All entries for May 2019
May 29, 2019
Great to hear last week about a workshop co-facilitated this month by one of my editorial board 'down under', Roy Rozario. The event aimed at early-career and postgraduate researchers centred around successful academic publishing in books and journals, with a keynote from Dr Raqib Chowdhury. With over 150 delegates signed up, everything I've heard makes it sound like exactly the sort of event which I'd have loved to have been in the audience for myself; with the exception that I'm not due to make any appearance in Australia anytime soon . More’s the pity.
I'm especially delighted to hear the event went so well, as the event was co-organised and facilitated by the industrious Roy himself. He used the opportunity to give the journal a first-rate platform to speak to an audience of engaged scholars about the benefits of publishing through Exchanges. Personally, I’ve found there’s no more productive or effective route to promote the journal to early-career researchers than speaking directly to groups of them! All in all it was a really stellar effort from Raqib and Roy, and my hat is well and truly off to them both. I've already had one or two conversations from scholars in the audience about prospective publications with Exchanges, which is a really positive outcome. Hopefully there'll be even more once people have had a chance to let the discussions sink in further.
Naturally, as I'm a month away from speaking on academic publishing to a similar crowd of early career researchers in (hopefully) sunny Prato, Italy, this session very much resonates with my own interests right now. Hence, I'm really looking forward to some interesting, insightful and perhaps challenging discussions with the delegates at the Utopian Studies conference workshop. I suspect the audience size won’t quite align with the Monash event though, although I’ll be happy to be proved wrong. Now I only need to work out how I can run a session like this here at Warwick... 
 Although, truth be told, it's a lot more fun to go and speak to audiences beyond the confines of the Coventry ring-road!
May 23, 2019
Writing about web page https://lps19.esa.int/NikalWebsitePortal/living-planet-symposium-2019/lps19
Last week I had a rare opportunity to step professionally well and truly outside my comfort zone. I had taken up the rather unexpected but delightful chance to be a delegate at a major international conference in a totally unrelated academic field to my own. If you’ve not picked up from earlier posts, my own research domain is media and communications, within a healthy cultural studies envelope, specialising in academic communication. To spend a few days dipping in and out of the European Space Agency’s Living Planet Symposium, which brought together over 4,000 scientists, industrialists, technologists and industry people in the earth observation sciences was, to say the least somewhat daunting. Thankfully I wasn’t there to present myself!
Technically speaking, I was on vacation, accompanying my wife to Milan, Italy where she and colleagues were contributing to a session concerning their team’s research. However, the chance arose for me to break off from planned my marathon walking city excursions  and attend the conference too. I concluded it would be well worth sacrificing some of my leisure time to increase my experience of interacting with and listening to scholars outside of my normal realm. As the editor of an interdisciplinary title, clearly this was a great professional development prospect!
What struck me, other than the sheer size of the venue and delegate numbers , were the similarities between this and many other conferences in my own fields I’ve attended. From the friendly registration desks and bag of conference swag, through to opening plenary and associated breakout sessions, despite the topic divergence, the symposium still strongly resonated with most professional events I’ve attended. Given the international nature of the conference, I was a little surprised by the opening panel being dominated by white, older men, albeit one fronted by a young, glamourous woman hired to moderate. While she inarguably gave a polished and professional performance, her role’s juxtaposition with the other stage denizens didn’t make for great optics. Going by the twitter feed, this hadn’t escaped the audience’s attention either, and it was heartening to see the BBC’s Jonathan Amos taking the organisers to task for the lack of demonstrable diversity. The less said about a similarly composed panel commenting at one point on Africa’s past and future contribution to earth observation science, perhaps the better.
These slightly uncomfortable elements aside, I spent most of my time at the conference dipping into sessions and observing the speakers. With all kinds of academic communication being a personal interest, meant the opportunity to listen to and watch speakers, divorced from a need to comprehend their content, provided a golden opportunity to conduct a little presentational critique.
For me, I think the chief recurrent issue was that time-honoured foible of trying to cram too much information onto a single slide. The NASA representative for example, but by no means the only one, crammed no fewer than 22 lines on a single slide, displayed for less than 30 seconds. I could almost feel my teeth grinding in frustration trying to parse the information in that talk. I was also amused that, plenary speakers aside, every single speaker I sat through insisted in using a PowerPoint  style presentation. I was rather hoping to see a little more ‘hands-free’ presentation, but I guess academics and industrialists alike fall back on the PowerPoint crutch rather more than we perhaps should. Although, I can be as guilty as the next scholar in overusing, so I’m not critiquing from a higher plateau. It was just a shame there wasn’t more variety in the ‘chalk & talk’ approaches adopted to communicate to the audiences.
There was also a genuinely evidenced split between speakers with media training heritage or experience, and the majority who hadn’t. Most of the plenary speakers had clearly been coached in their presentational style, with for example the head of ESA providing a real standout in terms of clarity and engagement. Very much a style to be emulated I felt. Although, it I am going to be critical, I’d perhaps leave out the string quartet and bombastic Day Today style promotional video the audience were subjected to at various points. At worst it felt like corporate brainwashing, and at best (given the climate crisis theme of the symposium) I began to wonder if I’d stumbled into the final reel of Soylent Green.
While I accept some speakers may have been harder to focus on given my limited personal field experience and lack of shared vocabulary, there were some who really drew my interest. I know more about Finland’s space programme as a result than I ever expected, and was delighted to hear about it. Notably, quite a few senior organisational representatives fell into the trap of assuming the audience will gift them with their attention, simply because of their personal reputation and standing. Sorry to say, attention needs to be grasped, won and captured, it’s rarely genuinely given.
