Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Spin

So it’s been a few weeks since my last post – kinda keep meaning to get around to blogging and then having life (funerals, house renovations, mouse hunting etc) getting in the way. So here’s a speed through some of things I’ve been up to.

  • Thesis Theory Chapter
    • Still writing it.  Beginning to think I might be done with it this week with a good tail wind.  Of course this is the moment my supervisor is “super busy” of course so this’ll doubtless mean some delays once I submit it for review.  It is a lot better than previously and I can now talk about Foucault, Marx, Gramsci and the autonomists with a lot more ease.   So my education is benefiting.
  • QAA Review
    • Was approached (volunteered) to be a student mouth-piece for NTU’s QAA Higher Education Review panel for post-graduate researchers.  An interesting experience all round, and despite Mrs Llama’s skepticism over it as a good use of my time I’ve enjoyed being able to get my oar in.  As with all these sort of things at NTU it seemed some elements were happening a bit under a just in time approach to management – in that the first I heard about being involved was the Wednesday prior to the Tuesday evaluation via email.  That I’d been volunteered by my supervisor(s) or the university was interesting, I suspect it’s my role as former student rep that saw my name popping out of the hat a likely willing voice…but I never did find out just who it was whom put me forward.  Ah well, I can’t do research about activism and higher education without showing a willingness to be involved in shaping the sector when the opportunity arises now can I?  Interesting experience, although the one thing I took away is that the provision of support, facilities and resources for PGRs at NTU varies massively- I think AAH folks on on the poorer side of the dividing line too.  However, I seemed to be doing more academic work in terms of teaching and assessment than most, so there you go.  At least I got a chance to voice how awful the research training module had been…
  • Teaching
    • As of last week I’ve taken on two more classes for my digital/human communications module seminars – both of which seem fuller of students than my regular one.  Just keeping the one class for the media communications sessions though.  Nice to run the seminars more than once, as what doesn’t work with some groups of students works really well with others.  of course this does mean I’ve just taken on more marking commitments…sigh…wish the uni paid me for that time!  Speaking of which spent two days marking the student’s profile essays, which were a good read on the whole – they’d all pretty much grasped the ideas behind the assessment which was great.  Wonder how they’ll do in the oral presentation they’ve got coming up next?
  • Book chapter
    • Working on a propopals for a book chapter with my supervisory around issues of IPR and (c) in a post-physical/digital age.  Not sure we’ll get it accepted by the editors but worth a try.  Could always reuse it elsewhere.
  • Conference proposals
    • In the middle of writing two of these for conferences this summer.  Not 100% sure either will get in, but it’s worth a try I think.  One’s about general communications effectiveness and the other’s more about my research; which is the harder one to write – as in just picking one area to write about it a challenge!
  • Leicester Media Seminar
    • Went over to the University of Leicester to attend one of their research seminars about authentic ethnography and the Occupy Wall Street protests.  Very interesting session, although the Q&A did rather drag on.  Why do some people insist in asking questions that are in effect 5 minute statements about “How brilliant my research is”?  Doesn’t make for a lively back and forth frankly.  But worth my time, and hopefully I might see if any of their future sessions are worth attending.
  • Careers and employment
    • Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this a bit and trying to set a timetable of when I need to start really job hunting.  Pretty sure I can’t rely on something falling into my lap, but also pretty sure that I need to make sure I only take on something that allows me enough time to finish writing the thesis.  Balancing the need for income with the need to work, fun fun fun.  However, will continue my whispering campaign to get NTU to keep paying me to lecture at least!  Mrs Llama sent me the following “helpful” cartoon.  Thanks dear…
Post Doc Descent cartoon
Post Doc Descent
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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.

Halfway up the Stair

Monday

This week represents a pretty momentous moment in my PhD life.  I’m officially halfway through my funding at the end of this week, and while I do have a year beyond that to submit I’ll be needing to find paid employment to support myself through it.  Hard to believe it, but it’s been 18 months I’ve been working on this whole thing…and come to think of it, 18 months since I had an actual holiday too.  *sigh* Going to be a lot longer before I get a proper break; staycations don’t really count since I live and work from home in front of a PC most days…and in my spare time I live and work at home and play games on my PC (Witcher 2 at the moment, to be followed by Max Payne 3 after that – thank you Steam sale!).

No Robin, I said halfway up!

Anyway today I cracked out my notes to start work on a chapter of my thesis looking at the development of open access in the UK.  I started on the background reading to this way before Xmas, but it’s been sidelined since then with the more pressing concerns of interview analysis.  Halfway through the morning I realised that I need to update the small time-line of events I started more than a year ago.  Thinking this shouldn’t take too long I set out to update it…and around 5hrs later finished.  I think that’s a recurring theme of a PhD, all these small tasks that seem like they’ll take next to no time to complete, turn out to take far longer than you expect.  I know the same’s true in a job, but in a PhD you’re essentially working for yourself, so the motivation to avoid being slapdash or doing a half-arsed job is much more prevalent.

Not of course that I was ever slapdash in my former professional life, and my no 🙂

Ended up stopping around downstairs ranting about some of my thoughts on OA and my insights to poor old Mrs Llama who had only stopped to ask me if I wanted a cup of tea.  I suspect she won’t be too sorry to go back to work in the near future, if only to give her ears a rest.

