About Me

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PhD Candidate at Griffith University, mummy, wife, teacher, social media enthusiast, avid reader

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Labouring through a PhD examination

So hands up how many of you wrote a birth plan? How many stuck to your plan successfully? How many compromised goal after goal as your labour dragged on, passed the 12 hour mark and proceeded into the multi-day labour. Hands up how many didn't care in the end and just wanted that thing out of you?

Welcome to my examination process.

I submitted my PhD on the 14th of April 2014. My degree was awarded 9th April 2015. I took just shy of 12 months.

My plan was to submit, have a 3-4 month turn around and graduate with a brand spanking, shiny new doctorate that I could love and cherish and be proud of (even if it ends up doing nothing).

Nothing ever seems to go to plan.

While I won't go into details about why the length of time, just let me say this: my experience is not uncommon.

The first sign things were not necessarily going to go smoothly was on the day I submitted. Excited and full of energy, I bounced into the staff room at uni and told everyone. I was surprised that congratulations was not forthcoming. I was a little annoyed that I was asked to clarify submitted or awarded. I suppose I could have asked questions but I was too caught up in my planning of great things in my future to wonder any further. I was in pre-labour.

Then active labour hit and goodness gracious me. Nothing prepares you for it. The excruciating wait as the clock ticks past 4 months, 5 months, 6 months, the disbelief, the raging, the negotiations, the justifications, the reality. The no end in sight. The corrections!!!!! I just want this thing out of me. Give me an epidural.

Why did no one tell me??? Why did I have to experience it for myself before I understood?

But eventually I was in transition and I knew that despite the intensity and the time frame compacted by an overseas trip, the end was nigh. I took the corrections one at a time and eventually it was all over (and I believe the final product was much better).

The thing is, I'm not ashamed of having a difficult examination. I know now from talking to senior academics, fellow transitional PhD candidates, @thesiswhisperer blog posts, and those weird comments in the staff room the day I started the examination process, that my experience in not isolated. A plan not going to plan (just like in the maternity ward) is normal. And if having two human children plus the reactions of friends and colleagues to my PhD award is any type of evidence, it is the healthy end product that is most important...not how you get it there.

And now I sit here with a shiny new degree that I spend far too much time thinking about. I weirdly write my new name down on paper. Will I be Dr Naomi Barnes or Naomi Barnes, PhD? I've changed my Twitter name and damn those that think its a wank. I get a thrill any time someone introduces me by my new title. I'm bummed passports no longer require a salutation.

These are the precious, joyful early days of a newborn PhD. Please, for one minute, I just want to enjoy it before being told that there are no jobs. I know negotiating the post-PhD is hard. I've just spent 6 years comparing doing a doctorate to pregnancy. I know enough tenured academics to understand the competitive, pressurised and time consuming reality. Everything is hard. But if you want it. Go get it. Hurdles are helpers.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Using Facebook as a data collection tool

The number one rule of effective pedagogy (in my humble opinion) is learning your students: knowing what they are focused on; what interests them; and how those interests can be linked to curriculum planning.  In 1984, Astin had an idea for gathering information on student focus:

