Getting Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy…it’s a process

I’ve not blogged for a while…and there have been quite a few changes since I last wrote a post. So this will be my semi-regular attempt to get back into the blogging, which will inevitably end with me just stopping. But I’m trying something slightly new. I want to write a series of blog posts on the process I’m goinig on over the next 18 months to get Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. I need to get this to pass my probation as a lectuer, but it’s also something that I am actually quite interested in doing – maybe not so much the actual title (FHEA), but more so the opportunity to learn about how to teach in the Higher Education sector. I feel like erverything I’ve been teaching so far has been based on my experiences and learning of my undergrad degree in Primary School Education. This can be useful, but also 18+ year old students probably need slightly different skills and ways of being taught than 5-13 year old kids!

In my current job, I’m able to take part in the PGCAP course, which is an 18 month, 3-module part time degree that will result in me having a PGDiploma (I think?) and hopefully also the FHEA. So far it seems like a lot of bureaucracy (lots of paper filling for the sake of paper filling), but we also have a 2h session every Wednesday where a very enthusiastic and caring man is giving us some tips about how to teach but also providing us with some theoretical backing for lots of different teaching and learning styles.

It’s been really interesting to get back into pedagogy and to think again more deeply about what I am teaching, how I am teaching it, and why I am teaching it in this way! For the first couple of weeks, I’m going to try to focus on improving diversity and inclusion in my teaching. I started this over the summer when I added a few different readings to the (very small) reading list on the design brief for students that are maybe a little bit out of designers’ comfort zones, but that are so important! I added Alex Ahmed’s ACM Interactions Viewpoint titled ‘Beyond Diversity’ (https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=3225621) and Joyojeet Pal’s alt.chi paper ‘CHI4Good or Good4CHI’ (https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=3052766). I think both of these raise really important issues, particularly for a module where students are supposed to think about critical design, design fictions, and the societal implications of design.

On top of the reading list though, I’m trying to cover a diversity of topics, that I hope will relate to different students (and I’m asking students what ‘trends and futures’ they’d like to cover as part of the module!). I’m also trying to cover these topics in diverse ways, to facilitate learning for students in different ways – group work, solitary work, research, design, sketching, ideation, etc. again in an attempt to meet students where they are – to develop existing skills but also perhaps sometimes providing them with something slightly new that they maybe havn’t encountered so far.

So, I’ve not said much in this post, but here’s what I’m trying to say: I’m going to use this PGCAP course as an excuse to try to write some blog posts again. They’re going to focus on my teaching, reflections on what has worked and what hasn’t, perhaps some case studies of activities I’ve done with the students, and an analysis of some of my teaching materials.

I’m not going to say whether this series will be weekly or monthly, it’ll probably be when I have time and energy to do this. But I’m hoping writing reflexively throughout the semester (and really the 18 months) will help me develop my teaching in different ways. Maybe it’ll also help me with the assignment(s) I have to submit as part of the PGCAP, but hopefully it’ll also lead to some conversations about learning and teaching in Higher Education (particularly in design eduation) on social media. So here goes.

Design For Good – on why we need to consider what we actually mean with ‘good’

I’ve been invited to present some of my work at the HCID Open Day 2019. This is a day organised by the Human Computer Interaction and Design research group at City University, London and this year’s theme is ‘Design For Good’. The programme looks amazing, and I’m very honoured to have been invited to share my thoughts on the topic alongside so many people I really admire.

In an attempt to share my work a little more widely, and to try to be a little more accessible with my presentation, you can have download my slides by clicking here: HCID2019-strohmayer

In my talk, I will go through some of my learning around ‘design for good’ from designing with and for charities over the last 5 years. I also take into account my experiences of volunteering with charities for years before then, and then go into detail of what ‘design for good’ means when we are designing in socially and legally complex spaces – where not everyone agrees what ‘good’ is. I use the framework of ‘Justice-Oriented Ecologies’ which I developed as part of my PhD (you can read more about it in a book chapter I wrote), to bring some theoretical framing to my discussion. At the end of the presentation, I provide some questions that I hope will help people reflect about what and whom the ‘good’ they are designing for represents.

