Submission & Viva

Submission (redux)

Yes, I know, shocking.  I’m writing about my PhD again, something I’ve not done for a long time.  Why?  Well, because essentially all of 2016 was writing, editing, revising, rewriting and then more editing.  Oh and panicking, there was a quite a bit of that when I realised I wasn’t going to make my official deadline (thanks to family deaths, illness, general life events etc).  Thankfully, and despite the usual scaling of Mount Administration, I got an extension through to Jan 2017.  I was ready to submit before Christmas, but gave myself the first couple of weeks of the new year for a final proof-read and tidy before submitting on 18th Jan 2017.

 

Setting the Date

I kinda expected the viva would take place within about three months post-submission, since THAT’s what the university’s own regulations stipulate.  And given I’ve had to keep to their administration rigid timetables myself, you’d expect the same to be true for their own efforts.

Yeah, I know.  Anyone who’s spoken to me or read my earlier posts, knows that my professional opinion of the university’s administration layer is low, and my personal one is probably not repeatable in public.  Hence, consider how much foul language I’ve used when finally I got the viva date set for 15th June 2017: 5 months post submission.  This really wasn’t ideally, especially for applying for jobs where having had the viva could have made all the difference between securing paid employment and not even getting an interview.  I really feel the university has damaged my potential future earnings and career by their poor speed of turnaround.  Glad I had the opportunity to feedback on this in the recent PGR student survey, but this couldn’t make the viva happen faster.

 

I’ve been trying (and failing) to read 10 pages a day of the thesis in the build up to the 15th June.  Certainly, once I hit May (the month, not the PM) I made a redoubled effort to try and get through the chapters again.  I’ve probably eventually re-read it about three times fully, with one final skim through in the last couple of pre-viva days.  It struck me as being not too bad at all, although I kept finding the odd niggling grammatical error.  I know far worse theses have passed muster, as I’ve flicked through them over the years, so I wasn’t letting this stress me out.  All the same it’s frustrating to realise that despite all the careful proofreading by me and Mrs Llama, these things still slipped through.

The Day Arrives

I was pretty calm, and relaxed about the approaching date, although my sleeping patterned had gone to hell.  I partially attribute that to the light June mornings – I do not do well here, and Mrs Llama insists on leaving the bedroom door open to let more light flood in.  Given a free hand for my own room arrangements, I’d be sleeping in a dark, dark hole all summer long!

2017-06-15 12.07.34
Campus was dead quiet

On the day, I packed some water, a hat and my thesis and headed off into campus bright and early.  I planned to hideout in the library for the morning, having a last skim of vital parts (research rationale, claim to knowledge, theory, results, conclusions).  The viva was set for a 13.15-13.30 kickoff, so I had some time to collect myself and my ragged thoughts.  The library was (mostly) nice and quiet, until 11am when schoolkids on an open day came tearing through excitedly looking for “The horror section”.  I think they were disappointed by what they found!  Meanwhile, I was struggling more and more to keep myself calm.  I indulged in a few BJ Blazkowicz-style breathing exercises, chatted to the Wife and tried to dissuade myself of the notion that the last page I just skipped over would be THE bit I should have read more closely.

2017-06-15 10.42.39
Trying to study. Trying not to panic.

Shortly afternoon me, and my rising nerves, headed over to see my supervisor for a chat and lunch.  Or in my case, some camomile tea – I do not like eating ahead of interviews or other stressful events as my stomach tends to throw a fit.  ‘Lunch’ was just what I needed, in that in our talk about future papers we’re aiming to write I was nicely distracted.  Then it was time to head to CELS101 (yes, Room 101, thank you NTU for that Orwellian additional fear factor!) and face my panel.  Well, it was time, but the Independent Chair was a very much ‘by the rules’ kinda guy, and hence I had a loooong wait (20 minutes, it SEEMED long) before I came in and things began.

Your Starter for 10

Superlab, 300412
I entered a boy, and left a man…possibly

The viva itself was actually as I had hoped.  A conversation between relative peers, focussed on my research, approaches, thoughts, conclusions etc.  I didn’t feel stressed, I was able to talk (mostly) clearly about what I’d done, why and how it was important.  All credit to the External and Internal Examiners for that.  There was a very interesting debate over my conceptualisation of activists and indeed my whole ethnographic-framing, and that was probably the nearest I came to having to make it a viva-defence.  Did my best to take their points on board, while at the same time making my own thinking and perceptions clear.  Eventually, we ran out of questions, followed by a chance for me to ask them if there was anything they should have asked.  Yeah, like I’m going to say “Hey, you should REALLY have asked about this bit, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing“.  I suggested they could have asked ‘What’s your perfect Sunday?’, but that was about it.  I was excused while the examiners took a comfort break and then deliberated their decision.  I glanced at my phone – the viva had only taken 65 minutes.

Congratulations, Dr Llama

I didn’t have long to wait.  2 minutes.  And was greeted by the Chair almost immediately saying “Congratulations, Dr Johnson, we’ve recommended that the thesis be passed with no corrections“.

