Getting (re)organised

The last couple of weeks have been ridiculous. I’ve been in and out of Newcastle, in and out of the country, and in and out of my academic frame of mind.

It all started with going down to London for a workshop (that you can read about here) followed by the trans-atlantic flight to Denver for CHI. I was in the US for a week and a half, travelled back to Newcastle only to be absolutely jet lagged. I’m not used to travelling across so many time zones. What was nice about that trip however, was that I had the chance to unwind for a few days. I stayed in a lovely lodge a few miles outside Boulder and just walked around for a few days. I met up with Chris Bopp, whom I had been in contact with previously about a(n unaccepted) CHI workshop around working with Third Sector Organisations and had a lovely chat with him at the University of Colorado, Boulder Campus. During our chat, Chris showed me around the stunning campus and showed me the ATLAS institute, which is a pretty amazing interdisciplinary research space (it felt somewhat similar to Open Lab, though they did have different offices for different people and research groups).

After that lovely walk and chat I headed down University Hill and into town via Central Park and the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse (but that’s for another post!) before finding a way to get to my lodging (which, I only realised later really isn’t that far away from Boulder). So I took a bus there, checked in, and had a rest. I was shattered at this point. The conference (and associated parties) really wore me out, and I wasn’t sure whether I was actually over my jet lag yet at this point, or whether it was just starting to set in. Anyway, over the next couple of days I didn’t do much. I did some reading, I did a lot of eating, and walking around Boulder. I also walked in the FlatIrons and  on the Chautauqua trails, as well as the Boulder Creek path; both of which were absolutely amazing.

After this trip to Colorado I came back to Newcastle on a Tuesday afternoon. That week I was tired all the time. Jet lag really hit me quite hard, and I don’t remember much of what I actually did that week. I do remember however, that the sprint I was supposed to go on to get a start on developing the NUM website was pushed back by a week (and lordy was I happy that was moved!).

So the following week I stayed up late every night preparing for the sprint. I drew out mock-ups by hand, had conversations around requirements documents, had lots of conversations with NUM staff about the aforementioned mock-ups and documents and at the same time tried to organise all the materials we needed to go, have meetings with Ed, Rob A., and Tom N. about the trip, and tried to get everything sorted.

The week after that was the sprint. And oh my goodness. We worked all day every day for seven days. After what seemed to be a 90h week, I stayed in Manchester for one more day to present what we had done to the NUM board. We had completed the main functionality of the site, a 40pg brand identity guidelines document and a 95pg (and counting) justification document.

So, while I wanted to write about something slightly different, I’m happy I wrote out everything I’ve done in the last couple of weeks. It’s not an excuse for not blogging and generally feeling unorganised about my life and dissertation at the moment, but it’s a nice way of seeing that, while I feel like I’ve been running around like a headless chicken, I’ve actually been doing a lot of work alongside some other really great people. I’ve been getting stuff done, and just need to find a way of reflecting on this and moving forward.

The beauty of having multiple and interdisciplinary supervisors

I want to reflect a little on my supervision today. I’ve talked a little bit about some of my supervisors before, but I want to reflect on it from a little bit of a higher level today.

As part of the Centre for Doctoral Training in Digital Civics, I am required to have a supervisor in Computing Science (or more specifically, from Open Lab) and one supervisor from a different school in the university. Since I am in the ‘public education’ section of my cohort, this means I have a supervisor from the School of Education, Communication, and Language Sciences (ECLS). On top of this, I am very lucky to also have another supervisor from Northumbria University’s Department of Social Sciences, Criminology in particular.

It’s amazing to have three supervisors that are so different from a disciplinary perspective. They support me in all sorts of different ways, and although having people from all these different areas supervising me is sometimes challenging, the negatives of being pulled in all of these different directions are definitely outweighed by the positives.

