple Stupid!  I’m not doing conversation analysis so I keep my text pretty clear of any notation – beyond the odd emphasis (underlined) from the speaker, or paralanguage interjections ([laughs], [pause], or [deep sigh]).  Makes it faster to type, and easy to read for analysis too.

There you have it, my thoughts on conducting effective research interviews.  I’d love to hear from any other PhD researchers out there who conduct interviews and the tips you might have!  Please comment away…

Pressing the Big Red Button

big_red_smallField Work

That’s right, after a few weeks in preparation I’ve finally pushed the big red button marked “Contact people and ask for interviews“.  Not the academics yet, as I live in hope that a few more of my OA former comrades might reply to my emails.  Surprisingly few of them have, although those that have done have been some warmly generous and encouraging that I’ve found myself once again deeply regretting stepping away from that world to go into research.

But I’ve been approaching publishers, learned societies and funders with a measure of some success.  I’ve been quite surprised that over a dozen have come back to me within 24hrs of me sending out the emails.  Hopefully a few more will respond next week, but I have to say I’ve been delighted by those who’ve contacted me so far.  Fingers cross that my interviews do them justice.

Spent at least two days this week thought writing, and rewriting my interview questions and approach emails.  A surprisingly tough bit of work for what looks like very little output.

Interviewing

Conducted my first phase II interview today, with one of my “activist icons” (as my notes call them).  Wow, just wow.  A wonderfully rich interview with some very generous people (in terms of time and what they shared).  Almost felt like I wanted to stop there and run off and just analyse this interview as it was THAT good.  But I do need some context, so I guess I’ll press on.  A very positive start there.

Amused once again by generating a 46Mb recording of the session…and then remembering that the university only gives us 20Mb of storage space.  20Mb.  In 2015.  When I carry an 8Gb and a 16Gb memory sticks with me at all times.  I just want somewhere to back data up that doesn’t dump it in the hands of some sort of capitalist organisation…but since I don’t really have any option, I guess I’ll have to back it up on GDrive.  *sigh*

FIL Conference2015-06-29 11.16.55

A roastingly hot Manchester Monday started the week, in a thankfully cool hotel.  I was attending the Interlend 2015 conference as I’d promised the previous year to come along and run a communication workshop, and was double booked for another conference.  Thus this year I made sure to offer it again.  While it ended up being less a workshop and more a talk (no parallel sessions) I think it went down okay.  There were a few laughs, a few nods and more than one person came up afterwards to say how useful they’d found it.  There’s a half written post about the feedback and reflections from the delegates of that session that I’ll finish off shortly.  You can read my paper below (although without my hand-waving and dramatics, you’re missing out a bit)

I assume those who hated it kept any negative body language very subtle after I revealed how much time I spend observing people and reading their NVC cues.  *grins*  One of my old staff from a previous job was present, but somehow managed to ever avoid catching my eye…despite my best efforts to say hello.  Never mind, she was probably lost in deep conversation with the other interlenders there.

Surprisingly, given ILL isn’t my field any more, it was a really enjoyable day out – and a tip of my hat to the organisers.  I did come away at the end of the day re-writing the final workshop in my head a bit…but that’s just me.  Even enjoyed the tour around the refurbished Manchester Public Library.  Like Birmingham only more intimate and less of a white elephant methinks.  Also has lovely a/c in its vault where I could have spent the day hiding from the heat outside.

Bit of a monumental conference for me as it marks the last one I’m supposed to attend before submitting my PhD, at least according to my internal assessor.  Makes me sad, but I guess I really do have to focus.  Of course were I to be approached to go speaking somewhere…well that’s a different matter altogether…

Arthur C Clarkes Mysterious World of Spreadsheets

Actor Interviews

Those expecting to find a wonderous discussion about the famous writer’s insights into MS Excel will be tragically disappointed.  However, this week my research has been pretty tied to using them to collate lists of interviewees.  I didn’t quite think it’d take this long* but at least I’m at a point where next week I can kick off with sending out my first wave of interview requests.