Despite THIS moment being what I’ve been working towards, hoping for, for over 4 years…to finally hear it was beyond a shock to the system.  I remember muttering some thanks, shaking everyone’s hand and trying not to beam like a loony.  I kept thinking “No corrections…not even Mrs Llama’s PhD got passed with that!“.  No thesis is perfect, and there was a lot of really useful feedback and suggestions from the examiners on how to improve it for publication as a book, or preparing it for journal articles (I’m not quite sure which yet).  They also wanted to tweak a single word in the title to “Better represent the depth and breath of your research“…wow.

A New Dawn

Writing this two days later…I’m still not quite sure it all happened, there’s still that slight doubt that I dreamed it all and I’m still waiting for the viva.  But I’m not.  Sure, I need the official letter to arrive and there’s (hopefully) an amusing hat-wearing related ceremony to attend next month to get the certificate.  Nevertheless, to all intents and purposes I am now a Doctor.

There was time for a quick drink and a chat with the examiners and my supervisor, which was a great wind down.  Nevertheless, I was bursting to go home and see Mrs Llama to share the moment with her.  Needless to say, she was quite excited too and we went out to dinner to celebrate.

2017-06-15 19.23.23
Three kinds of dip.  My kind of dinner!

All that remains now, is I just need to find a paying job that’ll make all the struggle, effort and learning really feel like it was worthwhile!  Stay tuned for that one…

Submission

So, it’s finally arrived, the day that seemed at first infinitely far in the future, and in the last year crashingly close every day. Yesterday, I submitted my PhD thesis.  And after completing around half-a-tree’s worth of paperwork and forms, after four long years I finally find myself at somewhat of a loose end.

To say the feeling is weird, would be an understatement.  Certainly for the past year, if not two, I’ve woken pretty much every working day with a slight feeling of incipient panic that I need to be doing SOMETHING.  Yet, there’s also been that feeling that I’m forgetting something, that by doing Task X today, Task Y is being neglected, while hidden away from sight, Task Z lurks…waiting to trip me up when it suddenly becomes Task Right Bloody Now!

I anticipated yesterday was going to be a long day, I perhaps didn’t count on how long. In at 9am to spend three hours nurse-maiding a printer to run off the required submission copies, and running afoul of my university’s not well articulated format settings.  Spotting some minor errors that upon correction necessitated junking a copy of two as they utterly threw off the page settings.  I tried not to give into feelings of panic either, as the minutes ticked by – knowing the print unit closed around 2pm, and that I also required to get a physical signature off my supervisor for the submission form.  While he’s a great guy, my supervisor can prove hard to track down physically at times, and is also very forms-phobic.  I’m with him on that!  In the second decade of the 21st Century, why the fuck I need to collect a physical signature and submit physical thesis copies is maddening.  I have to submit an electronic copy anyway, as well.  Just one of many, many niggles about the university administration I’m coming away from this experience with.

Having bound the thesis, and following a long walk and a tram ride, tracked my supervisor down in the city centre campus (I’m based at the out of town campus).  Signed form, multiple abstract copies and bound thesis in hand I strolled to Stalag Luft Graduate Office.  Or Doctoral School. Or Graduate School…or honestly whatever name they’re calling themselves this week, they’ve rebranded about four times while I’ve been studying.  They’re also hidden away, on the fourth floor of an anonymous building, with a reception point…behind a security locked door.  Really weird that last one, you have to know who you want to see and ring to be allowed in…almost like the staff don’t want to interact with us students.  As up-front-customer service paradigms go, it’s not a winne.  Odd really, as when you do meet and talk to the staff, they’re lovely.  Perhaps they’ve had one shouty student too many over the years.

The hand in moment was…beyond anticlimactic.  Over four years of my life and thousands of hours of labour, dealt with in an exchange lasting less than thirty words.  Most of them me asking about viva arrangements.  And then it was all done, bar the viva of course.

Afterwards my supervisor took me for a pint, a chat about next career plans (I’m flexible, I’m available, I’m not sure I’m staying in this country) and initial viva tips.  My personal favourite “You know all those articles that tell you how to pass a viva?  Don’t read them!”  It was, to say the least, a really useful and enjoyable chat.

And then, all the Nottingham trams stopped due a traffic incident and I was stranded 5 miles from my car.  Okay, I could have caught the bus but I had a) no idea which bus to catch and b) no idea where said bus went from and c) really hate riding busses during flu season.  So, I walked the 5 miles across town, moor, riverside and express way in the gathering gloom and fog to my car, to drive home to the next phase of my life.

What exactly that’s going to be…I just don’t know for sure.  I do hope it involves less sitting in a cold, dark and somewhat damp house for hours on end on my own!

 

Reading, Writing and Plotting

A second week free of teaching, and it’s a rather refreshing change to have the time back to really dig into my studies.  Normally by Wednesday I’m panicking that the week is over almost bar the teaching, but now it’s a mid point with plenty of time to work on other areas.

Reading

Finally sat down and spent two days poring over Martin Eve’s recent book Open Access and the Humanities.  As I expected it was a cracking read, and it only took me so long to read as I kept stopping to write notes and thoughts to myself about it.  Have already gone back and re-read a couple of bits as well for other bits and bobs I was writing.  Hopefully next week, I can get through a few more papers and another book.  I can see I might be taking at least one academic text over to Vienna with me.

