PhD: Lessons Learned From Research Not Yet Finished

I work a lot of things out on whiteboards or large sketchbooks, because the ideas are visual and ever-changing.

For the last decade or so, I’ve been engaged in graduate research, mostly in pursuit of a PhD. This was my choice, although the exact weight and scope of that choice wasn’t really apparent to me at the time I decided it and, arguably, still isn’t entirely grasped.

One of the things I wish I had realized sooner was that research isn’t a solitary game. Sure, I have a list of articles from other researchers as long as my arm (or several arms), but the real thing that I have come to realize has been missing is not yet another reference, but people.

I’ve worked on this stuff, largely alone and with only my own direction, for several years. Coming close to the end, I now regret not having told more people about the research. For the most part, I doubt there are that many people that I know who would really understand what I’m working on.

To be honest, many days I’m not sure I understand it either…

But without others to express my work to, I have neither been forced to explain it to others, nor have I benefited from the insights of others. I’ve questioned the papers I’ve read — many of which are poorly written and either too terse to explain things or too complicated to — but the papers don’t respond. They just sit there, glowing pixels or dead ink, not giving me any feedback on the many brilliant or utterly insane ideas I’ve just thrown at it.

So, firstly, a piece of advice to those who are going to do research: find colleagues.   Continue reading

Balticon or Bust!

I find it fascinating just how much a gathering of people in real-time, in real-space, still excites.

After all, my tribe is all wired. We span the globe, but we connect in real-time or in async-time as a matter of natural practice. We’ve all adopted the Internet as the last lobe of our brains, started the process of embedding our consciousness externally in blogs, tweets, status updates, emails, photo streams, podcasts, text message and more. We spread ourselves out over the network like a fisherman’s net, reign it back in and pluck out the jewels that our sea of friends and acquaintances has given us. Unlike the aquatic origin of this simile, however, we can reap the rewards of this harvest without diminishing others, as the bounty is multiplied effortlessly (and usually smells much less fishy, too).

If I’d my druthers, I’d spend all year meeting with people who interest me, many of which I’m hoping that I’ll either already call “friends”, or to whom afterward I’ll add that title. I have a dream to travel in an ancient-but-roadworthy RV, going from town to town investigating the odd and talking philosophy with everyone I meet, digesting the massive input on a bi-daily basis into a deluge of online by-products, duplicating my own consciousness into something worthy of calling an online presence.

I like that dream. I’ll work toward that, as soon as I figure out how to finish the other things that concern me first…

In the mean time, I’m hitting the road in my annual trip somewhereContinue reading

“Tainted Roses” – a steampunk space opera novellette, uh.. “thing” :)

A couple of summers ago, while studying in France, I had the opportunity and inspiration to write a few stories based on the brand-new Every Photo Tells… photo prompt podcast. Most were very short little pieces, a moment or two in time and then gone.

One was… longer.

In one weekend, I cranked out about 26,000 words. The following weekend, I revised it, bringing the total of words up by a few thousand. This was a bit bigger than anyone expected. In particular, it was far too big to fit within the guidelines of the inspiring podcast, Every Photo Tells… So, it sat.

I finished a third edit, but didn’t really have any time to do anything with it. I sent it off to K and Mick at EFT, because I wanted to let them know that it really happened, and that the photo inspired me, however obliquely, to write the story.

Well, they went and did something with it! And I’m rather shocked..

They’ve been serializing it on the Every Photo Tells feed, with K doing the voices of the trio of sabateuses and — so far as I’ve heard — Mick doing the narration. It’s truly strange for me to hear the words that I wrote spoken out loud, and it’s not my voice that’s doing the reading. It’s humbling, inspiring and, I have to admit, a little frightening.

I hope to write more, and I recognize the piece for what it is: an early, unpolished and somewhat simple work. I’m proud of it, and it’s completed, but I know that I can write better and more. I’m hoping to get that chance, once my major writing project (the thesis) is out of the way, but it remains to be seen when that will happen.

Until then, go over to Every Photo Tells and listen to what I’ve done so far. I’d welcome constructive criticism about it — I’m still learning after all! — and I want to write more in that universe again.

 

Oh, and before I forget: many, many, many thanks to K and Mick of  Every Photo Tells, not only for taking on this big task, but for creating what has been a very inspiring idea for many of us who need just that little kick to our imaginations. I’ll be writing more for them if I get a chance, to be sure!

 

Here’s part 1, covering the first chapter.

Here’s part 2, covering chapters 2-4.

Here’s part 3, covering chapters 5-7.

 

(I’m not sure exactly how many parts are left, but there were 17 chapters in the third draft (many of them being small-ish), so I’d expect another 3-5 parts.)

If “Life is what you make it”, what are we making it into?

Contemplation of the ancient and the new, all at once..

Every once and a while, I seem to sit up straight, cast off the blanket of “normal life”, and look around with fresh eyes. During those times, I start to wonder: “What am I supposed to be doing with my life?”

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not entirely unhappy with my life. I doubt this is any real sort of “mid-life crisis”-induced thinking. Granted, the phenomenon is common enough to be a cliché, and one of the most astonishing things one realizes about one’s life is how many of those are true, even without consciously being molded into them..

No, it’s not entirely about any form of dissatisfaction in life that I put that question to myself. Rather, it is the strange notion of “age” and “age appropriateness” which I’ve never entirely cottoned on to.

(Er.. “to which I’ve never entirely cottoned”? Let’s not let grammar get in the way of meaning, shall we?)

I’ve always felt that age was really just a label, and really not meaningful. When I was a kid, I got along better with adults than other kids. As an adult, I’ve always related to university-age “kids” better than contemporaries. I’ve always bristled at the notion that I had “to grow up” or “grow out of childish things”.

I don’t think I fall into the cliché of “man-boy” — I’m plenty mature. Actually, in some ways I think it’s the prime of my life: I’m old enough, mature enough and experienced enough to have self-control, reflection, insight, intelligence, appreciate hard work and so forth, yet still young enough to appreciate fun things and allow my mind and heart to wander. I don’t have the phenomenal disposable income someone of my age typically gets from work, but that’s less typical these days for the majority of people anyway.

I think I’m caught in the in-between generation, the generation that started when the world worked one way — let’s call that the standard model — and a brand-new way, which we’ll call the new model. Continue reading