Getting Organised: Practical Tools

The summer is the season for organisation. It feels wonderful to have time and space to read and write. I also have been working on implementing strategies (yes this is a war) for the coming chaos of the Autumn term.

I have subscribed to Evernote Premium, which has been great for research diaries, notes and general sanity. I have been using Asana to make lists and track tasks. Equally fabulous. It feels good to know what is going on each day especially when a PhD project is so long.

However, my greatest achievement is the construction of a time management board. not online, not on my phone, in real life. Compared to the other tools above, this took a lot longer to conceptualise and create, but it has sincerely helped me to keep track of time and make sure that I am concentrating on what is important to me.

 

 

To make this you will need:

  • foam squares
  • sticky magnets
  • ruler
  • pencil
  • scissors
  • permanent marker (for marking up whiteboard into a grid)
  • a magnetic whiteboard
  • Dymo Tape
  • Maths
  • Time

optional

  • a friend
  • bangin’ tunes
  • a radiator for collecting them as you go

 

Steps:

  1. Measure the whiteboard and work out how much time you want to plan. I chose 9am – 11pm as I wanted to cover most of my conscious hours. Let’s face it, before 9am doesn’t really count as consciousness now does it…
  2. Do maths to work out how many squares you need to draw on the whiteboard. This was hard for me, but maybe that is because I study the Humanities. Check it and double check it.
  3. Then you can play with the foam, since you’ll know the size of the pieces. Mine are 5cm by 2.5cm big.
  4. Cut out foam in different colours to make “time / activity” tiles. Choose angry colours for things you hate / HAVE to do. Choose happy colours for nice things. I made my PhD tiles a happy colour as there is going to be a lot of them. Categories can include things like read, chores, meeting, scoial time, PhD, admin, etc. I made two for bath ‘cos a girl can dream.
  5. DYMO time. This is where a friend is good so you don’t get RSI from stamping out thousands of tiny letters. Type out names for the activities and stick them on the foam.
  6. Magnet time. Stick magnets on the back of the tiles. I bought some great self-adhesive ones on Amazon which work really well for me since the foam is not too heavy. I am not sure if it would hold up wooden tiles for example, but with the foam it is supremo.
  7. Collect the tiles together on a radiator (for fun)
  8. It’s hard to know how many tiles to make for each activity, but try to be optimistic / idealistic at first. I went back and had to make more admin tiles, but to start out think about what you want your planner to look like.
  9. Feel glorious everyday and stay conscious of your time.
IMG_2653

Close up of tiles

IMG_2652

The final board

 

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How do you find academic conferences to attend?

This is a duplication of a blogpost that I wrote for  piirus.ac.uk 

Summer means conference season in academia. From casual graduate symposia popping up across campuses, to the vast annual international gatherings of scholars in one dedicated field, there will be the congregation of academic minds. Whilst undergraduate marking looms like an unmovable mountain in May, come June and July academics will be packing suitcases and embarking on trains across the country, and indeed airplanes around the world. It’s a romantic image to think on such an international scale. But before that, there has been the search, which for most academics today begins online, alone.

Finding a conference can be a challenge, especially when you are starting out in academia. There are just so many possibilities out there. Since beginning my PhD I have attended and presented at some great conferences and some truly dire ones. I have spoken in a room to six people, and an auditorium of 200. There is a really great article by Cornelia Oefelein that details different kinds of conferences, which adds to the picture.

Over time, I have learnt that where and how you search changes the kinds of conferences that you will find. Below, I detail my favourite places to look for conferences and what they are especially useful for, alongside the disadvantages. As a humanities scholar these are biased towards the arts and humanities disciplines. I also maintain that perhaps the best place to find out about conferences is by talking to friends and colleagues.

1) Online Conference Database

Advantages: Of the numerous sites out there, H-Net’s Academic Announcements is my favourite conference database. It offers a convenient way to narrowing down the vast number of conferences out there. Tick boxes and filters mean that you can choose to search for conferences with “Call for Papers” (CFP) that are still open (i.e. you will be able to present) or for conferences that are open for registration. You can search by location, subject or keyword terms. Another good place to look if you are in English Studies is the University of Pennsylvania’s CFP database. It isn’t as beautiful as H-Net but it does have a load of conferences for literature / Digital Humanities scholars.
Disadvantages: Cast too wide a wide net, and you’ll be inundated with conferences and feel overwhelmed.

