The past couple of months have been particularly busy and with what I have coming up over the summer, this only seems to be a taster of what is to come. Because of this, I saw this as a great opportunity to trial a bi-monthly post as opposed to my monthly one. It is totally not due to me forgetting last months post and making an excuse after the fact. Of course not! That aside, I do have a lot to reflect on for the past few months.
A core reason I have been so busy in the past couple of months is that I have been working on the initial application of my first study for this project for ethical approval. Whilst a bit of a tedious process, I did find the demand for certain information helped provide some direction for what sort of literature to read and the decisions I had to make. In fact, I feel as if this process was particularly useful to confidently progress with the methodology of this study and how it supports not only my thesis, but also as a standalone contribution to my area of knowledge.
The ethics review process has helped me work on some of the more tough questions surrounding my project, including the epistemological stance the research is grounded within. During my master’s I always found the concept of ontology and epistemology a bit too philosophical and ‘floaty’. Acknowledging the reality of the world and where I as a researcher – and my work – stand on that seemed unnecessary. But even considering whether to take a more interpretive or positivist view, to take some examples, it helped me begin to frame the resulting contributions of this work. Will my work create hard ‘rules’ of how people acted/thought? Or do I state them as guiding principles, and that the almost chaotic nature of people and the world around them needs to be considered and interpreted to get the most out of my work? These sorts of questions are not particularly easy ones, and, in all honesty, I do not have a strong answer to them right now. Having these discussions, however, have been beneficial and having an idea on where the research stands has helped provided more focus on where this will lead.
The other reason of my time being so precious nowadays is that I have been engaging more and more with non-PhD related activities/opportunities. These include being on a research network committee for graduate students, teaching, and acting as a student rep for my fellow postgraduate research students within my school, to name some of the more prominent ones. In my opinion, its activities like this that are the biggest contributor to one’s professional development which is a reason I have been so keen to engage with them. Its all well and good being a good researcher, reading literature, conducting studies, and creating new knowledge. But at the end of the process its generally expected that one goes into some form of employment, and a PhD on its own does not do a particularly good job of doing that outside of the occasional seminar/conference. Taking on some external work/opportunities, on the other hand, help develop skills including interpersonal relations, teamwork, conduct, etc. that can be immensely useful. My challenge, however, is to not take on too much that I do not have the time to do my PhD, because after all that is what I am currently doing full-time.
The summary of the past two months is that there has been significant progress in both my professional and academic development. Despite this, it is important to remember that a PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. It can be an extremely long process that can be mentally taxing on its own, let alone with external commitments. Because of this and the forthcoming easter period, I am going to be taking some time away from my work. Not completely, I do not want a repeat of the first couple months of 2022, but enough to recuperate before things get more intense. Having as fresh of a mind – and as much physical energy – as possible is an absolute must for this process, I have found. Much like a marathon, exhaustion starts not after mile one but instead mile six or seven. I am reaching the halfway mark, so there is a long way to go but there is no reason not to celebrate my recent progress. It’s nice to have an air of positivity.
First things first, let us get the obvious out of the way. I did not post a blog article for December 2021 which would have been written in early January. In all honesty, January was a bit of a motivational roadblock. Having come off a three-week break where I did not work on anything related to the PhD or otherwise, plus a move into a new flat, I found that I could not get back into a regular work schedule and lifestyle. Old habits have come back, including sleep issues and anxieties on the quality of my work. All which has contributed to little progress made during this past month and a bit, not helping my mental wellbeing. It is the first time in this process where there is this massive roadblock between now and the next phase of the project, and in normal circumstances this would be an obstacle I could overcome. Yet this past month has given me cause for concern on whether I can complete this project and reach the finish line. What is most frustrating is that the solution to this problem, to get back on track and feel confident again, is a simple one yet has been difficult to push myself to do. So, I made the decision to take a hiatus from regular work to reflect on these self-inflicted stresses. In short, I took the time to ask myself: “What’s going on? And what can I do to address it?”.
