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!