Tuesday

This week I’m trying to alternate what I do each day, rather than blitzing a single task.  Hopefully this will make for a more engaging week for my brain!  Today I’m working on my data analysis, a spot of cleaning up and a bit of category merging.  As it emerged (ho ho) I also had to reclassify a few bits as well.  And then I got to generate some very nice graphical images which will guide my thesis chapter writing on this bit.  And will also shape the next round of interviews once I’ve got this written up (hopefully by Easter).  Finished off the day writing half the slides for this week’s seminar on globalisation.  Not that sure of this topic, and confess that the phraseology used by the lecturer this week in his notes aren’t quite as clear as normal.  I can see I’ll be doing a chunk of background reading tomorrow in my “spare” time to bring myself up to date sufficiently to answer the student’s questions on the topic.

In some ways, not too sorry that it’s the spring break after this for a couple of weeks (not that I’ll be stopping work, but at least no seminars!).

Oh and in other news Mrs Llama and I won our first competition (we’ve gone in for…erm, quite a few lately) so a victory lap of Llama Towers was held.

Wednesday

In for the lecture on globalisation, and for printing off some of my tree maps of my data – in glorious A3 colour.  Lecture was very interesting, and thankfully I think I can engage the students’ interest in the subject tomorrow.  That said going on their faces in the lecture, a lot of them are still wondering quite how it relates to media.  Had a meeting after this of the College Research Degrees Committee.  Not a lot of laughs, and as I was the only rep there kinda felt a bit abandoned by my fellows.  Still, raised the issues of concerns about the library and training courses that people wanted flagged up.  By the time I’d done this, the will to do much more had faded away, but I forced myself to go through the seminar preparation notes and draw up my plan for the next day.

Thursday

Spent the morning doing a bit of data tweaking in NVivo, after thinking that I ought to subdivide my data more by university grouping.  This meant that I had to go find the information on that and plug it into the software.  Not thrilling but I think it’ll make the data set more relevant.

Seminars went okay, though I had an errant student from another seminar group who was (to put it mildly) a whole different kettle of fish to my regular students.  Still, I guess I’ve said before I’d rather the students spoke up more; so i guess it was a case of be careful what you wish for.

Friday

As Mother Llama was coming for the weekend I had a bit of a truncated day of work, fiddling with data.  Continuing the theme of this week felt like I made very little concrete progress, but at least some progress was made.  I’ll polish this bit off next week though, and get cracking on the writing and data reviewing.  Since my students are away for the next couple of weeks it’ll give me a bit of uninterrupted time.

Ah well, only 18 funded months left now…all downhill from here (eep!)

Facing up to Facebook

Monday

Me, trying to study
Me, trying to study

A day when I felt like getting out of bed was a mistake.  Not an exhausted feel for once, but more a feeling of intense sleepiness.  The call of the bed chamber wasn’t helped by it being the first day in ages I had to sit down and make plans again about what to do next.  Work on the analysis of my data now it’s all coded.  Work out how to actually do that in NVivo.  Worry about all the papers and books I’ve got on my pending reading pile.  Think about the conference talks I’ve got to give in the coming months.  And of course get going on a couple of thesis chapters.

Not what could be called the most practical or awe-inspiring days of achievements, but I did at least manage to get myself sorted with a plan of action.

Tuesday

A day of reading papers and news publications.  Interesting in part, baffling in others and hard going in a few places.  Rather been out of the loop on reading for a couple of months so need to start squeezing some more back into my timetable I think.  Hopefully once term ends next week and I get my whole week back for research I’ll be able to plough ahead at a faster rate.

Wednesday

Class today focussing on the political and social ramification of social networks, taking Facebook as its exemplar.  Not helped by the lecture room being relocated at the last minute, and since I don’t get the student emails or notifications I was left with the stragglers to arrive a little late.  Not the greatest lecture I’ve sat through (a bit disjointed in central narrative) but an interesting topic: the societal and political ramifications of social networks (n.b. Facebook).  Think I’ll be able to talk to the students about it tomorrow, as I can see from some of their faces looks of confusion.  Back home after this to prepare the seminar and read some more papers.  I confess I did end up in the study-bed at the end of the afternoon reading papers (our house is always cold, and on fasting days I nearly freeze) but it was surprisingly productive.  Unlike Monday, I wasn’t fighting the desire to sleep the whole time!

Thursday

Reading and note taking on various papers and news articles in the morning, and then what looked like being the lamest of the seminar series.  Since all the time (bar a lecture recap) was given over to group work time I wasn’t surprised half the students didn’t turn up.  Hopefully those that did, got something out of my suggested directions for their work.  Or maybe I horribly confused them; we’ll find out in mid-April when the deadline hits.  Also struck me how much I’m going to miss my students after this course ends.  Unlike a lot of the tutors I won’t be teaching them again (well, not unless NTU extends my contract and teaching remit – hint hint), and I’ve grown really fond of them, watching them develop.  I’ve never had that opportunity in the past as a librarian, as all the lectures I gave were one offs.  Here, I’ve been able to see how you can develop scholastic relationships with the students, and get to know their strengths and weaknesses, not to mention what works and what doesn’t in terms of educational praxis.