Here’s the abstract I wrote for the organisers of the day, when they asked me to provide one. I hope my talk covers everything I promised, and I’d love to chat with you if you have thoughts on my slides or the abstract! The abstract:

“In this talk I discuss the work I have carried out with Third Sector Organisations to design, develop, or appropriate digital technologies into their service delivery. Together, we reflected on their current use of digital technologies as well as the development of novel approaches to integrating exploratory and mundane technologies into existing service delivery. Learning from my collaborators and the communities they support, I will address issues related to justice, particularly when working with stigmatised or criminalised communities. I will discuss some of the lessons I have learned about justice-oriented technologies along the way to provide insights and considerations for researchers and designers wanting to ‘design for good’ with Third Sector Organisations.”

You can find out more about the day, and have a look at the awesome lineup of speakers, here: https://hcidopenday.co.uk/

I got a permanent academic job!

I’ve been really quiet on here lately, and have also been struggling to tell people about my post-PhD job life in general. So let me quell some rumours that seem to be going around about whether I am moving back to Newcastle, when I am moving back to Newcastle, and what I am moving back to Newcastle for!

In September 2019 I will be starting as a Lecturer in Communication Design at Northumbria University! It’s a full time, permanent position in what my mum calls my ‘dream university’ as I haven’t shut up about how great so many of the people who work there are for the last 3 or 4 years. There are still a couple of things that need to be ironed out, but I am absolutely delighted to be starting in a School and Department with so many caring, friendly, welcoming, smart, and thoughtful people.

But how did I even get here??

Before submitting my dissertation, I started working at Swansea University as a Research Officer – a weird role that I still don’t fully understand. I managed to land the job last summer in early June and started working down in Swansea in August 2018. Since it is a one-year fix term contract though, I never really stopped looking for jobs. It’s fantastic that I managed to snag a post-PhD job even before submitting my PhD, but the job wasn’t really what I wanted, and I was still trying to find a permanent position that I felt qualified for and that really fit what it was I was wanting to do.

So in October 2018, I was sitting on my sofa with my boyfriend sharing some of the frustrations I was having with fixed term contracts, precarity in academia as an ECR, and having to essentially live between two UK cities that are at opposite ends of the country (Swansea and Newcastle). Being the fabulous person he is, he listened to me attentively and built me up, and emphasised that our current long-distance situation was only temporary (I guess, thanks to the fixed term contract?). He opened a laptop and we started setting up job alerts for lots of Universities in the North East.

While we were setting up the notifications, and because I am an incredibly nosy person, I decided to have a look at Northumbria University’s current job listings. And there it was. An open position for a Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Communication Design.

As far as I remember, this was a Wednesday and the deadline for the job was that Friday. Remembering back at the application I wrote for my current job and other jobs I had applied for simultaneously, I sighed when I saw the job after showing C; lamenting the fact I wouldn’t be able to put nearly enough work into the application to even be considered for an interview. It being an application for either a lecturer or senior lecturer position definitely contributed to my imposter syndrome in this particular instance! And besides, there was no point in me applying anyway as they’d surely pick someone with more experience than me, with a better funding and publication track record, or at least someone who had completed their PhD!

C, not being in academia, said that my thinking was nonsense and that I should apply anyway. It didn’t matter. If I didn’t apply I wasn’t going to get the interview, and if I did apply and didn’t get an interview at least I’d tried and practiced writing an application. He then also asked me the dreaded: what would a white, middle class, straight, white man do?

He was right.

So I started working on my application and had a draft of the whole thing done that evening. The next day I looked over it again, agonising over the language I used and making sure I really tailored my experience to the job description; using similar language to what they used and really studying the departments’ research and figuring out how my own research aligns with and builds on it.

I had an application ready to go within two days. We sent it off the next day and celebrated. A week went by and I didn’t hear back. And then a month passed. Then it was Christmas and New Years, and I still hadn’t heard anything. I just assumed I hadn’t made the cut. I was a little sad, but moved on and went looking for other ways I could move back to Newcastle and join this University. I was determined.

On the 22nd of February, though, I heard back! It seemed like a joke when I read the e-mail from HR inviting me to an interview the following Friday as I hadn’t heard anything from them since submitting my application in October the previous year (not even a confirmatory e-mail that my application had been received!). After getting over the initial disbelief and shock, I began to thoroughly prepare for my interview, bought myself a new shirt to wear with the one suit I own, booked some Annual Leave and my transport to Newcastle, and off I went! (I might write a post about all the prep. I did in the week running up to the interview and the work involved in having to negotiate going to a job interview half-way across the country another time – and I fully understand it was complicated enough for me to do this without having to figure out childcare!!)

