Female Solidarity: The Rise and Rise of the New Woman in Popular Culture

Princess Leia

Image Credit: Robert Douglas and Flickr

“I will fight, for those who can not fight for themselves”

– Wonder Woman (2017)

Having finished watching Big Little Lies (2017) a couple of weeks ago, I have been waiting to find the time to sit down and let you know what I thought about it. It was recommended to me as: “as good as True Detective Season One,” which to me was one of the best series of this decade, so I went in with high expectations. I’m still unsure whether this mini series reached the heights of True Detective (it’s pretty difficult to compete with a character like Rust Cohle in my book), but it was certainly a contender. I would market the series as True Detective meets Twin Peaks. The relaxing, slow opening sequence, the sleepy town, the mysterious death in the first few seconds. Yet, it echoes True Detective through the use of ana/prolepsis, with police interviews interrupting the main narrative to constantly remind us that this is the past – one of these people has died.

Throughout, I was convinced one of the women was the victim. I am sure many people thought the same as we have been conditioned to view woman as victims and men as saviours in the movies. How many tv series, films, books use women as the victim of a horrible crime as the central focus of the plot? All the way along there were little clues that any of the protagonists could be killed: Celeste (Nicole Kidman) by her violent husband; Jane (Shailene Woodley) during a confrontation with her attacker; or, Madeline (Reece Witherspoon) by her daughter/husband/ex-husband/bit on the side/bit on the side’s wife. I won’t spoil the surprise for those of you that have yet to see the final episode, but I was surprised by both the victim and the perpetrator.

Having started this blog entry a month ago (I know, but if you saw my deadlines and marking you would understand) I wasn’t sure where to take it. Having watched an array of new tv series over the last few weeks I can’t help but notice the prevalence of strong and surprising female leads. Don’t get me wrong, strong independent protagonists are nothing new (Ripley in Alien, Leia in Star Wars etc), but there is something about the female solidarity depicted in Big Little Lies that is a breath of fresh air amidst the current political climate. This, alongside the unexpected success of Wonder Woman in the box office this month, surely calls into question the relevance of the hyper-masculine action hero films that have dominated for decades.

Then, this morning, I watched some of the trailers for the new releases announced at E3. Did anyone else notice how many of the new games had a female protagonist as the lead? And a female protagonist that hasn’t been oversexualized through cartoon body proportions and “barely there” armour. The gaming market is worth more than the film industry and developers are finally recognising the importance and the prevalence of female gamers. The teenage boy that never sees the light of day as he spends all the hours hidden away attaining the highest rank and finding the rarest weapon before any of his virtual friends catch-up, is a thing of the past. Having spent most of my life gaming and being forced to experience the virtual world through the eyes of alpha males and monstrous females, I can’t wait to play as a host of new women in upcoming releases such as Anthem, Destiny 2 and Star Wars Battlefront 2.

 

PRO-crastination Tools

It seems that weekly updates on this blog were a little unrealistic without the framework of the 23 things tasks. On top of managing teaching and getting back to my Ph.D., oh and life, I haven’t had a lot of room to breathe. I was made to confront my habit of scheduling my days through endless to do lists that I never had any chance of completing before the sun set. With the best of intentions and fuelled by my obsession with stationery, I have spent the past few weeks planning ahead, colour coding and generally just find another way of organising without real purpose – pretty but not functional.

Keeping up with the daily schedules I set for myself was just another way in which I was setting myself up for “failure.” But, after a discussion with my brother I have found an app which I find really useful: trello. It’s a pretty standard task management app with the capability for collaborative project management that can be accessed by anyone you share your “board” with. I have to say I haven’t used this feature yet, but organising my own priorities using a colour coded system with different columns for progression has made a huge difference to my days. The most useful part of this is that it allowed me to monitor tasks that I was progressing with but hadn’t finished. Previously I could not move on to another task until the one I was working on was complete; as they say “tidy house, tidy mind”, but my mind is only tidy when my to do list is complete aka: never. Here is a snapshot of the board I have at the moment with the various stages of tasks that might take an hour, a week, or another year (my thesis!).

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Another pro this app seems to offer is that it doesn’t give me too many obvious distracting elements to procrastinate with, although you can certainly find some cool customisation features if you care to look a little closer. So, I would recommend this for anyone that struggles with making never ending lists without seeing any progress. Or for those of you that just need to get organised!

