Working out where to work

2014.02.03.where-to-readLast month, I shared with you my struggles for finding just the right place to work. I was finding it difficult to figure out how to manage my reading without being distracted—and without finding myself squirreled away at home all the time.

To find a solution, I decided to spend three weeks testing out various locations and work patterns. Though, sadly, I’ve not yet found an answer to my problem.

I did learn, however, that trying to work in more than two locations in any given day doesn’t work because I spend too much time settling into the new location—and too much time wondering when it’s time to move onto the next. However, two locations seems to work just fine—as long as I am clear about what my tasks will be at each location.

So, what’s the solution?

To be honest, I don’t really know!

But I do know that I read better away from the office and that I find resources for reading better when I’m in the office. I also know that I am able to write wherever I am—though it seems that my best focused-in writing sessions come right after lunch or dinner. (Yes, a full tummy helps!)

In the last week of my location testing, I found that I was giving myself clear tasks to complete at each location. A day’s tasks might be split up like this:

I would “assign” myself the task of reading two journal articles at home whilst eating breakfast and enjoying my morning coffee, after which I would make hand-written notes summarising each article before going to the office. On arriving at my office, I would have the task of typing up my notes then searching through databases for any new articles to add to my reading list. Then, on returning home in the evening, I would read another (short) article or search for interesting pop-culture stories related to my areas of interest (blog posts, opinion pieces, forum discussions—that sort of thing).

So I know that I work best in different locations. And I know that I work best with clear tasks in mind. But what I don’t know is how to stay focused on tasks—or how to prioritise them!

I guess that means it’s time to investigate some time management techniques!

(Thankfully, I am still feeling a renewed sense of excitement about the path I’m on, which is helping to keep me focused!)

[Photo note: This is a view of my comfy weekend reading spot: Home on my couch with my life-long companion, Tiger, listening to my home town country station (KXLE Radio) streaming on the tablet, and taking occasional breaks to draw abstract swirls. What a wonderful way to spend a weekend!]

Finding some clarity: It’s about reputation (not privacy)

2014.01.25.finding-clarityI’ve spent the past few weeks reading about privacy, identity, and reputation so that I can try to resolve a few questions I have about where I want to take my PhD research. My area of interest is reputation, but with so many elements impacting reputation it can be hard to interpret the map with all of my thoughts and ideas.

I admit that it’s been extremely frustrating because I’ve found myself heading down so many paths that have been filled with more distraction than relevance and I was starting to wonder if I’d ever be able to find a path that could bring me a bit more focus. (I understand this is a common problem at the start of a PhD, so I haven’t felt like a failure because of it—but it hasn’t built up my confidence, either.)

Thankfully, this is where my supervisors come in! They’ve “been there; done that” so are able to help guide me in the right direction. (Yay!)

I developed a very rough draft of an essay on privacy, identity, and reputation—and the relationship between the three—and sent my supervisors a copy ahead of yesterday’s supervision meeting. I was very unhappy with the draft because it seemed so [enter several negative adjectives here], but in the end it was a very useful tool because one of my supervisors took the time to write a summary of key points on a white board for us to discuss—and that discussion led to a great amount of useful waypoints.

By the end of the meeting, I was filled with a renewed sense of excitement because I could see the path a little more clearly. There is still a bit of fog and I’m sure there will be a few rough patches to traverse, but I feel that this path will lead me to a couple of major roads before too long.

Moving forward, I will start to look a bit more at the idea of online identities and their relationship with reputation—and I’ll try to remember that my PhD is not about privacy*. I’ll be investigating issues of multiple identities (personas/personalities) including pseudonyms and anonymous accounts and how they’re used in an online environment—as well as some of the recent discussions around requirements for the use of “real names” by organisations like Google and Huffington Post.

I hope to have a bit more clarity on my research soon, at which time I will try to be a bit less vague in what I’m sharing. In the mean time, if you have any great resources you wish to share with me on reputation and identity, please feel free to contact me or comment below!

* I’ll talk about my desire to keep privacy on the fringe of my research later—after I’ve clarified it all a bit more in my own mind.

Prezi or PowerPoint: Can I have both?

2014.01.17.preziI spent a chunk of my day in a very useful Prezi workshop as part of my on-going Vitae Researcher Development Framework training. I wasn’t sure what I would get out of the day, but I’m really looking forward to trying out the new presentation software.

I’ve been an enthusiastic (but not too enthusiastic!) user of PowerPoint for many years and whilst I really enjoy the platform, I am often excited about the latest-and-greatest technologies. After all, moving forward can be a lot more exciting than standing still.

I viewed Prezi as an opportunity to present slideshows with a bit more “wow factor” than PowerPoint allows. And after tooling around for a bit today, I have to say that I was right—there are some amazingly “wow” things you can do with Prezi. (Here’s a good comparison of the two.)

The problem, however, is that I can’t do everything with it.