Came home, and managed to grab a very productive final hour of the day reading a few more papers.

Friday

Revelations!
Revelations!

A day that began with mutterings about the lack of NVivo training NTU makes available, and which ended with a moment of revelation as I figured out how to run some analysis tools on it.  In between I was cleaning up data, working out how to configure source classifications (more straightforward than I first thought), and then adding more context to my data.  I will confess that the moment I suddenly got a graphical representation of my data out of NVivo was rather like looking into the face of God for a moment – there’s a lot of thinking ahead, but suddenly all the months of interviewing, transcribing and coding have yielded something concrete and impressive looking.  Now I just have to add scholarly context and start writing about it next week.

A really, really good end to the week.

A Blur of Activity

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last did a post, as I’ve been a bit run down of late so I’ve let this slide.  However, that’s not to say exciting things haven’t been happening – so here they are in brief.

  • Work: Coding. Coding. More coding.  Teaching prep. Teaching. Marking oversight.
  • Meeting: Had a meeting with my second supervisor (first time in about 5 months as he’s been on research leave). Very useful and positive discussions.
  • Teaching: Carrying on with my seminar teaching, which continue to be the true highlights of my week.  Both classes have managed to make me genuinely smile (and even laugh) with their insights – they’re definitely all getting a whole lot better at their studies.
  • Mrs Llama: Mrs Llama finally got a proper job again, which starts in April.  Which means we can stop eating gruel for every meal (slight, but not that slight, joke).
  • UKSG: I won a conference award to attend the UKSG conference next month.  I’m overjoyed, as it is far, far too expensive to attend.  And not a little smug that I’ll be using money from academic publishers.  Going to be a great conference, where I’ll be a man on a mission to make some cross-sector contacts.
  • Excitement: I’ve also been approached about something very exciting professionally, but it’s not set in stone yet so I can’t talk about it in public yet (he said mysteriously).  Even if it doesn’t come to pass, it’s deeply flattering to have been approached about it.
  • FAIL: I tried to attend a webinar and an afternoon event, but thanks to technical issues with the first and feeling dog-rough for the other I didn’t. Damn. Although I did get to see my BFF as part of my attempts to attend, so it wasn’t a totally loss.
  • Finalé: And most importantly today I finally finished coding all my interviews.  It has been a long, and painful, slog but this phase is at least done.  Of course now I have to make sense of the results, but I’ll worry about that next week.

Next week…I have to start serious thinking again. And, oh yes, catch up on a pile of reading!

Out and About

Monday


Looks like this week I’ll be out of the house on no fewer than 3 days.  It’s the usual lecture and seminar, plus at the last minute I’ve bagged a place on a conference tomorrow entitled Working with Paradata, Marginalia and Fieldnotes.  As it’s at the University of Leicester I’ll be able to pop in to this quite easily.  Should be interesting, especially as I’m all about the fieldwork analysis at the moment.  Well I will be once I finish reading this ILL book I have which is a bit tough to get into, but does have some interesting bits in it.  Reading it mostly just to stretch my mind further, so fingers cross it works.

Tuesday

Leicester conference centre
Leicester conference centre

Day out at the aforementioned conference. Very productive!  Also ran into some old library colleagues, which was lovely as I hardly ever see anyone from there any more.

Wednesday

Spent some time writing up the notes from yesterday’s conference.  Attended the weekly media lecture, this week on the rise of the modern press.  Somewhat annoyed by how loudly and constantly the undergraduates were talking throughout this session.  If you want to chat, kindly vacate the room folks and let those of us who want to listen, listen!  The rest of the day spent reading and preparing for tomorrow’s seminar.

Thursday

A spot of reading, and a spot of seminaring. This week the topic was the impact of the press (media) on enabling the flowering of liberal democracies in the western world.  I confess it wasn’t the most exciting of group work for the students (read two papers…and discuss) but I did my best to try and make it a bit more engaging for them.  Clearly either I failed them or the content baffled them, as they were quieter than ever.  I even found myself employing the painful silence technique in order to get them to speak – but it didn’t bring much joy.  Even those who did say a bit more at the start of the year, are now getting a whole lot quieter.  *sigh*

I think in particular it’s a shame this topic didn’t grab them, as it ties directly into stuff later in the term on the Internet, Web 2.0, social media and citizen journalism; and asks the question: are these are enabling the reflowering of Habermas’ social sphere?  I think the answer is largely yes.  Perhaps though they’ll shock me next week and be more engaged with the topic of public service broadcasting.

Friday

For one, back home all day – and finally time and inclination to finish the book.  Really knuckled down and forced myself to struggle through it, and after a while I realised I was really enjoying it.  Good book to read, and even better quite a few of the references and authors are things I’ve already read, rather than completely new.

Whole lot of new extra words for my glossary though.

Exciting news during the day, as I’ve been asked to take over another seminar group for a member of staff on study leave. This is good news as I could a) do with the cash and b) do with more experience.  Looks like it’ll be on a Thursday as well as my current session, so I won’t really lose much additional time – and I can obviously reuse the same seminar material, so there’s no additional preparation time.   Despite some seminars not being a lot of laughs, I do really enjoy the teaching side of things – and even more so, teaching things that aren’t tedious “library skills”.

