Keeping Busy, Busy, Busy

RIP Dad.So as expected my dad passed away early on Saturday morning.  And I’ve no end of lovely messages from my friends, to whom I’m deeply grateful.


Another day working on chapter editing, though I’m now 3/5th of the way through.  My target for the week is to have a copy to pass to my supervisors for criticism by the week’s end.

In other news spent the best part of an hour this afternoon sorting out some administration details for this lecturing job.  Despite my high hopes I’m not on the course VLE yet, and it turns out I’m going to have to go into campus tomorrow to sort out the IT side of things.  Thankfully though the module tutor has sent me some clear guidance for what to do in the first session I’m running.  Confess more than a little nervous about this as I want to give the students a good session.  Think it looks like Wednesday for the module lecture (which I’ll be in the audience for trying to soak up as much as possible) and Thursday for the seminars.  Other than that I have not a great deal more info!  Wonder if I can charge the uni for time spent sorting out this kerfuffle?

In the middle of the night (when I do a lot of web browsing when insomnia takes hole) I spotted this paper on the Guardian Hundreds of open access journals accept fake science paper.  My gut reaction is that this is something from the academic publishing lobby, looking to strengthen their ideological position that “open access is intrinsically quality flawed”.  And I’m glad someone in the comments has taken up the issue of why these papers weren’t sent to both OA an non-OA journals to see the results.  One doesn’t like to remind people of basic double/blind sampling techniques…  To read a good counter argument it’s well worth reading the article in tandem with this one Flawed sting operation singles out open access journals.  One can’t help thinking that this sting will only really widen the divide in the whole OA discourse.  Kinda surprised my mailing lists haven’t exploded on the subject either!


A day spent engaged in battle with the chapter.  Now so close to a half-decent first draft that I can smell the victory.  And then off to my supervisors!


Oh bugger.  Had an impromptu meeting with my supervisor to discuss tomorrow’s teaching sessions (about which he has every confidence in me) and he wants my chapter to be a)shorter though not by much and b)more or less finished before he sees it.  I guess I should have seen this coming with everything I’ve been writing about “overworked academics” but bugger it, I was hoping for a second opinion somewhat earlier in the writing process.  I much prefer the collaborative writing process where pointers are given, but I guess I’ll have to spend another week or two really polishing it now.  Damn.  Was hoping to say “goodbye” to it for a few days so I could do some research reading, I have a great pile of books and papers just waiting for me to find the time.  At this rate they’re going to have to become bedtime reading.

On the other hand he does want to bring my internal supervisor into the discussions as well, so I can get his insight.  Now that does sound useful, and makes it worth me producing a more quality product I guess for their assessment.  However, he told me to go away and write my annual report first which is due at the end of the month.  Confess I’ve been putting this off what with one thing and another, so I’ll knuckle down and write this over the next couple of days.  Irritating thing though it is, it needs to be done or I’ll get into bother with the university admin.  And I don’t really want that now.  I’m saving that for when I want to generate some real mischief!

Non verbal communication at its very worst
Non verbal communication at its very worst

The other main event of the day was attending the first lecture (the 2nd in the course) of the module I’m teaching seminar sessions on.  Face-to-Face to Facebook it’s called for the record, looking at understanding communications in a new media age.  Today’s lecture (and tomorrow’s session) are all about non-verbal communication (NVC or NVB if you prefer), something I’ve studied a bit in the past so thankfully I wasn’t quite all at sea as I feared I might be.  Most importantly I learned how to pronounce proxemics which had been bugging me.  The session also gave me a few more ideas about the exercises and examples I could use at Library Camp in late November in my theatrics and communication workshop.  Moreover, looking at the course overview I can see down the line the sessions will start to really run into areas I’m very familiar with (unsurprisingly the one’s taught by my supervisor), and even…shock…some bits where my decades* of librarian experience will come in handy.  One of the lectures and seminars is entitled “Digital Literacy: Finding info on the net”.  Yes, I think I’ll be able to teach that one without a problem.  Be very interesting to see a take on this from the academic side of the fence!

