Monthly Archives: October 2013

Social media fledgling

A gratuitous goldfinch – linked from

Apologies for the pun, but the 23 Things tasks for this week are to explore some other social media vehicles, in particular Twitter and RSS readers.

I’m already on Twitter and have been for a while.  I enjoy reading other people’s tweets, the immediacy and wit of the response to events but I’m not really sure how best to become a more active user. And in the light of recent media coverage of libel and trolling, and friends’ horror stories, I’m a little bit wary.  Prompted by Thing 7, I’ve started a list of linguistics tweeters to follow, which I’ll expand over the next few weeks. I’ve also changed my profile so that I’m now @SpkgOnTongues, and WordPress tells me that some readers have arrived here via that route.  But I still don’t know what kind of content I’ve got that would work well on Twitter, other than letting people know that I’ve written a new blog post.  Today’s experiment was asking a question (non-academic) to see what comes back, but so far it’s been a null response.

RSS Feeds (Thing 8) are a different matter.  I’m a huge fan of Feedly on the iPad: I like the way that I can segment my areas of interest and it encourages me to go further into topics that bloggers raise.  I’ve also started using it to keep an eye on what this year’s other 23 Things bloggers are up to.  I hadn’t realised that there was also a web version, and so I’m looking forward to browsing with a larger screen.

As for Thing 9’s encouragement to try Storify, or,  I don’t think I’m quite ready yet.  But it’s something that I’ll consider later on in the term as a way of reporting back on responses to and during a conference that I’m going to.  At the moment though, there are other priorities.

I’m really interested to know who else I could be following on Twitter, whatever the subject.  Or what kind of things I should be tweeting about.  Any suggestions?  Maybe it’s time to dip my toes into the murky waters of #ff?

Second week

Picture of a pig wallowing in muckI’m in hog heaven.  This week, I’ve been to a seminar on sign language impairments, learned some Lindy Hop, signed up for Korean classes and an interdisciplinary conference, hosted a queer theory/mediaeval art lecture screening in college and eaten home-made kimchi.  And I’ve met warm, inspiring, thoughtful people in college and the department.  I only had one evening with my partner – which is not enough and needs to change! – but overall this is everything I hoped for, and more.

Despite all the extra-curricular activity, most of my time has been spent on the course.  And as it’s second week, the first signs of storming have emerged: the inevitable group negotiation of roles, boundaries and mutual expectations.

The boundaries are appearing at all levels: the implicit rules of the group, but also theoretical boundaries between sub-disciplines, between sounds and meanings.  I’m  tripping over them: using the wrong explanatory framework, focusing on a phonetic distinction in a phonology class, confusing grammatical case with syntactic function.   I feel like I’m learning a whole set of new languages and at the same time trying to figure out what they have in common, and why the differences are important.  The linguistics of linguistics, if you like.  (Stop me if you think I’ve just spiralled up my own academic backside!)

This is an adult learning environment and I’m responsible for my own learning.  It’s my job to draw my own map of the subject and make sense of it.  I see many parallels between postgraduate study and my last role: the need to handle ambiguity, understand multiple competing representations and perspectives, choose a course of action and justify it in the wider context, and have the same conversation in different ways with different stakeholders.  But this is also a structured foundation programme with classes and homework.  There’s real temptation to pretend I’m back at school and hand responsibility back to the faculty.

As you would expect, the course tutors have different styles, preferences and approaches which overlay the differences in the subject matter, and I’ve realised this week that these differences are actually very helpful.  The variety provides an opportunity for comparison, and therefore to build hypotheses about what’s driving it and what’s going to be important in the long run.   For me, the best approach so far is where the tutor’s assumptions are clearly stated and tested, and where the structure of teaching supports me to distinguish between the core concepts of the subject, the competing theoretical approaches and a tutor’s personal academic viewpoint.  But where that isn’t as clear for any reason, I now have a framework and some tools to engage in discussion with the tutors and build my understanding: my own personal contribution to the storming.