“Perhaps the first task in working with such students is to understand the principal objects on which their energies are focused. It might be helpful, for example, to ask the student to keep a detailed diary, showing the time spent in various activities such as studying, sleeping, socializing, daydreaming, working, and commuting” (pp. 526-527).
Wouldn’t it be great if there was some sort of software program that young people recorded in intimate detail their studying, sleeping, socializing, daydreaming, working, and commuting?
Oh wait…there is! And I used it to understand what school leavers were focused on throughout their first year of university.
The decision to use Facebook as the only means of data gathering was reflexive.
In 2011, I was navigating the trials and tribulations of parenthood for the first time. Life became very complicated. I decided that my PhD needed to fit in with my life, because family comes first. Facebook allowed me to collect data from home at any point I had free from the demands of a newborn.
Secondly, as a PhD student and a fringe dweller to the academic world and without direct access to a class of first year students, gaining face-to-face access to a group of students was problematic. It is important to create a safe space in which to conduct an interview, especially on a voluntary basis outside the classroom structure. First year students are often anxious and overwhelmed at the beginning of their transition to university; therefore, a student volunteering for a research project during the official orientation week activities was highly unlikely. Using Facebook as a means of collecting data circumnavigated this concern because Facebook is comfortable and familiar to the general late-teen.
Thirdly, the principal purpose of Facebook is to record personal activities using the status update function. The status update is like a short, written online diary and is organised on Facebook as part of a personal timeline. Facebook is essentially a public, interactive, and instant personal diary. Using Facebook as a data collection tool gave me access to 31 public-personal diaries.
Fourthly, the decision to use Facebook was grounded in the literature – some people have had a go at it (see for example Selwyn 2009) and others have indicated the value of Facebook to university students (see for example Stephenson-Abetz and Holman 2012 and Gray, Vitak, Easton, and Ellison 2013). There is a large body of research into the social implications of SNSs and the experiences of the university students but none of the above literature considers the student experiences that they describe on Facebook. My research project aimed to fill that gap.
So how did I collect the data?
I began by initiating a networked connection with 17-19 year old first year university students through a Facebook profile created specifically for the study. The participants made available their status updates that related to their time at university, which I archived.
The participants were school leavers who were entering their first year of university in 2011and who have an active Facebook account. The 31 participants all attended one of three multi-campus universities in Southeast Queensland, Australia, and were enrolled in a diversity of courses including education, creative industries, marketing, and engineering. This study initially recruited thirty-one (31) first year students. Twelve of the students were identified as being first year students by using the school identification feature on Facebook. They were also identified as being 17-19 years old from their nominated age on Facebook. The twelve participants were subsequently approached and recruited via Facebook’s Friend request tool –Students were sent a request to add the researcher as a Friend to allow access to their general posts. Eighteen participants were recruited through emails to first year university students via their first year liaison supervisors, or through secondary school alumni contacts. These emails also asked participants to help recruit further participants. 
A Facebook profile named FYHE Profile (the name has been changed to protect the privacy of the participants) was created to be my online presence for the duration of the study. The FYHE Profile enabled recruitment and interaction with the participants through either the status update or the direct messaging tool. These tools allowed for either public (status update) or private (direct messaging) communication. On the profile, informed consent materials were recorded, directing each participant to read the information. Consent was granted when participants agreed to participate by “friending” the FYHE Profile. By agreeing to connect with the FYHE Profile, each participant became part of the researcher’s Facebook network. The profile had a newsfeed that showed the public status updates and other Facebook activities in which the FYHE Profile network was engaged. It was via this newsfeed that I collected status updates.
Status-data was collected through manual data crawling. I was able to collect conversations about university experiences 24 hours, seven days per week. Both status updates and any further commentary the participants made within the status-thread was collected. While, commentary was not collected from the participants’ Facebook network, enough information was extracted to enhance the participants’ meaning. Data collection also only occurred during specific phases during the university year. The times are based on those nominated by the first year student participants in Penn-Edwards’ and Donnison’s (2011) study: in the first weeks of orientation, after the first assignment is returned, end of the first semester and end of the first year.
Facebook status updates provided insight into the informal learning world of the participants in this study who were recording experiences of their first year at university. These experiences included post and ad-hoc descriptions of learning experiences, the exchange of information, moral support, and descriptions of their level of academic engagement.
Facebook as a data collection tool was valuable for conducting a longitudinal study. I was able to keep in touch with the same participants during all four critical times. Only one participant withdrew from the study and that was because she cancelled her Facebook account, not because she was opposed to continuing the study.
The use of Facebook to track the experiences of first year students has great potential for future research, especially for longitudinal studies that follow a large number of students for an entire degree. The use of software, such as Leximancer, is worth investigating as it could handle a much larger amount of data (Penn-Edwards, 2010).
A limitation is in the changeable nature of social media. Facebook is valuable for collecting qualitative data because the networked users must be mutually connected. Mini-blog and video-blog social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube are gaining popularity and also contain descriptions of experiences of first year. These applications, unlike Facebook profiles, are publically available. A mixed methods approach might consider these applications for access to a larger data set; however, the ethics of what it means to collect online publically available experiential data is far from clear (Henderson, Johnson, and Auld, 2013; James, N. & Busher, 2007).
This study referred to in this paper (reference removed for the integrity of the blind review process), has shown the important role SNSs play in the learning experiences of first year university students. By limiting data collection to those status updates only associated with the university experience, it became evident that a type of learning community exists online.
The use of Facebook as a data gathering tool is an emerging field in educational research. To date, the majority of research has been limited to how students use Facebook, its use for social integration, and its relevance in a twenty-first century curriculum. My research indicates that Facebook status data is a worthwhile source of experiential descriptions. Selwyn (2012) suggests that there is a gap in the study of SNSs which do not try to manipulate and control the use of social media in education, but rather uses the medium authentically. This research, as well as that of Selwyn (2009), Baker (2013) and Jenkins et al. (2012), is part of the expansion of this field – a field that is bound to continue expanding over the coming decades.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The post-doc interview -- some useful feedback