Came home and went through the notes for the tutorial and wrote a few more bits on them to help me through it.  24 students in my group, let’s hope for a good turnout of chattey students!  Or perhaps more importantly, let’s hope I just don’t fall back into pantomime for the whole session.  I mean it is about non verbal exchanges!


The big day.  The return of me to lecturing after what I think is about 16 months off.  Came into campus just after 8.30am, so it was an early start from Leicestershire to beat the traffic.  Attended one of the other seminar groups, run by my supervisor who just made it look effortless.  Damn, but I wish I could be that suave and relaxed in the classroom setting.  Sadly nervous energy tends to drive my performances so I’ll just have to live with it.  Glad I went to this as it gave me a few more ideas about how to structure my session.  Went back into the PC classrooms and spent the next few hours doing the background reading for this week and next on the module.  As I won’t be able to run next week’s seminar (funeral duties) I still want to make sure that I keep up on the stuff being covered.  At least I’ll get to go to the lecture on Wednesday, which I’m really looking forward to as it’s conversational analysis.

There was a fire drill mid-morning, which took a whole ten minutes to clear the whole George Elliott Building.  Consider me very impressed – normally took about 20-30 to clear the DWL back in Leicester (not mention the students I more or less had to chase off the floors at times!).

So my teaching session was fun.  The group, like most 1st years were a bit quiet to begin with – but I put that down partly to the lecture room layout, rows are not conducive to free flowing discussion.  I can also remember how I was as a first year, wishing the ground would swallow me up rather than get picked on my the lecturer to speak.  Only took me about 4 years to get over that…  I also think as I was a totally new face for them that they were not quite sure how to take me (or my foot hoping style), although I was wondering at the back of my mind if any of them were taking note of my non verbal communication signals.  Some of which I think clearly said “oh go on, please talk, I’m here to help you!” All that said and done once we did get going, analysing a clip from Eastenders, there was a good feel to the room.  I hope they all got something out of it, and I’ll do my best next time to make it more chatty and relaxed; but scholarly.  Will think on that one.

The Queen of Soap Acting
The Queen of Soap Acting

Once outcome – as a result of watching the same clip about 20 times, I now have a new appreciation for the nuanced acting of Patsy Palmer.  And THAT is not something I ever expected to write!

Had a debrief with Kornelia, and then quickly with Andreas too, and then headed home.  Sorted out a bit of admin (the register of attendance for one) and then sort of ran out of steam like a deflated hot air balloon.  Never mind, first lectures always take the most out of you.


It's the happy dance!
It’s the happy dance!

Had some very good news first thing.  Part of the normal PhD process is you enroll to study, you go through project approval after about 6 months and then 18-24 months after you start you have to do the MPhil to PhD transfer.  It’s another great big fat document like the RD1PA that goes by the catchy name of the RD2TD.  When I heard back in June from my RD1PA and oral examination I was told I’d passed project approval (huzzah) and had until Oct 1st 2014 to do the transfer to PhD.  I won’t kid you, it’s a lot of work.  Indeed a lot of the core module for the level two research training focuses on this.  At the time of submission of my project approval, I’d put in for what’s called the Direct to PhD route, which skips the transfer stage.  When I didn’t get it, I jsut assumed “Ah well, never mind.  Pretty much everyone has to go through the transfer stage so why worry”.  When I saw my supervisor on Wednesday and we were discussing my annual report he brought up the whole approval/transfer matter and asked why I didn’t get it.  As I didn’t know I asked the very nice Graduate School to let me have some feedback, to know where I was lacking.

Heard back today that they’d not realised I’d put in for the direct route (*ahem* it is on page one of the RD1PA) and after a further meeting they’ve approved my direct to PhD transfer.  W00t.  It’s one more step along what is still a very long and difficult scholarly road, but it does mean I don’t need to waste time this coming year on writing the RD2TD.  Instead I need to knuckle down and deepen my understanding of my field, do my field work, and work, work, work, work.  Hang on, shouldn’t lists be threes?  No, it’s just that MUCH work!

