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Project: First Draft

August 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Have you finished a draft yet?” asked my second supervisor. It’s a question I’ve heard (and largely ignored) from many different people over the last two and a half years, but now the timing and questioner are a bit more significant. “You do know that it takes about six months to go from first full draft to submission, right?

I didn’t know that, but it carries an ominous ring of truth. It’s August. I want to finish in February. I haven’t written much in the way of thesis work, yet – my time keeps getting eaten up by posters, papers, conferences, travel, and other work. But it’s time to buckle down and write.

This has always been the intended time for doing it: it’s a month until I start the final round of interviews for my project, and I’ve just arrived back in the country from ICWSM (which I’ll write about soon, I promise!). I have the time set aside, and I think it will take me about five weeks to get a draft together – obviously missing a lot of analysis and the entire final stage of fieldwork, but showing enough direction and ideas to explain exactly where I think the project is going. The target is about 70,000 words, with the completed thesis needing to fit into 90,000.

To do that, I need to write. A lot. Almost 3,000 words per working day, on average, if I am going to take some days off to spend time with Louise (and our new cat, who doesn’t take kindly to being ignored). That will take a lot more structure and discipline than I’ve managed so far – I’m a multi-multi-tasker at heart, and focussing on a single job of this size is something new to me.

Here are the basics, which I’ll be refining as I find what works and what doesn’t:

Structured time. I need to do a lot of different things each day, so I want to make sure that everything has its place in the schedule. Writing time is for writing – not for re-reading articles, looking for extra references, dabbling in new theories, etc. Those things are important, but they need to be done after the words are on the page. I’m planning to write in short bursts, with time for following up material planned for when my writing brain is dead.

Early starts. I can get in to the uni at 8am each day. My department mostly teaches in the evening (JD and MBA subjects), so it’s a ghost town before 10am. That gives me a good environment for working in. I’m more of a late-night person by nature, but have been much more productive in the early starts I’ve had lately – perhaps that eight-hour jetlag is good for something after all.

Regular breaks. The quickest way of burning out on a big project is to avoid taking breaks. Writing something this big is more like a marathon than a sprint, so keeping to a sustainable pace is important. Also, I need to be able to go home at a reasonable hour, and see family and friends on weekends. Where other commitments steal time from my schedule there will be a few late nights, but those need to stay in the minority.

Wish me luck! If you want to see how I get on, I’ll be tagging my writing entries over the next few weeks with “first draft.” I’ll make time for blogging as I go, as I’m sure this will be useful to look back on later.

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CRC Innovation Showcase and Participants Meeting

August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Maybe that should have been “blog late, blog often” after all.

It’s been a very busy week. An interview on Monday night in the city, another interview in the eastern suburbs on Tuesday morning, and a trip to Brisbane for the CRC participants meeting on Wednesday. Then back to Melbourne for a local CRC meeting on Thursday morning, a library workshop, and trying (unsuccessfully) to catch up on all the work that’s piling up.

I really enjoyed the meeting in Brisbane. I gave a short presentation about my project in the afternoon, titled Exploring Small Business use of Social Media – made up of a quick project overview, three brief case studies, and some future directions. It seemed to go down well, and sparked off some interesting conversations with other attendees during the breaks. All told, I feel much better than I did after last December’s conference…

I also got to catch up with some of the PhD students I met last year, and meet some new ones. I hope I’m not misrepresenting their projects or mispelling their names here – it’s late, and my memory is hazy. If there’s anything I should change, let me know!

Monika Kowalewski (QUT) is looking at Decision-Making in Microfinance Lending. When people with bank accounts apply for a loan, everything is very high-tech and quantitative: credit ratings and histories let the lender crunch numbers and calculate risk. For unbanked people, often in rural communities and developing countries, a “high-touch” approach is needed – taking lots of qualitative information to assess the application.

Jan Seeburger (QUT) spoke about Mobile Services for Public Places. He’s currently trialling an iTunes plugin app (letting you find out about the bands that nearby people are listening to) to explore ways of getting people to communicate in public spaces – instead of just putting in their headphones and blocking out their neighbours.

Barbara Gligorijevic (also QUT) talked about Ratings and Recommendations Websites in the Travel and Tourism Industry. She’s looking at how sites like TripAdvisor and the Lonely Planet’s Thorntree community affect decision making for online purchases, and will be branching out into other areas of the internet soon.

Jeremy Weinstein (Swinburne) is one of the newest PhD students, looking at a Collaborative Film Studio. He wants to know what tools are available to let documentary film makers collaborate online. Projects like Life in a Day (YouTube channel here) crowdsourced the filming, but still filtered it through a small group of editors. What if you could enable mass collaboration among the editors as well?

All the talk about social media and collaboration got me thinking. I keep hearing the same warning from people giving advice to students: “A PhD is a very lonely journey.” It’s hard enough when you’ve delved into a specialty, 6-12 months in. It’s worse when you’re a cross-disciplinary type, without much common ground with supervisors or co-workers. It’s even harder if, like many of the CRC group, you’re new to the country.

We’re not just trying to solve problems in an academic vacuum. We’re also learning how to enact change, and use what we know to make a difference. In my case, I’ve been helping to manage online community forums for the last decade. I’d like to start up an online community for the CRC postgrads; geographically separated, but sharing lots of common interests. Hopefully, it will get people talking outside their departments and universities; building links for future collaborations, and making friends in cities they would otherwise be strangers in.