Through Struggle and Indifference – now available!

Yes, I’m delighted to announce that (with insufficient fanfare given how much blood, sweat and tea went into its creation) my thesis Through Struggle and Indifference: the UK academy’s engagement with the open intellectual commons. is now available online and open access.

Regular readers will note I’ve managed to hide no fewer than 2 jokes in its pages – albeit minor ones.  And that’s not including the doubtless myriad of typos that are still in there too.

Guess this means I need to revise the other pages of this blog now to bring them up to date too.  Now, I just need to either re-write the whole damned thing into a book – or start writing some papers from it…the labour never ceases!

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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…?

The Reification of Theory Assemblage

W/b 11 August

More adventures in the art of trying to develop a theoretical framework for my research this week.  I keep getting the sneaky suspicion that it’s all going to come back to a form of Marxism and Foucault…but I want to be certain in my own mind that I:

a) understand why I’ve chosen the path I’m on.

b) understand the framework I’m going to apply.

c) don’t miss something really vital that would bring a greater clarity to my findings.

Fundamentally I know/understand that in the humanities a lot of your research view is shaped by your own views and instincts, but I’m not confident enough in mine as of yet to just go down a road that is likely to consume me for at least the next two years – let alone further should I work on a post-doc.

I have at least reached a point where I can say for (fairly) certain that I need to be sure of my intellectual framework and the appropriate theory/theories that I’m using within in it.  This in itself is a step forward in writing the discussion piece/chapter on theory that I’m working on at the moment.  More than once I wish I was back in the good old simple positivistic sciences where you test and refine theories empirically, more than build them inductively.  On the other hand the methods associated with the humanities are making more and more sense (even Critical Theory which I despaired of getting any kind of handle on a year ago…well I’m slightly more OK with it now…very slightly).

I do get the feeling if any civilian were to ask me what I was doing in any detail right now, that I’d be able to waffle out the beginnings of my framework and theories…but after they’d run away in terror/bemusement I’m not sure if I have the depth right.

Anyway in other news it looks like NTU never even forwarded my conference proposal to the local graduate conference, as the programme is out and I’m not on it…nor have I a rejection email.  Which means the Graduate Dean just ignored my proposal.  Arsebadgers.  I worked really hard on that, and it’s a cracking proposal (with a great title).  I just need another conference somewhere/sometime to present it at!

No news too on whether or not I get a teaching contract next year (now we’re into the new academic year I was wondering if I might hear something).  But no…not a sausage.  I’m guessing I’ll either hear the day before it starts, or when the module leader starts sending me seminar assignments.  I do hope I get to do some more teaching, time commitment aside it really helped ground me more than anything else last year.

Oh I should add – WordPress has changed their interface for writing blogposts this week.  The new one is just AWFUL, I lost half a post earlier today in the editing and it hardly makes any real use of the screen capital (over half the screen on my 27″ main monitor is just pale blue unusable space.).  It’s like they wrote it for people running monitors at 800×600 – I mean what the hell, is this 1997 still?

W/b 18th August

Funeral one day, LARPing two others…concluded other than station keeping and packing, I may as well take the other two days off.  So I did.

W/b 25th August

Return from LARP Monday, exhaustion (from weekend) Tuesday, and then back to hesitant work on Wednesday onwards.  Finishing off a book and reading a key paper on the demise of capitalism.  Think I’m almost ready to start writing this chapter in anger now.

Also found out that I’ve got a new teaching contract or rather my name appears on the new module timetable.  Will wait until it’s in black and white mind you before I celebrate.  I also appear to be teaching on two modules…eep!  A new challenge, but after a summer of theory going to be glad of it.

Falling off the Hoarse

Monday (w/b 28 July)

Yeah, I was right – pretty much lost my entire weekend to a combination of insomnia and inflamed tonsils (the right hand one came out in sympathy today, but thankfully leftie’s recovered).  Been a few years since I’ve had tonsillitis (went through a phase in my 30s of getting it 3-4 times a year), and I’d forgotten how awful it is.  Anyway today I was back up to doing some editing…slowly, as my energy’s still not quite back to where it should be.  But thankfully first day without pain killers for over half a week.  And drinking tea no longer burns like hot acid too, which is great.  Looked at chapter conclusions and concluded (ho ho) that light editing wouldn’t cut it.  So planned out rewriting the whole narrative into a coherent structure.  And by planned I of course mean, didn’t achieve.

At least I did hear that I’ve been picked (well I volunteered) to chair a session at the East-Midlands conference in September.  Huzzah.  Of course no idea if my paper will get through as well, hope so but if not I won’t sulk.

Well not too much.

