Tag Archive | PhD students

A New Network Emerges

After months of hard work and planning, we have finally finalised the schedule for our Digital Transformers Symposium, happening on Thursday the 23rd of May, at MMU. Working in academia – and in particular on a PhD – it’s easy to get caught up in stress and uncertainty of various kinds. So it really is great to be able to pour energy into a community-based event like this, which everyone seems to be looking forward to. All of the workshops and papers sound amazing and Jo and myself really couldn’t be more pleased at the quality and scope of submissions.

There aren’t any places left for the Symposium now (we only have room for 40): but tickets are still available for our Open Access Debate which opens to a wider audience later in the day. Hope to see some of you there! 🙂

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Majestic Skagen

One of the best parts of being involved in academia is getting the chance to travel, meet new people, and hear about research in areas you might never learn about in your daily work environment. Getting feedback and being challenged on your research by people not specialist in your particular field can be just as useful as hearing what those closely interested in it have to say. Add in the chance to experience some of Scandinavia’s most beautiful scenery while staying in a former royal residence, and it’s pretty hard not to be happy! Skagen, famous for its fish, its boating opportunities, and for a crystal clear natural light that has historically attracted the best of the nation’s painters, was the venue for CMI’s PhD Summer School. This year’s topic was “The Future of the Internet” and we focused on two areas in particular: Internet and the Media and the RFID/smart device-centred Internet of Things (IoT).

The students and researchers attending came from Finland, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Turkey, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, and um, Scotland – some of us via Thailand, Norway, China, Italy, or the US. Our backgrounds, methods, and our own research topics were almost as diverse as our nationalities, some people being based firmly in political economy, others in technology development, others in policy formation and some in media and cultural studies, with varying degrees of specificity. This type of group is definitely a good reflection of the key role which “convergence” (a keyword at the event) and interdisciplinary understandings now play in socio-technical research and development – and by extension in the businesses and market-places which drive or are driven by their results.

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Bill Melody, one of our lecturers, was keen to emphasise and challenge us to think about the inter-relations and interactions between theory, practise, applications, markets, and infrastructure configurations – as well as the increasingly vital role played by policies and regulation (whether at EU or national level). What determines how society makes use of its ICTs and media? What leads and what follows? To a complex “ecology” of path dependencies and paradigm shifts, those of us outwith Political Economics would of course add human nature, imagination, epistemology and pedagogy. Wherever you locate your specific research, it’s important to be aware of all of these overlaps. Diagramming is helpful for that. So too is disagreement. Everyone was given the chance to ask, answer, and debate.

As well as lectures on topics such as Standardisation, Business Models, Copyright Economics, and Hybrid and Over-the-top television services, we worked in small thematic groups on our own PhD topics, presenting, discussing and giving critical feedback. I got a lot of inspiration and many useful ideas from the other members of my group (our common link being a socio-cultural and new media focus) and am already thinking about how to reflect that in my thesis; in particular, the theories I want to draw upon and the scope of my questions. Many thanks to Martina, Atle, Alkim and Professor Ruth Towse! 🙂 As you can see from the photographs, there was a very good social schedule as well as work one, with a trek across moving sand dunes, cycling, and trips to the beach (as well as the local pubs) all included in an intellectually refreshing event which was excellently organised by Aalborg University Professors Reza Tadayoni and Anders Henten.

Play and Work

Many of my posts so far have been non-academic (i.e. not about the PhD research which this blog intends to document). What can I say? It’s not that I’m unsure about my “communicative purpose”. The blog is intended to offer a representative mixture of the different pieces that currently make up my life: all of which relate back to arriving at MMU to start my studies. Work hasn’t been too intensive so far. It might be interesting to observe over time how the categories and tags I use on the blog become narrower and more focused.  Hopefully it will be a fairly reliable mirror of what has been keeping me busy.

Yesterday was the first day of official faculty induction activities. There was only a small group of us: two M.A. Film Studies students and four of us starting PhDs (two in English Literature, one in Philosophy, and myself, in InfoComms). Dick Hartley, Director of the Institute, asked us all to introduce ourselves and our work. Every topic sounded great. Being in the same department as the Literature, Language, Media, and Philosophy students feels like exactly the right fit. The complementary range of subjects, students, and approaches that can be found in the Information & Communications Department and more widely in the HLSS faculty is for me, ideal. My project will of course take me to other areas (including Science) to keep my work inclusive and to allow us to study and map cultural and other differences. Anyway, it was encouraging that my topic seemed to interest people!

Yesterday was also a chance to go along to one of the weekly “Trauma” film group screenings. This time it was the cult classic “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” by Russ Meyer (which doesn’t in fact have much to do with Jacqueline Susann’s always popular “Valley of the Dolls“). Not my usual sort of film, but that’s part of what made it interesting to go along: the Trauma group’s idea was obviously to attract attention and create a bit of a buzz. I doubt that the film (a silly comedy at heart) is meant to be taken seriously, although its tongue in cheek “critique” or deconstruction of the clichés and stereotypes of swinging Hollywood has probably been written about well by those who know the genre better than me. After the screening, it was time to go to the Sandbar to discuss what we thought of the film – and drink too much beer for a Monday night. The programme for the next few months’ screenings is eclectic and broad; so going again could be fun.

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Maybe you’re wondering why I’ve not yet reviewed The Yang Sing restaurant, where I went last weekend with my Mum? Here goes. The room, the lighting, the staff, and the food, were wonderful. To be honest though, I’m not sure I made the best selections from their menu! It would be good to have an advisor on how real Cantonese cuisine differs from what we might be able to get in supermarkets. The Chinese greens were delicious but the oyster sauce they arrived in didn’t bear much relation to what I expected. That’s my own fault I guess: but it was far too heavy and jelly-like, detracting from the vegetables rather than adding to them. Anyway, the desert I ordered made me smile. I’m guessing they really only expect kids to bother with something sweet after the meal…(see the picture above).

Other highlights of the weekend included a trip to the Manchester Art Gallery to see “Ford Madox Brown: pre-Raphaelite Pioneer” where we got to take a close-up look at “The Last of England“, “Head of a Girl”, “Work”, “Take your Son, Sir”, and various other pieces, many on loan from the Tate. The audio guide by Julian Treuherz (formerly Keeper of Art Galleries at National Museums Liverpool), which included some original poetry by Angela Thirlwell, shed contextual and creative light on the exhibits.

After many rejections, Madox Brown finally won a commission in 1879 to create murals for Manchester Town Hall, narrating through his images the history of commerce and in particular textiles and weaving, in the city. Maybe it was appropriate then that we also wandered down in the rain towards Salford and visited The People’s History Museum. For me, it was a bigger and brighter version of Glasgow’s “People’s Palace” – a place to learn about the social and political struggles of the “ordinary” people of Manchester throughout the past few centuries. What stood out most was the temporary exhibition of protest banners designed and made by Ed Hall. I’ve included a few pictures here. Powerful, provocative, sometimes serious and at times, with a touch of humour. Banners like these must definitely be a dying art: a shame since clearly they are quite a bit more memorable than a hastily thrown together cardboard-wood-and-marker pen placard. Anyone who wants a banner like one of Hall’s at their march must be serious about their cause.