Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What's in a thesis?

80 000 words
= 80 days x 1000 words
= 11.5 weeks x 7000 words
= 3 months x 27 000 words
= 16 weeks x 5000 words
= 4 months x 20 000 words
= 8 ((2 weeks x 5000 words) + (1 week editing/review)) = 6 months
 This is my plan, anyway.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Jazz Research?

I have spent the last hour* or more looking for an academic article on jazz improvisation. My intension is to find an "expert" text I can compare my student texts to, but I'm struggling to find anything appropriate and so let me vent a little.

It seems that writing about jazz improvisation creates one of five text types:
  1. Reviews - Reviews of live performance, reviews of recordings, but reviews nonetheless.
  2. Biographies and Player profiles - whether old and established, or young and up-and-coming, there are stories recounting who the player is, how they were influenced and why they are amazing.
  3. Philosophical treatises - I say philosophical but they may also be psychological, neuropsychological, behavioural or influenced by a plethora of disciplines. To be completely honest, none of them really interest me. The level of technicality is high and the specificity is narrow. 
  4. Applications - whether it be using improvisation to interest low socio-economic highschool students in literature, or in treatment of attention deficit disorders, or pedagogies for teaching jazz improvisation, it's all interesting and worthwhile, but not what I'm looking for, not analysing improvisation itself.
  5. Poems - I don't know why. I ticked "peer-reviewed publications only", I selected "not newspapers" and still I ended up with poems.
The missing number 6 is what I'm looking for - somebody sitting down with some music, and analysing it for interesting characteristics, innovative techniques and various structures. That research may be based on a single musician - as in the corpus I'm looking at - or it may focus on a particular characteristics across a number of musicians. But as yet, I can't find it.

This, I'm sure, will have a knock-on effect in my research. I can see it now - several pages dedicated to this issue in the context, or maybe in justifying my research. All of which will basically say: actually it's amazing these students can write as they do given there are no expert texts.

The caveat to that is, of course, that there are model texts - but model texts from other students. Where is the expert text? If academic writing merges into journalism, what effect does this have? It may explain some of the characteristics of the students texts. It certainly explains their not-so-academic references. But why should they try to write academically if it will not be useful?

I understand the purpose of the research project for the students. I understand that they build on previous assignments and previous analyses to create something larger. I understand that one ambition of the curriculum designers is to add to the body of research on jazz out there.

But then, is journalism the academia of music, with a larger, more popular and less specialised readership?

UPDATE: I found an article. Just one, but an article nonetheless. Maybe one day someone out there should do a corpus analysis of the type of documents that appear in response to a search of "jazz improvisation". 

*I wrote this a month or two ago and am only now publishing it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why I made a twitter account for my thesis

I made a twitter account for my thesis. I can now have conversations with it, hurl abuse at it or coax it along. Those of you who aren't on twitter probably think I'm mad and have probably stopped reading already. But for those of you still following (no twitter-pun intended), here's the basic justification:


Some people treat their thesis like a job - they go to their office 9-5, they depersonalise the work as if they're on a contract. I've heard some people compare their thesis to a pregnancy - starting at the point where they're metaphorically rubbing their tummy and sighing and drawing attention to it, til they're heavy with knowledge and ready to burst. Some treat it like five (or three or seven) articles rather than one large text. I've heard the thesis compared to a bad relationship, to a constant companion, to many things... so, whatever gets me through. It's a little dissociative, giving the thesis its own personality so I can tweet it, but it makes me laugh. And I think it will help to conceptualise it, to externalise it, to insult it and from time to time say, "Today, thesis, you are going down!" Melodrama is a vastly underestimated coping mechanism. And nobody need know about me talking to my thesis... except I'm telling you about it now. But I had to share.

And anyway, it's fun.
Some of the most entertaining twitter accounts are spoofs (The Queen, Emma Thompson), pop culture mashups (Hipster Dalek, GRAMMARHULK) or various fictional characters (the entire cast of West Wing). So creating a twitter account for my thesis was entertaining. It's not just the concept, but the details. What avatar should it have? What bio? Who would it follow? As I currently envisage my thesis as somewhat evil and megalomaniac, it follows Darth Vader, Voldemort and Death Star PR. As it is sarcastic, it follows Speculative Grammarian. As it is linguistic it follows linguistics publishers. As it is academic, it follows the university, the library and QIkipedia. As it is a little geeky, it follows Thinkgeek. As it is still a little juvenile, it follows DontSayNoSayYes. As it loves data and infographics, it follows Information is Beautiful. And of course it follows ThesisWhisperer because what sort of ThesisWhisperer would ThesisWhisperer be if my thesis did not follow her. And lastly it's following UrDissertation because someone else had this idea before me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Indefinite Article

I have just submitted my first article for publication. (yay! woo! cue fireworks!)

As I am therefore absolutely useless for doing any real work for the next couple of hours due to the adrenaline rush, I thought I should blog about it.

At some point during your PhD, you should try to publish an article. Ideally, the best time to do this is somwhere around the start of your third year as you presumably know enough to publish on it, but you're not yet in panic-stations-thesis-writing-mode. If you want to continue in academia at all, publishing is one of the most important things you'll do so it's good to develop those skills while someone's willing to read over and correct your work. The problem is getting to the point where you feel confident enough to a) start writing and b) submit.

I have friends who, for one reason or another, didn't publish during their PhD and instead planned to write up articles from their dissertations in the months following. It hasn't happened yet, as far as I know - it seems it takes at least a month to recover from the PhD process and be willing to even glance at your work again. And if you launch into a job straight away then that takes priority. But sometimes you get to the point where you can't worry about anything except your thesis and you just have to concentrate on that, no matter how good a journal publication would look on your résumé.

The trick (and the tricky bit) is to know which of the following pieces of advice to follow:
1. Do what you gotta do to finish your PhD.
2. Get as much experience teaching and publishing as you can because that's what you'll spend most of your time doing if you get a job as an academic.

Both these pieces of advice were given to friends by experienced academics and although somewhat contradictory, are both equally true.

Back to me:
I started writing my article after presenting at 5ICOM (5th International Conference on Multimodality) in December last year. My plan was to finish it by the end of January and I quite enjoyed the initial write, churning out 1000 words a day for a while there. When it reached an immense length, with absolutely everything I could think of on the topic in it, I submitted it to my supervisor for shaping and direction. So it went on the back burner for a while and in the mean time I submitted abstracts for conferences (most of which I've had to withdraw from), as well as the usual cycle of reading literature and doing analysis. The feedback, when it arrived, was to turn it into two articles.

So I did. And I've been sitting on them for a few months for one reason or another: getting feedback from my music supervisor (checking I haven't made any ridiculous musical gaffes); finalising those bits I couldn't quite get right. One of the best moments was when I sent the second article to an external expert. When he gave me good feedback, I started to believe it might be true. I sat on it further as I tried to wrestle it into adherence to the journal style guide and boggled at how to treat music notation: As a picture? Labelled figure or example? What about in a table? What about text and music together in an example from a student text? How do I handle copyright? It was like banging my head against a brick wall at times.

In the end I cut all the music notation out of one article, and limited the other to one music example which should be acceptable for copyright. It kinda sucks to talk about multimodality monomodally, but you do what you gotta do. I'll leave the second article on the backburner a while longer - at least until I have something else I want to procrastinate by working on it. It needs to be wrestled into adherence with the style guide and all my pretty colour-coded analysis needs to be turned monochrome.

What next for the one I did submit? I don't know. Probably a lengthy wait from what I hear. Either which way, I'll let you know.