sIREN workshop: Designing interdisciplinary research projects

siren-bannerLast month, I attended a seminar on interdisciplinary research projects at the University of Edinburgh. The seminar, Designing Interdisciplinary Research Projects, was the first in a series of six interdisciplinary themed seminars being organised by sIREN (student-led Interdisciplinary Research Network).

There were four talks during the half-day event, covering various aspects and attitudes towards interdisciplinary research. The first of these was given by Professor Richard Coyne, who spoke about the “reckless researcher” and the idea that there can be challenges to interdisciplinary work, including levels of credibility across a number or domains and an over-broadening of research themes and focus.

The second speaker, Professor Ewan Klein, talked about the “X-T-C of data”. Here, he presented the idea that there are many unknowns (X) when working in a cross(x)-disciplinary manner and cross(x)ing information forms such as words, tables, and figures. The T represents the challenge of finding both breadth and depth in an interdisciplinary project—which can be especially challenging if you are trying to cross disciplines without a well-formed research team. The C then represent the culture of communication in interdisciplinary work with three stages: (1) not understanding, (2) kind of understanding, and (3) realising that what you thought you understood was wrong and that you don’t actually understand.

Professor John Lee then spoke about “Pervasive Interdisciplinarity”, asking the question “why should we be interdisciplinary?” His reply was simple: “Why not?” Lee argued that the idea of different disciplines is merely an illusion with overlapping and blurring edges everywhere. He also suggested that we might be more at risk if we try to overly distance ourselves from other disciplines. However, he did recognise (quite rightly, for the audience) that this might be a difficult hurdle for those working on a PhD, as finding the appropriate supervision team (and later, PhD examiners) might make some cross-overs improbable.

The final talk of the day was given by Dr Stefan Bilbao, who shared a real-life interdisciplinary scenario by speaking about The NESS Project. Dr Bilbao urged the audience to remember that the differences in both the training and administration practices can be quite different between disciplines, creating challenges along the way. He also spoke of the dangers of “discipline hopping” and how a lack of singular focus could mean risking a shallow understanding of the field. However, he acknowledged a potential payoff through the potential for gaining new knowledge based on merged disciplines.

I found all the talks interesting, as my PhD relies on a wide range of disciplines to create a (rather loose) theoretical framework. And though my PhD itself isn’t interdisciplinary, I can really appreciate the challenges and dangers of an interdisciplinary project. In fact, my research project has been long-designed (and all my data collected and coded!) so the seminar will not have impacted that part of my PhD. However, as I enter the vital part of actually writing up my thesis, I feel it is beneficial for me to have conversations with others about the pros and cons of interdisciplinary projects as this may play a role when I discuss the next steps of my research in my thesis.

The seminar was also a great way for me to start thinking more about my post-doctoral career, as it is possible that my future will include a lot of interdisciplinary work. And with my pre-PhD work all being done outside of the Information Science discipline—both professionally and academically—I am already well-versed in bringing non-IS views to the discipline.

There are five more seminars in the series. The next instalment is “Challenges and limitations of existing research methodology: Inventing new methods of interdisciplinary research” on 7 December 2016. I am especially looking forward to this one as I am keen to shake things up a bit with fun and quirky research methods in my post-doctoral life. (My PhD is already branching out in a small way from standard Information Science methods.)

As of this writing, there are still spaces available, so be sure to register today… before this sentence it out of date!

Accepted: Managing and evaluating personal reputations on the basis of information shared on social media: a Generation X perspective

2016.07.12.isic-acceptanceMy paper, Managing and evaluating personal reputations on the basis of information shared on social media: a Generation X perspective, has been accepted for ISIC: The Information Behaviour Conference in Zadar, Croatia. The paper is co-authored by my PhD supervisors, and is based on preliminary findings from one of my generation groups (Generation X) being investigated for my doctoral thesis.

The conference will take place 20-23 September at the University of Zadar and I will present my paper the morning of the 22nd (full programme here). I have 30 minutes (including time for questions) to discuss my paper and share some of the key findings presented in the full paper. The challenge will be to share enough of the highlights to motivate people to read (and cite!) the full paper, but not so much to where I bore my audience to tears.

The full paper will be available in Information Research in 2017, after which I will happily share a link to the publication. In the meantime, you can read the paper’s abstract below. (I will share my presentation slides in September.)

Managing and evaluating personal reputations on the basis of information shared on social media: a Generation X perspective

Ryan, F.Cruickshank, P.Hall, H.Lawson, A. (2016). Managing and evaluating personal reputations on the basis of information shared on social media: a Generation X perspective. Information Research.