In other news Mrs Llama is officially sick of me telling her news from the SDCC.  *ahem*.  Not as sick as I am of throat pain!

Tuesday

Finally throat is just a little tight rather than sore…though sadly it looks like my bug has jumped from me to Mrs Llama (despite sleeping in separate rooms for the past week as a precaution).  Damn.  Still, I did manage to totally rewrite my conclusions, integrated the other bits of text elsewhere in the chapter.  Now all I need to do is write a few lines suggested by my supervisor, sort out a missing reference or two, check the formatting and I’m done and can move onto my theory development chapter.

Oh great, more reading.  Still it’ll be a change to start stretching my mind rather than confounding my wits everyday!  Now if there was just a good paper/book on neo-Marxist analysis/critique I could find to read I think that might answer a lot of my questions.  Then again flicking through my reading notes I think I’ve got a lot of ideas already stashed away…this shouldn’t take much more than say, oh, 3 months or so I guess.  Less would be nice…

Wednesday

Throat still bothering me, so a rare visit to the practice nurse for an inspection…and yes, I have tonsillitis as I expected. So a course of antibiotics which will hopefully help me kick this thing.  Not so much the swallowing which is a problem (though that continues to be painful), but the utter drain on my system that means I just want to curl up in bed all day.  this is not conducive to hard study!  But slogging on with the edit all the same.

Thursday

Done! Finally!  A chapter I started drafting over 6 months ago, before putting aside for a long time, is done and off to my supervisors for their inspection (and eventually comment some months down the road).  In the end it’s not a bad read, and while I know there will be revisions to come – it does pretty much sum up what I needed to say on the topic of OA in the UK; and neatly compliments the following chapter where I analyse my interviews.

All of which means I need to get on with working on the next chapter – theory and method.  Fun, it will not be!  Feeling more human already, which is either the stress of the chapter lifting or the antibiotics are already working.

Friday

Decided we never know how much summer we get…so awarded myself a rare (non-sick) day off to work in the garden.  Although checking my email, I see I’ve a meeting about the East-Midlands Research Students conference next Thursday…back at the David Wilson Library where I once worked.  In fact on the very day that two years ago I walked out the door.  I haven’t been over the threshold since so this is going to be an…interesting day on many levels I suspect.  Now, where did I put that false moustache and glasses…

Monday (w/b 4 Aug)

Kicking into theory mode – which meant a lot of thinking, a lot of planning, and a lot of sorting out of papers.  And as thanks to the tail end of this bug I’ve had, a lot of unexpected sleeping on the keyboard.  Gah, could have done without that.  Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be sparkier.

Tuesday

Theory seeking day again – so reading a book on social theory and trying once again to get my head around a few things such as Foucault, Habermas, critical theory and discourse.  Then off to see Guardians of the Galaxy as a treat at the end of the day!

Wednesday

Starting off the day with a little light reading online from George Monbiot: Sick of this market-driven world? You should be.  That and the sad news that one of my uncles has died overnight (expected as he’s been very unwell in recent months, but sad none the less).  Moved on to more reading of theory books. Woo.

Thursday

Change of pace as I had to go to Leicester University for a meeting about next months East-Midlands PhD Researcher conference (which I’m chairing a session at).  A morning spent going through the paper submissions and trying to pick the best ones (very few were poor, and it was an extensive and grueling process!).  Kinda fun meeting up with other PhDs again though, although it sounds like pretty much all of the other unis have more of a social life element to their doctoral programmes.  Oh yeah, and offices.  Two things NTU is very poor at sadly.  Came home from this and collapsed into bed for a quick nap…that turned into a 3hr snooze.  Think the lack of sleep the previous night (or coming off my antibiotics) wiped me out.

Amusing note: Meeting was at the David Wilson Library where I used to work.  Not been back there for exactly 2 years since I quit – so kinda synchronicitous to be back there today.

Friday

Reading of papers.  Writing of notes.  Thinking of thoughts.  Suspect next week – much more of the same.  Horribly hot and humid today too, which kinda saps the energy to do any work, but I slogged on all the same

Maximum Power!

Monday

One thing that I picked up at last week’s conference is a lot of academics are now in summer mode – which means for some (my supervisor included) that they’re disappearing off the face of the Earth for a bit.  Only picked that up in an overheard conversation, and while I probably can still contact him via email, it might have been nice to know directly.  Then again, I’ve more than enough work to keep me going for a few months right now, so I can’t complain.

Today was spent doing one interview, one transcription and two book reviews.  The book reviews were coming close to the deadline so I thought I’d best spend the time today cracking on with them.  Writing one of them (video games) was easier than the other (electrochemistry).  However, both were actually very good books and I hope I’ve done them both sufficient justice.