I recently had a skype interview with Monash University’s Learning with New Media Research Group for a post-doctoral fellowship. I was completely surprised by the request for an interview as I thought I was nowhere near qualified for the position on offer. They wanted an ethnographer and I’m a phenomenographer. They needed someone with NVivo experience I still use post-it notes and Excel.

I applied for the position simply for the experience, the understanding that you need to be in it to win it, and an embarrassingly gushy PhD-crush on several members of the interview panel. Professor Neil Selwyn's work helped me formulate the social media component of my method and conceptual framework, and Dr Nicola Johnson (and other's) work guided my consideration of some tricky ethical issues.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the job but I got some great feedback. I thought I would use this blog to share it. Hopefully it will help someone when applying for an academic position.

Neil: We all felt that you interviewed well, and picked up on your obvious enthusiasm/spirit (which can often not come across in interviews where people will be more reserved/less expressive).

My musings: I think it helped that I was simply excited to meet the interview panel. My excitement came from reading the work of members of the LNM research group extensively, formulating opinions about it, and making connections to my own work. It also helped that the conceptual grounding of the research group is very similar to my own. You don’t really want a job where you have reservations about the ethics or vision of a company.

Neil: We were looking for potential to write, so were not concerned by the lack of publications. However, for other posts it might be good to have some specific journals that you will be submitting to (this gives a good indication that you are actually getting on with the writing/publishing process rather than just thinking about it).

My musings: This is one of the questions I knew was coming and was prepared to be defensive. The mantra is always “publish early, publish often”. I have a very limited track record. The reason for this is that I am a PhD mum. My children come before my career. I have not had time to publish, write a thesis and rear two girls. I obviously came across as regretful because…

Neil: Scott [Bulfin] picked up on the need not to apologise for family/real-life commitments.

My musings: This advice floored me because it is the exact opposite of the academic culture with which I am familiar. I have spent the last five years apologising for not being able to make HDR events because I have to pick my babies up from child care, missing out on vital HDR meetings that always seem to be during witching hour, and frankly feeling like my contribution was second to the full-time on-campus candidates. Next time I interview, I’m going to use my part-time, PhD and full-time motherhood  status as a strength rather than a weakness and stuff the haters. I only want to work with people that put their families first anyway

Neil: Also, when talking about what you've written, one obvious recent output is the thesis - not many people write an 80,000 word publication so don't be afraid to stress that as a recent piece of writing.

My musings: I think this is an important point. A PhD is individual and collegial. It shows you can work independently and as a team. I didn’t bring up my PhD because I just thought everyone had one. That’s the starting line for a post-doc. Next time I’ll be sure to mention it.

Neil: The only other piece of constructive feedback that springs to mind is that your answers were a little teacher/classroom-focused. This is *very* appropriate for most jobs in Faculties of Education - but for more sociological/social research it can help not to just think of education as teaching/teachers and students/learning.

My musings: This is the key learning I am taking away from the interview. If I want to break out of the high school teacher mould, I need to diversify. I need to start thinking like a sociologist. My PhD was in educational sociology but I still work for schools so the mould is well fitted. The step I have taken to begin the process of changing my mindset is to attend my university's educational sociology SIG meetings.

Have you got any good tips for an academic interview?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Revised birth plan

I am in labour.

I have just received feedback for my first draft. It was positive. Things are looking good and if there are no further complications I should give birth to a healthy baby thesis by Easter (4 months later than anticipated but most first-borns do keep you waiting).

