Talking About My Research With Non-Researchers aka How I Bore Friends, Family, and Random Strangers

How do you talk about your research with non-researchers? After spending some time earlier last week talking with other LIS researchers about my work and then spending time talking with non-researchers, this question popped up in my mind (not for the first time). I’d rather not have my work, something I feel quite excited about and proud of, to sound terribly boring and pointless.

When someone asks what I do, I respond that I’m a doctoral student. I’ve learned not to say ‘doctoral student in information studies’ because that generally gets confused or weird looks. This is completely understandable. Information studies is a pretty vague and odd sounding area to study. Library-ish studies or library related stuff, while not completely accurate, is close enough and often how I describe my field. Then, the next question is, “what are your research interests?” or “what are you researching now?”.  Most of the time I say some combination of social media, young adults, and libraries. But sometimes I feels as if the questioner wants a more thought out response. And there is the unexpected moments when I am so excited about what I’m working on that I feel the need to gush.So, how much is too much? How much is boring? How much can I get away with? But mostly, what does this person really want to know? (If anything.)

I’ve come up with a few guidelines for myself in response to these questions. I’m not sure if they make sense to anyone else, but here goes:

  1. Avoid talking about theories/theoretical frameworks/models/paradigms/etc. – Not to suggest that whoever I’m speaking with can’t understand these theories, but who outside of my committee, colleagues, and advisors could possibly be interested in hearing about my particular theory or model? I’m guessing nobody…
  2. Avoid using the word “context” – This word just sounds pretentious and snotty.
  3. Try not to sound like you’re regurgitating a journal article – This probably applies when you’re engaging with researchers too. Journal articles aren’t the most exciting of reading, even if you’re interested in the topic.
  4. If you have another doc student in the group, avoid talking about committees, IBR, the peer-review process, your advisors, colloquiums, etc. –  In any conversation, it’s important that those you are talking with have some working knowledge of whatever is being discussed. These words have little meaning outside of the ivory tower, so why bring them up. It’s just rude. I made this mistake during a conference last week. Silly Abby.
  5. Try to find the fun and interesting parts of whatever you are researching and highlight those – If you are interested in it there must be something that others will find amusing, thoughtful, surprising, vaguely curious, or at the very least not boring. Maybe this could be thought of as the sales pitch for your research.
  6. Ask what he/she/they think about your research – Maybe they know something you don’t. Maybe they have some insightful feedback, first impressions, or confusions. It’s fun to get a fresh perspective from someone outside of your world on what you’re passionate about.

Has anyone else thought about this? How do you talk to “normal” people about research or academia? Any other suggestions? Something to add to my personal checklist? Mistakes I’ve made?

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Attending My 1st Conference and Stuff I’m Nervous/Excited About….

Next week, I will be attending my very first academic conference. Hooray! I’ll also experience another first: presenting my research for the very first time to people outside of my school. Sort of hooray! I’m a bit nervous about my ability to discuss my research eloquently (or at least coherently) to other conference attendees and presenters. I feel like I’ve been living with my research for awhile but under pressure I may come across completely lost and not very bright. After experiencing this while presenting and lecturing, I’m not looking forward to what may happen during a conference. Another concern is that my introversion becomes a little more obvious in all-day social situations like conferences. For me, interacting with people takes a significant amount of energy, both mental and physical. But I’ve discovered that my field (and academia in general) is full of introverts who seem to have figured out how to play the socializing game. I can too! I will need to find an ideal balance between socializing time and alone time.

Me sometimes....

Me sometimes….

via hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com 

Aside from this nervousness, I’m excited about meeting fellow researchers and hearing about what they’re working on. During the ALA Annual conference in July, I found myself inspired by the innovative programming, services, and tools librarians across the country have developed. I’m aware of what other doctoral students in my program are working on, but not much beyond that. At times, I become buried in my own research projects and those I’m collaborating on, completely forgetting the creative and intelligent research being produced by others in my field. I imagine I will find myself bouncing up and down in excitement and saying, “How cool!” a lot during the conference. This sounds professional, right?

Helpful Tips from Those Who Have Been There and Done That:

Beginner’s Guide to Attending Conferences

Advice for Graduate Students and others Attending Conferences (I particularly like ‘See Poohbahs and Bigwigs at Panels’)

Becoming Part of the Research Community

What I Learned From Undergraduates

Since my first semester of teaching undergraduates face to face ended two weeks ago, I’ve spent some time thinking about what I learned, liked, disliked, didn’t understand, found funny, etc. about the experience. There has been a lot to process, especially with another semester of undergraduate teaching not too far away. I’ve also talked with other doc students, friends, family, and colleagues about teaching in general. It’s curious to hear how other instructors, not matter what they’re teaching, interact with students, develop their teaching styles, and assess their own successes (and failures) as an instructor. Mostly I’ve been surprised by what I’ve learned!