I won’t go into detail of the interview process – it was very long, quite intimidating, but overall very interesting – except to say that I got a phone call the same evening, informally offering me the job. I didn’t know how to respond on the phone and just went quiet after saying thank you. The following week was filled with phone calls with some people I knew at the University as well as one of my supervisors to help me out with the negotiation process, everyone giving me slightly different bits of advice. Trying to navigate all the advice was difficult and confusing. I had never negotiated for a job before, and had never been confronted with the idea of actually having a permanent post in academia. I listened, thought a lot, wrote lots of notes, and also sent a few emails.

A couple of days later, I talked with the Head of School to ask a few questions before receiving an e-mail from HR with the formal offer for the job a couple of days later. It felt like it simultaneously happened at the same time while taking forever – it made little sense and I’m not sure quite how coherent I was in all these phone calls.

I was incredibly excited, but I also felt like I couldn’t really tell a lot of people about this fantastic development in my career until I had it all in writing. Until I had a contract. It wasn’t until March that I received my employment information from HR, and a a day later after reading through all the documents, I accepted the job. It’s happening. I got a permanent academic position.

The Red Umbrella Archive

December 17th marks the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Historically, on this day sex workers carry red umbrellas and march through the streets of large cities to fight for their rights, reduce stigma, and to make their presence visible in a city. In 2016 Changing Lives organised the first of these marches in Newcastle upon Tyne.We joined sex workers, support workers, police, and other supporters on this march as well as the remembrance service that took place afterwards. Through ethno-mimesis, we recorded our experiences of the march and subsequent service, focusing on the use of digital technologies. Between the march and the service, we also encouraged attendants to partake in our ‘red umbrellas’ activity. Here we used the open source JigsAudio tool to begin to craft a living activist archive of Newcastle’s experiences on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

With this activity, we have supported Changing Lives service delivery, while simultaneously developing a digital archive of sex worker voices. To our knowledge, this is the first time that experiences of those marching to end violence against sex workers are archived in this format. We archive the voices in a hybrid craft where playful crafting is mixed with tangible technologies to develop a space where the archive is manifested not only through the digital audio recording of voices, but also through the tangible crafted artefact.

The Partnership Quilt

The Partnership Quilt is a collaboration between Changing Lives, Six Penny Memories, and Open Lab at Newcastle University. It started out as an activity for clients of the Girls and Proud project in Changing Lives to do during the Northumberland drop-in sessions organised by Kirsty, but quickly turned into something bigger – clients began sewing at home, while waiting for appointments, or even in the bath! As Kim and Debbie from Six Penny Memories became involved in the project the individual pieces came together and were shaped into a well-balanced quilt. While this quilt by itself is something all those who put a stitch in it can be proud of, the addition of the secondary quilt is what makes this a truly special project. Angelika and Janis from Open Lab used do-it-yourself, flexible, and low-cost technologies to turn the soft and colourful quilt into a living archive of stories and experiences of Changing Lives service delivery in the North East of England. The addition of quilted capacitive touch sensors turns this traditional craft artefact into a contemporary piece of interactive art: by touching some of the rosettes on the quilt a voice is activated to tell a part of the story that lies in the folds and seams of the quilt.

The materials we used allow us not only to continue to share the story of the quilt, but they allow Changing Lives staff to curate the audio recordings and easily exchange the voices that are shared through the quilt. Like this, it can be used for exhibitions, staff training, or focused one-on-one reflection.

It’s September – what?

Today is the first of September. And a small part of me wants to take part in the seemingly collective response of: ‘Holy shit?! How is it September already?!’ but a larger part of myself wants to appreciate what I’ve done for the last month, or two, or eight. Now, this isn’t because I think I’m amazing or ahead of the game…actually quite the contrary.

I often feel like I’m not doing enough work (before anyone who knows me starts shouting at me, I know this is untrue), and I often feel like I’m falling behind on things. I rarely finish my to do lists (but that’s because they’re too full and aren’t actually realistic), but also rarely forget to do stuff and/or miss deadlines so I think I’m getting some things right.

But back to it being September.

