Local GRAD school 2017 – lessons learnt.

The Spy Who Shagged Me

Last week, I’ve had the chance to attend the Edinburgh Local GRAD School among other PhD students from all over Scotland. The aim of this training was to give us some space so that we can become more aware of our personal and professional transferable skills.

There were a lot of group activities, some workshops, and plenty of opportunities to meet other PhD students to discuss our research or chat about PhD lives. The program was intense and challenging, and not much time was left on our own to reflect on all the activities we were involved in. However, there are a few lessons learned that I would like to share here, by sharing the insights of one particular exercise.

Just a widget

The very first activity we were asked to do consisted of creating an innovative widget, starting from the scratch. The only guideline we received was to create something which is useful to the society. Each group had 1 hour to create a prototype, that would be then presented to the rest of the entire group, allowing us to explain the concept (technical challenges, management issues, overall purpose, etc.). One hour is not much time when you need to create something new with people you hardly know and who come from different scientific fields.

Where do you start? How will you proceed? And how will you organise yourself?

Lessons learnt

Within a few minutes, we somehow all agreed that it would be more simple to focus on one problem that needs to be fixed (rather than creating something ‘out of the blue’).

  • Lesson 1: Defining a problem will help you discover the potential solution.

Instead of starting something too big (worldwide), we thought it might be easier to create something helpful for the (local) citizens of Edinburgh. One of the problems quickly identified was the issue related to lack of cycling routes in the city, and the danger it represents for all the cyclists.

  • Lesson 2: Think big (global),  but start small (local). If an objective must be SMART, then it seems more realistic to start with something feasible within your own environment (even if it is virtual). If the product if successful, it will become global.

We were asked to think “out of the box”, so we have. As none of us had a background in urbanistic studies, we simply came out with the idea that bikes should be able to fly (above the cars and crowded roads).

  • Lesson 3: Dream, and stick to your dream. No great inventions were ever made without dreaming, even if it looks crazy to the eyes of others. We are creators, therefore free to invent what we feel inspired by.

Somehow, our group split into two sub-groups: one that worked on the prototype (with the material provided by the tutors), and the other one on the presentation (explaining the benefits of our concept).

  • Lesson 4: Trust that each member of the group will eventually find its place to contribute in some way. Don’t let anyone isolated, each one has a precious gift to share. Let go of any egoistic personal desires. It is a group project, not a solo one.

We had only one hour, and therefore no time to make our prototype “perfect“, but the result was “good enough” to be presented to the rest of the main group.

  • Lesson 5: Always aim for the best, but remember that a product that is finished will always be better than an unfinished one, as perfect as it might be.

 

Conclusion

The presentation of our widget was clear and well spoken. Our bike prototype was rather clumsily cute and totally hand-made (with tapes, plastic cups, paper and wires). We gave it a name: Fly High. It won the 1st price.

This exercise was a wonderful example on how knowledge is co-created through social interactions, providing the perfect ground to enable collective intelligence. This was also a beautiful demonstration of the explicitation of tacit knowledge shared with one another, with the common aim of creating something new and useful to the society, with limited resources, and a lot of solidarity, essential to the success of any project.

Paper acceptance

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I have just learnt that the abstract I have submitted to the i3 conference 2017 has been accepted by the committee. This paper, co-authored with my supervisors Prof. Hazel Hall and Dr Colin F. Smith, will discuss the concept of ‘Ba’ and tacit knowledge sharing in online environments, a topic I will present here on my blog in the next following days.

For now, I just meant to announce this good news 🙂

 

That was ISIC

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The ISIC2016 conference that took place in Zadar, Croatia, is now over. It has been an intense and beautiful week, and I certainly feel enriched by all the discussions I’ve had with the several ISIC delegates I’ve met. Also, the numerous interesting speeches I’ve heard this week, allowed me to become more aware of the impressive variety of aspects which are studied in the field of Information Behaviour.


