A research grant, by proxy

Please note: I am working to migrate Just a PhD to a new URL, www.FrancesRyanPhD.com. This site will be fully archived by the end of 2018.

Earlier this year, I worked on writing a grant application to The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland with my colleague, Dr Gemma Webster. And I am excited to say that the application has been accepted under the Trust’s Research Incentive Grant scheme with Gemma as the Principal Investigator (PI).

The research project is called “Social media by proxy: Strategies for managing the online profiles of adults with dementia”. This work will investigate the lived experiences of people who act as “social media proxies” for adults with dementia in their care.

As the PI and lead applicant, it is Gemma’s experience and role as an established academic that allowed her to make the application (newbies like myself almost always need to ride the coattails of more senior researchers). And it is her experience that will guide the project so that we are in a better position for getting our work published and (hopefully!) creating an even larger funding application that will help us continue our research.

The inspiration for this research comes from Gemma’s past work with vulnerable adults and the recognition that the use of social media by older people is increasing whilst instances of dementia diagnoses are growing. Further, my own doctoral investigation into the role of online information in the building and management of personal reputation found that some participants have helped or noted concerns about vulnerable individuals in their lives and their use of social media. When considered together, we determined that the role of social media proxies for adults with dementia was a relevant and timely topic that warranted further research.

My role in this project is that of the research assistant. I will be work on the literature review, the design of the study, and data collection. I will also work with Gemma to analyse the results from our data collection and to create research outputs.

We plan to use a combination of participant diaries and in-depth interviews as data collection tools, a process I used for my PhD thesis. Participants (social media proxies) will keep a diary for a set amount of time where they will keep notes related to the online activities they undertake as proxies. This will include information about the specific tasks they undertake as well as any reflective thoughts they have about the tasks. Interviews will take place after the diary-keeping exercise and will include a range of topics related to participants’ roles as social media proxies.

We plan to report on this research through (1) a project report; (2) an academic journal article; (3) guidance materials for social media proxies (for example, leaflets); and (4) an article in The Conversation. A dissemination event for stakeholders will also be planned towards the end of this project. That event will include care home workers, carers of dementia patients, local authority officials, and members of third sector organisations that provide support to vulnerable and/or incapacitated groups.

On a personal note, I am grateful to Gemma for providing me the opportunity to work with her on this project. It will be my first piece of work after submitting my thesis, and it kind of serves as my first external grant (by proxy, in a round-about way). I am looking forward to learning from Gemma as she supervises my work and I’ll try not to let her down!

For more information about this research project, please contact me (f.ryan@napier.ac.uk) or Gemma Webster (g.webster@napier.ac.uk)

Thesis season

Wow! It is the 1st of July already. And that means that my PhD thesis is due in just four months’ time. Yikes! Of course, that means that the next four months will be all about my thesis. Thesis, thesis, thesis. And writing, writing, writing. And, most likely, stressing, stressing, stressing.

But I am looking forward to cracking down and getting things done. And as I have no other obligations in my diary (other than teaching starting in September) I have no excuses for not PhDing my days away.

Thesis season is the final stretch of my thesis writing. During this time, I will finish writing some chapters, edits others, and start writing a couple of vital chapters. And, of course, I will need to put it all together into one sensible narrative for examination.

The structure is (fairly) straight-forward and simple, with 8 chapters for the main body of the thesis. These are the introduction, a literature review including the theoretical framework, the methodology, three separate findings chapters, a discussion, and a conclusion. There will also be several other bits before and after the main body for references, an abstract, tables of contents, and various appendices.

Much of the work has already been done, it’s just a matter of writing it all up in thesis form and the literature review, methodology, and findings chapters are in various stages of completeness. The biggest challenge (and a vital part of the thesis!) will be writing up the discussion chapter. Unlike other sections of the thesis, this doesn’t already exist in another format so I will have to start from scratch. (Though I do have several little notes that I’ve written that will help with that process.)

So, what’s up next?

My July tasks (in order of deadlines) will be to complete drafts of (1) my methods chapter, (2) all three findings chapters, and (3) my literature review. That’s not to say that they will be finished at that point, just that they will be fully drafted. I expect that I will be making further edits and improvements to them in August.