Abstract
Introduction. The means by which individuals evaluate the personal reputations of others, and manage their own personal reputations, as determined by information shared on social media platforms, is investigated from an information science perspective. The paper is concerned with findings from a doctoral study that takes into account prior work on the building and assessment of reputations through citation practice, as explored in the domain of scientometrics.

Method. Following the practice of studies of everyday life information seeking (ELIS), a multi-step data collection process was implemented. In total forty-five participants kept diaries and took part in semi-structured interviews. In this paper fifteen of these participants are represented.

Analysis. A qualitative analysis of the data was undertaken using NVivo10 to consider the information practices of one of three age group cohort generations: Generation X.

Results. Results generated from this initial analysis show some clear alignments with established knowledge in the domain, as well as new themes to be explored further. Of particular note is that social media users are more interested in the content of the information that is shared on social media platforms than they are in the signals that this information might convey about the sharer(s). It is also rare for these users to consider the impact of information sharing on personal reputation building and evaluation.

Conclusion. The analysis of the full dataset will provide further insight on the specific theme of the role of online information in personal reputation management, and contribute to theory development related to the study of information seeking behaviour and use.

In addition to delivering my paper, I will be attending a doctoral workshop prior to the official start of the conference. I attended the conference and doctoral workshop two years ago when it was in Leeds, England. At that time (in addition to presenting a poster), I was given some great input that helped me in the development of my research methods. This time, I am hoping for some great insight into the finishing touches of my thesis and maybe the next steps after graduation.

There will also be time to do some non-academic sightseeing whilst I’m in Zadar. I have a short list of “can’t miss” churches and geocaches, but I’m more than happy to take tips on other great places to visit!

Write now!

2016.01.21.write-nowYesterday was the official Write Now! launch at Edinburgh Napier University, organised by me and my colleague, Iris Buunk. Write Now! was inspired by the successful Shut Up and Write! meet-ups organised by creative writing groups in San Francisco, something which Iris and I tried to replicate for ourselves by working in area coffee shops.

[In a hurry? Go straight to the “Why is it important?” part.]

However, we believed that—with the right support—we could create and maintain a successful writing group on the Merchiston Campus. But human support wouldn’t be enough—we wanted a small bit of financial support, too, so that we could offer tea and biscuits to our fellow writers. So we applied for a small research development grant from Edinburgh Napier University to help get us started—and thankfully, the university thought we had a good idea, too!

Importantly, other academics seem to think Write Now! is a good idea, too.

Yesterday’s launch saw 15 participants eagerly working on their academic tasks. There was work done on PhD theses and journal articles. Some people used the time to edit papers they were hoping to submit for publications. And some people used the time to fine-tune abstracts or create tables and figures for their documents.

Did they show up for the free biscuits? Maybe. But they stayed to work and the feedback indicates that they will return!

We now have enough money to fund writing sessions through to the end of the semester and are hoping that we might find further support for next year—if we can show that the investment in writing is a good investment for the university.

If you missed yesterday’s session: Don’t worry! We’ll be back next week and you’re welcome to join us!

But why is it important?
Easy: Because committing yourself to a dedicated writing time can help to prioritise the importance of writing whilst facilitating the process.

We figure that, at the most basic level, Write now! will benefit research students and academic staff who participate in the sessions. However, we also believe that this dedicated writing time will encourage participants to work on journal or conference submissions, research grants, and other academic work to help increase the university’s reach and impact within the greater academic research community.

Write now! addresses three of the four domains of the Vitae’s Research Development Framework, as dedication to the writing processes is key to the act of academic research. The primary domain to be addressed is ‘Engagement, influence, and impactin the subdomain ‘communication and dissemination’. As a key component of research is the dissemination of clearly communicated texts, it is vital to show within the university that engaging with the writing process is of great importance. To that, Write now! offers individuals the ability to spend time actively working on effective, written communications—whether in the form of writing abstracts for conference submissions, writing up the findings of an on-going research project, or disseminating findings through articles written for the press or academic blogs and other social media tools.

Additional areas being addressed are: knowledge and intellectual abilities as related to creating a stronger knowledge base and developing a higher level of academic literacy and personal effectiveness as it relates to issues of personal time management and the prioritisation of workloads and related tasks.

Join us next Wednesday—and every Wednesday through June:
Triangle Restaurant
2-4 pm
Free drinks and snacks
And don’t forget your laptop (or pen and paper if you’re Old Skool like that!)