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.
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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.
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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.
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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).
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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.
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Masque of the Red Death

Title seems appropriate in the light of the recent UK election results.  Wow, so much of that was unexpected (thanks pollsters, you useless lot), and rather moderately depressing.  Not to mention the number of people voting UKIP.  Ah well, onwards, upwards etc.  So, what have I been up to in the past few of weeks.

Teaching – Face to Face to Facebook

The last two seminars of the year are always very sparsely attended, although for Seminar 23 I had one session with only 1 student (out of 28) showing up.  Didn’t exactly make for the most dynamic of sessions as they weren’t that interested in the topic.  Anyway the focus has been on migrants media consumption and transnational media as a whole, which is a pretty meaty topic – but one that I still think sits a bit ill at ease with the rest of the course.  Not to mention the students made their traditional comments about not really following the lecture – hopefully I made a bit more sense of it for those who did turn up.  But that’s pretty much it for this module… Oh no, wait, I suspect I’ve got to mark exam papers in a months time.  For no extra cash.  Joy. There was actually more of a turnout for the last seminars of the year, although there were only 2 in one of my groups – the others managed around 6 a-piece.  Looking at media usage by migrants, which while far from being my favoruite topic (nor one I’m well versed in) felt it had some really good resonances with other aspects of media and culture.  Always good to discuss how we perceive ourselves, and then to flip that around to consider how others might perceive us – and how the media represents/misrepresents this.  Less of a seminar and more of a lecture as I could see in the student’s eyes they were pretty world weary by this stage in the career. Since then I’ve been fending off daily emails for advice on revision and exams.  Honestly feel I could have happily run a seminar this week as a special potted version of the course and gotten a pretty high attendance rate.  But obviously the uni’s not going to pay me to do that, and frankly given how busy I am with my own work now in the wake of my supervisor meetings…probably couldn’t have fitted it in!  Have had some really nice feedback from various students (including some from last year) on my lecturing and seminar support.  Won’t repeat it here (blogs are rather too self-aggrandising as it is), but makes me wish I could sit them all in front of future employers and say “Look, here are the real references on my academic teaching ability!”.

Teaching – Intro to Media Comms

The remaining four* groups of students performed their PR presentations for me (or in one case didn’t), and they were a mix of good ideas, interesting concepts and at times slightly oddly presented stats.  But I’m not kidding when I say I will really, really miss teaching this module; and this group in particular.  It’s been a wonderful journey and some great interactions have come out of it.  Students for the most part certainly seemed to have got a lot out of it, as more than a few of them have thanked me for my teaching on the course.  If only NTU had thought to retain me for next year’s module, eh. I also worked with one of my fellow tutors on moderating the marks.  She sat in on my sessions (we seemed pretty much of a mind on the marking, which was good), and I returned the favour for some of her groups.  Although I managed to turn up at the wrong room initially.  Really liked this collaborative marking for this aspect of the module, as it took away the self-doubt I had about where I was placing my grades.  Now all I have to do is wait for the grades to be normalised by the module leader, to see if we’re all being consist ant, and then return them to the students and I’m really done with this module. I’ll miss it; even while I won’t miss the 6.30am starts I have to make for the lectures.  Actually the last three lectures on the course have been a really interesting examination of the advertising industry, along with it’s broader impact on society.  Simon Cross, the lecturer has been doing sterling work; which considering fully less than 6 students have been in attendance for the last couple of sessions is a testament to his professionalism.  The final lecture had three UGs, me and a random visiting lecturer sitting at the back.  Boy that makes for a difficult audience.  Not sure where the remaining 157 students were; one can only assume none of them are planning a career in advertising…  But pretty piss poor engagement from the students, I’ve never seen this degree of apathy before…and this is after paying £9k a year for these services. *Yeah, I said four groups…but one of them…no one showed up.  I was only half surprised by this, and it certainly made it very very easy to mark.  But I was surprised by the lack of engagement by some of the students all year with the seminars, you kinda wonder if they think they can get decent careers where they never turn up too!

Supervisor meetings

Finally met with both my supervisors, although across two different days as my 2nd supervisor was snowed under.  Bless him though he insisted on still meeting this week as he didn’t want to short change me.  Dedication there, and his input was valuable.  My meeting with my Director of Studies was also very informative the week before.  We were focussing on the 3rd version of my theory chapter, which I’ve been working on for the past 5-6 months.  To say going into the meeting I was nervous would be an understatement.  And then he opened the meeting with the following dialogue.

I’m going to do my X-Factor review of your work. Has this revised version of your theory chapter improved on the prior version…yes.

Is it good enough…no.

(long pause as I feel the blood run out of my feet)

Why not? Because it is excellent, really exceptionally good.

Okay, two things.  1) The bastard, teasing me like that. 2) Thank the stars, I’m not sure I could have coped with having to totally rework it.  We did then spend an hour considering improvements that could be made to it, but more along the lines of tightening it up, polishing it and preparing it to be ready for monograph publication (!)  This means I’m now onto planning the next (final) bit of empirical research and my next chapter (IP related).  Drafting a document for review by my team’s comments before I can push forward on this bit in the next week or so.  More news about that (and probably a call for participation) once I’m sure in my head what I’m planning to do. Meeting with the second supervisor was a week later, and only a brief one as he was still pushed for time.  Similar laudatory comments, along with a range of suggestions for polishing it.  So full steam ahead with the next bit of research it is then.  After I finish the planning document.

Leicester – Media Conference

Heard back on the 1st of May that my paper had been accepted for the Leicester PhD media & comms conference.  Huzzah.  Only downside is I need to draft a paper by the 15th…that’ll be a big focus early next week then I think.  Should be able to adapt material from my thesis, along with some original stuff in a day or so.  Should be fun to talk about neoliberalism and HE, and to see if sparks any useful conversations/collaborations beyond the day.  Not to mention being able to write about “in the wake of the Conservative 2015 victory it seems that neoliberal driven policy will not be diminishing in the UK“, although you know, I’d prefer to have something more optimistic to say. Might also get a publication out of it too, which won’t do me any harm at all. Spent the best part of this week drafting and rewriting this.  Started looking easy, and like all these things once I dig into the topic I find I’ve got a lot to write – but adding any coherence to it is a challenge.  I know, I know.  Trying to write a coherent academic paper when so many aren’t as clear.  But one tries!  Finally submitted it on Friday right at the deadline.  Hopefully I can forget about that now until early June when I’ll need to write the talk that goes with it.  Hope it doesn’t need too much revision as I’ve slaved over it.  Can’t claim it’ll set the academic world on fire, but it was a good exercise in revising and updating my knowledge in a few areas.