So I’m looking forward to third week, but it’s still early days and I’m sure that I’m not noticing loads of stuff.  What do you think?  What have I missed?

network error, try reloading ;(

It’s 23 Things time again.  The task this week is to dredge the internet for references to me, and reflect on what I find.  The difficulty I have with my name is, there are a lot of us about.

Starting with just Stephen Jones brings up the usual suspects: the milliner, the rugby player, the TV presenter.  But also some unexpected treats, like the author of “Zombie Apocalypse #1” (add to e-reading list).

When I add in “Oxford”, I find a criminologist, a policy consultant, a private-school headmaster and the leader of a free church.  Adding in “Oxford University” unearths a geneticist, a sports scientist and a musicologist.  Putting “linguistics” onto the end of the search string finally brings up my MPhil class list (as the first item, no less), and this blog at number three.  So I am findable, but it needs persistence.

Facebook doesn’t show up.  That’s good: I want a degree of separation between my personal and professional lives, and I’m pleased that the privacy settings seem to be working, at least to some extent.  But neither does my LinkedIn profile, which is up-to-date and shows my current student status.  Until I google with my old organisation, when I pop up at the top of the first page, besuited and smiling.  Hmm.

What do I think about all of this?  Overall, it’s not surprising and it’s not a problem either.  Today is term 1, week 2, Thursday of my return to study.  I have no academic products to offer anyone yet.  I’m still feeling my way into the subject and deciding where I’d like to specialise.  My past is part of why I’m here today, and is informing my approach to the MPhil and academic life more broadly.  It’s impossible to airbrush it out, and so I’m relieved that the internet didn’t really take off until my 30s: the on-line footprint that I’m managing is a lot less lurid than it might have been otherwise.

My follow-up actions are straightforward.  Think about how I might change LinkedIn to point a bit more towards the future.  Set up a profile on academia.  And spend most of my time on the MPhil work so that I can shift over time from reflections on process, to reflections on content.

PS – If anyone is able to get a result out of the MIT Personas project, let me know.  The introductory pages are really tempting, but all I ever got from the search box was “network error, try reloading ;(“ after a variable search time.  This teasing, inconsistent feedback kept me glued to the screen as if it was a Las Vegas slot-machine.

First week!

Many thanks to Rosie, Tony and Joh for commenting on my last post.  It’s great to get feedback and your comments were really helpful.  The essence of what I took from the comments is: the focus of the blog is fine, and I need to worry less for blog posts about perfect content or fully-developed ideas.  So here goes with my second post.

First week learningThis is a mind map capturing some of my reflections at the end of the first week of term, seven whole days of transition!  As you can see, there’s been quite a lot going on. (Click on the picture to see the original pdf).  As I was drawing it, two themes stood out for me in particular so I’ll expand on them here a bit.

The first theme is ignorance.  I’ve had a massive wobble over the past couple of weeks as it has become clear to me just how much I don’t know.  This includes things I wasn’t aware of (painful but exciting), and also things that I thought I knew but in fact I don’t (painful and embarrassing).  I was kind of expecting it, but it’s always a disconcerting experience.  The temptation to over-use what I do know has been strong, and I’ve given in to it a few times more than I would have liked.  I think that’s probably a universal temptation, I just hope for the sake of my classmates that I haven’t been spouting absolute bullshit.

Digging around on the net I’ve found a couple of resources which I think explain the phenomenon really well: James Atherton’s Doceo blog  and the University of Arizona Medical School’s Q-Cubed micro-site , in particular their splendid Ignorance Map.    Acknowledging ignorance is an necessary part of increasing knowledge: painful but unavoidable.  In other words, if I can stick with the discomfort and embarrassment, they will point me in the right direction.  This is much easier at 46 than it was at 18 – hooray!  But that lurch on moving into conscious ignorance never goes away.

