tactics for proof-reading

I am one of the world’s worst at proof-reading my own work. I’m quite good at revising, but not so good at the final checks. Regular readers of this blog will sometimes spot the odd proofreading omission  – the good news is that I usually pick it up, albeit often after a few days :( .

Proof-reading isn’t an easy thing to do – most writers are inclined to see what we thought we’d written, rather than what we actually have. We miss the odd spelling mistake, missing comma, over long sentence, the too often repeated word. It’s hardly surprising we miss these slip ups as most pieces of writing that are ready for proof-reading have been through multiple drafts and revisions. The proof-reading trick is to try to make the text appear unfamiliar and strange, almost as if someone else had written it.

So here’s a few tactics that can help:

  • Leave the text for a week or so before reading it. It is then less close and immediate and the time may allow you to get some distance on it.
  • Print it out. If you’re used to reading the text on the screen, then printing it out can give you a new view.
  • Print it out in a new font. You’ve looked at the text in your usual font for long time – changing it might provide you with a new look.
  • Read the text aloud. This can help you to hear klutzy syntax, missing and misplaced words … and you might also spot commas and full stops in the wrong places. However, like reading, writers often say what they think they have written so this isn’t fool proof! One way to deal with this is to
  • Ask someone else to read the paper for errors. Get them to mark the things you need to check. If you co-author, then this is something that you can do for each other.
  • Use a ruler to guide your reading, either silent or out loud. The ruler forces you to read line by line rather than skip through.
  • Use the computer to check for obvious grammar and spellos. Even if it picks up things that you don’t agree to, it still allows you to look at selected bits of text more closely.
  • Circle all of the full stops and check each one. This forces you to look at whether the stops are in the right place but it also shows you sentences, short and long. Holding the paper at arms length allows you to see how many sentences you’ve crammed into one paragraph – are there too many or too few do you think?
  • Check your known common mistakes – keep a list of the things you do incorrectly and use this as a check list

The most important thing of course is not to rush. Rushing almost always means that there are things you won’t see. Taking time to proofread is particularly important if you are sending a paper into a journal or submitting a thesis. Sloppy proofreading gives the critical reader the impression of very sloppy scholarship. This is not something you want someone who sits in judgment on your work to think. So do, do make the time it takes … Proof-reading matters.

Do you have any additional tactics that you use with proof-reading?

Posted in proof-reading | Tagged , | 14 Comments

on bread and blogging

My partner bakes bread every week. He’s no amateur at this kneading and raising business, as he owned a bakery and cafes for quite long time. His bread is made with a sour – the sour is simply wild yeasts in a mix of flour and water – rather than shop-bought yeast. Every sour is different; they can vary in texture, from thin and runny to thick and gluggy, and they have slight differences in taste too. The sour is responsive to the environment; temperature and moisture for example affect the amount and balances of acids that are produced – that’s the sour taste that gives sourdough its name.

Keeping a sour requires a baker to develop a parental attitude. The sour needs to be fed regularly – more flour and water every few days. Bakers call these additions ‘refreshments’ and the sour will die if it doesn’t get them. The sour grows between bakes so that some of it can be removed on baking day, with enough left over to keep the process going. Most serious bakers keep their sours for years, although there is some debate about whether this is good/possible.

Our sour generally sits in a cloth-covered jar on the kitchen counter. Now here’s the thing. The sour is alive. It’s not the same as the mixer or the toaster.  It’s a living thing in my kitchen. Mostly it just goes about its business. I imagine it skulking there next to the coffee maker, quietly eating and expanding.  But as it gets close to feeding time I feel it looking up from under its cloth hat, its gaze fixed and intense – ‘Refresh me now or I die’, I imagine I hear it saying in thick, acid tones.

The sour requires that its human keepers maintain a continued low-level consciousness of its needs. When we go away for the weekend we either have to feed it up beforehand, give to it someone to look after, or put it in the fridge to slow down its digestion and growth. If we go away for more than a few days we usually put it into a coma in the freezer in its plastic cryogenic container. There is always a moment of anxiety about whether it will wake up, and the sour is rather sluggish for a few days after as it recovers. Some additional refreshment is always required post freeze as payback for the unexpected suspension of activity. I am sure that the sour vengefully keeps us wondering whether it will have recovered sufficiently by baking day to provide the appropriate amount of leavening.

