Reflections on ASIS&T and moving away from academia

img_6614.jpgMy final commitment as a full time PhD student was to attend and present at the ASIST conference. I got a paper accepted to this conference a while back and was scheduled to present my work on Tuesday November 13th 2018. The conference itself went very well and I am pleased I travelled so far for my trip. On Sunday November 11th I attended the doctoral workshop where we were assigned our own mentor. My mentor was Professor Caroline Haythornthwaite from Syracuse University (New York State) and she partly specialises in research of learning. Caroline and I were matched based upon our research interests and her expertise in terms of my doctoral work and I feel the meeting between us was beneficial indeed. Caroline gave some sound advice on how I can ground my literature in the information science domain. She gave some excellent examples of work that will help me in editing my literature review and enabled me to see how my work fits in with others in this field. We also chatted about my career plans and how I am embarking on a non-academic career next week. Caroline and I both agreed that this is the right thing for me to do (as I feel it is) and that there is no harm in investigating academic work in the future (we shall see!). The meeting with our mentors was followed by a panel session. We had experts in academia and those who have also pursued careers outside of academia. The discussions in the panel sessions surround academic careers and presenting ourselves when ready to apply for jobs. We also talked about issues in the workplace for academics and then moved onto other careers too. This part for me was the most interesting as I have chosen to undertake a job outside of academia. We heard from those who had been successful outside of academia, especially those who could tell us what we could do. We discussed the application of skills learned in the PhD to jobs outside of academic and it was nice to hear that this is actually welcomed (I have had a lot of people express their annoyance that I am leaving academia!). As students we learn a lot throughout our PhD journeys and we develop lots of skills – it is more about how we apply these skills to our work that interests those outside of academia than how many publications, presentations etc we have.

The main conference itself started just after the doctoral workshop with a keynote from Dr Ramesh Srinivasan, who explored the use of digital technologies which influence our world. This was followed by a variety of other activities including a new member induction and a welcome reception after a choice of paper and panel sessions. By this point on Sunday, I was wrecked (my brain was still in UK time you see).

The Monday followed a similar format and I was able to attend some paper and panel sessions myself. The morning panel session surround embodied information practices and our speakers (Professor Christopher Lueg, Professor Pan McKenzie and Dr Michael Olsson) talked about their own work in relation to how information practices and our experiences intertwine We even ended the session with a martial arts demonstration to evidence the embodied information practices we heard about. Other sessions that I attended were papers in the data sharing category and these papers focused on data reuse, reputation, trust and norms in data sharing and the use of web archives. You can see from the programme that these papers were very varied and something that might not initially interest me. However I was intrigued to find research in these areas and explore the information practices of data sharing in the many contexts the presenters discussed. Seeing as though I am going into a career that focuses on data and statistics, I supposed this session was important for me!IMG_6627.JPG

The Tuesday of the conference was the day of my own presentation – something I was quite nervous about. As I normally freak out (behind the scenes) when I need to present to a larger audiences I made sure I prepared fully for this one. This included a dry-run session with some members of my research group and also discussion the paper with some students in a class before my trip away. This helped me to decide how to present my work and tweak the presentation (and potential discussion points) so that I was prepared for what was to come. When the time came for my presentation I was cheered on from afar (i.e. Edinburgh!). I appeared not to be too nervous until the few minutes before I talked, but once I was up in front of the audience and presenting the nerves disappeared and I talked about my work with ease. For those of you who did not make my presentation you can find my slides here. You can also find a recording of a dry-run that I recorded in preparation for the conference here (apologies if you are unable to access this video – I had issues with the upload). I am pleased that my director of studies encouraged me to apply for this conference and for the support given by my supervisors when writing the paper. Had I not had their help, my paper probably would have been rejected completed. I am also thankful for the review of my paper carried out by Professor Brian Detlor – without his expertise the paper would have made no sense at all. For that, I appreciate his efforts and work.

I travelled back home to Edinburgh on the Wednesday and Thursday so I decided not to attend any of the additional sessions offered. My travel adventure getting to Vancouver was a bit of a nightmare but the return flights home were smooth and I am pleased to have my feet back on the ground.

I now embark on a new chapter of my life, studying for my PhD part time whilst working a full-time job. I know this will be a challenge, especially as my experiences of starting my new job will probably be slightly hindered by the impending jet lag that I am going to experience (it has not hit me fully yet). This means that I will have a change in PhD working pattern (working two days of the week) and a change in contact availability (i.e. not checking emails daily). I will also probably struggle at first with managing my PhD time and will probably feel like I do not want to continue with my work. However, as long as I am able to work from my own office with fellow PhD students to hand I think I will be able to cope okay with it all. I have given myself an unofficial PhD deadline as to when I would like to submit. I know that my PhD work will suffer in terms of slowed progress but I think having this deadline in my mind will help. Despite these challenges ahead, I also know that taking a new job was the right move for me!

