Mini in a bush

A PhD in greyhounds riding a tall ship #oneyearon

This morning I had a notification from Linkedin that I had a work anniversary. It’s not only a year since the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games opened but it has been 4 years since I started working at UWS as a …  I don’t know, captain zero hour multi-project wrangler, making it over 3 years since I moved back to Glasgow and nearly a year in this flat – which also makes it nearly a year since I officially became a red-headed greyhound adopter. Yay, greyhounds!

Professional greyhound whisperer NVQ 3
Professional greyhound whisperer NVQ 3

These sort of time stamped anniversaries offer a kick up the arse when it comes to reflecting on where you are at, what you have achieved and where you want to be – and to blog about it, naturally. I’ve not wrote anything since May, but it is not to say I haven’t been writing. In fact, I’ve been hibernating from a social life for the last 3 months, growing my hair and eating 85% dark chocolate, writing (and reading, lots of stuff)- and when I bump into people, they ask me things like…

“How you getting on with the PhD?”

Rather than quivering and deflecting the question… Well – On May 31st, I submitted 40000 words of my PhD. A symbolic submission, I’m sure – I still have a long way to go – and only a short period of time, part time, to finish it whilst keeping the money flowing in. But 40k was a big deal for me. 3 years I stopped. Dead. 2 years ago, I wasn’t registered, I couldn’t even open the document and I was sans supervision team. Now I’ve went from nae words I’d want anybody read, to submitting drafts of 7(!) chapters and now at a stage where I’m reforming those words, learning my theorists and getting my research design and data modelling tight. I feel like I’ve definitely over that hump of “will I ever finish?” and now at the stage where it is just a question of when.

When? Well, I’ve been saying I want a full 80k draft by September, but I’m going to aim for the end of the year – because I’m at that stage where writing “insert reference here” won’t do, and I need to actually go and put that damn reference in, and I need to know why that reference, not that reference and what is all that reference is about. My endnote database is looking bang tidy.

Between now and September the 10th, I need to be working on refining what I’ve written based on the feedback I’ve received from my supervisor. It’s a big task, but now I’ve established that it is a case study, rather than an ethnography, I feel it just fits better and everyone (well, me) is happy.

The on September the 10th, I am going to Japan with my supervisor Rowena Murray and her other PhD student, Alison McEntee.

We are visiting Osaka University to take part in an intensive week of academic study skills with their graduate school – as well as delivering a presentation on our work. I’m delivering a short session on social media and academic literacies. Whilst I’m there, I’m planning on visiting Tokyo when I’m out there to make connections with some of the alternative media communities ahead Tokyo 2020 Olympics/Paralympics that can connect with what I’ve been looking at PhD-wise.

So yeah, exciting!

I’m looking forward to writing retreat beginning again in September, I’ve been missing my monthly trip to Gartmore.

“What are you working on at the moment?”

As always, my occupation has been rather flexible, made up a number of short term contracts and freelance work – that’s ranged from research assistant, film making, digital media tutor, community media training and project management.

I’m currently working on a small piece of research for my school (Media, Culture and Society) at UWS, looking to develop and recommend a social media strategy to support research and impact activity within the school. It’s been a really interesting process so far, especially exploring the different forms of social media strategies within an academic context. This will be wrapped by the first week in August.

At at the same time, I’ve been a research assistant on the ongoing research project ‘Leveraging ParaSport Events for Community Participation’, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for Canada and Sport Canada. This will conclude in August with a series of focus groups speaking with host city volunteers from Glasgow 2014.

My role as the project coordinator for Digital Commonwealth is sadly coming to an close at the end of this month. I’d been working part-time on concluding the project since January, which has involved taking part in a number of presentations (such as being part of a keynote for Education Scotland in March), running and taking part in a community media archiving symposium and working on completing the final outputs for the project. This included coordinating and taking part in the filming and production of the Digital Commonwealth documentary that was produced by Peter Murray from the Media Trust. The last bit of work on the project involves putting together a physical memory box to send out to those who took part, containing the documentary, a copy of the Digital Storytelling handbook, the creative writing anthology and a CD of song produced by those who participated in the community songwriting workshop.