The internet wants me to constantly be stressed about doing a PhD. It’s the common trope: the frazzled, up late at night working, stressed PhD student. I really don’t want to say that this isn’t the case for a lot of people, but I just hate the idea that that is the norm. Again, I don’ t want to say that this isn’t a real lived experience for a lot (far too many) students, and let’s be honest I’m often in the lab way too long after 5pm too. But when you search anything to do with PhD life, studies, careers, etc. everything that seems to come up are blog posts about how the PhD is the most stressful time of your life, about how supervisors tell students what to do, and about how the pressure is so big.

All these things are probably true. But why are they the norm? And it’s not just the internet that’s perpetuating this image of the PhD student: When I talk to some PhD students I feel guilty for taking weekends off. For not working when I’m at home. For having a good night’s sleep. Too often I even feel bad for being productive. It makes no sense.

I think this ties in with the whole ‘holy shit how is it already September’-itis. We never feel like we have done enough. We always look for our flaws, about how we had too many tea breaks yesterday, and ultimately about how we’re never going to amount to anything unless we stare at this document for the next 5h not really changing much but just avoiding sleep.

And I think that the image of the frazzled and stressed PhD student contributes to this. And I hate that it’s become the norm. I’ve had chats with some others about this, and I’ve definitely felt like I’m ‘doing it wrong’ at stages where I’ve not felt like all the internet tells me I should feel about my PhD.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love PhDcomics and all the other blogs, comics, and sites about how to write your PhD, how to survive your PhD, how to get a job after your PhD, etc. as much as the next PhD student – but where’s the balance? Where’s the alternative? Where’s the positive, the hope?

So that’s why I’m trying not to engage in the ‘holy shit how is it already September’-itis. I’m trying to tell myself I’ve done enough for the month to tick over.

Time waits for no one. Not even stressed out PhD students.

I’ve not completed my to-do list for the month, but I’ve done enough to be happy with what I’ve done. I went on holiday – on an actual, real holiday. That alone should be enough of a success in August! But I’ve also done loads of other stuff – and I’ve got stuff planned for September. It’s going to be a great month; even better than August was. Because that’s what I’m trying to do these days. I’m trying to relax and enjoy the PhD-ride.

So bring it on, September. Bring It On (Again)

 

 

Book chapters are a weird beast to master

I’ve not blogged here for a long time, so again I’m going to say how strange it is to get back into this. This time, I found this title in my ‘drafts’ in the blog post folder, so let’s see where this takes me in the next half hour or so.

Book chapter are a weird beast to master. There are so many different types of books and types of chapters, and it’s all very dependent on discipline and methodology. It’s a weird and complex hodgepodge of words.

Maybe I should explain myself a little before I get too far down the rabbit hole about how weird I think book chapters are. So, essentially I’m a PhD student who’s trying to write words for her dissertation while simultaneously trying to publish my academic work in a number of different formats. I’m working on stuff that is very much at the intersection of HCI and social sciences (and I’m using the term ‘social sciences’ here because I can’t figure out where in the social sciences my work actually fits in quite yet…). Since I’m still not entirely sure whether I want to go into social sciences or HCI after I finish my PhD, I want to try to publish in both spaces, in different formats. I’ve published papers in HCI, and have started going to social science focused conferences recently, but I’ve yet to publish in the social sciences.

That’s about to change!

A few months ago, I received a CfP for a book surrounding sex industry research. One of the sections of the book was something like ‘underresearched areas’ and another one was ‘technologies’. In my head, I think technologies and sex work are generally underresearched so I decided to write an abstract for the ‘underresearched areas’ section of the book.

Writing this abstract took me aaages. I couldn’t quite figure out how I could write what I wanted to write and have it make sense to a social science audience. I hadn’t realised just how much of the language I use in my writing is HCI-specific! So I went through and edited, edited, edited. I re-wrote things, took things out, restructured my abstract until it was the deadline.

To be fair, I probably freaked out much more than I needed to, but I wanted my ‘social science debut’ to be good. A few weeks later I get an e-mail from the editors and as it turns out my abstract was good enough! woop! So I’ll be writing a book chapter for the ‘Handbook of Sex Industry Research’. They did however change my chapter into the ‘technology’ section, which I wasn’t super happy about – but I can see why they did it.

So anyway, a few weeks roll around and I decide to get over my fear and try to figure out how to even start writing a book chapter. I remembered the vast amounts of editing and re-writing it took me to get the abstract into somewhat send-off-able shape, and just tried to have a go at the chapter.