Thesis season is bound to be stressful, so I will need to ensure that I am taking good care of my physical, mental, and emotional health during this time. To do that, I am continuing my healthy eating routine and will be sure to bring my own lunches to the office most days. This way, I am sure to be getting all of the nutrients I need without the financial burden of eating in the canteen. I am also working to keep fit by running several 5Ks each week and getting off the bus a mile or two before my stop so that I can get some walking in before I get to my desk. And, of course, I am trying to build in some “me” time each week. (Though I have always struggled with making “me” a priority, so that one will be a challenge.)

I will aim to do monthly thesis season updates, so stay tuned for August when I hope to announce that some of these chapters are near completion!

But for now… it’s back to the thesis.

PhDing on holidays

A bit of PhDing whilst I wait for my flights… along with a glass of my traditional pre-holiday fizz!

I am on my holidays in America just now, and I’ve brought my PhD along for the journey. It is something that I’ve done with great hesitation because I know that I won’t get as much done as I’ve told myself I will… but I also hesitated because I should be taking advantage of my holidays as a chance to have a break and live that whole “work-life balance” thing I’m always talking about.

But I am running short on time, so I can’t really afford to take time off. So I need to at least pretend that I will get a bit of work done whilst I’m away.

And so, I am hoping to do some PhDing on my holidays.

Of course, that makes me question (once again) the toxic environment of “all work no play” that many PhD students find themselves in—myself included. And it makes me realise that prior to starting my PhD, I was really good about taking personal time and rarely bringing my work home with me. (Well, other than on “work from home” days. But then I stopped working when the “day” was done.)

My darling Godson is getting in on the PhDing action!

What has changed? Why do I feel the need to work all the time as a PhD student? And why do I feel so very guilty when I am not working on my PhD?

Sadly, that is a long blog post for another time. (Trust me, it is in draft mode now. I shall save it for a longer musing once I’m done with my PhD though.)

Instead, I will just use these last lines to say that I am on holiday. And that I’ve brought my PhD with me. And I know I will get some work done on it. But I also know that I won’t get as much done as I’d hoped. Because I am here to visit my family and I didn’t fly 6,000 miles just so that they could watch me write my thesis!

12 tips for a 20×20

Please note: I am working to migrate Just a PhD to a new URL, www.FrancesRyanPhD.com. This site will be fully archived by the end of 2018.

Last week I presented at the 8th annual Information Science Doctoral Colloquium (iDocQ). The presentation was in the form of a PechaKucha, also known as a “20×20”. These presentations can be quite fun and exciting, especially if you are a confident and experienced communicator. However, if you are neither of those things, the idea of presenting 20 slides for 20 seconds each (for a total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds) might be a bit daunting.

This presentation style seems to be quite popular in the academic world—at least here in the UK. However, there seems to be a lot of confusion over what a 20×20 is (as well as what a 20×20 isn’t). And that’s where this post comes in.

OK, then. What is a 20×20? In the original form, they should be delivered as 20 images, on 20 slides, that each run for 20 seconds.

However, it seems that the image part has been overlooked by many in academia. That means that you see a fair amount of 20×20 slides that are filled with text. Lots and lots of text. Of course, that is not always the presenter’s fault. Often times, the person organising the talks doesn’t know what a 20×20 is meant to be (or has decided that they don’t care) so the only instructions presenters have is that they must have 20 slides over the course of a 6-minute, 40-second talk. Some organisers might insist that the slides automatically forward every 20 seconds, and others might not realise that little rule.

Ideally, 20×20 slides should be image-based no text. However, this can be a bit challenging for academics who are accustomed to developing text-heavy presentations. (But don’t do that. Really. Less is more!) Slides should not have any animation or transitions. Slides should also be set to advance automatically.

But why? It’s because the slides should be there to add visual stimulation to your intellectually stimulating words. They should not require your audience to read and should never include information that is vital to your talk. So, skip the detailed graphs and tables. (A 20×20 talk should be able to be presented without slides and still be just as informative.)