Monday (2)

My desk today
My desk today

Well, as I forgot to post this last week – let’s make this a double value post!  Today I spent over 6hrs sitting in the Clifton library reading through all my interview transcripts.  Fun.  At least it was sunny outside.  Or it was when I started, but the end of my time there it was pitch black outside.  Printed off all the transcripts in one big fat file – all 212 pages of them before I went home.  Think the undergrads would have been grateful I didn’t dominate the printer earlier in the day!

Tuesday (2)

Today…I re-read the transcripts.  A bit slower this time as I was making more scribbled notes on the side and even assigning a few proto tags on the master print off.  Of course not helped by discovering that somehow I’d missed off 35 odd interviews from the master file print yesterday – but no matter, I have hard copy back ups and I’ll just run them off tomorrow when I’m on campus again.

Depressingly familiar sight
Depressingly familiar sight

For the record there are 204,072 words on 347 pages in the merged master transcript file.  Just give you an idea of how much data I’m dealing with (and yes, every bit of it hand typed by yours truly).  Ouch.  On the other hand though I am beginning to have some deeper thoughts about things I’m seeing in the data.  Mostly questions, but I’m hoping these will develop once I get to the third read through at the end of the week – once the lecture and seminar are over for the week.

Keep wondering if I should be exploring if campus has any analysis software (like NVivo) to use for this content analysis work.  On one hand doing it all by hand means I really am in the data, on the other I do get slightly uneasy about lack of backups.  Found myself photographing my scribbling thoughts again today – just in case there’s an incident and I lose them!  So they’re now squirreled away on Dropbox as a sort of backup.  Not sure what to do if my head crashes (and considering the whack I managed to give it going up into the attic earlier to find a ring-binder, it currently feels like that might be a thing!)

Wednesday (2)

Campus day, and early as I wanted to print off the remaining 140 pages of my interview transcripts.  That done I made the pleasant surprise that they’ve upgraded the PCs in the Graduate room in the library (all 8 of them, it’s not that many – but at least the filthy undergrads don’t come in here). Always baffles me a bit that this room is only ever half occupied at best, and this morning only me here – there’s no lock on the door, so always surprised the lower orders don’t take it over.  Kinda glad they don’t.

No sign of NVivo on the campus network, so just as well I wasn’t relying on it being here!  Maybe I should ask IT if they have it?

This is the BBC Home service...
This is the BBC Home service…

Lecture today on public service broadcasting and then off to a CRDC meeting.  I was supposed to get out of this one, and let me deputy rep attend for the experience but she’s not able to make it.  Not a problem, as I’d pretty much assumed I’d have to be there as I’d not heard from her (until first thing today).  Thankfully the meeting was very short and fairly uneventful, aside from hearing that there is now definitely no PRP block teaching for the second module; which would have been the last bit of interest I would have had in it.  And since that’s gone I think I can wave goodbye to the programme for good and just pick up workshops locally and externally that are directly relevant to me (like last week’s session at Leicester).

Came home and did the background reading for the seminar, and then wrote my version of the session.

Thursday (2)

A morning at home to do more reading through the transcripts, and then in to run the public service broadcasting seminar.  This week I had the students reading an eight page article on the BBC and governmental interference and writing summaries.  Sounds easy?  Well it wasn’t that readable an extract, and while rich in information quite a few of them were clearly struggling to do it in the allotted time.  Can’t say I blame them, as it wouldn’t have been my first choice for a thriller of a session. Hopefully in between the writing my bouncing around kept them entertained and maybe even slightly informed and educated.  Just like public service broadcasting should!

Many, many papery bastards...
Many, many papery bastards…

Came home and…yes, read transcripts.  Finished the second read through when a thought struck me.  One swift Google search later I discovered the average novel is 80k words long.  So essentially each read through of my interviews is like reading three novels.  No wonder it’s a bit tough on my grey cells.  I have noticed as a result I appear to have the voices of the repository managers, research office staff and librarians I spoke to floating around in my head 24hrs a day now.  Is this a good thing?  Does this mean the data is starting to form new and exciting shapes in my brain?  I wish I knew…

Interestingly Kornelia says NVivo is on the campus network and we can download it for home use if we ask.  Skeptical, but will mail and ask our ICT people tomorrow as they were very helpful with the MS Office suite.

Friday (2)

Not so much reading the transcripts today, as trying to see if I can bring some nascent order to my tags and classification.  Harder work than I thought it would be and haven’t made anything like the level of progress I expected today.  Guess there are always going to be days like this when it all feels like an uphill struggle.  Hopefully a weekend of distractions will take this all forward.  I can see I’ll be on campus all day Monday in order to refocus my mind a little, since I worked so well there last week.

Booked for an event down at the University of Sussex in early March, which is good – if a bit of a long drive.  As cheap to drive as it is to attend, and it gives me the excuse (not that I need one) to go visit my bff  on the way down.  Also finally booked for OER14.  As I’ve said before this isn’t cheap and £300 is a lot of money when you’re paying it out of your own pocket.  It had better be damn fine conference when all is said and done.  Better get on and book the train tickets next, to try and keep costs down further.

