Tag Archives: 23 Things

Adventures in academic life: the iCog conference

Saturday of eighth week. Where did the term go? This blog has been neglected but I’ll be catching up, and reflecting on why the blog got neglected, later this week.

In the meantime, I attended the inaugural conference organised by the iCog Network in Sheffield last weekend, and used the opportunity to have a go at Twitter reporting.  iCog describes itself as a network for postgraduates and early-career researchers working in interdisciplinary cognitive science, and their site is well worth a visit.

I’ve also pulled together a Storify on the conference. As ever, feedback and comments are welcome. I’d certainly try it again – what do you think?

Third week: later than you think


A few things have happened last week that have brought me back to the reality of time. First, I need to know by this Friday, whether I want to take one of two option papers that are only available the second term of the academic year (that’s Trinity Term in Oxford English).  On the face of it, this isn’t a problem as I’m on a two-year course and so could take either of them in 2015, but that may then cut across the scheduling of other options, or give me unnecessary pressure later on.  So although I’ve been working on the basis that my decision on where to specialise can wait till January or February, in fact it will help if I can exclude some possibilities more quickly.

I’ve also been feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day.  My assignments are handed in on time, but I have a growing reading pile and a backlog developing on my to-do-list.  When I map out the fixed hours on the course, I have 16 hours of lectures, seminars and classes in a week, plus anything I do extra like IT or study skills.  This is a lot for Oxford, but it’s way less than the hours I was working in the NHS.

Then on Thursday in my oboe lesson I had to face up to the fact that regular practice time had been squeezed out, after the first three days of good intentions since the previous lesson.  One of the reasons for coming back to full-time study was that I would have the time and energy to improve my playing, and yet somehow it hasn’t been happening.  Whose time am I wasting here?

The past month has been a bit of a blur, re-entering student life and trying to work out what’s going on in between the excitement and bewilderment.  There is so much on offer at Oxford that I have found it impossible not to behave like I’ve won a supermarket trolley dash, cramming anything I can see into a growing and increasingly unstable pile.  But it’s unsustainable, and so it’s time for me to get real.

Some of it is going back to basics on time management: overcome resistance with routines and pomodoros; make sure that I’m on top of everything that needs to be done; and get up early to clear the backlog if I’m falling behind. For the time being, that will probably be enough.  I’m clear that I don’t want to neglect home, relationships, music, or my own physical and mental health.  I know what the warning signs are, so I’ll keep an eye on them as I get into my new working rhythm.

The more difficult bit is the prioritisation: I’m spoilt for choice and three weeks into the course, I haven’t really had enough time to know what I would like to specialise in longer-term.  One of the faculty members last week was discouraging a “strategic” approach to learning that aimed to choose a set of options that would maximise grades for a given input.  I do want a strategic approach, but one that takes in as diverse a range as possible of linguistics without becoming undoably broad, includes the interests that I already have, leaves space for things that I might yet become interested in, and keeps my future options open.

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?