Obviously the tourist version of Lyndsey took lots of photos in Vancouver (see them below):

 

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ASIS&T doctoral workshop bio!

As you may know, my suitcase did not arrive with me to Vancouver and my airline cannot get it to me until the afternoon of Sunday November 11th 2018. This is after the doctoral workshop and unfortunately all of my ASIS&T materials are sill in my case… in Paris. I therefore post my bio here that I had planned to distribute to other doctoral workshop delegates. Feel free to get in touch if you wish! I will have plenty of business cards with me on the day!

ASIS&T Doctoral Workshop 2018

Lyndsey Middleton

Status: Final year PhD student at Edinburgh Napier University
Supervisors: Professor Hazel Hall, Professor Robert Raeside & Dr Laura Muir

ASIST 1Biography: Lyndsey is a final year PhD student at Edinburgh Napier University, studying the development of innovative work behaviour through workplace learning. She began her doctoral work after being a Careers Adviser for the National Careers Service in England, whilst simultaneously completing a nine-month internship focusing on factors influencing career exploration in young people and adolescents. Lyndsey has previously worked as an Assistant Psychologist (neurological community, employment and educational rehabilitation) where workplace rehabilitation and learning was the focus of her work. During her doctoral study, Lyndsey undertook a three-month paid internship with the Scottish Government. She worked on a project entitled ‘Practitioner Experiences of Mobile Working Technologies’ and carried out interviews and a quantitative survey with healthcare practitioners to explore how they use mobile working technologies to enhance their work. Following the internship, Lyndsey was offered a permanent positon within the Scottish government as an Assistant Statistician. She begins this role in November 2018 whilst writing the final chapters of her thesis. Lyndsey blogs about her work. Further details are below:

PhD blog: https://lyndseyjenkins.org/
Twitter: @Middleton_Ly
University website: https://www.napier.ac.uk/people/lyndsey-middleton
Email: L.Middleton@napier.ac.uk

Dissertation title: Enhancing the capacity for workplace learning and innovation in Scotland

Abstract: Workplace learning is a mechanism that underpins employee-led innovation: like innovation, it is both practice based and employee-driven, and employees can innovate from mistakes made in the learning process. However, the specific relationship between workplace learning and the development of innovative work behaviour remains relatively unexplored. This work therefore explores how innovative work behaviour (i.e. the set of behaviours that relate to the intentional generation of new ideas within a role, group or organisation) is developed through process of workplace learning. Here, questions as to the influencing factors on this relationship are addressed (e.g. social, environmental, personal and informational factors). The thesis is underpinned by a theoretical framework drawn from Psychology, yet used extensively in other areas of Information Science research (Social Cognitive Theory). A multi-method research design was used to collect and analyse data including: (1) a secondary data analysis of the Community Innovation Survey to set context and explore influencers of innovation nationally and; (2) three case studies of organisations in Scotland, England and Finland to highlight contextual differences in workplace practices. Findings reveal that factors that influence the learning of innovative work behaviour are contextually dependent (i.e. they differ in different organisations and are dependent on the strategic aims). However, across all case studies elements of organisational culture support the development of innovative work behaviour (including leadership, the promotion of company values, the provision of suitable infrastructure and knowledge sharing practices). Additionally information literacy is a key contributing factor but information behaviours exhibited by employees are also context specific. The main contributions of this work are: (1) the furnishing of new knowledge on the development of innovative work behaviour by the application of Social Cognitive Theory from the Information Science perspective; (2) the creation of a framework to explain the development of innovative work behaviour through workplace learning (including determinants, and how to identify success); (3) highlighting of contextual factors influencing innovative work behaviour development through multi-country case study analysis and; (4) practitioners are able to use multiple research perspectives in the assessment of enablers and barriers to workplace learning and innovative work behaviour.

ASIS&T 2018 here I come!

asist-logo-new-long-e1526335476938In 36 hours I will be on my way to attend the Annual Meeting of the Association for Information Science and Technology 2018 (ASIST 2018) conference.  This year the conference is held in Vancouver, Canada so my journey will be quite long. However, I am looking forward to my trip as it will be my last conference visit as a doctoral student (and the programme looks great)!

On Tuesday 13th November (around 6.30pm UK time, 10.30am in Vancouver) I will be presenting my paper. I am quite nervous for this as it is the first paper where I may get grilled with lots and lots of questions from the audience afterwards (and some of the audience members may be those mentioned in my paper!).

My paper (co-authored with Professor Hazel Hall, Dr Laura Muir and Professor Robert Raeside) entitled: The interaction between people, information and innovation: information literacy to underpin innovative work behaviour in a Finnish organisation is concerned with the role of information literacy in the learning of innovative work behaviour in the workplace. It draws upon the findings from analysis of interviews carried out with employees of a Finnish organisation. This forms part of my Finnish case study, one of three case studies in my doctoral work.

