Friday, December 10, 2010

Doing music

I have been reading about music. It’s metaphorical, philosophical, ontological, epistemological, psychological and aesthetic. The question, “What is music?” seems to engender what it is to listen to music, or what it is we are listening to. Another book talked about how musicians (and non-musicians for that matter) imagine music.

When I mentioned to a friend who is a Physics graduate that I had been reading about what is music, he wrote, “you mean about how music is a combination of sound waves with varying numbers of nodes to determine the pitch and the brain recognises certain patterns within the nodal numbers and converts that into a feeling of either melodious or disharmonious”.

I’m happy to leave the question of what is music to other people. What I’m interested in is how does music. By which I do not mean the how the sounds are interpreted by our brains. I mean how do you do music. How does one music (verb)?

Why is this relevant? I am studying music students, focusing on their literacy. By literacy we can mean a range of things, from the traditional and etymological sense of reading and writing, to modern sense of technological literacies to deal with how we interface with computers and oral literacies of the various ways of speaking and listening. So it seemed to me necessary to consider what else the students are doing other than literacy.

I asked my uncle, who is a professional musician, and currently the director of music at a private school. I wrote, “If literacy is reading and writing, and oracy is speaking and listening, what is playing music?” He wrote, “Fun!”

I find myself shunted between two points of view – a highly complicated psychological/scientific/philosophical perspective or the Fats Waller/Louis Armstrong perspective of “If you don’t know don’t mess with it!”

And so, if you’ll pardon the pun, I had to improvise.

Monday, November 29, 2010

In defence of macgyvering

I had my annual review the other day. It contained the usual moments of supreme politeness, justification, paperwork and so on. And then smack-bang in the middle of it, I found myself defining the word "macgyvering".

The context is thus: Nobody* has analysed what I'm analysing (music notation within academic texts). What people have analysed (images, layout, movies, sound, music as auditory experience, gesture, mathematical notation) isn't quite like what I'm analysing. So in order to construct an analytical framework, I have to adjust, tweek or cobble together a framework based on those created by people who already have their PhDs, rather than making one up myself. On a good day, I call this macgyvering a framework. On a bad day, it's more like frankenstein's monster.

In the middle of talking about timeframes with the review panel, I commented that the framework I hoped to use wasn't quite right and it took me longer to macgyver a new framework than I had expected, and I still might adopt a new one. The Postgrad Coordinator asked about the word macgyver - I explained it, I confirmed that yes, it was based on a tv show and in the end I was told not to use it in my thesis.

What is macgyvering for those of you who don't know? Well, the Urban Dictionary defines it as "To tinker, using items not normally used for this purpose." It originated from a tv show, MacGyver, in which the protagonist, MacGyver, played by Richard Dean Anderson, would use everyday items he found to get himself out of dangerous situations just in time. And so a toilet roll, a bit of duct tape and a palm leaf became a fully functioning helicopter, able to fly him and whoever needed rescuing away from the bad guys. Think a cross between Indiana Jones and Scrap Heap Challenge. Who am I kidding? You're unlikely to be familiar with those two but not MacGyver.

But I was thinking about it after, and I think that to macgyver is more than to 'use items not normally used for this purpose' - it is to create something which is more than the sum of its parts. The fun thing about the tv show was that it could be wildly improbable and unscientific**. Mythbusters has busted some of the macgyverisms used in the show.

So if I frankenstein an analytical framework, I cut up other frameworks into pieces and join them together, and create something ugly which doesn't quite work like the original and leads to mobs with pitchforks and flaming torches trying to destroy it.

But if I macgyver a framework, I create a beautiful thing which works impossibly well.

At the end of the day, though, I won't use the word in my thesis, though I hope the final product is nonetheless beautifully macgyvered. But I won't promise that it won't appear in any presentations I give.

*As far as I've been able to find so far. If you know of any research into it - from a musical or linguistic perspective - please tell me!

**I have to admit that my memories on this front are a bit hazy, but then I was only little when this was on tv.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I think I want to be a linguist

Well the last month has run the gamut of emotions, at least as far as my PhD was concerned.

I prepared to present at a conference and felt immensely unworthy and ill-prepared. My first attempt at my presentation bored me. I analysed and collated my data only to feel as if I was stating the obvious.