2) Eventbrite

Advantages: If you are looking for a one-day conference (or symposia as it is sometimes called)Eventbrite is a great place to start. Events listed here are often organised by groups of people at one institution, so it can be a really easy way of getting involved in otherwise closed circles. I recently attended a graduate conference at University College London on the theme of “Dissidence” via Eventbrite. People attended this particular event from all across the UK, testament to the potential reach of this platform. These events have the benefit of being public too, meaning that you might get a wider and more diverse audience for your paper = win!
Disadvantages: The events here only usually last for a day, meaning that you miss out on the potential to make stronger connections over a few days.

3) Twitter

Advantages: Some of the best conferences I have been to have been recommended by colleagues on Twitter who’ve spotted a CFP elsewhere. Twitter allows you to expand the power of personal recommendation to a wider circle of peers. “Following” people in your field, and looking at the conferences which they are organising / attending / tweeting about is a great way to find places to get involved.
Disadvantages: You need to be able to discern between a meaningful recommendation and an automated plug. Like the conference databases, there is an over-abundance of information on Twitter.

4) Institutions / Organizations

Advantages: The biggest conferences are hosted by large organisations. Following these centres via membership, mailing lists, RSS feeds, or social media provides an excellent way to stay in the loop in regard to conferences. These large events pull a greater number of colleagues, have world-leading experts and tend to have the largest catering budget!
Disadvantages: They can be competitive to present at and so applying for these is more likely to result in rejection. Try not to be disheartened though, as sometimes they also result in success and an excellent chance to disseminate your ideas.

 

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Thought for the Day: Bertrand Russell and Doing More of What Makes you Happy.

Recently I have been focusing on trying to pursue interests outside of my research. 
 
It is strange how that sentence sounds like a guilty confession. Having interests outside of your research? Doesn’t “interests” equate to “research? Do you not find your research to be interesting? I do find the work that I do interesting, and I feel privileged to enjoy working on my PhD perhaps 3 out of the 5 days a week. But does it fulfil me entirely? Of course not.

Research (which is – when stripped back – Work) cannot stand in for Life. I was inspired to begin to concentrate and think along these lines when reading Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness. Amusingly, it was for my upcoming chapter that I chose to read this, although the book choice was not a necessary reference rather a lenient choice on a Friday afternoon. 

 

Russell’s argument In Praise of Idleness is that:
“the importance of knowledge consists not only in its direct practical utility but also in the fact that it promotes a widely contemplative habit of mind”
An old-school defensiveness about the ‘value’ of the humanities was what I was searching for, and indeed what I came to find. However, Russell’s essay is more about economics than touchy-feely emotions, for example:
“serious minded persons, for example, are continuously condemning the habit of going to the cinema, and telling us that it leads the young into crime. But all the work that goes into producing cinema is respectable because it is work, and because it brings a money profit. The notion that desirable activities are those that bring a profit has made everything topsy turvy […] the baker who provides you with bread is praiseworthy, because they are making money; but when you enjoy the food they have provided, you are merely frivolous unless you eat only to get strength for your work […]
We think too much of production, and too little of consumption. One result is that we attach too little importance to enjoyment and simple happiness, and that we do not judge production by the pleasure that it gives to the consumer” 
Wise words from Katharine Hepburn: “If you always do what 
interests you, at least one person will be pleased.”
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Yangon Local Airport: Myanmar

The ceiling is high and vaulted in oak, as you would expect in the dining room of a Tudor mansion. The building is far taller than it needs to be and there is a balcony around the central concourse that appears to be solely decorative. Pigeon feathers float down from nests in the coves carved out of the wood, and the rounded and rhythmic sounds of the Myanmar language are drawn upwards into the expanse of warm air above the cluster of four check-in desks.