The abstract for the paper is detailed below:

Workplace learning and employee-led innovation are related. For example, mistakes made when learning may spur innovation. Investigated in this paper is the role of information literacy in the learning of innovative work behaviour in the workplace, and the associated information behaviours that allow for innovative work behaviour to develop. Thus interactions between people, information and innovation are a main focus. The findings derive from analysis of data generated in twelve semi-structured interviews conducted within a Finnish organisation. Employee perceptions on the role of information in the workplace, and its role in supporting the learning of innovative work behaviour, are explored. The analysis reveals that: (1) information literacy skills serve as a prerequisite for workplace learning; (2) information behaviours support the learning of innovative work behaviour and; (3) a variety of information sources support employees as they learn to behave innovatively.

With permission from ASIS&T, you can find a copy of my paper here. My presentation slides can also be found here.

2As the paper was written from the data I collected from my trip to Finland, the data collection and resulting paper would not have been possible without the funding from my ESRC-SDS collaborative studentship and also a John Campbell Trust Student Research Bursary that I was awarded in 2017. Thanks also go to Professor Brian Detlor who provided support during the writing/editing of the paper. My final thanks go to my supervisors who sat patiently as I wrote the drafts, checked (several) copies, suggested edits and had the patience of a saint when doing some final edits of the paper and correcting my northern grammar that often appears in my writing!

I will also have the opportunity to paticipate in the ASIS&T doctoral workshop on Sunday November 11th. I have the privilege of being mentored by Professor Caroline Haythornwaite so I am looking forward to hear the knowledge, expertise and advice that she can share!

 

The dreaded findings chapters of the PhD thesis!

feedbackWhen I returned from my internship at the Scottish government, my main task was to complete the three findings chapters of my thesis. The purpose of the chapters was to explain the findings of the interviews, focus groups and the quantitative survey separately for each case study (i.e. one chapter for Scotland, one chapter for Finland and one chapter for England). I drafted these in a decent time but then left them a little to focus on other elements of my PhD (i.e. my conference presentation and other things). I finally gave my supervisors a draft of my first case study – the largest of the three in the hope that I would get some good feedback and then I would be able to edit down and that was it. Oh how wrong I was!

The feedback from my supervisors was not the best, in terms of both content and the structure of the chapter itself. Whilst writing my chapter I had thought that it did not flow, but I was completely unprepared for what my supervisors said next. All three supervisors agreed that I needed to completely restructure the chapter so that the thematic analysis was at the forefront rather than the research questions directing what I wrote. By guiding the structure with the themes that emerged from participant interviews and focus groups, I would then be able to: (1) highlight the themes that emerged from participant discussions more clearly and; (2) be able to discuss the findings in relation to the research questions in the discussion chapter that follows. The statistics I had completed also did not quite work and I ended up having to re-analyse some of this with some help. The process of re-analysing a part of the survey responses meant that I learned a new statistical technique in the process (one which I have avoided for at least the last seven years!) and I am pleased to say that this was a small outcome of my work.

editsInitially, I was quite shocked by the comments as I did not think my chapter was that bad. However, after having gone through the process of redrafting the chapter it appears that all of my supervisors were on point with their comments and I finally saw the need to redraft from my supervisors’ perspective (they have done this before – a lot with other students – you know). So after this supervision meeting, and a quick recap of the edits needed in for my chapter (there were 2 A4 pages of comments!) I got down to work on the chapter. At first I struggled as I could not see the relationships between the comments from my participants nor could I see how the emerging themes linked. I therefore took a stand (sitting at my desk of course!) and figured that I could not do this alone. I used the help of my trusty pens (which I bought at the start of my PhD!), pencils, coloured paper and highlighters to help me plan out (visually) what I hoped to see form my data.

leadershipThe process of visually representing the relationships on paper started to help my findings finally sink in. I was able to write down the overarching theme (e.g. leadership or organisational culture) and then pinpoint (from my data) how this theme influences innovative work behaviour as well as how the themes interlink. You can see from the images in this blog post that I used many colours of my trusty pens to highlight the elements of the theme, the particular process of innovative work behaviour it related to (e.g. idea creation, championing, recognition) and then whether the quotations emphasis that individual employee or collective nature of innovation. These were the most important things I needed to emphasise in my finings chapter to pull it all together and decipher what it means.