Writing

I planned to write my presentation for Vienna.  I failed.  Which means first thing (well almost first thing) next week I need to do that.  Then again, reading Martin’s book has fired off one or two ideas that I need to slightly rework in the presentation.

Plotting

Two whole days spent plotting sounds fun, but what I was actually doing was planning out my last round of interviews, and writing an thesis chapter abstract about copyright and publication.  There are moments I feel I know a lot about copyright, and moments when I feel I know nothing – and I’ve been through both of these modes in writing this document.  In particular I’ve been trying to identify publishers, academics and activists in the world of open access that I should interview.  Sounds easy, but when I’ve got to keep the number of interviews down to a manageable level suddenly it gets a whole lot more intensive.  I was hoping to send this document off to my supervisors for comment by the end of the week; but annoyingly I’m about 30 minutes of clear-headed thinking time away from having the chapter abstract clear enough.

Teaching

Yes, I know, I’ve stopped this and am no longer being paid.  And yet I’m still answering lots of emails from my students who are panicking a little about their forthcoming exams.  Poor things.  Trying to give them as much advice as I can, although a lot of it boils down to “You really should have come to the seminars…they WERE the exam preparation”.  Interestingly some of my better students are worried, even though on paper they’re already 80% of the way there with a passing grade.

Job Hunting

Well no news on this front, so keeping my eyes open for any opportunities for employment.  Suspect the job I put in for the other week will either come to nothing, or I won’t hear anything until September; which is very, very frustrating.

Vienna ISIS Conference

Spent a good chunk of one morning this week working out my itinerary in finer detail.  Looks like the longest leg of the trip will be on the British Rail system to get to Heathrow.  No surprise there.  Hopefully I can figure out the Wein underground system to make it to and from my hotel okay.  Starting to have the normal pre-travel jitters I get before a conference trip, and the added flight (did I mention I hate flying) leg isn’t something I’m looking forward to much.  But I really hope it’ll be a great opportunity and that I learn lots.  And make more than a few professional contacts.  Trying to not let the anxiety overshadow my other work though, and more or less putting it out of my mind as much as I can.

Glad to see Scott Mills and Mel Giedroyc touring Vienna the other day on the Eurovision semi-finals, as it gave me a taste for the city.  I may have time this weekend to flick through my guidebook on the city, or maybe just read Wikipedia in the middle of the night (my normal insomnia cure).

Other Conferences

June is now looking very conference heavy! 14 days of conferences/travel to conferences in my diary.  Only leaves about 9 other working days to do anything (one of the conferences means I lose a weekend so I’ll be effectively working a 12 day week at the start of June – since I fly back on a Monday, and have to write a conference talk for the end of that week as soon as I get back.  No rest for the PhD student.  At this rate July won’t come a moment too soon!  At least though I’ll get to reveal in the architectural and cultural glories of Vienna, Leicester, Nottingham and Manchester.  3 of those I might be being sarcastic about.

Right, time now to continue thinking about the Eurovision Song Contest I think!

Masque of the Red Death

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

Teaching – Face to Face to Facebook

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

Teaching – Intro to Media Comms

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

Supervisor meetings

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

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

Is it good enough…no.

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

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

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

Leicester – Media Conference

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

Vienna – ISIS/ICT&S Conference

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

Reference Reviews

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

Career Progress

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

Surprise Fuching

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

Election

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

Library Brain Picking

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

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

Unbreakable

Working my way through Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Better Call Saul in equal measures in my off moments, hence the title.  Enjoying the optimism in the former, and the dark humour in the latter.   Did find that Mrs Llama does not approve of me watching comedy in bed at night, as I keep waking her up by laughing too loudly.  May have to resort to reading books again.  I know, dark days if I have to read outside of office hours!