Moving beyond these small administrative boxes and then turning a corner to face the singular bag scanner, that accounts for the entirety of airport security, you become aware of a shift in the sense of space. Moving from lofty and empty, the space becomes suddenly constricted and low, hot and full of impatient passengers. You pass through into a holding bay, the illusion of airy space is entirely forgotten. There is no point in looking for an actual chair, or even a metal bench, as there are already busloads of people who have resigned themselves to the hard scuffed floor. The only floor space free is on the stairs up to the upper lounge.

Fog.

The reason that creeps in through the sliding doors which are the only way out of this humid human holding pen. There is heavy smog clinging to the ground. The airport personnel navigate through the passengers with both a sense of utter surprise and resignation. This both does and doesn’t normally happen. There is no communication to the hundreds of passengers who are waiting to take to the air. Attentive eyes flick to the plasma TV screen which reveals no update on any flights, cheerily displaying all green go ahead bars of flight numbers although not one craft has left the runway in over five hours. Some passengers have given in to the lull of a half-sleep propping themselves up against bags and what other comforts they might find, such as pillars and corners. Others stand near the sliding doors, in a state of mild agitation, unwilling to accept the futility of impatience. These people are mostly tourists.

We stand, since there would not be room for us to sit. It is the most chaotic airport I have ever experienced. Clearly at capacity, it is a health and safety, security and hygiene nightmare. But at least it isn’t lonely. Here in this crowded hall it is hard to imagine the cold cool expanse of wide concourses and empty travelators in other airports around the world. Amidst so many people it seems fictional to dream up such a sense of emptiness and detachment. No, here in Yangon, the airport feels, really feels, like a hub of human transportation. Bodies in motion, or at least they could be. By virtue of the contrast to the chaos of the departure lounge you can truly get a sense of the miracle of flight. I imagine forward to a few hours time when I am up in the air, away from all of these other passengers who are going to Inle Lake, or Mandalay or somewhere beyond. Down here is a nice contrast to the dry and miserable vacuum awaiting us at 36,000ft.

Meanwhile, I try to find a place to sit down upstairs, and fail. Instead I buy and consume a terrible cup of coffee from a flustered attendant in the upper lounge. It tastes of salt and gasoline. I drink it for lack of other entertainment or occupation. It scalds the roof of my mouth and has a strong acidic burn that begins to agitate the lining of my apprehensive stomach. From this higher vantage I survey the sea of faces, the singular set of sliding doors, and the unchanging plasma screens above them. Outside the windows there is only fog. All that should be solid has melted into the thickness of the air. It is like we are already up in the clouds. This fog is dark; full of particles of dust, red from the dry earth, of black petrol from the exhausts of the ever-expanding fleet of vehicles around the metropolitan centre, mixed with saline water drawn up from the Indian Ocean. Through such a density of weather it is impossible to see any of the small aircraft that are out on the tarmac but I can sense that they are there waiting for us. They must be equally impatient for some fresh air.

It is tiring to be surrounded by so many people, and to be waiting, and to be unsure of what is happening. But it also makes you feel human. Yangon airport is a reminder of the forces that we are able to overcome in flight. Space, weight and time. Here on the ground we are subject to these governing forces. We are confined, and cannot move beyond this area until the fog lifts. We are grounded. We feel one another’s physical bodily heat and shape in the cramped departure hall. Carbon Dioxide condenses on the glass. To is a reminder that we are not often the masters of our own time and are held in holding. Nature holds us under a dank tablecloth and there is no choice but to relent and wait. Fog wields the power here.

 

 

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Yu Gardens at Chinese New Year

“Everything there will be closed now at 5.30pm, better if you go there tomorrow”

Advice given seriously from behind a small metallic podium in the lobby of an international hotel in Old Shanghai. At this point we were already wrapped like inflatable snowmen thermal layers, with scarves and hats. We shared an imperceptible shrug due to the thickness of our clothing and decided to go and find out for ourselves.

china blog 1

Out automatic doors and around the corner from the hotel is a narrow street leading towards the Bazaar. There was plenty of evidence that our project was indeed going to be in vain and that we would return cold and hungry to the sanctuary of the hotel within the hour. Women were gathering up scarves from rails and packing them in great heaps into battered cardboard boxes. The seasonal wind generated from the steady stream of tourists had subsided in the evening. Lifeless, the scarves sat, sad as unused rope at the side of the sea. Metal grates and grills were being pulled down on either side of the road to be opened anew in the fresh light of tomorrow morning. What had been a flurry of discount apparel, New Year lanterns and plastic cherry blossoms in the day was now reduced to uneventful shadow and storage. Children and shopkeepers kicked rubbish into and along the gutters: plastic cups, food cartons, and torn red envelopes – the contents of all having been devoured hours before. Defeated, we turned another corner in order to loop back round, to find the sky filled with colour. Lanterns were strung up and the edges of the buildings were highlighted in golden lights.

