Thursday, 22 May 2014

The do's and don'ts of emailing authors for help and advice.

I get a lot of emails. I mean a lot. Loads.
One rule I've always had is that I answer them in the order they arrive, which means no skipping about to open the ones that look most interesting. So even if I see one from a student which is spelt wrong and contains four words in total I still answer it. But here's the thing - if you send me an email from your smart phone you must put something in the subject box. If you don't, my inbox will think it's spam and I'll probably never see it.

The reason I'm telling you this is because the care you put into your email is important. I don't expect perfect essays, but I do expect something which makes grammatical sense. And if you write a good email to published academics the results can be spectacular which is what this post is about.

Let's say you're a second year who's starting to think about a possible dissertation topic. Your initial searches keep throwing up the same author so you read some of her stuff; it's good, it makes sense and you like it. You also notice that as part of the abstract record on DISCOVER you can see the author's email address. Sometimes it'll be a address if the author works at a UK university. So my advice is email her and ask for advice. She's the expert, she's the person you're going to be quoting so see what else she's got. Sometimes (and this happens every year to a handful of final year students) the author may have good recommendations or even unpublished work they're willing to share.

But the email you write to them is important. Make sure you've read enough of the author's work so you know their stuff a little at least. Why? Because academics are susceptible to flattery just like anyone else. So tell her why you like her stuff. It helps, believe me. Take your time with the email, make sure the spelling and grammar are spot on and then see what happens. If you get a response you can even reference the email in your dissertation. Rather brilliantly it's your name that comes first in the reference so you'll be referencing yourself!

If you don't get a response then you've lost nothing apart from the few minutes writing the email. However, I find that most authors do respond. Researchers and academics want to share, they want their research to be read and referenced. Just don't begin your email to them with 'Deer Sit or Adam, can I nave soms free journal farticles' because I think you'll be waiting a while for a response.

You know where I am if you need me.


Friday, 16 May 2014

A really exciting post about referencing

Have you come across the word 'oxymoron'? It describes a phrase or word that means two different things at the same time (my favourite examples are 'fresh frozen' and 'talent show') and the phrase 'exciting post about referencing' falls right into that category.

I know referencing is horrible and time consuming and fiddly and can even result in grown ups behaving like children. I've heard students say, "I HATE THIS" and "IT'S NOT FAIR" and "WHY DO I HAVE TO DO IT?" The library doesn't currently have a naughty step, but we're building a new library and if I get my way...

So. Referencing. Here's a new way to think about it. Try likening referencing to the 3 stages of civilization as imagined by Douglas Adams who wrote the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Be honest, you didn't see that coming, did you?

He jokingly labelled human development as the how, why and where phases. The example he used to illustrate this was eating;

1. How do we eat?
2. Why do we eat?
3. Where shall we have lunch?

Now apply it to referencing.

1. How do I reference? This is the mechanical bit when you learn where the brackets go and where the commas go.
2. Why do I reference? This is the bit where we traumatise you with terrible tales of plagiarism, regret and failure.
3. Where do I put the references in my assignment to get a better mark? It occurs to me that number 3 could also be 'where can I throw this referencing handbook so that I never have to see it again?' We'll stick with the first example though.

You may be a first year coming to terms with phase 1, or you may be coming to the end of your degree having recently nailed phase 3. Whatever your level, learning to reference well is such a crucial skill to have; it improves other areas such as assignment writing and reading skills.

The single best piece of advice I can give you on improving your referencing is this - read some good quality journal articles and take note of how the writer uses references. They're used to highlight evidence, strengthen arguments and organise the themes of the research together.

And don't ever think 'I've only got the referencing left to do'. It takes ages to do it properly so compile it as you're going along. It won't be exciting (much like this post in fact), but it will mean you'll have done it properly and sometimes that's the best outcome available.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

New TV programme on everyday sexism

This should be good.

Kirsty Wark is presenting a new 3 part series on the so-called 'New Battle of the Sexes'. It'll cover issues as diverse as 'jokes' about rape, pornography, pay inequality and sexual explicitness in pop music.

It starts tonight (Thursday) at 9:30 and you can find the details here.