Currently I am experiencing pre-labour. I can see the end of my (very) long pregnancy, the promise of a new life, and the excitement of a new addition to my family name. I'm ignoring the pages and pages of minor corrections and concentrating on the word 'minor'. 

Tomorrow, is active labour.

But today! Today I revise my birth plan. I plan to work five days a week for 28 days. My kids won't get sick and my computer WILL NOT break. My husband (Sam) will continue to hold my hand and rub my back. We can begin to imagine our new life where (first world) creature comforts are no longer sacrificed in the name of a thesis. I already have a job lined up for Easter Tuesday and we are going to ENGLAND for Christmas!
Piled Higher and Deeper by Jorge Cham - www.phdcomics.com  

Today I am going to sit down and plan my attack. One . page . at . a . time. I am going to contact the Dean's secretary to ensure his signature finds its way to my paperwork on time. I am going to ring my editor.

I've had two kids on this PhD journey. I know things rarely go to plan but this baby is coming out one way or another by 17th April. Sam, just don't stand in hitting distance for a while because...

Tomorrow, the real pain starts.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Is a PhD worth missing summer?

I haven’t written a blog in a very long time. I've been writing other stuff. A big fat thing called a PhD thesis. However, the past couple of days have been like walking through sand. I can actually see my thesis as a finished product but realising it has become gruelling. I want to write but for some reason my brain stops working simultaneously with walking out my front door. So why do I feel this way? Is it because I lie awake too long excited about what I want to say and then cannot function the next day from lack of sleep? Is it the heat (it’s pretty damn hot here right now)? Is it the air-conditioned windowless room I write in? Is it that I am afraid to *put it out there*?

I think  all of the above play a role but you know what I reckon the main factor is? I miss my kids. I’m sitting here in my air-conditioned, windowless room and playing with strategies for untangling my thoughts and weaving them back together trying to meet a self-imposed deadline wrapped up in a much needed living allowance. I’m taking advantage of my husband’s leave and holiday visits from Gran and Gramps to distract Christmas lolly fuelled limbs and needy little sticky faces and from my absence. God, I miss those faces (tearing up a bit).

I’m missing summer days in the pool, smelling like sunscreen, chlorine and salt. I’m missing dripping mango down my arms, smearing frozen blueberries across my face and spitting watermelon seeds across the lawn. Sucking on ice-blocks. I’m missing breathing in the stillness and humidity and the anticipation of a storm. I’m missing the green. God, Brisbane is green at the moment. I am missing having an active role ingraining summer into my children’s DNA. All for a bloody PhD.

Still, it’s only one summer. My children are young. There are plenty of summers left and I still have weekends. Next summer you’ll be able to call me Dr.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Expressing my relationship with my blog

Today I had a good day. I am satisfied with my output and I am feeling more confident. I am again at the meta-cognitive end of my day. The time of day where I feel exhausted from the day of writing up my dissertation, needing to spend my last hour reflecting on the day that was.

Today was spent reflecting on my relationship with the participants, context and data. Thus, pipe in mouth (;-D @thesiswhisperer and @dr_know), I began thinking about my relationship with my blog and that I haven't declared my position in quite some time.

I am a teacher that likes to know how to teach stuff. I tend to absorb any information about the cognitive processes associated with any of my activities. I think about what I am learning and what techniques I could use to teach the learning. There is a lot to be said for the teacher that is not an expert in their field. Staying one step ahead of the students is an adrenaline rush and can be very rewarding, especially when both teacher and student experience a mutual light bulb moment. I had one of those moments yesterday and am still tingling from the experience of learning something new from my students. I yearn for those times and they become rarer and rarer as I re-teach a subject. 

My blogs are about my process of coming to grips with the complexity of writing a dissertation. I do not claim to be an expert or believe my way is the correct approach. Processes I thought were enlightened a month ago, I have discarded or regard with nostalgia. Processes I dismissed have now made a resurgence and again I swear by them. But the reality is, I am still a novice. I am still learning. I need to be flexible.