China blog 2China blog 3

Round another bend and we were drawn into the vivid maze of the Yu Gardens Bazaar, still very much alive despite the lethargy of the surrounding streets. Here, the streets were filled with families basking under illuminated lanterns. Orange orbs, Big red concertinas and smaller crown shaped constructions were all hung from wires across the narrow streets. The cold could not permeate here. Warm bodies, steam from hot fried snacks and a thousand electric bulbs banished the chill.

It is the eve of The Year of the Monkey. These cheeky chimps were seen smiling on stickers, T-shirts, even on dim sum. The Monkey symbolises optimism and agility, but can also be restless and egotistical. People born in the year of the Monkey are said to be more prone to OCD or narcissistic personality disorders. I’m just glad I’m not born under that sign (said by a true egotist).

China blog 4

The centre of the Yu Gardens Bazaar is a zigzagged pedestrian bridge crooked in order to stop the devil being able to cross. He hates corners. Around the bridge is a spectacle for the New Year. Giant paper and plastic creatures rise up around the pathway and the flow of people here is slow like treacle. We were lost in the stream of bodies pushing forward to be at the epicentre of the occasion. It would be impossible to categorize it all with one pair of eyes, but collectively the awe-inspired bridge-crossers saw sultans, frogs, horses, wizards and waterfalls. There were so many people in a small space, but it was an experience to be shared in great numbers, alone it would not have generated the same feeling of heartening humanity and communal hope. In among the bodies of celebrating families spending time together, it is hard not to feel festive. The anticipation in the air for a New Year around the Yu Gardens filled you will a sense of optimism for the future and a desire to get on with making it a reality. Or perhaps it was all just monkey-business.

china blog 5

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Japan: Arrival in Yokohama

japan 3

The Port of Yokohama is located downtown. In January, the sky is a crisp blue backdrop to the city skyline. Imagine emerging through an organic wooden construction all angles. The year is 2150 and we’ve finally accepted responsibility for the environment. The building is futuristic but more conspicuously there is a connection to the natural earth. It provides a sense of relief alighting from the Pacific after a long and nauseating, trip from the West. The cold air that greets you is fresh and friendly: quite different from the swirling cold squalls found out at sea that whispers of iceberg shipwrecks and lost souls.

Japan 2

The Port of Yokohama represents how easy arrival into another culture can be. This simplicity is something that you only can come to fully realise in retrospect. Stand in an airport in Myanmar for six sweltering hours and watch a thick cloud of pollution ground all the planes and then you will realise the ease and elegance of terminus in Japan. By juxtaposition, Yokohama materializes as a serene premonition of the future, even though the impression lies in memory. Dreamlike Yokohama runs automatic and systematic.

Japan

Unreal City. There are no crowds of pushy people, or pigeons chasing scraps, there is no graffiti or glued posters flapping under bridges. Quiet. You can hear the wind in the cherry blossoms just beginning to bud. Dreamlike I float silently through this city, my path unobstructed. I feel myself dragged scientifically onto an impeccable subway system and out, out, through the perpetual metropolis to the heart of the country itself: to Tokyo. There is no green between the twin cities, the concrete and glass continue for miles without relief.

But at the Port, standing at the edge of it all, this great mass of humanity is invisible and mute. This edge of the city stands sentinel against the wilds of the greatest of oceans, a quiet and resilient guardian. Flat parks line the waterfront and on Sundays young women walk with tiny dogs or boyfriends in tow along the promenade. It is peaceful and there is no yelling. There are low-slung water sculptures that flow, continuously calm. An old mill is converted into an ice-skating rink where bodies circulate by clockwork. Nothing leaks fumes into the clean air and there is no garishness to draw your eye away from the general scene. It is sterile here. Nothing in particular stands out or offends the senses.

