Thursday, January 17, 2019

The PhD: Idle Thoughts While Reading? It May Be a Light Bulb Moment

by Pat Thomson, Patter:

Does your mind wander while you’re reading? All the books to read for that pesky literature review and you just can’t focus …
Sometimes the havering mind is “the worries”. Worries about how much reading there is and how hard some of it is. This is a moment when you need to soothe and reassure yourself. You have to tell yourself that it will all be OK, you just have to persevere, you have it on good authority that everybody feels like this and it’s not just you. You can also set up reading schedules if you’re so inclined, and daily reading targets if they work for you and help you feel better about getting through the stuff.
But sometimes those vacillating procrastinating thoughts are very useful.  You’re reading, or trying to, and one of three thoughts just pops into your mind. Unsolicited. You’re reading long and – woah – here is this thought.
Don’t dismiss any of these three thoughts – it’s good to listen to them – they are telling you something helpful. In fact, you may even have a light bulb moment. That idle thought is actually something important.
So what are these three things?
Well number one –
I’ve read this name before.
This is a really helpful response. It usually tells you that you have come across one of the people and texts that is important in the field. This is someone whose work most people refer to, their contribution is something that other people build on and/or interrogate and speak back to. This is a key figure in the field.
When you see this name repeated it is helpful to note it. Then go and find the text and read it for yourself – either in the original or in translation. If it does turn out to be important you won’t want to be citing it as a secondary source – a in b – but as a text that you have read and interpreted for yourself.
And number two –
I’ve read a lot of different opinions about this
This is a another really helpful response. It usually tells you that you have come across one of the key debates in the field. Something that isn’t settled, but something important.
It’s helpful to try pause when the deja vu thought interrupts. It’s time to analyse the nature of the differences in the readings. Are they methodological? Theoretical? Definitional? It’s very helpful to understand the key debates in a field, as you may well have to position yourself in relation to them. This is where I stand in relation to this debate. This is how I understand x and why. I stand with this lot of scholars over here. I start from the position that x is … My work is like a, b, c and in that I too understand x to be … My contribution speaks to the debate about x in the following ways …
And number three –
I’ve read something a lot like this before.
This is a really helpful response. It tells you that you are reading something that belongs with other papers. It has a strong family resemblance – it’s probably arguing much the same thing as other papers you’ve read. So this means that you have identified a theme in the literatures. More importantly, it may well signal that you don’t need to read any more like this, as you know the general shape of the argument that is offered in this body of work.
Hallelujah. You’ve probably reached what is called saturation point – any more reading in this theme isn’t going to tell you much more. And once you know you’re at saturation point, you can usually check whether new papers fit within this theme when you read the abstract. If you get that “I’ve read this before” thought, then you know that you can put this one aside as it won’t add to your understanding of the field.
So, if you find yourself reading along and any of these three thoughts pop into your mind, stop for just a minute and think about what you might have just worked out.
Clever you. And you weren’t even trying.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

How to Use Your Own Experience of Academic Research to Support Others

Sometimes, things don’t work out quite as we expect, but that’s not always a bad thing! In this post, The Library’s new Scholarly Communications Manager, Julie, reflects on her own PhD journey and how her new role has enabled her to use her experience of academic research to support others.
Although there was a brief period when I considered a career in academia as the next logical step after my PhD, it was never really the reason why I decided to do a research degree.
I came to higher education through a fairly non-traditional route. Although I had stayed on and taken A-levels, I decided not to go to University straight from school and didn’t start my BA (in Film and Visual Arts) until I was in my mid-30s. My original plan was to follow my first degree with a Masters in Library Studies or Film and Television Archiving and become a media archivist, but, as is often the case, life got in the way and after graduating, I found myself working in University administration and contemplating whether this was where my future lay.
However, I soon decided that I wanted to continue my studies and started looking around for funded opportunities (I still needed to eat!). One of these was for a Masters by Research here at Warwick, but the one I went with in the end was an AHRC-funded collaborative doctorate with the Media Archive for Central England and my old department at Leicester. 
I’d already done some volunteering with MACE during my BA and really loved working with the collection (my project looked at the ITV regional programming from the 1950s-1980s), but I found the writing process incredibly difficult and realised quite early in the process that academia probably wasn’t for me. At the same time, the film archive sector was going through quite a difficult time in terms of funding, so even though my PhD was the ideal preparation, working in an archive wasn’t really a viable option either.
So, if I wasn’t going to be an academic or a film archivist, I had to decide what I was going to do next. I’d started working in the University library on Sundays during my Bachelors (as a way of getting some relevant experience that might help with a Masters application) and had managed to get my old job back when I started my PhD. It was something I’d always enjoyed, so once I’d handed in, I started looking around for suitable roles. 
I originally came to Warwick on a very  temporary contract as a Student as Researcher Officer, working with the Academic Support Librarians for the Sciences and Medicine to embed information and library skills into the curriculum and from there moved on to a more general role in the Academic Services Development team, first as an Academic Support Officer and later as the ASD Manager. The work was very varied and interesting – I spent most of my time creating online learning materials, but also did some teaching and even got involved with arranging school visits – but when the Scholarly Communications Manager role came up, which involved a lot of the things I was already doing but also gave me the opportunity to use some of the experience I’d gained whilst studying for my PhD, it seems like the perfect fit!
So what does a Scholarly Communications Manager do? Put very simply, I help researchers to communicate their research to others. This can cover everything from providing specialist advice for funding applications, to helping to choose the right publisher or journal (or even set up a one up on the Warwick Open Journals platform), to advising on Open Access and copyright, to helping researchers to disseminate their research and use bibliometrics and altmetrics to assess its impact. 
Scholarly Communications is an area that is developing all the time and I’m still quite new in post, but so far I’ve been working on the latest version of the Digital Tools for Researchers Moodle course (which we’re launching in early January) and an exciting project designed to support PhD students with turning their theses into monographs. I’ve also taken over responsibility for the BiteWISe video series and I run training sessions on Planning Your Publication Strategy and Open Access essentials which are available to PG researchers and Research Active Staff. I also work closely with other colleagues in the Library who support researchers, particularly the e-repositories and Research Data Management teams and the Academic Support Librarians.
My PhD is proving invaluable in helping me understand the needs of researchers here at Warwick and I’m excited to see where the role will go next.
And if you’re looking for support with any part of the Scholarly Communications cycle, then do drop me an email!
Have you ever used your experience of academic research to support others? Are you thinking about a career outside academia? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at, or leave a comment below.
Julie Robinson is the Library’s Scholarly Communications Manager. She has been in her current post since September 2018, but has been working in the Library in various academic support roles since February 2014. Her background is in film and television studies and she also holds a PhD from the University of Leicester on the history of ITV programming in the Midlands between the 1950s and the 1980s.