At first, it went really slowly. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, what I was trying to say, or even how to get a start at my chapter. I wrote a few sentences and let it sit for a while. Even though I had months before the deadline, I was starting to get worried that I hadn’t given it a proper go yet, but still couldn’t figure out how to go about doing it. It kept sitting in my head as something that I needed to figure out. It wasn’t something that actively stressed me out or scared me, but it was just this little thing in my mind that, every  now and again, would come up.

One Saturday, pretty randomly, I felt like I wanted to have a proper go at the chapter. I lied in bed thinking about what I wanted to write and it seemed to all make sense. It seemed like I knew what I wanted to write, what pictures I wanted to include, and how I wanted to shape my argument that would be my ‘social science debut’. It would be political and strongly worded, it would be reflexive, show what cool work I’ve been doing, but then also questioning why I did things in a certain way. I got out of bed got ready really quickly and headed outside to go to Pink Lane Coffee. I ordered my flat white, sat down on their brown leather couch, and had a go. I started with writing notes in my notebook, then developed a skeleton for the chapter in a word document and then had a go at writing the thing. I spent hours that day writing away, not really re-reading what I had written – just getting words on the page. I ended up with more than 5,000 words that day and still wasn’t completely finished. But I left it at that.

I don’t really remember what I did the rest of that day, but I’m pretty sure I slept well that night.

After having that start on the chapter, I felt good about it for a few weeks – I thought I had figured it out and was happy with what I had written, knowing that I had a lot of work left on it (I had still to write the conclusion, for example). So I let a few weeks pass again before I had another go at it. This time I picked up a printed out copy of the words I had written that Saturday that I had lying on my desk and started to have a go through it. I put it down almost instantly as I realised how bad the words I had written were.

Instead of being discouraged by this, I told myself: at leat you’ve got words down. Words are editable. You can re-write the whole thing, but at least you’ve got an outline that somewhat makes sense, and at least you’ve got words. You can edit them.

I don’t remember whether it was a few days or weeks later, but I had to go to a cafe again to get this sorted. This time I sat in the Settle Down Cafe and took the chapter and a pen out of my bag. A sip of my flat white, a deep breath, and then I started. I don’t think a single sentence was left in tact from my initial chapter. Almost all the pictures were deleted, and the structure changed drastically. It was a pretty  heavy re-write of what I had done on that long Saturday in Pink Lane Coffee. But this time I actually felt good about it.

I had essentially hand-written the entire chapter through my edits on the printed out page; many of my notes were now only legible to me, and the arrows and asterix’ stopped making sense after a while.

After a change in scenery I decided to try to type up what my hand had spilled on the page – I went through all of my notes, typing things up as I went along. Trying to decipher what I was trying to say wasn’t always easy, and I changed a few things in the process of typing them up, but it kept me going. I had something on paper that I just had to type up – this wasn’t a hard task, it was do-able. Much of the hard work (to this stage) was already done.

So I typed and edited, and had another read over, and changed many things again, and then changed some more before I was happy enough with it to send it to my co-authors and supervisors. It’s still not done, and I’m still not 100% happy with it (and I don’t know if I ever will be), but I’m in a good place with it now.

What was hardest however, was trying to write in such a different style and for such a different audience. A book is written so differently from a paper. Even though I actually have less space in the chapter than I would in a CHI paper, the format makes me want to write more reflexively; it makes me want to explain things more and not cram everything into a single paragraph or sentence. The different referencing format (Harvard as opposed to the ACM CHI format) makes me want to reference fewer papers, but spend more time explaining them and how they relate to my argument. It makes me slow down, think, and really appreciate the words I put on the page.

It’s weird.

I think working on this chapter is helping me re-calibrate the way I write. It’s helped me start to write for my dissertation. I know the dissertation is yet another type of writing with yet another audience and yet another purpose, but the way I want write about my work seems to be closer to how I am working on this book chapter than how I work on CHI papers. I don’t think I can really explain why (yet)…but for now, that’s where I’m going to leave it. An open-ended sense of wonder as to what my dissertation is going to look like, and how writing in different formats has helped me see my work through different eyes. It’s helped me look at different things, and it’s developed me as someone who puts words on a page.