  • Writing
    • Caught myself writing the conclusion to the chapter in my sleep on Tuesday night.  Still totally stressed out about it, and so frustrated about how long it takes me to write and edit things.  Mrs Llama has been a saint by doing some proof reading – and mostly being very rude about my use of commas and semi-colons.  Finally shipped it off to my supervisory team late Friday afternoon.  Current word count on the thesis now stands at a tiny 77,868.  Or enough to stun one small charging rhino if I printed it out and threw it at them!
  • Teaching
    • Got asked if I wanted to teach again next year.  There was little more I could say other than “Yes please!”.  Well that and “Any chance of something a bit longer term?”.  Well, it pays to be cheeky and the worst they can do is say no.  Well okay, they could say “Don’t be so cheeky, no!”.  Have to see how this pans out, but I have loved teaching the students here at NTU, and it would be great to develop it into a little something more than the occasional seminar.  After Easter I am penciled in for my first proper lecture on a 2nd year course.  Will worry about writing that…erm, after Easter?  Actually I will be adapting some of my earlier talks, as it’s about OA.  I just need to amplify some of the political-economic dimensions of it in the analysis.  Wonder if I’ll need to write a seminar as well?
  • Media Communications
    • Looking at Press Releases this week, although the content of the seminar felt a little similar to what we had done around journal articles earlier in the term (tried pointing out this synergy to the class, not sure they quite got it).  Not the most engaged of seminars, in that I could get the students to crank out some good headlines but fell a bit in flat in getting them to create some standfirsts.  Ah well, hopefully it’s given them enough of an idea about the form and style for press releases for the assessment, which was the core goal.  Do find myself wondering how well some of the groups are working together, as it all happens out of sight…hope any that run into any real difficulties let me know.  Probably being paranoid and they’ll all produce lovely bits of assessed work.
    • Flagged up that one of the weeks of the presentations gets a second marker…all be it a jolly decent academic who’ll give them all a fair crack of the scoring whip.  Should also ensure I’m fair and even handed in my marking!
  • Face to Facebook
    • This week we were looking at Facebook and its role in creating/representing/distorting our personal representations to others.  You’d think this would be a subject that would be quite a zesty one to get into, but no I struggled a bit with it.  I think this was in part due to a not especially easy to adapt seminar.  There’s the nub of some good ideas in there but certainly for the first group I struggled to turn it into a digestible format.  I suspect if I’d had a few more hours to spare to refine it then I’d have been able to craft something more workable, but I’m limited in the time I can feel I can devote to it, so just went with a fairly simple adaptation.  Found myself doing a whole lot of talking with the groups, which I guess is no bad thing – except I was really hoping I could get them to think more intently about their own praxis.  The Friday groups were slightly hampered by the fact that the 2015 UK solar eclipse was in progress…but actually despite my running commentary on the subject the students got more into the topic.  Perhaps it was because I was ready to discuss it more this time, or perhaps they just had more to say.  Either way I came away thinking it was a better couple of sessions all told.
    • Should say thanks to all the Fb friends whose approaches to using social media I referenced and commented on as representing particular societal or critical insights.  So big high-5s in no order to John, John, Sarah, Kaye, Giles, Ju, Gary, Sian, Valérie, Ed, Kate, Jo, Dana, Ellie, Ed, Cassie, Catherine and any parent who posted a world-book day photo in my stream.  Also my mum and dad who despite not being on Fb (or in one case top-side any more) also underscored some valuable cultural observations.  You were all invaluable insights, splendid friends and I promise I was far ruder about my own social media presence!  Most of you won’t read this bit anyway – so you’ll never know I consider my Fb interactions to be some form of long running ongoing experiment 😉
    • Also had the horrible thought that I’ll have 80+ essays to mark in a week’s time.  Fun that will not be.  Going to have to find a way to maximise my effort/minimise the time it takes to get through them – although I can see I’ll be pulling some late evening’s marking in order to get through them and stay on top of my own studies.
  • Conferences
    • Heard my paper for the FIL 2015 conference in Manchester on effective communication has been accepted.  Not until late June which means I won’t worry overly about writing it for a while.  Mrs Llama is a bit miffed that I might be away for her birthday as it clashes with this conference.  Pointed out I should be back home for part of it, and also that she went off to work on my last birthday anyway!
    • Put my booking in for the ISIS 2015 Conference in Vienna (no not that ISIS – International Society for Information Studies).  Also finally got an answer from the Graduate School about some funding.  Not as much as I’d hoped, but I’ve put in a formal request for it now and it looks like that’ll contribute to it.  Also looks like my dept head has a few quid I can apply for as well, which is fabulous – as it means I won’t totally wreak my life’s savings just to go to a conference!  Have to fill in a long form though.  Gah.
    • Also put in an application for a travel scholarship, although as there’s only 2 of these for the whole university I suspect there is only a slim chance I’ll get it.  But it was an interesting exercise chasing some funding, something I know I’ll need to get used to as an academic.  If, that is, I get any kind of academic job at the end of this!
  • Book reviews
    • Finally made myself write one of the two book reviews I’ve got pending (The James Bond Encyclopedia) at the start of the week.  Managed to avoid using too many bad puns, which I’ll count as a success.  Will tackle the next review, next month I think.  Or maybe I’ll take it on the long train ride to Glasgow.  Not sure but I think I’m getting close to passing the 100 book reviews mark…which is some kind of minor achievement.  Then again I’ve been writing these since I was working at York Uni, and that’s 5 jobs ago now (or 10 years)!  Still a goodly number though.
  • Research Profile
    • Some months ago the uni finally offered to give all us PGR students a research profile page, with a massive 4 papers being able to be listed.  That’s a laugh, given I’ve over 30 articles published…not to mention almost 100 book reviews.  Oh, and those book chapters I’ve written.  And let’s not even count the reports okay.  As usual, university systems for PGRs are designed to cope with non-mature students with little life experience.  *sigh*  Anyway, wrote mine before Xmas…and finally this week it was announced they’ll go live.  Next month.  Suspect they’ll not be that much use, but it will be nice for the uni to admit publicly I exist as a PGR sometime before I leave!
  • Student Feedback
    • Got my first batch of student feedback this week.  Can’t share the comments for data protection reasons…and also because a lot of them made my head swell.  They were a lot of very complimentary ones.  Some good observations for improvements as well, that I’ll try and take on board, and try not to be too complacent.  If anything I’ll have redouble my efforts to keep up my standard of lecturing!