I’m telling you about the sour because I tend to think about this blog in a somewhat similar way. The blog isn’t on a counter under a cloth hat, but sitting somewhere on a server. But, like the sour, in order to stay alive the blog requires things of me. The blog, like the sour, needs feeding at very regular intervals.

The blog is always a presence in my life, and never far away from my thinking. As it gets closer to the regular publication dates, I imagine it watching me, tapping out a precise and impatient rap of virtual question marks, waiting an answering response on the keyboard. “Is this the week when you have nothing to say? I always knew that this would happen. I knew you couldn’t keep it up. I knew that you’d let me down eventually.” You see my blog has a kind of inbuilt paranoia, it knows that some time in its future I will be a bad parent and neglect it. It just doesn’t know when.

And I do have to think ahead about the blog’s needs, just as with the sour. I pre-prepare for periods away from my desk. I try to have a few posts for emergencies so that I don’t find myself looking empty-handed at a hungry blog on a portable screen. I dread having nothing to offer it. I’m reluctant to put the blog into a deep-freeze hibernation over summer for fear that once out of the habit of regularly feeding/posting, I’ll find it hard to get back to. I worry that the blog will languish, become a dried husk, a mere archive of its former self, if I don’t keep up with its refreshments.

Refreshing the blog is not as easy as managing the sour and its appetite. Blog post ideas are not available out of a packet and tap as are flour and water. Coming up with each and every post requires some kind of stimulus – a question, a bit of reading, some teaching, a conversation – these spark the blog-thought that turns into the post that will keep the blog going.

That’s how this post happened. I was minded of the way that I thought about the blog when someone recently commented that I’d attributed agency to blogs. Blogs don’t do things in the world, the commenter said, writers do.

I’m afraid I don’t agree with this. While I understand the point being made, it does seem to me that there is some power in the blog itself, some kind of agency and some pull that is exerted on me. And any blog can have a life of its own outside of its origin. Just because a writer wants a blog to do and mean particular things, it doesn’t mean that it will. Unlike the sour which remains captive within its glass jar, the blog is a more mobile and promiscuous object altogether – one able to be moulded and taken up by others who encounter and read it.

All blogs are dependent on their writers of course, but they do also seem to have lives of their own… and appetites.

Posted in academic blogging, blogging, blogging about blogging | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

academic writing and quotations

A guest post from Helen Colley from The University of Huddersfield.

I just got an enquiry from a colleague about whether the university has guidelines for research theses in relation to formatting quotations, whether from the literature or primary data from respondents. At first sight, this might look like a fairly mundane technical question – but there is far more to it than that! The question rang all my bells about how technical questions such as this can only be answered by going back to the philosophical underpinnings of our research, and our own quest for an appropriate authorly voice.

I’m always a bit bewildered why this particular question about formatting quotations comes up so often (and I get to see so much weird and wonderful formatting!). Doctoral researchers have presumably read scores if not hundreds of journal articles and books. Almost all of these use exactly the same protocols, so the answer is easy: ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’, i.e. just copy the same protocol you find everywhere else in the literature. You are becoming a researcher, so emulate the practices expected of researchers by publishers! This relates to the issue of learning to write by reading as a writer – analysing how other writers have constructed their texts and how we can emulate them, rather than just focusing on the content of their findings. Anyway, that’s a whole other issue… So let’s start off with some technical basics and how I approach them in line with publishers’ (and readers’) expectations.

Quotes from other authors of 3 lines or more should be in an indented paragraph, separated from the main text by a line space above and below, NO quotation marks, NO italics, citation comes after the final full stop of the quote and must include page number(s). This looks like this:

    [M]uch of that literature fails to account sufficiently for the socio-cultural and socio-political context characterised today by the crisis of neo-liberal capitalism. The neoliberal belief system focuses on the individual as consumer in deregulated markets, including the labour market…(Benozzo and Colley, 2012, p.305)

In the original text, the quotation starts with a clause that is not necessary to reproduce when quoting it, therefore ‘much’ is not capitalised in the original – that is why it appears as ‘[M]uch’ in my quotation here: I’ve altered it to be grammatically correct in the context of my own text, and the square brackets show that I’ve changed the original. Also the original text has a colon and continues further after ‘labour market’ – but again, that is not relevant to my use of the quotation here, so I have an ellipsis of three full stops in a row ‘…’ to show this. If I had left out something in the middle of the quotation, I would show the ellipsis in square brackets like this: […]