For me, getting started on something is the hardest part of a project. So, if I stop completely, such as what happened during the festive break, it takes a much larger effort than expected to get started again. It reminds me of some advice I was given when climbing some mountains in the UK, that stopping and starting requires a lot of energy and mental strength than if one were to keep moving regardless of what speed you travel. It is like the principle of momentum, keeping a moving object going is easier than one with no speed whatsoever. Within the context of my project, even the smallest amount of progress on a project per day is better than none because it means that I do not need to deal with that initial motivational hurdle of ‘starting’. Now, it is worth mentioning that sometimes you need a break from work for your mental wellbeing, to distance oneself from the stresses that it brings. But maintaining some form of momentum when you are working is vital to ensuring that you can continue to make progress, however small that is.
To do this, I will be following advice that I have given to some of my students in the past. That is to set yourself a small task each day. That can be to read an article, make notes on some work, book some professional development sessions, anything. What is important is that it is manageable with as little effort as you can make it. This principle can be found in a great speech given by US Navy Admiral William H McRaven to the University of Texas at Austin Class of 2014 at their graduation. “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day”. The idea is that if you complete just one task, it gives you the motivation to do the next task and so on a so forth. It seems somewhat trivial but soon those small tasks add up. I was told right from my induction to the PhD that this process was a marathon and not a sprint, so its high time that I started treating it as one.
On the 28th May 2021, Esports News UK published an article detailing the turbulent first years of the first undergraduate esports degree in a UK higher education institution . Be it students believing themselves more knowledgeable than the lecturers on esport topics, the poorly received tweet stating “Soon, working in Esports will require a university degree”, or power struggles between related student societies, it seems there were no shortage of ire directed at the course. Obviously no one expected formal esports education to be easy, the institution in question admitted some fault and has committed to changing the content of their course and addressing other concerns brought up by students. Despite this, many on social media have expressed their frustration with higher education on their delivery of esport curriculum, or even the necessity of such degrees.
There seems to be a certain level of animosity towards esport degrees from those in the industry, and from their perspective it is justified. There is an established and successful ecosystem which has grown naturally; many who have a prominent role in the industry do not have degrees like the ones proposed or even any formal higher education. So why spend three years at a university on a program where in the same amount of time one can get valuable industry experience from volunteering or employment? This is a valid sentiment and a consistent challenge for those who teach in a creative field, where practices can be learned through non-academic mediums. However, parallels of this rationale can be drawn to the creation of computer game development degrees. Existing practitioners at the time challenged the necessity of game-specific education, yet nowadays many entry level jobs in the games industry require a related qualification from their applicants – making such degrees a valuable resource. Degree programmes focused on esports should not be cast aside simply on the grounds that existing professionals do not possess one, as it dismisses the potential that such education can provide. As an industry continues to become more professional and recognised, it can be presumed that job seekers would reflect a similar progression; a measurement of such could be some level of formal education. It is reasonable to expect that a similar transformation is forthcoming for esports as well, especially given similarities to existing disciplines that have study options available. These include areas such as games, traditional sports and broadcasting, to name a few. Completely denying or resisting this is a poor attitude, particularly as the graduate population from such courses grows. An esports degree should not be the de facto method to get employment in the industry, however it should definitely be an option available to those interested in such a career.
To be a valuable career pathway further education must provide a programme that is valuable, something that gives students the skills or experience that could be considered equivalent to three years of industry work at least. This value must not come entirely from the content one delivers, but also from simple interactions with their peers & staff. Additionally the course would need to provide an environment where students are free to make mistakes, as it is from such that effective and distinctive learning can be constructed; the individual needs of each student can be addressed throughout to ensure that they are getting the most out of what is provided. If public perceptions of esports courses are to change, there must be a demonstration that undertaking these programmes are a benefit to one’s time and money. The responsibility of ensuring that these courses meet those expectations falls with the institutions themselves, that they are to the highest possible standards and have the students’ best interests at heart.