Technologies and Social Justice Outcomes in Sex Work Charities: Fighting Stigma, Saving Lives

In exactly one week, I’ll to be sitting on a metro that is taking me to the airport. I’ll probably be equally nervous and excited about flying to Denver, Colorado, USA to attend CHI2017. While there, I’m hoping to meet some awesome new people who do awesome research, I’ll be working on some cross stitch to raise funds for Planned Parenthood, and I’ll be running a few pop-up stalls for zine making for people to share their different experiences of being at CHI, but I’ll also be presenting my paper.

So, maybe I should give a little bit of context here. As fempower.tech, some great people that I work with and I are organising what we have called #CHIversity. It’s an attempt to make diversity (whatever that is) more visible at the conference, and to foster discussion on inclusion, representation, feminisms, and social justice while there. The name, CHIversity, is naff. We know. It was a bit of a play on the topic of diversity (again, whatever that means) and CHI, and is supposed to be tongue in cheek. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to start a discussion. In this way, we hope to provide a small alternative to the usual exclusive parties that people go to to network by providing a comfortable, safe, relaxed, and alcohol-free environment for people to come together. Since we’ll be crafting, if someone doesn’t want to talk but rather just enjoy the presence of others, that’s absolutely fine. If someone wants to chat and not craft, that’s also more than okay.

We’ll be doing a number of things: tweeting, blogging, fundraising, making zines, and supporting our colleagues at the diversity lunch. Something I’m quite excited about is our feminist CHI programme. It’s not complete by any means, but it’s a nice starting point for something that we could maybe keep doing at other conferences we go to?

You can find out more about what we’re planning by having a look at our website and to keep up-to-date with what’s going on while in Denver, please follow @fempowertech on twitter. 

While all of that is exciting, it’s not the only reason I’m going to CHI. I’ll also be presenting a paper I wrote with Mary Laing and Rob Comber. It’s called Technologies and Social Justice Outcomes in Sex Work Charities: Fighting Stigma, Saving Lives and is based on some of the work I’ve done with National Ugly Mugs. It’s an analysis of their service delivery in relation to social justice, and I outline how they utilise technologies for their reporting, alerting, and mobilising practices to support their social justice outcomes. The paper ends on implications for design that will be useful for people who want to design digital technologies with charities.

If that made you curious enough to want to read the whole ten pages, you can either go download it from the ACM digital library (once it’s out on there, probably around the 6/7/8 of May), but if you don’t have access to that or want to read it before then, here you go. See below for the abstract:

[edit on 3rd of May 2017: the paper’s now been published in open access, so go download it here to boost that download count, because academic metrics :p]

Sex workers’ rights are human rights, and as such are an issue inherently based in social, criminal, and political justice debates. As HCI continues to move towards feminist and social justice oriented research and design approaches, we argue that we need to take into consideration the difficulties faced by sex workers; and explore how technology can and does mediate social justice outcomes for them. We contribute directly to this challenge by providing an empirical account of a charity whose work is built on the underlying move towards social and criminal justice for sex workers in the UK. Through ethnographic fieldwork, meetings, interviews, surveys, and creative workshops we describe the different points of view associated with the charity from a variety of stakeholders. We discuss their service provision and the ways in which HCI is uniquely positioned to be able respond to the needs of and to support sex work support services.

 

Digital Economy Diversity Network Funding

At the beginning of February, I went to the Digital Economy Annual Meeting. Among other things, we talked about diversity and the importance of reflecting on our situation in the individual Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs), but also across the Digital Economy (DE) research centres, and the Digital Economy Network (DEN) overall; and doing something about it.

A few colleagues and I were very keen to try to work on something, to do something about it. So we thought of some ideas and started putting together a funding bid to be able to do this. I wrote about why I started working on a funding bid to try to do this with some friends and colleagues in an earlier post, but we’ve had some exciting things happen since then. Janis and I put together a proposal for a Digital Economy Diversity Network to send to the DEN. We did this with support from Manu (from HighWire) and Astrid (from Media & Arts Technology) and full backing from our CDT manager.

We had a couple of different ideas, but also some very strong ideas about what we didn’t want this to be. We didn’t want this to be a ‘data collection’ tool for the DEN to gauge how ‘well’ they’re doing in student / researcher satisfaction, and we didn’t want this to be a single event where everyone moans about all their problems and then celebrates the good things without any real outcome. Instead, we wanted to create something that we would hope could be a sustainable network to keep the conversation about diversity, equality, and equity alive. We wanted it to be intersectional, to go beyond the tick-box exercises of counting how many men, women, and non-cis people applied to and were accepted to the CDTs.

