I’m helping re-launch the LEaD writing group on the 8th February at City University and I am a little bit excited about running this group with my colleague Dom Pates. It turns out we have both been blogging for over 10 years, and we are both keen to support people who want some time and space (and maybe a bit of technical assistance with WordPress) to do some writing. Interestingly we are both looking forward to having the time and space to do some writing ourselves and may finally finish a draft blog post we’ve been working on for over 6 months now, on academics’ attitudes towards lecture recording.
Aurora made me remember this, and I also recall thinking to myself one day, that when asked by a stranger ‘what do you do for a living’ that nothing would give me greater joy than to be able to say ‘I’m a university lecturer’. And now I am, thanks largely to Aurora and to the wonderful opportunity at City University to join the Learning Enhancement and Development team. And now I have my own module teaching all the stuff I really care about and this term has been a wonderful combination of fabulous, terrifying, exhausting and inspiring. I felt I wanted to write a blog post about what I’d learnt teaching this module, but in fact I feel a bit like I’m still so wrapped up in it that I don’t know properly if I can reflect. I know I’ve worked really hard, preparing the reading list, devising all the teaching activities, offering webinars with guest speakers and opening those up to the wider world. I know I have some marking to look forward to next week. But I’m not yet sure what I’ve learnt about teaching Digital Literacies and Open Practice. I thought I’d try to write a few things down that struck me that might help me make sense of it. But the overwhelming feeling I have is how wonderful it’s been finding the things that I love actually mean something to other people. I have known for some time that what I did meant a lot to librarians, but becoming an academic in educational development means I have to teach people from all sorts of disciplines. And so I wondered, would they find the topic interesting? Would it resonate with them and would it hang together, or just be a weird perspective on the world that people would later call the ‘being Jane Secker’ phenomena? So what have I learnt so far?
The Publishing Trap and other games have got a real value in academic practice – that’s not to say it didn’t before, but the best part of the course for me was taking all the things I love and seeing them work in my teaching. And on the final afternoon when everyone played the Publishing Trap and really enjoyed it, I felt all my hard work was worth it. That game is mine and Chris’s greatest creation in many ways, but I’ve also felt it like a millstone round my neck as well. I love it and hate it in equal measures! I love it’s a game of life and I love the characters (particularly dear Brian the microbiologist with a big beard and an allotment). But I hate how complicated it is (but then so is academic life) and how people have nit picked about certain aspects of the game that aren’t quite like real life. Playing it last week with everyone as the culmination of the module, and having them really enjoy it, was just wonderful though. And I am delighted to report that Brian came joint first and Mary made it to NASA!
Be grateful for your friends and colleagues – I guess the key thing with teaching this module was that I didn’t do it on my own. I’ve had the wonderful support of my academic team mate, Ali Press throughout. Sense checking my ideas, helping me create a wonderful glossary tool and just being there to support me. I’ve had my colleague Ruth who actually has had the patience to take my module (brave soul) and made such an excellent contribution throughout as a participant. I’ve had the amazing group of guest webinar presenters who joined me, you can see the full list of speakers on the blog, but special thanks to Chris who not only presented a webinar but tuned in to almost all of them. And they are not over yet as there is my final webinar on 11th January with Catherine Cronin. And finally colleagues from the City Educational Technology team who helped with day two of the module with DIY video production (and particularly thanks to Peter and James who have taken the module!) and Stephen and Lenka from the library who joined me on day 1 and day 2 respectively to provide a perspective on copyright and open access. It’s been quite amazing how willing people have been to help and support me. And I am particularly grateful to Virginia Rodes at the University of the Republic in Montevideo, Uruguay who gave me the opportunity to teach a version of this course in August and the wonderful students that I met during my 10 days in what was a magical country.
