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January 05, 2012

An Obscene Post – by Ruth

TMI ("Too Much Information") warning: this post contains links to discussion of "extreme" sexual conduct.

Were you aware that the "Obscenity Trial of the Decade" was underway? No? Well, neither was I. It's not like it's received any attention in the mainstream media (unless you count a belated comment piece in the New Statesman), which is a little odd really.
The case, which seeks to establish whether or not videos of consensual, legal sexual acts constitute "obscene" images that can "deprave" or "corrupt", raises fundamental questions about morality, personal agency, the rule of law, anal sex, the role of the state, and the rights of (sub)cultural minorities. The background and details make fascinating - if sometimes disturbing - reading.

However, I post here about the trial in order to highlight the social media coverage the case is recieving. With mainstream journalists out of the picture, #ObscenityTrial has begun to trend on Twitter thanks to the ongoing live coverage provided largely by two individuals in attendence: freelance journalist Nichi Hodgson, and postgraduate law student Alex Dymock.

I find Alex's role in reporting the trial particularly interesting because it shows how PhD research that might at first appear somewhat obscure can be of great relevance and importance to public life. Through social media, her knowledge and access has become available to the wider world.

I have no idea how relevant the trial is to Alex's actual research project, but it's surely - at the very least - an important tangent. I only hope that her academic advisors agree: "Finally alerted my own supervisors/department as to what I'm doing with myself this week," wrote Alex late last night. Well, I figure we've all been there, sort of.

As a final point, I was interested to read about the comments from Dr Clarissa Smith, Reader in Sexual Cultures at the University of Sunderland. Smith was wheeled out as an expert witness by the Defence to provide information on BDSM subcultures in what strikes me as a glorious moment for the academic world. It's so easy to spend too much time stuck inside our heads and/or the academic world, so I'm always pleased when academics (particularly those from the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences) are called upon as expert witnesses during legal or legislative proceedings.

November 01, 2011

Sort Your Life Out – by Lauren

Okay, so after the amount of time it took me to sort out all that paper that I pulled out of my office this summer, and in the spirit of the (sort of) new term, I am on a quest to sort my life out!

As we've been discussing here on the blog, us PhD students rarely know when inspiration can strike, and as such are apt to find ourselves lost in a sea of notebooks, loose papers, random Word files and messages scrawled in biro on the backs of our hands.

And, while all these methods leave me feeling happy that I have recorded my ideas somewhere, when it comes to finding exactly where...well, it all gets a little messy.

I recently stumbled across this helpful blog on The Thesis Whisperer about the hangbag office. Well, my handbag is definitely more lippy, knitting and a David Nicholls novel than kindles and netbooks, but I was intrigued by some of the apps that Dr. Inger Mewburn recommended.

In particular, her brave public sharing of her Evernote really excited me - I've been worried for sometime that all the useful links, blogs and hastily typed out notes that I save to my hard drive will end up eluding me when the time comes to write them up, and Evernote seems like a really super way of keeping all this in check.

In the spirit of experimentation, and consumer advice for all you lovely readers (and, of course, the potential to transform my existence and organization), I have decided to test Evernote as a PhD organization tool and hopefully report on my progress through this blog.


Evernote promises to help you "remember everything". So far, so good.

I have several notebooks filled with scrawled thesis-inspiration (often, as you've read, striking in the wee small hours); a folder chock-full of bookmarks of very important links and articles; and a computer littered with notes written to myself about things that I simply must remember. It seems that Evernote might just be the way to put all of these together.


I have to type in the usual details, such as my email address, and pick a username and password. A link is sent to my email account, I click through and my account is active! Hooray!

I sign-in, and Evernote helpfully presents me with a screen about getting started. There are several options, and I elect to use the web clipper to make a note of ingermewburn's Evernote account, which first attracted me to the programme. I am taken straight to a screen where I can download a Firefox extension. In a few seconds, it's downloaded, though I have to restart Firefox for it to take effect, meaning I have to close this blog post and also the original Evernote window that I wanted to clip.

True to form though, Firefox remembers all my tabs and the Evernote button is in place when I restart. It is slightly inconspicuous though, hidden up at the right hand corner of my browser near the search box and home page icon.

I then install Evernote on my computer, so that I can access it when not online.

For Evernote to function in the way I need it too, I need to be able to update it via my mobile phone too. This proves a little trickier. My model of phone is best described as a "not-quite-so-smartphone" - which roughly translates as, it's a smartphone that runs Symbian. Since Nokia have abandoned Symbian, most developers and companies don't bother to create Symbian versions of their apps. This is a real shame, and it seems I'm going to have to wait until I upgrade phones before I feel the full benefit of the Evernote revolution.

One half-satisfactory workaround for this is that I can link my Evernote account to my twitter, where I can DM myself notes - easily done via SMS on a mobile phone. I test out this function, with some success. The notes get through to my Evernote but only if they are less than twitter's 140 character limit. Since I was hoping Evernote would let me save my bus-musings in a useable and searchable form, rather than saved as text messages in my Drafts folder as they currently are, a 140 character limit is hardly helpful. Still, if you have a compatible smartphone, it seems the possibilities are endless - text, photos and webpages can all be uploaded from your mobile to Evernote. (Note to self: sell kidney for iPhone.) (Second note to self: transfer first note to Evernote in order that it is fully archived and searchable.)

