And by that title I mean the weather! Here’s the highlights of this week’s work towards the PhD
A day working from home again, but at least in my new “office” area. Actually, a bit of a lie as I’ve spent half the morning tucked away in my computer room as I had various online things to do. Sent off my first ILL of the year after managing to confuse myself and failing to get the online system to work over the weekend – operator error on my part sadly! Don’t tell NTU I was Chair of the Forum for Interlending until June anyone! Added the latest books and papers I’ve read to my RefWorks account. For every thing I read I’m writing a few paragraphs in summary about the item, the things that strike me and key themes. Backed up of course in my spidery handwriting in my master PhD logbook. I’ve a smaller note book that accompanies me most places where I scribble down ideas and action points, the latter of which get transferred and prioritized to Remember the Milk the following day.
I’ve also made a start on a glossary which may or may not become part of the very first written element of the thesis itself. Mostly though it’s for those words like valorisation, subaltern and neoliberalism that are largely new to me. They might be useful for the eventual audience of the thesis or they might not, but right now they’re a handy reflective tool for me to make sure I’ve got some of these key terms encapsulated in my brain. I’ve also created a brief list of TLAs for the same reason. Also went back over my list of things to read and reviewed where I am in getting through them. Think it’ll be time in the next week to get back together again with my supervisors and chat about the various ideas I’ve head in relation to what I’ve read to date, and whether I need to be focussing my reading a bit more now. For the meantime though, I’ve a shorter book to crack into for the rest of the day and I might read something a bit lighter on social media tomorrow (there are overlaps in terms of communications that I’m interested).
Also was reminded that it’s international Open Access Week this week. First time in a few years when I’m not doing anything with respect to that. Not sure if NTU is doing anything either, so might need to check out their repository and see if there any announcements. Might be valuable to gate crash anything they’re doing, if only to pick up a few more contacts. Via twitter (that marvellous resource for making une
ected connections) I also picked up that Networked Researcher is doing an OA Week Blog Unconference online, so I’ll be following that with interest this week.
A shorter entry today as I managed to slice the end of my middle-right finger open yesterday while looking for a ruler (one of my craft knives was lurking next to it – ouch!) so 9 fingered typing is a bit tricky. Of note yesterday though was an invite to pop to London to address a meeting of the Society of Biology on journal archiving and repositories. Was tempted but in the end passed them along to my good friends at UKCoRR, given that I’m a little out of the work-a-day repository world at the moment; especially since my focus the last few weeks has been about expanding my research POV rather than going over what I know practically. A real shame, a few months down the line I’d have probably jumped at the chance, but right now not. Well, unless anyone wants me to talk very generally about the whole OA/A2K issues!
Spent a little time yesterday really getting my home office set up right, and then the afternoon working through Suber’s book. Considering OA’s an area I’ve worked in for over half a decade and the book professes to be an introduction there’s a lot of really valuable stuff in there that I wish I’d had to hand as Repository Manager. Can’t recommend it enough to those still working as practitioners. Glad I’ve bought a copy as I’ve ended up highlighting, and scribbling on the pages as well as using lots of sticky-tab labels too. Although interestingly after all the A2K/Free Culture stuff I’ve been reading lately the one thing I’ve taken away so far is an impression of how inward looking the OA movement seems to be…which perhaps explains my own naivety about A2K before starting off on the PhD. I am only part way through the book though, so perhaps matters broaden out later.
Wonder if I’ll see any daylight rather than this greylight which seems to substitute for it? It’s gone real miserable and autumnal real fast in recent days, boo!
Sadly we’ve still not seen the sun, and frankly it’s not helping with then old motivation or energy levels. Suspect I’ll be resorting to my blue-light desk lamp soon to perk my pineal gland up a bit! Still I did finish Suber’s book and moved on to making a mind map of all the ideas I’ve had so far relating to the research proposal, using bubbl.us. It’s not a perfect tool for a map as complex and interrelated as I was building, but it has done the job in terms of laying out my thoughts and ideas in some kind of structured interrelationship. The interface is also a breeze to learn, although I wish it would do auto-layout of my map better – or even just an “Arrange” button on screen might be nice. Now if I could just print it out on anything other than A4 then I might be in business!