Quotes from primary data should usually be in an indented paragraph, separated from the main text by a line space above and below, NO quotation marks. (Short quotes can be incorporated into the main text in inverted commas, but do not have to be.) Italics should NOT normally be used unless there is an exceptional reason why, and if they are, this should be explained in the methodology. Citation comes after the final full stop of the quote, like this:

    I get lots of enquiries from students and supervisors about formatting formal texts such as theses and progress reports. (Helen, Director of Graduate Education)

There is no common rubric about any citation format for research respondents - this is something that the researcher should think through in relation to their overall methodology and how they, as an author, think it is best to present the quotes to their reader: (a) to engage them with the overall text; and (b) to ensure the reader has sufficient information about where the quote has come from to make a judgment about its internal validity and the strength of the evidence it presents as a warrant for the findings. For example, in an in-depth narrative study with just one or few respondents, it is usual to use a pseudonym to give a sense of the person, and often to add a descriptor(s) depending on the design of the study and what the reader needs to know about how that quote relates to the overall data set in the study. The example below might be appropriate for a very small narrative study, where the reader has had and is very likely to remember who the respondent is.

So let’s imagine we are doing a study of PGR students and their perceptions of writing. A quote from a very small-scale narrative study with four respondents, whom you have already described in detail, might look like this:

      I read lots of texts and saw how they were formatting the quotes, but I just didn’t feel confident to use the same formatting myself without asking first. (Aisha)

If the study were still qualitative, but a bit larger, and included e.g. full-time and part-time EdD, PhD and MA by Research students, and those distinctions were important for the study, this would be appropriate:

      I read lots of texts and saw how they were formatting the quotes, but I just didn’t feel confident to use the same formatting myself without asking first. (Aisha, MA by Research student, FT)

If a key issue in the study is the perceptions of students on different programmes, in different disciplines at different stages of their study:

      I read lots of texts and saw how they were formatting the quotes, but I just didn’t feel confident to use the same formatting myself without asking first. (Aisha, Humanities, PT MA by Res, Year 1)

If the study included multiple interviews with research students because it was tracing change over time, then it would be helpful also to note which of the interviews it was e.g.

      I read lots of texts and saw how they were formatting the quotes, but I just didn’t feel confident to use the same formatting myself without asking first. (Aisha, MA by Research student, interview 2)
    I read lots of texts and saw how they were formatting the quotes, but I just didn’t feel confident to use the same formatting myself without asking first. (Aisha, MA by Research student, 3rd year interview)

If there are many respondents, e.g. from a survey, and the reader is therefore unlikely to remember pseudonyms, or you may not have names attached to the responses, then it would be better to replace the ascription with a numeral one:

      I read lots of texts and saw how they were formatting the quotes, but I just didn’t feel confident to use the same formatting myself without asking first. (PGR45)

Again, depending on the research questions, you might need to add to ‘PGR45’ which programme they were on, which year they were in, and/or which of multiple interviews with that student it was, so it will look more like a code, and instead of ‘PGR’ you could use M for MA by Research, P for PhD, E for EdD e.g. (M45 Y1, i/v1). The reader doesn’t need a sense of the individual person, but might be looking to see that the data comes from a good spread of respondents rather than from just the same ones over and over again.

All these decisions are things to be noted, with your justifications as to why you have made these choices, in your research journal – and you need a paragraph about it in your methodology chapter, so your reader understands what format you will be using (especially important if it appears as a code) and why.

There is also, of course, a big issue in terms of presenting qualitative data, and whether we present it ‘raw’ (with all the ums, ers, false starts, ungrammatical speech etc) or ‘cooked’ (tidied up a bit to read more coherently). This partly depends on research design – if you are doing discourse analysis, you’ll definitely need all the ums and ers and timed pauses etc. But if not, it can just make people look inarticulate on the written page when in fact they are just speaking the way that all of us do in everyday talk. On the other hand, sometimes we have a piece of data where the uncertainties or contradictions of what someone is saying can only be conveyed by including the ums and ers and false starts etc., and the reader needs to see that. And sometimes, the only way we can convey the authenticity of respondents’ voices is by using their actual speech, warts and all (see Geoff Bright‘s work where he directly transcribes the strong dialect and vernacular of his respondents in Nottinghamshire’s former pit villages). Harry Wolcott discusses these kinds of choices in excellent detail in his book ‘Transforming Qualitative Data‘, to which I always refer students on these matters.