Heck, even for those of us who enjoy presentations, the idea of such a restrictive format can be a challenge. And with my habit of ad-libbing and going on wee rambles about a sub-point, it’s even more of a challenge! But I have learned a few tricks to make 20×20 presentations a bit easier to plan, prepare, and present.

Before you start putting slides together, have a think about what you’re going to say.

  • Prepare your spoken words before you prepare your slides (talk it out and time it as close to 6:40 as possible). Think very clearly about the theme of your presentation and start to build out your presentation. Your talk might be a single, descriptive storyline (Mary had a little lamb) or it might be a series of interconnected points (research questions, methods, findings, and conclusion). Either way, you are sharing a narrative that must flow together with ease.
  • Break your spoken words into 20-second segments (based on ideas or themes) then practice those segments. Think of your talk as sections or chapters and put breaks into the talk as those sections come along. Don’t forget to include pauses in each segment. Those pauses will give you time to breathe whilst your audience has time to process the information you’ve just shared with them.
  • Give each point or idea the time it needs! You can use more than 20 seconds for a point, but all points should fit with multiples of 20 seconds. If you need a full minute to make a point, take a full minute! But give some thought to how you’re delivering those 60 seconds so that you can switch-up the slide image to reflect the point every 20 seconds. For example, if your point is about social networking sites, you might change the image to reflect a different aspect such sites every 20 seconds, as it relates to the point. (You cannot use the same slide twice; each slide must be different.)
  • Make a note of non-vital sentences that can be dropped if you start to fall behind. This will allow you to catch up a bit, even if it takes 2-3 slides to get back in synch. A few seconds’ lag-time is hard to avoid for beginners, but it is better to drop sentences in the middle so that you finish on time. That way, you still have time to deliver your punchy, vital concluding sentences—and maybe even take a theatrical bow!

Now that you’ve got your talk ready, you can begin to illustrate it. Yes, this is the point when you can start working on your visuals.

  • Think of your talk as a visual storyboard. What one image illustrates each 20-second segment? If you’re talking about Facebook, there are lots of obvious options. But if you’re talking about something a bit vaguer, this is your chance to get creative and whimsical. For example, if you’re talking about the history of modern beer production, you might use a photo of hops growing on a trestle.
  • Find image inspiration on Google or Flickr. If you don’t know how to illustrate a point, enter some of your keywords into a Google image search to see what comes up. This can help you to see how others visualise your concepts, which might also help you to think more creatively about how you present your work in the future.
  • Mind your copyrights! It is easy to just swipe images from the Internet, but be mindful about copyright infringement. Wherever possible, use works that have a Creative Commons copyright (or get really creative and take photos of your own!). Also, pop a wee copyright attribution on the slide. If done correctly, these do not need to detract from the presentation. (You can see examples of how I’ve done copyright attributions on my SlideShare presentations.)
  • Practice, practice, and practice some more! Ideally, you can do this in front of an audience that will provide you with practical, constructive feedback to help you improve your delivery. But if that is not possible, consider recording yourself so that you can see how well you do. Or, ideally, do both! It can be awkward watching yourself present, but it can also be a great tool for improving your presentation skills.

Right. Presentation day is here now, and you should be ready to go. Here are four more tips to get you through the day.

  • Dress for success on presentation day! For me, that means I wear smart, professional clothes and shoes that I am comfortable in. (And never a new stuff. I like to test-run my important clothes!) I realise that some research students present in their every-day clothes (which might be tattered jeans and a t-shirt) and that is considered acceptable in modern society. However, I personally feel that presenting your research is also an opportunity to present yourself to potential future colleagues or employers. So, put on your Sunday best (or similar) and strut your stuff! (Yes, I realise that sounds a bit snobby. Sorry.)
  • Remember your pauses and remember that you have specifically built in drop-sentences that you can ditch if you start to get backed up on your 20-second intervals. If you find that you’ve talked faster than your slide changes, just take a big breath and let the slides catch up to you. And if you’ve talked really fast and need more than one big breath, shrug it off and make a joke (practice those ahead of time, too).
  • Step away from the podium. Unless you need to be near the microphone, step away from the podium and stand where your audience can see you. (But don’t block your slides!) You have practiced this talk. You know your subject. And your slides are all images that will automatically advance every 20 seconds. So there is no need for you to stand by the computer. Be brave; come out and engage with the audience!
  • Have fun! Presentations can be quite stressful, especially if you don’t have much experience. However, 20×20 presentations are an opportunity to have fun whilst challenging yourself in a laid-back atmosphere. It’s quick and punchy, and it can be a chance to show that you can have a sense of humour when things go wrong.