 

It’s been a real pleasure to see a project like Digital Commonwealth from idea to delivery to completion – and I’m glad I was able to stay on the project until the end. I’m hoping to continue working in project management, especially with an academic focus, as it not only allows me to take part in a whole variety of different things, but I also enjoy writing and disseminating work about the process through journals and conferences.

As a project team we already have one article accepted for publication by the Leisure Studies journal for a special issue on youth and digital cultures, entitled “Digital Commonwealth: Young people, digital media making and critical digital citizenship.” 

‘Eh, did I not see you posting about being on a tall ship?”

Yeah, that was … random.  I have been working as a sessional Digital Media tutor within Z1 Girvan Youth Bar as part of the Ayrshire Youth Arts Network, to increase opportunities for 11-19 year olds to participate in arts and creative media within their local community (and there is a separate blog post to follow about that…) … and thanks to my PVG, I happened to be in the right place at the right time when the opportunity came up to sail with the Jubilee Sailing Trust as a buddy for two young people from trust.

HNC in being a pirate boat captain
HNC in being a pirate boat captain

I’m still in the process of editing together a short film I made whilst we were on board –  so I’ll update again once I’ve got through my editing queue. It was such an amazing experience, even though I had the ‘sea boak’ (and proceeded to write about it for the ship’s (b)log here), I also created a record of the trip for z1 using the hashtag #z1tallships. It’s been a while since I’ve been on a journey that warrants its own hashtag.

“What’s next then?”
Yeah, still hibernating – got a number of projects that I need to wrap up, get off my desk and move on from. I’m hoping this will be the final push for the PhD, it has been over half a decade of my life and I’m ready to complete now. I’m also looking to apply for my senior fellowship at the Higher Education Academy, and get a few more academic publications under my belt. I’d like to begin working on a few new things, in particular work related to digital literacies, both in and outside of the university – and connecting the dots between projects – so things are a little bit more joined up in approaches. I’m looking forward to speaking about digital storytelling in Belfast in August (more details to follow) and attending the What’s next for Community Journalism? symposium in Cardiff in September – with the premise of working on a solo article for publication.
Running late for my next workshop, so best finish how I started with a picture of a greyhound being daft.
Mini in a bush
Mini in a bush

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Visual Methods and Ethnography Workshop (12th May 2015 – all day, free)

I was approached by Dr Ivana Rihova to take part in the following free all day workshop that is to take place at Napier University on the 12th of May 2015. I will be collaborating with Sharon Greenwood (PhD researcher at University of Glasgow) on a practical workshop entitled: “Where do you stand? Reflecting on ethical considerations of using social media data within a visual methods context,” and will be drawing on the discussion chapters of my PhD research around working with social media from self-defined citizen journalists operating during the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. More details about the workshop and the full event are available below.

Workshop outline:

Social media data can be considered freely available. However, this opens up questions of the epistemological grounding of the research as well as ethical issues related to the researcher’s position in terms of how they chose to present and work with data. This session will not offer a one size fits all approach, but instead will provoke discussion and debate surrounding the use of social media data within visual methods contexts. Focussing on two cases – the citizen journalists of Vancouver 2010 and identity construction through fashion blogs – we will tell a compelling story of the challenges we faced when using social media as data in our own research. The session features a hands-on group exercise where participants will be given a dataset and asked to articulate their own position with respect to working with the data, and to identify the issues that may stem from this.

Location and Time: 9am – 5pm, Tuesday 12th May. The Rivers Suite, Craiglockhart Campus.
What are the roles and application of visual methods and ethnographies in contemporary research? We warmly invite you to a day-long research workshop, organised by researchers in the School of Marketing, Tourism and Languages, where we attempt to answer this question.