Vienna – ISIS/ICT&S Conference

Try not to giggle everytime I write ISIS in my notes…no, not that lot.  Information Society for Information Studies.  Booked my hotel, booked my flights, and discovered that I’m presenting towards the end of the conference on the Saturday.  Great, this means I’ll have three people and a cow in the audience I suspect (and the cow may have plans).  I get a massive 15 minutes to speak,a and joy of joys my supervisor is the panel chair.  Ah well, at least he’s a known quantity – although he might try and take my talk apart…argh!  Think I prefer lecturing to strangers or bored looking undergraduates!  Decided to commit to attending the whole conference, after all I am sponsored so I really ought to.  This means I get to enjoy a “boat summit and conference dinner”.  Well that at least sounds different, and may I’ll get somewhere on finding a post-PhD employment position. Still need to sort out travel insurance as the Graduate Office were…what’s a polite way to say “utterly useless”…on the matter.  Not that it’ll cost me a fortune, but it might be nice if I can just use the university one.  Need to also find my E111 card…which is around somewhere!

Reference Reviews

Cranked off…sorry, skillfully wrote, my outstanding reference review of this book.  It’s not a bad media studies book, but think it fails rather at being a reference text.  Certainly be holding onto my own copy, rather than off to the charity bazaar with it!

Career Progress

So, with my job at NTU all but done it’s time to start job hunting for something p/t to keep me going for the next year.  Spent a good chunk of one day re-writing my academic CV, as the prevuious effort was somewhere between “not very good” and “a bit crap”.  Looks better now, although the difficulty is I’ve got a lot to put on it.  Must be easier for people who’ve stayed with one employer for decades!  Sent it off to another uni that I saw was looking for p/t media & comms lecturers in the hope they might give me a go.  Literally no idea if I’ll be what they’re looking for, but at least it’s the start of doing something positive.  In the meantime I remain open to any and all offers of employment!

Surprise Fuching

One of the days I was in to see my supervisors, I discovered to my delght that Prof Christian Fuchs was visiting to give a seminar.  Not quite sure how I missed this as I normally check out the visiting seminars in my area online every week.  I’ve used some of Fuchs’ work in my thesis, and a chance to hear him speak live was not to be missed.  He’s certainly a high energy lectuerer and we had an excellent debate afterwards (managed to pretty much have 20 minutes of back and forth with him in the time after the lecturer – which was an especial treat.)  I realised to a small degree I’m a bit of a fan of his work, and really need to read his latest book too.  Probably one for Amazon or ILL I think.  Good stuff even if he’s not quite coming from the same autonomous Marxism direction that I am, there’s a whole lot of resonance between what he’s done and my interests.  Also think an interview with him would be a useful artifact for the thesis, and oh yeah, he’s the chair of the Vienna conference too – so very handy to have touched base with him.

Election

Yeah.  I stayed up half the night watching it (night before my last seminars – I was there…but where were the students eh?) but Mrs Llama made me stop around 2.30am and come to bed.  It had gotten a bit depressing then already.  Still, at least the Greens in my area more or less tripled their vote this time.  Still last placed in a increased Tory majority ward.  Sigh.

Library Brain Picking

Had a brief meeting with the lovely Sharon Potter fro the NTU Library to talk about the Graduate Research Room, and the fact so few PhDs are using it.  Had to confess I think it’s largely down to a lack of awareness.  I only started going there when Kornelia told me about it!

[Edit] No idea why this claims to have been posted 8th May…my PC says it’s the 15th.  Never knew there was a TARDIS in my home office…

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!

Closing Time (2014)

This will probably be the last regular post for 2014, and cover my last full working weeks of the year.  Well I say full…