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed teaching undergraduates this semester. I expected to like working with undergraduate since I’ve worked quite a bit with their age group as a librarian. Until this semester, my experience with teaching undergrads has been solely online, with no interaction outside of e-mail. In the face to face environment of the classroom, I get the same energy boost I got while working with teens in the public library. The enthusiasm and curiosity of undergrads is contagious and motivates me to perform better as a teacher.

However, this energy boost also comes with an serious energy drain.I’ve been surprised  at how tiring, mentally and emotionally, teaching undergraduates can be. Whether it is the significant increase in e-mails or the self-doubt about my own abilities as a  teacher, this semester has been a bit more exhausting than others. To me, it feels as though undergraduates need significantly more, and with a greater intensity, from teachers than master’s students. It’s likely that the more experience I get teaching undergraduates over my career, the less draining I will find my teaching experience. At least I hope so.

Another revelation from this semester has been that I can make a mistake or goof up as a teacher and it’s okay. Students (and fellow instructors) are surprisingly understanding and forgiving. Being a perfectionist, I have a tendency to blow up a small mishap and blow it up to the level of a catastrophe. For every mistake I’ve made over the course of this semester, I’ve discovered something about teaching and myself. For example, if a student feels that you have made a mistake in grading/attendance/participation, they will call you out on it. Repeatedly. Via e-mail. Yes.

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Teaching Humor!

Dealing With Criticism (or Hearing Back From Peer Reviewers)

In September, I submitted my first ever manuscript to an academic journal. That was exciting! Some time after, I heard back from the journal. My manuscript has been tentatively accepted  (that’s good!). One of the reviewers had very positive, encouraging comments about my manuscript and only recommended minor changes  (also good!).  But then there was the other reviewer. This individual had even more comments, many of which were negative, and suggested major changes to the manuscript before possible publication (this is not good).  My first response after reading these reviews was simple exhaustion. I worked so hard on this manuscript and had reached a point where I could only look at it sadly while shaking my head. I could not begin to contemplate making major changes to it. My major professor recommended that I step away from the reviews for a few days and then come back to them (hopefully less emotionally).

And I that’s what I did. Since I’ve come back to the reviews, I find myself still struggling with the criticism. How could two individuals have such different opinions on my topics, method, writing, and sources? How could they know my research area throughly enough to provide me with solid, relevant suggestions when I’ve been reading, thinking, and writing about it for months? This is also my first experience with peer reviews, which means there is a lot that I just don’t understand. So much. Mostly, I struggle to accept the criticism. I imagine it gets easier the more manuscripts you submit, the more research you share at conferences, and the more involved you become in the academic community. But knowing this doesn’t help the present feelings I’m experiencing: inadequacy, confusion, and frustration. As someone who has never accepted criticism without tears or frustration, knowing putting myself out there for certain criticism (usually constructive!) is very very hard. I imagine that there are many, many researchers who are struggling with these same issues. To end on a positive note, the semester is coming to an end, which means no classes, plenty of time for catch up work, and (possible) fun reading. Also, I have another paper under peer review so…. *cue suspenseful music*

How do you deal with constructive criticism (or just plan criticism)? Does this process get easier or do you just develop a tougher skin? Any suggestions on how to approach peer reviews in a more objective manner? 

Learning to Write Without Fear (For the Most Part….)

Since I officially submitted my first manuscript for publication on last week, I feel the need to blog about writing and writing related activities. The knowledge that my poor, sweet little paper is awaiting review by anonymous researchers who may (or may not) tear my writing and research apart is terrifying. For me, the entire writing process is filled with a mixture of excitement, dread, and stress. The stress comes from the blank page on my screen, especially when writing that first paragraph. At that point, everything I writes sounds trite and unimpressive. Usually I push through, writing down whatever comes to mind and returning when I’ve written enough that the pressure to perform is slightly less intense. The dread comes from completing a research paper, article, or blog post and knowing that I have to come up with something else to research and write about. Even with something as simple and informal as a blog post I still feel a slight anxiety about what to write next. Additionally, I worry whether or not what I blog will be interesting to my audience. (Eh. Probably not? Maybe?)