Do hope Mrs Llama find paid employment soon, as currently finances are somewhere between precarious and knife-edge 😦

Entertaining Freud

Monday

Morning spent finishing off the methods book.  After lunch glanced through my (various) NTU email accounts, and had a first look at the seminar material for this week.  Urg, Freud.  This one’s going to be a bit of a challenge I think as I’m not as up on Freud as on the other folks we’ve covered to date.

As luck would have it, I had planned to read a book on Freud today anyway so I guess that just got kicked up the scale of importance – wouldn’t help if the students were clearer on his thoughts than I was!

Also landing in my inbox today, the course book for the optional modules for the PRP training course.  It’s a pretty weak selection of anything that’s of much use to me by the looks of it, and certainly the Arts & Humanities selection seems to be a bit poor: two modules on offer, of which I’ve already done one!  Debating taking on of the one’s offered in Psychology, since they seem closer to what I’m interested in learning more about.  I shall have to think about this a bit more.

Oh, and to add to the organisation, none of the modules have any listed dates/times for when they’ll be running – which isn’t helpful since I’m not going to junk my teaching commitments in to do these!  At this rate I can see me re-dropping out of the PRP programme…really pretty poorly organised this year full stop.

Tuesday

Finished off Freud in the morning (or at least the one book) and feel a bit better equipped to face tomorrow’s lecture and Thursday’s seminar.  Followed it up by digging into a book on Qualitative Content Analysis.  I think this is going to be the method that I’ll be using with the phase one interviews, and I need to get my head around it.  I did something like it about 15 years ago, but it wasn’t at such a grand level, so almost relearning it from scratch.

Wednesday

An hour or so more reading and then into this week’s lecture on Freud, a figure I now know more about and will hopefully be able to lead a good seminar on tomorrow.  I say that as I spent three hours after the class on campus preparing my teaching for it.  By the time I came home I was a bit burned out so not much more productive work done.  The lecture was only an hour long at least this week, as the students had a class test to take first.  Which sounds great, except…I’ve got to mark all the ones from my seminar group.  Eep.

Thursday

A bit more work about QCA in the morning (looking at creating coding frames) before I headed in to teach the seminar on Freud.  After my initial fears about this week’s session, I was actually quite happy with the content I was going to present.  It’s been noticeable as I’ve gone through this first term that the time it takes me to prepare material for the seminars has dropped a bit, although a lot of the hard lifting has been done by each week’s lecturer.  All the same it’s been up to me to turn their notes into something I can teach, and hopefully teach to a level that challenges and informs the students.

They’re warming up to my style a bit more now, and are at least more chatty during the sessions.  Then again I keep hearing about some of the other groups and they seem to have more switched on students, so I’m still worried that I’m not quite engaging them as much as I could be.  But then I guess if I felt everything was tickerty boo, then I could be fooling myself more.  Quite enjoyed the session in the end, given all the taboo breaking that a lot of Freud’s thought represents and I hope I got the students thinking a bit more critically about whether they have to accept the theory that is presented to them, or if they can bring their reflexivity to bear and take a different POV.

That done I had a post seminar chat with Kornelia, where we traded stories and ideas for sessions, which was very helpful.  Think I might aim to use yet more video material next week.  After that it was home for a few domestic chores and then a bit more QCA before calling it a day.

Still agonising over the PRP choices though.  Not quite giving me sleepless nights, but if I were to pick my least favourite part of the PhD experience right now, coping with the issues around that course would be the top one.

Friday

A day that started well with attendance at a Graduate School meeting as the maybe-rep for my school, a meeting during which I tried my best not to dominate the discussions. Too much. Honest.  Actually it was quite enjoyable, and if I am rep (or even vice-rep) I think this is going to be a beneficial experience for me, and hopefully provide some much needed direction from the student body for the Grad School.  They mean well, and clearly really give a damn about us all, which is great to see, but like a lot of academia they’re swimming to stay afloat in some places.  Hopefully here’s where I can give them the benefit of the Llama wisdom!

Came home and thought about reading some more, but after 90 minutes staring at a page realised my brain just couldn’t take in any more this week.  So instead went up to print off all the materials for my marking of the class test…only to find the niggling hardware failure that’s been causing my PC not to boot first time in the last week or so has clearly reached failure point, as it just wouldn’t even get into the BIOS.  CMOS battery dead? Memory module failure?  I’m just not sure, and given that my plan this weekend was to order the parts to upgrade to a newer processor…I guess that’s now my main priority.  Not quite how I wanted to end the week really.

For a Few Edits More

Monday & Tuesday (week beginning 14th October)

Days spent editing the chapter.  Slowly getting to the point where it actually makes sense to me, and I’m able to spot bits that are gibberish far more easily.  Finding that reading it aloud helps a lot – as I rapidly spot the clunkers.  Seem to be getting a bit faster on the editing too.  All the same I’ll be glad to get this bit done.

Also some time on the old email tubes sorting out some administration nonsense with the uni.  Which reminds me I need to find out how I get paid for last week’s teaching.  I’ve things I need (want) to spend the money on!