Tuesday

A quick few minutes first off arranging a few more interviews with repository staff.  This week I hit 50 interviews, for which I may have the world’s smallest celebration.  I’ll celebrate more when I’ve written up all the transcripts.  More interviews in the afternoon today, but this morning will be spent engaged in reading once more.  I’m way behind with my background reading so the next two weeks I’m going to make a real effort to crack on with it – since that and the interviews are pretty much my sole focus for a while.

Wednesday

I managed to mainline quite a few short papers in the morning, and then had a long battle with RefWorks to try and add them to my bibliography.  I have to say while once you get it working RefWorks isn’t bad, but in terms of reliably being able to log in from off campus – it is shoddy in the extreme.  Not sure if it’s the Shibboleth handshake at the NTU end or on the RefWorks site – but frankly if this was a site I was using of my own volition I’d have dumped it long ago.  It seems the status quo is taking about 15 attempts to log in, rather than the occasional blip.  Unimpressed.

The only power I understand - "MAXIMUM POWER!"
The only power I understand – “MAXIMUM POWER!”

Today I spent the morning reading a book about Foucault and power.  It’s been sitting on my book shelves for months brooding at me, but finally I cracked it open.  To be honest it’s better than the last one of his books I read, though the more readable part was the introductory essay by someone else.  Think I learned more there than in 3 hrs trudging through the first lengthy chapter.  I’ll come back to it tomorrow to see if my brain has assimilated any more of it.

The afternoon though was spent on campus.  I’d volunteered to take part in a focus group about the graduate student experience, which turned out to be run by the Dean of the Graduate School and head of their staff.  Not so much a focus group as a 35 minute defense of what they’re doing a a stilted two way conversation (I could teach them a thing or two about how to facilitate focus groups, as I’ve led  a few in my time!).  However, there were some good things to come out of it.  Firstly the information about what the GradSchool is doing to improve things.  Personally while there are glitches and issues, as with any institution, I’m largely very happy by my graduate experience.  Well, you know, aside from their over-reliance on physical signatures.  There is a real passion by the Dean and team to get the graduates engaged and to sort problems, that is refreshing to see.  I could cynically suggest it’s because they’re chasing QAA ratings, but I believe it’s very genuine.

And part of this is they’re putting together a regular feedback panel/focus group and as a result of turning up to this meeting I ended up on it.  So I’ve manage to last 9 whole months before landing onto a university committee.  Ah well, at least the future sessions will be facilitated by the Marketing Office – which may mean we get more of a dialogue going.  Having the major stakeholder OUT of the room will certainly allow for more honest discussions I anticipate.  I am however, even more confused about the successor to the RPC – and really didn’t like the sound of classes running on Wednesday “1pm-8pm”.  Gah, my brain switches off by 6ish.  I shall wait and see what it is we have to do once more information comes out.

There was also an interesting bit about the GradSchool wondering having a social media presence or as they put it “Doing something in Facebook”.  I do so enjoy it when people think Facebook “is” social media, and just having a page means you are “doing” social media.  I believe I ran a workshop last year proselytising on how that wasn’t the case… I’ve quite enjoyed talking to both the NTU and NTUStudent twitter accounts, and think they’re doing a fine job at engaging in the social sphere, so my hackles are always raised when it seems people just want to slap a big old social media bandage on and hope for the best.  I shall be saying as much at future sessions.  It’s interesting though that 18 months ago the (invisible as far as I’ve seen) Student Reps said no one wanted social media.  Can’t say that there would be a great big ground swell of it from the folks on the RPC course (with a limited number of exceptions) but it might be nice for the GradSchool to perhaps facilitate a coming together of those of us who do make a use of it to a significant degree, I think it would be very valuable in terms of engendering community, cohesiveness and opening channels of potential collaboration and support.

But what do I know eh, I’m only a PhD student working in the field of Culture, Media and Communication… 😉

Came back and did a bit more transcription and write up, before calling it a day and writing this blog.  Tomorrow, more interviews and more Foucault.  The former I look forward to more than the latter!

Thursday

Hit a motivational and mood black spot today. I’d call it an existential crisis but that’d be a) a bit pompus b) a bit over dramatic. Various things got on top of me today.  Did the interviews (a high spot, even if they were brief), and typed them and another interview up.  Bar a couple of emails that was my day.

Beginning to think I need a holiday, but looks like that’s not happening this year.

Did get an email from my supervisor with some suggested readings on marketization, so will start tackling that next week.