I have been not quite inundated with responses from my original mailshot, but I have begun to build a reasonably long list from which to start writing to academics.  If you’re one of the people I’ve written to and haven’t responded to me yet, please do – I could really do with a few more suggestions!  But to all those who sent me loads of suggestions, a tip of my hat a mighty llama salute to you all.

Perhaps more importantly I’ve had very positive responses to my out reaches to 3 out of my 5 prospective lengthy activist interviews.  So positive that I think I’m meeting with the first lot next week (so I’ll be writing all my questions on Tuesday!).  Half expected not hear anything for weeks on these so it’ll be interesting to see what I get out of them.

Interlend 2015

The rest of the week was spent writing, re-writing, practicing, shortening, and then re-working my talk for next week’s Forum for Interlending conference in sunny Manchester.  It’s about communications, and technically it’s the last conference my internal assessor really wants me to go to.  Although I guess if I get an invite somewhere, it’d be churlish to turn it down – since I looove speaking to audiences.  The session had to be rejigged a bit from my original idea as I had planned it as a workshop, and the conference has put it on as a plenary talk.  Gah.  Less interactive and more speaky by a long chalk than I’d have liked, but I reckon there’s scope for about a 3hr workshop to be run on the back of the framework I’ve written.  Available for hire for all your staff training needs ;)

Oh go on then, here’s a bit of old Arthur…

*This being the motto I suspect of any PhD student’s experinces

Interviewing Academics about Publication Practice

I’ve finally reached that point in my research where I’m permitted to go and perform some more field work. #happydance It’s been a long time coming, while I’ve been wading through theory I thought I’d never get there – but I have.  So I’ve been reaching out to all the people I interviewed a year or two back to see if they’ve got any suggestions as to good local candidates who might talk to me.  Surprisingly quite a few of these folks have moved on/upwards which is nice, although it did mean that my in-box was shotgunned with auto-replies from dead email address when I sent the email out.  However, more than a few of my contacts have come back to me and graciously offered some suggestions.  Once I’ve got a good selection, it’s just up to me then to start knowing on some (electronic) doors.

In case any wandering academic passes this way I thought I’d spell out what I’m looking for in terms of potential interviews.  Two groups of people really.

Who am I looking for?

To contextualise the original scoping OA interviews I did a year or so back, it is necessary to revisit and explore further some of the issues with academics and other scholarly communication actors.  As before, I’ll be using a semi-structured interview format to allow for naturalistic and organic exploration of opinions and insights.  Additionally, a measure of case study work with selected activists would broaden the exploration of the OA publishing discourse.  Interview targets would likely include actors including academics, publishers, learned societies, funders and official bodies.

Chatting about publication practice

Firstly UK based academics to talk about their research publication practice (open, closed, traditional/legacy, experimental etc).  Knowledge of open access, isn’t a prerequisite; just a viewpoint about research publication from their own experience.  I’m especially keen to talk to those who might not have any strong opinions about recent developments in scholarly communication, but that’s not crucial.  From the list I’ve been supplied so far, there’s a lot of people noted as pro-OA, but I don’t want to bias the sample with just talking to them.  Hence, it’ll be a carefully selected group I’ll approach, since I’m only aiming to interview around 20 or so candidates.

Hence, if you’re a research academic and can spare me 10-15 minutes on the phone sometime in the next couple of months – drop me a line (gareth.johnson2012 [at] my.ntu.ac.uk), a tweet (@llordllama) or a comment below and I’ll be in touch.

Who else am I looking for?

On top of the academics I’m in the process of making approaches to some of the other actors in the scholarly communication field.  I anticipate these will be harder to obtain interviews with, simply because I don’t know people working these areas that well so rather than being able to go via a managed introduction with local staff, I’ll be using email shots to try and garner a few of these.  I’ve a target list of contacts I’ll be working through in the next few days, so wish me luck!  If anyone has any suggested contacts here, I’d be more than happy to hear them.

Anyone else?