It is that last point where concerns on the approach certain higher education institutions are taking can be raised. One example is the naming of some of these programmes. What is the justification in calling a course just ‘Esports’? Of the nine UK providers of esports degrees listed on the UCAS website, six of them have such nomenclature. As a prospective student, what can they draw from that at a glance? Given the breadth of esports as an industry there are many professional disciplines that could be covered by an undergraduate degree. Under those circumstances, a course called ‘Esports’ is forced to either shallowly cover multiple areas or focusing on just one or two. In the case of the latter, it should not be difficult to label it appropriately to make applicants aware at a surface level what your curriculum encompasses. One would be hard pressed to find a programme that explores traditional sport techniques or disciplines that is labelled as Sports BSc (Hons) for example; it’s far more likely courses would be called Sport Science, Sport Broadcasting or Sport Business & Management. This allows each degree to deliver directed teaching to students whilst still giving them enough freedom to tailor their education towards a future career. So why does this principle not extend to esports, an industry that mirrors traditional sport with similar career opportunities? A student interested in supporting esport players or broadcasting would not want to take a course that is primarily based in enterprise or event management. On the surface this may seem like a trivial concern, however it underlines a larger problem with whether academic institutions really understand what they have with esports. It demonstrates that there is a lack of understanding if they are willing to promote their programmes as vaguely as this, which risks attracting students to a course that they may not be suitable for or passionate about as a future career. If education providers cannot clearly indicate what field – or fields – of study they will be covering, it is difficult to reassure oneself that their course will meet the high standards that are expected of them.
Esports is an industry that is born from an already existing discipline; through its growth it drew on the principles of areas including traditional sport, media, and games more broadly. As such it seems reasonable to assume that those principles are directly transferable from one to another. However, that rationale does not factor in the industrial context that esports reside within, which can be of concern if the academic staff delivering the content are holding an external perspective. Simply being an expert in a relevant field is not enough to deliver content within esports education. Having industrial awareness allows one to apply known concepts into esports, understanding how to adapt it to fit within nuances that perhaps an external expert may not have considered. Yet, there is value in experts exterior to esports that can provide an alternative perspective, delivering knowledge and skills that may be applicable to other careers. A graduate from an esports broadcasting course, for instance, should have the skills to transfer their knowledge into a television setting. Many of the courses that provide some level of formal esports education in HE have provided the opportunity to develop these transferable skills so despite some concerns the core frameworks of good education are present. Despite this, one can argue that if they are interested in transferable skills to existing industries then it would be more valuable to enter a course in that field and use that knowledge in esports. This would follow the same path the industry took in the establishment and professionalisation of the esports industry. To an extent there is a semblance of truth. For many institutions that plan to offer formal esports education, it may be more reasonable to create individual modules exploring the practices of the industry that are of interest to their course(s). As an example, esports widely adopts online streaming as opposed to traditional methods, with specialist software designed for that goal. A university with a television & broadcasting course could introduce a module that explores online streaming from which the application of those techniques in esports could be a source of knowledge. This strategy would allow these institutions to foster esports education, whilst simultaneously supporting their existing curriculum with new approaches to existing ideas. That way students that have an interest in that industry would be able to learn an established discipline whilst still engaging with their own personal interests and career plan. On the other hand, there is room for reasonable justification of a dedicated esports course given the practices can wildly differ from traditional methods. Given the infancy of such curricula, there is not a sufficient amount of data to suggest that a module or course is the most appropriate way to go. There is room and demand for education providers to explore this, but such experiments should not come at a cost to the students who will undertake the curriculum that is created as a result.
So what is the intended future for formal esports education? The key priority is to shift perceptions away from esports being a single field, to one that draws on the expertise and knowledge of other disciplines. This would direct attention to more subject-specific content that is appealing to students of varying career pathways yet have a shared interest. At least in the UK, there are universities that have started to take this approach. Birmingham City University, Nottingham Trent University and the University of Portsmouth are all offering degree programmes that are focused on specific areas such as management, production and coaching & performance respectively. The existence of such programmes demonstrates a change in attitude, but more work is needed in this area and it will require practitioners and academics familiar with esports to lead the way.