And The Jukebox Played Nothing Cos it’s Bust

Not bobbins.
Not bobbins.

10 points if you pick up this week’s title is a quote from the not-at-all bobbins Frank Sidebottom‘s version of The Smiths’ Panic.  I’ve been listening to a lot of Frank in recent weeks (after watching the eponymous film) while I’m working and I just keep discovering stuff of his I’ve never heard before.  Brilliant, funny, funny stuff.  Think I’m going to need to make a side trip to Timperley next time I’m over Manchester way to visit his memorial statue.  Although he is very rude about llama in Zoo Scrapbook. This week then I:

  • Teaching
    • Media Communications
      • Much fun was had (well by me at least) looking at the work of Edward Bernays (father of PR) and considering how we can use it to construct adverts that speak to the hidden desires and motivators of the public.  Not to mention exploring how the group mind works and can be influenced by marketing.  It was a really buzzy seminar with a lot of chatter, and some excellent comments from a lot of the students – so I’m marking it up as a win.  Hopefully they got something good out of it intellectually too, as I got the impression they’ve found the last two weeks of lectures very heavy going.  Not helped by only 20-30 students out of a cohort of 180 turning up – the lecturer this week was more than a little put out by it!  Oh yeah, and I decided to show both a brief clip from Python (Life of Brian) and the following Mad Men clip to really illustrate how to apply these psychoanalytical approaches in making a marketing/advertising pitch.  For me it’s long been on of the real defining moments of the series, and going back to consider the psychological undertones just made it all the more enjoyable.
    • Face to Facebook
      • Onto collaborative creativity this week, a topic I feel more naturally at home in.  So a video from Charles Leadbeater (fun fact: he co-created Bridget Jones’ Diary) and discussions around the ideas of collaborative peer production (although skirting around Benkler’s work, with which I’m fairly familiar).  At least one of the groups didn’t seem that energised by the whole thing – not sure if they were expecting us to look more at Wikipedia (that was the lecture focus).  But as this was only the example of a really successful peer collaboration we didn’t really dig into it too much more.  Reworked the seminar a little for the other classes to see if that helped and it did a little bit, although still a fair amount of heavy lifting.  I’d be fascinated to find out how much the module deviates from what the students expected it to be, I guess since I’ve taught the whole thing before I can see how the whole thing hangs together logically…but I do wonder if some of the topics and seminars seem a bit left-field to them.  Ah well, at least I got one group chatting somewhat animatedly about how to replace a competitive neoliberal capitalist political economy with something embracing more collaboration in its ideological framework.
      • Speaking of which How many of these people have you met in your seminar? I think I can recognise some of these archetypes in my audiences…  Thank you The Tab!
    • Marking
      • Finally ploughed through the 40+ essays I had to mark.  Tried not to bitch (too much) about not really getting paid to do this, while focusing on making sure I gave each student who’d submitted some useful guidance and feedback.  On the whole the standard wasn’t bad at all, which was heartening.  Hopefully if they take account of my comments their actual assessed work will be nothing short of magnificent.  As I’ve told them a few times, I’d love nothing more than to hand out handfuls of 1sts!  We’ll see what the reality is over Easter!  Started uploading all the marked essays on Friday…only to discover I’d missed a couple.  Gah, bloody useless VLE – the backend is so clunky to use.  Then again as a student the front end is pretty poor too.  Still, guess it’s better than having to physically collect the essays (like the module leader seems keen on) and mark them by hand.  Online FTW really from my perspective.
  • Chapter writing
    • Two steps forwards, 1 step back.  It’s been the main focus on the week…and has edged closer…and closer to being done.
  • Conference proposal
    • Battled with the online system to submit my other (more academic) conference proposal for an hour or so.  Finally got it done, and now won’t hear anything until late March.  Suspect it’ll be one of three responses a) Accepted, no comments b) Rejected, no comments c) Told to rewrite for acceptance.  My gut feeling is probably b or c.  Frankly my confidence in myself and my scholarship is really at an all time low right now.  *sigh*
  • Online speaking
    • Been asked if I’ll do a short slot in a couple of weeks for some academics over Skype.  Exciting, but waiting to hear a few more details.  Hope they’re happy with some off the cuff speaking as I don’t quite know where I’ll slot in any preparation time – I must….must…must focus on the chapter to the exclusion pretty much of everything else right now.  Although I’m going to have to draft my UKSG talk in the very near future too.
  • Frustrations
    • Oh nothing new here, other than stressing about ever finishing the chapter, stressing that my work isn’t good enough, depressed over the utter isolation I’m living through as part of the PhD experience.  Not seen or spoken to a fellow PhD in months now, which can’t be healthy.  Thank Grud I’ve my undergraduate students to at least inject a little bit of humanity back into my weekday routine.

And finally…I think I’m feeling more like the post-doc here…kudos to whomever created this…although I’ve not got a source to cite!

Academic minions

The Prisoner of Azkaban (Year Three)

Monday

And here we are after a few days in Wales…in year 3 of the PhD.  Oh. My. Grud.  Where has the time gone?  It only seems like a few months ago i was sitting in the conservatory wading through a pile of books on media theory in the last throws of a glorious summer/e.autumn – where as today I was…

Doing pretty much the same, although writing a thesis chapter.  Bloody hell indeed.  Kinda terrifying knowing there is now less time ahead of me than behind to finish this thing…which still feels only very slightly baked so far.

