Archive for November, 2012

Although I can’t work due to a progressive neurological disease I keep my academic CV up to date with details of academic journal publications, papers in progress etc. That was useful when I asked for an honorary research fellowship after finishing my PhD in 2010, and it’s been sensible to keep it up to date ever since.

I last updated the CV in October 2012. It is already out of date! Not only have I submitted papers now that were in progress then, but I summoned up an unexpected paper idea, and submitted that as well. That one wasn’t mentioned on the October 2012 CV at all.

I’ve now updated my CV again. I now have three single-authored published papers, and one more accepted / in press. Three more papers are currently with editors or reviewers. And three more papers are in early stages. That is all in addition to co-authored computer science papers from my previous science academic life.

Even if, like me, you are not working in academia, I would recommend keeping an up-to-date academic CV for your personal use. You can detail work in progress, and plans for submission, as well as completed / published things. It is an extremely useful aide de memoire, for keeping track of various projects on the go.

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Haven’t made so much progress in the last week, because I’ve been quite ill, with a worsening extremely heavy cold on top of my neurological disease. But on the plus side I submitted Paper 1 by email last week, and received a prompt response from the editor. So that’s in hand. That makes it 3 journal papers submitted in November 2012, which is excellent progress. And I have a blog post that should be appearing in the near future on the website of an academic society I’m a member of.

My focus over the last few days, where I’ve been able to, has been to look ahead to future plans. For that I’ve been using my mind mapping app on my iPad, iThoughtsHD, to brainstorm future paper ideas and longer-term research plans. I’ve identified 3 more papers that I want to work on in the near future, though all are at relatively early stages, and need quite a lot of research, thinking and writing to be ready for submission. I’ve also identified areas that I want to work on in future research-wise.

My text adventure coding hasn’t moved on – just been too ill really – but it is in a good state, and I will be able to move it forward in future. It is far improved from where it was at the start of November, and for that I’m really pleased.

Because I’m unlikely to be able to do much more academic writing between now and Friday this is my last sum-up post for #AcWriMo this year. I’m incredibly pleased by how it’s gone. Thanks to its encouragement I’ve been able to complete and submit 3 papers that were lingering and not getting finished off otherwise. And I’ve also moved other writing and plans forward.

I definitely intend to sign up for #AcWriMo again next year. Between now and then I will also try to be more focused in terms of setting myself mini goals from time to time, declaring them here and on various social media sites, and trying to stick to them. That method of working has proved to be very effective for me, and I should use this technique more in future.

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I’ve blogged previously here about my concerns re the UK government and UK research councils’ implementation of Open Access for academic journals. Thanks to a colleague at Dundee University I’ve just been alerted to a very detailed blog post written on behalf of a number of influential historians expressing their concerns. It echoes many of my own, and is worth a read for anyone interested in the issues that are alarming many in the academic community, particularly in humanities where the economic model is quite different from sciences, research tends to be conducted in a different way (with resulting financial implications), and there is a substantial number of independent non-affiliated researchers (like me) who still want to publish in academic journals.

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Another week, and happy to report good progress. Paper 3, based on my MPhil dissertation, was submitted a few days ago to the eminent journal. This journal uses a fancy online submission system, which is quite a novel experience for me as a humanities researcher. Online submission is commonplace among science journals, but rare in humanities, where we’re more likely to email papers as attachments, or even in some cases print them out and post them. I found I had to write an abstract before submission, again quite unusual in humanities, but once that was done it was off, and simple. The submission website took my input Word (.doc) file, and converted that, seemingly trouble-free, to a PDF. I’ve since heard from the journal editor, and the paper will be going out to review soon. It could take four months or more to hear the outcome, but it’s in process.

Paper 1 is also making good progress. I finished editing it on the computer last night, and now have printed it out to work on it in a coffee shop for a final read through. I should be submitting it in the next week. Normally I like to work in a paperless office type of way, reading and annotating PDFs on my iPad. But in this case I might want to scribble like mad, so went for the printed option. In terms of length the paper is ideal, not too short, not too long, and I think it’s improved over an earlier version. Nearly there anyway.

In more fun things my text adventure coding has also moved on. I’ve built a coding framework for the main part of the game which seems to work well and will make it easy to implement in Inform 7. The next task is to write the dialogue and text – quite a big task, but I think manageable. I found mind mapping useful here too, filling in detail about individual characters and how they will respond to the player. Then I could take my mind map, transfer it from iPad to laptop, and do the coding and writing.

One thing I haven’t done yet is to mind map for future academic research plans, but I think that should be a priority now that I’m getting so many papers finished and submitted this month. So I will make doing that a priority in the next week.

And as a morale boost I received a big box containing 25 (!) offprints of my Scottish Historical Review paper. I’m drawing up a list of places to send them to, including the archives in Edinburgh who helped me access digital images of the required historical records, and the archive centre in Dumfries, since the paper looked at Dumfriesshire book owners.

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I recently had to buy a new printer, after my old one (which had lasted over a decade) finally caved in. Clearing out the old printer and making room for the new one prompted me to deal with a backlog of printout odds and ends which I hadn’t dealt with properly. Most are just scraps and can go into the paper recycling box, but I found a couple of interesting things tonight.