I’ve recently had my major review and have now progressed. The first part of a long journey is over, so now the real work begins! Whilst my examiners demonstrated satisfaction with the work presented, they expressed concern over my cautiousness in certain aspects. So, I thought this entry would be a good opportunity for me to reflect on this.
In all honesty, I was surprised to hear that I was not being ambitious enough with my projected timeline for work. Given the potential complexity of the proposed experiments – some of which had specialist equipment – I believed that my tentative aim was reasonable. Yet, now it’s clear that my approach to that was not reasonable. I was too focused on ensuring my work was perfect that I risked getting enough done to begin with. One of my examiners stated it best, I am a junior academic undertaking a project which intends to develop me as a professional so mistakes or suboptimal decisions are an expectation. This is actually a rationale that I explain to my undergraduates. University is an environment where students are expected to express ideas or create work that is not flawless as it’s through those mistakes that effective learning can be constructed. It seems that I forgot that it isn’t exclusive to undergraduate study, and I was holding myself to expectations that I am not ready to meet yet.
This experience was both a humbling experience and a reassurance. It reminded me how little I know, but gave me the drive to plan out where I go from here. In general, I need to build on my confidence, as I still feel that my inexperience necessitates a passive approach – absorbing the information around me – to gain the knowledge needed to contribute to current discussions. Be that with researchers in my field, or amongst colleagues about the operations of the faculty. The embers of feeling out of place, or impostor syndrome you could call it, have been re-ignited as of late. But for the first time in a while, I see it more as a goal to reach than an obstacle to overcome.
Finally, one of the examiners pointed out that my post-doctoral considerations are good but it seems that I have forgotten that I still need to do the PhD. The comment was a somewhat sarcastic one, but the sentiment of it holds true. Not much thought has gone on the question of “What next?” in the immediate time frame and instead has held much more weight on the more long-term plan. Now that I have an idea of where I want to go as a career pathway, it is time to determine exactly how I get there.
Without a doubt, this major review has been the best opportunity for self-reflection so far and has helped me direct my focus towards new points of action. As the next stage of this process begins, there is this sense of reinvigoration and drive to put my best foot forward.
When reflecting upon this past month I found it difficult to find new lessons to discuss. Most of my personal work has been preparing for my major review and the start of teaching this academic year. I am often working on campus and finding my personal blended approach has been a priority. What I found most valuable during my time on campus have been the conversations with those around me. In one of my earlier blog posts, I expressed that those brief physical conversations you can have was something I missed during the pandemic. Now having the chance to do that again after so long, it has been fascinating to relearn some of those interpersonal skills.
One skill that has been tricky to regain has been communicating complex topics. When you have buried yourself in reading and others in your field, it can be hard to explain your project or field to those unfamiliar. A common quote with many variations that applies here is the following: If one cannot explain something simply, then it is unlikely that you understand it yourself. I agree. Explaining a complex idea to someone in a manner they can understand requires you to know the foundations it is built on. Being able to explain my work to other students over this month has been a great experience. In practice I found that whilst explaining the core principles was quite easy, some of the details were a little more difficult to convey. It’s not that I do not know, but that network of knowledge is not built in a way to accurately explain my ideas.
This exercise was great practice for my major review presentation, something that I had not intended at the time. Whilst some of those examining in my presentation will know my work, there will be others who are not. Having this opportunity to test my ideas in a casual environment helped determine where my own gaps in knowledge exist. It reassures me that these conversations with each other are as valuable as I remembered. I will continue the blended workstyle, making the most out of the time spent alongside fellow students or colleagues. As opportunities for formal dissemination approach, having a chance to develop my speaking skills is a valuable one.
It has been one year since I started my PhD journey, and to say it has been an interesting year would be a bit of an understatement. Meeting new people, being seen as a subject expert, and all the consequences of the pandemic it has been an unpredictable twelve months. Yet, the experiences and lessons I have learned so far have been invaluable for me and the project. So, since it has been a year, I want to take this chance to look back at my earlier blog posts and reminisce over what I have done right and where I can improve.