I keep saying I want to encourage everyone I know to do a PhD which is not entirely true, but there are some of my friends who have been thinking about a doctorate and so I hope writing this might help them. I realise that not everyone enjoys research but for me it was a life changing experience. I wasn’t always planning on doing a PhD but in some ways it was an inevitable step after I finished my undergraduate degree. I desperately wanted to prove I was clever, I didn’t feel ready to leave university and get a job and I started on the path of doing research as an undergraduate and found it an amazing experience. Partly it was because I had some freedom to follow my interests, partly I realised how exciting it could be to find stuff out. To find a little niche in the world where no one else had been. However there were a whole set of factors that helped me really thrive as a researcher. A set of specific circumstances that I think are worth discussing and sharing as they seem useful for anyone who might be thinking of doing a PhD. I also realise that I was fortunate, being in the right place at the right time, but I also realise that anyone doing research now has so many more opportunities to connect with like minded researchers. Anyway, here goes with some advice…
1) Find the right supervisors. I say that because I had 2 supervisors which at the time was relatively uncommon. But it meant I had two perspectives on my work and two experts in their own field which I think helped me work in an interdisciplinary way, but meant I could take advantage of their respective strengths. Supervisors are so important as they guide and support you and having two of them really worked well for me. It also really helped that they were in different departments and really did have quite different specialisms. They both helped me in different ways as I learnt to write about my ideas and refine my thinking.
2)Become part of an inter-disciplinary community. The year I started my research my university (Aberystwyth) had decided to invest in PhD studentships across all departments. Not only did it mean I got some money to live on and to pay my fees but it meant there was around 100 people in my year all starting our research together. We were effectively a cohort who together became a community of researchers. I was a founder member of the Postgraduate Association and we had an excellent Dean of Graduate Studies who was keen to support research students. We organised social events (cheese and wine related usually) and held regular meetings to discuss any issues people were having. We were lucky to get support from the Guild of Students and our Dean gave us a small budget. What is meant for me though was I didn’t ever feel alone. Yes I was the only one studying my strange little topic on historians and newspapers, but I had the support of my friends who were doing PhDs in astrophysics, maths, geography, history, international politics and all sorts of other weird and wonderful subjects. We shared our experiences of the progress we were making, of the issues were were having with our supervisors or with our families (who clearly thought we were all slightly bonkers) and it motivated me and made the experience rewarding on a personal basis.
3) Get some research training. While I may not have appreciated all aspects of the research training course I did in my first year I was effectively taught for the whole year and the course covered all the main social science research methods. Not only did it give me an excellent grounding in theoretical frameworks and research methods it meant I met researchers from all different departments across the university. We learnt qualitative and quantitative methods and analysis, philosophy of social sciences and much more. The course was compulsory for anyone in the Faculty of Social Sciences and it had been devised in response to guidelines from the ESRC, but it was really ahead of it’s time. And even today I still an amazed at how few universities have such an extensive programme. My experiences working in research support in the years since then showed that treating doctoral students as people who might understand all their needs is fundamentally flawed. If you had given me the option of not taking that course, I suspect the confident, know it all I was back then would have decided to opt out. But I’m glad that wasn’t possible and passing that course was an essential part of progressing to my second year, but also made me the researcher I am today.
4) Become part of an academic department. In addition to being part of a wider community of researchers across the university one of my departments had an excellent ethos in the way it treated doctoral students. We were given shared office space on the same corridor as the academic staff, we were allowed to use the staff room and we had many of the privileges of staff. It really felt like an apprentice scheme in being an academic and it was amazing how such little things, such as being able to go into the staff room, made a real difference to how you felt about your identity. We had regular research seminars where we were encouraged to present our ideas and get feedback from our peers and colleagues from across the department showed an interest in my research. It gave me the confidence to submit a paper for an academic conference in my third year, and attending that event at the University of Westminster proved to be a pivotal moment for me.