Part of the Edinburgh Napier University Researcher Led Initiative, the Visual Methods and Ethnography Workshop is aimed at colleagues from across the Business School, the University and beyond, who wish to develop their knowledge and skills in applying visual methodologies in their research in innovative and critical ways.

The workshop provides a platform on which various research projects and approaches are brought together to communicate the role and potential of ‘the visual’ and the ways in which it can benefit academic research. Over the course of the day, conference-style presentations from leading researchers in (visual) ethnography will be combined with participatory activities and opportunities for the sharing of knowledge and experience. Topics discussed range from the use and analysis of ‘traditional’ visual methods, such as photo-elicitation, academic film-making, semiotics and ethnographies, to research participant co-creation, mash-ups and social media imagery. Guest speakers include Prof Eric Laurier (University of Edinburgh), a world-leading figure in visual methods research; Dr Tijana Rakic (University of Greenwich), an experienced academic and film-maker with interest in ethics in visual research; Dr Diane MacLean (Edinburgh Napier University), a producer and journalist with experience of using commissioned broadcast technologies in academic studies; Ms Anne Burns (University of Sheffield), researcher from Sheffield University’s Visual Social Media Lab; and, Jennifer Jones (University of the West of Scotland) and Sharon Greenwood (University of Glasgow), doctoral researchers interested in the use and ethical implications of using social media images in research.

By attending the workshop, you will:
• Gain appreciation of the importance of visual methods and ethnography in social sciences and tourism in particular
• Extend individual expertise of innovative use of visual research methods and ethnography
• Reflect on ethical issues in using visual material in research
• Apply principles of analysing visual data in an interactive small-group activity
• Connect and exchange ideas with a community of like-minded researchers interested in visual methodologies
Tea/ coffee and refreshments will be provided throughout the day.

​The workshop is free to attend, however we ask that you register by Wednesday 6th May 2015, using the Eventbrite link below:
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/visual-methods-and-ethnography-workshop-tickets-16765004580
Free
Contact Details
​Dr Louise Todd (L.Todd@napier.ac.uk), Tel. 0131 455 4409 or Dr Ivana Rihova (I.Rihova@napier.ac.uk), Tel. 0131 455 4613

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PhD Update: Enter the warpzone…

Reading through my research diary and blog posts at the time, I realise it’s been exactly five years since I was in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. In all honesty, back then I would have thought my PhD about the alternative, resistance and social media of those games would have been long completed by now. In fact, it is only really been the last year where it has felt entirely possible that it could happen. I’ve had to reverse engineer much of my research design and conceptual framework – despite much of it being close to my original thinking at the time, I had really no idea how I would begin to write about something that has taken me working at 2 mega events, 7 house-moves and 2 supervisor changes & a 16 month suspension from registration to finally get to grips with.

The story of my PhD and how it gets finished is not about my displacement and what I haven’t done – it is what I have done, where I’m at and what is happening now. I posted on Facebook last night about how I have reached a turning point – after 10 months re-registered part-time back on the programme, technically my ‘4th year’ – I’ve now completed a thesis summary for the last 4 chapters of my PhD. Something has had to tip from “what I am going to do?” to “what I have done!” – and having spent the last 2.5 days working through my record of data collection from 2010 – which, when I was feeling at my lowest, I thought was a pile of shit and a waste of time – actually is a pretty reflective, organised and backed up collection of materials, that makes sense and actually can start to be analysed, presented and contextualised in these last 4 chapters.  Similarly, I have set a deadline to submit 40k words (that’s exactly half of the final word-count) to my supervisors by the 30th of May 2015 (before a week off to York). That’s chapter 1-4, much of which is drafted and needs a couple of rounds of editing between now and May. It’s not an unrealistic goal, I have it all there – it does require quite a bit of library time, quite a lot of reading about epistemologies and ontologies and paradigms – but in terms of chapter plans, outlines and structures, I’m working with a jigsaw, not a blank page.