If you’ll excuse me I’m going to have a few moments of blind panic while I run around my house screaming!

Argggggggggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!

And relax.  Okay, so time is ticking away, and maybe that’s a good thing to keep me motivated.  In the meantime today I’ve been sorting out my teaching for the new year, looking through module booklets and the like – as well as plotting out the two seminars.  Think the new module I’m teaching on (Introduction to Media Communication) looks really interesting; and if anything possibly more so than Face-2-Face to Facebook, on which I’m teaching once again.

Managed a solid page of writing and editing on Critical Management Studies (aided in part by the conference of a couple of weeks ago) and managed to agree running a couple of workshops over in north Wales in November on a copyright, IPR, remix culture and open access.  Should be fun – teaching librarians one day and academics the next.  And certainly not fishing around for people to interview, oh my no *he grinned quietly to himself*

Tuesday

Writing this theory chapter is like wrestling with an oiled snake!  And today I’ve been wrestling with various forms of critical theory, and trying to boil them down to a page or so of narrative.  Yeah, like that’s an easy thing to do – every time I think I’ve got an handle on them – zip – off they fly out of my hands.

At least I did get something constructive done in a phone conversation first thing, setting up a training workshop I’ll be contributing towards in November over in North Wales.  Huzzah, back to Wales in 6 weeks – this is good!

Wednesday

More writing. Go away.

Thursday.

In earlyish to Uni as today’s my first day teaching my new module.  Tried to visit the library’s revamped research room only to find it locked and being used as a storage area.  Thankfully some very helpful library staff sorted it out quickly and were very appologetic.  Having been trhough revamps of libraires I know the snagging can be hell!  Worked there on my own quietly for the morning and then headed over to find my new seminar room – in the science and technology end of campus so I’m less familiar with the area.  Seminar seemed to go okay, and the group seem pretty lively – which is a promising start.  The seminar was little more than a glorified pub quiz, so I hope the undergrads don’t think that’s what we’ll be doing every week.  All the same I managed to use the socres in the quiz to illustrate the grading scheme at uni which may have been at least marginly helpful.  Suspect much more content next week!

Friday

And my other first seminar – less fun content in this one, mostly talking through the course and the regulations.  Kinda odd to be teaching in a glass walled glass room, as I’m sure my energetic lecturing style will get some odd looks from outside!  But nice to see both groups I’ve got this year seem a lot more talkative from the outset than last year’s; although over time last year’s bunch got so much better; and I do kinda miss seeing them!

So Was That My Summer?

W/b 1st September

It seems this week that summer is officially over; or at least the academics with whom I interact have all started sending out emails again.  Great, I’ve not as of yet managed a holiday (2nd year in a row) and the time off I’ve got pencilled in over the coming weeks is looking like its in serious danger from competing commitments already.  Gah.

Meanwhile I’ve been slogging on with the theory chapter, finally putting fingers to keyboard to start pulling together my arguments for/against the various ideas I’ve got.  As of this post its all still very much a mishmash and I’m far from happy about it; although there are brief moments when suddenly everything becomes so clear – but these are fleeting.

Continuing on with my “social media holiday” which to date no one has actually picked up on (perhaps they’re grateful for the online silence for a change).  Wonder if I’ll manage to keep it up for the whole month as planned – perhaps by then the irritating ice bucket/back to school/fabulous holiday posts will have all buggered off?  I can only hope.

In no order of importance – interesting things this week:

  • The Fappening (which remains a less pejorative term than “celebratory picture hack” that most news agencies are going with.).  From a media/culture standpoint its been interesting seeing the lid lifted not on the celebs, but on the online trading subculture of illicitly appropriated images.  It’s piqued my curiosity as an academic, but I don’t think I’ll be putting in a post-doc funding application on the subject, as Mrs Llama would kill me.  Not to mention of course, from a critical standpoint, the way the media has roundly grabbed on this has also been fascinating to watch unfolding (in real time) vs the comments in the various forums/redits/chans discussing the issue.  Suspect I will be flagging this up as a topic for discussion in this year’s SOC101 seminars somewhere.  Loved the description in one report of “The hacker 4Chan” being mentioned; le sigh, you can lead a journalist to news, but you can’t make them think.  Even The Guardian’s gone a bit Daily Mail with outraged articles on the subject.  I suspect in the long run what this will mean, will be yet more badly thought out privacy protection laws for the bourgeois elite and repressions for the common prole.  Small bet with myself that despite these being (largely) US celebs targeted, that the UK gets new legislation rushed through first…small world conservatism strikes again.  See here for an interesting article on the whole thing from a slightly more dispassionate information securities POV.  Oh and of course some tips on how to protect your own pictures in the cloud (all of mine are of chickens or food mind you).
  • Lecturing: Had a confirmation on my lecturing (seminaring anyway) on the two modules, so just waiting on the contract now.  Also been asked to give a lecture on my thesis to a 2nd year class by my supervisor.  Not until next year, but it’ll be something to look forward to/stress about.  No idea if I get paid…suspect not, but might see what I can weasel out of my supervisor – I’ve a newly acquired Netflix habit to fund (seems to have replaced my comic book habit!).  Also…one more script to mark (student having submitted it to the wrong area, gah!)
  • Employment: Started negotiations via email with my tutors to let them know I’m already thinking/worrying about how I make ends meet once I finish y studentship next September.  Got a bit rebuffed (sense there’s not a strong bidding culture in my school), but at least I’ve started to remind them I need cash…and am keen to develop my career!  Annoyingly most of the funding calls I’ve seen for post-docs so far, need you to have submitted already – so suspect there’s going to be a bit of a funding gap end of 2015.