Spent the morning through to early afternoon writing my annual monitoring report.  I had to do a 6 month one that was more of a light touch, where this is more of a “What have you done, what does it mean and where are you going?”  It’s a whole lot more serious, although technically as it’s my first year report it’s not quite as critical as it’ll be in a year’s time.  So I actually wrote about what research I’ve done to date, the aims from chapter and my plans.  Actually very slightly happy with it – which probably means my supervisor’ll take issue with some bits of it (or is that just my normal paranoia?  Yeah, paranoia!).  Included a few pretty pictures, a pie chart (mmmmmn, pie) and some stats.  Then remembered I’m an Arts and Humanities student and should run away from stats screaming.  But since I like stats actually thank you very much,

Sent that off to the supervisory team and internal assessor for their comments, and then after a spot of lunch did a bit of work on a couple of conference abstracts for next year.  By then I should have some results to present and hopefully publish too, but you need to get your oar into these conferences with about a 6-9 month lead time.  So even though I know there’s a lot of analysis still to do, I’m putting myself forward for these conferences now.  Will work out how the heck I can afford to go to them later (being a penniless arts student with no institutional funding for conference attendance sucks).  Maybe I should start a kickstarter and sell parts of myself off?  Hopefully might even find a nice international conference to go to abroad next year…but not sure what or indeed where!

But as it is I’ve reached the point in my days when I’m going to call it quits, and go clamber through the mud and clean the chickens out.


8 thoughts on “Keeping Busy, Busy, Busy

  1. *Warning*long rambley comment ahead.

    Thanks for this post I really enjoyed it. Firstly sorry to hear about your dad. Rubbish all round.

    Secondly I wanted to chat about your teaching session. With my first full-time year of being a freelance trainer coming to a close, I’ve become fascinated by group dynamics and what sort of things you can do as a trainer/lecturer to get people to talk. (All I need now is the time to do some research on this.)

    I remember about 5 or 6 years ago being asked to give a lecture for a 3rd yr programme of library science and computer science undergrads. I’d been out of traditional libraries for about 2 years at the time and had been mostly presenting to peers and was totally enamoured by interactive talkie sessions. (I still am really.  ) I made a rookie mistake and pitched the session exactly as I would for a conference workshop. Forgetting that our peers are really pretty chatty. And that undergrads aren’t. Rookie mistake. I’m not saying that I shouldn’t have included discussion but that I should have used better techniques and incorporated more warming up stuff. So what am I trying to say? Well it sounds as though you did a really good job. You got people talking, and it was the first time they’d met you. I had tumbleweed. They obviously really got in to what you were talking about. Whereas in my session I hadn’t thought it through properly and I hadn’t developed good hooks into my content.

    Interestingly I had group divide and the library science students were pretty chatty whilst it felt like the computer science students had never been asked a question before in their lives. There were a few (now obvious to me) reasons why. The library science students were mature students who were working and looking after families, so they had loads more confidence but also a definite mentality of I’m paying for this, it’s taking up a lot of my valuable ‘spare’ time so I’m going to get everything I can out of this experience. The computer science students were all about 20, so not much confidence in themselves and their opinions. They were also a huge mix of nationalities and so those students who weren’t from a Western education system were never going to voice an opinion in front of a room of other students. Losing face is a pretty big thing. (Actually I’ve done a session recently with library professionals from a mix of nationalities and although they enjoyed chatting in pairs and groups they wouldn’t give me an answer if I ‘asked the room’. So it’s not an age thing). The room hindered as yours did, because it was in an IT suite. (Layout really helps discussion flow.) And the content I used wasn’t pitched in the right way to entice students into talking.

    I find it fascinating to think about the fact that some groups will talk really easily and some won’t. I recently did 5 consecutive sessions of the same training which involved a lot of participatory stuff in the afternoon and I had different scenarios each day and even at lunch time, after spending a morning with the group, I couldn’t predict how ‘chatty’ they were going to be in the afternoon.