I admit that my limited use isn’t enough to give a full-on critique of the software, but I’ll go ahead and share my initial thoughts anyhow. If you have anything to add (for or against!) please feel free to comment away.

So, here are my initial thoughts:

Pros:

  • It’s free! (And with an educational license, you get more goodies for free!)
  • You can get artistic with the fully zoomed-out view, giving your presentation a nice “designed” feel
  • It’s online and presentations can easily be shared with links or by embedding them

Cons:

  • It’s all online (unless you pay the big bucks!) meaning you need an Internet connection
  • Despite being able to download your presentation, you need an Internet connection to best show your presentation—especially if you have embedded videos
  • Motion-sickness can be a problem for some audience members

Ideally, I’d like to combine Prezi and PowerPoint features to create the perfect tool for me—and maybe one day some smart software developer will do just that. In the mean time, I must admit that I will be sticking with PowerPoint for any in-person presentation I have to give (not that I have anything on the horizon!). But I think I’ll give Prezi a try for online purposes in an effort to learn the tools a bit better—and in case they ever make some of their online features available offline!

Oh! Here’s the presentation I created today. It’s not much, but it’s a good place to start! (And here’s a link to my Prezi profile!)

(But seriously—if you have any thoughts on the matter I’d love to hear them.)

Reading habits

reading-habitsI’m struggling a bit with my reading habits just now and have decided to spend the rest of January getting a handle on them.

As you may know, the first year of a PhD is filled with reading. Lots and lots of reading. You’re reading through a massive collection of materials on your topic and writing notes about what you’re reading—all as part of your literature review.

The reading and taking notes part is actually pretty easy to figure out, but I’m struggling with how to find the best place for reading and taking notes.

What I know is this:

  • I can’t spend 8 hours in my office reading and taking notes because it’s too “stuffy” for me to read there and I’m constantly on edge waiting for someone to walk through the door.
  • I can’t spend 8 hours in a comfy coffee shop reading and taking notes because I’m a starving student and can’t afford to buy all those cups of coffee. (Actually, I’m more of a mint tea drinker.)
  • I can’t spend 8 hours at the library reading and taking notes because it’s much too quiet and I fear sneezing or coughing which means I’m very self-conscious.
  • And I can’t spend 8 hours at home reading and taking notes because that would provide too many distractions (Oh look! There’s a shelf that needs dusting …) and it would also mean I’d be home all day, every day.

I also know that I feel oddly guilty if I’m not in my office 8 hours a day. I feel like I’m “skipping school” or something. (Is this common for PhD students or am I alone in this weirdness?)

So, what do I do?

The simple answer is this: I need to find a way to combine my reading-and-note-taking locations throughout the day so that I’m putting in a “full shift” but so that I’m not losing out on productivity by constantly being on edge for some disturbance to happen.

The complicated solution to that answer, however, is what I’m struggling with.

But, as I am meant to be a researcher, I’m going to research! And I’m going to research by testing potential solutions and analysing the results.

With three full weeks (plus a full day) left in the month, I am going to start trying out different combinations of study locations to see what works best for me. There will be combinations of reading at home, in coffee shops, at my office, and in libraries at various times throughout the day. The number of locations I visit in a day will be switched up, too.

And, hopefully, by the end of the month I will have found a good pattern that works well for me. (I need a pattern; I work better with patterns!)

Of course, there’s always the risk that in my excited attempt to find a productive combination, I will work harder to be productive. In which case, even if I don’t find an ideal solution to my problem, I’ve hopefully been more productive than if I just stuck with the status quo.

I would love to hear from others on how they’ve managed to combine working locations to increase productivity. So, thoughts and suggestions for this eager reader?

Lost in databases

2013.12.16.original-database-by-shindoverseI began my PhD nearly a month ago and have been spending much of that time searching for books and articles relevant to my topic. I’ve done basic library searches and I’ve done some minor database searches—most of which have brought me at least some results for useful reading materials.

But basic searches aren’t really enough when you’re trying to find articles on a focused area, which means I have to figure out a series of slightly complex databases.

I think that one of the biggest problems with databases (for me, at least) is that there are so many different ones I need to check and each one has its own format. There’s Nexis and the Web of Knowledge and the IEEE—and many, many more.

There are so many databases that have so much information that I’m getting lost.

My hope (and my guess) is that I will find my way around everything as I continue my research. I am hoping that I will start to instinctively know which databases to consult based on what type of information I’m searching for at that moment. And I am hoping that as I become familiar with each one, I will get used to how to use the search functions (which vary from one database to the next).

For now, I am learning how to manage and document all of the information so that I know where I’ve found things—and where I can find them again if needed. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge at the moment because I’ve not attempted such a monumental task before, but I am learning. Slowly but surely, I am learning.

One day, I hope to be sharing with you some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way. In the mean time, however, I am open to any tips and tricks that you may want to share with me.

[Photo of “original” databases. Credits to shindoverse. Sourced from Flickr and used under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.]