  • Reading:
  • EBooks
    • Yeah, this old chestnut.  I’ve gone on before about the delights using eBooks, and these couple of weeks I happened to access two books from the same publisher. Thanks to the way libraries buy books/publishers sell them are actually offered through two separate user-interfaces.  The first, Dawsons books, was a pleasure to use.  I could download the whole book as a PDF, with 24hr DRM attached.  And when it took an extra day to read, I just had to download a copy again.  Perfectly sensible, allowed me to as close as possible replicate the physical book reading experience and without any lag when turning the page.  Well done them!
    • The other book (same range) for some reason unknown to Llama or librarian, was offered via Ingram MyILibrary; a user interface that was designed and coded (I am guessing from its lack of modern functionality) sometime in the late 1990s.  When a UI looks like I could have coded it…well I worry.  Here you’re unable to download more than 10% of the book, and for the rest of the book you are locked to reading a single page at a time, flicking back and forth takes a second or two to occur which really breaks the reading flow and best of all – you can’t get the readable page on the screen at the same time as the page tools for turning the page.  I did discover a (slow) workaround using both my NTU accounts to download a bit more of the book in PDF (the download restriction seems to re-set overnight).  Nevertheless it would have been far, far more effective if Ingram followed the 24hr DRM/whole book solution for me as a end-user of their product and the NTU library services.
    • And I’m running this on a 27″ screen running at a highish resolution (1920×1080).  Wow Ingram, you are the suck.  Also, shame the NTU library didn’t consider buying a single print copy of this puppy for people like me who, unlike undergrads, want to read the whole book.
    • And yes, I’ve bitched about this on twitter – without any come back so far by the library or indeed the publisher side of things. Guess they don’t give two figs!
    • I also accessed a third book, this time from a different publisher and yes, yet ANOTHER different way of accessing.  This involved downloading Adobe Digital editions and then logging in via another ID (after downloading the book under my uni ID) before I could read it.  Less painful than Ingram, but still wouldn’t give me the freedom to read like Dawsons PDF – the lack of being able to display two pages at a time was a particular hobble.  Slight plus allowed me to download for 14 days before the DRM ran out.
  • Glossary:
    • One of the fallouts from reading stuff that is (not to put too fine a point on it) rather alien to my way of thinking, means I spend half the time reading the book scribbling down words, TLAs and Latin phrases to look up later which will help me make more sense of the next book I read.  Hence from day one I’ve been keeping a glossary document that started out as a GDoc, and is now a healthy near-10k Word document.  Certainly helps my learning, especially as trying tor track down a coherent explanation of what certain terms mean in less than a few hundred words (that generally then reference half a dozen other alien concepts) is a bit of a challenge.  There are times when I fear the humanities cloak themselves in this kind of semantic obfuscation for the sole purpose of frustrating those of us seeking entry to their scholarly club house!
  • Secret Professional thing:
    • Finished off the application for this, got it off and had a confirmation of recipt.  Let’s see where this goes next.  Struggled a bit to write the supporting statement, but in the end just knuckled down and wrote the damned thing.  Not the most stunning statement I’ve ever written, but hopefully bigged myself up enough.
  • Student Rep:
    • Officially stopped being this as the new person got elected without an election.  A little bitter on how perfunctory the end of this was, but having concluded that I was achieving very little and getting precious little interaction with my fellow students as a result I confess I’m not that overly sorry to see the back of it.  New rep seems quite chipper and I’ve been filling her in on how things works (as opposed to when I took over and the previous rep was already dust on the wind).  Unsurprisingly they’ve not really told her what it works, nor what she has to do.  Glad to see such devotion to the cause of the PGRs at NTU continues from the central bureaucracy.  Do I sound bitter?  Yeah, you know what, I think I am.
  • Open Source Academia
  • Conferences:
    • Supervisor’s pointed me towards a conference in Vienna next year I should apply to attend.  Thankfully the deadline is Feb, but I’ll get to work on writing a proposal right after Christmas I think.  Suspect it might be a bit pricey as I’m not spotting any sponsorship or studentships for impoverished PhD students.  Man it sucks that NTU doesn’t give PhD students any support at all towards attending conferences.  Even £50 would be a start, but it’s like they want us to not have a chance to find our feet with our potential academic peers.  I think if there was one major flaw in the whole PhD experience for me (after the lamentable RPC training in the first year) that’s the one!
  • RPC Certification:
    • Got a formal notification asking if I wanted my PG.Cert for completing the first year of the RPC (some 18 months ago now) or if I wanted to stay on the training register.  Last time they asked I foolishly said no.  Now I know how weaksauce the remaining training is, I’m not wasting my time with it.  So said send me the certificate.  Huzzah – more letters after my name!
  • Graduate School
    • Heard towards the end of the second week that the head of the Grad School is off to be a history professor.  While I’m wishing him well as he’s a splendid fellow who genuinely gave a damn about PGRs and our experiences, I can’t help but wonder who they’ll get to replace him.  I’ve been witness to a taste of his struggles by being a student rep, so perhaps it’s no surprise when the chance came to move back to mainstream academia that he took it. It seems the Grad School is only just up and running after three years, and as the university won’t be replacing him right away…well this could make things problematic I suspect for us PGRs as things change under the new order.  We shall see!
  • REF2014
    • Yes the REF results were out this week and while I see NTU has fallen overall in the rankings (and who cares about NeoTaylorist positivistic measures eh…oh right, funders) I was pleased to see Communication, Culture and Media Studies getting mentioned in the VC’s dispatches for being among the better units of assessment for the university.  I shall claim that’s all down to my positive influence.  Interestingly while other humanities and sciences were flagged up as positives; no mention of the social sciences; so I guess they’ve dragged us all down the rankings eh!
    • For the record NTU CC&M were 31st(overall): 24th (output) and 39th (impact); out of 67.  Seemingly Mrs Doctor Llama’s dept didn’t do quite so well, despite being at a more research intensive institution.
  • Birthday:
    • My birthday falls in early December, and thankfully with term ended I was able to take a day or so off around it to…well not a lot.  We’d debated a long weekend away in Wales, but scrubbed that due to the weather.  And as Mrs Llama was at work on my birthday itself there wasn’t a lot to do.  Went for a walk, watched some Netflix (started on Breaking Bad finally), played some Shadow of Mordor and generally regretted the lack of friends to go out for a drink with.  Humanities PhDs are horrifically isolating things, it’ll be a wonder if i have any social skills left by the end of it.  Speaking of that…
  • Christmas Party:
    • My Fb and twitter feeds are alight with people going to Christmas parties, lunches and the like.  The Wife is clocking in about 6 separate events it seems over the dying days of 2014, but then it seems her fellow geographers are a very social bunch.  As has been the tradition for the past 3 years I’ve got nada to attend.  I’ve concluded my School (Arts and Humanities) just aren’t a social bunch…possibly normalised as the result of doing their PhDs in utter isolation.  I confess I was never the greatest fan of work-Christmas dos – but not I find myself without one to attend, I confess I do find myself missing the end of year camaraderie.  Or indeed any camaraderie at all.  Did I mention the isolation…?

Oh We All Like to Be Beside the Seaside

Monday

Slightly belaboured start to the day as didn’t sleep well, but spent a goodly chunk working on my conference talk.  Checking the conference programme I’m a bit miffed that I’ve got a session in the death slot at the end of the conference, which may well mean I get zero people in attendance.  Always a bit of a frustration as I don’t know if I should make this the most polished talk ever, or just slap something together knowing that about 3 people and a whippet are going to listen.  Had the same issue at OE2014 – presenting on the last day is never a great place to be.  Ah well, at least it’s another paper to add to the CV and that’s never bad.

That all said at least I get a free trip down to the south coast and a chance to meet up with a few people I’ve not seen in a Devil’s age.  It’s also going to be useful in terms of writing the paper I need to create for next month’s PhD conference in Sheffield (iFutures 2014) where I have less time, but expect a slightly bigger audience.  So 4 men and a dog then!

More delightfully I’ve been approached to do a session at a conference that’s a year away, so that is promising at least.  Maybe I’ll be able to negotiate a better time slot!

Tuesday/Wednesday

A final polish and a long drive there and back to Brighton for the ARLG14 conference.  During which, yes, I gave a paper.

Also foolishly checked my email and discovered I’ve got to be in campus tomorrow to appear at a student induction workshop. Argle.

Thursday

A bit of a snafu of a day as thanks to a packed car park I couldn’t catch the train to Nottingham I planned, so came home and uploaded most of my students’ marked essays to the VLE (at last).  Slightly annoyed that I’d been waiting on the course leader to give us the OK to do this for the past two weeks…and then he mails all the students to tell them they’re available now…but doesn’t mail us staff! Gah, thanks a bunch.  It does at least mark my last involvement with the course for this year, and it’s not the best of notes to head out on.

Drove into Nottingham to the induction…to discover only 5 out of 21 students had showed up, and of those none were AAH.  Well that was well worth my while.  Chatted to a few academics and careers people (and some of the students for what that was worth), grabbed some lunch and then went back to find my car.  Still cheaper driving in and paying to park than taking the train mind you.