A doctoral workshop

Prior to the conference, my colleagues Lindsey Jenkins, John Mowbray, Frances Ryan and I, have taken part in a pre-conference Doctoral workshop in which we had all been accepted after the submission of our applications. A group activity in the morning gave us the possibility to discuss and reflect on the PhD process, in a collective brain-storming. The rest of the day was dedicated to discussions that occurred in small groups, within which we could receive a direct feedback from our dedicated mentors (in my case Prof. Ivenka Stricevic and Prof. Ina Fourie). Their questions and comments were enlightening, as well as those coming from the other doctoral students.

doctoral-students

The workshop (that was led by Prof. Theresa D. Anderson and Prof. Ross Todd), ended up with some time to reflect on the learning outcomes, and final guidance from all the mentors, including those provided by Prof. Coleen Cool and Dr Lynne McKechnie. I’ve particularly appreciated the one given by the latter, who invited us to embrace uncertainty in our research and enjoy it the same way dolphins swim. I guess that explains the reason why I’ve made several dreams about dolphins prior to the conference (!)

Speeches & food for thought

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The three days conference that followed were so rich, that it is impossible to sum it up here. However, some specific events are worthy to be mentioned here. Such as the One Minute madness event during which we (all the doctoral students) had to present our research in front of the ISIC delegates. Not an easy exercise, but certainly well executed by all my colleagues.

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The other one was, of course, the presentation of my paper, for which I will write a specific post right after that one. The only thing I would like to relate here is that the theme of tacit knowledge triggered some unexpected comments and questions, and certainly caught the attention of a few researchers…

Meetings

But ISIC2016 was not only about speeches. It was also about meeting wonderful people from all over the world, all dedicated to explore and understand the informational world we live in.

photo-22-09-2016-09-09-44Many discussions occurred during the lovely coffee breaks we had throughout the day, but also during the events organised by the Croatian team: the post-doctoral dinner, the reception held in the old and beautiful place of the Barbakan restaurant, and the final dinner, in the harbour.

These meetings are as important as the speeches, if not more, as it is each time a rare and precious occasion to discuss your research with fellow researchers. When they happen in such beautiful settings, they let you with a positive emotional impression not easy to forget.

Zadar & food for the soul

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Overall, it has been a wonderful experience. Of course, the fact that it happened in Croatia, is not negligible. It certainly contributed to the positive feeling of the entire experience, as I am a sincere admirer of this country for at least fifteen years.  I had never had the chance to visit Zadar though, and I was not disappointed. Everything that I know and love about Croatia was there: the gorgeous blue of the Mediterranean Sea, the shining green from the pine trees, the white rocks, and the wonderful smells.

Adding to that the fresh and tasty Mediterranean food accompanied by delicious wines from the area, you can only feel thankful. One thing was new to me, though: the amazing sea organ: this architectural and original construction was created by the artist Nikola Basic, who imagined a natural ‘organ’ being played by the waves of the sea. The joy of sitting there while enjoying the different sounds mysteriously coming out of this unusual structure, is difficult to describe, so I reckon the best way to understand it, is to experience it:

 

 

 

My first paper

Ref

Less than two weeks ago, I have received the confirmation that my first (short) paper (co-authored by my supervisors Prof. Hazel Hall and Dr Colin Smith) was accepted for the ISIC conference 2016. This is such a good news! Not only because I will be able to present it myself during the conference, but also because it will be published in the review ‘Information Research‘ next year, in 2017.

It is quite a weird feeling to realise that one day, my name will be ‘searchable’ in the academic databases under the field ‘author’. I guess I’d rather get used to it…

This said, I’m looking forward to attend the ISIC 2016 conference which is dedicated to Information Behaviour. A research area that I had only discovered while studying in 2009 for my Master in Information Science at the EBSI (University of Montreal), as at the time, it didn’t seem to be very know in the European french-speaking Information Science schools.

My paper covers methodological approaches regarding the study of tacit knowledge. A topic that I will address in my next blog post.

A priceless time of prizes

I have started this year by winning the Best Poster prize at the IDIMC 2016. IDIMC awardSix months later, I find myself being awarded of two more prizes! I don’t want to be over optimistic, but we are only half through the year…

In May, some of my colleagues and myself have organised the School of Computer PhD Conference, giving the opportunity to most of the PhD students to communicate about their research. The 1st year had the constraint to present their research in a ‘1 min. madness’ format, the 2nd year had to keep the rhythm to present theirs in a 20×20 presentation (20 sec./slide), and the 3d year through a more conventional 10 min. presentation.