Friday

In a better mood today, probably as Mrs Llama came home for the weekend mid-afternoon (plus it’s her birthday so should be a work free/high fun time).  The day was spent with Prof Foucault’s book which at times caused my eyes to dance all over the page in a grim effort to escape from reading it.  At other times it seemed to be right on the money and exactly the sort of thing I wanted to read.  Have to agree with what’s been mentioned to me in the past, that the interviews with Foucault are fare more digestible and readable than his prose or transcribed lectures. Still, having managed to devour a couple of hundred or so pages of the book today it’ll have to wait until Monday to be finished off.  Probably just as well as around 5pm I hit a rich vein of relevant thought, that is probably not best digested (or attempted to be digested) that late in the working day.

Damn...this...is...heavy
Damn…this…is…heavy

There were moments today when I actually found myself reflecting back on the PhD process as a whole and where I am here at the end of month 9.  I seem to be a bit adrift at the moment in a sea of field work and theory, each competing for attention.  Each of which I could probably work on 100% of the time and still have not enough time to deal with them.  I like to be busy, but I hope over the next few months through to the end of year 1 that things start to take on a better shape than they’re in now.  I’m worried that I may well slip away from the central focus of my work, or even worse take on too much (if I haven’t already).  Then again I’m guessing this is a common fear of early PhD researchers, and part of the (seemingly) Sisyphean challenge we all face – taking a huge ball of knowledge and research and attempting to punt it into the crater of  originality.  And right now it feels a lot of the time like this ball is just getting heavier, and heavier with each passing day.

Ah well, at least I learned the etymology of the word apathetic today.  So that’s a bit of knew knowledge to take into the weekend!

Snow on Snow (Snow on Snow)

Monday

Not a great day for chicken scholarsOver the weekend the mild weather finally gave way to winter proper as we had light snow over the weekend, and much heavier snow today.  Which on one hand was okay as I was working on my research proposal, but on the other as I had a medical appointment in Nottingham in the afternoon wasn’t making me look forward to the drive much.  I did some more work on my methodology and theory, although the lost hours didn’t help me focus much.  Small progress better than no progress though.

I do find myself asking questions like “So what is the clear difference between critical discourse analysis and content analysis of a website then?”.

At the hospital I managed not to bore the consultant with my hackneyed explanation of what post-modernism is…but it was a close run thing!

In other news, I’m sure many of you will already have read about the tragic death of Aaron Schwarz – and if not Lawrence Lessig or Cory Doctorow’s pieces are pretty much required reading.  I heard about it via twitter and my supervisor over the weekend, and I can’t say that a day or two has lessened the impact of the loss of this brilliant and courageous guy.  Sorry to darken the tone of the blog a bit, but it’s pretty much reflective of my mood since I found out.

Tuesday

Mrs Llama is overseas on business for a few days (she set off yesterday afternoon) in Toulouse, so for once I have the house entirely to myself all day.  I’d love to say the peace and quiet is wonderful, but the people across the road have a pneumatic drill operating (for the second day in a row) so I’ll be resorting to ear plugs as I work on my methods some more.  Hoping that by the end of today I’ll have a second (penultimate?) draft of my research proposal ready to share with my supervisors, and a draft version of the slimmed down version I have to do for the research methods course.  I was going to need it for a session tomorrow, but it looks like the tutor’s out sick for the next couple of weeks.  Poor thing.

think that means the sessions are cancelled but it’s not 100% clear.  No doubt we’ll get some clarity on the BBS. *checks* Right, looks like there wasn’t a class next week anyway, and the deadline for the coursework’s been moved up a couple of weeks too – so props to the tutor!  Course I still have to be on campus to attend a meeting with my fellow departmental PhDs tomorrow, so I’ll end up with a few hours to kill before philosophy, but that’s not the end of the world.  Sure I can make good use of some more library time.

Following up on yesterday’s bit about the Aaron Schwarz, I’m trying not to read anything too cynical into the timing of JSTOR announcing their free to read access to some of their journals; especially as the announcement was on the 9th of January a few days before Aaron took his life.  Of course there’s free access and there’s free access, in this case as Gary Daught points out in an excellent piece beyond the need to register, there are of course privacy concerns over your reading habits being tracked.   When I was developing OpenDOAR‘s initial survey of OA repositories back in 2007, one of the criteria I had for rejecting an alleged OA site was the requirement to register before access.  There are many definitions for what makes up OA and I’m sure some might say mine is perhaps too purist a view, but I can’t say I’ve drastically changed it in 5 years (and I think Peter Suber agrees, so I’m in good company!).

On a lighter note – I think the following feels like my motto at the moment for all this studying.