The amount of time I spend with each of these supervisors varies greatly. I work at Open Lab, and sit a few desks away from my supervisor from there. I see him most days, and have a regularly scheduled supervision with him every two weeks (though this has only started happening over the last few months). My supervisions with the other two supervisors are much more sporadic. I meet my supervisor from ECLS somewhere between every month and every couple of months. I see my supervisor from Northumbria at a pretty strange schedule. She is on the board for one of the charities I am working with, and is herself a researcher working on sex work research, which makes me see her in all sorts of different situations: for example, I’ve had supervisions at the charity office after board meetings, I’ve had conversations with her on the phone and often met her for coffee or as part of other projects’ meetings; next week I will see her at the COST ProsPol conference in Copenhagen.

I think it has only been once that I’ve actually had all three supervisors at the same meeting. As far as I remember, this wasn’t as chaotic as I would have thought it to be. But having said that, I absolutely over-prepared for the meeting too. It was a few weeks before I went off on a one-month internship at National Ugly Mugs (NUM) roughly a year ago. I had a little booklet of my project proposal, a detailed research plan, and other bits of reflections and writing I had done for everyone to take home and have a look at. We talked, in very little detail, about my project and how great it will be to get stuck in it properly. It was a nice experience, but I don’t remember whether it was super useful to the research (which I guess means it wasn’t the best supervision I’ve ever had…). Having said that, I think it’d be nice to have another one of these super-supervisions in the near future.

These different styles of meeting patterns also cater to different needs I have as a PhD student, and the tone, structure, and outcomes of our meetings are also often very different. Each of my supervisor has a different supervision style, different areas of expertise, and different ways in which they support me. Having very different relationships with each of these supervisors also leads me to talking about different things with each of them, sometimes focusing more on the personal and emotional side of doing a PhD, other times focusing very directly on specific projects I’m working on, while at other times I’ll focus on my PhD dissertation more directly. It’s weird and it’s nice, but what I’ve learned is that it is incredibly important for me to get on with my supervisors on a methodological / ontological level, but also on a topical and theoretical, as well as personal level. Having said that, I think each of them has a very different way of looking at my PhD and the work I do as a whole. They have different relationships to Open Lab, my projects, my dissertation, and ultimately me.

I like this though, I like that I need to cater to different types of supervision. I feel like it makes me a more rounded student and person, and forces me to look at my work through different lenses. This often causes tensions, which can be frustrating at times, but overall makes me reflect more on the work I’m doing and why I’m doing it.

Yesterday, I had a supervision with my supervisor from ECLS and she pointed out that the way I work is a really strange mix of pragmatism and self-criticality. On one hand I really like organising my thoughts in layouts, I like having structure to my writing, and don’t really want to start writing until I have a well thought-through outline. For example, I’ve written multiple outlines for literature reviews and more recently my dissertation overall, but since I am still not entirely happy with it havnen’t really started writing on these things yet. I know I need to stop doing this and just start writing, but knowing I am going to reflect on everything I’m thinking now to change it again makes me not want to do that. Yesterday however, she gave me some good advice: just stick with it for now. Stick with what I’ve got. It makes sense and seems to be structurally sound. I need to somehow learn to marry my pragmatism and self-criticality. A way that I can get to writing the dissertation rather than just writing papers while still letting myself be self critical (there is no reason why I can’t write stuff and then later rip it up and restructure everything. In fact, I know that that is going to happen, but for it to actually be able to happen, I need to have something written first).

So here goes. My writing goals for the next few months: have the sections of my dissertation that I can have written written by the end of the summer. I want to write a CSCW paper for mid-april, at least one CHI paper for September, and another CSCW paper for November. At the same time, I have my Annual Progress Review at some point in June at which I need to present the panel with some writing I have done for my dissertation. This means, I want to have written a draft of my literature review, methodology chapter, and the chapters for the two case studies I should have (almost) finished by the summer. This gives me the chance to spend the next year on writing my analysis, discussion, and conclusions, which would put me in a pretty good place for finishing on time.

It really was only due to the different types of conversations I’ve had with all of my supervisors over the last month or so that I’ve figured out a potential way of looking at everything I’ve been doing. It’s taken me more than a year and a half to actually figure out what it is that I’m interested in looking at in detail from the work I’ve been doing, and it’s taken me many conversations with friends, colleagues, and supervisors to get to a point where I almost feel confident enough to start writing my dissertation.