I attended workshops before the conference and the conference itself and felt immensely inspired and motivated to read and analyse and research.

I attended presentations at the conference and heard about research that I'd love to participate in and thought for the first time, "I think I want to be a linguist".

For the first time also I reached a high point in my PhD. Not as in a climax or a highlight, but a moment from which I could look back on what I've done and see ahead to what I might do. I realised I was half way through my degree. That I had one year left of analysis and research, then six months of thesis writing, and then I'd be done. That scared me at first. I realised I had two months to completely shift focus to another area of my research and prepare to attend two conferences, which I still didn't know how I would fund (I've since pulled out of one). But I could see what I wanted to do, I could trace the steps. I thought about a gantt chart (stupid things) to plan my progress. I had to do one anyway for my annual review anyway. One of the good things about getting into this degree was simply the peace of mind of knowing what I'd be doing for a few years. For several years before, I never knew what I'd be doing from year to year. And that's really irritating when you want to sign up for a 24 month plan for a mobile phone, or decide whether to rent a place and live independently, or buy anything that you might not use if you went away. But at the same time, within the degree, I feel like I've kind of stumbled from one topic to another. But now I can see what I've covered, and I know what I need to do and what I need to look at before I can write. One of the most perspective-shifting pieces of advice I got wasn't even aimed at me, but relayed from a friend who it was told to: Just do what you've got to do to to finish your PhD. And that reassured me. We don't have to change the world with our PhD. This gives us the qualification to do more. And to get paid more to do it!

And then in the week after the conference I got a bit sick and couldn't quite do everything I wanted. Books couldn't be borrowed or had to be read in the library. I didn't have access to photocopiers. And so everything slows down until you're back to your normal level of apathy, where the urgency dissipates and the momentary compulsion isn't quite followed by the long-term commitment and responsibility that you might hope. 

I still haven't sat down and charted how many months I'll allocate to each area I need to cover. I'm still trying to read the things I need to read before I can do the things I need to do before I can prepare my presentation for the conference in six weeks. But at least I know what I need to do and I know what I want to say and I have a glimpse, just a glimpse, of creating something new and shiny and bright. Something I can be proud of and something from which, if I'm lucky, I might just forge a career.

Perhaps coincidentally, two nights ago a friend called from France to offer me her job in six months' time when she will be promoted. It's a marketing job, so I would be selling out a little to take it. And I won't have finished my PhD by then. And I'm not sure that I want to live in France. But it's good to know the opportunities are out there and I'm not the only one who sees the benefits of being, for better or worse, a linguist.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Goldfish introductions

When I started reading multiple articles by the same person on similar topics, I got sick of the same introductions, but I understand now that there's a minimal amount of information that has to be provided each and every time you write or present so that people who haven't read or seen any of your stuff will get that introduction. At the same time, though, the question suggests itself: who is more likely to read your article? Brand-newbies or people following your work? I honestly don't know that and it would require a fair bit of research to find that out.Might be interesting though and might change the way we structure articles... but probably not.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I have no plan! And that's okay!

I started following @GetItDoneGuy on Twitter, partly because I thought I should. Might just help at some point. Afterall I am a keen procrastinator at times. But I also thought there was a chance he'd tweet generic motivational stuff about making lists and visualising.

Then he tweeted this the other day:

Why have goals, if you're then so focused you limit yourself to the limits of your imagination? Have a *direction* but a plan? Nah.

AWESOME! Of course I immediately ReTweeted, because that's what you do on Twitter when you read something you like and agree with.

You see, depending on your perspective, my PhD is not the best testimony for getting anywhere, as I never planned to do it, and stumbled into it by accident. I had a laugh with my supervisor yesterday as he recalled his surprise that I had applied to do a Masters by Research, and his greater surprise when I was offered a scholarship to study it. But at the same time it is a good testimony in that I am enjoying it, and have upgraded to do a PhD; even though this was not originally my plan, it has now become so.

But the truth is, I never had much of a plan. I never wanted to do any particular job when I was little. My plan was to go overseas and teach English, partly for lack of another plan. And so things fell into place for me.

