The conference circuit

2014.07.02.me-sicsa-posterI’ve had a busy few weeks of conferences and seminars and am finally catching my breath again. I had originally planned to share each of these events separately, but I was fighting off the deadly common cold for much of my time on the “conference circuit” so never got around to it. Still, this is a good exercise in getting back to my PhD blog!

The first conference was the SICSA PhD Conference, held in St Andrews. The two-day event was open to Scotland-based computer science and informatics PhD students and provided opportunities for workshops and presentations.

I jumped at the opportunity to present my first academic poster at the event and was pleased to have been shortlisted for a prize. (Sadly, I didn’t make the final cut, but it felt good to be shortlisted for my first poster out of the gate!)

The following week I attended the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science (SGSSS) Summer School in Edinburgh. It was a bit difficult to decide which seminars to attend, and I admit that one or two of them were the wrong choice, but I gained a lot of useful information from all of them. (Yes, even the wrong choice ones.)

The best take-aways from the week were a better understanding of my own philosophical leanings (as they pertain to research) and some great insights into the design of mixed methods studies. And, of course, I made some excellent connections with other PhD students and some of the academic presenters.

Last week saw me travelling to Glasgow for the SGSSS Research Methods in Information Science workshops at the University of Strathclyde. I was very excited about the literature review workshop as that’s my biggest task for the summer. I’ve attended a couple of shorter literature review sessions, but this one gave such a great explanation of a narrative literature review that I feel everything else makes more sense now.

Of course, last week was also the 2014 iDocQ (also in Glasgow) which was by-far the best of all of the conferences! OK, I have to say that because I was on the planning committee and chaired most of the day’s programme. (It truly was a team effort though, with Calum Liddle of The University of Strathclyde, Wachi Klungthanaboon of The University of Glasgow, and Chikezie Emele of Robert Gordon University all pitching in to do their fair share of the work.)

One of the delegates, Christine Irving, gave such a wonderful recap of the event that I’ll point you there for the full account!

I now have a bit of down time (read: time to work on my literature review!) before my next conference (iFutures in Sheffield). I plan to present a poster and submit a paper for the conference proceedings there and am looking forward to yet another conference experience. And, hopefully, I won’t be sick this time!

[Photo Copyright Lynn Killick, one of my awesome office mates.]

 

Academic posters: Take one

2014.06.05.academic-posterI completed my first academic poster today, ahead of the 2014 SICSA PhD Conference in St Andrews next week. The poster is based on a 1-page abstract that I sent into the poster panel in April.

I struggled with how to design the poster because I thought I had to include all of the information from the abstract on the poster. That would have meant the poster was very text-heavy, which is something I’m not keen on. (I know many academic posters are mostly words, but I am more of a visual person.)

However, on meeting with two of my supervisors yesterday, I was told that wasn’t the case. In fact, they both agreed that less text is better! The decision was then made that I’d use this as a test poster to see how far I can push the boundaries between text and design.

I am not overly keen on my first attempt, but I am excited about the lessons I’ve learned so far. And I already have a list of things to change (improve!) for my next poster presentation in July.

My hope for this poster is that I will gain some useful feedback from the judging panel about what works and what doesn’t work.

And, of course, I also hope that I can win one of the poster prizes. But I have to be realistic and realise that a poster designed in less than 24 hours probably won’t win! (Still … fingers crossed!)

You can see a larger version of the poster here.

I hope that the poster is fairly self-explanatory (though I know it’s brief). If you’d like more information though, please do get in touch.

Stay tuned for an update on my first PhD conference next week. (And who knows, maybe I’ll be able to tell you I won a prize!)

[Photo Copyright Samuel Chinenyeze, one of my awesome office mates.]

 

Presenting 20 in 20

2014.05.14.fecci-presentationYesterday was my first full-on presentation as a PhD student. It was a 20/20 presentation*, meaning I had to present 20 slides for 20 seconds each, and was given to the Faculty of Engineering, Computing, and Creative Industries (FECCI).

If you know me, you know I’m not actually good at “keeping it short”—especially when it’s a topic I’m excited about. So the idea of a 20/20 presentation freaked me out! Twenty slides, with only 20 seconds of chatting each? Impossible!

Six minutes and 40 seconds of chatting using as many (or as few) slides as I needed to convey my message would have been so much better, and wouldn’t have left me feeling rushed.

Still, the rule was 20/20, so that’s what I did.

The take-aways were worth it though. Here’s what they were:

  1. Presenting my research in this manner did wonders for my confidence (after the freaking out before and during, of course). It also forced me to think more concisely about my message when explaining my research to others—especially those who are not social media researchers.
  2. I learned some great lessons for my next presentation. I leaned that it would be best to prepare a 6 minute 40 second talk, and then create the slides to fit in every 20 seconds. That way, it’s a cohesive talk rather than 20 short bursts of information.
  3. The next time I have a presentation of any length (and slide limit), I have a bank of slides ready to plug in when and where they’re needed.

Here’s a copy of my presentation if you want to see what my slides looked like. I know it doesn’t let you know what I said, but you can always get in touch if you want to know more about the presentation—or my research!

 

* This style is sometimes called PechaKucha, but as it’s a trademarked programme, 20/20 is the oft-used generic term.