W/b 8th September

It’s been a much more positive week this week, as having finally put a book to Latour to bed on Monday (struggling to understand actor-network theory), I was finally able to get on with trying to assemble the chapter more fully in the middle to latter half of the week.  Surprisingly I’ve found I’m rather enjoying it; even if I am seriously in need of a holiday as my energy levels are through the floor at the moment.  All the same the change of pace to writing about my work and trying to construct a credible/robust theoretical framework is a lot more interesting than just trying to read about what others have done.  Plus on top of this I’ve managed to make decent notes on all the books and papers I’ve read in the past 6 weeks; which makes drawing it together a lot easier (thank you Evernote!)

  • Marking: Finally gave the students their marks back.  Hope they’re happy, cos some of them still were under performing a bit.
  • Copyright: Got asked to go help run/speak at a copyright event over in Wales later this year.  After a bit of discussion and negotiation (whereby I had to explain I’m not a (c) guru, but I know a lot about alternatives to it) looks like this on.  Might even find myself running a workshop the following day for academics on the subject; although that bit is still open to some further disucssions next week.  Got asked as part of this what my charges were for this sort of thing…erm, not quite sure what I should be charging for consultation work…suggestions welcomed!
  • Contract: Got my contract through for my lecturing, along with my timetable.  Will be teaching 4hrs a week come Feb 2015, buyt thankfully only 2hrs before that.  Some of the 1st years might get mightily sick of me I suspect.  Hope its as positive an experience as it was last year.  Oh, and best of all – I got a teeny tiny pay rise of around £2/hour (there’s a lot of “free labour” I’m expected to give over the salried time), which makes me on paper at least on an £80k/pa salary.  Yeah…don’t think that will actually work out for the next job.
  • Conferencing: Looked at the timetable for next week – three days of conferencing in Leicester. Should be interesting – just hope I can stay awake!
  • Social media: Gave in and went back on Facebook.  Still off twitter after 2.5weeks (not that anyone seems to have noticed mind you – maybe they think I’m on the holiday of a lifetime…)

A Draft Too Far

Monday

Work on editing down the empirical research chapter and a brief discussion about marking issues with a couple of colleagues online.  Aaaaaaaaaaand that was my day.  Thrilling.

Tuesday

Pretty much the same, sans the marking discussion and with a bonus trip to the dentist.  This week is shaping up to be a thriller in terms of blog entries.  Found myself ranting on about my editing plans to Mrs Llama at one stage in the day (she’d returned to work from home having discovered that her uni network had collapsed)…and I think she looked even more bored than I did.

Mind you, about 30 minutes away from having a full 1st draft of this chapter, and maybe a day or so away from being able to put it to bed for good.  Well at least until I get feedback on it.

Dental team asked what my PhD was about. I think they wished they hadn’t once I’d explained for a few minutes.  Stifled a giggle when they suggested a thesis was “about 20,000 words”.  No…I call that a first draft of a chapter.

Wednesday

Editing. Go away.  However I did have a chance to watch John Oliver on net neutrality in the evening.  Should be compulsory viewing for everyone!

Thursday

And thank Zod, I’ve finished the editing and polishing.  Chapter down to a most reasonable 14.5k words too (from an initial 20k).  Given that 1/3 of it is made up of quotes from the interviews I think that stands at about the right length.  I am actually reasonably happy with it, and while I suspect once I share it with my supervisors I’ll have a bit of rewriting to do, it’s actually a visible output for once.  It also allows me to write a paper and two conference presentations which are based on this thing now.

Chased my supervisors up about my annual report, and think I should be able to sort that out next Tue/Wednesday.  And had a conversation about referencing with Kornelia, which passed a few minutes.

Oh and I was amused to read about some academics back at Leicester getting into a bit of a punch up with a publisher over the publication of research into the true costs of publications.  Nice own goal there from Taylor and Francis it seems.

Finally, I also discovered that something I’d been worrying about (my trip to Sheffield and paper for it) are actually due in June not July.  Suddenly this month looks slightly less like a work-gasm (although I do have an awful lot to do still).  Tomorrow…I’m going to start on the marking.  Wish me luck.

 Friday

And welcome to another marking marathon – the last of the year; although that said I suspect I won’t get through all of the essays I’m marking today.  And remember kids, I don’t get paid to mark – it’s just expected (cheapskate university GTA contract!).