So when people ask me where the PhD will take me, or what I plan to do after, or what job it gets me (are there really many university degrees that "get" you jobs anymore? don't we all have to still make choices and risk rejection?), I say I don't know. I have no plans as yet. I did not plan to be here, and this is working well for me, so I won't plan too far ahead. I don't know enough of my options to be able to set goals. Yes I want a good job after my PhD. Yes I secretly dream of buying just one $300 handbag, and maybe one day funding a scholarship for linguistics students to go to conferences (I tell myself this last one as comfort at the amount of money I have to spend now). But will I do research? A post doc? An academic position? An industry position? A government position? Or will I go overseas afterall and just teach English? 

Who knows? And that's okay. When I get closer to Dr-1 (one year before Doctorhood) I'll start looking into the options more thoroughly, and maybe narrow down my directions. But why stress until then?

So many PhD students get to the end and think, "Was it really worth it? Would it have been better to have gotten an industry job first? Then I'd have more money, more experience and more direction." And I'm sure there's a few gratuitous PhDs insofar as the research done is never used or referred to ever again, even in the student's own life. So yes it's worth knowing there's life after a PhD. And yes it's worth having a dream, a goal, a direction. But not having one does not cause any problems at this point.

I suppose that connected to this is my Tangential Theory of Time, which I've written about on my other blog so you can read it there. It's connected insofar as I can see the next few years before me, hazily. If I look any further and choose a goal to aim for, something's bound to happen in the meantime that will make me change direction, and give up that future. I'll wait until I'm closer to that bend in the road before I try to see around it.

As @GetItDoneGuy said, why limit myself to my own imagination? 

So to the people who don't know where they're going either: let's enjoy the ride!
And to the people nagging people for a 10 year plan: back off a little. Be reasonable.

Here's to bends in the road, to happy opportunities and to knowing what we're doing now before we know what we're doing next!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Writing started at 10:37pm and proceeded thusly

I think this blog is the least consistent of any of my blogs. I post anything remotely PhD-related, remotely topic-related. And that's okay.

So that's why I just posted a link to another blog in my last post. Because I liked it so much I wanted to share it with people. And I'm always paranoid of forgetting things - whether that be references, data, random facts or just interesting blogs. So I'm trying to keep track of them. And you can only post so much on facebook and favourite so much on twitter.

Tonight I want to tell you about a site that my twitterers have put me onto. It's 750 words. It's simple, it's straight-forward, it's clear. All you do, all you're supposed to do, is write 750 words, or about 3 pages, a day. This is supposed to be a good thing for would-be (creative) writers. But it's also useful for journalling - and we ALL know people who should write things on a private site rather than publishing them to the world. Seriously people - write 750 words in a private place and THEN tell me things you still need to express in public! Sadly, I think you don't know who you are.

Anyway! How I'm hoping my use of the site is twofold:

1) Get into the habit of writing. If I can write 3 pages of anything every day, then by the time I get to writing my thesis I'll hopefully be in a good place and in good practice. Because if I can write 750 words of my thesis a day, it'll take 4 months to write my whole thesis. That's alright. Of course, it might not work that well because there's difference between spontaneous writing and polished academic referenced writing, but still. It's gotta help, doesn't it?

2) Develop ideas about my research in preparation for my thesis. Writing about my research leads me to different conclusions and points me in different directions than when I think about it, or do the analysis, or read the literature. Constructing an argument shows you where the holes are and helps you start to know how to fill them. It even just helps to practice the introduction. I don't mean the introduction to the thesis. But that bit you have to write and say over and over again ev-ry sing-gle tiiiiiime you write or present or speak about your thesis. I figure if I repeat it often enough it'll come out easier and easier and by the time somebody REALLY important that I want to impress asks me about my research, I'll be able to summarise it clearly and concisely! Yeah... I got my doubts about that entire sentence too. But you get the idea.

The other cool thing about 750 words is that it gives you awards for writing for successive days. After 3 days I got a turkey. Woo! I think the top is 'phoenix'. It'll be a challenge though - I'm not sure how long it takes to get there. The idea of going for months and months, writing every day, is a little daunting. I used to keep a diary, but not every day!

