23things, networking, posters, presentations, research, Uncategorized

Catching my breath

Nowhere near any sort of finish line, but encouragement is good, right?
Nowhere near any sort of finish line, but encouragement is good, right?

Phew, it’s been a busy old time recently, and I’ve struggled to fit in the time to do much PhD work, let alone write a blog. Finishing off 23 Things was good, because I had a deadline for that. We had a really nice get-together facilitated by the lovely Research Development Programme people, and I met lots of other uni peeps doing the 23 Things, some of whom I’d only encountered online before that. We agreed that making it more sociable from the beginning would be useful, if only to share tips and tricks and to create more of a sense of community. I read quite a few of the other blogs, but couldn’t work out when people had updated them. Emily James suggested using Feedly, which I intend to check out. I use the WordPress Reader but it’s a bit clunky and relies on actually opening WordPress…I also managed to find a few more victims, sorry I mean willing volunteers, interested in signing up for Bright Club (hooray!) It’s good to know people outside your department, universities become much more friendly places when the circle of people you know there expands beyond the narrow confines of the people you normally meet on campus doing a PhD.

First up though was our first Running Dialogues seminar. We had a small hiccup at the final hour as our venue was unable to open in time for the start, but luckily they shifted us across the road to a pub. This wasn’t ideal as it was quite cramped, the acoustics were a bit iffy in the first place, and you could hear buses going past! However, we managed to overcome these obstacles and have a thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating few hours of talk about running research. Our speakers were uniformly fantastic, with an amazing diversity in the subjects covered even in one ‘topic’ (running and society). I’m not covering everything here, as our website gives details and a blog by someone who attended. Plus after live-tweeting the event, my brain refuses to process anything more to do with the subject right now! Live-tweeting was excellent for listening to the speakers, reading the slides, coming up with some of the essential points they were trying to make, and then trying to communicate these to a wider audience, who might not even have been present. All within the Twitter character limit and remembering as many hashtags as possible. And trying to spot any unfortunate autocorrections before they were tweeted to the world (there were a few near misses!). Mark Carrigan linked to an excellent blog on the topic which is well worth reading if you want a few tips on how to do it, or improve how you do it, I have a feeling it’s something of an art! I also had to introduce the speakers briefly and then facilitate the discussion section at the end, which was good fun but difficult when your brain is struggling to work correctly after being bombarded by all that live-tweeting. All excellent experience though, and I enjoyed it as the whole thing was quite informal and friendly.

Next up was our department conference. These last few weeks have involved industrial quantities of finger food 🙂 Our department conference is great because you get to meet people who you might never meet despite being in the next-door office, either because they aren’t often on campus, or they are in a different cohort so your paths haven’t crossed. And the breadth of research is fascinating, from the neuroscience of imagined movements to qualitative experiences of people suffering from leg ulcers to everything in between. I was looking forward to doing my talk, but when I lost my thread a bit halfway through I was suddenly overcome by nerves, which I wasn’t expecting at all (though apparently nobody noticed, this was what I was telling myself the whole way through…)

I think the moral of that story is to practise the talk a few more times, as I hadn’t had much of a chance to go through and memorise the whole thing. Also, I realised that although I’ve done a few talks before, I actually haven’t been able to use a Powerpoint (kind of the opposite of most academic speaking then!) and it’s a different skill to time your talk to go alongside the images. And the other thing I realised is that my other talks have been more interactive, particularly the Cafe Scientifique ones, and in a funny way those were easier than standing up and talking alone. Perhaps that’s a clue that I should try to make all my talks a bit more interactive? I do love a bit of audience participation! Anyway, definitely more practice needed, I think. The questions section was really fun though, lots of interesting questions and ideas from my colleagues.

Then I had to knuckle down to producing a poster for the uni conference. I’ve covered posters a few times before in my blog, so I won’t bore you with details. But blimey, I felt like I’d never done one before! I had to use a portrait format, whereas my previous attempt was landscape, which involved a whole new thought process trying to work out how to make it easy to read and to look at using a different orientation. It took me aaaaaages! I did use a few ideas I gleaned from the uni training session, along with the Better Posters website, and the end result was pretty good, I think. Of course, there is always room for improvement, and a few people gave me useful feedback so I can improve on it for the next conference I’m doing. I decided to focus on just one tiny section of the qualitative part of my Running Commentary study, and I picked out a theme which has been covered in the previous literature and which really leapt out at me in lots of the groups I visited. After I’ve done the next poster I’ll go through this in a blog post, this one is already loads too long!

The uni conference itself was good fun, there were talks on every topic under the sun and most of the speakers were excellent. I enjoyed talking to people about my poster, and asking other people about theirs as well. I realised after fielding questions on both poster and talk that the thing which people do most is try to apply your findings to their own lives in order to make sense of them. So even though my study was on beginner runners, more experienced runners wanted to see how my findings fit in with their own history and experience. If they weren’t runners themselves then they wanted to tell me about their friends or family members who were runners and what they knew about their experiences, it was fascinating. I also find that people ask me for advice on their running (which is hilarious as I’m certainly no expert), and I often end up discussing different races and local running routes. People who run just LOVE to talk about it! I even had the vice chancellor of the uni stop and chat to me about running (he does it for relaxation apparently). Later on we had Ben Goldacre speaking about scientific misconduct, he was a fabulous, fabulous speaker and should be an example to any would-be communicator of research.

This week has involved helping out in tutorials, I do love talking to undergrads. In between times I’m still trying to tackle my gigantic mountain of transcriptions, catching up on admin for my various studies, reading some useful new papers which have just come out on my research area and working out where they fit into the jigsaw puzzle, trying to come up with solutions to logistical problems in a new study I’m planning, finalising details for our next Running Dialogues seminar, cheering on friends at the London Marathon and fitting in a lovely run along the river. My supervisor thinks that some of the stuff in my talk might be suitable for a paper, so I’m feeling quite inspired about that, it still needs a huge amount of work before it can get to that stage, but I can already see how one small part of one study can have practical implications for understanding how people feel during exercise and how we can help improve this, which is after all the goal of my research. Bring it on!

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