My indifference towards music

I know so many people who are very particular about what they like and what they don’t like about music; people who have certain music they listen to when they’re doing homework or writing, doing sports or walking down the street; people who say music saved their life or who look up to some musicians as if they are demi-gods.

OF course, there are some types of music I enjoy more than others, but since my I-only-listen-to-bands-nobody-knows-phase, music has gotten less and less important to me. I haven’t updated or used my ipod in a really, really long time. I take it with e when I travel with all intentions of listening to music, only to not touch it for the entire trip.

There is something so soothing in listening to the white noise that is part of daily life. I enjoy the silence created by the buzzing of the computer, refrigerator, car or plane. The (often strange) music that comes out of public radios or bus playlists. It’s all part of the experience of the journey, and of life. I feel like I am more connected to the journey, to myself, when I take in the sounds that surround me. I am more alert, or more relaxed, depending on my mood.

I think this practice may be the reason why I have become so tolerant of different music styles and genres. I remember the days when anything that wasn’t alternative power punk pop was horribly and painful to my years…how silly I was back then.

I think not listening to my ipod every second of every day makes me see the world differently. It forces me to pay attention to the nature and people around me. To communicate with them silently and to e an active part of the world.

3 things you MUST bring with you when you travel

Besides the obvious passport, visa, hard currency, camera, and curiosity and patience…

  1. A large shawl

I don’t care if you’re a guy or a gal, you need one of these! My large pashmina a Pakistani friend gave me has saved me on several occasions. The weather can turn without much announcement in many parts of the world. This large shawl can keep you from getting completely soaked, keep your ears and neck warm or even work instead of a jacket sometimes. On top of this, it can double up as a blanket on bus or airplane trips or as a towel if need be. You can turn it into a picnic blanket and a head/shoulder covering when entering churches, mosques or other religious places.

  1. An unlocked phone

This might seem obvious, but make sure you have an unlocked phone on hand when you go to travel. Save all the important numbers on the phone, not the sim card and make sure you have numbers of hostels/couch surfers, embassies and whatnot saved. This phone can be as shabby as anything, as long as it can call and sms you’ll be fine. Getting local sim cards is cheap and easy.

Most of the world is starting to have wifi-hotspots, so I would also recommend taking your smartphone with you so you can keep in contact with your loved ones at home via whatsapp, skype and your blog.

  1. Flip flops

Make sure you travel light and bring as little clothing as possible, but don’t forget these babies. In the summer heat of some places these can keep your feet nice and airy and are a good alternative to your sneakers or hiking boots every now and again. They will also save you from attempting to get rid of fungus on your feet that you might catch from showers in hostels. They are also a comfortable alternative to walking barefoot into springs, fountains, lakes or rivers.

EXTRA!

Personally, I always take a diary with me when I travel. Bus journeys are always a good time to reflect on thoughts, feelings and experiences that have occurred in the last couple of hours or days. I have so many pages filled with messy, squiggly writing and sketches. Even if I don’t look back into the journals regularly writing things down by hand is my way of working through things. I get my thoughts and feelings in order like that. It’s very different to writing on the computer…which I do a lot for this blog now too.

What worries you, masters you.

Now I’m going to say John Locke wasn’t so wrong. And I’m going to do it be getting up close and personal to my 19 year old self from 2  years ago. I’m going to get frisky with the crippling fears and worries I have had just to come out a better person, a changed person, someone who I am proud to be.

That’s what I would say if this were a good-heart-diary-blog. But it’s not.

I have said before that Nepal has changed me. But why is that? Why didn’t Moldova change me? Or did it? Why am I so incredibly critical of everything and so hard to impress?

I have had an extremely privileged life; and I don’t mean because I am an upper-middle class white girl that grew up in Europe. I don’t say it because for the last ten years or so my father has been in upper managerial positions at work, and I don’t say it because I grew up with an intact family that loved each other.