And it gives you statistics - headed with the title:

Writing started at 10:37pm and proceeded thusly

We should use the word 'thusly' more often. And it does some interesting analysis too - what are the words you've used the most? How long does it take you? How many distractions? Are you certain or uncertain? Do you write more about I, us, you or them? About the past, present or future?

Admittedly, not all that information is interesting (who cares whether I use more or less articles (('a', 'an', 'the')) than the world average?) or necessarily accurate (it keeps insisting I'm preoccupied with religion, and I have no idea where it got that from!) but there's something of interest there and it gives you something to track with your writing.

So that's that. Check it out. Good luck if you get into it!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Write with delight!

Just read this blog entry and it gave me hope and inspiration for retaining some identity in the generic world of academic publishing. If you're going to be writing papers or presenting papers at conferences, read it.

The Ethnography of Cake

This is my cake approach to the ethnographical study of a text.

In Linguistics you can spend a lot of time counting items. Which is okay and fun and is why I think highlighters should be tax deductable for linguists. But if all you do is count them then it's like telling me how many eggs there are in a cake. That doesn't tell me what sort of cake it is.

There's many things to take into account:

This is the counting bit. How many eggs? How much flour? How much milk? And so, equally, how many nominalisations? What types of processes? And so on. But if you just give me eggs and flour and milk, that doesn't make a cake. Similarly, nominalisations and material processes don't make a text by themselves.

If you look closely at a cake all you see is crumbs and icing. So while it is interesting to look closely at a tiny bit of a text, it is important to look at the big picture and take it all into consideration.

This is fairly obviously analogous for method. How did this text come about? How was it written? Multiple drafts or one quickly written version?

You need to take into consideration the social conditions in which a text was formed.

If you tell me all the ingredients, I might be able to tell what sort of cake it is, but that wouldn't necessarily tell me the social purpose of the cake. And the social purpose of a text is also important. Does it qualify people for a job? Does it give instructions? Does it renew a relationship?

Also important are the participants. Who made the cake? And did they make it/buy it for someone else? Does that person actually hate cake but ate it anyway? Similarly the writer and audience of a text are important to take into consideration.

It's quaint and trivial, but every now and then I remember it and it helps. Even while writing this I remember that while I'm looking at excerpts of my data at the moment (because it is too much to do analysis of the whole texts), I still need to check my results against the greater text, and draw conclusions on what this means. This can be hard because as a student I basically need some external authority to qualify my conclusions, which can be very difficult when nobody's talking about the exact feature you're looking at, but that's a whinge for another day.

So whenever I hear a presentation or read an article in which the researcher has just counted features of a text, I think (and sometimes mutter) they're just counting eggs. Tell me that the eggs make the cake inappropriate for vegan consumption! Tell me that this textual characteristic indicates a particular epistemology or perspective of the world! The ethnographic perspective requires looking at the big picture and the close up and understanding that just as the point to a cake is that somebody eats it, the point to a text is that somebody reads it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Guest blog: Forget crikey!

Hey! Guess what?!!?! Somebody let me blog on their blog! Thanks to Macmillan Dictionary for the opportunity. Of course, as an Australian, I was eminently qualified to talk about Australian English!

And here's the link:

Read it once, read it twice, read it a hundred times and recommend it to all your friends.

Hm. Actually, recommend them this blog first as only the view count is soothing my ego...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Let's start at the very beginning or My PhD in Do Re Me

A little bit of ridiculousness...

Let's start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with ABC
When you study you end up with PhD (PhD)
The most important letters just happen to be
PhD (PhD)
BA (Hons) (French) Grad Dip (AppLing)...

B - A Bachelor is where you start
A - A Bachelor of Arts
(Hons) - To prove I did not bludge
(French) - Coz languages I loved
Grad - Not ready for the real world
Dip - So it'll last all year
(AppLing) - That's linguistics applied
That's how I ended up in a PhD!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The thing about jazz...

So despite my earlier avowal that this blog would not be a passing fad, I have not blogged for a while as I'm wrestling with what my blog will be. The diary of a PhD student? An academic blog? A pop-linguistics blog? I still don't know. But the time has come to talk about music. And all that jazz.