[Photo credits: Copyright Hazel Hall 2014; used with permission]

Retreat, retreat!

2014.05.07.retreat-castle.10I’ve been meaning to update this blog for a while now, but have been in retreat mode. And when you’re in retreat mode, sometimes blogs get ignored. (I am suppressing the urge to say “sorry about that”, for reasons explained below.)

Retreat No 1: I’ve been busy and stressed trying to meet a few deadlines, meaning I’ve retreated into my own little world—a bad habit, I know. This retreat mode was also because I was (am, in some cases) unsure about things. Like, what do I share here? What’s relevant? What do people want to read? Who’s my audience (Mum!)?

I am still unsure about a lot of these things, but I’m going to take a page from my personal blogging experiences of “blog to blog” when I’m shying away from writing. (It’s like the writers’ trick to “just write any old rubbish” as a way of getting the useful juices slowing.)

But that’s the “poor me” retreat mode so let’s move on to the fun stuff!

Retreat No 2: This was a real retreat with some of my fellow School of Computing PhD students to a loch-side retreat centre near the Highlands. It was simple and short but gave me the opportunity to share a short presentation of my research with some of my fellow students and teaching staff, who then provided a bit of feedback.

One of the most valuable bits of feedback was from one of my supervisors who suggested that I stop apologising—for my research; for being on the “soft” side of computing science; for not having all the information. (I then apologised for apologising too much. A problem I really do need to fix as I do it in all aspects of my life and it impacts my confidence. See first paragraph.)

And as this was my first official presentation as a PhD student, I thought I’d mark it by opening a SlideShare account so that I can share it with you!

(Yes, there was fun activity stuff at the retreat, too, as evident by the “selfie” of me after a cycle ride to a ruined castle.)

But it’s time to move on from retreats and talk about what’s next and what blog posts you can expect from me in the near future.

The biggest thing is that I’ll be giving a 20/20 presentation next Tuesday that will expand on my retreat presentation—and will hopefully see me not apologising.

After that, I will have a few conferences to talk about (assuming my abstracts are accepted!) and will be able to share a bit more information about my literature searching and current reading lists. There might even be an opinion/commentary piece or two, if I can get the courage to share my thoughts with you.

What I say about “They Say/I Say”

2014.03.26.they-say-i-sayIt’s not often that I review books, but as it’s a bit of an academic “thing to do” I’ve decided that I will start participating in the practice. (Well, at least for some of the academic-y books I read; I’m sure the world doesn’t need yet another glowing review of the amazing works of Ian Rankin.)

I attended a training session on writing literature reviews the other week (presented by Dr Anne Schwan) and took on board the recommendation to read They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing (Graff and Birkenstein, 2014). In fact, as luck would have it there was a new edition being released the following week so I took the opportunity to pre-order it on Amazon.co.uk so that I’d have the latest-and-greatest version.

In a nutshell, They Say/I Say is an introduction to the art of writing an argument and creating an academic conversation. It is easy to read and offers examples and templates throughout the book—with useful exercises at the end of each chapter so that the reader can immediately put the concepts to test. Further, the authors use encouraging language that may help less-experienced students or academics overcome potential fears about not having the academic know-how or “credentials” to create arguments.

I feel that the book gave good (though sometimes basic) advice on how best to present an argument in a way that allows the conversation to continue. It helps to explain the process of—and the need for—summarising someone’s argument, as well as some “best practice” techniques for how and when to use quotes. (With an emphasis on making sure that quotes are relevant and to the point.)

My favourite thing about the book—and what I believe is the most useful reason for owning a copy—is the templates provided throughout the text. I feel that they work similar to a thesaurus by providing suggested ways to phrase an argument, in the same manner that we’d use a thesaurus to find alternative words so that we don’t continue to describe a flower as beautiful over and over again. After all, reading “He said…”, “He said…”, and “He said…” all in a row can get boring. But if you throw in a “The author notes that it could be argued …” from time-to-time is like describing that flower as prepossessing.

The third edition also includes new sections for writing about literature, using templates to revise, and even writing online. Further, the authors have launched a blog, continuing the lessons and conversation online. (I have added the blog to my RSS feed so that I don’t miss any updates.)

Practical pickiness:
On the practical side, the book is an extremely good value at around £12 for the paperback edition. It’s small size and light-weight materials make it easy to toss into your book bag for easy access when writing at the library.

However—and this is where my slightly obsessive-compulsive nature comes in—I was less than pleased with the book’s overall print quality.

First, the cover is a printed and coated card stock which feels weird to the touch. This printing method also means that the cover insists on curling upwards, meaning it will always look open when sitting on a desk. Next, the paper is (not too) thin and has a slight shine to it which is a little annoying as it gives off a slight glare from overhead lighting and doesn’t have the nice feel that other, less glossy papers have.

Again, this is my own personal brand of crazy and has nothing to do with the book’s substance and academic usefulness. (I am just very fussy about some things; don’t get me started on wonky staples!)

Recommendation:
Short and sweet: Yes! I recommend you get this book—or at least check it out from the library! (I’ve not been asked or paid to give this review, I just really like the book and believe it will be a useful tool.)