One was the notes for a talk I gave during my PhD to fellow postgraduate students about the difficulties of identifying individuals in the past. This came out of my Masters dissertation, where I had built a very large database of pursuers and defendants in 17th century court cases. There are many references to people with the same name, some would be to the same person multiple times, but more often than not references are to different people, but it’s really difficult to figure out from them who was who. This is despite the very helpful habit in the locality concerned of using nicknames, sometimes based on where the people lived, sometimes to do with their physical description, sometimes genealogical, and so on. Anyway the talk notes, which are accompanied by a spreadsheet page of similarly-named people from my court cases database, make some interesting points. Maybe I should write it up into something more formal? Even a blog post would be good.

The other useful thing I found tonight in the pile of printouts was my initial plan/notes for an essay from 2006. I think this was part of a training exercise we did on writing skills, and we were advised to break down our writing task under certain headings, to focus ourselves more. The piece of writing I used to practice this technique on was part of Chapter 6 of my PhD thesis, and what would ultimately turn into my recent Scottish Historical Review journal paper.

The headings that the essay plan is broken down into are really helpful:

  • Title and summary:
  • Title
  • What is the focus of this essay?
  • What is the purpose of this essay?
  • Deadlines (start date and 1st draft due date)
  • Research:
  • What is the essay about?
  • What is the focus of this essay?
  • Why is this topic interesting or relevant to me?
  • What is my working hypothesis?
  • What questions or conflicts need to be resolved?
  • Audience:
  • Who is going to read this essay?
  • What does my audience know about this subject?
  • What do I want my audience to learn from this essay?
  • What am I trying to tell the readers about this subject?

And under each of those subject headings I have a short paragraph expanding on my thoughts accordingly. Often in ways I had since quite forgot. I mean I had a working hypothesis at that point?! And thoughts about conflicts?! If I was planning a set of questions like this myself now I’d add other ones, for example to stress my contribution, and why it is of interest to other people not just me. But they are a very good start, and could be really helpful when planning a piece of writing, or indeed research. This technique would also work well with my mind mapping technique for breaking down ideas and fleshing them out. I wish I hadn’t forgotten it over the last six years. But thankfully I rediscovered it tonight. And will aim to apply to my academic writing in future.

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Another week on and I’m happy to say that Paper 3 – the one based on my Masters dissertation – is now nearing submission. Last time I reported here it hadn’t moved forward at all, but I’ve done a lot of work on it, including checking relevant historiography, and it’s now nearly there. I’m aiming at quite an ambitious journal, because I think it’s a piece that merits that, and I’m very proud of it. Right now I’m grappling with converting my paper to the chosen journal’s house style. Once that’s done I’ll reread, make final changes, then submit. In word count terms it’s bang on the right amount, near the lower end of what they permit. In history journals it’s often easier to get a shorter paper – relatively speaking, when we’re talking about 8000 words and upwards – published, and that’s the strategy I’m adopting here. It was quite a fight to squeeze a dissertation-length piece down into that word count, but I think it’s improved it, and focused the argument.

Paper 1 hasn’t moved forward, but I’ve put it on one side for now, partly while I focus on shifting Paper 3 out the door, partly to give me a bit of distance to be more ruthless in my editing / rehacking. It’s all too easy with a lengthy piece of academic writing to get quite attached to it. It can be very helpful to have some distance, and get something like a fresh pair of eyes looking at it.

On the downside working on papers so far advanced is making me want to do something a bit more creative. I really like the early stages of writing papers and doing research, when ideas are flying all over the place. So to recover some of that buzz I’m going to work on my mind maps for possible research/paper ideas in future, and also start to return to my text adventure game writing.

In a week’s time I hope to have Paper 3 submitted, or nearly so, have moved on the text adventure writing, and done some productive mind mapping. And then, after a decent break, it should be about time to look effectively again at Paper 1.

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I can only work on academic things in short bursts on alternative evenings. I have a severely disabling MS-like illness, and am too knocked out for the rest of the time, and during the day. Also I need to pace myself, hence going for managing a bit on alternative evenings rather than night after night. But despite this I’m making great progress.

The shorter Paper 2 has been finished already and submitted by email. I heard back from the journal editor today, and that’s looking good for now. The longer Paper 1 is also making good progress. I’ve been hacking away at it ruthlessly, and am now at the stage where I need to add some things, then convert it to journal house style, before final reading/editing, and then submitting. It’s currently hovering a couple of hundred words over the limit I’d be aiming for, but that’s a good position to be in at the moment. I expect to finish and submit that paper in about a week.

What hasn’t been so good is that I haven’t moved Paper 3 forward yet. This needs me to do some reading. But once Paper 1 is nearer completion I’ll be able to switch my attention to Paper 3. I don’t think Paper 3 needs a vast amount of work, but I do need to contextualise my research more, hence doing more reading on up-to-date research, and writing that up accordingly.