It makes me super happy to be able to write about this in my blog – especially as this blog has pretty much been with me through the whole process from application, data collection, dropping out, angst and PhD blues – it’s not a stage where I’m not having to write about how I am going to restart my PhD, it’s about how I am going to finish it, and perhaps even be able to share results, discussions and thoughts about methodology (which I feel I was much better at before I embarked on this half decade of brain-freeze!) I owe most of it to writing retreats and being able to spent more of my time with people who understand and encourage and notice change and progression. Also, I enjoy my job, it’s close enough but different enough to be able to explore the same themes from different perspectives.

The consistency of the writing retreat format means I can see my progress, I can notice how my mood and experience of working on a PhD changes. I’ve arrived at some retreats and been through the roof with stress but more recently I’ve been a chilled customer, finding it much easier to let go of things before it gets to that stage. I even have a detailed record of what I was writing this time last year, what my goals were and have I made them.

So, yeah, in terms of accountability, here we go – plan is full draft of PhD in by September this year, done by January 2016? I think that’s entirely possible now.

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Phd update: 13 months on since restarting

And just like that, it’s December. I’m writing this with my last hour of my third writing retreat of the academic year 2014/2015. I wanted to use this time to give a quick update & reflection on my PhD progress, as I started 2014 with the good intention of doing monthly updates, which subsequently ended up being kept offline instead. Regardless, I’ve managed to keep to the writing schedule that I set myself when I was appealing to restart, despite working full time in a fairly intense role as a project co-ordinator. So far, I’m on track to complete my entire first draft of my thesis by the schedule that my supervisors and I had set out as part of the re-start agreement.
I’ve now bypassed my one year anniversary of attending retreats – and the difference between where I was this time last year and where I am now is night and day. I’ve been to 6 in a 13 month period, the very first one being the first time I opened my PhD document since suspending back in October 2012, and subsequently feeling sick, upset, angsty and angry about what happened, yet the retreats forces me to keep looking at it and in turn writing myself out of the emotion that I attached to the document. If I’m being honest to myself, I had been quite a tough, mental excavation process, working out when to admit fault but also letting go of the rest.
Nevertheless, something clicked at the retreat last month, when I realised I was beginning to move on from feeling like a failed PhD student who had dropped out and was on the ropes, but instead a person that was capable to finishing it. I don’t know what was the reason for the shift in mindset, but I think the combination of the supportive peer-led environment, and the consistency of the space and place in which we work and socialise, it is easier to keep a tab on how you are feeling about your work and how much progress/confidence you are gaining as a writer. Finally, I was able to talk about my work without having to explain the messy context behind it, why I felt I wasn’t good enough to do a PhD and why I had had a break. It’s just something that I am doing now. And it is moving forward at a pace that I’m happy with (and, importantly meeting targets). I remember in the early discussions of returning, when my new supervisor offered to support me, I said that all I wanted was to get to this stage, the stage where I wasn’t having to contextualise my work with a massive diatribe of mis-justice and general distain for the academic system.
Thankfully, I can now say that this has passed. I can describe what my PhD is about without any of that.
I’m about to submit two redrafted parts of my thesis “Part 1: Purpose/Context/Literature Review” and “Part 2:Research Design/Methodology” based on all the documents, readings, writings and notes that I had available between 2009-2012 -the timespan of my full-time PhD prior to suspending. I will take joy in using a pun here, but essentially these redrafts represent a certain chapter in my life and now I can move onto the next sections, Part 3: Data Collection/ Discussion/Analysis – all of which is fresh new words and getting to grips with analysing ethnography data. They’ll probably need another million redrafts before they are ready to submit, I don’t doubt this for a second, but it feels so rewarding to have turned around what was essentially 3 years of jumbled lostness and arranged them into sections and chapters, without much additional reading or data collection at this stage.
I also have a ‘PhD shopping list’ for the work that I need to do between now and the end of January, things I need to do in the library, things that I need to do with my data, things I need to spend writing and things I need to discuss with my supervisor. I know that I will be able to pick up these tasks and systematically work my way through them, when in contrast I felt l was stabbing around in the dark, spending many a day in the library, feeling like I wasn’t writing when I was reading, wasn’t reading when writing, and not even sure I was I was there and if I was doing the right thing in the first place.
So yeah, December is always a pretty reflective time of the year anyway, and to be able to look back through what I’ve managed to achieve has meant that I’m now starting to see myself at a stage where I will begin thinking about my external supervisor, the viva and all the other things that start to come up on the horizon when coming to the end of a PhD. I don’t want to say that I never say myself at this stage, but, there has been times in the last few years where I felt like it would have been easier to just throw it in the bin and start again.
The best way of describing it now would to say that I now own my own PhD, its not this abstract scary document that I don’t want to show people because I’m not entirely sure what it is, but at the same, I’m about ready to let it go. I’ve been a PhD student for so long (Jan 2009, Leicester Uni moving in October 2009 to UWS) and so many things have changed in my life during this period of registration. I’ve lived in 15 different houses, I’ve lost count of how many jobs I’ve had to supplement my stipend, I’ve lived in opposite sides of the country and the people have came in and out my life, some staying & getting closer, some never seeing again. It’s just bizarre to think that actually, I might come to the end of being attached to this thing that has been consistent in my life when other things have been changing so rapidly and I’ve (only recently) have had any real stability.
Anyway, the purpose of this post really is so I can stick a flag in the sand – I hope by this time next year, I am writing about the end or being very near to it. Certainly, this will be the last time I will be writing about what came before, I’ve got to the end of all the materials that I had collected previously, those difficult conversations and reflecting on moments and memories that the writing brought up can now be concluded, there is no more I can work through at this stage. It’s only new words and new ideas from here on in. And this must be what doing a PhD should really feel like. Finally.