Like all seemingly technical questions, then, this one about how to format primary data quotations and cite them is an opportunity for supervisors to lead doctoral researchers back to think about the philosophical and authorly implications of their overall methodology, and the fact that there can’t be any single common rubric for how we present our data, including even the form of the citations we use – we have to think and make choices about it. Those choices should be coherent with our overall methodology but also to think about our reader and what they need to know for the data to be really meaningful to them and allow them to make judgements about the strength of the evidence presented in support of the research claims.

Posted in Helen Colley, quotations | Tagged , | 4 Comments

find some support from an academic writing broker

It’s hard when you first start out writing papers for journals. There are lots of decisions to make – Which journal? What topic will the editors be interested in? What style should the paper adopt? What will reviewers do?

In their book on academic writing in the English language, Teresa Lillis and Mary Jane Curry suggest that it’s helpful for people who are unsure of the answers to these questions to seek out literacy brokers. Lillis and Curry’s research focused particularly on multilingual scholars who are seeking publication in international English-medium journals, so they include as literacy brokers all the people who impact directly on helping texts get published. These are editors, reviewers, academic professionals and academic peers, linguistic professionals, English-speaking friends and colleagues. Lillis and Curry argue that brokering activity uses and generates a form of cultural capital – know how about the publiscation process – that makes a critical difference to publication outcomes. Access to brokers can ensure publication; enhance the prestige and reputation of writers; and even secure more direct forms of economic gain, such as promotion and salary bonuses.

Lillis and Curry draw attention to the significance of literacy brokers, particularly for writers who use English as an Additional Language. There is now pressure from many governments for scholars to publish in English and there are in some places diminishing numbers of first language journals. In these circumstances increasing numbers of multilingual scholars are turning to English language specialists – proof readers, editors and the like – to assist with the technicalities of expression. Many seek help from people who often combine language support with disciplinary expertise. They urge scholars to seek out literacy brokers, and not try to do things all by themselves, in isolation.

But for those who are relatively confident about what journal to write for and what they want to say, there is still a point in thinking about the benefits of a broker… someone who can help when the reviews come back, someone who can talk you through the aftermath of the reviewer comments and the editorial decision, someone around in that emotional time when you just want to stick the paper in the bottom drawer and never put hand to mouse again…. That’s the point at which you can really do with some additional support and advice.

Publication brokering is the term Barbara and I use – see our book on writing papers for journals – to talk about the very particular support given during the revise and resubmit process. We use the term brokering more narrowly than Lillis and Curry to describe interactions that occur after the article is returned. We think of the broker as a trusted senior colleague to whom an early-career writer can turn, maligned article and those pesky reviewer comments in hand.

Clearly we all find the resubmission process complex, troublesome and difficult to interpret, but newcomers especially so. Publication brokers can help bruised and worried writers interpret what is happening in the social, cultural and political climate of revise and resubmit so they can take effective textual action. Conversations with brokers about the content of an article and the broader disciplinary conventions and journal conventions can play a critical role in successful publication.

Publication brokering is clearly useful for doctoral researchers new to the game. In our book Barbara and I tell the story of a doctoral researcher named Sam who was so devastated by negative reviewer comments that she decided not to resubmit. The criticism of her methodological work was harshly stated. One reviewer said: ‘I would consequently question if this new format is indeed in any way innovative or new on the dimensions that the paper claims. I find this to be a major flaw in the research reported within the paper.’ Sam was so upset by this commentary, that she didn’t read the letter from the editor, which asked her to revise and return the revised manuscript within 30 days.

It was not until she brought the letter to her supervisor that she understood. Despite the stated problems, the editor wanted her article. ‘30 days’ signalled there was a publication deadline the editor needed to meet. The Editor thought the problems in Sam’s article were ‘fixable’; the supervisor thought so too. There was no purpose in crying for too long. Sam actually knew the literature far better than she demonstrated in the article and had to work hard to show why and how her contribution was different from previous work- why it was new. Without the input of her supervisor to broker the revision process, she would not have resubmitted. What a wasted opportunity that would have been!