Wednesday

Oh my, a cold, cold day and I had to be on campus.  Probably for the best as keeping warm yesterday was a real challenge.  Sometimes it’s a real pain not to be able to decamp easily to campus to keep warm, but given the road conditions I didn’t fancy the 30 mile roundtrip.  Had a dept PhD meet up this morning, the second one we’d arranged although due to getting the car scraped out of ice I was a bit late…and a bit surprised that there was no one there when I finally arrived (only 15 minutes late!).  Had a quick scout around in case they were in another room, to no avail, so removed myself to the library to do some reading.  Luckily I did check my email and find that Kornelia had turned up, and we were able to track each other down to have a discussion about theory and method, RPC modules and a general gossip about the PhD experience as a whole.  It was really interesting to hear Kornelia articulate a lot of things I’ve been thinking myself, especially the self-doubts and the worry that you always have to be working.  I know so far I find it very difficult to even contemplate taking any time off as there’s this niggling worry at the back of my head that says any time wasted is time lost.  *sigh* I wasn’t ever this dedicated when I was a student before, what makes the PhD experience more of a driven one?  I’ll get back to you on that.

It's a more insightful read than the cover might suggest
As one of the RPC sessions had been cancelled I spent the next couple of hours doing a bit of paper editing and reading, before heading off to the warmest room on the planet (honestly it was like 30DegsC in there) for Foucault’s philosophy session.  Really enjoyable and useful, especially as having done a bit of background reading on Foucault I was able to follow it a lot more easily than normal.  Or maybe it’s just that Foucault makes a lot more sense to me; and he better as I think his Discipline and Punish is going to be something I’ll need to track down soon to read.

I also discovered I’ve been pronouncing his name all wrong (Faux-Co, not Fo-cult apparently), so there you go.

Thursday

Me and my research proposalA day of editing and writing, getting my research proposal polished enough to send to my supervisors.  I swear the more I double check my references the more errors I seem to spot with them.  And then when I check back later I seem to have changed some of them the wrong way.  Turned out to be a more laborious and lengthy process than I anticipated, not helped by the lack of sleep I’d had the night before.  In the end though I did manage to send version 3.0 off, and then turned to the near Sisyphean task of converting my two and half thousand word version into a thousand word version for the RPC coursework.  Seems a bit pointless considering where I am in the RD1PA (research proposal) writing process, but I guess any time spent thinking about what I’m doing and trying to clarify it will serve me well in the long run.

Feeling a bit guilty as well as I’ve had no time for reading this week, so must try and spent at least Friday afternoon catching up on some papers.

Friday

Spent the morning adding all the references I’d used in my proposal, but had yet to add onto RefWorks.  I don’t like adding things there until I actually read then and write a review, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t suddenly want to track a reference down again 6 months from now to discover my records were incomplete.  House was pretty cold so typing was actually quite painful (Mrs Llama was at home and she doesn’t let me have the heating on during the day).  After lunch I spotted on twitter (thanks to Glyn Moody) that the government have announced an inquiry into the Government’s Open Access policy.  Considering the Finch Report and all the response to that were at the end of last year…one can’t help thinking that there’s something going on behind the scenes   Has the publisher lobby been hard at work?  Considering the government’s current stance is fairly pro-OA (all be it Gold not Green), one is quite curious to know why the need for an inquiry. Or even an enquiry!

Spent the afternoon bitting about with the editing to my cut down research proposal for the RPC course.  Sadly watching the snow out of the window was far more interesting, although no one fell over or crashed or anything amusing/terrible like that.  The buses did stop running through our village though around 4pm (they run late into the evening normally) so feeling a little bit cut off – especially as we’re now out of milk for tea.  A catastrophe   Next week hopefully I can jump back into this backlog of reading I’ve got, and with luck meet with my supervisors to discuss finalising my proposal.  Stay warm everyone!

Hurdling and Hazing

Monday

The good man himselfFirst full week, and the first thing that’s hit me is that I’ve a great heap of deadlines for coursework and research proposals hanging over my head from here ’til Easter, so it’s going to be a busy old time.  Fair enough, but it’s going to take a while to shake off the post-Christmas fugue I suspect, although I managed to get through about half of what I wanted to today so that’s a good start.  I say good, because I always try and plan twice as much into each day than I know I can easily achieve   Sometimes I hit a winning streak and really perform and get through more of it, today I was just on a normal par.  Mostly spent getting my head around an introduction to Foucault and a paper by Benkler.  The former was a bit harder to get into than I thought it would be, though I’ve some useful thoughts coming out of it – and a sneaking suspicion I’m going to have to read Discipline and Punish sometime this year as a result.