When it came to actually editing/rewriting the chapter (the debate still goes on…) this also took longer than I thought. I needed to edit my style of writing slightly and tackle my issues of writing as I speak. The Mackem in me tells me that my style of speaking (I found the phonology and grammar sections this Wiki page rather amusing) is not the way to go in your thesis writing if you want to create something decent to submit. I therefore had to make sure I corrected my tenses, referred directly to my participant quotes and make explicit reference to innovative work behaviour in the quotations and writing of the work. By doing so it is hoped that the readers of my chapter can easily draw conclusions from what I am saying and this will guide them through to my discussion chapter (I hope)…. And I can leave the lovely pronunciation of specific words from my accent to be discovered as part of my viva 😉

literacySo, In my own opinion, it is quite hard to write a PhD thesis, and the process of writing/editing chapters is far far more complex than I had ever imagined.  Students do not really have solid example of exactly how it should be structured and set. Instead, we can access resources to help us along the way. For example, I downloaded examples from trusted resources and tried to get an understanding of how findings chapters ‘should be’ structured. I doing so I probably made things worse as I saw the variety of different structures and writing types out there. I also saw the vast amount of PhD theses that focus on some element of my work but I am yet to come across which focuses on the specific behaviour of employees just like mine. I also asked some of our current PhD students (those nearer the finish line than me) how they progresses with theirs and I was given some great advice too. Not only did these students give me information and advice on how to structure different things, they also pointed me in the right direction as to where/who could help when I needed it. I often wonder why there are not more lectures/lessons on how to physically write a thesis and I suppose it is because of the potential impossibility of that challenge (the lectures not the thesis writing). We can be taught about the formatting and what a thesis should look like, but the finer details I suppose are down to the individual student with the support of their supervisors in how they wish to academically speak.

JOURNEY SGSSSI also once got asked what I (at that point in time) I felt the hardest part of a PhD was and I have completely changed my mind on this now. The hardest part of a PhD thesis is this. Writing your little heart out until you can physically write no more to find out that it needs a lot more work does suck but a the same time I have been assured that this is all part of the process (by literally everyone – others students, supervisors and all).

Only two more findings chapters to edit…

Reflections on ISIC 2018 in Kraków

isic2018_logo-1So I’m sitting on the balcony of our apartment in Kraków reflecting on this year’s ISIC conference. I had the opportunity to participate in both the doctoral workshop at the start of the conference and also the main event itself (by means of a poster presentation). This is exactly what I did last time I participated in ISIC – only two years later and two years further on with the PhD (my paper submission to ISIC was just not meant to be due to data catastrophe but at least I get to present at ASIS&T next month!).

This year doctoral workshop was organised by Dr Nicola Parker and Dr Camilla Moring and they did a great job of the day too. I was a little sceptical about the doctoral workshop as I was unsure of what it would bring. I am currently in my write up phase of my research so the trauma of things such as theoretical decisions, methodological choices and data collection are far behind me for now. That being said, I was looking forward to talking about my work with the other students and getting some feedback on what they thought. The day comprised a student-mentor session, story board creation and then a panel session with some of the mentors who had given us feedback earlier in the day.

7We started our day with a session with our mentors and I was in a group of three students (plus two mentors). Our mentors were Professor Heidi Julien and also Professor David Allen, both experts in the field and both willing to give honest opinions on our work(s). I approached the workshop with more practical questions about the write up phase and my decision to study part time to enable me to start a new job and these were answered fairly quickly and fine. However, both Heidi and David did have some concerns about my work, and I was back in the situation of wondering what on earth to do. You see, for the doctoral workshop application, we had to write about our work and my mentors expressed concern over it all. I was told that I had collected too much data, that I do not have (visible) information science contributions and that I will not be able to defend this work in information science when it comes to the viva next year. They advised something quite specific and this is pretty much what (they think) I should do. I should put information science at the heart of my PhD, forget that other domains exist (as my research overlaps with employment and organisational) and make my thesis my own to defend. In doing this, I will be able to explain what I have done and the contributions this thesis makes to the information science field. With this in mind, questions arose about the relationship with my external funders and the thesis itself. Heidi, in particular, suggested that I separate the two and have the information science focus within the thesis (and defend it) and then have the employment related information and practical applications for my funders. It is well known fact that the funders will often not read a student’s entire thesis and all they want to know is the ‘so what does this mean for us?’ For me, if I focus on the information science nature of my thesis, the practical applications and employment context can then be relayed back to my funders in other ways (e.g. reports, meetings and presentations). This way, everyone wins – I can defend and information science thesis and my finders benefit from the analysis/findings etc.

Another issue which came up is that I have far far too much data. My PhD comprises three different case studies, three different geographical locations and three different data collection methods within them so I completely agree with this point. At this stage of my PhD the mentors could not advise that I change what I have done (although they nearly tried to at one point). Instead, they advised that I possibly cut out some of the research questions (possibly the less relevant ones) and focus on the ones that lead to highlight the contributions in my information science work. As well as this, they advised that when I cut some of the information out, this will help to narrow down a main focus and give the thesis one main point (or focus).

This feedback will now be a focus of the next supervision for me, I can assure you that!

