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!

Merchiston_Tower,_Napier_University_-_geograph.org.uk_-_595561

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 ūüôā

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.

One magical year

It already makes one year that I’ve started my PhD here in Scotland, so in order to pay tribute to the amazing time I’ve had so far, I will first¬†express myself on¬†a personal note, before¬†writing a post related to my¬†research.

A jump in the unknown

One year ago, I arrived in Edinburgh to start my PhD at the Centre of Social Informatics within the Institute of Informatics and Digital Innovation (IIDI) at the Edinburgh Napier University. An entire year might seem to be a long time to some people, but to me, these twelve months passed at warp speed.

© OshoInternationalFoundation.

One year ago, my life has totally changed, since I left behind my work and my colleagues, my friends and my family, my flat and my hometown; in short, my country. It was my choice of course. However, it was also a jump in the unknown. In fact,¬†it wasn’t completely my choice, I would¬†rather specify that ¬†it was my decision to say ‘yes’ to what Life had unexpectedly put in front me: to start a PhD in Scotland. I’ve always had the intention to visit this beautiful land, thinking that it would make a nice destination for holidays, but never did it cross my mind that I would live here one day. I did consider to start a PhD a few years ago, but after having failed to make¬†my wish come true in Amsterdam (for severe health issues), I pushed this idea to the back of¬†my mind, considering¬†that it was just a nice dream which¬†already belonged to the past.

I was wrong.

The force of the network

A fortunate look at my LinkedIn group newsletters one morning, allowed me to come across one ad that immediately caught my attention: a full-time studentship was offered to PhD candidates by the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University within the Center of Social Informatics directed by the Professor Hazel Hall, in¬†areas related to ‘knowledge management‘ and ‘information sciences‘, my professional fields…

As much as the idea of going to Scotland seemed illusory at the time, I felt deep inside that there was ‘something’ there, that couldn’t simply be dismissed. It took me two weeks to decide if I would apply, as I first needed to check if my application was likely to go through the selection process, and if those who are close to me were opened to the possibility that I would actually establish myself in the UK. Finally, I had two weeks left to submit my thesis proposal and application, (taking into account that I was working and busy during the week-ends). To my surprise, I was invited for an interview, and as I couldn’t adjust my schedule to meet the professors face-to-face in Edinburgh, I had no other choice but to do it via Skype.

Skype interview

I will never forget how much I was worried about the risk of not being able to understand what would be discussed (not only for the ¬†content of my thesis, but also for being able to understand the varied English accents, something I was expecting to be quite challenging, or¬†any technical issues that could occur in the middle of the talk). It was a weird feeling to see these five professors talking to me while I was sitting in my kitchen (even more weird to discover the room where the interview actually did occur¬†afterwards), but the funniest anecdote that I will never forget¬†is how¬†I tried to (hopefully) look properly dressed up on the visible and upper part of my body,¬†while I was¬†actually dressed in a home edition, and barefoot. Fortunately, I didn’t have to stand up during the meeting, and had the good idea to quickly remove my cookbooks just before being logged in…

The moment of choice

I was at work when I received the e-mail from the Director of IIDI, and could hardly believe what I was reading: I was being offered a full-time studentship to start my PhD in Edinburgh, starting in October 2014. Needless to say that I was feeling exhilarated by the news! Following my partner’s advice, I still allowed myself to sleep over it before confirming my will to accept the offer and move on with the expatriation process.

This moment was the most important one to my eyes, because I could still say ‘no, thanks but actually no, I rather keep¬†on with my life…‘, but when I did put myself in the position of saying ‘yes’ (a simple but efficient Gestalt technique), I felt like a powerful life stream was going¬†through¬†my back, inviting¬†me to just let go, to¬†¬†go with the flow. Even though I was well aware of what it meant (to leave everything behind me, and deal with all the administrative, concrete and emotional efforts it would imply in the three months to follow), even though I had no idea where I would land, even though I was scared by the unknown, I intuitively¬†knew, that it was the right decision to take. Some may call it an act of faith, for me, it was simply saying yes to Life. And of course, I didn’t regret it…

flat4

Where the magic happens

The price to pay for the¬†happiness I’ve gained, was to accept to be away from those I love. Not an easy choice at a first sight, but when I recall all these years where I’ve been desperately longing¬†for a major change to happen (which implicitly meant that it had to¬†be abroad), and when I realise that my life has indeed improved so greatly in so many levels since then, my heart is filled with¬†gratitude.

Magic happens out of our comfort zone‘, to quote the famous (and anonymous?) saying. Indeed, this year has been magical, despite the inevitable¬†ups and downs that one needs to face on a daily basis. As soon as I stepped out of the plane, I knew that I was home. A feeling quickly confirmed (if needed) by the gigantic ad that one can admire when coming¬†out of Edinburgh airport that simply writes ¬†‘this is¬†home’.