So here’s what we came up with:

We proposed to organise 4 meetings a year for 2 students from each of the 11 CDTs to come together in a working group. Each of these meetings would be hosted and organised by a different CDT in a different UK city/university, and the students that attended should be slightly different too (to reduce workload for the attendants, but also to encourage those that would usually not go to a ‘diversity’ meeting to go) At these meetings we would have three types of activities: (1) critically discuss a particular issue (2) find some sort of consensus or learning outcome from these discussions (3) develop one ‘job’ that each pair of students should do to report back to their CDT what was discussed at the working group.

With these activities, we hope to be able to take into account the specificities and contexts of each of the CDTs (Do they have a central office? Do they share an office with others? What does the integration with the rest of the department, school, university look like?). At the same time, we hope to share experiences across CDTs based on a particular issue, and hopefully share some tips and tricks at how to tackle specific things among CDT students.

An example: During one of the meetings, the topic of concern is recruitment and how to ensure that CDT recruitment takes into considerations issues of equality and diversity. Throughout the day the host CDT will have organised activities and points of discussion around this, and the outcome could be a set of guidelines for labs / CDTs to follow to ensure recruitment is accessible. The activity that each participant is to take back to their own CDT could then be that the participant is to organise a meeting with the Professor of their lab to discuss their recruitment policy for the next cohort, pointing towards ways in which this could be made more accessible to a more diverse set of applicants.

While each of these meetings should have a very specific outcome (notes in some shape or form from the discussions of the workshop, the exchange of good practice among CDTs, and a feedback mechanism to share insights with the rest of the CDT after the meeting), we hope that after a year of running these workshops we also have an overarching outcome. While we hope for some unmeasurable changes in work culture and environments, we will also be putting together a report on how the workshops went with some recommendations for policy for the DEN, seeing as currently there is not a single diversity or equality policy in place.

If you want to read more details from our proposal, you can find it here.

In theory this sounds great, but to be able to run something like this, we need support and enthusiasm from students in other CDTs. We need people who want to engage in these kinds of discussions, and we need these people to be able to come together to discuss them. A part of this is also that we would need a measurable sum of money to run these meetings to ensure that no CDT has to find funds to host, facilitate, or send their students to these meetings. This is why we applied for funding from DEN. Yesterday, was the exciting day where we received the e-mail we had been waiting for!

Yesterday, we got the e-mail that said we had received the £6000 we applied for to run a pilot of this network for one year. 

This is fantastic, but also scary. It’s an exciting opportunity for all of us involved, and I’m looking forward to starting to organise the first workshop with Janis.

My first publication…from ages ago

Today I’m going to talk about something really old to ease myself into talking about more recent things. I’m going to talk about my first publication. It was a weird experience that I think I’ve slightly touched upon before, but I want to revisit to reflect on how far I’ve come in relation to this and to ease myself into talking about more recent things. It’s also something that’s on the bucket list I’ve put on my website, so since I had nothing else to really talk about today, I thought I’d address something from there.

My first CHI paper. If you’re from HCI, chances are you know about CHI. If you’re not, it’s (one of) the biggest HCI conferences out there. HCI is a weird field where conference proceedings are actually quite hard to get accepted (CHI has an acceptance rate of around 23-25% each year), and where they’re in the form of (roughly) 10 page peer-reviewed papers as opposed to the usual 250-500 word abstracts in social science conferences.

CHI stands for Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems and is held in a different city every year. The one I’m going to be talking about is CHI 2015, and was held in Seoul, South Korea. So this is a reflection on something quite old…

This was the year I was finishing my MA in International Development and Education and was looking around for places to do a PhD. I really got a taste of doing research half way through the MA when we were writing our research proposals, and wanted to continue to do this. It wasn’t something I had ever before considered, but something I wanted to know more about. I looked and asked around in different universities across the UK and Europe to see if there was anything interesting somewhere.  I found loads of interesting Professors and Lecturers, but couldn’t really find something that stuck out. I found people that were particularly interested in homelessness (and I think actually contacted someone to see if they wanted to have a chat) but things never really went any further than an e-mail. Nothing felt right. It wasn’t until I heard about Culture Lab (which is the old name for Open Lab) that I started to feel like this could actually be something I wanted to do. The website, while not the most up-to-date and amazing thing, told stories of interesting projects that sounded more like the kind of thing I was interested in. It wasn’t all about reliability, about standardised research methods, and projects made by one person. It was about collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and creative research methods. For some reason I decided to send off a message on the contact form for the lab and was half-expecting not to get anything in return, when a few days later I had an e-mail in my inbox from R. We met up and I explained what my research was for the MA and how I wanted to do a PhD in something similar but wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do it in yet. He seemed somewhat interested and continued to informally support me throughout the rest of my MA research. Throughout this process, we met up quite regularly and as I started to get to know the lab a little and he started to get to know me a little he mentioned that there was going to be some funding for a 1+3 PhD studentship that he thought I might want to apply for: the Digital Civics PhD.