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What I need to write about during February 2014

This is my second post of 2014 that checks in with my writing goals and sets some new ones for the month. As I’m working full time at the moment, it can be quite difficult to be disciplined with my own writing, as especially (I hope!) to have some good news in terms of where restarting my PhD is concerned, so I’m going to make sure I write a small update every month so I can keep tabbed on the process and keep pushing things forward.

Last month I wanted to sharpen my PhD focus,  start to look at my ‘missing’ ethics form and prepare an abstract with Kieran for the Leisure Studies conference in July. Thanks to a writing retreat half way through January, I not only managed to address the ethics form – I completed a full draft (10000 words!), participant information sheets, letters, consent and draft interviews questions and have submitted it to the committee to get approval to interview bloggers and citizen journalists about their perceptions of the Vancouver Winter Olympics as a follow up to the ethnographic data from 2010.

I’ve already wrote about this, but I  am super proud of this achievement as it really has pushed me on in terms of seeing a light at the end of this very long PhD tunnel.

The updated title of my PhD is: Hacking a Virtual Legacy: Uncovering the Digital Storytellers’ of Vancouver’s Social Media Olympics. 

So my goal for February is to turn these 10000 words, along with notes and other materials I have, into a draft of my methodology chapter. I have blocked out this Saturday for a writing day, hoping to fit 6-7 hours of focussed work in. I’m in limbo at the moment so this an exercise is something I can work on quite autonomously until I’ve received feedback.

Kieran is going to be the first author on the Leisure Studies paper as it has taken a focus much closer to his area of perceptions of recreational drug users so he led on the abstract, where I’m going to write about the methodology and twitter data gathering (something I’ve been keen to write formally about) and to help explore some of the ethical issues around topic areas such as drugs and social media. We have split reading duties here – I’ve invested in some new books (such as Fuchs’ “Social Media: A Critical Introduction“) and looking at the opportunities and challenges of using open tools to manage social data in this way.

I’m going to work on my own abstract relating to my updated PhD work for the Leisure Studies conference as I’m part of the steering committee (there has been over 70 abstracts submitted on the first call for papers!) – I need to have this completed in the next few days ideally, so this is a sooner rather than later goal.