Yes, I’ve a short list of a few publication icons (my term, not their’s) I’m approaching for slightly longer interviews.  I anticipate these might be tricky to pin down, but will hopefully manage to engage with 2 or 3 of these.  They’re mostly people I’ve identified from past experience, the literature and the discourse around OA.  It’s going to be an uneven set, but I anticipate they’ll be able to contribute a variety of fascinating context to my work.

It Means Nothing To Me

Dienstag 2nd

My trip to the Austria conference didn’t start out that well with the cancellation of the local train from Sileby to Leicester.  Great.  Thankfully Mrs Llama stepped up and gave me a lift into Leicester, from where the journey on to London went fairly well.  Made the mistake of hopping on the uber-expensive, if uber-shiny, Heathrow Express without the right ticket so ended up paying full whack for the rapid journey.  I’ll know that for another time!  Checked in at the airport, and hung around for the best part of three hours while I waited for my Austrian airlines flight.  I don’t like flying much, and haven’t flown in around 6-7 years, so wasn’t looking forward to this bit.  As it was the flight was pretty straight-forward and landed well ahead of schedule.  Enjoyed the mid-flight snack choice of salt or sweet too.  Within 15 minutes of landing though I’d reclaimed by bags, passed through immigration control and was waiting for the CAT (city airport train) to the heart of Vienna.  This double-decker train was like the Heathrow Express…only sleeker, more comfortable and a lot cheaper.  Also, the ticket collector was…very easy on the eyes too.
2015-06-02 18.55.44
After that it was a case of navigating the Vienna U-Bahn to Keplerplatz and walking the 15 minutes to my hotel.  As it would turn out, I should have gotten off a stop earlier…but that was something I wouldn’t discover until tomorrow.  The hotel (Schani Wien) was…well, let’s make no bones about it, in the middle of a major construction area.  Inside thought it was nice and modern, clean and above all cool.    Vienna being already somewhere around 28C even in the early evening.  Sadly my room seemed to lack pillows or sheets (which the hotel fell over themselves to fix, wonderful staff) and any tea making facilities (not a hotel feature sadly).  At least the hotel staff were…also easy on the eye, and I began to formulate an idea that all Austria’s service sector was populated entirely by lovely ladies.  Better not tell Mrs Llama that bit ;)  Too shattered to search for dinner, and with no shops seemingly near by I slumped in front of the TV and fell asleep fairly early.
2015-06-02 19.55.15

Mittwoch 3rd

After being awake long before 6am (and the start of building work) I breakfasted, showered and headed out to walk into Vienna, to explore.  The road I’d chosen seemed to be filled with embassies and people zipping past on (non-motorised) scooters.  I decided I’d like a scooter and kept my eyes open for a shop selling them.  I also visited the Liberation Monument, which looked like something that would be happier in the middle of Moscow.  Got asked for directions (in English) by another set of visitors – this seems to be a regular thing for me when I travel anywhere, I must look like I know what I’m doing.  However, by late morning, lightly broiled in sun despite my hat I found my way to the Technische Universität Wien where the pre-conference day was being held.  And there I queued for 20 minutes in a boiling corridor, before discovering the joys of the air conditioned lecture theater.
2015-06-03 09.27.05
Being an international conference it’s safe to say I knew no one here, and was pretty much invisible and anonymous.  I’ll write up the conference itself elsewhere, although the professor who asked a question at the end of the keynote…by presenting 3 confusing slides himself has to be mentioned as the standout weird moment of the day.  No lunch seemed to be in appearance (odd) so I assumed it was due tot he conference starting at noon and going through to 7.30pm.  I actually skipped out the Evangelical Church arranged debate on Holy War at 6pm to walk home via a different back street route, admiring the rather artistic graffiti in the deeply soporific heat.
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Back in the hotel I was pleased to shower, change and crash out for a bit before getting a text from my supervisor to let me know he’d arrived.  I’d rather hoped we might go somewhere for dinner, but instead he wanted to go to the conference reception – so I hoped on the U-Bahn and went to see what that was like.  Food (of a kind) was served, although there’s only so much black bread with different varieties of cream cheese I can eat.  Amused my supervisor by an in depth discussion of Eurovision (he was surprised I wasn’t gay or a woman, as he assumed this is the normal fan demographic) and met one rather intense US academic.  The reception rather fell apart around 9.30pm, and seeing no hope of dinner I hoped on the U-Bahn…and promptly walked 20 minutes in the wrong direction when I got out.  My hotel was actually only 5 minutes walk from the Hauptbahnhof stop…but it was gone 11pm when I got in for a dinner of a packet of nuts and few rice cakes I’d bought earlier.  To say I was getting a bit peckish after two days without a decent meal, would be an under statement.
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Donnorstag 4th