    I’m not bad at getting people talking and I’ve had a bit of feedback where someone said I created a safe environment and they felt very comfortable talking. Which is obviously what I’m aiming for. But I don’t get it right every time and I want to know WHY? I realise that some of the stuff I do can be emotionally charged (change/customer service) and that can shut people down. I realise sometimes it’s personality clashes and then I’ll mix groups up for further work. I realise that sometimes there’s a whole raft of organisational culture baggage going on that I don’t know about. Some groups aren’t confident in themselves or each other.

    But what else? How can I guarantee a great interactive session every time? (Can I do that? Or should I just accept that you can’t win them all?) Can I learn to examine a group and think ‘Ah I see the issue here, now I’m going to…’. If people aren’t talking I want to know how to fix it.

    This is still (even 2nd time round) a really big ramble and it’s obvious that I don’t know the answers. But I’m going to find them. I’m going to do some reading and then I’m going to ask other trainers/lecturers questions. (you know, when I have time) Anyway I’ll let you know.


    1. Cheers for the thoughts Lisa, gosh has it really been a year since you went freelance…where does the time go!

      I think one of the things that makes this slightly artificial in terms of training and getting people talking is that I’m teaching material that someone else prepares. It’s good stuff, there’s no denying it, but I’ve got to get through it in (as Sir Lancelot might say) not in my own…idiom.

      I think you hit the nail on the head with the age range too, since pretty much all my class are 18yo fresh from school, so they may still be settling in. I’ve rarely had issues getting older students to talk – frankly sometimes getting a word in edgeways has been the challenge! There’s also the fact that this is an hour (so 50min include arrivals and departures) slot, so there’s not a lot of room for ice breaking. I am hopeful that with time they’ll feel able to chat more easily.

      Back of my mind tho, and this is probably largely down to what I’m researching/writing about at the moment, part of me wonders how many of them are calculating “How much of this is relevant to get me the grades I want?”. Maybe it’s a cynical view, but in a marketised education sector, student consumers do seem to flip into this mode. I shan’t bang on about it, as there’s around 16k words in this damned thesis chapter on the topic!

      Personally tho the only trick I ever use, is to be enthusiastic (ever the showman) about the topic. Nothing’s worse than a session led by someone who clearly doesn’t care about the topic. Hopefully in time some of that enthusiasm might rub off on them…


  2. Funnily enough, that’s the ‘trick’ I use too. 🙂

    I’m now even more impressed that you’re teaching someone else’s content. I had to do that a couple of months ago and found it really hard and have decided that I’m not going to do it again. I didn’t feel massively confident about it. However I only had one day to get it right and you’ve more sessions and you’ll get to know the group. All things that will help.

    I think you’re right about the students thinking about their marks but feel it’s never just one thing. It’s a mishmash of that and their confidence and other issues too. I think that’s why it’s hard to predict. Have fun!


    1. I used to write the course materials at York for the accredited information literacy training that myself and all my fellow librarians used to teach. Grud damn was there a lot of heartache over that – people never liked the pace of my slides or prose – it was at times like herding gooses (worse than cats)! But it got done, and I did make every effort to make it as “generic” and less “llama style” as possible.

      I’ve team taught over the years, and that’s been an interesting experience trying to mesh different styles together. I think it works best when you either a)rehearse a lot or b)kill the power point. I’m lucky with these seminars that I don’t have to use pp. On the other hand, I kinda miss that screen so the students don’t stare at me all the time…(“I’m NOT an animal!!!”)

      Here’s hoping though that I can give the students my best – as I really do want them to get as much out of the sessions as possible! Having sat through some terrible tutorials myself where the teachers weren’t engaged…well, I know I don’t want that to be me!


  3. Another ‘funnily enough’ but I did that at MMU for IL too. And yes lots of initial resistance but we eventually got buy in. I like team teaching a lot. Although I don’t get the opportunity as much these days. Practising is key as well as having similar styles. Being friends with the person helps a lot too. 🙂

    I think the fact you’re aware of what it’s like to sit in a bad lecture and are aimin to avoid committing the same mistakes means you’re on the right track.

    Oh and thanks for the PING! back from your blog. (One teeny tiny point. It’s Jeskins. 🙂 happens all the time. I was once at the docs and didn’t realise they meant me when they called for. Lisa Jenkins)


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