  • 9.00 am: Consider starting work.  Consider cup of tea harder.
  • 9.30 am: Check email, follow up queries on annual monitoring forms (getting them signed remaining the single biggest bugbear of any PhD student if you ask me).  Check staff email to see if student with a two week extension has submitted yet – nope, and today’s her deadline.
  • 9.35 am: Review submissions from 46 students.  2 no-submissions, so they’re easy to mark El Zilcho rides again.  One extension pending, three late submissions which may well get marked down for that.  I’ve subdivided all the marking into the 10 questions that were set, so I can at least group together my grading of the same sort of question.  Not a lot of love for Habermas and the public sphere and also persuasion , but no love at all for the question on transnational media.  Secretly pleased as it was the subject on the whole course I was least excited or engaged by.
  • 9.40 am: Conclude I’ll need a strong cup of Assam to get going on this lot.  Boil kettle, check chickens, print off marking criteria.
  • 9.50 am: Boot my copy of Evernote so I can refresh my memory on some of the lecture topics that the essays cover.
  • 10.10 am: Started with the essays on Max Atkinson’s work on claptrap.  Aside from a not brilliantly formatted set of references not a bad first essay at all.  Hopeful for the remaining ones.
  • 10:35 am: 2 down and ARG…wireless trackball power outtage.  Fiddle around with batteries for a few minutes and power (and marking is resumed).
  • 11:24 am: 4 down. And yes, the trend continues.  These are the best bits of work I’ve seen all year from my students.
  • 11:36 am: Gah, spoke too soon.  That one was like wading through brain mud.
  • 12:06 pm: Enjoyable one on globablisation and media. Honestly wished I could call the student up to discuss their views more.  Genuine pleasure to read, and while there are errors aplenty they’re well on their way.
  • 1.07 pm: Time to stop for a lunch break.  9 marked, so it’s not high speed.  Can see this is going to stretch into Monday; but then I rather suspected it would.  Just given my highest mark yet for a truly excellent piece of work!  Be interesting to see if my moderator partner agrees with me.
  • 1.55 pm: Okay, enough lazing around (and playing Injustice: Gods Among Us), back to it I go.
  • 2.41 pm: Oh my, just used hax0rs in a piece of feedback.
  • 3.26 pm: That was hard, disagreed with a lot the student had concluded.  Not losing marks for that, as I love an argument – but it wasn’t well argued and failed to present a bipartisan POV. Shame.  Time to go boil the kettle I think.
  • 3.55 pm: Tea was postponed as I had one more essay in the same question to cover.  And what a good one it was too, grinning from ear to ear.  Have topped on tea though now and even a KitKat. I need the caffeine!
  • 4.07 pm: REFERENCING!  FOR THE LOVE OF ZUUL, CAN SOMEONE NOT GET SOME OF THESE STUDENTS TO REFERENCE CORRECTLY?!?
  • 4.40 pm: Sentence in an essay I feared would never end.  Nearly 100 words…even I write shorter sentences than this. Sometimes.
  • 4.45 pm: It’s beginning to make my eyes bleed trying to read this one.  Please, please let there be some coherent sentences in here.  There’s some good ideas fighting to get out from behind the text.
  • 5.16 pm: Flagging a bit now it’s true to say, 17 marked which means there’s still more than half to do.  Think I will have to call it a day around 6pm because I suspect my brain won’t take much more.
  • 5.38 pm: Gah. My (at best) four hours of sleep last night are beginning to make this harder than ever. No more caffeine is going to help now.  Bloody insomnia.
  • 5.52 pm: No, going to have to stop marking this one now – as I’m utterly struggling to read it.  Don’t want to give the student an unfair mark, so I’ll either pick this up on Monday, or perhaps mark a few over the weekend if I get a quiet/bored moment.  Think I may need to start off extra early on Monday to do the rest of these.  Still, on the other hand on the whole these have been the best bits of work all year; even if the odd one has caused me to nearly throw the monitor out the nearest window and scream with rage!

An Amazing Couple of Weeks

Aha!

I fooled you with that title.  Actually it’s been a bit of a drag here at Llama Towers as I’ve been suffering under the yoke of some form of sinus-muscular-exhaustion bug which means most days I’ve been just wanting to crawl back into bed as soon as I got up.  All the same I have made myself work most of the time (this Monday was an exception – Mrs Llama marched me to bed when she came in and found me slumped over my papers at the dinner table, early afternoon).

I’ve been working on two thesis chapters – one on the history/background of Open Access in the UK, which is going to be a struggle to boil down to 10k words and include all the runners, riders and key events.  Likewise the other chapter which is an analysis of my scoping interviews – and thus the peak of the past 3 months of work.

One day's printing of results...
One day’s printing of results…

I’ve also been prepping for two conferences, UKSG which I’m at next week as a sponsored student (huzzah) and OER14 a few weeks after where I’m giving a short paper*.  A lightening paper if you read some of the website, but I’m fairly sure it’s a lightning one…otherwise I may need to slim down more.  I wasn’t supposed to be doing much at UKSG other than graciously thanking my hosts for having me, but I’ve managed to get myself roped into a panel.  And possibly an editorial.  Eep.

Ah well, so much for sweet anonymity!

* yes there is a typo in that title – I’ve asked someone to fix it…