Wednesday as it has my compulsory on campus day continues to have a tendency to have the morning given over to admin/time filling and then the afternoon to classes. I’m writing this whilst sat in the Clifton library waiting on my 1pm kick off of a class that will show me how to use the VLE that I’ve been using for the past three weeks. Suspect it’s not going to be too challenging a session, and it will kick off the class’ use of the discussion board. OOoh, it’s like 1995 all over again – slight sarcasm, as that’s when I was using dear old Arafel BBS at Sheffield University to interact with students across campus, and court my future wife too. Still wondering if I’ll be able to limit myself to the “5 interventions minimum” as part of the course assessment. But perhaps more importantly it’ll be nice to see if we can’t bang a bit of the social into the class demographic.
Actually, spotted one of my class mates as I walked across here and exchanged smiles and a quick hello. Wonder if she’s finding the “lonely PhD path” as isolationist as I have so far? Ah well better go wander across the library and see if I can find/coax/beg one of the printers to work for me.
Well the printer experience was a mostly-successful endeavour, although slightly scary to see it set my account to -£7.40 for printing out two lengthy reports – it’s the way the system works for PhDs I’ve been reassured. Didn’t manage to get an A3 print off of my mind map, but that was mostly because it had run out of paper and I was pressed for time. I think I need to invest in either a chunky stapler or some kind of document binders if I’m going to run more things off – my office stapler isn’t going to cut the mustard I suspect on most of these things I’ll need to print. Or I could just ask the friendly neighbourhood librarians if they’ve got a stapler-of-doom (TM) to hand! Yesterday’s RPC (Research Practice Course) was on using the NTU NOW VLE system, which was useful as a guide although I’ve been tinkering with it for weeks. We were introduced to the discussion board, which I managed to restrain myself from only posting on three times during the session (we need to make 5 “interventions” or posts during the entire year…erm, might be close on that now!). We were also introduced to the ePortfollio which allows us to *gasp* post-reflections on the PhD experience. One kept quiet about one’s blogging so as to not make one look like a swot/twat/nerd at this point. Actually it does more than that, in that we can associate comments and thoughts around an object or series of objects; so it might make a suitable place to store my research findings and annotate them with comments.
Although that fires off the question of how one might preserve, curation and make open access this data. I know that was my old job, but while I am looking at communication, advocacy and influence in open access more than I am at achieving open access practically itself there’s still going to be a residual part of me that asks that question. And if we’re using a system like that, how many academics are for their research data. I think I might start making use of it as part of my familiarisation with the system to keep my notes on Philosopher Of The Week!
This week’s was Hegel a man who was cursed to live in exciting times. He sounded (marginally) more pleasant as a person than Schopenhauer, although about 50 times more arrogant (I suspect arrogance is a common philosopher trait, but we’ll see). I rather liked his dialectic that only from conflict of two contrasts can you come to a new idea (rather like the heated discussions Mrs Llama and I have sometimes) and there feels like a certain validity from his view that to understand a concept you have to understand everything around it. That is* for example to understand Hegel you also need to understand the history, sociality morality and ethics of his time – understanding him alone will not give you the Hegelian level of comprehension.
This rather chimed with me as rather elegantly encapsulating the experience of doing a PhD, or indeed any project: by the time you understand the field and have completed the experience only THEN are you ready to begin the process effectively. I suggested this to Patrick, the tutor, and he agreed that it was a rather Hegelian way of looking at it, and yes there might be a certain level of veracity to it. Hope I didn’t depress my colleagues too much, but I keep remembering the words that were said to me many moons ago “A PhD is just an apprenticeship on your way to becoming an academic – only when you finish are you really really ready to start working in your field”. Which might be a good thing to keep in mind considering my recent thoughts on enthusiasm and direction!
I also concluded that Douglas Adams might have been knowingly/unknowingly channelling Hegel when he wrote about the Total Perspective Vortex. I imagine Hegel would have been first in the queue to try it out on Frogstar World B. Ah, nothing like using SciFi to better understand the classic philosophers!
Capped the day off with a spirited/heated discussion with Mrs Llama about the levels of influence and their relationship to economic reality. Must remember not to start pontificating at the end of a long hard day when I’m too tired to cook and haven’t eaten since breakfast – it didn’t make for the most constructive of dialogues. However, peace in our time was declared once again over fine kebabs later. Something, I don’t think I’ll be investigating further.
*dumbed way down so that I can understand it, sorry serious professional philosophy types!
Today aside from writing up a couple of blog entries, and have been writing up my Hegel notes as well. Not sure if they’ll be something I’ll come back to (I mean, I do have my copy of Philosophy for Dummies now) but it certainly helps me get my thoughts in order from the class! I also discovered that The Guardian newspaper has linked to this blog in a section on HE leadership and professional development. That’s very flattering, although I do wonder how they found my blog to add (it’s not at time of writing an especially long list!)? However, it is deeply flattering and has prompted me to update the about section of the blog – which I realise was now woefully out of date since I changed tack from talking about librarianship and information management to the PhD experience. Since I we were told yesterday to get used to talking about our research more and more, I don’t think the time is wasted thinking about how to concisely express what I’m doing.