Publication brokering can be done by a variety of people – supervisors, colleagues, writing mates, writing groups and other academic professionals. They can help with those complex and difficult decisions that need to be made about how to address reviewer concerns – they can share their disciplinary knowledge, provide insight about scholarly debates, discuss options for structural framing as well as reveal the niceties of the specific discourses of the target journal.

Publication and literacy brokerage is an important part of the academic mentoring process. It’s really helpful to think about who there is in your networks who might be able to fulfil this role.

Posted in academic writing, journal, literacy broker | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

academic mentoring – a super(wo)man ask?

These days, I’m sure, all early–career researchers are advised to get themselves an academic mentor, someone who they can turn to for some support and guidance. Today’s assumption is that being a scholar is not sink-or-swim.

Many universities manage an academic mentoring process. They are reluctant to leave the provision of support to chance. The allocation of mentors has become a key institutional strategy for ensuring that some kind of personal-professional support is available to everyone. So, when new staff arrive in the institution, the appropriate adminstrator in their home school/faculty/centre is charged with allocating a mentor to them as part of their induction process. However, many institutions seem to forget temporary contracted staff in these arrangements – not OK!! But others are more inclusive, and their mentoring schemes are all encompassing – everyone who’s new gets a mentor.

The process of institutional matching – mentor and one-to-be-mentored – varies. I’ve seen different scenarios ranging from speed-dating to arbitrary match-making to schemes where new people make their own choices and simply report who their mentor will be. Not surprisingly, the success of highly engineered relationships varies. That’s generally not because the two parties are unwilling to engage in ongoing conversations, but because simply putting two people together doesn’t always make a relationship work.

Mentoring is just like any other relationship. It’s good if there’s something in common in mentoring partnerships, some overlapping interests, some kind of shared experiences. The mentoring relationships that I’ve seen that seem to work best are where there is something more than a generic ‘experienced’ and ‘new’ partnership as the raison d’etre. (Of course in some cases people in engineered relationships do find something shared and common between them. But I’ve seen many mentoring relationships that don’t, even with the best will in the world.) Many of the ‘women in (add discipline)’ mentoring schemes seem to work pretty well – and maybe this is because both the more and less experienced academics have the (add discipline) and the commitment to equity in common right at the start. They both have a/the same reason to make the mentoring relationship work.

It’s possible – and I’d say highly likely – that any lack of success in academic mentoring comes from the fact that the role of the academic mentor is a pretty hard one to fill. It’s no great revelation to say that none of us are actually good at everything. But institutional academic mentoring schemes generally proceed as if we are. The reality is that some senior academics might be very good at helping people get research bids together, while others might have real strengths in supporting writing and publication. Some might be very good at coaching and be incredibly helpful as a long-term support for managing life in the institution. Some senior academics can’t get past an I-did-it-my-way solution for younger academic’s challenges while others are seriously skilled and begin by recognising the current difficult employment and career contexts in which newer academic colleagues work.

Another difficulty is that there is often an institutional assumption that we all know how to mentor. Why would that be the case? Why the assumption that mentoring is something that just comes naturally? There is probably something worth knowing from the research into mentoring practices, and perhaps something to learn from people who coach full-time for a living. While academic mentoring is not the same as football coaching, there might be something in some of that life-coaching and counselling practice that could be quite useful to academic mentors too. I also suspect that there is something pedagogical about the academic mentoring relationship that, just like supervision, could benefit from more dedicated active inquiry and theorisation. Institutions could well build more informed and inquiry-based processes into their mentoring schemes.

Given the vagaries that surround academic mentoring, I reckon it’s probably a good idea for doctoral and early-career researchers to reject the notion that having one academic mentor will do the lot. If I was starting again, knowing what I know now, I’d think pretty seriously about searching out not one, but a few helpful people who I could turn to for conversation about different aspects of academic work. Some fortunate early-career researchers will be in research centres or teaching teams where a range of experienced people are readily available, but others will have to DIY, actively try to find people who can provide support with the range of scholarly issues, questions and difficulties that they wonder about. And of course there are a range of externally run programmes and social media support that can fill in some of the gaps that institutions leave.

However, it does seem to me that there is much more that many institutions could do for early–career researchers besides mentoring schemes. Relying on a single person as the point of all support and advice for newcomers to the insitutional family isn’t really good enough. An academic mentor is not a kind of all encompassing go-to person, an all-singing, all-dancing, one-stop-shop for everything from encyclopaedic answers to the provision of ongoing support and guidance on everything. (Just watch me strip down to my cape and tights in the telephone box before I come into a mentoring meeting.)