One of my favourite things about my PhD topic is that it allows me to add "and all that jazz" onto everything. I'm hoping to call my thesis "Literacy and all that jazz". I just did a presentation on "Multimodality and all that jazz". But it really explains the gist of my topic. Officially, as far as the uni beaurocracy is concerned, my topic is "Academic Literacies of University Music Students". But when I started looking at these jazz students writing, it is really a matter of the writing plus EVERYTHING ELSE they do. Writing's not the priority. There's performance, pratice, reading music, writing music, listening to music, buying music, playing gigs, promoting their own gigs, invoicing people for gigs played, transcribing, analysing, buying and maintaining instruments... While this list seems rather obvious, at least to me as the sister of a jazz graduate, when I compare it to my own honours degree (did I mention I'm studying honours students), it's a whole world away. What did I do in French honours? I read a few books, I read things people hand written about those books, I read a book about a form of analysis and then I tried to use that analysis on the first books.

So here's a couple of things about JAZZ which makes the LINGUISTICS of it so interesting.

1) "If you don't know what it is, don't mess with it."
I may have paraphrased the above quote, typically attributed to Fats Waller , pianist and jazz great, but it neatly expressed this element which I'm sure is not unique to jazz, but does to some degree characterise it. Jazz, in being juxtaposed against the Classical music (or Western Art music) tradition sometimes rejects definition, analysis, academia. When I was a little less confident as a PhD student, I used to describe an imaginary musician sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear "You don't get it! You don't understand music at all! And who cares anyway? Let's just jam!" Fortunately I haven't had that sort of response. Aside from one abrasive music lecturer...

2) Jazz is a modern phenomenon.
Jazz has been around, in some form or other, for over 100 years now, depending on how you define jazz, and when you say it started. But that history, if we don't trace it back into its various preceding incarnations, is shorter than the arch-enemy, classical music. Analysis is younger still, and jazz at University too. In this lil ol' corner of Australia, jazz has been study-able for about 40 years, but not all that time at University. The upshot of this is there is just less quantity of material out there, less writing, and less of a tradition of writing and analysis. The canon of jazz music takes place within the last 70 or so years, and really focuses once recording and amplification became possible. Students studying jazz legends still might be able to see them in concert - think Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock. In contrast, a classical music student studying Bach or Beethoven has a couple of hundred years not only separating them from the composer, but a couple of hundred years filled with analysis, speculation, performance after performance.

3) BMus (Jazz)

All this leads to the question of how do you turn jazz music into a university degree. The popular understanding, and certainly the one I heard from the students I interviewed, was that you have to write. Teachers are almost apologetic about it. And sometimes the students really didn't see the point in writing, but they knew they had to do it to get that special piece of paper at the end of three years. I think that students who study a combined Music Arts degree, or Music Education, or Musicology, have a far different situation when it comes to writing than performance students for whom the music is everything.

4) Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.
Jazz is described throughout University literature as an 'idiom' of music. It is true that it is very analogous to language - students have to learn to recognise it, internalise it, replicate it and create it anew. However it is only analogous to language. In the Research Projects I've been studying, five out of the six students listened to a modern jazz musician, transcribed their solos or bass lines, and then found interesting things to talk about. It involves taking knowledge from an audio signal that they don't need to interpret themselves, to repackaging it in a written format they don't normally use. The language of music is so highly metaphorical anyway - if you think about it, how is a note 'high' or 'low', 'sharp' or 'flat'? Not only that, but try to describe music. Is it light? a big sound? dark? On top of that, these students haven't done that much writing in their undergrad. This may be only the second time they've referenced - because they do 'primary' research into musicians who haven't been studied, there's not always much to reference apart from dictionary definitions of musical terms. I don't mean to say they're dysfunctional when it comes to writing. But they get into uni on their performance ability, not their writing ability, so research into how they write is needed, and perhaps some guidance for the students would be useful.

5) Professional musos
On the off chance someone reading this is not Australia, I should explain that muso is a shortened term for musician (pronounced myou-zo). From the moment students start at university, or even before, they start gigging. They play music at weddings, functions, bars, parties, whatever and wherever. They tour with bands, big bands, orchestras. And they teach their instruments as well in schools. So by the time they get to honours, they've been playing the instrument for most of their life and they've been getting paid to play it and teach it for a couple of years. And so they write with much more authority and judgement than I imagine honours students of other disciplines doing. At one point I had a lengthy discussion with a student, trying to discourage him from potentially offending all other players of his instrument by calling them lazy or less able than the musician he was studying. His response was that he had been playing the instrument for 13 years, and had sufficient experience to make the statement and he thought others would agree with him.