Came back home, finished off uploading the essays, did a bit of email triage (a few students saying “Oi, where’s my marks?”) and then cancelled a place I had for an event in London in a few weeks.  It’s straight after a weekend I’m camping and I don’t think realistically I’m going to have the energy to attend.  I’ve been wiped out after the conference as it is, let alone after a weekend of little sleep.  For the best, but miffed I had to do it.

Friday

Oh motivation where art thou?  Think I managed 2 productive hours today in total editing my thesis chapter.  Just did not want to get going and toyed with the idea of just taking the day off.  But my inner PhD work demon said I couldn’t and forced me to do some editing.  End of the week can’t come too soon, I need to sleep for about 24hrs…

Did at least upload my conference paper to my online profile, so maybe that’ll interest some folks.

A Trip Here and There

Monday

Had to swing onto campus today (and managed not to get trapped this time) to pick up the signed paperwork for the annual review and take it to the Graduate Office.  Was slightly wary that they’d query the lack of signature from my Director of Studies, but charm and an email from him explaining the situation seemed to sort it out.  Phew.  Also had to take some books back to the library, one of which I took out in Oct 2012…yes I read it then, but I’ve held onto it ever since as it was a really good one.  Might have to take it out again in due course.  The library’s relocated (for the summer) quarters seem ok, but I’ll be glad when they’re back online.

Rest of the day editing chunks of my OA of the UK chapter, which actually took me a while to get into again – but is slowly, slowly taking better form.

Tuesday

Read some emails, but didn’t manage to do anything critical before I headed off to Cambridge University for an afternoon’s seminar on OA .  I’ll be writing this one up as a separate post (ACLAIIR Seminar: Open Access – the future of academic publication?), but safe to say it was a very useful afternoon.  Sadly the drive home was a bit of a pain, as aside from rush hour traffic a major crash on the A47 sent me diverted down single track lanes behind HGVs…and so I didn’t get home until way after 7pm.

Wednesday

Don’t have to go anywhere today, which is nice.  Spent the morning reviewing, clarifying and rewriting my notes from yesterday’s workshop while they were still fresh in my mind, and as you’ll see it’s a post on the blog already.  Sadly this was the high spot of the day as my energy and enthusiasm crashed in the afternoon, and I ended up in a self-defeating cycle of feeling I can never finish this chapter/need to finish this chapter.

Thursday

A better day during which I managed to get over myself, man up etc and just plough on with writing.  Much easier today, and while there’s still a lot of editing to be done I finished the chapter draft.  Now I can put it aside for the weekend (need to write a conference session tomorrow) and then pick it up fresh next week.

Amused myself by gathering together the three chapters I’ve written in one place – all 102 pages of them.  Think once I’ve shifted the formatting in them to double line spacing or whatever rubbish the uni wants, it’ll be closer to 150 pages.  maybe more.  Nice!

Finished off the day playing with new layouts for this blog.  Think it’s high time I changed the layout a bit, as the spare space on screen and font aren’t ideal.  However, not 100% convinced by any of them so far.

Friday

Day spent in preparation for my talk at a conference on Wednesday next week.  Harder worker than I expected, trying to convey my research in meaningful terms without either a) dumbing it down too much b) filling it too full of “academic” terms.  However 2/3 of the talk done and I’m quite happy with it.  Just need the morning on Monday and it’ll be all done.  Feeling happy after what can be termed a productive day.

Tomorrow – off to socialise with Mrs Llama’s professor for a change.  Which should/may be fun!

Finally Squeezing in Some Work

Monday

Bank holiday weekend.  I went walking. It was epic.

Tuesday

I went along to the Midlands 3 Cities event at the University of Nottingham, in part to find out what it was all about but mostly because I’d been asked to be there as a representative of NTU and present a 4 minute version of my research.  I have to say coming away from this that these students are very lucky in terms of the opportunities available to them for training and support.  On the other hand for those of us not involved directly in this programme, I think there is a very real feel that we’re going to be second class students!  There’s a lot of money sloshing around here, and none of its coming the way of we established students – for whom the university won’t even cough up a couple of hundred quid for conference travel.

There was also a real feel that the organisors wanted the students to very much do things…in the normal way.  For example we had an exercise to think about events or activities they could do as part of their research training.  Normally this would have been a great way to get some innovative ideas flowing, but the organisers of the workshop very much had their own fixed ideas about how and what students should do.  Not for them the exciting world of the unconference (which I did my best to pitch to my group); but better a structured, normal conference.  Sigh.  There are times when academia makes me want to scream – older and more senior academics seem intent on socialising and normalising the behaviour of the new generation of researchers to such a degree, that they really risk eliminating truly original and creative praxis.   Somewhat depressingly 95% of those there seemed to have come direct from M-level studies, and so will have very little real-world experience if they do go forward as the academics of tomorrow.  A crying shame really.

Anyway, my talk went okay (despite the organisors having forgotten to load it onto the PC – so much for Thursday’s frenzied efforts to send it to them on time!) and a few people showed a bit of interest in it.  I suspect given the arts field that most people were coming from there, I’m more in the social sciences than they are.  Reflecting on my conference experience today I think I probably need to spend more time getting to know social sciences people or at least talking to them, as there’s much more cross over in my work with them than say History and English people.  Not a shocking conclusion as Kornelia and I had the same conversation about this a year ago.

The day wasn’t a total waste,as I did meet a few very lovely new students who I suspect will thrive in their research.  There was also a useful group exercise where we passed comments and suggestions on each other’s PhD ideas in a consequences style activity.  The comments the others in my group had were actually rather good, and while none of them weren’t areas I hadn’t already considered in terms of academic culture (disciplinarity, historical parallels) it was refreshing to have people show this kind of critical friend support.  I suspect the students in this programme will come out a lot more polished than those of us who have had to suffer through the terrible RTP experience – just listening to the lead up to the 2nd year conference for this makes me glad all over again to have dropped out of it as soon as I had the credits.

After a brief (and very tasty) lunch and a quick look at the afternoon programme, I concluded I’d gotten as much out of the day as would be useful – so I jumped back into the llama-mobile and came back home to finish writing up the OER14 conference blog, and spend a bit of time sorting out some minor administration needs (like tidying up all the papers in my home office).

