Thursday, 11 September 2014

How to be curious about everything

The major development at home this Summer has been the arrival of two kittens called Arya and Audrey. If you don't like cats then a) this post is probably not for you and b) WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU???? But that aside, they are fluffy and purry and little and utterly gorgeous in every way.
They're also madly curious about everything they come across.
It doesn't matter if it's a worm, a shoe, an empty box or a piece of fluff, everything has to be examined from every angle, prodded, thrown up in the air and eventually tested for edibility. 

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The more I watch their indefatigable curiosity, the more I think what a brilliant outlook it must be; to see potential and wonder in any encounter with every new thing. 

They seem to see opportunity in everything. 

So when we shortly reconvene for another year of assignments, shenanigans, turmoil and triumphs, one of my messages will be to 'be curious'. Try and take pleasure in the finding of new things, new theorists, new music and new friends. This isn't one of those hypocrisy moments either - I'm going to be learning about new areas of research this year, and as mad as it may sound I think it's partly inspired by Arya and Audrey taking pleasure in the thrill of the new.

So here's to curiosity and every social science student (and kitten) who looks at the world as a giant adventure playground.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Think tanks

I've been thinking about referencing again. Sorry, but there it is. I've also been thinking about bias in research and how objectivity still seems to be the holy grail of social enquiry. Personally, I've never been entirely comfortable with the whole subject/object argument as I think we're more complicated than that.

Sometimes people know they're being subjective; the films of Michael Bay, Coldplay records, a restaurant menu where every other word is an adjective, IQ tests and Robbie Savage - these are all things that I'm hugely vocal and subjective about. My opinions are very much my own. But what about a theoretical approach? Does it have to aspire to neutrality or can it also be subjective?

The reason I'm asking the question is that I wanted to write about think tanks. You may have come across these institutes already, but in case you haven't let me explain what they are. A think tank is usually comprised of a group of academics who conduct research from a specific standpoint. Sometimes this standpoint can be political (left or right wing) or methodological (for example, action research) or issue based (such as environmentalism). Rarely do think tanks aspire to objectivity.

So the question for you, as a perspective user of think tank research is, should I read this stuff and stick it in my reference list?
My short answer is yes.
My long answer is yes, but be careful in what you choose. A range of resources is often a good approach if you want a broad scope to your assignment. So read things from multiple perspectives in order to examine themes and inconsistencies across a range of research.

If you'd like a succinct list of UK think tanks then the Guardian (who also have their own bias for you to think about!) produced a nice list last year. Have a look here if you're interested.

One final thing. I'm away now for a few weeks, but I'll be back for September when we'll be picking up the pace in readiness for the new term. Hope to see you soon.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The use of victim impact statements


A couple of hours ago I was hearing and reading about a new controversy concerning victim impact statements (VIS) and decided it was worth a post. If you haven't heard, a judge was overheard saying that the statements have no bearing on the outcomes of proceedings at all. He thought his comments couldn't be heard and he's since apologised.

I've never been in court but I'm aware that some of you, in your professional lives, may have been required to give testimony or provide evidence in cases. So I'd be interested in your opinions on this issue whether you're studying criminology or not. Personally, I believe in the power of language to change outcomes. How language is used is one of the central tenets of how I approach my job. Therefore, if people are taking the time to write statements which must be incredibly hard to compose, you'd hope it would be with a tangible outcome.

The academic evidence on VIS is inevitably mixed. Some research suggests that juries are affected by the sex of the person reading the statement, the statement in relation to the severity of the crime and a whole host of other factors. You can find plenty of articles on DISCOVER if you so choose.

If you'd like to have a look at how the BBC is reporting the story then you can find it here.

Friday, 1 August 2014


Hello again.

I've just set myself up with a university Skype account, the intention being to use it to support students who are away from campus for whatever reason. I've no idea whether this will be popular or not, but I like trying new things and anything that makes people feel supported and less isolated is clearly a good thing.

What I'll do next is come up with a schedule of the days and times when I'll offer Skype sessions (I'll take advice from your lecturers to ensure it doesn't clash with key lectures) and then publicise it through BREO announcements, lecture drop ins and the blog.

If you've got any immediate thoughts on this idea then email me or leave a comment at the bottom of this post. Do remember that you'll need to sign in before you can comment though.
What I'd ideally like to know is do you use Skype already and would you potentially use it for library appointment purposes?

Hope you're enjoying your Summer,


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

A warm welcome to our Frontliners

It's always an exciting and uncertain time when new courses start up; students getting to know each other as well as new lecturers and new academic demands. This week sees the commencement of Frontline, a new course in Social Work and I'm sure that excitement and anxiety will be present in abundance.

Just try and remember this-there's always a team of people whose job it is to support you and provide you with the best student experience possible. My part in that process is to ensure that you know where to find resources and how to get the best from them. I do loads of other things too but many of them spring from that simple first step of finding the best information available for the task in hand.

I hope you learn loads of new things and occasionally enjoy yourself along the way!


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.