THE STUDENT- SUPERVISOR RELATIONSHIP

Emmanuel socphd blogEmmanuel is a member of Centre for Advances in Marketing, Business and Management Research Institute at the University of Bedfordshire Business School, Luton. England. His research investigates the framework of print advertisements for consumer banking services in the UK in terms of visual communications (images) and appeals and understanding customer’s perceptions of visual communications. His research interest lies in visual consumption and communication of corporate designs.  You can follow Emmanuel via his twitter account @e_mogaji and at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Emmanuel_Mogaji/

 

 

After about three years together, I observe the relationship between I and my supervisor is taking a new dimension, she was more interested in things I do outside research – my families, my interest and other extracurricular activities. It was a welcomed idea as I was able to relate better with her and discuss – a privilege I cherish and wouldn’t want to take for granted.

I shared my new experience on twitter through the PhD forum and it came to my understanding that it’s not always like that for everybody, some still have a well defined professional boundaries with their supervisor.

I remember reading Dear New PhD Student – a letter from your supervisor by Annie Bruton, giving the impression that there is a strict professional relationship between a supervisor and their students, though the author suggested that it was not a serious and useful advice about doing a PhD, some of these points could be considered valid by both parties.

But remember I am not your sister, nor your mother, nor am I your counsellor – I am not even your friend. Some supervisors regularly socialise with their students. I do not. I am really not that interested in the minutiae of your life. I understand life events will impact on your work, and I will be very sympathetic and talk through practical solutions. But I am not your emotional support – that’s what family and real friends are for.

I must confess, it was almost like that in the first two years, especially the first year, my main supervisor was strict even from the tone of her email, you can feel the laptop vibrating, I preferred to maintain that professional boundary and leave no room for unnecessary interaction. Meeting times are to discuss progress and no for anything else -all in the attempt of maintaining a strict student-supervisor relationship.

Thankfully she did not support my conference abstract/submission in the in my first year, saying, I need to concentrate and develop the theoretical and conceptual framework of my research (everyone within the research institute knows she consider that as the backbone of PhD research). She was however replaced in just after my first year so I continue to develop a closer relationship with my second supervisor who was more understanding and easy to relate with.

As I proceed within my second year, I was presenting my work at conferences, submitting manuscripts and getting valuable feedback, my supervisor has developed that interest and now considers me a matured researcher, suggesting that we can now work together.

I guess I have patiently waited with diligence to earn her trust and respect because previously, I have been doing this outreach myself, building networks and interacting with other researchers, but she has suggested a conference we can present my work, even though I have exhausted my conference grant, she is quite positive that a member of my supervisory team them can present it and my name and effort will be able duly acknowledge, we also plan towards a journal publications.

So far, am really happy with the way things are going. My supervisor team has been very supportive, we see almost every week or as needed and I acknowledged the idea that the equilibrium change as years comes by, after two years, we can now relate more as colleagues and no really as supervisor and student.

I think it’s best for PhD students to allow the student-supervisor relationship evolve, allowing the supervisor to initiate the relationship while the student keeps doing their best to portray how diligent they are – meeting deadlines, showing initiative and going on to build network. Supervisors will acknowledge this one day; they see a professional in you and will be willing to work together.

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Freelance Networking: A fun way to network and see the world.

Steven NicholsonSteven Nicholson, Lancaster University, 3rd Year PhD Student

I am a third year PhD student studying trust in online communication.  As part of the research group Security Lancaster; I research threats from criminal online groups.  My other academic interests include; epistemic vigilance, linguistic persuasion in advertising, and confidence and trust in sports teams.  I like to travel.

Email: s.nicholson@lancaster.ac.uk      Twitter: @ste_nick

 

Attending conferences provides a great opportunity to both see the world and build great international contacts, but why wait for conference season to make the most of both traveling and networking?