My personal favourite Foucault quote in the book, which really helped me warm to him some more was:

I want my books to be a sort of toolbox that people can rummage through to find a tool they can use however they want in their own domain…I don’t write for an audience, I write for users, not readers

What a class act!

Benkler on the other-hand was supposed to be a light-relief general background paper.  However, it turned out to have a very, very interesting framework for network analysis and representation of power and freedom in overlapping systems.  Which I confess is going to come in very handy in my research, so I’ll be keeping this paper on file you can be sure!  Thank you Prof Benkler for making my day!  Then it was back to wrestling with RefWorks (which has developed the annoying habit of not letting me in 4/5 times.  The trails of being non-campus based, but at least I’m not stressed about it*!

Exchanged a couple of emails with my fellow PhDs in the dept, which was nice, and then looked wistfully at the NTU Refresher’s weeks events.  Don’t think I’ve really the time to join any of the student societies; not to mention they’d want to sit me in a rocking chair in the corner if I turned up anyway!  Shame, as I could really do with some more socialisation with my peers this year.

Tuesday

Today I got on with doing anything that wasn’t revising my research proposal.  I was supposed to be revising it, the first time I’ve gone back to it since early December – and now armed with all the new knowledge I’ve picked up with my extra reading…I find I’m facing the elephantine challenge and it seems just as daunting (if not more so) than when i first sat down to write it.

Arg.

Some research is more delicious than othersI often remind Mrs Llama that you don’t eat an elephant in one bite, and so i had to take some of my own advice today and break down what I needed to do.  Read through my last meeting with my supervisors’ notes.  Read through their additional suggestions via email.  Look at my scribbled notes on my proposal draft.  Then sit back and plan what I need to edit, what I need to change – specifically and in the more general sense.  Took me a long time to really get going, although I spent an entertaining hour or so correcting my references to the right NTU Harvard based format.  Must remember to finally add them all to RefWorks so I can generate them on the fly from here on out; probably a task for Friday I think.

Around 3pm I finally got myself backed into a corner – there was no more planning to be done, now I just had to get on with the editing and rewriting.  And actually for a first pass it looks like there may be slightly less awry with my proposal than I remembered.  Yes, the theory and methodology need a rethink for sure, and the rationale needs restructuring and recontextualizing, and indeed the context needs a polish.  But none of this seems actually that hard.  I almost wish I could have found my editing mojo earlier in the day as I’d have managed to perhaps do more.  On the other-hand now I’ve dived in, I’ll try and just keep going with this the rest of the week (save for tomorrow’s four hours or so of lectures I’ve got to attend).  I might actually have a new version for my supervisors to critique come the end of the week!

Maybe.

Wednesday

Oh dear, this was a real curate’s egg of a day.

I went in to campus early and read a few papers in the warm library, which was a bit of a challenge as I nearly dozed off a couple of times – given that it is much much warmer than my house there.  I don’t think my fellow students would appreciate my stripping down to stay cool, so I just had to snooze and bear it.

First RPC course sessions of the new year, and this kicked off with probably one of the worst single lectures I’ve sat through (ever).  Thankfully it was on literature reviews, about which I know a fair bit but still I’m  always interested to learn more.  However, it wasn’t the greatest of sessions – I certainly felt pretty uncomfortable during it at certain points.  Not so much the information, as the format.  Ah well, sometimes I have to remind myself I just have to survive a year of this and I can move on with my work.

Look, I'm beating myself up enough as it is thanks!As it was I came out of that session feeling like this Research Practice Course is some form of academic hazing that we simply have to endure. At times it feels more like a distraction from the more serious work of getting my research proposal finished.

I did however have to slope off for a restorative cup of hot chocolate at half time.  And that’s the first time I’ve done that since I started.  Nice café on campus I discovered thanks to my splendid cohort chum Mohamed!

 

Ludwig WittgensteinAnyway, moving on.  Philosopher of the day was Wittgenstein; and thankfully we had my favourite of the philosophy teachers who not only got through all his slides, did an encore sessions going into a bit more depth.  I’d have happily traded for 4hrs on Wittgenstein and done without the literature review session thanks!  Although the one bad bit of news is it looks like he’s another philosopher about whom I need to consider learning more, especially as his work relates to communication.  Ah well, all grist for the mill, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t relish the intellectual challenge.

Thursday & Friday

Two for one here as essentially for both of these days I’ve been jumping over the high hurdles as I rework, improve and generally enhance my research proposal.  Writing is rewriting I keep telling myself, and I must have rewritten each of the first two sections (context and rationale) about a dozen times each over these days.  They are vastly improved from their mark 1 version from before Christmas.  On the other hand they are still overly long, but as I have to precis them down for a piece of RPC course work next week I think I might find a fair way to trim some of the fat.  The difficulty is identifying what IS fat about them, as unlike these blog posts, I’m using a brevity of phrase.  At this rate they’ll end up being a bullet pointed list rather than a piece of prose.