The second theme is belonging.  My starting point is that we humans are hard-wired to be tribal and territorial.  I don’t think I’m alone in this, Edmund Burke noticed it also (half way down para 75 – thanks for the tip, Tony).  Being tribeless is not an easy place to be, and since I left paid work in July I’ve been feeling a bit adrift.  I’m extraverted and gregarious by nature and I miss being part of an organisation.  And so I was impatient for the start of term, so that I would have somewhere to fit in. Of course, life isn’t quite like that.

Starting a new job, there is a formal organisational structure, an explicit and an unwritten culture to engage with, and sometimes even a formal induction programme to help you find your feet.  Starting at university gives you some of that, and everyone at both Kellogg and Ling/Phil has worked hard to ensure that students feel welcome.  This is much appreciated, and I hope that I can contribute to my college and department as well as receive.  But I guess one of the advantages of being a student is the freedom to create my own social space and tribe.  Some of the people I met in my first freshers’ week in 1985 are still close friends now, and with luck that will happen this time around too.

My personal challenge is that I’m a past master of the ambitious deadline.  Part of me would like all my social stuff to be sorted now, and so I am working hard to remember that actually I haven’t had time to build the relationships and I need to go with the flow.  My unaware-unknowns in this case are the thousands of people across the university that I haven’t yet met.  A great evening yesterday with the OULGBTQ-Graduates (it’s not just the NHS that does crazy initialisms!) was a good reminder that I need to keep creating opportunities and making space to build networks.  This particular literature search never ends.  There’s something here about parallels between EndNote and Facebook but I’ll think about that another time.

As before, your thoughts, comments and feedback are most welcome.  I’m particularly interested in two questions.  How does this match or differ from your experience in similar situations?  What have I missed?

Becoming a blogger

Like most of my friends, I started off on social media with Facebook.  Having resisted for a long time, I progressed rapidly from silent lurker to poster, commenter and sharer.  LinkedIn came later, when I realised that I wanted a connection to colleagues without them being aware of all my social adventures.  Somehow I was never as active there as on Facebook, and since I left paid employment at the end of June, I’m not quite sure where my LinkedIn presence is going to go.

Then I found real-time linguistics, and real-life linguists on the net, through Twitter and the Feedly blog reader.  All of a sudden, I realised what I had been missing. People were pointing me towards interesting articles and sharing their work.  They had good advice, and provocative questions.  And they wanted to interact.  I was already interested in language, and spending increasing amounts of time reading around the subject.  Blog posts and tweets brought the subject alive, and helped inspire and motivate me to take the plunge and move into full-time study.

Thus far, so good.  But why a start a blog now, given everything else I’m taking on at the moment?  I have to thank Tanya Golash-Boza, author of Get a Life, PhD, which is helping me build a bridge between my old life and my new one.  She has written many helpful posts about personal effectiveness, time management, prioritisation and the like.   These topics are familiar from the old life, and make a lot more sense now that I have more control over the shape of my working day.  What’s new for me is the reflection on the skills and mind-set I will need as a baby academic, and that has been incredibly useful.

The message that comes through loud and clear from Get a Life, PhD is to write every day.  Every day. There is no getting round it: writing is the crucial core skill for any academic. All those hours of reading, analysing, listening, thinking, that I’ll be putting in over the next two years, all those hours are going to be worth nothing if I can’t convert the results into a structured, compelling message, whether it’s in a peer-reviewed article or, more urgently, in a three-hour examination.  It’s also a skill that has fallen away, rather than been honed, over the twenty-odd years of work since my MSc. In other words, it’s one of the biggest changes of emphasis that I’m facing.

So I need to practise: essays, outlines, articles, blog posts, anything that strengthens my writing muscles.  And like any kind of exercise, a training programme and training buddies will help me keep disciplined.  In this context, signing up to do the Bodleian’s 23 Things was a no-brainer.

Over the next term – and maybe longer – I will be using this blog as a place to reflect on the process of becoming a linguist, as a postgraduate, a mature student, and a returner to Oxford after a long gap.  I hope to make contact with other people who share some, or all, or none of those characteristics.  And I’m really interested in your responses to my reflections.