Within my first month of the PhD, I was struggling with how isolated and independent being a postgraduate researcher could be. Outside of the chosen teaching and supervisory meetings, it was you and the project. This was made even more clear due to working remote, hundreds of miles away from the University. Working remote has been a consistent factor in this year due to the pandemic, yet brief moments of campus-based work I have had it was not that significant difference as I had anticipated. Many of the problems I was attributing to working from home were not solely due to the environment I studied in.
I took an opportunity to delve into my relationship with remote working in March. It seemed that what I missed most was that face-to-face interaction with colleagues and other students. Those ‘water-cooler’ conversations you would have when grabbing lunch for example was a key part in making me feel included in the university community. It did not feel the same when we had Zoom calls and emails as our key methods of communication. Despite that, having the freedom to choose my own hours and take a brief break to play games at home have helped relieve any stress I built up during my studies. As life begins to return to a sense of normalcy, it will be a great opportunity to test my own personal home/office work balance to maximise my efficiency whilst maintaining a healthy amount of stress.
As the nights grew longer, so did the troubles of sleeping at unreasonable hours. The number of times I saw the sun rise before I went to bed was almost embarrassing, and because of this I struggled to motivate myself to work for the little time I had to myself. I have come to terms that I am somewhat of a night owl, preferring to get up later to be more active in the evening. A factor on why that may be the case is that I played a lot of high-intensity games from the late evenings to the early hours of the morning which keeps my brain alert way past the time I wish to go to sleep. I have remedied the most extreme examples of this behaviour with alarms on my computer, reminding me to start winding down for the night. With some schedule in my week for paid employment, this should help give me some level of structure to when I sleep and how long for.
Having challenged some of my personal limitations, next came my approach to work. A PhD is a different beast compared to an undergraduate or masters. The research is almost self-directed, and you can get yourself buried in reading with this feeling that you need to cover as much ground as possible. This is not the case. Whilst a solid amount of background research is important, trying to understand all the contexts surrounding your project can cause you to lose sight of that one specific question the PhD is supposed to answer. My advice for new PhD students is to always ask “Is this literature going to help me answer my research question?”. If it does not, then it may not be relevant right now. Despite me trying to narrow the breadth of research I deemed useful, there was still plenty of papers and books. As a result of this, a lot of this year was spent trying different software to organise my literature. In that time, I learned that which software works for you depends on how you intend to use it. This lesson applies elsewhere; the most optimal work environment or approach varies from person to person and a good part of your PhD is finding out exactly what that is.
All these revelations came as I began to summarise what was done this year for my annual review, a key stage in determining my capabilities to complete the PhD. A large part of these moments of self-reflection came through these diary entries. These have been a great opportunity to focus not on my project, but on who I am and the lessons that apply to me. There were many a time this year where I questioned why I do these posts but writing this now has reassured me that this was a useful exercise. Looking back at these entries, I can place myself into what I was thinking months ago. Almost as if it were a snapshot of my rationale at the time. As a result, there are parts of my blog that are valid others where I completely miss the mark, avoiding some uncomfortable truths. Yet this is a part of the process. And I am only a year down, so who knows how I will look back at this post or the many that are yet to come. There is also a little part of me that hopes that someone may read these inane ramblings of mine and find some use out of them for their own journeys. A sentimental notion, I know. In any case, I am confident that I can progress to the next stage of this process, and I am looking forward to what the future has in store.
The year mark approaches, and with that comes the written review. Much like my 10-minute presentation from a few months ago it is tricky to reduce a year into a 3,000-4,000-word document. But it has also been a good opportunity to get on campus to get the writing done. The challenge of working from home has been a frequent theme in my PhD life so far. Being able to have the chance to try on-campus work has helped see whether the environment was as big of a factor as I thought it was.