For the last two years I’ve combined independent travel with networking to practice what I like to call ‘Freelance Networking’.  So what is ‘Freelance Networking’?  Well, it’s any time you take to have a break from your PhD (call it a holiday, traveling or annual leave) while simultaneously taking the opportunity to visit and network with the local University at your travel destination.  Here I’ll share with you how you can start doing this fun, and rewarding, networking practice for yourself.

Go where you want to go. I realised the irony that my decision to travel abroad whenever I had annual leave, so that there would be less temptation to do any PhD work, was somewhat compromised by practicing freelance networking.  Nevertheless, I have always travelled to places I wanted to visit first, and then reviewed the local university second. I think planning a round trip to Harvard University, with absolutely no interest in Boston, would be insanity; and ultimately make your annual leave more of a work than pleasure trip.  Your mind-set should be that this is still your time off, and you are simply taking a fraction of it to do some fun networking.

Do your research. Look up the relevant departments of the local universities. Then look up the individual researchers, I guarantee there will be someone who has similar research interests to your own. However, don’t try to find a perfect match to your research area, part of this is to broaden your research horizons.

Contact the relevant people. Sending this email can feel a little strange and audacious. The key is to be honest, don’t try to claim that you’re traveling all that way just to visit a University; no PhD student has that much spare time I would hope! Simply state how you’re visiting the area on annual leave, and given your research interests (stated clearly) and theirs (pick part of their research most relevant to yours) you’d like to take the opportunity to discuss your common interests and, if possible, meet more people in the institute.

Expect nothing. Academics are busy, they may not respond to your email.  They don’t know you, they owe you nothing; so don’t take it personally if you don’t get a response.  Having said that, in my experience, most academics are flattered and intrigued by your enthusiasm, and are happy to arrange a meeting.

Arrange a time and place to meet. Here, it helps to be flexible. As it is annual leave, I’m usually able to be very flexible; so I will state my arrival and leaving time before inviting the academic to pick a time that suits them.  However, if there are dates you know you have a day trip planned be sure to be clear in stating when you can and can’t meet. Like I said, they are busy people.

Prepare, but not too much! Yes, you want to read up on the academic’s own research interests, but I can imagine how freelance networking can become a chore if you spend the first 3 days of your break studying. For my last trip, I read one paper before traveling and listened to a one-hour pod cast by the academic on the plane, this was sufficient to have an overview of their interests.  The academic will be more interested in your research anyway!

Relax, drink your coffee, and enjoy the chat. It is just that, a chat; don’t think of it as a job interview, or a lecture whereby you need to take notes on everything they say.  Soon, these people will be our peers, not superiors; you should act like that to make the interaction comfortable and friendly. You’ll both feel awkward if you feel judged and act defensive about your work, or if you are in ore of their research accomplishments.  Take the opportunity to enjoy discussing research in an informal manner.

Make email contact after the meeting. They didn’t have to meet with you, be grateful!  A short email to say thank you and sum up of what was discussed, and why you found it interesting, is enough to show your gratitude. However, you may also wish to send any papers you discussed that they sounded interested in, send any of your own work or findings if they found it interesting, or request any material they mentioned if you’d like the references.  Finally, you might also want to reaffirm when you will be finishing your PhD and are in the job market, so that they can bare you in mind if any opportunities arise.

So, why take time out of your hard earned break to freelance network? I imagine the real benefits of this will be different for everyone. Personally, I haven’t got enough space to say how rewarding this practice has been for me; from insightful interpretations of my own work to being encouraged to apply for postdoctoral positions in exciting cities. But whatever success you have, you can be sure that this is a fun practice, to feel proactive, and to really take control of your networking opportunities.  For that reason freelance networking is something I’ll continue to do and something I would encourage all PhD students to start doing! Happy travels!

Academic Bloggers as Public Intellectuals

Nic SubtireluNic is a Ph.D student in the Department of Applied Linguistics and ESL and a doctoral fellow in New and Emerging Media at Georgia State University (Atlanta, GA). He is interested in popular discourses and ideologies about language and how these impact the educational opportunities and political rights of speakers, whose languages and language varieties are marginalized. You can follow him on Twitter @linguisticpulse or on his blog, linguistic pulse

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has recently leveled a number of weighty criticisms at academia, specifically the professorate. In general, Kristof asserts that there are fewer public intellectuals today than there were a generation ago.