Other weaknesses I spotted were the inability to thread a talk with presentational narrative; the normative preference seemingly being a rhythmic delivery of: facts, facts, graphic, facts then conclusion. Perhaps this observation comes from being a qualitative scholar at an event riven with scientism, positivism and quantitative method. Nevertheless, even in these field facts can still be used to tell a powerful and engaging story, without diminishing the science which underlies them, in a manner which serves to enhance comprehension and retention. I really believe many of the papers I witnessed would have been deeply enhanced through embracing storytelling and narrative techniques, to contribute in creating far more compelling talks.
Finally, I also witnessed quite a range of disconnect between panel topics and the talks inside them. This is something most if not all academic conferences I’ve attended have a tendency to demonstrate. It can be a real disservice to the audience, who likely were expecting to hear one thing, and who then witness a speaker holding forth on a questionable or divergent topic instead. I’m not sure I have a ready solution to this one, but I’d be interested to hear other’s experiences in overcoming this within their event chairing capacity.
Overall then, the conference was eye opening for me, less so for the shiny satellites and exciting environmental-monitoring related technology, but more for the witnessed similarities. Perhaps in this burgeoning interdisciplinary world, it’s worth remembering that even snug and safe within our disciplinary niches, it turns out there’s a lot we all do communicatively which is broadly similar. Albeit, there are also many things we should as scholars perhaps be working towards improving too. I’ll be interested to see if my experiences in Milan, match up to my visit in July to the Utopian Studies Society conference; again an event outside my own disciplinary traditions.
 For those keeping score, I managed about 40 miles in three days.
 Other slide projection packages are available.
May 09, 2019
Writing about web page https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/ias/exchanges/cfp-exchanges_may_2019.pdf
In case you missed it in the editorial of the latest issue , our latest call for papers is now out. On top of our ongoing open call for papers from all disciplinary traditions, we’ve made one of our frequent thematic calls too. For the Spring 2020 issue, we particularly welcome submissions which will contribute to a themed section on in-between spaces. As scholars we are often focussed directly upon examining and understanding specific objects, cultures, properties or thinking. Yet, there is also incredible value in considering what lies between, outside or around our subject focus.
That’s why we’re looking for authors to submit all manner of research articles, critical reviews or interviews which address some aspect of in-between spaces, however you or your disciplinary field opts to conceptualise them. I’d be particularly delighted to see submissions of dialogues between multiple authors from different fields tackling the same idea from different perceptual or intellectual standpoints.
To read more details about our calls, see the online paper. Or alternatively get in touch with any of the editorial board to discuss your ideas further. We really, really look forward to receiving your submissions.
 What!? You’ve not read the latest issue of Exchanges? Better correct that before you read on, I can wait. https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/issue/view/25
May 08, 2019
Writing about web page https://exchanges.warwick.ac.uk/issue/view/25
Regular readers will have already spotted it, but last week marked our biannual publication of the latest issue of Exchanges (vol 6.2). My thanks as always to all contributors, reviewers and editors alike. While it was never our intention, for the most part there’s a rather eastern focus to the articles in the issue. Aspects of life and work in Greece, Indonesia, Vietnam and China are all the focus of a number of articles, which I think is fantastic in terms of my hopes towards increasing Exchanges’ international scope. We’ve not forgotten work closer to home, as there’s an article from and about an event here at Warwick in the pages too.
There’s always a sense of satisfaction and regret when we publish a new issue. Satisfaction, as it represents the publicly visible cumulation of the past 6 months of behind the scenes work. Regret, because there are always those articles which are so close to competition but don’t make it in time for the publication deadline. In the previous issue, I quite literally had an article completed and signed off by the author on the day of publication. In that case, the author was lucky as I had enough time to rework the issue and include it in the pages. This time, perhaps more thankfully for myself, there wasn’t a repeated late delivery. None of the remaining articles my editorial team are still working away on at the moment are quite ready for publication, although with any luck, many of them should be completed over the next month or so.
Incidentally, transit time of articles from submission to publication, remains one aspect of our journal publication processes that remains extremely variable. Some articles are well prepared by authors, favourably received by external reviewers and relatively straight-forward to copyedit. Some need a lot more heavy-lifting by authors and editors in terms of language, syntax, content and formatting or are more challenging to move through the reviewing process in a timely manner. I think our recent record for identifying scholars willing to review an article was 22 people approached, making reviewing a process which takes a lot of time and effort by the editorial team before reviewers even commence their work. I’ll confess the speed at which authors respond and action requests for revisions is the other of the two biggest factors, in terms of how soon we can get a new article to publication.
To illustrate this practically, one of the articles this issue is actually a relatively recent submission, and was blessed by responsive reviewers and author alike, along with some top-notch editorial work by one of my team. I wish every article we accept for publication could have such an easy journey. Conversely, at least one of the other articles had a far longer traversal through pre-publication. Regrettably some articles do take longer to reach the endpoint, but be assured, we do everything possible at Exchanges HQ to expediate their publication journeys. We encourage all our contributors to do likewise.
Of course, there is the slight artificiality of twice-yearly publication dates, at least in part a result of the software but also our own preferred approaches to issue construction. Part of me keeps considering if there are ways in which we could revise this approach and build issues up as articles become publication ready. I remain unconvinced, given the volume of submissions we currently have to the title and the editorial labour available to us, that this would convey sufficient advantages over our current system. Then again, never say never to shifting the pattern of how Exchanges appears. Were we to become a much more favoured destination for scholarly outputs than we currently are, then, well, I think the time might then be ripe for a rethink.
In the meantime, please enjoy the latest issue, and let us know any comments, thoughts, suggestions or indeed article proposals you may have for the next one.