As I’m in my 2nd year, I was in the group of the 20×20 presentations. Needless to say that I had no idea how I would manage to limit my speech and my slides in such a limited time (the slides run automatically, so after 20 seconds, you don’t have the choice to proceed with the next one). The 20×20 presentations are actually known as Pecha Kucha, (a Japanese term meaning chit-chat), which have first become popular in the creative fields, until its popularity extended to the academic world. The point is to present a topic in very short time (6.6 min.) based mainly on images (as there is no time to read a text).

SocPhD 20x20 prizeTo say the truth, I was quite reluctant to present my research in such a way. Not so much because of the constraint to use that many pictures (which I usually appreciate), but more because of the limited time that was imposed on us. Moreover, this format fits well to people who are at ease with storytelling and speaking in front of an audience…so if that’s not your case (…), the exercise can be even more challenging. Not impossible though. The proof is that I’ve unexpectedly won the 3d prize of the best 20×20 presentation! Not bad for the non-native English speaker that I am after all.

This prize has been won alongside my colleagues John Mowbray (2nd best prize of the 20×20 presentation), Frances Ryan (1st prize of the 3d year presentations), and our 1st year colleague Lyndsey Jenkins for the 2nd prize of best poster.

SoC Phd 20x20 prize picture
From left to right: Hazel Hall, Iris Buunk, Frances Ryan

 

 

In June, my supervisor wisely invited me to present once again my academic poster at the Edinburgh University Research day. As I thought it would be a nice opportunity to discuss my research with fellow researchers, I brought it without being aware that the posters were also awarded besides the numerous presentations that we had the chance to enjoy during the day. To my surprise, I heard my name being called during the Prize ceremony, for having won the best poster Principal’s Research Excellence Awards 2016!

Principals research excellence award

I’ve been told that I have implicitly become an academic poster advisors (!) …a status that I’m very glad to endorse if I can be of any help to any colleague who might need some advice in that matter.

In six months, I have won three prizes, two for my poster, and one for the presentation of my research. This is certainly not an outcome I had forecasted when the year 2016 started. I can only be thankful for receiving such recognition for my work, as it contributes to be more trustful on my abilities to progress with my PhD.

This gain of trust, is the real priceless prize of all.

Catching up

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Source: nomadicexpeditions.com

Sometimes, life is so intense, that it is impossible to catch up with the update of a blog.

This sounds like a bad excuse for not having written for such a long time, right?

Life is always intense, we are all busy, we ‘never’ have time, our schedules look like a Kandisky painting, and our mailboxes are close to zero (how do you spend your time?) or close….to be shut down (what are you doing with your time?).

Anyhow, this message is an interlude to let you know that I will soon publish quite a few fascinating stories about my research and my PhD life, that, as you now understand, wasn’t boring, nor empty like the Gobi desert.

From shadow to limelight

Delegate

I’ve just came back from the IDIMC conference held by the Centre for Information Management at Loughborough university, as mentioned in my previous post. This was the first time I was attending an academic conference where I could finally present my research in an official academic environment, as the scientific poster I had submitted to the Committee last October was peer reviewed and accepted for being part of the official programme.

The theme of the conference was ‘Exploring our digital shadow: from data to intelligence.’ The programme included several presentations and workshops from researchers, guest speakers and PhD students covering various aspects such as Information behaviour, Big data, Learning organisations, Virtual competences, or research methods to name a few. My colleagues John Mowbray and Frances Ryan respectively and brilliantly presented their papers on Social networking and employment, and on Personal online reputation.

 

Exposing our research

Photo 13-01-2016, 09 44 25In academic conferences, poster sessions typically occur during lunch or refreshment breaks, when delegates have time to discover each one of them and discuss their content with their authors, (who usually stand nearby), which allow them to make comments or ask questions.

This time is very precious as it gave me indeed, the opportunity to explain my study to researchers, but also talk about the hesitations I still have at this stage of my PhD. There were some really interesting feedback that gave me the opportunity to point out the weaknesses, but also the strengths of my study.

 

5 minutes madness

Besides the traditional way to display our work, we were also given the opportunity to present our research through a presentation called ‘5 minute madness‘ during which each PhD student could present their research to the audience, with or without slides, but no longer than five minutes… This was the only chance I had to present mine to all the delegates at once, so I’ve tried to make it a bit fun and visual with the aim of attracting people to discuss my work.