Institutions have a responsibility to provide more general support on top of mentoring schemes. Institutional structures are needed. Universities might – and of course some do – provide regular seminars, workshops and designated pools of people who are willing to provide publication and research development advice to early-career academics. (The Athena Swan scheme might be an existing model that UK universities could look at for a few spread-able ideas.) But they might go much further and also support – with money and time – academic development processes that cohorts of new staff design for themselves.

And of course there is also a responsibility for institutions to think about how to create cultures which are collectively and collaboratively supportive of new staff. Such supportive cultures would have an overall emphasis on everyone doing well rather than on the competitive production of a few research stars. But of course now I’m getting really Pollyanna-ish. So I might as well finish off by saying that more jobs and postdoctoral opportunities would be a pretty good idea too… despite my issues with academic mentoring, having more people to be mentored would be a fine problem to have!

Posted in early career researchers | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

what is an ‘academic profile’?

Doctoral and early-career researchers are encouraged to sign up for courses that offer career development advice. Most of these workshops and courses focus on technicalities – this is how to construct your cv – or on strategies – get yourself a mentor, network network network. This kind of advice can be very helpful, and I certainly don’t want to argue that it’s not. I sometimes give this kind of advice too.

But all these courses and advice often fail to provide sufficient time and support to think about the purposes and conventions surrounding the academic profile. Or perhaps even what an academic profile actually is…

I think about the academic profile as a narrative. It is a narrative of the scholar we are and the scholar want to be. Put more simply, an academic profile is a story we tell to ourselves and to other people and organisations. Our profile story focuses on the kinds of scholarly work we have done, can do and hope to do in the future. It signals the particular scholarly interests we have, what we stand for and what we think is important. It brings together our various experiences, publications, networks, teaching and professional relationships. It traces our intellectual history and points to a path ahead.

An academic profile is also highly performative. It has to do work for us. The work we want our profile to do varies, but generally includes:

(1) instrumental work. We want our academic profile to help us do something – get a job either outside or inside a university, get funding, get published, tell readers who we are and the basis on which we write.

(2) disciplinary and scholarly work. We want our academic profile to indicate the kinds of intellectual traditions we work in, show the scholarly/policy/practice/professional communities with whom we sit and talk, and the ways in which our intellectual contributions to policy/practice/scholarly conversations have gone and will go.

An academic profile is profoundly text-ed. And there are multiple texts involved. Our prolife is our cv, but there may be multiple versions of that cv produced for different audiences. It’s also other texts that we produce for various purposes and people – bio-notes for publications and conference programmes; annotated publication lists for funders; about- me notes for web-pages, blogs and twitter. Our academic profile is distributed across and through multiple texts, platforms and media. However, at least some of these texts might well end up being read together so producing texts with some degree of cross-referencing is always a Good Idea.

An academic profile is of course also embodied. Whenever we present to a class, a conference, a meeting, at an informal event we begin to give off signals about ourselves as scholars. What we choose to speak about and with whom may or may not chime with the narrative that we want to construct about ourselves… So there is always a degree of self conscious-ness about the performative aspects of our profile that can be very disconcerting and self-conscious-making.

An academic profile is something that we can be more or less concerned about. We can deliberately think a lot and /or constantly about how we want to go about manufacturing our profile, or we can be somewhat more casual about it. Whichever of these options we choose, we should always, it seems to me, have in our mind the work we want our profile-narrative to do and, of course, who the intended audience of our text-ed profile will be. And we can think about the style. Academic profiles vary from the unbearably slick, the overwhelmingly self-absorbed and the simply overbearing, to something rather more conventional.

The point I’m making here is a pretty simple one. We choose the kind of academic profile – our texts and narrative – that we wish to convey to whom, and in what circumstances. This what those classes on doing your cv and how to get a mentor are actually about. They present the choices about how we want our scholarly selves and our work to be seen and understood.

Of course this doesn’t mean that our intentions for our academic profile are actually what happens when we/our narrative texts go out into the world… but that’s another post.