Wednesday

Final lecture of the year to attend…and not helped by the lecturer turning up at the wrong room, and then proceeding to make confusing asides throughout the talk.  Transnational media still isn’t something I’m that keen/understanding that well, so turning her lecture into some shorthand notes for my students was a bit of a challenge.  Even more of a challenge is the fact that tomorrow’s seminar has…pretty much no structure suggested for it other than “feedback.  Given I suspect the handful of students I’ll get tomorrow, I’d like to have something for them to discuss!  So the afternoon was spent designing a seminar.  Yeah, I don’t actually get paid for this bit you know.

Also spent an hour or so adjusting student marks.  Turns out I’ve been too mean a marker according to the course leader, and while I might not agree on some scores, I actually can’t be bothered arguing from the pretty poorly paid position of a GTA.  So most of the students have had a little uplift in their marks as a result.

Oh, and it turns out if you enjoyed reading my slides – but want to hear me talk about my research, there’s a capture of my session from OER14 now available.

Thursday

Today I’d planned to get organised and back into thesis writing and interview planning.  But then a friend sent me a conference announcement I’d missed with a deadline of tomorrow.  It’s one I could afford to go to (whoo!), so a quick rewrite/reimagining/recreation of a proposal around my research was called for.  Aside from teaching this pretty much filled my day, and I ended up working to past 7pm trying to polish it off and get it submitted.  Had a bit of a battle with the OpenConference software, but the folks at the other end were very helpful and after an hour or so got the problems ironed out and the damned thing submitted.  No idea if it’ll get accepted as is, but I was happy enough with it.  And if not I can always use it as a template for another submission.  Nothing is wasted that is written these days.

The final days teaching was a bit odd.  In the end I did get a seminar outline (well one slide) from the course leader so I was able to pull something together around transnational news media.  One of the groups got quite into it and we had a fine debate, that only slightly sidelined into a discussion on behavioural science of geese towards the end.  The other group, less so, which was a bit annoying – especially as I had the course tutor in at the end for stern words with one of the students.  Never keen on being observed, but hope he could tell I was giving my all, even if the students were less than responsive.  Quite chuffed that the group I’ve had all year seemed genuinly sad to hear I won’t be teaching them next year (or any teaching at all, unless I get a new contract).  Will miss the sessions, but at least it means I can now dive back into the main event of writing my thesis.

Friday

And as if to cheer me up along these lines, I had the mailshot requesting my annual monitoring submission by 17th June.  Annual monitoring’s gone a bit weird this year, and it means I’m having it a whole 9 months after the last one.  Dropped a line to my supervisors and internal examiner to see if we can arrange the review meeting, as I need to have that in advance of the submission (and about 11 hundred signatures).  Downloaded the form, fired off a question to the graduate office, and started working on the outline.

After lunch hit a bit of a blue funk workwise, but forced myself to finally sort out all the papers on my desk in the conservatory.  Partly inspired because I couldn’t find the letter confirming my transfer to the PhD direct from last October.  The conservatory-office has become a bit cluttered in the last month with conferences and teaching demanding pretty much my entire time, so giving it some much needed order will spur me next week to get on.  At least I hope.

Found the letter – eventually – neatly filed away in the most logical place possible with all my other important papers.  Of course, where else would I have put it! D’oh.

Another Truncated Week

Wednesday

Well thanks to conferencing this week again, I’ve got a much shorter working (hah) week.  Decided to take Friday off as a break, as I am feeling more than a little burned out and in need of a real holiday (again, hah, fat chance on my finances) and this is the closest I can get for now.  Lecture day today (penultimate!) on transnational media.  I have to say it’s not a subject I especially grok, and the chaotic style of the lecturer didn’t help.  She was honestly more distracted than the students (all 25 of them this week).  Turning her lecture and seminar suggestions into something scholastic then was a bit of a challenge (to say the least).  I think I’ve managed something; but I suspect it won’t be the greatest achievement of the year.

Also did battle with Academia.edu to upload a copy of my presentation at OER14 uploaded.  For some reason it screwed up the PDF text (rather like the Mac on the day), so it’s not looking that great.  So uploaded a copy to Slideshare – which worked so much better.  Even if I’m wary of using Slideshare these days since Linked.in bought them.  Anyway here it is:

Policy, practice and problems: UK university cultures and responses to open access (Academia.edu)

And while the slides might not make a whole lot of sense without my added narrative; I’m more than happy to turn up anywhere to talk about it in more detail (and believe me, there is a WHOLE lot more detail) – in exchange for expenses (I am, after all, an impoverished student!)

Thursday

The morning was spent in part engaged in a mix of marking (moderating) student work.  Thought I’d done with this, but turned out there were a few scripts to second mark, and one of my own group who had submitted to the wrong address.  I also had to revise my OER talk down to a pocket 4 minute version for a Midlands 3 Cities PhD event next week I’m appearing at.  Thankfully didn’t take too long, although once again I agonized over what to cut out.  The afternoon was spent running semi-successful seminars on transnational media, and writing up my conference blog from earlier in the week.  Which should be live…any moment now.

Friday

Day off! Victory lap!
[Edit: Although a short article I wrote on the UKSG conference did go live as well]

No Eggs Please, I’m British

Tuesday

Odd week, as it’s only 4 days long and I’m going to have little if any time to work on my research directly.  Instead it’ll comprise four key themes: writing my OER14 talk, writing my UKSG article, preparing/delivering my teaching duties and marking the student’s coursework.  Set myself the task today to pretty much write, revise and get into an almost ready state the conference talk, which as of 5.45pm today I’ve achieved.  The only pity is I have a 10 minute slot to talk in, but around 13 minutes of material at the moment.  Even talking at full speed (I talk fast) I’m going to have to cut a slide or two…just not quite sure which ones it’s going to be.  Niggling at the back of my skull tells me I’m bound to cut the one slide that someone would be interested in. Gah!

Also been dealing with issues in and around the coursework as well, so I’ll be ready to start marking that on Thursday with any luck (since the deadline is Monday to mark it by!).  Tomorrow, UKSG, polish talk and write this week’s seminar.  It’s not too much to hope for, is it?

Wednesday

A surprisingly productive day, with a lecture on media imperialism squeezed into the middle of the day.  Very noticeable now that the undergrad students are getting very lazy, only around 20 of them turned up for this; which doesn’t bode well for the seminars.  Came home and wrote up my UKSG conference report, a requirement if I want to claim my expenses.  Seems a fair exchange as having written a more narrative review of the event I was able to focus on something a little more reflective.  Of course how much of my piece sees print is very much up the UKSG people, as they will only be using excerpts from it.  Tried to make sure that tonically it was positive, as that was the overwhelming impression I was left with afterwards.  Having sent that off I sorted out my seminar for Thursday.  Looking at how news media in the west has been dominating the cultural world…or at least until things like Al Jazeera got going.  Not sure quite how well this one will go.  It’s an interesting enough topic, even if a bit outside my experience range.  Was too shattered to revise my conference talk by the end of the afternoon, so went off down the garden to fire off a few arrows.