During my time as a PhD student, I have relaxed my rigid ways so that I can be more in line with how others present 20x20s. That means that I will sometimes use a bit of text (only a bit!). I have also started to use simple diagrams and paired photos on some slides. However, I have decided that I am going to return to the basics with my next 20×20.

Of course, I will also need to revisit my tips above because, as you can see, I didn’t do any planning or practicing for my last go. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great. So, if you want to know what a 20×20 looks like when you haven’t prepared, here you go!

Photo credit: Alicja Pawluczuk and iDocQ
Video production and editing credit: Dr Bruce Ryan (no relation)

Applying for the next phase

Please note: I am working to migrate Just a PhD to a new URL, www.FrancesRyanPhD.com. This site will be fully archived by the end of 2018.

I submitted my first post-PhD life job application today, which I am counting as a milestone moment (hence the celebratory bubbles illustrating this post).

The application is for a lecturer post at a Scottish university which would incorporate elements from my PhD experiences with my “past life” as a communications professional. The post is also well suited to my undergraduate and master’s level degrees, which relate directly to my professional career, which helped to inform my PhD research.

It is a strange feeling to be looking forward to the next phase of my academic life, especially when I’m not quite finished with this phase. (I am close though; very close!) Although, I suppose it is fairly standard to start looking for jobs during the last few months of doing a PhD. (Not that I am generally one to do things the “standard” way!)

When I first saw the post advertised, I thought it looked interesting. However, I dismissed it because I’m just not good enough. (Imposter syndrome, you understand.) But then one of my PhD supervisors sent me a link to the post and said that it was right up my alley. So I gave it another thought and decided, yes, I can totally do that job! (Confidence is a wonderful thing.)

However, as I started to pull my application together I began to worry that maybe I wasn’t a good candidate after all. So I threw some talking points together and sent them off to a (non-academic) friend, along with the job specs. He replied back with excitement, declaring that the job was perfect for me and that I should most certainly apply. (He works in career services and hasn’t steered me wrong yet!)

With my confidence growing stronger each day, I sat down and wrote out my supporting statement. Then I went for a run so that I could talk through a potential interview in my head. (I know: I’m crazy.) By the end of my run, I had a better idea of how to finish up my statement and was starting to feel really excited. In fact, I spent an hour or so making edits before I took my post-run shower. (Too much information, I know.)

As today’s deadline fast approached, I sent my CV off to be reviewed by a couple of trusted colleagues and friends. And when I was finally ready to share my supporting statement with my reviewers, I was pleased with the positive feedback I received. (Being told you have a strong application by people you admire and who have proven academic track records is a real boost!)

When I hit the submit button on my application, I felt a wave of satisfaction come over me. I felt very confident and I knew that I submitted something that is worthy of consideration.

Of course, I also felt a bit of doubt because, well, imposter syndrome. Again. You understand.

But the doubt is also relevant as the post is for a permanent lectureship position in an area that is not (quite) the same as my PhD. And I am not (quite) a PhD. (But I am within the timeframe they stated.) And it is not overly common for new PhDs to land a permanent lectureship right out of the gate.

At the very least, I hope that my application gets me an interview. Though as I’ve already started dreaming about a new “I got the job” work bag, I will be a bit crushed if I don’t manage both an interview and a job offer.

But, I am perfect for the job. I really do meet (or exceed) the specifications for the role and I have the passion and commitment to excel in the position. Yes, I am very well qualified for the post and would make a positive contribution to the university.

“They’d be so lucky to have me,” she says, forgetting all about that previously mentioned imposter syndrome.

However, if they do not agree with me, at least I now have a bit of experience in applying for an academic post. And that’s what life is all about: Experiences!

A special shout-out to my colleagues and friends who took the time to review my application materials. When I get the job, I’ll buy the celebratory drinks!

Now, on to the next milestone!