On another note, I return to my Ph.D. on Monday and finally have a clear perspective on what my thesis is becoming. Despite being 2 years in, it is only in the last few months that I have gained clarity by allowing myself space to think – a very underrated and usually unachievable prospect in light of the three year time window of the Ph.D. process. A couple of the books I am focusing on at the moment (Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000) and Doug Dorst & JJ Abrams S (2013) have whole online communities dedicated to solving all of the mysteries these texts offer. Some of which I hope to discuss on this page, perhaps as a way of introducing this niche kind of fiction to those that haven’t crossed its path before.

And…I know, I know. I promised a blog on Arrival (2016) and I never delivered. It was a great film, full of the potential for deconstructive analysis of the meanings of language etc., but I found myself slipping away from the type of discussion I want to continue on this blog and into academic criticism territory. I’ll save you the slog of reading through that blog post and just go ahead and recommend you watch it.

More Soon

Into the unknown…

the-unknown

Image Credit: Flickr and Mike Reva

“We’ve always defined ourselves by the ability to overcome the impossible. And we count these moments. These moments when we dare to aim higher, to break barriers, to reach for the stars, to make the unknown known. “

– Cooper, Interstellar(2014)

The completion of ’23 things’ has shed some light on the academic unknown that plagued the first 18 months of my Ph.D. Jargon designed to ignite fear in the most promising PGR’s heart, such as ‘impact’ and ‘influence,’ now seem within reach, as the arduous process of getting an article published can be somewhat overcome with the help of a little online presence. Having a focused task each week has meant I have maintained my motivation to update this blog on a regular basis and learning how to implement other resources within my posts has given me many new skills that will hopefully allow me to continue this blog, exploring both academic pursuits and popular culture.

Another element of this course that surprised me was the way in which it sparked my creativity. I used to love writing creatively, but since I began pursuing a career in academia, I haven’t found the time or the inclination to write anything other than critical material. The realisation that I can still write using a completely different register about a range of topics was probably the best thing about starting this blog. I was initially trained in journalism before moving to english literature and those writing skills reemerged fairly quickly. This will be an important skill in terms of impact as writing about complex matters in an accessible style will allow an engagement with a much wider range of people, hopefully beyond the limits of academic researchers. I hope to publish, not only on my research topic, but on other, less niche areas. I would particularly like to do some freelance work in the future: reviewing books and films; thus, allowing my hobbies to spill over into my work.

And so, I will continue blogging. I will need to ensure I plan my posts in order to keep updating this blog on a regular basis. I hope to post at least every fortnight on a range of different topics including film, lifestyle and some access into my academic research.

Thanks to the RDP team for all their support and the amazing resources they made available. It was a great learning experience and has had a big impact on my plans in terms of online presence and impact!

What’s to come?

time-and-the-futureImage Credit: Flickr

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 
Søren Kierkegaard

The future is a place I have avoided looking at for a long time now, but we all have to lay the foundations for our future and this seems like a good place to start doing that. Funding applications will be a big part of my life if I manage to establish a career in academia and knowing where to look is the first step. Funding for the arts is notoriously difficult to find, never mind being awarded any, so looking which areas funding bodies are looking to support is a really important element when writing up and finishing a Ph.D. I have had a look at the Research Professional and this will be a really useful tool for me over the next couple of years as I finish my doctorate and start planning my next project. I also signed up to Unity as although it hasn’t really kicked off yet, this could be a really useful way of networking with other ECR’s and PGR’s, not only at Surrey, but at other institutions as well.

Looking forward in terms of this blog and my visibility online, I will definitely craft a website that can demonstrate my strengths as a researcher. This blog has been a good place to start, but I also want to update my surrey.ac.uk page in line with the changes I have made to the focus of my thesis. I intend to connect my surrey page to my blog, my academia.edu and in time, a website, which can bring all of these elements together. I don’t feel I am at the stage where I am ready to build a profile but I will begin gathering the necessary components so that I have worthwhile content and a body of my work available online – whether through this blog or academia.edu. If I’m honest, I am considering deleting my LinkedIn until have a purpose for it, as I haven’t found much use for it yet and I don’t want any inactive profiles appearing on a search engine. Staying in control of your online identity is probably the biggest thing to come out of this project for me and I feel like I am much better equipped to do that now.