5) Take the opportunity to teach. Teaching wasn’t really something I had considered before becoming a doctoral student, but it was also something I didn’t have much choice in doing, because I needed the money. I was in fact awarded half a studentship from the university which meant without teaching to earn some extra money, I would have been pretty poor. I can remember being terrified about what I would be expected to do, how I would answer students questions, having to teach subjects I had barely understood as an undergraduate (Dialog and Datastar searching!) But as the time went on I realised teaching was actually fun. I could often get by when a student was struggling by asking them lots of questions and actually reading the handouts the lecturers had prepared (I realised how few students seemed to be able to read and follow a help sheet when doing any form of computer practical!) And I got to chat to the students and learnt so much myself during my time as what we called a ‘computer demonstrator’. I sometimes wonder now if I really was a teacher, but what I know is that I had found something I enjoyed, that gave me a source of income and students seemed to like me.
6) Write from the start. Since doing a research supervision course last year I learnt that factors for success with doctoral students are many, but one thing sets many students apart and makes them far more likely to complete. That is the student who writes from the start. I was encouraged to do this by both my supervisors, but I also remember early on in a meeting them being surprised at the volume I had written. It’s quality Jane not quantity they said, but I often feel I have to get the words out my head and onto paper to start to make sense of what I might be thinking. This was effectively what I spent the 3 and half years of my doctoral work doing, writing and writing and re-writing and re-drafting until finally some of it started to make sense. There are loads of other factors that contribute towards success, but this for me was critical and is something that has stayed with me always. I write so I can think and in writing it helps my thinking, which in turn improves my writing. It’s not perfect, but I’ve never let that stop me. I don’t always write things grammatical correct, but it all comes out in the wash in the end and that’s what proof readers and critical friends are for after all!
7) Avoid perfectionism. Few people who know me would say I was a perfectionist. I work hard, but I also have a sense often of the effort needed to make something perfect, which can be far greater than the time that is available. So I have never been afraid to hand in a first draft, knowing it’s not great. Or to ask someone for help with redrafting a paper that I just can’t get right. Perfectionists don’t finish PhDs. What you do has to be good, you have to work hard and put in the hours, when you are collecting and analysing your data, when you are searching the literature and when you are drawing it together into some sort of conclusion. But no one expects perfection. Do your best, in the time you have available, but be willing to put your work and ideas out there to get feedback on them. It’s the only way to learn.
8) Have a hobby. You can’t spend your whole life working on your PhD for 3-4 years. It will feel like that is what you are doing but you need to take time out. I effectively treated it like a job. I worked 9-5 (or in my case more like 10-6). But then I went to the sports centre and did aerobics classes, and went out walking in the hills at the weekend, and socialised. I also did a lot of cooking and learnt to make jam. I didn’t work endlessly into the night (except perhaps right at the end) and I even went on a couple of holidays. Yes you feel guilty the whole time you are not working on the thesis, but you have to do other stuff and for me cycling and aerobics and making the most of the beautiful West Wales countryside at the weekend were the way I survived my PhD.
I do realise I was very focused during this period of my life. From 1995-1999 there are very few TV series I watched. I did go to the cinema still but I didn’t listen to a lot of music – I have huge gaps in my cultural references because I was immersed in my own world of academia (I never watched a single episode of Friends). I threw myself into my research, to such an extent that it’s painful sometimes to go back to it. Since my thesis has been digitised and made available online I have cringed a lot at my writing style. I’ve wondered why I was so enthralled with the topic. But I have never, ever regretted it for a moment. It set me on the path I am on now and has instilled in me a love of research, a curiosity that I hope never leaves me. A desire to ask questions, to present at conferences, to write papers and hopefully one day soon to start supervising some PhD students of my own!
Thanks to Emma Wilson, for inspiring me to write this piece. I hope she finds it useful after our recent discussions. I’d love to hear from others about what doing a doctorate meant to them and how it might have contributed to who they are. A doctorate gives you many things, but it also sets you apart from people, such as making your family think you are strange or terribly clever. That can be both a blessing and a curse! But I say to anyone thinking about doing a PhD, find the right topic, the right supervisors and plenty of support and then do it. You won’t look back and remember life’s a journey so don’t forget to enjoy the ride!