First Week:

So, a week into using Evernote, I am finally finding my feet a bit. I've been mostly working from home this week, so haven't had much chance to fully test out its mobile capabilties, but I have basically been doing all my PC-based work straight into the program. Quite an endorsement, I'd say!

The most useful feature of Evernote so far is the function to "tag" notes as you would with blogs, to make them easily available for reference or to distinguish them as relating to a particular aspect of your life - so far, my tags include: admin, blog, emails, PhD, masculinity, postfemininism.

I'm feeling a lot more secure that the webpages that I stumble across will not disappear into the ether (though I have yet to undertake the mammoth task of transferring across 2+ years of saved bookmarks).

As it works as a basic word processor, I've found myself defaulting to typing any kind of document - research notes, email drafts, blog drafts etc - straight into Evernote. Since it synchronises automatically, there is less anxiety about my computer crashing or my accidentally closing the Word document and not saving. Again, there's a certain level of comfort and security in having all my ongoing projects in one centralised place; it's easy to flick between them and I'm not worried that anything will get lost in my filing system (or lack of it) because as soon as I start a "note" I make sure it is tagged appropriately.

I'm not as brave as Dr. Mewburn, so I've not made my Evernote public, but I guess you guys can have a little sneaky screenshot of it. Just this once, mind.


There are still a few features of Evernote that I have yet to use, including:

  • creating a to-do list (with little tick boxes - cute!)
  • read PDFs
  • search text in images and handwritten text
  • import photos

I will come back with an update once I've road-tested a few more of these. In the meantime, what apps/organisational tools have you found useful during your research? Do you use Evernote or similar and have any handy tips? Let me know!

October 22, 2011

Technological experimentation is FUN – by Ruth

A little while back I wrote about my experiences planning a videoconference as part of what we believe to be the world's first international gathering of researchers in the new field of asexuality studies. With the event - organised by a shiny new research network - rapidly approaching, I can think about little else!

I've ended up taking on the bulk of the technological organisation: becoming familar with the videoconferencing software in the seminar rooms, performing a couple of "dry runs" to test for glitches, looking into employing various screens, cameras and the Creative Wall within the Research Exchange. I think I'm gaining something of a reputation for being a tech guru, but in all honesty I don't really know what I'm doing - at least at first! I figure we have all of this amazing equipment sitting around for a reason, and have set out to employ it productively.

It's a learning experience quite different to my sociology research, but there's something deeply satisfying about it. Maybe it's moments such as that which took place last Monday, when I found myself sitting on the floor of Seminar Room 2 in front of a giant screen and surrounded by five laptops, giggling to myself with quiet glee as I hooked a number of programmes up with one another. Or maybe I just need a bit more fresh air.

As I mentioned in my previous post though, there's no point in doing any of this for the sake of it (unless your idea of fun doesn't really extend beyond my aforementioned inanity, of course). We're using the video-conferencing technology to connect with reseachers in the United States and Canada and to broadcast the event live on the internet, we're using the cameras to capture it for podcasting so that those who were unable to attend can still watch the event, and we're using the touchscreen to project traditional powerpoint presentation and to (hopefully) maintain a live Twitter feed that is visible to participants. Also, all of the above will look really cool. Yikes, my serious face is slipping again.

I'll see about posting an update in a few days to let you know how it went, and what lessons we learned. Even better - why not drop by yourself?

asexuality poster

Some shameless publicity: Spotlight on Asexuality Studies will take place in the Research Exchange from 1pm to 6pm on Monday, 24th October. All are welcome! We will livestream the first part of the event here from 1pm to 3pm.

May 19, 2011

New website is a go! – by Anna

Writing about web page

As you may have noticed. there have been some changes around here in the last couple of days. For example, look at our pretty new design, courtesy of Dilip Mutum! Squee!

But the redesign is actually just one part of a bigger thing - for the last couple of months, I and the rest of the Rex team have been developing a whole new Research Exchange website that will serve as a virtual space for the entire research community at Warwick (rather than just a homepage for the physical space, as the old one was).

Some of the (hopefully) cool new features:

  • A database of community profiles so you can find out about other Warwick researchers and search for potential collaborators
  • A calendar of events for researchers across the university
  • And best of all (well, anyway *I* think so - it's the bit I've been working on :) ) a big set of articles written by researchers, for researchers on topics like how to publish a journal article, how to market yourself online and how to plan a research trip abroad.

This means a lot for the PhD Life blog because our posts are going to be fed through this new Rex website - anybody who visits that site will see our latest posts in a feed on the homepage. Plus posts on particular topics will get fed through to relevant areas of the website, so if someone wants to find out about, say, attending conferences, they will be directed to our posts on this topic.

So yay! Have a look when you get a chance!