A blank page before the ink is dipped; a freshly raked sand garden in the morning; the silence before the music starts. The Port of Yokohama is a caesura to be celebrated.

 

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Speaking Out: Academic Conferences and How to Find Them

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The Secret of Getting Ahead is Getting Started…

… updated academic website to follow this month

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Technology Showcase 2015

showcase

Sharing Academic Digital Tools amongst peers

The presentations and pop-ups were very interesting at the Technology Showcase.

Here is the presentation that I gave on using Evernote in your research.

Evernote

 

Name of event contributor Job/Subject MR1
1-1:45
Cafe
1:45-2:30
Paschalis Gkortsilas PhD candidate
Theology and Religion
Introduction x
Paschalis Gkortsilas PhD candidate
Theology and Religion
Scribd, Project Gutenberg/Digital Archives Scribd, Project Gutenberg/Digital Archives
Will Page Student Engagement Officer Prezi Prezi
Zoe Bulaitis PhD candidate
English
Technologies for organising thoughts/notes Technologies for organising thoughts/notes
Richard Carter PhD candidate
English
Studying the digital arts, DOSbox Studying the digital arts, DOSbox
Richard Graham PhD candidate
English
How can we Google better, Scrivener How can we Google better, Scrivener
Gary Stringer Assistant College Manager Digital Humanities in the College 3D Printer demo
Stuart Redhead Project Officer x Tech Trumps
Student Portal

 

 

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University of Exeter Students’ Guild Teaching Awards 2015

Photo: Exeter Student’s Guild 

This year I was shortlisted for ‘Best Postgraduate Teacher’ at the University of Exeter Student’s Guild Teaching Awards. These Awards were the first of this kind to be established in the UK (2009) and remains the largest in the country. Over 1 million words in praise of teaching at the University of Exeter have been collected to date! The Guild says the awards: 

“are designed to reward and recognise the hard work of our staff to improve the student experience at the University of Exeter.”

It was a shock but an obvious delight to be shortlisted for an award and I was even more pleased when on the night I found out I ranked second overall and as top in the College of Humanities.

Monica and I celebrating. Photo: Exeter Student’s Guild

 The winner of the Best Postgraduate Teacher, Monica Ronchi was from the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies and from meeting her on the night it is clear she is a passionate and enthusiastic educator (as well as a fun colleague and decent human being!). It is likely that we would not have met should the event have not brought us as PGR teachers into the same venue and given us a  few glasses of wine. 


Wine is important, but getting academics together to celebrate is equally vital. Too often gatherings are based around thematic intellectual ideas, funding allocations, interviews, departmental meetings and not around personal achievements and passion. These Teaching Awards brought together a group of people who share an interest outside of books, in the world, with real people and their lives. It was great! 

However nice the accolade of being shortlisted is, it was the ethos behind this event that made me feel proud of the teaching that I have undertaken this term. It is perhaps the only event I have encountered in five years at Exeter involving academic staff at the university that looks at teaching as its focus, not an add-on, a must-do, a grin-at-bear-it task in academia. It got me thinking about my own research around ‘value’, as it was an event driven by the optional and qualitative impressions of the students themselves. There was no clear criteria or targets to hit, many of the people nominated expressed their surprise at being there at all. 

GTAs or Postgraduate Teachers can sometimes get a bad rap, but as a result of the awards this year academic within the College sent round emails thanking each and every PhD student who contributes to the teaching within the college. This is a step in the right direction. The more positivity around teaching the better. Teaching in Higher Education shouldn’t be seen as a chore, but an opportunity. The Teaching Awards offers the chance of valuation on a different scale, and one which I am happy to subscribe fully to. Impact can be measured in lots of ways, but the impact of teaching practises on people in the classroom is certainly one which deserves recognition and further thought.


Check out the full list of Winners and Runners Up here

Students and colleague Chloe Preedy (Penryn Campus) alongside myself and Richard representing the English Department across two campuses at the awards. Photo: Exeter Student’s Guild
Photo: Exeter Student’s Guild




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