Wednesday and Thursday

Lecture time on Wednesday looking at conversation analysis.  Interesting as aspects of this lecture last year crept into our RPC course (and I realise now that it was the same teacher!)  Sorta glad I don’t have to teach this one this week as the tutorial looked a bit like it would be like pulling teeth.  Which was a coincidence as having had my front tooth chipped on Sunday, fixed on Monday, the filling fell out on Thursday evening.  Le sigh.  More editing on Wednesday afternoon, and then Thursday was my dad’s funeral.  Not much more to say there really.

Friday

A semi frustrating day during which my energy levels utterly collapsed.  Probably as a result of the emotional toil of the previous day, which was annoying as I really wanted to crack on with my editing.  Did follow up with my supervisors over the level two RPC (PRP) course which turns out not to be available in a block teaching segment.  So much for asking the head of the Graduate School the question directly, clearly he gave me a duff answer.

But having reviewed the content, being now on the direct to PhD route and with my teaching commitments for this year I’ve concluded that I just can’t spare the time to attend it or do the coursework.  Real shame, but I think it’s the best decision as it lets me focus in on my research.  I do hope to go to some of the other training the uni offers though, so I might have to look into that in the next week or so.  Ran the idea past my supervisors first though, just in case they had any objections.  As it turns out they’re quite happy as they’re not convinced by the content either.

And yes, my tooth is now fixed.  Again.

Monday (week beginning 21st October)

As I forgot to post this last week, lets make this a two week blog.  Today was spent…editing.  Some of it was my chapter, most of it was rewriting my annual report to my supervisors’ and internal examiners satisfaction.  Hopefully they’ll be okay to sign it off now.

Off to arXiv with you!
Off to arXiv with you!

Realised it was open access week as well this week.  Second year in a row when I’ve had nothing to do with it.  Not that I could do much with it at Leicester after my HoD threw out my idea to dress as the Child Catcher and stalk the academics’ corridors “smelling out” their unshared papers.  Can’t see what the problem was with the idea myself…

Meanwhile, posted a couple of seasonal recipes over on my Llamapaws blog, for pumpkin lovers.

Tuesday

Just to break up the routine…went to the dentists first thing.  Thankfully this was just my regular scrape and polish appointment – and all my teeth remained intact.  Editing for the rest of the day, and made some good progress.  Another couple of solid days efforts and I’ll have the chapter close to done.  A few more after that (so next week) and I can share it with my supervisor.

Got my supervisors’ comments back on my annual review (mk2) – I am making “good progress” if somewhat ambitious with my plans for the year (but they like that, better than not having enough to do).  Glad they feel like I’m making progress, round about now I feel like I’m swimming in treacle on my own – and I hate treacle (not good for the teeth or the waistline you know!).  *Sigh*  I know every PhD must get this feeling, but as the nights draw in and it’s dark more and more one can’t help but feel increasingly isolated.

That said in other news I’ve got to write a short election blurb for student rep.  Two of us have volunteered for the post (and there is a vice post so election to one of the roles is certain).  Debating writing something about being a “good egg” or alternatively pointing out I’ve worked in HE for yonks and know how to make the whole Administratum work.  Suspect I won’t exactly poll many votes, so am preparing for the role of Selina Meyer!

Wednesday

Essentially pissed away an hour in the morning before driving over to campus to attend this week’s communication lecture   This week was looking more at conversation analysis and at public speaking, a particular interest of mine so I really enjoyed it.  Looking at the material we’re running for the seminars this week, I’m a lot happier than I was with my first one; although that doesn’t mean I’m not going to go to the one first thing tomorrow and pick up a few more tips.

After losing that hour in the morning  by the time I got back I was ready to crack the whip and work, work, work on my editing.  Only 10 pages to go so I should be done with this editing by the end of the week.  A polish early next week and then I can open it up to the scorn….erm reviewing comments of my supervisory team.  I am not kidding when I say I’m rather dreading that now.  Having spoken to a fellow student this week who had their writing heavily criticised I’m going to brace myself.  It’s the first chapter I’ve written so it’s always going to be the one that is the most rubbish.  There’s so much I’d do differently (and will) for future chapters in terms of planning, note taking and structure; so it’s been a real learning experience.  I just hope the content is at least half decent.

So, just your basic confidence and self belief issues today.

Thursday

Extra reading assignment for the day – Lisa Jeskin’s blog post where she expands on the discussion we’ve been having on the comments.  Go read and then come back here, I’ll wait…

Up at the crack of…no, before dawn, so I could breakfast and feed two lots of livestock AND then get to campus for 8.30am.  Was shadowing a tutorial again.  Not quite sure if I’m expected to do this every week, as I think I could probably have done this week’s without it.  But all the same it was a useful few minutes to discuss tactics with my fellow junior-assistant-underpaid lecturer Kornelia.  Following this we went a saw another member of the teaching team who helped us sort out some more of the little technical/administration issues that we have pending.  Still haven’t discovered how we get paid for this gig yet mind you, and now there’s the issue of next Thursday being a strike day for the unions.  Not being in the union kinda wondering if I’ll have to drive through/over the picket line.  And if my supervisor will take away my Marxist hat if I do turn up!