Finally, as we work through February towards the first series of community media and digital storytelling workshops as part of my Digital Commonwealth role, I am going to be working on adapting the resources that my colleagues have been working on for a Buddypress platform used for the Schools’ programme and then ‘remixing’ the resources on Mozilla’s Webmaker to take them from a schools to a community learning/adult education environment. The planning stages will dominate my February.

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Outcomes of Writing Retreat Number 2: Returning to the Ethics Form

I’m writing this blog post during the final 30 minutes of my second writers’ retreat. It has been great to be able to return to the retreat so soon after the last one in November. This time Kieran was able to join me (who is 2 weeks into his PhD, after spending the first 3 months of his enrolment completing him MSc research), which was good as it meant we didn’t ‘miss out’ on the weekend but also managed to get a lot done individually – more so if we had a working weekend at home.

My first retreat resulted in me writing over 13500 words as part of my PhD that I hadn’t touched since I began my year out. It was a pretty emotional experience for me as I was never sure if I would be able to return to it, let along to contribute to it. Over the course of 2 and a half days, I managed to turn my little piles of half written notes and false-start chapters into a format and structure in Scrivener that looked like something that could resemble a PhD, sketch out a plan for restarting and begin to make notes on my methodology. It really did feel (like one other retreater called it… an enema of the brain) and after I felt I could at least make a start at finding a route to restart, followed by completion.

This time I had a number of smaller things that I do. A couple of abstracts, one related to a work project about Digital Commonwealth, another the opportunity to submit an abstract to the Leisure Studies conference where I am on the organising committee for. For that, I wanted to begin to use my PhD research again, rather that presenting on something new. I needed to update my work so it was suitable for that audience in 2014, not recycling presentations from the last time I properly worked on my PhD.

So, I thought it might be a good opportunity to begin that dreaded ethics form that I had been avoiding since long after I returned from Vancouver. Rowena gives us 5 mins at the start of the retreat to set short (by the end of the night), medium (by the end of Saturday) and long term (by the end of the retreat) writing goals using free writing, paying attention to how many words we can write in 5 minutes (325 words if you are wondering), then we discuss these goals with our neighbour. I mentioned that it would be good to start preparing an ethics form by the end of the retreat.

The reality is that I completed a full, complete draft of an ethics form. All 8072 words of it – before lunch time today. That includes a letter of invitation, participant information sheet, consent form and a set of interview questions. I have eligibility criteria for my interviewees, I have a procedure for how I will go about doing it, I even have the theoretical underpinning and managed to contextualise and find a way of supporting my ethnographic data that I collected during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games nearly 4 years ago. It is all there. At least in draft form. But the only way I can describe it is that I now possess the practical steps that I need in order to collect the right data and use a grounded theory (I only found out that I could do that in the pub on Thursday!) to develop an understanding of what actually happening during Vancouver 2010 with regards to blogging, citizen journalism and independent media.

I also have a new title for my PhD, the last time I posted after the retreat, I wasn’t too sure about the focus – did I want to use London 2012 data, did I want to focus more on digital storytelling? – so now I have decided to look at the following, ahem:

Hacking a Digital Legacy: Uncovering the Digital Storytellers of Vancouver’s “Social Media” Olympics

I’ve managed to elaborate on this more during the process of preparing an ethics form and the necessary materials that are required to approach an ethics committee in order to carry out the research. I’m still not registered back on the PhD officially, so I am unsure what the best way to take it forward can be at this stage. All I can hope at the moment is to use my ethics forms as a opportunity to focus the next steps of thesis, collect the relevant data and work towards getting it written it up.

So, retreat number 2 down, with 3 minutes to go – including this blog post & 3 documents I needed to finish for work on Friday, that’s my total number of words for the weekend now sitting at 10401 during 11 hours of dedicated writing that is possible during the retreat. This has definitely pushed me on in terms of hitting my writing goals for the end of the month &  when I’m pretty busy at work as 2014 kicks in properly.

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