The largest change I noticed was that by being on a work computer meant I did not have the usual distractions available as I do at home. Falling into a social media rabbit hole was clicks away at home; not having key distractors accessible kept me on track with my work. Another consequence I found working on campus was being in a place around others doing similar work gave me motivation. I had this feeling of judgement if I spent even a moment of time browsing Twitter without producing some work. The pomodoro technique has helped keep this balance between regular breaks and being productive. I urge anyone, particularly students, that struggle with motivation to try the technique for themselves. By being on campus with some level of time management, I felt far more productive than I did at home.
Yet, there were certain problems that I had not thought would be obstacles in a blended work environment. The one that was the most prevalent was that some of the software that I used did not utilise cloud-based saving. This was most problematic with NVivo which I was using to store and analyse my reading. Files produced by NVivo can be large in file size, taking a long time to download and upload being quite a nuisance when making minor changes. Now, I am not making any notable changes to my NVivo file as the written review takes priority so there is no immediate problem. But as the next stage of the process begins so does the need for more reading and analysis which throws the logistics of that software into question. The solution for that seems to be to investigate re-using Mendeley on campus and importing them to NVivo at home.
Another point of note with working on campus was not having my own personal equipment. Having used my setup for years and forced to use it for work has made me familiar with it. Using a computer that is not my own can feel very weird, although I imagine this is because I have not been on campus for around 14 months if not longer. Things are returning to some level of normalcy, yet for some it is taking longer than expected to adjust. There is a growing demand that learning post-COVID will use online and campus-based teaching methods. Yet, I question whether we have grappled with what effective blending learning looks like. This is especially relevant to online learning as that was only trialled widely as a product of need, not as a want. For myself, I know the benefits of working from home and will do so occasionally but having a reason to get out of the house after 18 months and being around colleagues again has been refreshing. Only time will tell as to where I sit on the scales of blended learning.
A little late on this one, whoops! You would think that a lack of organised meetings or structures would help me get the most work done. But as this past month has demonstrated, is that without some sort of pressure to get something done I tend to fall into the trap of procrastination. As of this article’s publication I have under two months to submit my major review, a key sign of my progress and capability to see this project to its completion. I have yet to have all the pieces in place to start bringing this together. It is too easy to fall off the wagon of productivity when it is your responsibility to track your work. This has been far harder now that many academic staff are taking some time off to recuperate after what has been a stressful year. Not having that external accountability or monitoring is something that I still struggle with, which I pointed out a few months into this project. It seems that work is still needed to improve my self-monitoring, which I will remedy with a more traditional work schedule.
Despite the increasing pressures from approaching deadlines, I am taking time to keep my stress levels down to a manageable level. A reasonable amount to give incentive to work, but not too much to cause me to worry or cause any grey hairs. I have enough as it is! One of the things I have learned during my past five years at university has been that people work and learn in a range of ways. For me, I tend to work best when there is a reasonable level of pressure and expectation which is a key motivator for me. Having that awareness that my actions are one of the only things between success and failure helps push me to get started each day. As many people may relate to, once I get started its easy to continue going but is that first task in the day that seems to be hardest to start. The thought of “you have X number of days to get this done” provides enough pressure to get me started on more productive work.
In all honesty, I questioned my decision to maintain this diary. It seemed somewhat needless and tended to go on weird tangents. But its days like this that I am thankful that I did, because writing my thoughts in these posts helps me get motivated for the more technical work. Having a smaller trivial task as the first thing you work on makes getting motivated easier and doing these once a month helps me get back on track if I ended up slacking near the end of the month. These posts are a great writing exercise which I recommend any new Postgraduates or even Undergraduates to try. They do not have to be extensive articles. A short candid exploration of your thoughts and feelings helps organise your thoughts and keeping your mind active, getting you motivated for further work.
As for me, getting a new job alongside my studies has helped keep me stimulated. But the challenge is to transform this excitement into productive efforts, and that all starts with the motivation to work. I hope that with the tighter deadlines going forward I will have more to talk about and show. Whilst this will be an eventful next couple of months, I cannot wait to get stuck in.