Asking others to proofread my work is a bit of a nail bitter as well. Sometimes it feels physically painful. It’s uncomfortable to give up the work that you stressed and slaved over to the criticisms of a friend, colleague, etc. But it’s a necessary evil. Hopefully, the criticisms are constructive and helpful. After a long period of nervousness about proofreading, I’ve reached the point where I’m asking my (very kind and giving) proofreaders to give my writing a serious ripping apart. It can only benefit me in the end. If they don’t do it, someone else will. (On a side note, getting undergrads to understand the concept and importance of proofreading may be impossible or at least really, really, really, hard and disappointing.)

Generally what I look like while writing.

Generally what I look like while writing.

How did you learn to write without fear? How did you overcome the fear of knowing others will read your work? What does you writing process look like? What do you do that makes you comfortable while writing? Unless I’m the only person who has writing nerves, which is very possible.

Panic at the Lecture Hall a.k.a. My First Lecture

Monday at 12:20 PM marks the start of my first ever experience lecturing! **some sort of nervous, tense music plays** 150+ undergraduates will be perched in their seats, staring at me, probably hoping for the end of class. Ideally from my lecture, they will learn more about information behaviors, needs, and use, each of which I am interested in as a information studies researcher. My belief (and what I’ve heard from others) is that larger groups are much easier to speak in from of than small groups, like a doctoral seminar. We shall see! I’ve found (to my delight) that I enjoy my lab session immensely. My session has around 50 students, so I am becoming more accustomed to speaking in front of larger groups.

At the moment I’m managing my lecture related stress reasonably well. I have received a great deal of support and advice from friends, colleagues, and students. As almost everyone knows, fear of public speaking is extremely common. However, as an introvert, I find that I experience intense panic instead of the more normal (and healthier) nervousness before a presentation. More often than not, my presentations are relatively successful. I’ve only had a few presentation or other public speaking types of engagements that have been crash and burn situations. Sigh.

While I’m terrified at thought of lecturing, I’m also, surprisingly enough, somewhat excited! I’m incorporating Twitter into my lecture, which I am expecting the students will enjoy (please!). Since my lecture is on information behaviors, I couldn’t think of a better way to really grasp this concept than by experiencing it first-hand. I will ask the students to tweet any questions, comments, or confusions to our class hashtag #infosci. Additionally, students will be required to tweet during the class session three interesting, important, and/or surprising things they have learned from my lecture or the course readings. I’ve never taken a course that incorporated social media in the classroom, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the students respond, as well as how I well/poorly I carry the whole thing out). Look forward to a future post on my experience.  I don’t believe in luck, so please wish me something good for Monday!

Has anyone used social media in the classroom? What have your experiences been like? Would you recommend it to others?

In your experience, what are some the benefits and drawbacks to social media in education?

Teaching undergraduates is so easy! *

* this is a lie.

I just completed my first week of teaching undergraduates in a small(ish) group setting. Two weekly labs are required as part of the lecture course, Information Science, that I am TAing this semester. After the initial moments of sheer panic in front of the first lab session with 50+ students, my nerves settled and I could make coherent (somewhat) sentences. I’m not sure if this is the normal undergrad student reaction to the first day of a class, but I received a lot of blank, uninterested stares. And I had cat memes in my powerpoints! Who are these people who can resist cat memes?? What I found surprising what how quickly my panic shifted to a general nervousness, which is a vast improvement from what I normally experience during presentations.

During this week of labs the bulk of the class session focused on group work. I can see the appeal of this type of classroom activity, although it annoyed me to no end as an undergrad. First, lecturing can be boring for both the instructor and students. Second, it does encourage collaboration and learning through social interaction. Third, it frees up the instructor to focus less on forcing the material down the throats and more on how well the students are understanding the material. I have a lot of ideas for this semester, which will either be fantastically successful or fail miserably. Or somewhere in the middle with students bored and uninterested in my meme filled presentations and activities.

What tips or advice would you give to a first time instructor? For any introverts out there, how long did it take for you to feel comfortable in front of your students (or does this ever really happen)? Any particularly wonderful or terrible experiences as an instructor?

Teaching Stuff for Future Reference

Would have been helpful to me on the first day!

Tips for New Teachers at a Community College

Best Practices in College Teaching

An Overworked Woman? *

Recently, as I’ve been dating more, I received the following comments from men: “You work way too much. Enjoy Life!”, “Wow. I really need to get you out of the house more.”, “You spend a lot of time doing schoolwork.”. I know women working outside of academia hear something similar to this, but I’ve really started noticing it since I began the doctoral program. It’s frustrating because I’m relatively certain that men aren’t getting these types of critiques from other men or women. Why do some men feel they can criticize someone they barely know (on a date no less)? The real questions these men should be asking a woman putting in long(ish) hours is “do you enjoy it?” and “what are you getting out of it?”.