Oooh, PS: As of today, anyone can ask Aunt Rex an anonymous question just by clicking that adorable green button on the left!

April 06, 2011

The One Where Twitter Helps With My Thesis – by Lauren

Can we use Twitter as a research tool?

Micro-blogging social network site Twitter has hit the headlines a few times this year, and it seems that one can't escape it's endless plugging by news teams and current affairs shows urging you to 'follow' them. But aside from celebrity stalking and sharing hilarious cat videos, could Twitter actually be a useful tool in seeing your thesis through to completion?

I certainly think so, and aside from inane 'tweets' about what I'm having for dinner (sea bass tonight) and rants about door-to-door salesmen, I use my Twitter profile and feed as a research tool, instant feedback forum and subject news updater. Here are just a few ways in which I use Twitter in relation to my PhD:

Asking Questions

Unlike other social networks, where you might just be asking your friends, Twitter can put your question out to a much wider net of people. As it's a micro-blogging service, if your tweets are unprotected, then they can be visible to anybody. Add in the useful (and tremendously fun) 'hashtags' (a way of marking your tweets as being about a certain subject so that they are easily searchable) and you have the potential for your queries and ponderances to reach a wide circle of magical helpers, not necessarily just those who 'follow' you.

For example, when writing, I have used Twitter like a 'live' thesaurus, asking the Twitterverse 'what's another word for x?'. It's lovely to then get considered responses (usually from more than one person), that offer help – a really good way of making you feel less 'alone' when you're in the depths of a day of writing.

As proof of the power of Twitter, six minutes ago, when I started writing this blog, I tweeted the following:

      Hey, twitter, help me out here - what's the most memorable Friends episode? #help #questions #PhD

I'm currently writing a chapter on sitcom, and struggling to deal with the immense familiarity that I have with many Friends episodes, and wanted to get a picture of how common this level of familiarity is, and which episodes were particularly afflicted with it. Six minutes later, I've had four replies, from three different people, each giving me suggestions of memorable episodes. Furthermore, the people replying have now started a discussion, as one of them can hardly remember the episode suggested as most memorable by I've managed to use Twitter to get a debate going that relates directly to the text I'm researching at the moment!

I find it kind of like a real-time, intelligent Google, but with actual people on the other end. I have both helped people, and asked for help in this way, and every time it is so rewarding to contribute to what has the potential to be an exciting online research culture.


I also find Twitter great fun for sharing – not just those amusing videos and news stories that annoy me – but bits of my own work and ideas, or things that I stumble across in articles and books. This is especially fun when you're writing, or reading, and come across ideas or phrasings that are just too neat, humorous or downright absurd to keep to yourself. At those rare and brilliant times when research is actually fun, it's nice to be able to shout it to the world (and, for some reason, it seems much less like boasting than when it's on Facebook...).

Resource Gathering and Keeping Up

As a growing number of organisations, research projects and initiatives seek to expand their online presence, more and more of them are appearing on Twitter. It's great to be able to 'follow' other academics (both established, early career and postgraduates) too see what they're up to, and to monitor the progress of research that interests you. Initiatives like Film Studies for Free (@filmstudiesff), which use Twitter to share links to open access publications in the subject area, are invaluable to have on your home feed – and I'd be really interested to hear of similar useful resources in other subject areas too.

We all know that writing up can be an isolating experience, and I think perhaps the best thing about Twitter is being able to keep yourself and your research in touch with the wider world as you plod along. The only downside? As if I really need another procrastination tool!

Does anyone else use Twitter or other social networks in this way? Are you tempted to try? Do you have any recommendations for useful people/organisations to 'follow'? Comment away!

(P.S. I've now had 19 replies to my Friends question...and if you care to join in, come follow me @toomanydresses)

February 24, 2011 – by Pete

I just received a flurry of e-mails into my inbox, all with the same message:

Someone just searched for you on Google.

If you sign up to, this is the kind of thing you get quite a lot. It's essentially the academic version of Facebook - you create a profile and upload your CV, conference papers, publications, research interests etc. You then have the option to "follow" other people's work, get updates on their activity and so forth. I've been finding it very time-consuming to keep it up to date, and I'm a bit wary about posting free-for-all versions of my papers up there, so I'd essentially written it off as a useful tool.

However, I am surprised by its ability to tell you when someone has googled you - and, not only that, but what country this person is from and what their search terms were. So, the one I just received tells me that someone in the UK googled the title of a conference paper I gave last year. Looking back through my alerts, there are a couple of UK and - randomly - German searches for my name, but I've also found out that people googling the title of one of the plays I'm working on also get directed to my academia account. It can tell me that if you google "researching Shakespeare", I'm the third hit. Suddenly there's a purpose to it - I can see how my online presence is being used, what the useful pages are, and how I'm appearing to the world. Inevitably, when you appear on conference programmes and the like, people are going to start looking you up to see what your research is about - and's become a useful tool for finding out where they're looking.

Does anyone else use at all? Any tips for making more effective use of it? Or is it just something else to procrastinate with?

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