My advice would be to take an hour long break from academia and watch a smart and informative programme on a hugely interesting issue.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Don't be afraid of the 'A' word

I've been thinking recently about the perceptions that come with the word 'academic' and how it can be used in both a positive or intimidatory way. I know a bit about this; for a start I have the word academic in my job title, which frankly is a bit of a give away.

But does that make me an academic?

Honestly, I'm not sure. Some days I feel absolutely confident in what I'm doing, saying and sharing. On those days I'd probably say 'yeah' I'm an academic. But equally there are times when I go to meetings with 'proper' academics when I feel about twelve years-old.

When I first started working in academic libraries a typical mistake made by librarians was to try and turn students into proto-librarians. This was clearly a terrible idea and luckily for you this approach is now illegal in most civilized countries. Now the trend is to try to turn students into proto-academics. Although you may not personally be comfortable with this notion, I think it's a much more healthy option.

Because I think you are all proto-academics; you research, you evaluate, you debate and you may well eventually publish. You may not ultimately describe yourself as academic within your chosen full-time career, but along the way you contribute to the total sum of academic human knowledge and what could be smarter and more honourable than that?

Just remember this; everyone starts somewhere. Academics are not born, they get to be academics by reading stuff and writing about it, exactly the same way you do when you write assignments.

Finally, to those of you who are about to hand in dissertations, I trust you luxuriate in the feeling of having wings on your feet. I hope you learned something new about yourself and your topic along the way and I congratulate you on your efforts.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Sex, crime, madness and Freud.

Sometimes you need a catchy title for a blogpost to get people's attention.
And sometimes a title promises something that the post can't live up to.

On this occasion I can deliver on all the elements mentioned in the title thanks to a new radio series covering the history of psychology. Now before you say anything I know you're not studying psychology. But, as I've said here before, psychological theory does inform some of the topics which you may well study and frankly this radio series is too good not to promote.

The show is called In Search of Ourselves and so far has been quite brilliant. It's basically a potted and highly critical history of psychology and if you feel like listening to something interesting whilst eating your tea you could do far worse than this.

All the shows so far broadcast are available from here.

Friday, 25 April 2014

New report on caring for an ageing population


The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) have today published a major report on the future of elderly social care in the UK. It states that the number of elderly people requiring home support will eventually outstrip the number of family members willing or able to offer assistance.

The factors which have contributed to this looming crisis are all too easy to identify; population dispersal, smaller families, longer lifespans are all elements of a very complex and expensive problem. The report also highlights the increase in older carers who want to look after their own spouses at home. This is something that my own family is currently dealing with. My own dad insisted on looking after my mum at home, even when her dementia was quite well advanced. My mum died two years ago and my dad (now 85) is still living at home. The reason he's able to be there is partly down to the support he receives from myself and my sisters.
Our situation is typical of many thousands of others in the UK which the report sheds a light on.

So the full report is here and the BBC's reporting of the issue is here.

As always, if you want to use it in assignments, you'll need to reference it correctly so ask for help if required.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Why Karl Marx would have loved Oasis

Sometimes we make odd connections between seemingly disparate things.

For reasons I can't quite remember I was recently trying to explain the overall traits of some social theorists to a student. It wasn't going well. Previously, I'd talked to this student about music, which had gone well.

Which is why I eventually started likening various social theorists to rock bands.

So with that in mind, and in honour of High Fidelity, here's my top 5 social theorists as bands.

1. Max Weber = The Beatles. Reason? Both were obsessed with the stories of individuals and religion in modern society. However, Weber was a better drummer than Ringo.

2. Michel Foucault = Radiohead. Reason? Both have a reputation for being difficult, dense and slippery. Furthermore, both make more sense when taken as a whole body of work.

3. Karl Marx = Oasis. Reason? Many liked the early stuff but eventually it all sounded chuggingly similar and hasn't aged well.

4. Emile Durkheim = The Velvet Underground. Reason? Both did something totally new, both wrote about suicide and both inspired a hundred copyists.

5. Anthony Giddens = The Rolling Stones. Reason? Both have been remarkably consistent and both began their careers by taking earlier classics and reinterpreting them.
Anthony Giddens didn't play at Madison Square Garden though despite what Wikipedia may say.