Welcome

I can’t emphasize enough how much my life has improved since I arrived in Edinburgh. I live in a beautiful flat (3d floor, with a view on Arthur seat, the castle and the Meadows), in the lovely area named Marchmont (feels like living in an old village, a bit like Greenwich in NYC, but without the noise), only twenty minutes walk from the university campus (no need to endlessly commute in public transports anymore); I work with such great and so friendly¬†colleagues with whom I’m happy to share my student life, including the over-heated room and the drinks (wink).

I’m fortunate enough to be supervised by my amazing director of studies whose reputation and academic expertise are as big as her loving support and kindness, and lucky enough to benefit from a second supervisor whose wise advises and endless trust in my abilities are certainly¬†comforting; my health has improved as I’ve discovered the unexpected joy of going to the gym (it’s amazing how many fitness one can find here in this city), and my finances, despite the rather low income we get with our studentship, is better than it has ever been, since I finally managed to get out of my financial struggles in Switzerland. Oh, and let’s not forget the proximity of nature, the beauty of landscapes, the seagulls that remind me that nope, I’m not dreaming, I really do live next to the¬†sea (!), the kindness of Scottish people that¬†I keep on finding disarming, and last but not least, my recent engagement with my partner who will join me here, hopefully very soon.

Meadows

Of course, this new life isn’t always smooth and easy: to undertake a PhD is a challenge by itself, the topic I chose isn’t quite easy to grasp (but which one is?), moreover¬†I have no choice but to do it in English. And even so, it is unbelievable how much I have learned in one year (more of these learning outcomes will be presented in my next post).

The future remains unknown, but I’m not afraid of it. Despite the fact that I’m not sure why I’ve landed here, I’m actually excited and curious to find it out. In such environment, in such magical city, in such a sacred land, surrounded by so many beautiful people, I suspect things are likely to go pretty well.

Tacet

Tacet_Sheetmusic

While I was looking for explanations of the word ‘tacit’ (in regard to my interest in tacit knowledge), I’ve discovered that the etymological root of the term actually comes from Latin, for ‘tacere‘ (be silent), which then became¬†in the 17th century ‘tacit‘, that stands¬†for ‘wordless’ or ‘noiseless’, or more recently for ‘not spoken’.

Reading this word ‘tacet’ suddenly¬†revived my musical memory¬†as it is an expression (usually illustrated on the picture above) known by all classical musicians, which means indeed that it is time to be ‘silent’¬†or ‘without sound’. Concretely, it meant that one was not supposed to play sounds until notes would appear again on the score.¬†I find it to be quite a nice analogy with the concept of ‘tacit knowledge’ which relates to¬†the unexpressed knowledge, the one that isn’t articulated yet, and¬†is indeed, silent.

It also illustrates very well on what¬†kind of mode I’ve been these recent weeks, as I haven’t published anything for quite a while. Well, I reckon I was¬†just being ‘tacet’ while studying ‘tacit knowledge’… But I can’t wait to explicitly express myself again, and soon more posts will be published. The summer is over, and a new year of discoveries is just about to start.

An unexpected insight.

An account on how one can be attracted by the amazingly huge topic of knowledge, and how it defines us.

Knowledge. What a broad topic. The knowledge that we get, the one¬†that we share, the one¬†that we create, the one that defines us, we, as human beings. No wonder why this topic, for eons of time, has aroused so much interest from¬†philosophers to distinguished¬†intellectuals, psychologist, educators and later on, managers and¬†knowledge workers. The rather abstract and undefined topic called “knowledge management” also professionally (if not¬†affectionately) known as KM¬†is one of the many branches¬†that was born out of this universal tree. It is on this branch that I sit (hopefully on the right side), observing the incredible numerous extensions it provides and leads on to.

The first time I’ve heard about KM was shortly a few years after I had earned a Degree in Librarianship, Documentation & Archives in the late nineties. Freshly¬†enrolled as a research assistant at the Geneva’s Business School within the Information Sciences department, I was required to take part in a National research project about Business Intelligence and Information monitoring* and expected to test¬†several software agents. Wearing the hat of¬†an Information broker, I remember how much¬†I loved to look for information ‘out there’ in the world very wide web, thrilled by all the knowledge available since the Internet started to significantly grow.

It is at that time that I discovered the concept of Knowledge Management. While¬†Information monitoring mainly focuses on what is external to the organisation’s informational environment, KM focuses more on the knowledge which is already¬†available¬†(but unfortunately often overlooked) within the organisation, and within people’s minds. Whether it relates to people’s expertise, the organisation’s best practices (and failures), or the archives, KM intends to foster the valuable knowledge generated by its ¬†own employees, allowing the organisation to improve its performance and evolve.