Anyway, that's enough for now. I hope that's given you an insight into the context. I'll write at some point about music notation and writing about music.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Research in the 21st century

Back in the day, research involved writing to countries far distant to see if they have a book, and waiting six weeks for a response, or longer for them to send the book. But research in the twenty first century is not just about online library catalogues and electronic journals (though you gotta really appreciate them!). I thought I'd share with you some resources I've found out about in the last year or so.

Firstly, the more specifically linguistic resource, and even more specifically Systemic Funcitonal Linguistics. I've joined two email lists - SYSFLING (Systemic Functional Linguistics International Group) and SYSFUNC (Systemic Functional Linguistics in Australia). It's cool to get these emails and realise how broad the community is, and all the interesting things that are being researched and written about and asked about. At the risk of sounding supremely geeky, finding about newly published books hot off the press, and conferences and journals and presentations, is really exciting. But additionally it's a resource you can call upon. I got onto it because I had a tricky bit of analysis and I asked the two SFL lecturers at uni for a verdict and one voted one way and the other the other. But the second also suggested I floated the question on SYSFUNC. I waited until I upgraded to PhD so I felt more worthy to address the community. Then emailed it to the wrong list - SYSFLING. However I then got email upon email from all sorts of people. Later I picked up a book and got excited because several of the people who'd emailed me had written chapters in the book. Kinda suggested I should take them seriously.

Moral of the story: find the useful email lists and join them. Even if you don't participate in the discussions, you learn a lot. And there's email lists out there for all sorts of topics!

Second story, is twitter. Given, there's a lot of people I'd like to be on twitter, and nobody quite in my corner of linguistics, but there's heaps of language and language-learning/teaching related tweets. See the feed which should theoretically be right there:
I might've missed it, however. But if you doubt me on the benefits of twitter, read this far more eloquent argument. At this point I was going to link to an interesting article but I can't find the link. Oh well. But if you're on twitter, follow me (@jazzlinguist) and/or follow my group (@jazzlinguist/linglang) and I'll add the interesting linguistics / language related tweeters to it. Or go through that list and pick which ones you like. Why do it? Well it's easies to read articles from twitter on the bus than to read all the books at uni I have to read. And my entire twittexistance was justified by a single tweet on my topic: "NOVALanguages:
Glossary of Jazz Terms, defined from the perspective of the Jazz musician:" It also helps you keep up to date with current, topical, interesting and amusing information you would not have otherwise heard about. And it can put you in touch with a whole community of people, near and far, who share your interests, obsessions and sufferings.

Moral of the story: networking need not only be at conferences. Get on board with the latest technology and get your story out there. It may lead to further opportunities, it may lead to invitations, it may lead to useful resources or it may just be a useful procrastination tool and we can all do with one of those.

Also a few of these sites and people are on facebook - search for Langology, Linguick, Grammar Girl and Hyperlingo. Useful when you have non-twitterering facebookers you want to share things with.

Well that's all I can think of for the moment. I'll post more if I have any more, but thought I better get this out as we're at the busy time of year for me. I have two seminar presentations, three conference presentations and lots of work to do this semester.  Very glad to have just had a holiday!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

3 minutes

Dear imaginary readers,

Fear not! I did not start this blog only to abandon it, or to post once in a blue moon. My month's silence can be contributed to 3 things: 1) studying without internet access; 2) computer break down; 3) proper real no work no study holidays. Oh, and I did write one long blog entry only to have the computer lose it. So I'm back and studying again so I shall sure blog more as I have something to procrastinate.

