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!

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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

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.