It’s simple, I grew up without worries.

Yes, times have been rough, harsh. I was born in the time of the second gulf war…in Turkey. I lived through the huge floods in Romania, while living in Bucharest, and I was a student without a job during the greatest economic breakdown since the great depression. But none of these really affected me. I was surrounded by my parents and my brother who always made sure I had nothing to worry about.

I grew up in a bubble that nurtured my hope, let me have fears, that helped me deal with my problems in a healthy manner and that taught me determination, hard work, hope and love can overcome anything. And to this day, I think this is true.

So why the huge worries? Why the crippling fear of the future or in the words of Augustus Waters, oblivion?

Almost exactly two years ago my family was torn apart. I was left with seemingly nothing.

I felt it was my fault; that I had brought this on myself and that I should no longer have a place on this earth. I hated what I was doing at University. I wasn’t learning what I felt would help me in the future. I wasn’t happy with the people I was surrounded by and my monetary pillar had also crashed. I was stuck in an apartment by myself wondering at night wondering how long it would take for someone to notice I was gone, who and how they would find me.

The only thing that kept me going was the thought of what my mother had gone through and how the disappearance of me would probably end her completely.

So I started drawing and painting, reading into art-therapy and self reflection. Really began thinking about myself, my situation, my family. Hope. Love. Determination.

I got really into Tumblr and have learnt SO much, met people that are in a similar situation to me. I have learnt it’s not all over.

My dissertation was coming up, so I seized the opportunity to learn about myself. I achieved this by keeping it as objective as possible. Reading on Third Culture Kids, Identity development, bilingualism and the lack of a home made me question myself in ways I hadn’t done before.

Finally, I decided to put a lot of my efforts into planning my trip to Nepal. I made that distant dream become tangible. Instead of asking Why? I began asking Why not? Suddenly, I had something to look forward to. A hope to achieve something. To make something of myself. To change someone’s life.

Who was I kidding?

At this point, I’d like to refer to this wonderfully insightful blog post by Pippa Biddle that describes all the thoughts I had before going on my trip perfectly. Nonetheless, I decided to grant myself my wish and go. And boy am I happy I did. FACE Nepal, Patihani and the kids did more for me than I could ever do for them. Yes, I might have given them some fun in the fun lives they already leave. I might have taught them the word “butt” (which seems to be a univerasl trigger word of laughter). At this point, I would also like to thank Shreeram for helping me through the crisis I had over there. When I asked him what the point of my being there was actually; that I was just being selfish that there was nothing I could do for the country; to uplift the community, he simply responded with a smile and a speech about the importance of the individual. About how it’s not the country you need to save. It’s the individual children. The Pardeep and the Shrishti. Nepal doesn’t need saving. The children need hope, communication, world-views. And that is what I was there for. To brighten the eyes, to create joy and to maybe teach them a little English.

So what does this all have to do with Locke’s saying?

All the worries I had about my mother, my brother, my future, the world, my inability to help, my fragility made me question my importance. My raison d’etre if you want. It drove me mad to the point of being unable to think about anything else. It stopped me from questioning my  worries. It just showed me them. It drove me close to insanity. It MASTERED me.

But not anymore. No, no, no. I would like to say that one day I just woke up and decided to say NO, but then I’d be lying to you. It was a journey a physical as well as metaphorical one.

And now, I am a similar situation as I was two years ago: finishing a degree without a clear future. But the difference now is that I am relatively happy with where I am, what I am doing and who I am with. I surround myself with people conducive to my physical, emotional and academic well-being. I still don’t really have a plan. But I know I want to do good. I know I can’t do everything. I know I can’t change the world by myself. But I can change MY world. And I am now ready to to accept that. To understand that MY world is as important as the rest of the worlds.

I have fears and worries. But I no longer let them master me. So while I still say that Locke isn’t wrong. I think that worry is also necessary. Without worries of something being wrong, how would we improve? Without worrying about someone else, without empathy, why would we reach out to help?