I think there is a difference in working a lot and being overworked. I work quite a but, but I knew I would be. My expectations of the doctoral program when I applied have been pretty close to reality. I don’t feel “overworked”. Well… maybe I do towards the end of the semester when everything is due and public speaking is involved. Yet, I love what I’m doing. It doesn’t always even feel like work. I’m willing to put in the time and effort because my work is meaningful to me. I am enjoying life!

I’m not sure that it is sexism prompting these types of comments from some men. Maybe they aren’t happy in their own jobs and have trouble understanding why anyone would want to work a lot. Maybe it is the difference in education. As a woman, once you reach a certain level of education you realize that dating men with less education is a strong possibility. It can be difficult for some men to accept this difference. I may be encouraging these comments myself. I can a bit blunt sometimes. But I believe I need to be honest to friends, family, and dates about how much of my life the doc program takes up.

Thank you for listening to my blatherings. It’s something I’ve been thinking about and writing always helps me put things into perspective. And I just really love blogging!

* I’m really not generalizing to all men or trying to offend. I know there are plenty of men who wouldn’t think of saying this kind of stuff. My dad and other doc students chief among them! : )

The Educated Woman in book form!

The Educated Woman in book form!

The Introverted PhD Student *

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I consider myself an introvert. I’m not sure when I gave myself this label, but I distinctly remember coming home with report cards that hinted at it – “Abby’s a good student but she’s so quiet”,”Needs to talk more in class”, “Does she have a voice??? Make her talk!!!!” (the last one I made up but you get the idea). There are certain professions where being introverted isn’t a necessarily a drawback (I think), but academia does not seem to be one of them. You would think that a group of people who spend significant amounts of time working solo or in small groups would be naturally be introverted. Maybe they’ve found a way to come to terms with this. Maybe there is a secret that I have been cruelly kept from finding out. What I’ve experienced in my first year as a doctoral student is that I’m surrounded by people who seem to have little fear of making presentations or participating in group discussions. But I have a huge amount of fear. My fear is loud, aggressive, headache inducing, and tends to keep me from sleeping. One of my main problems when speaking in public is that my mind blanks. I have thoughts. I’m a relatively intelligent person. But when I’m forced to speak all my higher level thinking disappears to somewhere far, far away. So what do you do when public speaking seems to be a requirement?

I don’t know.

What I have accepted is that I am an introvert. I’m quiet and shy. This will never change and I don’t want it too. I no longer see it as a flaw that must be corrected. I think this is an important and necessary step. But I know that I need to be a better public speaker. I’m going to have to do a significant amount of it to get my PhD. Defending my prospectus and my dissertation, along with conference presentations, demand a lot of public speaking and quick thinking. At the moment I’m setting small goals for myself. Saying something (anything really) during class discussion and carefully planning out possibilities for short presentations, and trying to figure out tricks/tools that will help me relax when I speak publicly. The end goal is to defend my prospectus and dissertation with turning beet read, rambling, and possibly fleeing. It’s the small things.

Some introvert links that I liked. Everyone loves a guide.:

A Guide to Public Speaking for Introverts and Shy People

The Introvert’s No-Fear Guide to Public Speaking

* a sort of confessional

Learning to Write for Academia and Myself

I’ve been a student for a long time. Before I began this program last fall, I thought I had a solid understanding of what it means to write for an academic audience. But I had no idea of how much my writing would evolve over the past year. I’ve written a lot, read a lot of the literature, and received a significant amount of feedback about my writing from my colleagues. I imagine it was the sheer amount of writing I had to produce that helped improve my writing. Practice makes perfect (or at least reasonably good and possibly publishable). And also the comment on one paper, “I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.” No. No, I did not.

Earlier this summer, my major professor and I talked a bit about our writing styles. Sometime during the past semester, I had a friend who after reading some of my papers told me that my writing was very direct. I wasn’t sure if this should be taken as a compliment or a critique. Luckily I have a major professor who is a clear and direct writer herself. She recommended a writing style called Writing Degree ZeroI did a bit of research and found that this style comes from a book of the same name by Roland Barthes. He published Le degré zéro de l’écriture (it sounds better in French doesn’t it?) in 1953. In this books of literary criticisms, Barthes suggests neutral, or writing degree zero, as the ideal style. It is a freer style of writing, a release from clichés, over blown language, and metaphors. Exactly what I like. He also throws around words like bourgeois, revolutionary, and Marxist (which you can never have too much of).

I particularly liked this quote from the book. It’s very beautiful.

“Literature is like phosphorus: it shines with its maximum brilliance and the moment when it attempts to die.”

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