This change of paradigm triggered my curiosity, for two main reasons. Firstly from a managerial¬†point of view and as a young professional, I’ve had already quite a few occasions to be frustrated by the realization¬†that a lot of organisational resources seemed to be¬†invested outside the institution in the sake of solving internal problems¬†(by enrolling expensive consultants, buying brand new IT tools implying supplementary trainings, etc.), while ignoring the fact that some of the solutions were¬†probably¬†available within¬†the organisation itself, and¬†therefore less costly¬†(in terms of time, money, or human resources). Secondly and from a personal point of view, this approach of valuing knowledge resonated with something incremented far¬†more deep¬†inside myself, echoing with a¬†life’s philosophical approach to which I felt close to for many years: that knowledge (if not wisdom) was a hidden gem that needed to be discovered and seen in order to shine and therefore be used and shared¬†(which¬†could obviously only bring a lot of positive outcomes). But how can you look for a hidden treasure, if you’re not even aware that it exist?

As the authors¬†O‚ÄôDell & Grayson (1998) summarized it very well:¬†If only we knew what we know. Indeed, how paradoxical it is that organisations that produce knowledge, aren’t usually aware of its intrinsic value (!). This leads us¬†to¬†one of¬†the numerous obstacles that prevents KM to be implemented within an organisation: on the first place, one needs to be aware (preferably the manager) that there is indeed a valuable¬†knowledge that is generated by the¬†employees, secondly, that knowledge can be managed and that there are plenty of good reasons to do so (outcomes), and finally – and this is perhaps¬†the most difficult aspect of it – that one needs to understand what ‘knowledge’ means…

This is one of the many reasons why I’ve got interested in KM, not mentioning yet (but soon in another post), the hidden motivation I have towards knowledge sharing


*Information monitoring rather focus on the information which is available outside the organisation, whether it concerns the actual or potential concurrent, partners, new trends,¬†forecasted political or juridical laws, or what media say about the organisation itself for instance. This information gathered, selected, sorted, analyzed, summarized and then communicated to the ‘client’ (usually the management team), will often help the managers to take important decisions that¬†will inevitably have an impact on the organisation’s strategical objectives. This information is therefore characterized as being of high added-value and require¬†the expertise of information professionals and appropriate tools.

Continue reading An unexpected insight.

The mobilization of knowledge.

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A few days ago, I got the chance to participate in the UK Knowledge Mobilisation Forum held this year in Edinburgh, in the stunning building of the Royal College of Physicians. This event allowed me to get accustomed to the terms¬†of “knowledge mobilization” (KMb), that I had already come across in the literature of course, but without¬†the awareness¬†that it was a¬†specific¬†concept in itself (leading to concrete actions). So far, I was more familiar with the concepts of “knowledge sharing” or “knowledge transfer”. With it came the discovery of the expression¬†“knowledge brokers” that I must admit, I was hearing for the first time. I knew about “information brokers” or “knowledge managers”, but had never heard¬†about “knowledge brokers” and that of course, caught my attention and¬†certainly¬†did stir up my intellectual curiosity. (A few years out of the KM field are apparently enough to miss quite a few new significant¬†changes in this area in constant evolution).

According to what I’ve understood¬†so far, KMb’s purpose is to bridge the gap between university researchers and those who are meant to use the outcomes of the research in their practice. This concept which has apparently been defined within the social sciences field, and apparently¬†in Northern America, is similar to the concepts of “knowledge translation” in the health sector and “knowledge management” in the business one. KMb does use well-known KM practices like “knowledge sharing” or “knowledge exchange”, but what differs here is the perspective from where knowledge is perceived and used. As clearly defined on a document published by the Institute for Community Engaged Scholarship :

“Knowledge mobilization (KMb) is a broad and encompassing term that includes the products, processes and relationships among knowledge creators, users, and mediators (individuals or intermediary organizations that support knowledge brokering).”

Indeed, unlike the terms¬†“knowledge transfer”, KMb emphasizes the essential role of the interconnections needed between knowledge users, producers and the knowledge itself which¬†indeed needs to be mobilised if any sharing (and therefore learning) has to¬†occur. This is where¬†the role of “knowledge brokers” becomes obvious: the need of knowledge mediators is indeed¬†needed to make the link between the users and the producers of knowledge, translating it, sharing it, or validating it. (Interestingly enough, these processes are well-known to the information specialists who¬†have precisely learned theses competences during their training and¬†professional experience).