I wanted to share with you the events of the Three Minute Thesis Competition. I thought it was more widely established than it actually is - started in Australia at University of Queensland, I think, and this is the first year at University of Adelaide. So what is it? According to UQ, "It is an exercise in developing academic and research communication skills. Research higher degree (PhD and MPhil) students have three minutes to present a compelling oration on their thesis topic and its significance in language appropriate to an intelligent but non-specialist audience." 
The Rules: 1 slide, no transitions, no props, no music, just 3 minutes speaking with that single slide.
The Motivation: MONEY! To go to conferences. Which I need. And failing that, a t-shirt designed by Jorge Cham, he of PhD Comics fame.
The Competition: At this stage, to tell the truth, pretty light on. We just had the faculty round, and there were only 6 of us competitors. 3 linguists, 1 creative writing, 1 geography & environmental studies, 1 english lit student. So you'd think the chances of a linguist getting something were pretty good.

So no, I didn't win. None of us 3 linguists did, nor got the people's choice award. I tried to stack the room with linguistics students but none of them came.

Nevertheless it was an interesting experience and as one of the other PhD students pointed out, it helps to know what to say at dinner parties. How to present you and your research to other people without sounding boring. Or conversely, sounding ultra boring if you don't want to talk about it. "What are you doing?" "PhD of linguistics" "What that's about then?" "Grammar."

So I think I went through about 6 different slides and 5 different scripts in the process of deciding what to present. Slide 1 told the story as I've experienced: starting with my brother, who inspired me to choose the topic, moving to Jazz great Fats Waller who seems to express the spirit of jazz, to Tom Cruise because my students chose Top Gun codenames.

But it was a bit too conversational. Then I rewrote the speech to better explain literacy. And it was a good explanation. But it was a good written explanation. No snap when read aloud. And I couldn't think how to turn it into a slide. So I turned it around and tried for the pop culture and intelligent culture hook. The Mighty Boosh's Spirit of Jazz, who doesn't really say anything enlightened or deep and meaningful. And Albert Einstein who seemed to express the spirit of the competition. I tried it in one order then in the other.

So I completely changed tack. And this is what I ended up with:

It's kinda hard to explain in a blog as it's designed to be looked out while the speech is listened to. I told the story of an amalgamated student who does honours and my research. Here's the first few lines and hopefully you'll get the idea:

Let me tell you a story. It’s about a kid in high school who has THE CALLING – maybe he plays trombone, maybe drums, maybe he’s a PIANO MAN. He’s learnt classical piano, but decides to study jazz at university where they teach him that IT DON’T MEAN A THING IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING.

Well, I thought it was good anyway. So I encourage other people to do it. It's great to see some people thinking outside the box and presenting their research in a way that really makes you want to know more.

Now I just have to think of a new idea for next year. Or new songs. Either/or.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The things I wish someone had told me at the beginning

Firstly, I kinda wish that someone had told me to start a blog back then. But I wouldn't have started one as I was still totally insecure in my place as a research student, due to my aforementioned accidental entry and the fact I'd only been studying Linguistics for one year.

So I thought I'd pull together some insights from my first year as a recap, in an effort to share with new students.

1. You don't need to know everything before you enrol
I'm glad I took a little extra time to decide my topic before I enrolled and officially began. But it's a matter of preference, style and fate. The important thing is unless you've already done work on that topic, you're not expected to know much about it. Some people start with an area they want to research, then find the method; others know the method but not the site for research. For me it's great now as I collected all my data within the first 12 months which gives me 12 months to play with it and discover more relevant stuff about it. You can't prepare for all eventualities before you undertake research, and if you have your heart set on one outcome, chances are it won't happen. So things to figure out within the first six months: topic, method, methodological framework, site for research.

2. Plan ahead for Ethics Committee submission - but don't be scared
At least so far as Linguistics research goes, the Ethics committee isn't scary. We're not trying drugs out on humans or make-up on animals. We're interviewing people. It's worth knowing that I completed and submitted my Ethics application within 24 hours having belatedly realised I needed to get it in the next day if I was going to start my research when I wanted to. Ethics Committee meetings are few and far between so you have to work to their schedule. And they'll tell you if there's anything you need to fix up anyway. But remember you need your supervisors signature and 11 copies so there may be chasing required.

3. You really can write your thesis on 2 words - small is beautiful
I've studied 1 assignment from 6 students and I have more data than I can poke a stick at. Or more precisely, more data than I can transcribe, analyse, quantify and tabulate. I've spoken to several PhD students who started studying 30 students and ended up with 12, or started with 12 and ended up focussing on 1. That's not due to attrition - that's just where the pertinent, relevant and MANAGEABLE information falls.