9I also enjoyed one keynote in particular, and that was the Keynote by Professor Lisa Given. She focused highly on impact of research, what we should be doing and what we are not. It was interesting to see the different ways in which impact is assessed across the world and the schemes in place. For example, both the UK and Australia have a formal assessment of impact (e.g. REF in the UK) and this has forced academics to take account of the research, document the processes involved and make sure they know the pathways to impact. However, countries such as the USA do not (Lisa talked about this from her own experiences of moving from Canada to Australia where she went from no formalised assessment to the introduction of one). Lisa also highlighted the need to support doctoral students to consider this in their work as we are the ‘future of information behaviour’ and people that are experienced academics should probably support us through this process to get us used to what we will need to do in future academic roles. This was something that I liked as the presentation not only focused on the experienced academics but acknowledged that students need to do this too. As I am an ESRC funded student (i.e. a person working a project from an ESRC grant awarded to my supervisor), we need to show the impact activities and outcomes of our work each year. So this means I have to record the activities, events, type of activities carried out and who this reached (e.g. the audience) and whether any impact can be seen from it. I also record some of this information on my own blog page here. Quite often, the pathways to impact not need to always be a journal article written up and published.

The final thing that Lisa emphasised was this:

Information can change the world. So can you…”

This emphasised finding your own research narrative and findings ways to tell the word about what you do (as this helps with impact). To this end, this is my effort to change the world through my own PhD blogging! 😉

One interesting panel session that I attended on the Wednesday was entitled: Profound and transcendental information experiences. The panellists were Elysia Guzik, Anh Thu Nguyen, Tim GorichanazJarkko Kari and Kiersten Latham. The focus of the session was the experiences of others and the use/relationship of information in this. For example, the speakers talked about spiritual experiences, emotive experiences (e.g. seeing exhibitions in museums that spark emotion) and also some exercises relating to how we think, feel and relax. This spread much discussion of experiences of others, methods used and where to go for publications in relation to these areas. Although not my area of research interest, it was quite a good session to be in in terms of participating in a panel session that I did not have a lot of experience or knowledge about.

During the rest of the programme for ISIC, there was a session especially for us doctoral students (immediately after the above panel session). This session was an opportunity for the other delegates to get to know who we are and what we had gotten out of the workshop earlier in the week. On Monday we all made a story-board panel as part of our groups and we used this on Wednesday to tell our indivual stories. Our group introduced ourselves and then we told the conference about our workshop journey. I told them that at the last ISIC conference I was told that my PhD would not survive if I did not change it to focus more on information science. This got a few laughs as I was pretty much told the same thing in this ISIC conference too, albeit with a little more focus on my write up.  It was nice to hear that the other students got a lot out of the workshop and many of them had feedback as I did two years ago in the initial stages of their journeys. That being said, the advice given to me is still valuable and I will be making some changes to my plan for the next few months in order to facilitate the defence of my PhD somewhere down the line next year.

19Immediately after the doctoral session, the poster session began. I presented my own poster this time (again, as I did in 2016!) but it focused on one of my case studied instead rather than just an overview of my doctoral work. I found that (unlike last ISIC conference) my case study was acknowledged by a lot of academics and many people asked me questions about it too. This does go to show that when my work is focused on information science related themes (e.g. the role of information literacy in the learning of innovative work behaviour) academics welcome the research and also engage in much more conversation when they know it is relevant to the conference themes. So a quick thank you to all of those who took the time to come and see my poster and those who asked me about it too!

On Thursday morning I attended a session on Information behaviour of specific groups of users. Chaired by Kirsty Williamson, we heard about 4 papers (speakers hyperlinked):

  • Małgorzata Kisilowska and Anna Mierzecka. Emotions, experience, identity – motivations of the teens’ information behaviour in the area of culture
  • Alicja Pawluczuk, Hazel Hall, Gemma Webster and Colin Smith. Digital youth work: youth worker’s balancing act between digital innovation and digital literacy insecurity
  • Jenny Lindberg and Åse Hedemark. Meaningful reading experiences among elderly: some insights from a small-scale study of Swedish library outreach services
  • Madely du Preez. The consulting industry as an information behaviour context: consulting engineering as an example

It was quite interesting to see the mixture of specific groups of users. For example, Małgorzata and Anna talked about an information behaviour model of culture that they had developed with a sample of teens and Alicja discussed her research on digital literacy and youth work and during the presentation and follow-up questions focused on both the youth workers themselves and the youth they work with. Jenny and Åse, however, highlighted their study of elderly people and explored their study of reading experiences amongst their sample. Finally the user group in Madely’s study was not age specific and focused on the context of the study (e.g. a group of construction engineer). This is still a user group for sure, and more related to my work. The user group for my study would technically be employees of the organisations. However, mien would then be specific to each organisaional as I know the sample make-up of each case study can be different in terms of role and participants used. It is so great to see the variety of work presented under one conference umbrella theme!