Coming up: Final ’23 things’ blog

 

 

 

Beyond the Individual

collective-effort

Image Credit: Flickr and State Library of New South Wales

As the end of this project looms, I have, week by week, seen the possibilities that having a blog and engaging with the academic community through another format can have on my impact as a researcher. The idea of crowdsourcing a research project that involves data seems to be a great idea and I think I would have a go at joining in with one of the projects, particularly those offered by Run CoCo and Zooniverse, the archival projects appealed to me the most. I can see that joining in to decipher a manuscript or discovering a new star could become quite a hobby, never mind the potential for knowledge acquisition. However, the idea of using crowdsourcing in the classroom as a tool for a project does appeal to me and I would need to think of a way of implementing this process to act as a learning aid for my students outside the classroom. It’s definitely something I will put some thought into.

I have regularly used software such as Facetime and Skype to virtually attend seminars when I couldn’t make it to the venue. The ability to do this is invaluable for me as I don’t live particularly close to my institution and for the last two years I wasn’t able to attend all the seminars I wanted to due to external circumstances. Although it can be frustrating when they disconnect or distort speech etc., the benefits definitely outweigh the cons for me. I haven’t tried the other software and I am interested in using Adobe Connect to help organise a workshop day that I am planning to organise with other members of my funding body. As we are all based in different parts of the country, it would be great to use a tool like this to make the planning process easier. I also think that text chat could be an interesting means of getting students to ask questions in seminars that they don’t want to voice, particularly if they are anonymous. Any technology that can further the learning process in a positive way is worth implementing and is something I am very keen to do.

Doodle polls have always been part of my academic experience because it is stupidly difficult to find a time when all the PGR’s are free and on campus. Without this function I fear we would never have met each other beyond the occasional nod across the corridor before we scuttle back to the isolated cave of our thesis. This can also be a really useful tool for teaching and I wish I had set up one for my presentation groups this semester as they have turned out to be an admin nightmare! Similarly, google drive can also be an invaluable piece of software when trying to organise a group of researchers or students, as it means you can edit and exchange ideas without creating hundreds of versions of the same document. Collaborative projects and joint student assignments can become a much smoother process and I have used these for many academic and personal projects. I have also used Dropbox for years, but only as a storage option as I haven’t had the opportunity to use it as a collaborative tool. However, after having a look I still think Google Drive is the best tool for working on a project with others.

Currently, I have a few projects in mind that would massively benefit from these tools. I already use most of them but I think my teaching could benefit from the inclusion of google drive, doodle poll and live chats.

More soon!

A Different Path

 

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Image Credit: Flickr & Michael Lehet

This week’s ‘Things’ have been a challenge as I am unsure how to approach them. Both ‘Research Impact’ and ‘Open Access’ are really important parts of my preferred career in academia and will affect me over the course of my current research project and beyond. The reason (I think) I am struggling to engage with these ideas is because I still feel my research isn’t at a stage where I can publish: I am still working on my underlying argument. Also, when I am ready and finally get accepted into a journal (Q1 preferably!) it can take up to three years to actually appear in print. This means that I have quite a few years before I can generate any “traditional” impact from my work. Thus, I can’t assess how my research will be received other than through the conference papers I give and the papers I publish on academia.edu. Immediate impact, particularly as a PGR or an ECR is the domain of more immediate disciplines such as Science and Medicine – and whilst I am devoted to my subject – it is pretty obvious to everyone that my research won’t save lives. That is why articles in the arts take such a long time to go through the publication process, because although they are important in provoking a new line of thought in a niche area, they are not really urgent in the same way as an article on developments in cancer treatments.

So, instead of focusing on the future (something I can’t really do at the moment for reasons beyond my research) I have decided that I can work on my impact rating through my online visibility. Using my blog to discuss my ideas in a reader-friendly format gets my ideas out there and to a much larger audience than my thesis ever will. My review of the film La La Land (2016) that I posted on here last week is the first step for me and I intend to keep writing posts of this nature. I can also use programmes such as the video tools from the previous ‘things’ blog and websites such as academia.edu to build an academic profile without needing to urgently publish (something I am not ready to do and won’t be for a while).