4. Australian Citizens don't pay fees for research degrees
If someone had told me this sooner I might have actually thought of applying for a research degree rather than getting into it accidentally. The Australian Government pays our fees. Woo! And this isn't like HECS where you have a debt to pay back to the government.

5. Get to know your rights
Your rights to a desk, a functioning computer, a supervisor, a co-supervisor... and ask for them.

6. You'll get there
I remember being intimidated by research students who could not only name off the top of their head the writer to read on a topic, but also the year of publication. I surprised myself the other day by doing it to an undergrad student. I excused myself by explaining it's only because I read the same names and publication dates so many times, and then write it so many times as well! It's all repetition! Before long you'll start to carry yourself as a PhD student and ask genuinely intelligent questions of mere coursework and undergrad students!

7. Community community community
My supervisor's big on collaborative-study and socialisation theory of learning, so he likes to get all the students connected to each other. But there's other benefits. Someone to say "Yeah don't worry, that's normal" to you. Someone to borrow books from. Somebody whose time you can waste a little without feeling quite as guilty as you do with your super-busy supervisor. Somebody to check your work. It's all good. Of course, I'm always up for a natter so community works for me. I find I get more done as well when I'm studying with other people in the room - it's more a peer pressure, face-saving thing, but hey, whatever works!

Okay, I don't think there was really much there of use, but who knows...

And now some even less serious things:
  • There is power at uni in not carrying around a bag - because it means you either have an office to leave it in or enough friends to look after it for you
  • You know you're getting into your topic when everything seems to relate back to it, or you want to do research on everything. And I mean EVERYTHING! "Hmm... that'd be interesting to analyse..."
  • Don't let your research subjects choose their own code names for anonymity - you'll end up with Top Gun code names and be forced to refer to "Goose" "Iceman" and "Maverick" all throughout your thesis
  • EVERY researcher has a nagging suspicion that a) nobody in your field will find your research interesting or useful; b) nobody outside your field will find your research interesting or useful. At least, I hope it's not just me.
  • Beware borrowing books and printing articles. You will not get through all of them. The key is to prevent your desk becoming a fire hazard.
  • Conferences: you pay money to be taken seriously. They're probably useful too - I haven't been to one yet, I've just paid the rego fees! Eek!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Who, why and what

Well, hello.

I read two things today and decided to start a blog about my PhD.

The first was "Ten Reasons Why Grad Students Should Blog". I was obviously convinced. Then secondly, a quote was tweeted: "If you can't state it simply, you don't know it well enough". So how well do I know my PhD topic?

So here's who I am and what I'm doing:

ME: PhD student in Linguistics. I studied Bachelor of Arts (Spanish) and Diploma of Languages (French), including a year's exchange in France. I then did Honours in French. I worked for a year, feeling somewhat uninspired, and so decided to start Postgrad Linguistics just so I could teach English overseas. I enjoyed the first semester and decided to extend to a year for the better qualification and teaching classes. And then I thought I may as well finish Masters (by coursework). But I filled out the wrong form and got offered a place in Masters by Research, which I hadn't realised was a course. I started March 2009, I'm now just over a year in, and I've upgraded to a PhD. So I could call this blog "The Accidental PhD" but I won't.

MY RESEARCH: My research topic is officially "Academic Literacies in University Music Students" but I like to call it "Literacy and all that jazz". I've studied a group of six jazz honours performance students, focussing on their 5000 word Research Projects. I'll write another day about the nuances of performance students and jazz students, but as a brief intro, I'm currently interested in how they incorporate music notation into their writing and how they write about music.

THE CONSEQUENCES: At this point, I don't know. I hope that my research will help music students. I've got a great claim to originality as I can't find manyone who has looked at writing about music or incorporating music notation into writing. The downside means there's a lot of work I'll have to do myself and my research is likely to be just introductory research. As I'm sure is the case for everyone, on my good days my research is exciting and fascinating. On my bad days I'm convinced that I'm the only one who will ever be interested in my topic.

So that's me and my research. May discussion and academic intrigue ensue!