Regardless of whether Kristof is correct about this decrease, the call for academia to be more engaged with the public is one that seems to resonate with many. I personally feel strongly that a major aspect of my work as a social scientist and intellectual is to educate others about issues that are important to me. It was with this conviction in mind that, a year ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to try to engage a non-academic audience with my writing both in internet venues and in a blog I started. I’d observed that the public seemed interested in issues that were engaging to me as a sociolinguist. Specifically, there are no shortage of stories about language and how it varies. In fact, the most popular article on the New York Times website this year was a quiz about which English dialect you speak.

Kristof’s article and the uproar it has caused have provided an occasion for me to reflect on this endeavor. While I don’t reject the overall thrust of Kristof’s call to arms, I believe he offers little in the way of insight as to how scholars might actually engage the public. It is these insights that I hope to be able to provide particularly from the point of view a Ph.D student using the internet as a way to engage the public.

Before I launch into this issue more thoroughly, I do think that it’s worth noting that while Kristof focuses primarily on the traditional activities of the academy: speaking and writing about research, I believe that there are other means by which one might effectively be a public intellectual. Lending your expertise as a volunteer, for example, to relevant non-profit organizations is an important and effective way of being a public intellectual. I don’t, therefore, think that we should reserve the label of public intellectual only for those who write opinion pieces for major newspapers. Rather, our colleagues dedicating their time to serving their communities in schools, clinics, after school centers, and other venues are, in my book at least, public intellectuals.

However, one very obvious way by which one can earn the moniker of public intellectual would be to engage the public through the dissemination of expertise in an accessible manner. This might take the form of writing editorials for newspapers or speaking at popular events like TED. However, in the age of the internet, an efficient and free method by which this type of dissemination can take place is the use of blogs. All of these methods, however, I believe are subject to an important dilemma that we have to contend with as academics attempting to engage a popular audience.

In particular, this dilemma is characterized by the competing demands of the message we wish to disseminate as intellectuals and the forms that are most likely to engage a popular audience. As a social scientist, I have a perspective on social issues that are often contradictory to the beliefs that those outside of my field hold. Specifically, as a sociolinguist I am strongly committed to the idea that people’s language is legitimate in its own right regardless of whether it conforms to elitists’ arbitrary prescriptions about what it should be. Historically, sociolinguists have taken incredibly unpopular stances, such as affirming the idea that African-American English (or Ebonics if you prefer) is the legitimate primary language of many in the United States and that recognition of this fact is critical to their social advancement and educational achievement. Hence, one of the basic purposes of my intellectual life, public or academic, is to advance this agenda.

However, this agenda and the ideas that inform it are the exact opposite of public opinion on the matter. In fact, while the public is interested in reading about language, they are more likely to be engaged by stories that build on their pre-existing beliefs about language, for example, a story about Samuel L. Jackson criticizing President Obama’s use of ‘nonstandard’ language. Stories such as these do not require the introduction of novel perspective on language. Most readers come to the article ready to participate in the shaming of ‘nonstandard’ language. Imparting the perspective of linguists takes time, as anyone who has taught an introductory linguistics course can attest.

Before I go on, I should counter any suggestion that I am attempting to portray the public as some form of unthinking herd. I do not believe that what I am describing is an issue of lack of intellectual ability. Indeed, if you take a look at the type of complex analytical processes that are displayed when people discuss one of the most popular pastimes, sports, I believe it’s quite clear that no lack of cognitive reasoning skills prevents people from engaging with social scientists’ perspectives.

Rather, the issue is a matter of incentives. To draw on the example I mentioned above, coming to understand Samuel L. Jackson’s shaming of President Obama as an act of racism and classism, as many sociolinguists would conclude, requires a great deal of background knowledge in the perspective of sociolinguistics, a relatively obscure and politically left-leaning field. Thus, the intellectual and political will to engage with sociolinguists and other social scientists and their perspective is what is lacking.