Apologies that this week’s blog is so short – I have finally started engaging with my thesis again (I am currently taking a TW), but I am excited about it again! Also mildly hysterical about how much work I need to do to finish it!

(And it was my birthday!)

More soon.

Opposite of Anachronism

“Here’s to the one’s who dream, foolish as they may seem.”

constellation-l-a

Image Credit: Flickr and Oscar Youlten

La La Land (2017): Turning Anachronism on its Head: A Post-Postmodern Revelation.

Imagine the scene: bumper to bumper traffic on the M25, it’s hot, there’s no sign of movement, and people are getting frustrated. Then, everyone gets out of their cars and starts singing on the bonnet. Bear with me. This is the opening to the latest Hollywood “must-see” La La Land. Starring Emma Stone (Birdman (2014), The Amazing Spiderman (2012)) and Ryan Gosling (Drive (2011), The Big Short (2015)), director Damien Chapelle takes his latest Oscar nominated film in a direction that hasn’t been seen since the likes of Singin’ in the Rain (1953) and the golden age of Hollywood musicals.

Now to get to the interesting part (well, I think so). This film has been slated in certain circles as misogynistic: Seb (Gosling) a “jazz snob” and struggling musician meets an underappreciated waitress/actress living through the hardships of the so called “American Dream. Not so! To claim that this film reflects an anti-feminist stance is to write off the key elements of this film that have (as far as I know) not been explored. To me, this film is a demonstration of the possibilities of a post-postmodern future for cinema, in which postmodern tropes can be used and exploited to evoke a sincerity that has been absent of late.

There are so many examples in which Chapelle parodies the clichéd tropes of the cinematic past in order to realise, not only a new era of cinema, but also, a new style of femininity on the silver screen. Take her first audition as an example: the audience can see immediately that Mia is a good actress (and that avoids the meta issue here); nevertheless, the “film people” that watch the audition are distracted and Mia is interrupted: cue her walking out through a corridor filled with red-haired young women in white shirts. I know what you’re all screaming: the waitress/actress cliché is so apparent here. Yes! You’re right! And that’s the point. This film is not a pity party about the lack of opportunities for up and coming young actresses trying to make it big in Hollywood, whilst working their asses off for $2 tips every night. Think beyond the character for a minute: Chapelle plays on the audiences’ expectations in order to build up a tension that he will savagely tear down at the end (but more of that later).

Then we have the nod to Singin’ in the Rain in which Mia and Seb enact a traditional musical number as the sun sets over L.A and the street lamps begin to glow. What could be more romantic right? Wrong. Their rendition of ‘A Lovely Night’ is the antithesis of romance and has them reeling off all the reasons they couldn’t possibly find each other attractive. What could possibly create more sexual tension than to watch Stone and Gosling dance and sing, whilst declaring their revulsion of each other? I ask you. Then her phone rings… this temporal disruption jars here as the ring tone crashes the nostalgic vibe by reminding the audience that despite the aesthetics, this is not the 1950’s and technology, globalisation and women’s rights are a thing now. What’s the opposite of an anachronism? Because that’s what this is.

Oh, and although this is not in chronological order, how could I possibly continue without mentioning the scene that created the most controversy amongst feminist critics. In an early scene, Mia witnesses Seb playing the haunting melody ‘City of Stars’ for the first time and is mesmerised by his skill. Whilst admiring his ability, Seb is being fired for going off piste with his set list (honky-tonk renditions of Christmas classics). As Mia approaches Seb to declare her astonishment at his talent, he barges passed, knocking her aside as he exits. Now to many women, this is a few steps back in terms of equal representation. However, as a woman, I can honestly say it doesn’t even come close to that. I think Chapelle is riffing on his postmodern critique of the romantic comedy genre – yet again messing with the audiences’ expectations for the development of the plot. The beautiful music and the way their eyes meet across a crowded room….Oh come on! This is 2017. Things are not that simple anymore. Surely we are all desensitized to that kind of romantic drivel now!

There is so much to be said about each scene of this film but I won’t elaborate on the minutiae, as much as I would like to. The point here is that this film looks to expose the clichéd tropes of earlier romantic dramas and the lack of depth in the “romantic drama” of the last decade. Do not underestimate this film, yes it’s tragic and heart-breaking, but Blue Valentine (2010) this is not, and this is how Chapelle avoids the fatalistic trap of the postmodern romantic drama.