After that went and wrote my student rep election notice, which will probably have the same level of success as the last time I stood for student rep when I was 11.  The phrase I believe is “crashed and burned”.  But all the same, I think it does do me some good to try and contribute back to the university on behalf of the students.  Hell, I’m a wannabe communications academic so I should really do some of that communication with the academics.

One signature gained on my annual review, two to go.  And a week before I have to hand it in…

[later] Well that didn’t quite go according to plan.  Turned out the IT guys in my dept are too good – they switched over all my teaching account stuff to my new staff account.  The account for which all the details were on my desk. At home.  About 19 miles away.  Discovered this about 70 minutes before I was due to teach…so had to race home, grab it and screech back.  Made it in time – and I don’t think the students could see the blind panic dying slowly in my eyes.  Class was interesting, but I do wonder if I’m being too soft on them, since getting them to talk is still a bit of an uphill struggle.   Did get some interaction though, and I think they got something out of being forced to transcribe Eastenders.

Had my usual debrief chat with Kornelia and then came home, after trying to track down some more signatures.  No luck.  Kinda burned out by the rush of earlier so crashed out for a couple of hours.  Will be back into it all tomorrow full force though.  Do like having a staff account though, as suddenly all sorts of new messages and news are appearing that I wasn’t aware of before.

Friday

Some more reading for you – Why you should blog your research.  I will, you know, once I have time to really get some analysis done over the next couple of months.

Had to do a fair bit of travelling today for none work things.  So spent the time sitting on the train reading the 1985 Jarrett report into Higher Education.  Somewhat frustratingly this isn’t online anywhere I could find, but thankfully I tracked down that the BL had a copy.  Surprisingly short and readable, and there’s a lot in this that has shaped the ideology and praxis HE of today, just as much as Robbins (1963), Dearing (1997) and Browne (2010) to name but three others.  Yet doesn’t seem to be flagged up as often in the papers I’ve read on the topic.  Certainly in terms of the whole marketisation agenda it’s pretty significant indeed.

Welcome to Level 2

And so I slide into the second (of potentially four) years working on my PhD.  It’s been a bit of a choppy week for me workwise as I’ve had some family issues to deal with, which have taken out a few days from my schedule.  As such I’m not going to belabor the epistolary formula this week and just give you the short report for once.  I’m sure there may be some of my (semi) regular readers who’ll be glad of that!

Library camp: Despite no longer being a librarian, I owe a lot of what I am and my outlook to that glorious becardiganed set. As such I’ve signed up to attend the Library Camp 2013 unconference in Birmingham in November.  And offered to run the odd session or two too.

Editing: I’m still working on the chapter. Go away.  I don’t want to talk about it right now. (Gah!)

Research Training: Despite horrid train issues I made it to the briefing for the RPC (or the Professional Research Practice Course I think it’s called now) briefing on Tuesday.  Turns out you can opt to do the whole module 2 in a three-day intensive burst or every couple of weeks.  I’ve opted for the burst mode.  I’ll miss seeing some of the old gang, but as they’ve relocated it out to City Campus it really is a pain and a half to get there for me.  That’ll all be in November.

PhD Chat: As a consequence of the briefing for the course I did catch up with some of the old gang, and had a very intensive conversation with a few of them.  Thanks folks, that really helped cheer me up (and I am NOT going to finish this PhD as quick as some of you seemed to think!).

New year, new job: Yes, I was interviewed (or rather had an informal chat to my department head and a module leader) on Thursday.  As a result I am now a university lecturer of sorts – I’ll be leading seminar groups from next week on a core media module.  More on that…once I know what it is I’ve got myself in to!  Excited as this is just what I wanted to do as part of my PhD experience, and mildly terrified as to what I’ve taken on!

My dad: Thanks for asking…he’s likely to pass in the next few days.

Next week: Looks like a busy one.  I’m deadlining myself to edit the last half of the chapter so I can wave it past my supervisors, I need to sort out this research training course and of course find out just what I’m teaching in these 23 seminars I’ve got lined up!

At Close of Play

Monday

And so starts the last week of year one of my PhD process.  That feels quite shocking to type when I think of how it seems almost like yesterday that I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing and wasn’t quite sure what the year would bring.  Wait.  That WAS yesterday.  Here’s hoping by the end of year two that things start to feel less like climbing a crumbling mountain blindfolded without a map.  Or a safety harness.

Also had a few minutes today where I wished I could get going on my interview analysis.  Then I remembered that while I was doing the interviews all I wanted to do was get going on the chapter writing or background reading.  I always have had difficulties doing one thing at a time to the exclusion of everything else, so it really is taking all of my self discipline to keep my teeth gritted and focussed in on the writing process.  I sense it’s not going to get any easier in this respect as the degree process wears on.

Spent today hammering away full speed on section 3 (academic capitalism and HE marketisation) of the chapter, although I did stop for a while to restructure the whole chapter, trying to streamline it a little and draw some of the scattered ideas back together.  Also decided I wanted a bit of input from my supervisors so sent them an outline of the chapter for comment.  Suspect they may be happy enough, but I wanted to see if there was anything for them that stood out that needed emphasis or perhaps needed removing/sidelining a bit 90more.

