Friday, 24 May 2013

Tara Brabazon podcasts

I just came across a series of podcasts done by the Australian academic Tara Brabazon, which include a number about doing a PhD. The lastest is "Tara's ten tips for a PhD oral examination"

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Peer review, citation inflation and 'power citing'

This month's discussion began as a conversation about the value and validity of peer review, but drifted into a  reflection on citation inflation.

There was a clear divide in the group.  Those yet to publish in peer-reviewed journals were more trusting of the peer review mechanism than were those of us who had, at some time or other, had to cope with reviewers who clearly failed to understand what they had read and yet still felt qualified to demand changes.  Or worse still, reviewers whose remarks were not in any way helpful and appeared gratuitously vitriolic.

Unfortunately, such behaviour is an unpleasant side effect of the anonymity of peer review.  Anonymous peer review is often thought to be a long established practice but when, several years ago, I tried to find out just how far back it goes, I was surprised to discover that nobody appears to know, but it was probably introduced after World War II.

Angharad mentioned that, in her experience of being on the editorial team for Library and Information Research, it was not uncommon for reviewers to suggest to the author of the paper under review that it would be improved if it referred to the reviewer's work.  That led to a shift in topic and we began discussing the reasons why papers are cited.

I wasn't alone in being frustrated by the growth in number of articles cited in papers nowadays.  As an example of the growth, when I tried looking through early issues of the Journal of Documentation, I discovered that, throughout the forties and fifties, hardly anyone cited anything.  As is clear from the graph below however (plotted using data froSingh, Sharma, & Kaur 2011), things are very different nowadays. 

No doubt some of the work cited in a paper is genuinely useful to the author of that paper. However, I've been guilty in the past of including papers just to show that I was aware of them, rather than because they added much to my thinking or understanding.  I know from talking to other researchers that this is not uncommon.

One practice I would like to see introduced is that of power citation.  As well as nominating keywords from their article, authors could nominate up to five references which they found to be particularly valuable when compiling their article.  It could act as "edited highlights" of the references and provide guidance to anyone wanting to know where to begin if they wished to read around the article.  If the practice became widespread, it may also prove a useful bibliometric tool.

Maybe Library and Information Research can be persuaded to pioneer the practice.

Madden, A. D. (2000). Comment When did peer review become anonymous?. Aslib Proceedings 52(8) 273-276 
Singh, N. K., Sharma, J., & Kaur, N. (2011). Citation analysis of Journal of Documentation. Webology8(1)

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Post viva questionnaire - responses from Joanne Bates

What is the title of your thesis?
The Politics of Open Government Data: a neo-Gramscian analysis of the United Kingdom’s Open Government Data initiative.

Can you provide an abstract (for inclusion in this blog)?
See abstract

How long did you spend preparing for your viva?
Intermittently -when I could find the time - for about a month (mostly re-reading the thesis and finding likely questions on the internet) and then a heavy burst for a week or so before.

How long did your viva take?
About an hour and half to two hours.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I’d got a bit addicted to using the word ‘emergence’ in my thesis – this was picked up by my external and led to a quite a few questions about causality, which I probably could have avoided…see the next question!

Did the examiners concentrate on any particular section of your thesis? If so, which?
My external was a political economist, so there were a lot of questions on political and economic theorists that I hadn’t drawn on even though they were relevant to the topic. Luckily I was aware of all the ones he mentioned and had a defence for not using them in my work – I think he just wanted to check I had a broader appreciation for the field than you can articulate in a single piece of work.

Also, there were a few questions on how I perceive causality in relation to social structure and agency. There were a few inconsistencies in some of the words I’d selected (i.e. emergence) and my discussion of agency. It was a good critical point, and it was good to be able to make clear my argument for the examiners.

Most of the discussion was actually quite theoretical or conceptual, rather than focussing on my methods or specific findings etc – I didn’t have to open my thesis or notes once, which I was surprised about.

Can you describe any part of your viva where you were pleased with your performance?
One of my key concepts – neoliberalism – I’d not given a detailed enough definition of it in the analytical framework of the thesis. Thankfully, I’d prepared a good response to the “define neoliberalism” question, and I got asked precisely that close to the start of the viva. My response was solid, without any wavering, and the examiners seemed pleased with it – so that gave me confidence moving forwards.

What was it you did that pleased you?
Being able to answer the question succinctly without tying myself in knots – it gave me confidence.

Can you describe any part of your viva where you were dissatisfied with your performance?
Not really – I was pretty happy with it in general.

Please give an example of a question that you found hard.
I said something about equality or social justice or something along those lines, and one of the examiners said – “Do you mean emancipation? Who do you want to emancipate?”

Why was it hard?
Well that’s a political and theoretical minefield of a question … I tried to give some sort of succinct response, but I don’t think it was the high point!

What was the outcome of your viva?
Passed with a couple of minor amendments - and some advice on further amendments to consider if I want to try and get a book contract.

Please give some examples of the sort of corrections you need to make (if any).

More in depth definition of neoliberalism – a key analytical concept I’d used (don’t overlook the obvious when you’re reading your own work!)

Draw out the analytical framework more throughout the body of the empirical chapters.

Do you have any tips for looking and feeling confident in front of the examiners?

I put myself on a hard core stress aversion regime the week before my viva. I swam or climbed every day to kill the adrenaline. I stopped working at 5 the evening before, tired myself out with exercise, slept well, and then went for a walk in the morning before heading into university. I also wore a new outfit, and got my hair cut!

I think mentally you need to have confidence in your work and your ideas, that you know your key concepts and arguments (and, whatever else you are likely to get asked about depending on your field of research) and be able to talk about them. I practised by answering (and asking) questions out loud, rather than just reading my notes.

If you go in with a good thesis that’s going to massively increase your confidence – so the hard work is actually before the viva.
Be yourself!

Can you think of any good advice that you would give to students who are preparing for their viva?
Remember that your examiners are people too; they want to see you get through even when they are grilling you on something.

I used loads of practice viva questions I found on the web to help me prepare – didn’t get asked most of them in the end, but it was useful nonetheless.

Enjoy the discussion, and remember you know more about this particular research project than they do - your examiners have probably only spent about a day preparing for the viva.

That bit that you are stressing about them asking loads of hard questions about – you’re probably being paranoid and it probably won’t even come up, so make sure you don’t over concentrate on it when preparing. Ask your supervisors if you’re unsure whether you should be worried about it.

Make sure that relaxation time is totally embedded in your preparation plans.  

Have fun plans for the evening that you can look forward to!