Made full use of the breakfast at the hotel as I enjoyed a 3 course breakfast (fruit, continental meats/breads/cheeses, and cake to follow) and more importantly worked out where the tea was.  I should highlight that the bread here was especially varied and simply incredible, and I say that as someone who bakes a lot himself.  As the 9am conference session wasn’t really my area I hoped on the U-Bahn to the Landstraße stop, which is where the CAT departs from.  Having observed the station included a check-in for the airlines, I set off to walk back across the city starting off in Stadtpark.
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Having observed many statues, ducks and Asian tourists I wandered into the old city to discover a number of crucial things.  Firstly…it was very quiet on the approaching streets and many shops were shut.  Secondly, there are fountains or statues on nearly every corner of Vienna.  And thirdly…there appeared to be a long parade of priests, soldiers, people in historic costumes or their Sunday best.  Then I remembered that the conference had mentioned that there was a bank/public holiday over the conference…which rather curtailed a lot of my shopping plans.  I later discovered that this was an Ascension Day parade/holiday.  Got asked for directions again.
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After this unexpected encounter I headed off the conference where my stream was kicking off.  A good day capped with an excellent session on open education, and finally having a normal conversation with a French student based at Glasgow.  No lunch again, which seemed to be a recurring feature of the conference.  Additionally, had rather hoped that my supervisor might take me out for dinner somewhere, but he had disappeared at the end of the day…and after handing around for 15 minutes decided I may as well go home.  I made the rather delightful discovery that the Hauptbahnhof station complex included a food court (on top of the Spar shop I’d been relying on for snacks and drinks).  And in my best halting German and liberal English managed to secure a rather tasty Pad Thai for dinner, which I smuggled back in the hotel.  They were probably fine with it, but I didn’t want to make it too obvious!  The food was…delicious beyond compare (but then, I would have eaten one of the horse statues I’d seen earlier in the day by now).
 2015-06-04 19.56.17
Supervisor texted me around 9.30pm to ask where I was, and when I informed him my hotel…only silence returned.  I’d rather hoped he might have invited me back into town to meet up, but no.  So a good book and Netflixs it was again.

Freitag 5th

Now an accomplished visitor I rose late, breakfasted well (assuming the no-lunch trope) would reoccur today.  Spent the first few hours wandering around the Belvedere Schloss and gardens.  Many, many statues – and refreshingly not muted by Victorian puritanism like they would be in the UK (to wit, boobs and bums a plenty).  The temperature today was a chilly 27C (rather than 30 of the day before) so I wasn’t melting as much as normal, although reaching the conference to cool down wasn’t such a bad thing.  Interesting papers although again no lunch appeared (bar a few slices of dry bread/cake) so I went exploring in another direction over lunch – and got asked for directions for the third time!
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Once again my supervisor didn’t seem inclined to arrange a dinner trip (his ability to disappear when I was looking/waiting for him borders on superhuman), so I went back to the food court and ordered a chicken curry and pakora selection.  Nice, although not as good as the Thai (and they did rather…erm…go through me a bit).  Around 8pm I got a notification of a Whatsapp voice message from my supervisor, and for a moment thought “Damn, he wants to meet for dinner…and I’ve already eaten”.  But no, he’d rung me instead of his Wife saying he was “Just going out”.  So much for him being my guide to the night life of Vienna!  And as he flies back tomorrow that’s my last chance.  Bit po’ed by it to be honest.
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Samstag 6th