May is my favourite month of the year. I have been telling everyone this recently and when they ask why I say it’s because of the light, and the very specific shade of green that is in my garden and in Northampton Square when I look out my office window at City University. I love the fact the days are getting longer and it’s getting warmer. I also feel there are so many exciting things coming up to look forward to, including kicking off the Copyright Literacy tour next week by heading down to Dartington Hall for the DARTS conference. The week after that I’m off to Strasbourg, then to Dublin, then to Berlin! It’s all go and that is only half of it.
My mood lifting is probably also helped by the fact I finished my Copyright X course, the 12 week online course I did at Harvard Law School. It culminated in a 96 hour take home exam 2 weekends ago and ever since I finished it I can’t believe how much lighter I feel! Studying the course was fantastic but it was also really hard work, which isn’t surprising I guess. And I have a month or so to wait until I find out if I passed. Ask me about US copyright law some time, I’d love to talk about Fair Use and some of the underlying philosophies of copyright and IP!
Last week also saw the launch of the podcast I recorded back in January with Jo Wood, for the Librarians with Lives series. I had been looking forward to (and slightly dreading) listening to it again and hoping I said a few things that made sense. So far a few people have told me they liked it and I really enjoyed Jo’s style of questions, which were both serious and light hearted – I suspect quite a few of them didn’t get to the bit about flip flops and Indiana Jones! It turned out to be good timing as it came out the day after a blog post I wrote for the ILG blog, on my role as Chair, saving the world and rewriting the CILIP definition of Information Literacy. And I’d spoken at CILIP on Monday, which led to some fantastic tweets about the new definition doing the rounds. There is lots to look forward to, and lots to do. In some ways I want to bottle this month though, it’s a beautiful time of year. My greenhouse is full of seedlings and as everything breaks into bloom I’m waking up early, doing my mediation and feel I have a lot to be grateful for.
4) Keeping the Copyright Literacy train rolling – from translating Copyright the Card Game into Welsh (admittedly I didn’t actually do the translation but I have dropped all the text into our template) to running some showcase sessions for the Publishing Trap, this work keeps me busy. We’ve got a steady line up of guest posts so I put those up on the blog, liaise with potential authors and write a few posts of my own. I also tend to spend some time on twitter. Our UKCopyrightLit account has over 1000 followers so I look for relevant copyright education stories.
Travel: I’ve always loved to travel, whether in the UK or abroad. But my trips away specifically those on my own have been important this year: to the USA for ACRL in Baltimore (did I mention it before?) to Latvia with the British Council, to Llandudno for CILIP Wales, to OER 17 with a terrible hangover, where I almost missed my presentation slot. Travel broadens the mind, but travelling on my own has been good for me. To visit places, to enjoy time on my own, to be open to meeting new people and having new experiences. In Latvia I went to my first opera. In the US I went to the Library of Congress. I realise I love travelling, particularly by train – I just need to learn to pack more lightly!
My work for the CILIP Information Literacy Group: I am entering my third year as Chair of the group, we continue to be involved in TeenTech, we have been busy creating a new definition of information literacy, building a strong committee, creating a new brand for the group, launching a new website and a overall creating a united team between ILG and LILAC. I’ve also been building a relationship with CILIP over campaigns like ‘facts matter’ and realise there is still a lot to do on all fronts. But this is my plan for 2018, to continue to build a strong team and advocate for information literacy everywhere I can.
Personal and professional development: completing Aurora, the women’s leadership programme, in March made me realise that personal and professional development are completely linked. Aurora was a fantastic experience and I have spoken about it a few times since and encouraged women I know to do the course – I was particularly pleased that LSE opened up the number of places after my endorsement of the programme. I’ve also tried to add more of ‘me’ into my talks which is partly through discovering the work of Brene Brown on shame and vulnerability. Brene says that vulnerability is the key to connections with others and wholehearted living, but it doesn’t stop us feeling fear. Through reading Brene’s work (and other similar writers) I realise I need to keep getting out there and going into the arena and showing up and learning to have courageous conversations. It’s all about trying to be authentic which will probably always make me feel a bit uncomfortable, which is the reason why I need to keep working on it.