See also:

make your cv work for you
the cv as autobiography
the cv as forward looking

Posted in cv, cv as autobiography, cv as forward looking, text | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

flipping the conference: experiences from the Temporal Belongings project

This is a guest post from Michelle Bastian (University of Edinburgh)

In response to Pat’s recent call to flip the conference format, I wanted to share some of my experiences from the Temporal Belongings project. Our focus is on exploring the relationship between time and community and starting from our first meeting in 2012 we have tried to bring our research topic into the heart of how we do things. That is, rather than just talking about time and community, we have also experimented with our own ways of being together in time. Inspired by facilitation training from Cliodhna Mulhern which I undertook as part of my involvement with Transition Liverpool, I developed a hybrid framework for the event that addressed three key issues:

1. Recognising that a workshop constitutes a temporary community
Too often we treat attendees as a collection of individuals and do very little to help build a shared sense of who is in the room, what their interests are and how we might work together to explore the workshop theme. To avoid this, bios were shared online prior to the event, these were tagged with keywords so that it was easy to find people with related interests. Everyone also sent in three key texts related to the conference topic to create a shared bibliography. A wordle of authors allowed people to see which approaches were influential amongst the group. At the event we had a generous amount of time to introduce ourselves and discuss expectations and fears.

2. Emphasising analysis over content provision
Flipping the usual practice of letting presenters overrun and retaining tight control over the question time, presenters were strictly timed and discussion time was much more generous. We had short keynotes (30 minutes), even shorter papers (5 minutes) and at least half an hour for discussion in each session. Importantly rather than focus on the speaker by moving to a Q&A, we instead talked in groups about how the presentation related to the attendee’s concerns and interests. This allowed the content to be integrated and analysed in a multitude of conversations rather than a narrow back and forth between the presenter and their audience.

3. Taking time to develop a synthesised response to the workshop theme
At least a third of the workshop was devoted to activities that allowed participants to step back from the details of the presentations and begin to ask what it all might mean. This included conceptual mapping to develop a sense of emergent themes, open space to explore participant proposed questions in greater depth and world café to iteratively develop a shared understanding of what we had all learned. (More info on these activities, as well as outputs, is available on our website).

Despite a lot of nerves going into the first event, the response to these experiments was so positive that I’ve continued to use this approach in the eleven or so events I’ve organised since then. Collated feedback from subsequent events suggests that people really appreciate the extra time for discussion. In fact many of the suggestions for improvement ask for even more time to talk. I’ve yet to have anyone ask for more presentations! Attendees also comment on how well the methods work for an interdisciplinary group. They enjoy meeting such a wide range of people from so many different backgrounds and actually having time to explore ideas together. Shorter presentations seem to facilitate this. If a talk doesn’t seem related to your work, or goes over your head, you can be comforted by the fact that it will probably only last for 5-6 minutes.

Of course there are some drawbacks to consider. These events can get noisy, with 20-30 people talking in groups, sometimes in the same room. So people with hearing difficulties can find it uncomfortable, as well as others who find noise distracting. There are also always one or two people who miss having a Q&A session with the speaker and I’ve yet to develop a good answer to this. Perhaps most importantly, these methods aren’t foolproof. I’ve been to events that claim to be open space but are run without regard for the underlying ethos that inspired its development. These kinds of events can end up feeling too corporate (or too much like high school). Running a collaborative event also requires a lot of careful planning. Facilitators need to consider shifts in energy, managing the flow from one activity to another, how to allow for the different stages that groups pass through and also not sticking too rigidly to a plan that isn’t working out in practice. All this suggests a better recognition of the distinct skills and experience needed for facilitation and particularly the worth of paying for this expertise if need be. Even so, seeing groups of people linger after an event, sharing contact details, not quite ready to break the new connections they’ve made, or having people tell me that they didn’t know an academic event could be this interesting, fun, and enlightening make it all worth it.

Recommended Reading:
Chambers, Robert (2002) Participatory Workshops: A Sourcebook of 21 Sets of Ideas and Activities. London & New York: Routledge
Holman, Peggy et al. (2007) The Change Handbook: The Definitive Resource to Today’s Best Methods for Engaging Whole Systems. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler
Owen, Harrison (2008) Open Space Technology.: A User’s Guide. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler
Impact Alliance’s A Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Workshops. Available here
This blog post by Nancy Dixon: Guidelines for Leveraging Collective Knowledge and Insight

Posted in conference format | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment