Archive | April 2012

It’s not just about your hat…

This weekend was spent in a by now all-too-familiar moving process. It goes more or less as follows:

  1. Hunt around in a panic for cardboard boxes. Find some. Overfill them. Try valiantly to re-tape them for the millionth time. They look as if they might crumble any second. Sit down exhausted. Decide I’ll have to start over.
  2. Realise that I am now in the midst of packing a ton weight of paperwork that I haven’t looked at for years and will no doubt never look at again. Start to pack into bin bags instead. New home: the dump. Do we really need 5-year old P60s?
  3. Remember that packing is an artform. Try to achieve a Zen-like state. That fails. Try to apply some combination of intuition and logic. Begin again, this time accompanied by a motivational soundtrack. After several hours, sit down exhausted.
  4. Find a volunteer willing to help lug everything down and up various flights of stairs in return for only a sandwich, some coffee, and the promise of a pint. Load up their vehicle to the point where its suspension is under threat. Sit down exhausted. [Football traffic near Old Trafford. Feels like we are in Istanbul].
  5. Arrive at unfamiliar destination. Humf everything out of car in the rain. Stack everything up Tetris-like in the hallway. Locate coffee machine. Naturally, it’s away down at the bottom. Prepare some extra strong coffee. Sit down exhausted.

My wee yellow "welcome" tulip admires the view

Okay, so it could be worse. Moving has become pretty much a matter of routine and it can even be kind of fun; especially at the unpacking and “Feng Shui” stages. These days, a lot of people my age are far from ready to commit to “the property ladder” or even settle in one place. We’re keen to travel and get new perspectives. When the census form comes around I really do struggle to remember all the places I’ve lived over the past decade! Not that my last place was bad – but finding somewhere that’s the right fit for you is never straightforward. There’s a huge difference between temporary accommodation and a temporary home. If you can find somewhere that’s the latter rather than the former, it really is like striking gold. Trying to fit everything in to my new room may have been like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube…and I may feel today like I had a work-out at the gym with no warm-up…but with some good friends around to help me move and get settled (well, I’m now living with one of them!) it definitely feels like a step upwards as well as onwards. πŸ™‚

Structures of Participation

As we finished our morning interview, Wanderer showed me the exit with a smile. “The time just flew in, didn’t it?” she remarked. Despite the unusually early start, I felt a renewed sense of enthusiasm. My bag now had a folder and an mp3 recorder full of original information; I left the building in agreement. The session hadn’t dragged at all. Wonderful. Back at my desk, an email from Ian arrived. “Not as scary as I expected!” she confided. I had to laugh at the thought of our discussion having instilled any foreboding. Isn’t research meant to be enjoyable? Speaking with Ian, Wanderer and others about their fields of research, their organisational cultures, and their views on new media, I’m fairly sure that’s something we all agree on. Regardless of discipline!

I’m now halfway through my pilot data gathering activities and have met with 4 out of 8 participants via 2 “paired interview” sessions – 1 along the road at Manchester University and 1 here at MMU. Preparing materials for what seems an eternity, I am very happy to report that both sessions were extremely informative and genuinely thought-provoking. So far, my interviewees have seemed to find them worthwhile too.1

The position of technology relates to multiple structural factors.

Getting your “subjects” to take part enthusiastically rather than having them keep one eye on the clock (hey, that’s my job!) is vital to obtaining quality data. That’s why I’ve chosen and devised a combination of discussions, semi-structured interviews, writing activities, and Semantic Differential exercises. Conversations and dialogues are far better than simplistic closed question formats. And of course, timing, flow, and sequencing are everything. It’s too early to conclude but my instinct tells me my data gathering instruments are pretty successful.2 Transcribing the audio and comparing terminologies, anecdotes and insights is already proving fascinating. Hopefully the next 2 are just as illuminating!