Following the expected format of love – issue – solution, after a brief honeymoon period the cracks begin to show as Mia and Seb’s careers develop. Mia becomes a playwright with her own looming one-woman-show, whilst Seb, weary of not being able to provide for the love of his life, takes on a role in his school friend’s band – abandoning his purist notions of Jazz to earn $1000 a week in what I can only describe as a “New age Jazz” band. I am not, and have never claimed to be a jazz expert and I apologise to those of you that take your Jazz as seriously as Seb does in the film, I am sure my terminology will cause great offence. Nevertheless, the point here is that whilst Mia never lets go of her dream, Seb is willing to sacrifice his in order to allow Mia to become the actress he knows she can be, and therein lies the tragedy at the heart of this film.

As the final curtains loom, Mia is depicted five years later as a successful actress with a family and Seb is nowhere to be seen. In a bittersweet cyclical nod to the beginning, Mia and her new husband, about to leave town for their hotel, hear a jazz bar and descend the staircase to… you guessed it…Seb’s. Across the room Mia and Seb’s eyes meet and he sits to play ‘City of Stars’ for one last time and all sense of spatial and temporal constraints are re-evaluated. The intensity of their gaze allows Seb to form a ‘rememory’ of his past, sweeping aside the years that the audience were not allowed to see and reimagining his potential relationship with Mia, had life not got in the way. As they dance across the stage with painted film sets clearly drawing attention to the artificiality of Seb’s fantasy, the audience are allowed a taster of what life could have been like for Mia and Seb if the American dream was truly accessible. The film is, after all, called La La Land, and thus we must assume that the depiction of love and life has ‘its head in the clouds’ so to speak. Dancing amongst the stars (now a black screen with lights behind) acts as a heavy contrast with the romantic scene in the observatory in which real constellations and galaxy could be seen as they defied gravity. This, my friends, is the tragedy that lies at the heart of this film: most of the time love and ambition are not compatible or, to quote the Rolling Stones: “you don’t always get what you want.”

So, arguably Seb’s final reverie is proof of a new era of post-postmodern affect in which sincerity becomes the overriding theme, because, in this case, there is no chance of a reconciliation, but at the same time that’s okay. The feelings remain and are forever encased in the smile and the silence of the end of the film.

Like I said, a masterpiece and a truly revolutionary piece of cinema. If La La Land doesn’t sweep the Oscars this year, then something is definitely wrong in this world (as if you didn’t suspect that already).

More soon.

In which I get with the times…

technophobe

Image Credit: Natalie Denburg and Flickr

I have been considering the best way to create videos for academic purposes for a while now, but the thought of having to appear on camera horrified me somewhat. The screen capture tool, then, is a game changer and the best piece of tech I have tried so far on this course. I made a quick video to have a go, which I have put a link for below and I think I will be using this feature a lot. It’s so easy as well!

Short Video Test

I chose to use screencast-o-matic because the tutorial video made it look so simple. I think his could be a great tool for my teaching and my research and I have now set up a youtube channel for this purpose with updates to come.

I am glossing over ‘thing 13’ because data will never be part of my research thankfully. I will stick with words as numbers were never my game. So, publishing research online then. As I do quite a lot of teaching Prezi is an invaluable tool, both for using a a teaching resource and to watch others people to acquire knowledge. I find the dynamic style of the presentations must more creative and less restrictive than powerpoint. However, I do think I would keep Prezi for teaching and Powerpoint for academic outputs as it seems to me to be slightly informal.

I also really like the idea of Slideshare, as although I have Surreylearn for my UG students to access my presentations, I would like to share them more widely, particularly if I made some that related to my research.

Here is an example of one of my presentations for second year teaching:

 

More soon!

Picture This.

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Image Credit: Flickr & Keene Public Library and the Historical Society of Cheshire County

On one hand, I use Wikipedia all the time to check on a topic I’m not sure about, to check I am right about something to end a family debate, and, weirdly, clicking random links on each page that comes up to see where the search takes you (it’s more amusing than it sounds, I promise!).  On the other hand, I avoid it like the plague when writing and researching my thesis areas. Including Wikipedia as a reference is a big no-no as far as I’m concerned; however, I do use it to look up some ideas before moving on to the more authoritative sources.