Discovering mindfulness, which is about noticing when the mind drifts, trying to develop greater awareness and trying to be in the present moment, trying to still the ‘monkey mind.’ But also learning we are not our thoughts and emotions and we can’t always control them. And trying to practice my meditations but not beating myself up when I don’t have time or manage to always be mindful. I’ve completed two courses on mindfulness and also realised it has some really valid links to teaching and pedagogy, and information literacy. Again, it’s the realisation that personal and professional development often overlap.
Leaving LSE, not being a copyright person and having to build up a new identity and a new network at City University. I have now have School-wide responsibilities for departments such as Music, Journalism, English and a wealth of social sciences. Learning about how people teach in these subjects and how I might be able to help them has been massively rewarding and scary. But I’ve really seen how not being a copyright officer is liberating, but also often leads me to have conversations that return to it in some shape or form. And it’s amazing how many times I find myself telling people I was the Copyright Advisor at LSE for 15 years and watch their eyes widen!
My fantastic new job – I finally feel I have found my place, being able to say I am a Senior Lecturer in Educational Development is amazing and I realise I love to teach people about teaching more than anything. I love watching people teaching others, trying to find ways of engaging students with a discipline. Trying to convey their passion for a subject to others. And realising this is one of the most challenging things you can do, it makes you vulnerable if you do it properly and yet it’s the way you learn and develop. And at times it’s been exhausting and I’ve felt under scrutiny about the way I teach and whether I’m modelling good practice (or using the right verbs in my learning outcomes!). Because as much as every teacher, I want my students to learn but I want them to like me too.
Friendship: which comes in so many shapes and forms and how people can help us in so many different ways. But also to cherish those people, as they won’t be there forever. Losing a friend, and Deputy Chair of ILG Rowena was a shock in October and this year has been marked with sadness. People come into your life, people can leave, people can change and so can you but friends and family are so important. And when I feel down I think of my little nephew Henry with his cheeky little smile and the world doesn’t seem so bad. But I want to thank all my friends for their support this year, new friends (Ruth, Sheila), friends I’ve known a while now (Chris, Emma, Lisa, Louise) and those who’ve just been kicking about forever, but I promise I don’t take for granted (Sue, Maria, Sarah, Caroline, Ellie the list goes on and in mentioning anyone I feel I have inevitably forgotten many people).
Developing a business: thinking hard about my talent and reputation, getting people to pay me for my expertise, which is something I struggle with because I wonder if I am worthy enough? But also asking what should I charge people for and what should be given away freely because it’s something I just want to do and because I have a level of privilege that means I can help others. And I’m so grateful to Lisa for all her support and help on the business side of things and working with me and Chris on one of the most fun projects you can have about copyright!
Writing: I’ve continued to write loads of things with Chris, we’ve had reports, articles, conference papers published many of which are listed on our website. We have a chapter coming out in a new Routledge book early next year. But getting a proposal accepted by Palgrave to write a ‘Pocket guide’ book on information literacy for students with Emma, is very exciting. It’s going to be a different format to what I’m used to, and it uses cartoons and illustrations. It should be fun!
Fun, games and play: that’s been another part of the year realising that I really like playful and creative approaches to most things in life. It’s partly why I have really taken to leading historical walking tours in my spare time. It’s a bit like acting (which I am dreadful at!) combined with teaching and a bit of showing off. Life has been too serious for a long time and I like laughing and using humour as an approach to helping people learn and engage with me. I’m so very proud of the Publishing Trap, but I feel this is just the start of more games and creative approaches to education. I just know how much work this will be, but that is good, because when it’s something you love, it’s not work.