Of course, I don’t write this in an effort to let academics off the hook. Rather, I think it’s important that we understand what we’re up against. If engaging the public is what we intend to do (and I think it’s precisely what we should be doing), then we need to acknowledge the political struggle that we are engaged in whether we would like to think of our work as being overtly political or objectively scientific. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that situating your writing within broader struggles and narratives is what makes social scientific work interesting to a popular audience. Writing that attempts to shy away from this is likely to be ignored. With this in mind, I wanted to offer some advice gleaned from my own brief experience attempting to play the role of public intellectual as a Ph.D student.

First, I believe it’s important to think of your field as its own unique culture with its own rules for, above all else, determining what constitutes legitimate knowledge. Engaging the public, however, means attempting to make an argument in a world governed by an entirely different set of rules. These rules may compel people to pay attention not to the validity of your methodology but instead to the apparent level of your personal conviction, your credentials, your ability to keep calm in the face of criticism, or some other academically irrelevant aspect of the situation. Whether these criteria are legitimate or not is really not the issue, as you will quickly find, you don’t get to make the rules. You could, of course, make it your mission as a public intellectual to change the public’s reliance on such criteria. However, expecting your work to be judged by a general audience according to the same criteria other members of your field apply is naïve. I’ve found that my training as a scholar has not necessarily prepared me for some of these situations. However, my advice to any Ph.D student thinking of trying to engage with the public: expect to lose sometimes and not according to the rules you think the game should be played.

Second, I encourage any intellectual who is trying to engage the public to start by thinking locally. I mean both in terms of geography as well as in terms of your pre-existing network of social contacts. I believe that you’re more likely to advance the agenda of your field in local settings. There are two advantages to this. First, I mentioned above that people lack the will to listen to social scientific research, but they probably don’t lack the will to listen to the thoughts of someone they care about. Some of the most engaging blog posts I have done have begun with a personal narrative that situated me as a living, breathing human being that many of my readers know and care about within the broader context that I was talking about. For example, in this one, I used medical bills I had personally received and my own recovery from an illness to frame a larger issue that I wanted to discuss: literacy and its impact on personal rights. While things like this don’t necessarily appeal to those who don’t know me, they are quite appealing to those who do know me. I believe that sometimes engaging the public as an intellectual means engaging the people in your immediate vicinity.

Finally, and I believe most importantly, you need to find a balance between seeking out readers and delivering the message you want to deliver. In doing so, you should be selective about the advice you accept from professional bloggers and journalists. Much of this advice derives from a context dominated by what I’ll call “click count ideology”. Click count ideology is a way of looking at the act of writing as motivated by a need to attract attention that can be quantified through the number of clicks a particular text receives. Obviously, click count ideology has close ties to internet advertising. Obviously, generating clicks is an important goal of any one producing content to be shared on the internet. If people don’t click on your blog, they can’t read your thoughts and your mission of engaging the public has failed.

However, it’s important to realize that generating web traffic is not an end in itself. Rather, as I mentioned above, academic arguments require reader investment, and what we are hoping for is invested readers. I have been told many times by my will-meaning, social-media savvy friends that my blog posts are too long according to their standards (usually 500 words) or that they don’t address timely enough issues. I believe in both cases this advice is counter-productive for anyone hoping to be an academic blogger. While I have found that the timeliness of a post can lead to it being highly trafficked, it is no guarantee of this. Also, by far my most successful post (by all criteria) breaks all of these rules. It addresses a non-timely issue and is nearly 4000 words long. Nonetheless, looking over my analytics, it’s clear that visitors to my blog are routinely engaged with it often for fifteen minutes or more. Conventional wisdom about blogging suggests the need for timely, short pieces that appeal to broad audiences that can be circulated by social media. However, this post’s success stems from its ability to garner traffic in ways that are neglected by conventional wisdom such as search engines and even by colleagues’ assigning the posts as reading in their courses.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t carefully consider the suggestions of people who are experienced in popular forms of blogging. However, it’s important to keep in mind the click count ideology from which these suggestions often stem and not to fall into the trap of viewing traffic as an end in itself.