Exploring aspects of the site such as ‘talk’ and ‘history’ have never occurred to me. To be honest, I’ve never actually bothered to see what lies behind the link. The talk function was particularly interesting as it offered some insight into the general consensus about the topics I am looking at. I started searching for ‘the home in American Literature’ with no success so decided to make it more general by searching ‘home’. Then, I went to the talk element and it offered some interesting ideas that linked to my research, such as the comment below:

Wiki Talk.png

The other helpful aspect of this exploration was rediscovering the reference list at the bottom of each page. I searched one of the texts I am studying House of Leaves (2000) and found a list of critical articles, some of which I hadn’t read myself.

hol-references

Although I can’t reference Wikipedia directly, it seems a good place to start for any research topic and I would consider adding some of my own knowledge to the pages that relate to my research interests.

Next, I moved on to the free images on offer to add a bit of sparkle to my blog posts and research presentations. I used a similar approach as before and searched in ‘The Commons’ for pictures of houses. Then I tried ‘home’ and interestingly the results were very different. Whilst the term ‘house’ brought up lots of pictures of the exterior of the building, such as the one at the top of the post, the term ‘home’ only brought up pictures of the interior of the home. It’s something to consider when discussing my research! I am not much of a photographer so I haven’t uploaded any research based photos as of yet, but it is good to know there is a facility that makes using and sharing photos so easy. I am already an avid user of Instagram but will be keeping it personal so that not all of my social media is guided by my academic interests.

Finally, I am a big fan of online presentations on youtube and other sites such as Prezi for teaching and lesson planning. I would also consider uploading my own videos to discuss texts I am reading, to discuss theory and to open a discussion with other researching or those interested in similar areas. I also really enjoy listening to Podcasts, particularly those that discuss true crime such as Serial and Sword and Scale. Although true crime is a hobby, there are elements that cross over with my research and I am often inspired by them in unexpected ways. I do listen to some of the TED talks as they open up some important areas. I haven’t used podcasts as an academic tool, but I will endeavour to subscribe to a relevant programme, but I will need some time to try a few. In terms of MOOC’s, I have never come across these before, but after a very quick search I found at least one interesting course such as an exploration of postmodernism’s history. It’s good to know there are options for expanding my knowledge for free.

Lots of interesting ‘Things’ this week and I think I will definitely be using images, Wikipedia and MOOC’s more regularly.

More Soon.

Organised Chaos

In theory, referencing software sounds like the best time-saver in the world. I attended a ‘Digital Tools’ workshop last year and saw a brief overview of what software like Zotero and Endnote could do, and although I prefer to write everything by hand, I decided I would try and make my life a little easier by letting the computer do it for me.

I started with endnote and quickly realised I would need some help with learning how to use it. So, instead I remembered I had briefly been shown how to use Zotero and I liked the browser integration element. However, once I had followed the initial steps to download the software, I quickly realised how complex this type of software is. As I said, I have always preferred to handwrite everything, I would even prefer to do my thesis by hand, which in Freud’s opinion would probably make me a sadomasochist. There is something about holding a pen in front of a blank piece of paper and creating something that will never feel the same on a digital medium. It’s too temporary, too easy to delete and lose everything you have made.

Alas, I don’t have the rest of eternity to do my Ph.D. and I will have to take some shortcuts as a result. Next semester I think I will request some help with Zotero as I still think it is the software that would work best for me and the thought of collating all of my bibliographies at the end of the three years sparks a little shiver of terror.

I realise that I have been very cynical about the benefits of using digital tools and social media to enhance my experience as a researcher and it probably has something to do with my OCD tendencies. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to discuss these kind of issues, but I think it is important as I know many researchers suffer from the same problems. For as long as I can remember I have colour coded, labelled, archived and organised my research.

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As you can see from the image, I have a very particular way of working and this is only a very small portion of the notes I have made. Varying from this method would be extraordinarily difficult for me, and if I did switch to digital referencing software, it is highly likely I would make notes and handwritten bibliographies alongside it.

I’m working on it though!

I am not very familiar with copyright law and I know it will become important as I get closer to finishing my thesis. I think it would be a good idea to copyright my blog if I ever want to share my research ideas or experiences, but I think I need to read a bit more about it before I do it.

More soon.