Me, earlier today. Paperwork not in shotMaybe I’m over-worrying myself on this point, but the project approval is a key stage in my research, so I need to get it right.  But with only 2,000 words to play with – making it say what I want it to say, within the format that I have to work with is…not much fun!  I’m also feeling very much in the dark about exactly what the Research Degrees Committee are looking for in terms of a good proposal   I’ve the one example my supervisor lent me, but it might have been useful to have looked at past examples say, rather than meandering around the dark corridors of literature reviews.

So a week where I’ve ended up being pretty focussed, and not a little stressed about some of the things I’ve got to do this and next month and how I’ll pack them all in, and stay on top of my reading, and having maybe a bit of spare time to sleep and the like.   Speaking of which it is time I wrapped up this week and tidied my papers away (though I might get the Method out over the weekend and start looking at it all the same).

*That’ll come when I urgently need RefWorks to work at some juncture down the line I suspect!

Welcoming 2013

Happy New Year readers old and new, here’s to an engaging and illuminating 2013.  If this is your first time, welcome!  If you’re an old reader, then welcome back – and thanks for sticking with me.  Over the coming year I’ll be hopefully continuing to detail my experiences and exploits as I continue on with my work towards a (hopeful) PhD in the field of Arts and Humanities; which as a former scientist is a bit of a challenge!  I link to various books I read on here on Amazon, and if you happen to buy any – I think I get like 10p as a kickback (which will then be spent on more books…), so do click away on the covers if you’re so inclined!

The New Year

There's common wealth to be had you see
Well it turned out that Mrs Llama wasn’t keen on me working on Christmas Eve, though I did sneak in an hour or so tidying up some notes and references over the vacation   I found it very hard to relax over the Christmas period.  Unlike a job when you’re on vacation, you’re on vacation   But with this PhD since I currently work mostly from home using textual materials, there’s not a lot really stopping me from cracking on with my studies.  However, Mrs Llama insisted that I take the time to try and recoup some energy.  She keeps saying I look mentally exhausted at the end of each week – and she’s perhaps not so far off the mark on this one, as certainly my enthusiasm for doing much else other than studying, eating and sleeping is pretty much nuked at the moment.  Not all the time, but perhaps a bit more than I initially expected it would be.  That said it could just be a consequence of the foul weather we’ve had over the Christmas period, though thankfully today I’m typing these words in a shaft of sunshine (two days in a row of sun, lovely!)

In the first week of the new year I kicked off slowly on the Thursday and Friday of the week, writing up the papers I read just before Christmas as well as updating my glossary.  Still not happy that I’ve really got my head around the concept of biopolitics (or at least as it applied in the book Commonwealth) but perhaps it’ll become clearer in time.

Mistletoe and Wine

Monday

I know some folks at work have wound down for Christmas already, but hah!  The PhD monkey on my back isn’t going to let me stop until the last-minute – indeed had a heated discussion with Mrs Llama over the weekend about working on Christmas eve.  She’s against it (as she’ll have stopped work then) but I was hoping to get in perhaps at least half a day’s efforts.  Maybe I’ll just come and hide in the computer room and pretend to play games whilst reading some papers?  I also managed to finally sit down and write something new for my cooking blog as well, which I’ve been meaning to do for ages.  Might have to pick that back up over the Christmas period to get back into the swing of it.

A critically good read
Anyway today I’m heading back into theory land again with some critical management studies (CMS).  I think once I’ve read another book or two this week I’m going to be ready to rebuild my research proposal again on a stronger foundation.  So that’s my plan for the week: read a bit more and then write through to the end.

Tuesday

Nose back to the CMS grindstone today to get through the rest of the books.  I think what I’ve taken away from this one is that there are a variety of ways for humanities scholars to approach CMS; and that every one of the approaches is disliked by people using other approaches.  Note to self, prepare robust defence for whatever theoretical approach you take with this.  Which in my case looks to be a blend of critical theory and post-modernism; not a sentence I ever thought I’d write in all seriousness.

Had a dental appointment mid-afternoon and I just knew they’d ask me what I was doing now, so practised explaining what my PhD is in brief and simple terms.  Considering the holiday period we’re about to hit, suspect this won’t be the last time I’ll need to have a pocket-handkerchief sized description of what I’m aiming to do.