Nicholas Kristof’s call may have been lacking in any practical applications, but I believe as members of the next generation of scholars (whether as professors or in other lines of work), we can and should engage the public with our work in many ways, perhaps one of the most obvious ways is through the use of a research-oriented blog or similar internet-based writing. However, to be effective we’ll need to view our work less as the presenting of research findings and more as a form of advocacy in favor of a particular world view with all of the ups and downs that this comes with.

Deserving of respect: Some thoughts on researcher well-being

Dr Mark Murphy is Reader in Education, School of Education, University of Glasgow. He previously taught at King’s College London, University of Chester and the University of Stirling. Mark has published numerous articles in journals such as the Journal of Education Policy, Journal of European Public Policy, European Journal of Education, International Journal of Lifelong Education and the British Journal of Sociology of Education. His most recent book is Social theory and education research: understanding Foucault, Habermas, Bourdieu and Derrida (Routledge, 2013). He is also the creator of www.socialtheoryapplied.com, a website designed to provide a platform for discussion on the relationship between theory and education research. Mark tweets via @socialtheoryapp

Deserving of respect:

Some thoughts on researcher well-being

Taking its lead from the Concordat, one of the questions the #socchat on 30th May 2013 will ask is:   How do we develop a culture which equally nurtures researcher well-being as well as performance?

This is a significant question, quite possibly the most significant when it comes to researcher development. In the recent study on Why women leave academia and why universities should be worried, for example, several reasons cited are clearly emotional in nature: lack of adequate self-esteem, a sense of isolation, a feeling of not belonging in the academic world.

Anyone who works in academia will tell you that we expend a great deal of energy focusing on issues of status, prestige and reputation. The sector is awash with concerns over respect and recognition for one’s talents and contribution to the academic community. Although some would like to think so, these concerns are not peripheral to the academic culture – they are central to it. For me, this is not unusual (such a culture is prevalent in most, if not all, work cultures); neither is it surprising –  people have a strong desire to be recognised and praised for their work  and contribution, essential elements in building a sense of belonging and consequently self-esteem.

It’s not hard to come up with reasons why the affective content of academic life is glossed over or ignored; for a start, a rigid head/heart distinction is practically an occupational hazard. What is more of a concern is the impact of this unacknowledged affective component on the development of PGRs and ECRs. The desire for status and respect can lead academics to focus exclusively on their own career development, sometimes at the expense of their more junior colleagues. It is also the case that some academics see the emotional disaster area that is doctoral study as a kind of rite of passage, a way to earn some stripes in a profession that requires a high level of emotional robustness (if that is the right expression). Why should it be any different for a new generation of researchers?

This emotional context of academic life, however, while evidently part of the problem, is also part of the solution when it comes to developing a culture that nurtures researcher well-being. Whatever hope we have left for senior staff, there is always the opportunity to place concerns over respect, status and reputation explicitly at the core of early career development. In order to do this it is imperative that the PGRs and ECRs in faculties are placed at the centre of activity, rather than on the periphery (a sure-fire way to put people off any career).

This shift will undoubtedly place a bit more pressure on PGRs and ECRs, but the payoff is the development of a culture in which praise, encouragement, constructive criticism, recognition and reward should be actively encouraged. How better to facilitate a sense of belonging and acceptance among PGRs and ECRs? I would also emphasise that a competitive culture can exist alongside a more collaborative ethos, so long as the balance is right.

In this way then the dichotomy hinted at in the original question between well-being and performance becomes less of a rigid distinction and more like two sides of the same coin. People should be rewarded, in an emotional sense, for their academic performance – a normative state that effectively requires this performance to be visible.

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