60Whilst attending the conference, I did get some time to explore Kraków too. I visited the Old Town and the Market Square which were not too far away from or apartment and the conference venue so it was definitely a practical place to do. I really did like the architecture of the buildings I saw and even some of the history too. Explored one of the large shopping centres that we had to walk through every day to get to the conference venue and that gave me a taste of the shopping there too.  Id notice that there were a few sops that I recognised, some of which had gone out of business in the UK. For example, I saw a C&A shop that was in the UK when I was a young child but it suddenly disappeared off the high street!

It has been a good experience overall, with some minor delays in terms of travel and language misunderstandings. However, I have once again enjoyed my participation in the ISIC conference and I now do not know if this will be my last (we shall see how the new job pans out!).

You can see more of my pictures in the two slideshows below:

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Post-PhD career struggles!

This blog post is a guest post by Dr Laura Jenkins. Coincidently, I know her very well and jokingly asked her to write a blog post for me as I did not have time (I am writing up my PhD of course!). After a summer of decisions, moves and a lot of wondering what could be next, Laura talks about her journey from PhD student to Teaching Associate and the struggles she has faced.

Read on for Laura’s post…

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Dr Laura Jenkins

Early career academics are considered those people who have recently completed a PhD, teaching qualification or postgraduate qualification. Being an early career academic itself has many challenges from gaining the appropriate teaching and research experience, to developing an approachable and enthusiastic personality to show that you aim to be engaged in the work that you do.

Some of the skills developed by an early career researcher can be learnt from education and further study when interacting with fellow students and staff. When studying towards a qualification, skills like communication and presentation skills are used on a regular basis and these are the skills which can be applied to any job or voluntary work context outside of education.

There are some skills, however, that need direct work/employment experience and this is one thing that can be difficult for early career researchers to gain. These skills can be detailed statistical analysis skills, software skills or the ability to teach a class independently, which are not always taught in an educational setting.

Trying to find work in an academic setting, in particular in a university setting, can bring a set of challenges for an individual. These can include a heavy workload, teaching and research commitments and instances where student support is needed. Most of these are great challenges and I have thoroughly enjoyed them throughout my early career, especially working alongside and supporting students during their study of Psychology. I am fortunate enough to have gained experience in a variety of universities across the UK so I am able to quickly adapt my teaching and learning style to the situation needed.

The main challenge faced by early career academics is often the insecurity of a job. Once that educational qualification is completed, whether it be a PhD or teaching related, real world experience is often needed to support the skills learned during education. This is one thing that early career academics can find difficult to achieve. One of the ways to overcome the obstacle of experience is to undertake a fixed-term contact. Some fixed-term contacts can be as short as nine months but there are longer fixed-term contracts which can be as long as three years.

After completing my PhD in Psychology (well, when I was approaching my submission date), I decided to embark on the task of looking for a job. I began the job search long before the submission of my PhD but one of the criticisms from applications was that I did not technically have a PhD at the time of applying as it had not been assessed. The first round of ‘job hunting’ was a very daunting process and I was concerned that my applications were not strong enough. As a result of this, I waited until I was nearly ready to submit my PhD before applying for different academic roles so that I could say that my PhD submission was pending examination – it worked!

The first job I was offered after my PhD was a two-year contract in a more teaching support role. I had decided to focus upon teaching rather than research as I wanted to be more involved with helping students develop their own skills rather than continuing with my own research (I do complete some research at the minute, just not a lot).

In my first post-PhD role at Oxford Brookes University, I gained excellent experience at leading classes and being that primary support member of staff for students. I took Research Methods and Statistics classes, of which in my area of Psychology, are important topics to help students develop themselves as independent Psychological researchers themselves.

I do believe that the students enjoyed my teaching methods as I tried to move away from the standard lecture and textbook approach. I would often try techniques such as blended learning techniques where I would use both online and offline material in the class. During my PhD, I had taught classes with more senior staff members during the completion of my PhD at Northumbria University, but my role at Oxford Brookes was much more independent. Some of the people who I had met during my very early teaching career had ‘warned’ me about such fixed-term contracts and I had tried to avoid them when initially applying for employment after my PhD. I was told that a fixed-term contract would make you feel as though you were not really involved with a department but I can honestly say that I disagree with this. I’ve met some lovely colleagues and have felt involved with all of the departments I have been in and Oxford Brookes University was the first university to accept me as a member of teaching staff.  I was also told that fixed-term contacts provide people with a lack of stability with regards to an income, and yes, I can agree to a point, however I have never had an issue and have only had a small worry about what was going to be my next form of income.

After a year in this role I wondered about the direction of my career and decided to look for a more teaching-based role in Psychology. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my role at Oxford Brookes University, I wanted the opportunity to start lecturing, supervising students and taking more independent classes in other areas of Psychology. I never thought that I would be on the job search again so soon, and only a year into my two-year contract, but I felt as though it was the right step for me to help progress my career in teaching Psychology and to gain more direct experience.