Needless to say that I had a stage ‘fear’: firstly, I’m not used to talk to a public of academic researchers, and secondly, I’m not used to express myself in English in front of a public that I don’t know (I’m more at ease at teaching students). In short, I was out of my comfort zone; but this is what it takes if I want to learn how to be a researcher myself (!) Anyhow, I survived. Several delegates did come to view my poster and discuss my research, with a cup of tea or a cookie in the hands, which added to the friendliness of the meeting 🙂

Knowledge visualisation

I must say that I’ve really enjoyed the process of doing a poster, that I find very similar to the one of building a course, when you own a rather huge amount of knowledge that you would like to share, without much time or space at your disposal to do so. 09AThere is therefore no other choices than being extremely concise, yet clear and specific if you want to make yourself understood. It is also a creative way to share knowledge that I find very enjoyable (I’m personally very sensitive to the beauty of design). I feel therefore thankful to have had the opportunity to present my work in such way.

Over the moon

When I discovered the programme of the conference, I found out that there would be prizes for the best paper, best poster and best ‘5 minute madness‘. I knew that my poster was  fairly good, but I didn’t know how good would be the others. Many were really interesting, and gave me the opportunity to find out about the research of other PhD students in the field of Information Science. Some of them looked really ‘advanced’ and complex to me, and made me feel like an ‘absolute beginner’ (to stay in touch with this week’s cultural reality) when I would compare them to the early stage of my research.

CYnbFUAWsAQqibFTherefore, despite the fact that I knew I had my chances like anybody else, I was still honestly surprised when I heard my name for the prize for the best poster (!) and frankly, it felt good to hear <)

This joyful moment was enhanced by the fact that my colleague Frances Ryan won the prizes for the best paper and the best ‘5 min. presentation’! Basically, we (the CSI team from Napier University) swept all the prizes! 🙂

Needless to say that our supervisor, Prof. Hazel Hall* was proud of us. A compliment that we gladly returned to her, regarding the chance we have to be supervised by her.

*[Update: you can now read her post “An award-winning trip to #IDIMC 2016” about this event.]

 

A glow in the shadow

The theme of this conference was about exploring our digital shadow. For me it has become symbolically a way to shyly expose myself to the limelight of the academic world. My eyes are still a bit blinded by it, but I’m confident that the more I’ll have the chance to expose myself to such challenging circumstances, the closer my time to shine will come.

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Flickr MMT Public Domain

 

 

 

 

My first conference

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The New Year 2016 starts really well: I’m about to present my first academic poster at the (IDIMC) – namely the International Data and Information Management Conference – which also happens to be my first International Conference,  at Loughborough University, in the UK.

The conference theme is quite fascinating to say the least: ‘Exploring our digital shadow: from data to intelligence’. I’m definitely looking forward of exploring this kind of shadow, and hope that my humble poster will contribute, in a very modest way, to shed a light on the world of data, knowledge and intelligence.

I will report on the conference on my next post, so stay tuned!

 

A golden opportunity

Hello.

Have you ever dreamt to start a PhD? Well, now is the time

Four funded places within the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University are now available. Two of them are of particular interest to the Center for Social Informatics, directed by the Prof. Hazel Hall, my main supervisor:

  1. information systems for organisational effectiveness
  2. digital media for cultural engagement

More detailed information concerning these themes and the application procedure is available on my supervisor’s blog.

 

The deadline is on Friday 15th of January 2016!

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So hurry up! Don’t miss the chance to be successful…and come along with us to work in this great and friendly team, in the wonderful city of Edinburgh 🙂

The apprentice

It makes one year that I’ve started my PhD here in Scotland. To complete my previous post about how it has radically changed my life, I would also like to pay tribute to this academic year, as I realise today how much I have learned, not so much in terms of the knowledge I’ve gathered regarding the topic of my research, but more in terms of understanding what it means to do a PhD.

The main reason that lead me to move to Edinburgh was to start a PhD at the Centre for Social Informatics within the IIDI at Edinburgh Napier University. There are not that many universities in Europe where one can undertake a PhD in the field of Knowledge Management. Even less in the new field of Information Sciences. So when I found out that I had an opportunity to do so in Scotland, I didn’t hesitate for long. Of course, I had a rather broad idea of what a PhD consist of (a question I was being asked while applying for my studentship), but honestly, it is only when I started to live the experience of my PhD studies, that I realised what it was all about. I’m certainly not at the end of my discoveries, regarding the fact that it only makes one year that I’ve started.