And would you believe it, they didn’t ask!  Shame, but then a former professional colleague of mine got in touch to ask for a brief note on what I was doing for a society newsletter.  As the former Chair of the organisation I suspect at least a couple of people will be interested I suppose!

Eventually it looked like thisHighlight of the day had to be only tangentially related to my work.  When Mrs Llama came home she criticised me for using the wet logs to start the evening’s fire.  When I pointed out that I thought it was worth trying she espoused;

But every time I’ve used them they’ve not lit, so why did you do it?

I pointed out (in jest) that I rejected her positivistic based approach, and said that I’d done a humanities reading of the log situation and decided to go my own way.  Phrases like deconstructed, feminism and post-modernism flowed as I explained why is was a much more scholarly approach to take a different reading of the situation and make use of the wet logs.

Then I decided for the sake of world peace, to go and add another fire lighter to get it going again…

Wednesday

Foucault by default
Kicked off the day by writing up my notes on the CMS book, answering a couple of emails, working on my timeline and hunting down a journal article to read this morning.  After that I think I’m going to dive into another CMS book to really see if I can end the pre-Christmas period having a strong understanding of this area.  or at least as strong as I can get without actually employing it in anger.  Also ordered myself a brief book on Foucault, as his name and work has cropped up time and again in recent reading; along with Marx and Weber but I’ll get to them sometime next year!  Might be able to sneakily read the Foucault book over Christmas without Mrs Llama cottoning on that I’m actually working.  Here’s hoping!

Also added the 40th reference that I’ve read to my bibliography (which is actually missing 2 or 3 books I’ve only part read on theory) – the sum total of the past 11.5 weeks’ work – has it only been that short a time?  Feels more like a lifetime ago that I started out on the PhD trail!

Thursday

Commonwealth: A Novel
Yesterday and today were spent in battle with Hardt and Negri’s Commonwealth; a book recommended by both my supervisors   It’s lain on the pending pile for the past month as the rather dull looking cover and brief flick through the contents didn’t exactly fill me with delight and desire to start in on it.  Also, as I’ve been focussing in on the theory for my work, rather than the broader knowledge for a while it’s not been critical.  However, since I’ve decided to walk away from the theory and methods until post-Christmas the time was ripe to try to read through something pretty meaty and challenging before the close of play.

Took me most of the second half of Wednesday to read the first 130 pages (the book has over 400) – and for a large amount of the time my eyes kept wanting to run out of my head rather than read the words.  It’s generated 9 phrases I need to add to my glossary (and probably another dozen I’ve decided aren’t too critical) and kept switching between English, Latin, French and German which somewhat challenged my linguistic skills!  However, today I made much better inroads – partly because I just discipline my self to take as little time away from studying as I could – even the postman turning up was an unwelcome distraction.

I was really glad I persevered though.  While I can’t say I completely understood the whole book (or even a large chunk of it), there was still quite a lot that I could see the relevance of w.r.t. my research interests.  I think I’d have been in tears if I’d spent a day and a half and got nothing out of it; but thankfully once again my supervisors were on the money.  Wish they’d warned me about the heavy Marxist reading of the various concepts I’d need wade through.

Still not overly clear on what biopolitics is though, isn’t all politics biological? Yes, I will be looking it up as they didn’t really define this in the book – despite it being the one substantive word they used more than any other!  And just don’t get me started on altermodernity!

I think, love it or hate it – I’ll be using this book as the subject of one of my assessed book reviews I have to do for the PGDip I’m reading for alongside the PhD; it certainly has sufficient philosophical content which is a requirement and I feel the need to go back and give bits of it a repeated reading.

Just not this year ok!

Friday

Well as we’re still here maybe we won’t need this tune, thanks Mayans!


Today to round out the year I read some of the pile of reports and journal papers as a spot of light relief; which ended with me trying to finish one on IPR, patents and copyright after Mrs Llama arrived home a little early from work.  I also returned to twitter after a three weekish silence (sulk) for a bit of a chat.  That said the odd thing about working from home in the run up to Christmas is there’s none of that having to wish people you never speak to the remaining 51 weeks of the year merry Christmas as they drift off in dribs and drabs from the office in the last week and the final hours.  Nor the awkwardness of getting out of the “Let’s go to the pub!” at closing time.  On the other hand, there wasn’t anyone to tell me to knock off early and so it was almost 5pm before I downed tools.

(And I’ll be sneakily typing up some notes on Monday, despite Mrs Llama demanding it be a holiday day – sorry my dear but I need to do this while they’re fresh in my mind, and I’m tied up all weekend!).

Christmas2012Anyway, I’ll be back next week with a brief post taking a quick look back at everything I’ve read this term.  If the Wife lets me!  Happy Christmas.