In my last blog post I explored how to condense my work into a short presentation for people unfamiliar to it. I discussed a range of techniques I aimed to adopt, and I do believe that it has helped. The presentation was well received, so as an early attempt at disseminating my research I was happy with how it went. Of course, there are improvements to make, but it is a strong foundation from which I can build my public speaking skills. But for the moment, I plan to try to improve other skills of mine to develop myself in other areas.
I believed myself to be a decent reader, yet I struggle to keep engaged with more extensive reading. I enjoy the process of learning but there are various ways of processing literature. Within the past few weeks, I discovered a Text-To-Speech app known as Speechify and thought it was at least worth seeing if it would help me in any way. I have found that I enjoy listening to podcasts whilst I am playing games familiar to me so I can comprehend what is being talked about. So, my rationale for using Speechify is that I could convert some of the more tedious reading into an audio format. As it works with PDFs, it was easy to drop my existing literature into their web app and try it out.
In practice my rationale did not work out as expected, I tended to focus too much on what is being said and not the underpinning arguments. What this resulted in is me comprehending the vocabulary but if someone were to ask me what the paper was about, I would not have the faintest idea. It is important to remember that the way we talk and the way we write are not the same. When writing, we have more opportunities to consider exactly what we are saying and how we convey it. Writing is less conversational in format and is a bit more declarative. Think of it as the difference between talking to someone and talking with someone. Academic papers are not designed to read aloud, as we have other ways of organising information for more audio-centric demonstrations. Despite that, I did find the use of Speechify to be most effective when reading literature alongside the audio. Having that cue to keep my reading focused ensured that I could comprehend what I was reading and not skimming over anything. This strategy proved highly effective and helped me understand papers better than previous attempts. It is still early days using this method, so further reflections on this method are needed. Yet, I may have found an approach to reading I did not intend to find that has made it easier to digest literature.
In school, I became aware of the concept of learner types. These were different ways certain people preferred to learn. For example, some people preferred auditory methods of learning whereas others favoured something more visual. I do not think that labelling oneself as a visual learner or an auditory learner is a wise method of reflecting on your learning. Some skills are best taught through vocalised teaching whereas others are best developed via practical experience. As I have found out this month, the most effective way of determining what methods work best is to experiment with a range of practices. I have told students in the past that it is up to them to find their most optimal way of working as it differs per person. It is time to put that into practice myself.
How do I summarise eight months of work in a 10-minute presentation? This my current problem as the university is hosting an event to allow PhD students to present their work in a brief conference. This is the first time I am discussing my research to the faculty, in front of a range of academics. The presentation has undergone its fair share of rewrites before even finishing a full draft. As my major review approaches, pressure has risen to present the contexts around my project in a concise manner.
The biggest challenge for me is trying to pin down the key points about the project and articulating them in a manner to prevent waffling. There is no shortage of information to discuss but picking out the details crucial to the broad aims of the project has proven tricky. The hardest part is trying to fit all the pieces together in a way that makes sense. One method I have been trying is treating the presentation as a story and weaving a narrative throughout the slides. By framing the contexts around the project as worldbuilding or setting the plot, I have found it easier to visualise the bigger picture I am trying to convey.
Having tried creative writing in the past, I am familiar with the challenge of determining what are important aspects of the narrative and what is expendable when there are restrictions to length. Whilst the above strategy has helped provide a sound structure, it has not helped decide what exactly I intend to discuss. In hindsight, it would have been useful if I had implemented some sort of relevance ranking system to my reading when doing research. By having some quick reference to the literature integral to the project, establishing the key contexts should be easier. Of course, there are drawbacks in this approach. On what grounds would one consider a piece of literature relevant? Especially early in a project like this, one that tends to adapt as time goes on as the network of knowledge grows. Perhaps such an approach would be useful after settling the contexts of the project, so this is something to come back to.
In the end, this is probably the main consideration to make about this presentation. This is not about condensing eight months of work into ten minutes. Rather, it is about establishing the key questions and contexts surrounding the work that I have done. Even this far in, the contexts surrounding this project are yet to be set in stone. It is better to consider this presentation as an opportunity to get something more concrete.