On the non academic front my text adventure coding hasn’t moved on yet, but I’ve just finished judging 27 out of the 28 entries in this year’s IF Competition. Playing through and judging those games has made me reflect on what I’d like to see in my game, and I should be able to feed that experience into writing and coding the game when I resume that later this month.

Best thing of all is I feel really invigorated by the #AcWriMo goals and schedule. I’m finishing things off and getting them out the door and submitted that have been hanging about for too long. I don’t think I could keep this pace up month after month, but from time to time it might be viable, and I’d like to continue working this way as much as I can.

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I’ve written before here about how useful I find the iPad to be as a productivity tool. I’ve been musing on this some more, in particular its use at different stages of writing and research.

Perhaps the most help the iPad gives me is when I’m brainstorming an idea in the initial stages. This can be for a piece of writing, or a planned piece of research, or anything really. I will always have a mind map (in iThoughtsHD) for my overall to-do list plans, and whenever I start a new project I make a new mind map for it. I’m not a natural mind mapper, but find it a great way, especially on the iPad in this app, of breaking a task down into smaller stages, recording ideas before I forget them, and moving research on a lot. Using this technique I’ve been able to bring more projects to fruition more quickly than in the past. I also think it’s helped me to be far more creative than I would have been without it.

The other way the iPad is brilliant for my way of working is as a concentrated writing tool. Because you can generally only focus on one task at a time in it, apart from possibly playing music in the background or through headphones, it’s very good for focused working. There are a number of distraction-free writing apps out there. I like WriteRoom, and will often take the core structure of a mind map from iThoughtsHD, import it into WriteRoom, and then start to write up my text. This is good for blog posts, short articles, and even academic papers. I also used it for some of my essays and my final project report in the honours level Open University art history course I took for fun last year. WriteRoom provides a word count facility, but little more. No fancy formatting options or anything like that. It’s essentially a getting-the-words-down app, and it’s really good at that.

I don’t find the iPad so good for final laying out and formatting. For example in #AcWriMo I’ve been working to get a few journal papers out the door and submitted. And a really important part of that is to make sure that each paper conforms to the journal’s own chosen house style. This editing could be done on an iPad, but I find it easier on my Mac laptop, even a 13″ size one, where I can have two windows open at once. On the left I have the Word window for the paper I’m working on, and on the right I have a window (whether in Word or a PDF, or a web page) containing the journal house style rules. And then I can refer to both as need be.

Also I don’t find the iPad as good for higher-level editing, at least in the word processor directly. For Paper 2 in my #AcWriMo goals I’ve been hacking away at the text like mad, making very big changes. And that’s easier done, for me anyway, on a laptop or a desktop. But the iPad is brilliant for annotating text. I have a stylus (cheap but effective, with a squidgy end that presses on the screen as I write with it), and using GoodReader I can open up a PDF that I’m reviewing and considering changes to, then scribble all over it on the screen. Then I can email the annotated PDF to my laptop for making the big changes. Talk about a paperless office! Anyway that method works for me. I also find I get through more PDFs reading them on my iPad than I would on the computer, and I really don’t like printing them all out.

Note all this applies to the large-screen iPad. I have an iPad 2. I’m not sure how well I’d work this way on an iPad mini. I think it’s a fantastic device, but the smaller screen size, both for typing on and reading PDFs, might be an issue for me. I have a separate Bluetooth keyboard that I use at times, and would work with an iPad mini too, but I rather like typing on screen as much as I can.

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My latest journal paper was published last month in Scottish Historical Review. It’s derived from part of a chapter of my PhD thesis, and looks at book ownership in Scotland in the late 18th century using a local case study of after-death inventories. For a more detailed description see the abstract on the SHR website.

I’d seen the PDF copy last month. Of course I was familiar with the text, but it was really nice to see it laid out in a new format for the new journal. But it’s even more exciting to hold the print copies, which I received today, and to flick through the journal. My husband was very impressed and commented: “It’s a proper journal paper! Goes on for ever! Pages and pages!” He also marvelled at the number of footnotes (80) in my paper, which is far more than he is used to in the science papers he reads (he is an academic science researcher).

On the downside a little typo crept into the author biography which I didn’t pick up on proofreading. Not my typo, but introduced either in editing or typesetting. Very minor though. And I haven’t spotted anything else wrong. I picked up on 17 things to be corrected when I proofread the journal paper prior to printing, and was really relieved to manage to spot that many things (some my fault, others introduced at editing, others at typesetting) given that I had to proofread during a hospital chemotherapy infusion, juggling all the bits of paper one-handed while hooked up to a toxic drip coming into my left wrist. I’d hoped to proofread in the days before then, but the proofs were delayed, and it was either proofread during chemotherapy or not manage it in time, given how ill I knew I would be post-chemo over the subsequent week.

Anyway it’s lovely to see it in print and to hold the physical copies. It’s my third single-authored history journal paper. I have earlier publications from my computer science postgraduate days, but those are co-authored, and my contributions to them were relatively small. I’m far more proud of my history papers, as a single author, and particularly proud of this latest one, given that it has been published in probably the most eminent journal in Scottish historical research. For an independent scholar, only two years post PhD, that is an enormous achievement.

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