Body clock seems to be set to -1GMT for some reason I know not, so awake at 5am again.  Possibly due to last night’s Indian not really agreeing with me too much.  Breakfasted and then skipped the opening session of the day to run through my talk a few times.  Seems to run okay, although I remain borderline terrified of being mauled in the questions.  Outside it was a Siberian 30C and cloudless, but decided I really ought to make an effort to dress a little more smart-casual, so put on a collared dark-blue shirt and light cotton trousers.  With the ever present sandals (which by now had begun to wear huge painful blisters on my big toes).  As there wasn’t a conference session of interest until 2pm I went walking via U-Bahn jaunt to Friedensbruke on the north of the city centre, as it was an area I’d not been to yet.  Then took a long slow walk back to the centre of Wein.  Along the way went through another park, nicely cut into groves and fields and decorated with two Brobdingnagian ancient German flak towers (Gefechtsturm Augarten) and a few Shaolin monks.
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The conference wore on, and my nerves were not helped by three academics having what can be best described as a Marxist willy waggling session that went on far too long.  Didn’t help my nerves, but in the end my paper went well – helped by meeting and chatting to a few other presenters just beforehand.  Despite my plan to attend I blew off the final papers and went to sit outside the orate Karlskirche for beer with the delightful Greg, Tim and Rachel – making the stunning discovery that the Littlest Hobo is Canada’s proudest televisual export!  Two biers later I jumped on U-Bahn for home, pausing only to order more Mai-Tahi for tea with surprising confidence in my halting Deutsch.  For unknown reasons I fell asleep after that, although then ended up awake later in the night for hours.  Tomorrow I’m supposed to go on the conference seminar boat…but I’m beginning to feel I want to end my conference on a high and have last relaxing day in Vienna to myself.

Oh, no lunch again and no one asked me for directions.  Finally.
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Sonntag 7th

In the end I blew off the boat trip, feeling slightly guilty that I was missing a treat – but had concluded that I was shattered from not too much sleep, and the prospect of another day of seminars and polite networking was going to be beyond me. Instead, and as is my regular Sunday custom I went for a long walk, heading towards the antenna building I had seen every day I came out oft he hotel, and then towards what looked like a very recent skyscraper.  Felt like the hottest day of the week so far, despite the appearance for the first time of a few clouds.  Found another park, various weird spires and then ended up crossed the the Danube just beyond where I would have caught the boat.  There were some massive sister ships (rather raising the thought in my mind about all those high sounding Marxists seduced into bourgeois comfort as I schlepped across the city in sandals).  Ended up at Kaisermühlen-VIC next to the recently opened tallest building in Austria that I’d been heading towards all day.  At this point I decided having been walking for almost 3 hrs (7-8miles) in my rapidly disintegrating sandals that it was time to hop of the U-Bahn for hotel and lunch (salad and falalfal).
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Having dozed the afternoon away set off around 4pm to find this big wheel that my friend Jane had been nagging me to go see, so one U-Bahn hop later I was at the Praterstern stop.  Apparently it appears in The Third Man.  Not sure I’ve seen the film, but it was impressive – and turned out to be right next to the park I walked through in the morning.  Declined a ride for reasons of cost and the ever present baking sun (“Yes, please put me in a slowly moving glass cartridge and roast me alive”) and explored the massive amusement park next to it.  Some people love amusement parks – I find they’re hellish, expensive, tawdry and above all horrifically proletarian experiences – so while it was amusing to walk around, 20 minutes of that left my senses ringing.  This might also have been due to the continued appearance of young ladies in “summery” outfits – taking  picture of the attractions without seeming to be snapping them proved…tricky so I gave up and walked the 4-5 miles across a splendidly quiet city centre home.
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Dined (salad again, with a tuna sandwich), showered and then more or less fell asleep on my bed around 7.30pm, tired out by a combination of walking, heat and conferences.  Managed to wake myself before 10pm when Mrs Llama sent me an email from Glasgow, but all she got was a very minor reply, as my brain wasn’t exactly functioning that well through a combination of physical and mental fatigue.