Thursday

Revised my talk down to 10 minutes and only had to lose a couple of slides.  Probably a bit too info rich, but concluded that I can’t really cut it back much more without taking it apart totally.  Did ask Mrs Llama for advice about what she’d want to hear in this kind of talk (having been a PhD supervisor herself) and she basically said “Everything”.  So a fat lot of help she was.  On the other-hand I did give her the 1 minute version, so it is possible I guess to still communicate that kind of info in snapshot.

Then started sorting out the marking.  Thanks to uni regs students are supposed to have added a cover sheet to all their submissions (although that wasn’t that obvious in the instructions to them),  Said cover-sheet is an A4-landscape table.  Some of them have included it, but a lot haven’t.  Can’t say I blame them, but it did mean most of my morning was spent adding it into their various documents.  Some of which are in landscape, and some portrait. Arg.  Took longer than I would have thought, but essentially it go sorted which gives me all of Friday to mark them.  Couple of niggly questions I’ve still got to sort out with the course leader before I can mark ’em all mind you.

Other than that it was the two seminars (only two more weeks to go after this).  Some interesting views came out, and one of the groups got into a very heated debate over conflict reporting in news media.  Great debate; thought I did nearly have to deploy rubber nuclear weapons to calm things down.  If only all the weeks had been this engaged!  Student numbers in the seminars are way down, and speaking to some of my fellow academics it seems this is norm.  Honestly, the kids play thousands and then can’t be bothered to actually participate in what they’ve signed up for.  Thank you neoliberally driven HE policy!  And the government thought making them pay more would make them more engaged.  Hah!

Friday

Marking day.

  • 9.15am: Boot email, write blog catch up for last few days (and you thought I did it live!).
  • 9.35am: Read email, print off marking criteria and reviewing set question.
  • 10.00am: Try and work out marking scheme and grade points.  Make 2nd cup of tea of the day.  Dance for the chickens while it brews.
  • 10.15am: 2nd paper marked, commented on and saved.  Only 14 to go.
  • 10.55am: 4 papers down, and first 1st I’ve awarded to any piece of work this year given.
  • 11.25am: 5 down.  Hmn, 30 minutes a paper – I need to speed up.
  • 12:45pm: In the middle of marking paper 9, and I’ve just quoted Ambassador Kosh on the subject of truth in feedback.
  • 1.00pm: Just almost as many words of feedback as students wrote in their report.  Clue, not a high scoring one.  Still, it does mean I can now stop for lunch over halfway through.
  • 2.15pm: Trying to get brain back into gear post lunch.  Fighting desire to climb under duvet.
  • 2.18pm: Postman knocks. Get excited. Discover it’s just parcels for the neighbours. Climb back up the stairs to my office.
  • 2.30pm: Sob slightly at a piece that seems to place implicit trust in governmental motives.  I have failed to make these students cynical enough of the bastions of power it seems.
  • 3.37pm: 12 papers marked. Might be done by 6pm at this rate with any luck. Finding myself writing more comments rather than less in the feedback as time goes on.  Really want to use this opportunity to nudge the students’ work to a high level; even though their abuse of grammar at times makes even me weep.
  • 3.48pm: Okay, now onto one that has no references at all.  Wondering what the university rules on plagiarism say about marks for these kinds of pieces?
  • 4.12pm: Decide I need a break for tea and cake.  Then remember I’ve not done the registers from yesterday’s seminars yet.  Well, it’s a break from marking for a moment or two.  Also discovered it’s been raining outside for a while.  Despite being next to a window…I didn’t notice.
  • 4:33pm: Register turned into having to reply to an urgent staff email. Not a fun email to write, but had to be done.  Sorted now.  Employed my time honoured managerial skills of “Just do the bloody thing and don’t put it off”.  Still, only 2 papers to go now so hopes are high…
  • 5.05pm: Wife arrives home for the weekend.  Me?  I’m just opening the last of the reports to mark.  Thankfully looks like a good one to end on, which are easier to mark.
  • 5.15pm: Swear this is the 100th time today I’ve advised students to look at the NTU Library’s guide to referencing.
  • 5.43pm: Marked. Delayed slightly by Mrs Llama flaunting a personally signed letter from her VC.  Now I just have to tot up the scores and submit them to the module leader.
  • 6.02pm: And sent off to the module leader.  And now just one urgent email to deal with and then I can stop for the weekend.  Aside from uploading my conference talk to OER14’s conference site, and travelling to Newcastle on Sunday afternoon.  Yep, there goes another weekend.
  • 6.25pm: And lovely, a real nasty bit of administration to be conducted to round out my week. Special.  Think I can actually stop now…or at least stop and go and make Mrs Llama’s dinner.

To Harrogate in a Hand Cart (UKSG 2014)

This week I was mostly attending the annual UKSG conference in a very sunny Harrogate*.  Which was lucky, given that every time recently someone asked me where I was going, I’d kept on saying “Huddersfield”.  Ahem. Despite my geographic lack of nounce I did manage to turf up in the right place, and a full (and exhausting) few days it was.  The following is an attempt at capturing some thoughts on the event**.

Sunday

Traveled up a day early as the conference was due to kick off at 10am sharp the following day, and I didn’t fancy a crack of dawn start.  Helped by the fact that UKSG and a couple of publishers had sponsored by attendance, and thus covering pretty much all my major conference expenses.  The drawback being I was expected to be on stage at the start of the whole thing to be awarded by sponsorship…erm, plaque or something (it wasn’t quite clear – it might have been a big bag of money for all I knew).  Pleasant enough journey up from the Peak District (brother’s birthday treat), nice hotel and then an evening meal with a couple of chums – although we failed to be served in two restaurants before we found one that would serve us.

Monday

Day One of the conference proper, and thankfully the Harrogate International Conference Centre wasn’t too far a walk, and with the cool but bright sunshine there was a good feel in the air.  I managed to walk onto the stage for my award (and goodie bags), and only slightly messed up the publicity photographs by appearing in them.