Tuesday

Made myself get going by 8.30am this morning.  Hell, when I worked for a living I’d generally be at work before this time of a morning so there’s no excuse.  Kinda slipped into a start at 9.30am pattern over the summer but since we’re past the equinox now decided it was time to make the switch to try and capture as many hours working in the light as I can.  Going to be really sorry to say goodbye to BST – the shift always seems such a bad idea personally, as all of sudden post working day there’s NO time to do jobs outside.  On the other hand I have enjoyed many a country walk in the dark of autumn, so I might start that up again.

Today I decided to crack on with merging my notes for another two sections of the chapter.  I was going to finish off part three first and give it a first polish, but as I’m stuck on a train Thursday afternoon it’ll probably be easier if I have plenty on paper to work on for editing.  That way when I’m back at my keyboard come Friday I’ll be able to write up material with gusto.

For the record the themes today were commodification of knowledge production and the educational experience.  Although I did keep finding titbits of information to go into the earlier sections.  Which is why I didn’t polish any of them, as I suspected that might happen.

Could have done without LibreOffice having a fit and crashing every time I opened a document today though.  Ended up switching the document back to a .odt file from a .docx and that seemed to resolve matters.  Annoying though, as as far as I can remember Open Office never crashed on me.  But then as I was only working on it for an hour or so today (and the rest of the day typing notes straight into EverNote) it didn’t slow me up too much.  A good days work that I’m happy to walk away from now.

Oh, amused in related news to see that my old university (which never met a benchmark it didn’t love) has got a degree in performance management up and running.  Clearly still chasing after the desire to be the new University of Warwick Plc…

Wednesday

I’m beginning to wonder if the title I picked for this week’s post is not more prophetic than I realised.  Heard today from my 3rd Stepmother (yes, I’ve had three of them) that my father’s taken a turn for the worse.  He’s been going through radio and chemo-therapy for the past month, and by the sounds of it has been essentially hospitalised for the past two weeks.  Not quite sure what to do, given we’re not what you call close but all the same it’s not been the best of news for the day.

Meanwhile back in nice mundane academia I’ve finally finished typing all my chapter notes up.  The chapter now is about three times too long, and is about as well structured as chopped noodles.  (Mmmmmn, chopped noodles).  However, as Mrs Llama said to be “At least now you have a block of text to go at”.  That I do, and it will probably take me the rest of this week and next to bring it into order.  There is I know a lot of duplication and bringing the disparate authors’ points together together is probably going to be the first task.  That and spotting which bits are complete and utter bilge, though no doubt Andreas and David will happily point those out later too.

Have been amused watching and reading all the various things on the news and my social media streams about freshers week.  Way back when I was a u/g my freshers week was pretty quiet – I didn’t drink or party, and liked to be in bed by 10pm (yeah, that’s changed a little over the years) but damn I don’t miss that week when I felt like I knew nobody  and didn’t know quite how the experience would be!

Totally different to how my first week as a PhD student…no wait, totally identical!  Wonder how the new PhDs will get on at their induction day tomorrow.  For me last year that was the kick off of the whole ball of wax, though the real start was the meeting with my supervisors on the following week.

Thursday

Interesting start to the day as I heard via a PhD colleague and also my supervisor that they’re looking for people to run some teaching in my dept.  Sounds simple enough, except we have to formally apply and be interviewed.  Doesn’t pay what you’d call big money (hell, this is academia we’re talking about) but it’d be relevant experience.  And even if I don’t get it this time (since I know my colleagues a bit more informed in the fields they’re looking for) it all helps to put my face on the departmental map a bit more.  Which is something I’ve been keen to do ever since I started.  Hence I spent the first couple of hours of the day filling in the application form (deadline being Sunday! Not a lot of warning).  It would be so much easier filling in these online forms if my career wasn’t so long/distinguished!  Interviews are next week – so at least I won’t be out of the loop for long.

And there I was thinking that I’d got a three year break from filling in application forms – whilst attempting to depart my previous employer I must have written about a dozen or so last year, so I am at least oh so very familiar with the process!

Did some light editing after that, but couldn’t really get my headspace right as I’d decided to go see my dad in hospital mid-afternoon.  There are 6 people on his ward.  He was easily the sickest, and least aware of where he was.  When I saw him just a few weeks ago before the chemo and radio therapy he wasn’t great, but he was 80-90% there.  Now there’s barely 10% of him left.  How his poor wife and family must be feeling I can’t comprehend, cos it’s left me pretty emotionally shell-shocked and I barely know him.

Living on my own without Mrs Llama has never been tougher than right now.

Friday

Not the best of workdays as I had to catch a series of trains in the morning to get to something with Mrs Llama.  However, i did take the time to do some on paper editing so it wasn’t a total loss.  One thing is sure, next week between my multiple commitments of life and work, is not shaping up to be a whole lot of fun.  If I can just get through it sane I’ll be a happy llama.

Not quite the end to my first year of PhD studies I’d hoped for, but an end all the same.  I’ll be having a look back over the highs and lows of the year in the next week or so.

Saturday

Ha! Surprise extra day working on the job application.  Not the finest application I’ve written, and to be honest not that sure they’ll interview me so haven’t flogged myself to death.  But I was happy enough with what I wrote in my supporting statement.  I’ll just have to let it ride for now.