Many of the changes to my plans and processes have come about because I am a mother. My day is not as straight forward as leaving the house for campus and coming home for dinner and TV with my husband. Two days per week that I write involve feeding and dressing a 2.5 year old (who would hang from the ceiling if it was humanly possible) and a 6 month old baby. I herd them into the car, hopefully dropping them at their day-care Mum's house by 8:30am (on a good day). I am lucky if I can get start work by 9:30am. I am sure other mums can relate. My day is further complicated by my love hate relationship with my breast pump. I hate expressing milk (but love breast feeding my baby) and my day revolves around the timing of pumping. 

The timing of pumping is what has made some writing techniques (like pomodoro) difficult to rigorously maintain. 

Today (and I should caveat this through the emphasis on TODAY), I found an approach that flowed like mother's milk (sorry but it is National Breastfeeding Week). I started my day with 90 minutes of free writing, into my methodology outline, using Tony Schwartz's plan for personal effectiveness (http://blogs.hbr.org/schwartz/2011/01/the-most-important-practice-i.html). This brought me up to my first express. The second session, I chose a book from my field and read chapter by chapter adding ideas, phrases and quotes into my outline. Each time I finished a chapter, I went and fixed a cup of tea. The four hour session then fell into a natural pomodoro (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique). By my second express my brain was telling me that the day was done and I needed to spend some time reflecting on my practice. 

So we come full circle. I wonder how I will feel about this plan next week? I may love it or hate it. What do you think about it?

PS: Twitter and Facebook have been awash with tips and encouragement to help me with my writer's block (which, thankfully, has gone for now) and I will Storify all the advice in due course as my way of saying thanks to the "great good place" that is my social media reality.


Saturday, 3 August 2013

Writing to an outline and #tweetingmythesis

Where I road test outlining a chapter and writing the paragraphs. The following is a little bit auto-ethnographic and a little bit meta-cognitive.

  1. Last week I wrote my methodology outline by deconstructing the methodology chapter of a completed dissertation. I don't know why the methodology chapter made more sense to me at this stage in my thesis but golly I'm glad it did.
  2. I had a bit of trouble getting going this week so decided to do some reading to find inspiration.
  3. Looking at the language of methodology in the literature over brekky. Getting in the head space. #tweetingmythesis
  4. No matter how many times I read an article, there is always something new to be found. At the moment I am focusing on completing my draft by Christmas. How researchers in my field phrase their findings and ideas has been of particular interest of late.
  5. It's amazing the different things you notice each time you read the literature. This time efficiency in language #tweetingmythesis
  6. I like working with tables.  The outline style I developed is broken down into single paragraphs. I extracted the content of each paragraph from the theses I have read. I also noted the literature referenced in each paragraph.

    My lifestyle dictates I rarely have long periods of time to write. This outline style allows me to approach the methodology chapter piecemeal. I can write a paragraph (any paragraph) whenever I get a moment. I start by re-reading the literature to get a gist of the paragraph and go from there. 
  7. I am committed to just writing the paragraphs at the moment. When they are all written, I'll extract them from the outline and re-order to suit the needs of my methodology. Too often I get distracted by linking sentences. I'm usually so desperate to make the flow work that the process becomes counter-productive. Writing any old paragraph at any time is a bit more like free writing. It frees my mind from overall structure so I can just concentrate on the meaning of each individual paragraph.
  8. Can see a change needed in my outline but its a distraction. Need to write paragraphs. Order comes later #tweetingmythesis #PhDchat#socphd
  9. I quite like using the pomodoro techinique (road tested in a previous #tweetingmythesis). It is not quite working with the outline method so I have made some modifications. Instead of sticking to the strict 25 minutes writing and 3-5 minute break, I write a paragraph and then have a break. 
  10. #Pomodoro isn't working today. Having a rest after every paragraph inserted into my outline. 5 paragraphs down#tweetingmythesis #PhDchat
  11. I haven't finished my methodology chapter. I envisage it will be the star of #tweetingmythesis for a couple more weeks. I feel this technique, recommended by Studious Jenn (@mystudiouslife) will be a stalwart addition to my academic writing (#acwri) repertoire.

    If you have any feedback, comments, recommendations, corrections, I am all ears and thank you in advance. 

    I am also keen to road test some more #acwri techniques. Make a recommendation. I still have a long way to go and less and less time to get there so willing to try anything.