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Montarg 8th

Unsurprisingly I was awake early, having slept the sleep of the dead through to about 5am.  Managed to resist getting up until the builders (back from their bank holiday break) started up around 6am again.  Did the packing that I’d planned to do the previous before the arms of Morpheus claimed me, nd then fretted over packing my jumper and raincoat (having heard that Leicestershire is due to be soaked roundabout the time I arrive home).  In the end packed it to avoid carrying across the city on a day forecast to hit 31C.  Breakfasted for the last time in the hotel, vacillated over cake for one last time, and then went and relaxed in my room watching the rolling weather forecast and um-pah band channel until 9am.  The mid did try to come and clean my room as I got out of the shower but I managed to stop her coming in before she received an unexpected unveiling!

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Checkout and travel across the U-Bahn was uneventful, although I smiled as I passed through stations like Stadtpark that 7 days ago had been names but were now places in my head.  Checked in via my phone at the CAT station which seemed a damned convenient thing to do, especially as I was able to drop off my suitcase at this point rather than at the airport.  Rode the upstairs of the CAT, accompanied by a lovely Kiwi Family, who’s little girl seemed to think she was in Tokyo and had to be repeatedly corrected by her mum.  Passed through security at the airport and mooched around the shops for a bit, then rode the travelators, then sat down and updated this blog.
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The flight back was less fun than the flight out, in part because I was heading back to Grey Britain, but also because we stacked over Heathrow for ages in the clouds – which gave me no end of pressure pain in my ears (and as I discovered has slightly f*cked my inner ear balance for a few days afterwards).  But other than that my journey back to Sileby by public transport was fine.  Since Mrs Llama was on a business trip to Glasgow I walked the last mile from the station home for an evening of further peace and solitude.
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So was it worth it?  Yes for Vienna, fabulous place and people.  Probably yes for the conference, despite the rough edges to the human parts of its organisation.  Anyway, here’s my Good, Bad and Ugly of the trip.

Good

  • Vienna’s public transport system. The U-Bhan was a delight, inexpensive and effective way to get around the city. When I want walking.
  • Sitting drinking Austrian beer with new international friends and colleagues in the sun in front of a magnificent building
  • The sweet majesty of the moment I discovered the food court at my nearby station
  • Also the blessed Spar shop such fed, clothed and composed my smooth jazz throughout the visit
  • The hotel (name), especially the wonderful staff, the comfy bed resplendent breakfasts and flawless WiFi. Also having a/c was a smart move, is have melted.
  • The weather, set Lord a mercy all that sun
  • Vienna itself. Utter joy of a place to visit. Cf. Austria.
  • All the walking I got in and the sights, sites and sounds of the city
  • Meeting Justine, Wolfgang, Grey, Rachel & Tim
  • Flying Austrian Airlines. Less terrifying than Iberia
  • Giving my first international paper in nearly a decade in a new field to a room stacked with proper academics and not making a total fool of myself. Nor being savaged for my weak knowledge of Marx.
  • The expensive fun of riding the Heathrow Express

Bad

  • That I didn’t use more of my basic German than I did
  • The lack of chairs at the conference and in my room. I miss sitting
  • My supervisor largely ignoring me outside of the conference (no change there then). So much for my anticipated visits to the restaurants and beer cellars of Vienna
  • Nearly starving to death after 48hrs. Well, near enough
  • That builder and his hammer at 6am on that first morning.
  • Not realising the Heathrow Express was an (expensive) add on travel cost

Ugly

  • Flying, flight in general. Take off.  Painfully stacking over Heathrow also.
  • The almost near total lack of food at the conference and perfunctory liquid refreshments.
  • Lack of inclusive networking and feeling like an outsider for 70% of the conference
  • Me, sweating in the 30 degree heat. Wasser, wo ist mine wasser?
  • The state of my feet from all the walking (close to 25-30 miles per the week) in cheap sandals.