The first two talks were Prof Xiaolin Zhang China Going Forward: research, scholarly coms and libraries and Dave De Route with The Future of Scholarly Communication. I confess the first of these talks was a bit full of graphs and quantitative data that flashed by at such a rate, that it started to feel like the last 30 minutes of 2001.  Without a great deal of time to digest the slides, the twitter channel came alight with what would be one of the memes of the conference, meaningless graphs!  Where I did follow his narrative I got a little annoyed to see a neoliberal*** imperative inherent as once again science and technology were equated to a healthy economy and hence a “self-evident good”.  Slaves to the almighty capital are we all it seems.

Dave’s talk on the other had I was more interested in, and his comment that while the Internet was designed for scientific communication, it hasn’t really helped it advance as much.  Thus are the forms of communication (the journal etc) we use still fit for purpose?  He raised the idea that given they had worked for centuries there must be something they do right, and they have lasted because they are social objects.  However, he suggested that the research article will be dead as of 2030.  And now – are we at a turn in scholarship dissemination or part of an ongoing transformation?

After this (and a brief break) we went off to the first of the breakout sessions.  I went for one entitled Open access comes of age: implementing open access policies at UCL, Manchester and beyond.  it was interesting hearing the contrast in policies and approaches at the two institutions.  I was also interested to hear more about OA Intermediaries – or as I seem to perceive them, another way publishers can cream money out of HE.  It seems they are there to help APC bills get paid on time…so I read this as organisations that take payment, to make a payment.  My note to myself reads “So, they’d be on the Golgafrincham B Ark then!”.  The speaker’s comment “There really is a role for intermediaries” seemed to have the subtext “There really are good profits to be made as intermediaries”.

(Yeah, sorry, the neoliberal critique mode doesn’t seem to turn off any more.)

Back then for the next set of plenaries.  Firstly John Rogers with Open access and research management.  Some interesting perspectives coming from the research manager direction, although very much slanted towards the exploitation of research.  Given John’s background in research and enterprise though that wasn’t a big shock.  He did highlight the idea of unexpected events being triggered from open scholarship; such as ORCID with the research community seeking to identify themselves uniquely in a shifting community.  He also casted skepticism on HEFCE’s expectation that there would be no additional costs for the OA transition, given the significant resource requirements needed in the medium term.

Then it was Steven Hill of HEFCE with a talk entitled Towards the Next Research Excellence Framework.  In this he noted that we are coming to a big change about how we think about research and do it.  The current way research assessment is done need to evolve in order to take account of how research is being done and disseminated; for example the developments in open research and open science in recent years.  He also very neatly discussed the post-2014 REF policy from HEFCE, and the 3 requirements that apply to journal articles and conference proceedings after 1/April/2014:

  • Must be deposited: (author version at least) on acceptance.  Where is flexible, but unis probably mean IR
  • Must be discoverable: (publicly available metadata record (people who need to read outputs will seek them out)
  • Must be accessible: – 12month by STEM or 24 months for AHSS submitted materials.

This was considered a simple overview, and he admitted there was nuance; such as if monographs and data were also shared openly, then this would count towards the assessment credits.  Meanwhile HEFCE are continuing to broadly review metrics used in research assessment and performance.  It was hoped that this work would help HEIs to think about how they use metrics themselves for staff management and assessment (if you can get over the depressing neoTaylorism inherent in all metrics in HE that is).  He also highlighted the idea behind open research assessment, given that in the research cycle there is much of the focus placed on the funding and publishing phases to the neglect of other areas.  He insisted that this will change, meaning that the network of outputs that now represent research (not just articles) need to be considered.  All of which means a big challenge for assessors.

The next breakout I attended was about the JISC APC pilot and its successor JISC Monitor.  For some reason every time someone mentioned the word Monitor, all I heard was “Lizard”.  Not quite sure why.

The APC project concludes in July 2014, and has brought publishers, libraries, funders etc together to explore issues around managing the process of paying APCs for gold OA.  They developed case studies aimed to identify best practice which pointed out that people are generally still in early stages of establishing institutional workflows and processes  to mange it.  Notably publishers aren’t willing to develop UK specific solutions, as other countries’ approaches to OA are different, and hence there’s insufficient market interest (or profitability).  Once again the value of intermediary service was flagged up.   
The day was wrapped with three brief lightning talks which were refreshingly brief and punchy.  Peter Burnhill’s fairies of digital archiving were probably the one that I was most entertained by – the core message seeming to be “Don’t rely on publishers to be the digital archive of record” mind you.
After that there was a reception, but as it had been so hot in the conference centre I dashed back to the hotel for a shower and change of clothing, before the evening’s quiz and curry.  Didn’t win the quiz, but the curry and company were excellent – and I rounded off the night shopping at Asda for some water!
Rock and/or roll.

Tuesday

Day 2 kicked off with a triple header of plenary talks around rust, impacts and workflows.  Carol Tenopir spoke about trust and authority issues in scholarly communications – key messages: peer review is still the coin of the realm, and altmetrics is largely an alien concept to most academics even if they do like to see stats like download and article views.  This was followed by one of my favourite talks of the conference by llama-friends Ernesto Priego  discussing The Impacts of impact: challenges and opportunities of multichannel work.

Ernesto forewent the stat heavy approach to presentation, concentrating on snappy slides with short phrases on them – as someone suggested – a presentation for the twitter age.  A key message I took away was something I’ve commented on myself, and that is the polarisation between positions in the OA debate.  I also liked his comments about academic view points being mythologist, and how they are a diverse group not a block with differences across culture and background.  He also picked out the issues around OA and its STEM focus, and how AHSS researchers experience a very different, and more isolated, academic environment (monk-like; sounds familiar).   He also introduced the snappiest quote of the whole conference “Publishing: Where content goes to die”.  If I were you, I’d go watch his talk now, it’s very illuminating.

The final talk of the session was Guilhem Chalancon giving a perspective of a young researcher’s approach to knowledge management.  There was a fair bit of chatter about this one following the session, in particular the absence of the library (or its systems/OPAC) from his knowledge gathering apparatus.  Confess that’s familiar to me, as the library tends to be my fall back when I can’t find information elsewhere.  My favourite factoid from Guilhem was that the attention span of internet users is somewhere around 8-9 seconds…which I can…hey, shiny object on top of a list of 35 top lolcats!!!

Oh dear, too much Buzzfeed has warped mine too it appears.