What have I learned so far?

Journals vs. books

I’ve always considered  books as the ultimate source of knowledge (next to people, of course), and therefore, I thought I would have to read a lot of them. Well, it is not quite so, as the priority is to grasp what is being discussed in the academic literature among researchers. Books are still useful, especially those that compile scholars’ different point of views, or those which allow me to go back to the fundamentals of the theories I’m studying. However, none of them provides the live and updated discussion that I can find in academic journals, where the fundamental theory is being questioned, discussed, criticised, compared or investigated.

Criticism vs. description

To understand the difference between the two, and to realise that I had to adopt the idea of being critical in my writing rather than descriptive, has been one of the major shifts that occurred during my doctoral apprenticeship. Descriptions are sometimes still needed, but the point is to learn to position ourselves among the researchers, as we are meant to become one of them. This is not about being negatively judgemental, it is about analysing, evaluating and sometimes emphasising contradictions, but always with consideration for the scholars of course. I am still learning, and I really do feel like an apprentice to my supervisors who kindly and patiently try to bring me back to the right path of academic writing. It is a long journey. Often arduous, enjoyable at times, especially when everything starts to make sense. Despite the fact that I can’t imagine the final destination yet, I still have the hope that this process will lead me to the achievement of my thesis.

Room desk

Academic networking

I’ve always believed in networking, and have been practising it for many years. Quite naturally at first, because I’m a social type of a person: meaning that not only I don’t mind to meet new people, I even enjoy it.  Secondly, with the years passing by, I became more aware of its strengths, if not power, as I’ve witnessed so many times the numerous benefits it can bring (new partnerships, new jobs opportunities, counselling, support, etc.). To network within the academic context I am part of, has therefore been quite enjoyable. To me, the main objectives are:

  1. to be engaged within a community of scholars (Professors, researchers and other PhD students) who could one day potentially become my colleagues,
  2. to meet academics with whom I can (finally) discuss my research,
  3. to find potential ‘candidates’ who could be part of my empirical research,
  4. to discover the existence of similar studies close to mine.

Networking occurs in conferences, workshops, social events, but also on online networks such as Research Gate, Twitter, LinkedIn, or even Mendeley, to name a few. Today, we are lucky enough to live in a much more connected world than it used to be thirty years ago (before Internet was launched). I am therefore convinced that it is worthy to take advantage of these new technical possibilities which foster our social skills on a worldwide scale.

Academic writing vs. BBC style

The day one of my supervisors told me that my text was written in a BBC style, I was flattered. For a few second only. Indeed, I first thought it was a compliment until I realised that it wasn’t (after all, English is a language I had to learn as I’m a French native speaker). I guess I was trying to make my point by using a slightly dramatic tone which in academic writing doesn’t really has its place. Academic writing requires to adopt a specific style that demands a dexterity I am still struggling to learn. It is not about using complicated expressions just for the sake of it. It is rather about finding the right style that will allow me to discuss a complex and abstract topic, while being able to be clear and understandable.

There is a lot of debate among academics (and occasionally with the media) about how the academic literature can appear heavy sometimes. Not a long time ago, I read an article on the Atlantic that caught my attention as it precisely criticises ‘The needless [according to the author] of academic writing.’ I’ve had the chance recently to discuss the topic of this article with a lecturer (for whom I have a lot of respect) and who’s regularly available to help students with their own writings. He reminded me that ‘academic writing cannot be separated from its content and that the more complex the content often the more dense the writing is’ while a content that is poorly organised or communicated is of course not advisable. A point of view that I entirely share.

One of my supervisors also told me that I could be more passionate in my writing, which confused me and made me wonder even more… So here I am today, left with this question in my mind, as I keep on striving to progress: how can I make my writing both academic and passionate at the same time (and therefore not boring)? I guess time will help, and most of all, the ongoing process of writing until the day I will be able to find my own (academic) voice.


More skills will be gathered. I’m thinking right now about the empirical research I will undertake within a few months, with the semi-structured interviews and online surveys, and all the analysis process that will follow. Nonetheless, I’m glad to realise everything I have learnt so far, and look forward to move on into the discovery of this unknown path, sometimes scary, yet quite fascinating, of doing a PhD with the humbleness and curiosity of an apprentice.