Lopsided Week

Well, after the bank holiday Monday and with my forthcoming conference trip I’ve ended up writing this one a Monday rather than a Friday.  This may be the single most thrilling fact encapsulated in the blog this week.  Which tells you just what level of hi-jinks* I got up to…

Conference Preparation

Wrote my talk for Austria.  Stressed over it.  Rewrote it.  Rehearsed it.  Cut it down a bit.  Then a bit more.  Then more or less got it under 15 minutes.  Wrote the outline of my talk for the Leicester media conference the following week, as once I’m back in the country I’ll only have 3 days…and I suspect I might be a bit conference-lagged (and having missed the weekend by working through it, just a bit lagged).  Think I’ll worry about writing my Manchester (end of the month) workshop once I’m back.

Most thrilling thing I’ve done is change hotels at the last minute, after I saw how hot Austria’s going to be.  Now my hotel has a/c…but is about a mile from the conference.  Ah well, a bit of walking will be good!

Annual Review

As is traditional on Wednesday I got the notification that in 15 days (Thur 11th June) the annual PhD review documents are due.  In order to do this I need to write a 2,000 word report, fill in a form…oh yes, and have a meeting with my supervisors, internal examiner, get them to write a report and then sign all the documents in triplicate (okay, perhaps not quite triplicate but close).  Thanks Graduate Office!  I did mail them to suggest the chance of getting my supervisory team all in a room at such short notice (and with myself and m y supervisor being out of the country for most of this time) was “somewhere between slim and laughable”

Apparently this amused them so much…they explained that the rules are very strict, but I might get an extension if I write to them in blood**.  So had to stop my research preparation, and write the report, plan out my next year’s activities and get my team to read it.  As it is they’re really happy with my progress, but I’m having my review meeting the day after I fly back into the country.  Not much of a lie in then.  So I’ve also written a presentation on my progress over the last year.  Sheesh.  Fingers crossed I can get this done in time!

Amusingly a survey from the AHRC landed in my in-box this week asking about the whole PGR experience…I spent quite a while filling that in, with various comments about dealing with the Central Bureaucracy!

Actor and Academic Interviews

So after writing my long document with my plan of action, my supervisors both sent it through more or less on the nod.  I’ll take that as a mark of confidence in me.  I’ll do an additional post when I’m back in the UK about whom I want to talk to (publishers, funders, academics, learned societies in short), in case any of them pass this way and are willing to talk to me briefly…

Face to Face To Facebook

In the run up to the exam I was still answering emails from concerned students on the morning of the exam!  Again, sheesh.  Hope they’ve all done well – one’s already asked me when the marks are out.  Well, put it this way – if I’m marking any (which I assume I am)…it’ll be after I’m back in the UK!

Anyway, let’s end on some light relief this time – critical analysis of TV shows first (click on image for the original site):

As a media academic, amused me no end.

 

Also, Mrs Llama alerted me to this interesting article on the BBC: Why do people waste so much time at the office?  I ended up writing her a very ranty email in reply…reproduced here for interest:

This is perfectly in line with Hardt & Neary’s construction of the “social factory”; wherein work spills beyond the workplace to subsume the entirety of existence (within a capitalist society). Thus working hours beyond your pay, work/life balance being pretty much blurred. And if we consider the “IT revolution” of the 80s would free us all to work 3 day weeks, the truth of the matter is it has actually been embraced not to free the labourer from the monotony of work, but to extract/exploit yet further productively useful labour time from them.

And yes, there’s the commuting issue…why do we all jump into a car and drive to a central point when so many jobs in the knowledge economy can be conducted away from a “factory”?

I’d argue this article is perhaps a little flawed in that it perpetuates the mythologisation of the “post-work future”. But I think what it does do at least (in a basic, dumbed down for the BBC readership kinda way) is indicate those flaws in the capitalist society where we have neoliberal government predicated on an ideology of wealth creation, while increasingly the multitude are surplus to productive (and waged) use. Little wonder we’re likely to see more movements like #Occupy I would suspect over the next decade as it becomes less an issue of the “unemployable and unskilled young” and branches out into the professional sector.

As you can see, the emails between me and the Wife are just scintillating reading…I’m sure the NSA loves them!

*The answer is, none
** I may be exaggerating.  I may not.