I think my plans for today are about reflection more than study. I want to go back to my research notes and think a bit more about my concept mapping, now that I’ve got a meeting booked late next week with my supervisors. I want to be ready for a rigorous discussion with them, or more importantly ready to explain the thinking that has resulted from my research reading. And I think trying to lay that out diagrammatically might make things easier. I’m also doing a bit of checking of email and the discussion boards for the class. Now that they’re up and running I’m really hopeful that they might help the PhD feel like less of a remote experience that I’m going through. As I apologised to Mrs Llama last night, she seems to be the only person so far I can really talk to in person about my research thoughts (half-baked though some of them are); and to have some other people who I could exchange ideas, thoughts and concepts with would be great. Here’s hoping!
I was delighted during the day to find this blog being cited in another blog by Lisa, an old professional collegue and twitter chum of mine. Two external cites in one day, who’d have thunk it! So naturally feeling mildly pleased with myself for this little turn of events. It’s the small things in life you learn to value.
In the end I ended up spending an hour or so writing reflective posts – one of them on here, and a couple of other ones in the NTU VLE. Not quite sure if I’ll be sharing the one based on my Hegel notes with anyone (especially anyone with even a hint of philosophical training) as the laugher might sting too much. The other though was something I might submit as part of the RPC coursework as it was a “Why are you doing the PhD” response. There’s another one they’re encouraging us to write about our research aims, but as I plan to sit down on Monday and revisit my aims I know I need to apply a bit of thinking time before putting finger to keyboard.
The rest of yesterday was spent reading most of The Social Media Reader, a book I thought I’d picked up on a whim as light relief reading (the chapter on internet memes being especially attractive). However, having flicked through the list of authors yesterday I was rather delighted to spot that a lot of the folks who have penned chapters for it are authors whose work I’ve already started to look at (Benkler, Shirky, Lessig etc), so it proved to be rather more related to my research field than expected. The cover is also nicely done and gave me more than a few chuckles. Today I plan to finish going through it and then get onto working through a couple of reports I’ve printed off on Wednesday, one of which I skimmed through a couple of years ago but now is suddenly a whole lot more relevant to my life.
As I spent rather more time tied to a keyboard yesterday than I planned to, today I really hope to spend as little time up here as possible. It’s been an interesting switch in my normal habits to find I’m actually increasingly desirous of time away from the PC, although on Monday as I’ve got an eBook by Benkler to read I’m not going to have that option. In part I recognise that’s because I can be easily distracted by trying to read the entire Interwebz but also because sitting in front of a glowing screen feels a bit like sitting in front of a blank sheet of paper…intellectual immobility tends to strike. With a book, paper, a few pens and limited distractions it can be surprising how much it enables my thought processes. Almost wish I’d discovered this a few years ago, but then where would I have found the time in my working/home life to sit down for hours at a time with a book?
As Friday’s gone on I’m rather pleased to see that there is some blue sky actually appearing over the yard arm. This marks the first time all week I’ve seen something that can be called daylight. Really has made for a rather miserable week weather and motivationwise, and seeing this has really raised my spirits. Now if it’d just like to continue over the weekend then I’ll be able to get a cross-country walk in tomorrow or Sunday! (Oh and I’d like to point out the translucent object on the left of the image is not an alien orbital megastructure coming down from orbit, but the aperture adjuster on my window’s blinds).
Finished off the week reading through a few papers I’d collected last week. Unlike the books I’ve read though none of them especially told me anything new, although there were some facts, figures and supporting literature that might well come in handy when it comes time to perform the literature review. For now though as I’m still just reading around the subject they were simply fodder to fire off a few more ideas in my ideas jotter to talk over with my supervisors next week; once I fit them into my increasingly complex concept map. There was just time before my offical clocking off for the weekend set time of 5pm (don’t really want to flog myself to death just yet with working) to write up the notes from the papers, sort out my plans and to do list for next week’s work and then log on to RefWorks and upload the references And with that, and this blog done, that’s me signing off for another week of PhD fun.
Although as I have to visit my aged mother and my brother’s family this weekend, I’m (sort of) looking forward to trying to explain to them just what I’m doing. Personally I anticipate the blank looks and shakes of head I get from most people when I tell them I’ve been reading a lot. I shall share what I can here next week!