I did.
For some weird reason, I got it.

When it came to writing my dissertation he was an immense help, and since it was roughly the same time of the year as CHI deadline he and P recommended that I put something in for the conference. I was terrified and thought it was a bit silly I was writing something for the conference, but almost everyone that was in the lab at the time was doing it. They offered me a desk in the lab (multiple times) but I was too shy to accept it. I didn’t feel like I was smart enough, or good enough to sit with all these other amazingly smart people, so I only ever came in for my supervisions with R. It wasn’t until it was almost the CHI deadline that I started actually working in the lab. I wish I’d have done that sooner! The people are incredibly smart and intimidating, but they’re also absolutely lovely and kind – I really should’ve just sat down in the lab sooner. Maybe I could’ve gotten to know a few more people sooner.

Anyway, back to the paper. So it started off with R explaining to me what CHI was, what a CHI paper was, and how the review and publication process worked. Throughout the entire time he made clear to me that, while the work I did was interesting and good, it had a low chance of actually getting in (which is/was very true). It was my first time writing something, which lowered the chances even more, but I did it anyway. It felt really great that they thought the work I did was interesting enough to be published, and it was even more exciting that I got to work on an actual academic publication with R.

I’m  not going to go into detail of his supervision style, but he was really supportive in the writing of this paper and helped me out in many different ways. He sat down with me and answered my silly questions, but he also sat down with me and the paper and transformed a few of my horribly naive sentences into something that read like an academic paper so I could learn from that and transform the rest of my paper by myself.

When it came to deadline day, I was happy with the paper and excited to see what reviewers would say. A few days before we had another meeting about the paper where we decided together that it was amazing that I had written this, that it was something that should definitely be submitted, but that I shouldn’t have too many hopes as it was my first time submitting, and the work was arguably not done with HCI in mind throughout the whole thing (as I was focusing on the International Development and Education thing for my dissertation…). Anyway, we submitted and I was excited to see the reviews.

They ended up being quite nice, but it seemed like the paper would not get accepted. They scores weren’t terrible, but not good enough to really get the paper accepted. I was a bit sad, but also understood that there was always going to be a next year. After the AC meeting (where they discuss each paper and finalise the decision whether it should be published or not) however, I got an e-mail that said my paper was accepted and that I would be shepherded. R had explained to me earlier that this meant someone took on a lot of work and time to help me re-write parts of the paper (my discussion) to the point where they think it should be publishable. Apparently someone thought my work was interesting enough to be published. Thank you!!

So, over the christmas holiday I re-wrote my discussion section and changed other parts of the paper to match with this so it would be ready for publication in early January. That was an exciting experience that I briefly go into more detail here. And then, when it came to May 2015, I got to fly to Seoul to present the work I did. To talk about homelessness in Romania and the informal learning networks that are shaped in that environment. It was fun and exciting, and terrifying all at the same time. Something I’d like to do again, and something I’m going to do again in a couple of weeks at CHI 2017 in Denver, Colorado, USA. But that’s for another post.

I have changed a lot over the last two years academically and personally, and I’m assuming CHI will have changed too. This year my paper was not shepherded, and got a variety of different scores across the board. The reviews were absolutely lovely and I was able to make the paper much better based on them. I’ve grown a lot since this first CHI cycle. I’m less scared about sending out papers for review (I actually really quite enjoy that process now!), I’m less scared about showing my writing to others (anyone want to proof read any of my stuff?), but I still ask R silly questions about conferences and their review process (I don’t think this’ll stop until I stop working with R). I’m glad I was pushed into the scary land of CHI so early, it made the next year much easier, and has now opened me up to attempt to publish not only at conferences but also in journals and got me interested in learning more about book chapters. Exciting times. I’ll keep you posted.