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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

Lasting Impact?

I have had an academia.edu profile for a while now and try to post conference papers at least twice a year. I am very aware that I can’t publish too much of my thesis online and this has made me pause when publishing any of my work. I began by posting a few of my essays from my MA and one in particular has received quite a lot of traffic. However, most people only view or download articles and I think there should be a requirement for feedback if an article is downloaded. I will keep my profile updated but I don’t think this tool will further my career or research in the same way as Twitter or LinkedIn could.

LinkedIn was completely alien to me before this task as I assumed it was for business professionals and couldn’t see the benefits for academics. I’m still not sure how useful it will be as I have had it a week or so and already have a profile labelled ‘expert’. This seems to be because I have good contacts in the world outside academia, but I can’t see the benefit of that in terms of my current work and future aspirations. Nevertheless, I will keep my profile updated as I may receive opportunities to develop other areas I am interested in such as teaching and tutoring.

The movement towards digital impact through social media still doesn’t quite sit right with me as I firmly believe academic ability should be judged on academic achievement. I don’t believe that one person with thousands of followers and another with a handful can be an accurate or appropriate measure of academic impact and it seems a worrying trend with a focus on popularity instead of ability.

More soon.

Finding Myself

I have always known that I shared my name with others, so much so that there is regularly a mix up with packages in my local shops. Strangely, my namesake was born in the same year and even had some friends in common when I was at school. I never really accepted my name until I was in my twenties as I was always one of two or three Emily’s in my class and I wanted to be “different”. Now I realise that there is a certain anonymity in sharing a name with so many people. Thank god my parents didn’t let me change the spelling to Emma-Lee *shudders*

Initially, when I searched for myself on google there were so many results that it was difficult to find anything linked to me. I was pleased and somewhat surprised to find the only things that featured mentions of my name were relevant to my academic profile.

I started with google and typed in my whole name. No luck on the first page but on the second page I found a conference programme with my name and the paper I had given. It was a good start.

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As I said, my name is shared by thousands if not millions of my contemporaries, so I made my search more specific and added “University of Surrey” after my name. This was the first hit:

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My staff profile for my university was the first thing to come up although it reminded me how out of date my profile was and the things I needed to request to be added. Since setting up the page I have moved office twice and thesis focus more times than I care to mention now.

I finished off my google search by adding “English Lit” and deleting my University. This was the most effective search phrase as I found three of my academic social media accounts and no sign of my Facebook profile. I have implemented every privacy setting on my Facebook to ensure that I am difficult to find, another benefit of sharing my name with so many other women.

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I definitely think I could make my academic presence more visible online, but I have to say I was extremely relieved that nothing embarrassing showed up. I was active on social media as a teenager and I dread to think what could have surfaced. I realised that I need to keep all my academic profiles updated and that I would like to focus my twitter feed so that it becomes less personal and more professional. I just hope I don’t get mistaken for the other Emily’s out there as there were some “interesting” photos and some posts that I would rather not be associated with. However, on the bright side, I won’t need to pay for my internet presence to be erased anytime soon!

More soon.

New Beginnings

During the first two years of my Ph.D., I have written thousands and thousands of words, but I’ve never used those words to engage with an audience outside academia. My thesis examines contemporary American literature, and who better to comment on my ideas than those living in the contemporary moment, American or otherwise? I haven’t used a blog platform since my early teens and I am still wary of the implications that sharing thoughts and information will have in this new age of insecurity and surveillance. Nevertheless, I am giving it ago as part of a University of Surrey course called ‘23 things’.

Over the course of this project, I will be posting entries that will reflect on my experience of the Ph.D. process, ponderings about my research interests, and perhaps even some ideas from my thesis. I hope that this will open up a new discourse with an audience I haven’t yet engaged with. I welcome any comments, feedback, challenges etc., and hope to communicate with some like-minded people.

To provide a bit of insight into my research, I will begin by explaining my reasoning behind the name of my blog ‘Seeking NeverNeverLand’. Whilst some may assume I am a Peter Pan mega-fan (not quite the case), it is in fact a reference to one of the books I am examining as part of my thesis: Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park (2005). Ellis’ metafictional memoir explores the relationship between a father and a son who never successfully connect or understand each other. Robby, Bret’s son, refers to himself as a ‘lost boy’ in search of ‘NeverNeverLand’, unable to assimilate with the upper echelons of the Los Angeles glitterati, he disappears, leaving behind his distraught and broken family.

So, on a literal level, the title reflects the novel; however, there is a deeper metaphorical implication too. My thesis examines representations of the home in all its forms: architectural, spiritual, psychological. I believe that in the contemporary age, we are all seeking a safe place to protect us from the threat of the external world. This perpetual pursuit of ‘homeliness’ is a never-ending cycle – a process of seeking NeverNeverLand – a mythical utopia.

More soon.