After this I shot over to watch a session from Graham Stone and Joy Palmer about the LAMP project on library analytics and data; which stemmed from an interest in how supermarkets and online retailers use their users’ data for competitive business reasons; so why can’t libraries do the same.  Choice comment from the audience was a publisher wanting to get their hands on this “Useful to us” data.  Ahem, more freebies from academia for the publishing industry?  I understand though from talking to folks around the session that this isn’t the first time this question has reared its head.

Back to the main auditorium then for three lighting talks.  The first on Knowledge Unlatched from Frances Pinter (essentially a library consortium that pay publishers to make their monographs OA) raised my hackles for reasons I’m still not 100% sure about the idea of giving publishers effectively a guaranteed return on a monograph like this, although i guess it might help bolster the flagging commissioning market for AHSS books.  In my view it just seems to keep the LIS/HE sector in a subordinate position to the publishing industry; rather than engendering a more equal partnership.  Ellen Collins talked about Open UK and Monographs reporting on a 5 year research programme looking at what happens to sales and usage when books were made OA.  How OA monographs affect the publishing and dissemination environment was a key part of this work.  Naturally she noted that lots of stakeholders and would need to be involved in any changes in OA monographs publishing.  Changes would need to take place both conceptually, and practically at many levels of the industry.  She concluded that the monograph world is changing, OA needs to work with it.  Personally I don’t think the OA world is working against monographs, but I suspect there might be a need for more revolutionary moves than simple progress before this area is working as well as it once did.

There was also a talk about the OA collections at the Royal Botanic gardens, but I confess it didn’t especially grab me.

Following a lunch (where the repeat of the previous day’s hot food drove a small splinter group of us to a nearby pub for more simple, and digestible, fare) I went to a breakout session by Anders Söderbäck entitled the The Library Happens Elsewhere.  As this involved a lot of discussions in small groups I didn’t make extensive notes; beyond the issue of trying to gaze 10 years ahead is never an easy one.  Among our discussions was a critique of how important the library catalogue and resource discovery systems actually were to end users.  I confess we didn’t exactly end up singing their praises.

There was another breakout session after this, but I had to hightail it up the the hitherto unknown 7th floor to participate in a UKSG Conference Webinar.  Sound problems dogged this one a little bit (not to mention the oven like room) but it was an interesting experience all the same, although I’m not that sure how much value it was to the listening audience.  Hope it was useful to some!

The day finished with some more rapid lightening talks, of which the only point that chimed with me was Ed Pentz discussing Implementing ORCID and noting that they are the path to sustainability (though corporate membership) by the end of 2015.  A good chunk of the audience there had already claimed their ORCID ID, so it seems to be doing well.

And that was it for the day – although there was the jamboree of the conference dinner, which was okay but to honest nothing stunning. Sadly I ended up having  a rather long and intense post-dinner conversation in a side room, so I never did get to explore the dance floor (or the cheese tasting), but the Yorkshire cider was rather nice.

And the less said about the town cryer the better.

Wednesday

Day 3 started with an apology for saucy video content at the disco (which I’d totally missed) and then a series of short talks around issues of resource discovery.  Truth be told I wasn’t as interested in the theme of this session as others (and the terrible wifi was really starting to grate) but there were some good speakers (including my old staff member and friend Valérie) so it wasn’t a waste of time by a long mark.  The last speaker Simone Kortekaas interesting was presenting around a topic I’d been discussing with other people during the conference, that was the concept of doing away with the library catalogue; although the point was made that falling back on Google is all well and good but there’s no guarantee of their or their services longevity either.  It had worked for her library for over 6 months though, so there might be something to it.

The last breakout I attended was around MOOCs and OER with Siobhan Burke of JORUM speaking.  As I’m attending an OER conference in a couple of weeks I went along to brush up my background knowledge.  I was interested with the idea that the term MOOC has more social currency than OER, despite the latter being longer in the tooth.  It was also eyebrow raising to hear that while completion rates on MOOCs can exceed 40%, on average only 13% of sign ups actually complete.

Back then to the very final plenary session and a cancellation of a talk on open data which was a shame.  However, the other scheduled speaker was Bill Thompson of the BBC (and previously the Guardian) on The Open Library and its Enemies.  By a country mile this was the single finest talk of the whole conference, and I was fascinated how much it resonated with the topics I’ve been lecturing on to my students back at NTU.  Actually, I wished they could have been there along with me to hear it, as they’d really have benefited.  I shan’t attempt to capture the essence of this one, but once a copy of the video goes up I’d encourage you to watch it!

The final talk then, was a bonus talk by Sarah Durrant entitled Surviving is important, thriving is elegant.  My hat is off to her for stepping in at short notice, but frankly it was basically a sales pitch full of what I suspect Mrs Llama would have described as “Kaftan wearing, lentil eating hippy shit”.  I rapidly switched off, and by the tone of the twitter back channel (and rapidly evaporating audience) so did most other people.  A real shame as it was a very flat end to what was a cracking conference.

And so, then after a pit stop to pick up a lunch to go it was time to depart Harrogate and return to Leicestershire (as I was teaching on Thursday).  Thankfully, I had very fine company from LISU/Loughborough all the way back so the 4hrs flew by.

Would I go again? In an instant (and there were some calls on twitter for me to give a talk next time – which I would love to do).  Will I be able to afford it?  Hmn, that’ll be the big question!

Overall

To be honest while there were a few niggles, overwhelmingly this was a cracking conference.  I came away much inspired and re-energised in various ways.  There were some great talks and moments, not to mention all the fantastic conversations I had in and around the event which aren’t easy to capture here.  I was really grateful to have been able to attend, for which my hat is off to the conference organisers and sponsors for their generosity in this respect!

Of course somethings weren’t so great (I thought someone would explode over the paucity of the venue wifi) as is natural with any event with 1,000 odd delegates; but I’m pretty sure the conference team were working their fingers to bone to keep things ticking along as well as they did (I speak from the experience of being on the other side of the fence).

The Good: Content of talks, variety of delegates, networking, discussions about my research, stimulation and inspiration,  curry night, freebies, my hotel room (which I saw very little of)

The Bad: Venue temperature (boiling & freezing in places), special catering, conference dinner food

The Ugly: Venue wifi, lack of water generally


But don’t take my word for what went down – check out some of the following links for more:


*Oh the handcart?  That refers to my rolling suitcase 🙂

**A cut down (and polished) version of some of these reflections will pop up in the UKSG Insights I believe (along with thoughts from other sponsored delegates) – so if you’re pressed for time, I’d wait on that rather than wading through this posting.

***I think there’s something of a neoliberal critique of the whole conference fermenting in my head which I might share on the blog in the coming week.

 

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