Again, I began the task of completing academic applications and as before, this was not an easy process. Being asked to provide the basic C.V. details in an online form can be long enough for anyone (to type in all the individual details) but nowadays, academic institutions like candidates to write a supporting statement indicating how well they believe they fit with the job specification. After completing many applications and interviews, I can now say that I fully understand why candidates are asked to do this. It is simply the best way for a recruiter to get a ‘snap shot’ of who an individual is alongside what their C.V. may detail about the work experience. I was also advised on many occasions that if I did not meet all of the expected criteria with a job advertisement then there was no point in applying – again, I now disagree with this as on many applications where I have been asked to interview stages. I have frequently said that I would be willing to learn more about a certain area or skills!

I often found that the applications took me hours at a time to complete as I would have to think of examples of my teaching skills and how I’ve used the specified skills and qualities in my teaching and research career. I would use websites that helped me structure my application responses and they were very useful in giving me guidance when I did not want anyone at my work to know what I was applying elsewhere. During my time of completing applications, I got very disheartened at the lack of responses and in the initial stages of applying I only received one response to my many submitted applications. I’d only had one year-long job at the time and some of the vacancies required many years of experience in areas that I did not have.

After many applications, I saw an advert for a Teaching Associate at the University of Strathclyde and decided to apply. Again, this was an application where I did not have one or two of the required skills, however I worded the application to reflect what skills I had and how they linked to the skills that I did not. I was then interviewed for the job, subsequently being offered the role. Although I was only at the University of Strathclyde for a very short time, it provided me with the experience I was looking for in supervising dissertation students and independently taking lectures. I questioned whether I could move again for another fixed-term contract but I’m pleased to say that I took the job. I was fully aware of the short-term nature of the contract and as soon as I hit my 6 months of employment, I was back looking for my next post so that I had something to go to when I left the University of Strathclyde.

One of the definite issues with fixed-term contracts is not being able to fully plan what you aim to do with regards to your career. I had always planned on completing a teaching qualification, however, qualifications often took longer than a year so I could never take up the opportunity. The shorter courses that I was offered did not cover the aspects I needed help developing in such as utilising different teaching methods, therefore I saw shorter qualifications as no benefit whilst gaining teaching experience at the University of Strathclyde.

Whilst working at the University of Strathclyde, I saw a voluntary opportunity that I thought would help me stay within a Psychology domain should the chance occur that I was going to be unemployed. At present, I am a Cognitive Psychology Correspondent for Psychreg (Journal of Psychology). I have had many opportunities to write for academic and non-academic audiences; I have been invited to talks and conferences and I have been able to develop in a professional manner outside of my teaching career which helped me to progress a little further.image1

 

This next (technically my third) round of applications took a lot of focus as I had very heavy teaching commitments at the time. I ended up using my evening and weekends to complete applications which meant I was often exhausted when writing about myself and would have to have coffee breaks on a regular basis. Although I thought that my applications were not up to standard due to competing some of them very quickly, I was offered quite a few interviews this time around so was quite happy about how I was learning to structure applications in terms of how to word what I was trying to say and show myself as a confident academic. One thing to note about interviews is that they don’t just involve a face to face interview when you are being interviewed for an academic position. Normally, a presentation or data task is completed alongside the interview, meaning that preparations for interviews are very individual but also very time consuming. The most hectic time for me came when I had three interviews in the space of the week, and they were all very different in nature. I had to constantly be alert when preparing interviews as they all required preparation.

Over the course of progressing with my applications, I tried to attend as many interviews as I could as it provided me with valuable experience of interviews and being able to show a panel why I was a suitable candidate for the job. After the interviews I have had, I’m pleased to say that I have now undertaken a permanent post as a Teaching Associate in Psychology at Loughborough University, and although I’ve only been in the role for a couple of weeks, I am really enjoying it! I now have further career aspirations to complete that teaching qualification I’ve wanted to do since finishing my PhD and I also aim to become a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy after I’ve been in academia for another few years. I do believe that the previous interview practices have helped me to be confident in my more recent interviews. On more than one occasion, I have been congratulated for how well I have presented myself in interview situations…so practicing does help a person to explain themselves.

The one thing I would say to anyone applying for academic jobs is to stick with it and persevere. A job will appear soon enough so it is just a case of continuing with the application process to find a job that may be a good fit. Sometimes the road to a more permanent position involves some shorter contracted jobs and that’s not always a bad thing. I ignored what I was told about fixed term-contracts and continued to apply for them. I would also look at seeking voluntary opportunities to support the development of skills when employment is not an option.

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Celebrating the new job of course!

I am very grateful for both of my fixed-term contract posts because without them, I would not have gained experience in teaching and working with some wonderful students! They have provided me with opportunities to interact with and engage students in many areas of Psychology and I hope to continue this in my current post.