1 Participant anonymity is optional.
2 Thanks to everyone who helped me test and refine these.

Fresh Eyes and Fresh Air

Having a friend from Sweden staying with me, I ended up busier than ever over the Easter Break; we did so much that it felt more like a month than just 10 days! We looked around Manchester’s clothes shops, vintage shops, restaurants, and bars. We drank at the Cornerhouse, the Port Street Beer House, Odd, and the Soup Kitchen…I’ve probably forgotten a few others. Come to think of it, that’s probably why we didn’t get much time for visiting museums and galleries. Oops. Guess that will have to happen on another trip. But Easter/Spring Break isn’t all about time off when you’re doing a PhD (when is?), so we also spent time writing, discussing methodologies, musing about new and social media, and working on our literature reviews. Including on the coach North: how’s that for dedication? πŸ˜‰

Being in Manchester, I’d forgotten how much more space Glasgow has; how much greener it is; and how much more striking the monumental architecture. Being with someone who had never seen the place before, the city suddenly seemed new and different to me as well. The Glasgow bus tour (aimed firmly at tourists) takes nearly 2 hours to go full circuit. Passing through George Square, Glasgow Green, St Andrews Square, Kelvin Park and the Riverside, the city reveals itself as multi-faceted and highly diverse. The scenery, the buildings, the sense of a distinct and designated purpose – i.e. the businesses and activities in a certain sector – change quite markedly as you weave your way through them. At the same time there is a consistency of spirit, some sort of commonalities in the population, that make it hang together. It’s always hard to beat the vibrancy and beauty of the West End. Of course, being in Scotland, we crammed in a range of great food and drink – everything from Japanese noodles and Saki to fish and chips and Irn Bru (the latter during a family daytrip to the coast). Later on, we found ourselves chilling out with cocktails at The Hillhead Book Club, then moving on to the Nice N Sleazy’s Open Stage night, full as always of excellent acoustic guitarists.

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Today, I’m back to thinking about work. Hopefully my next post will be about pilot data gathering exercises and my interviews with academics. Those start on Monday, the first being with two of the guys from MIRIAD and I’m really looking forward to getting started after an excellently hectic wee holiday! I’ll also be moving soon to Chorlton, one of Manchester’s most popular suburbs…so watch this space for updates although I can’t promise I’ll be blogging as much as usual!

Musical Interludes

Doing a PhD is intellectually stimulating and at times can (believe it or not) even be fun. To be frank though, it sometimes feels mechanical and repetitive reading and writing around the same topic. You pick up another book to incorporate into your lit review only to find that inspiration deserts you; your mind disengages, and your eyes feel the strain of constantly surveying Word documents and websites. It’s then that you know you’ve earned a break. Actually, having ways to get out of the “PhD mindset” is conducive to better writing, greater confidence, and genuine progress. But sometimes you simply need to be free from the restrictions of academic thought-styles; and regardless of benefits to your research process, it’s always important to keep your creativity and your imagination alive!

As a teenager, I always loved playing my modest but impressive Yamaha acoustic guitar. I never managed to get particularly good at it. Rather than any real talent, it was enthusiasm and an excellent music collection that fuelled my efforts. I’d put on a record or a CD, try to figure out the chords, sing along with the lyrics, and drift away with my humble little version of rock n roll. Skill didn’t matter, it was fun…a chance to connect with something far richer than the then-routine rhythms of schooldays and the suburbs. I guess this probably sounds familiar to a lot of people! It’s probably the way most people start. Even Eric Clapton was a “bedroom strummer” once, right? So why did I give up playing? Living with a succession of scarily talented guitarists made me feel too shy to carry on in any vaguely public way, and starting University provided a million new distractions. I ended up selling most of my records too when money was tight. 😦

My first and current and lovely guitar

Now has suddenly emerged as a perfect time to get some confidence back and start playing again. I’m hanging out with a couple of good friends in a yet-to-be-named band; still with the same guitar and still with more enthusiasm than songs. We’re all really excited about playing together and mixed (even eclectic) musical tastes and abilities keeps things interesting and dynamic. We’ve been getting pretty good at our rockier version of Bang Bang – Cher initially performed this track but myself and Ana (joint guitar + vocals) like the Nancy Sinatra version and GΓΆzde (on bass) is a fan of Paul Weller’s. We might recruit a drummer and keyboardist at some point but for now, our wee living room jam sessions are an excellent way to break out of routine.