To mobilize knowledge means to put knowledge into action, to make it “move”. I actually find this idea of “movement” very¬†inspiring, and would like to end this post with a philosophical touch.¬†If one considers that the entire universe is in movement,¬†and movement occurs in existence only when there is life….then it is quite probable¬†that in the absence of movement, we are facing something that is far deep asleep, unconscious, if not dead. To mobilize knowledge is therefore a way to make us¬†aware on how much¬†knowledge is alive, without¬†mentioning the people who produce it and use it…

I’m therefore very thankful that I could enrich my own knowledge by attending such an alive event, full of wonderful professionals, all dedicated to the importance mobilizing knowledge in the most suitable and creative¬†ways possible.

Knowledge? What knowledge?

So, my research is about knowledge, right? Right.¬†Now, go and define it. No really, I mean it. Let‚Äôs define knowledge. Isn‚Äôt it a great challenge? Have you ever been asked to define knowledge? Because by the way, that‚Äôs what I‚Äôm expected to do right now – let me show off a bit ūüėČ Actually I’m not showing off at all, I’m on the contrary humbled (and excited) to find out everything that has been discovered and analysed so far about this concept that is much more concrete (yet very complex) than one could imagine, and that we all need as it is part of ourselves, our world, and our life.

Seriously. To study knowledge ‚Äúper se‚ÄĚ is amazing. Because it can be analysed in so many different ways, viewed and understood from so many different perspectives, that it keeps on opening new horizons of‚Ķ (inner) knowledge. I would have never imagined¬†that one day, I would have the pleasure and honour to read or (re)discover Plato, Aristotle and some more contemporary philosophers within the context of my work or studies. Each one of them has defined what knowledge is, with its own insights, its own words and experience, and contributed to the overall general and cultural “knowledge” from which we can all benefit from today.

As always, when I try¬†to deepen my understanding of a topic, I start by defining¬†what it is not. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve spent quite some time recently to describe what is information (often mistaken for¬†knowledge and vice versa), and what data is. But it goes way further than that. Indeed, in the knowledge management field, there has been plenty of discussions around these concepts, the way they are related to/differ from each other, their value, their use, and how eventually they get transformed. One of the models that has been widely analysed, valued and criticized, is the DIKW hierarchy (Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom), attributed to Ackoff in 1989, illustrated by the famous diagram below:

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I won’t discuss it any further, as there is so much¬†to be said about it, and will¬†rather stick to the concept of knowledge itself for now, that is broad¬†enough, to say the least. To cut the story short ūüėČ Knowledge can be, and actually is interpreted in several fields such as information science, cognitive psychology, management, pedagogy, management, social computing and philosophy. All these are needed to grasp this huge, complex¬†nebulous topic that somehow, define ourselves…

More on this topic next time. But any comments or questions are of course, more than welcomed.

It’s about writing…

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My last meetings with my supervisors allowed me to realize that a PhD is as much about reading that it is about writing. I’ve met a few PhD students by now, who told me that if they had one advice to give me, it would be: write. Write, every day, or at anytime. Write everything you can think of. Your ideas, some abstracts, whatever. This won’t be a loss of time, and this won’t be lost…. The writing process help to organize our ideas, move forward, backward, re-write, re-think. In short, it help us to move on.

The 4th month

Yay, I’ve just started the 4th month of my PhD. Sounds unreal. Time flies, too fast to my taste. I just came out of a workshop organized by the InGSoc seminars within our IIDI Insitute, named “Blog Whys. Also, blog where and blog who.” by Jane Carnall, the blogger behind the Edinburgh Eye. Among the several great advices that she gave us, here are three that caught my attention: If you want to blog,

  1. “you have to have something to say”
  2. “you need to have self-confidence in what you write”
  3. “you need to have self-discipline”.

I’d say that number 1 and number 2 are rather strongly related. Indeed, I was wondering (and that’s one of the numerous reasons why it took me so long to start this blog) not only if I had anything to say, but also if I had anything “interesting” to say. Therefore this advice n.1 already stresses me out, as I have no idea yet what I’m going to write here, and moreover, if it will be of any interest to anyone on this planet. But who cares hm? Me of course. It reminds me on a joke Ellen (Degeneres) said while teasing the actors at the Oscar Academy in 2007 “Look, it’s not that we don’t want you to make a speech, it’s just that we really don’t want to hear any boring speech” she joked while pretending relaxing everyone ūüôā But I’m getting carried away… So, here I am. I need of course to have something to say (I think so far I’ve made it, ha!), I need to have confidence in what I write (as long as I can share my personal insights, it should be fine). As for the advice number 3….I’ll need self-discipline. Well, frankly, one post a day to talk about my PhD? Hmm, I seriously doubt about it, but let’s see…once a week would be a pretty fair aim I’d say. Nice week-end to all