 

 

Reflections on thesis (not quite) writing

So you may remember that a short while ago I finished my data collection and also started the process of analysing my transcripts from a series of interviews and focus groups. This process took quite a while because I had over sixty participants in my first case study and then twelve each in my second two case studies. Whilst working on my internship between April and June I was able to code some of the data which meant that I was ready for my main task after internship completion of writing up my thesis. This (to me) is the biggest task of the thesis I have had so far and something that makes or breaks the thesis – it’s a piece of cake, right? (question: do I need to reference my cake recipe haha???)

Piece of cake, right?  **I did not get to eat a piece of this cake I made!**

At this point in time (when I was just finishing my internship) I had nothing to do on my thesis but write, write and keep writing. However once I had finished my internship I knew that this task of writing would not be as easy as I thought. I have not written a thesis before and the structure of my thesis is somewhat basic. I therefore decided that writing plan was needed so that I knew what I needed to do and when.

On first day back after my internship I started to write this writing plan and set goals, targets and smaller steps towards completing my thesis chapters. However whilst writing this writing plan I discovered that I do not have a lot of time between now and the start of my new job in November. This means I do not have full working weeks after November 19th and this scared me a little (although only technically its only 6 full time weeks until submission). I therefore had to be very specific in my writing plan and make sure all of my major tasks are scheduled to be completed (by the plan) before my time as a full time student is up . Again I found this somewhat difficult because I was not able to visualise the next few months ahead and plan my weeks quickly in advance. I struggled at first but I made sure that I had to look at my calendar to see my other commitments (such as conference presentations and attendance and also guest lectures). These commitments were anticipated to hinder (well completely stop) my PhD writing. I had to make sure that all additional tasks were accounted for so that I could work on my thesis chapters to draft them to a decent level. Once I had accounted for all of the additional tasks, I was able to make a week by week plan and ask my supervisors what they thought of my plan for my first supervision after my internship. My supervisors gave the general go-ahead on this (although we still need to work out drafts and dates etc) and gave some advice that I think I should share. So here is the advice I received:

[Paraphrased to reflect all advice in one conversation]

‘Please do let us know if you’re not able to keep to this plan of the goals and targets you have set yourself…we know that things may get in the way and this job is something of a big change to you and your working routine. You may find that you are exhausted, tired and are not able to do some of the work when you think you can… This is okay as we know it is a big change for you and your thesis progression**. The overall aim now is for you to submit the thesis and it doesn’t have to be perfect, but of a good standard (appropriate) for submission and assessment (the Viva).  We can roughly plan when your Viva may be but we cannot plan this for sure until you officially submit. We therefore want you to focus more on submitting and writing your thesis to a good standard rather that what may happen after…’

**they emphasised the changes ahead a lot!

This advice from my supervisors was sound. My supervisors know what they are talking about. They have had students have thesis submission delays, students get jobs and students succeed so they know what can and will (possibly) happen. My priorities in terms of the time I can devote to my thesis is almost definitely going to change in the near future. This means I will not be able to spend a full weeks’ worth of work on my thesis after November and the things I want to get done may have to chance. I have designed my writing plan to account for this change in schedule and to attempt to work out what can be plausible and what cannot.

However (as noted as a potential risk by one of my supervisors) at the moment my plan is not going to plan. Since returning to the office from my internship I have had a virus (with a lovely combination of tonsillitis and mild gastritis) which has meant I have been out of action for a couple of weeks. This has also meant that my thesis writing has been out of action for a couple of weeks and I have gotten myself behind in what I wanted to do. On telling my supervisors that this was the case, their (all three of them) main concern was not of my doctoral thesis but with of my own health. All of my supervisors now know that if I am not too well and do not rest, I tend to relapse and my illness comes back twice as bad. With this in mind one of my supervisors told me to get well soon and to focus on me (not the thesis).  To me this makes me realise that my supervisory team know a lot more about their own students (including me) than what I think. They also understand and acknowledge that sometimes things happen and sometimes things don’t go to plan. I’m grateful for the attitude (and behaviours) of my supervisors and the fact that they don’t freak out when I cannot complete some work due to ill health or other commitments. I’m not saying they don’t worry about progress however!

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These pens have survived for 3 years… hopefully now until thesis submission

I’m now getting back on my feet now after having some treatment but this will take a while to settle down properly. I’m starting to get back into routine of writing but I am still struggling. I am struggling to find motivation to want to write and I’m struggling to find the motivation to finish my thesis. I partly blame the fact that I have a job to go to in November I am very impatient and I just want to get started quickly as possible. However I need to realise for myself that my thesis is a priority at the moment and that this needs writing before I am able to start my job properly. With this in mind I am trying to find the motivation that I have lost because I know that if I do not have a decent standard of thesis draft before I leave for my job I will really not enjoy the first few weeks of my job as I’m hoping to do.

So if anyone has any good advice on how to increase PhD writing motivation then please do share them with me! For now, I have the help of my supervisors to give me reassurance/motivation when I think things are going wrong and they are really not… and the help of my own baking to distract me when things get tough.