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I'm currently working on a DPhil in HCT at the University of Sussex. This section of the website is for an on-going 'learning diary', for me to write my thoughts and notes on various courses and my thesis.


That was week 90

Another week down, and I've made some good progress on the coding. Got to the stage where you can save a diet, but there are an awful lot more things to do before the nutrition is complete.

Got a poster done for the postgraduate poster show that I have to attend as part of my second year annual review. I'm struggling a little to come to grips with what needs to be done for an academic poster. I think (like everything) I need to work out the audience and then really think about what I want to present and how. I'm reasonably happy with what I've put together, but it will be interesting to see how it looks at A1 size. I also got feedback from my supervisor that I needed more words on it - apparently that's unusual advice but I have "a tendency for brevity"! I quite like that, but clearly need to strike a balance.

Been a quiet week with Jim on holiday. I've been a little tired too. Not sure what that's about! I think I've got all of the paperwork done now for my annual review (barring the stuff Judith needs to do) so that's good.

I really need to push the coding the next few weeks. Basically if I don't get almost all of it done before cricket week (mid-August) I've got a week holiday and 2 weeks (potentially) out at conferences. I need to get to the point of user-testing by the end of September, so that I can gather the right data to aim to be done by the end of my funding. I think this means the attempt at balance will have to go out of the window, and I may have to try for extra hours too. Try and keep the running ticking over, get enough sleep... Challenging, but it's a month to hopefully set myself up for the rest of my time. Worth it. Just got to stay on target.


That was week 89

I felt like I achieved a better balance last week between writing words and code, but we'll see.

I got a poster accepted to Fun and Games 2012, which should (finances permitting) see me in Toulouse for a few days at the start of September. However, chalk it up to experience too - I did use the wrong template (I followed the link on their page, rather than the wording in the text) and just because they accepted your poster doesn't mean you get free attendance. 300€ for the student price feels a little steep, but Pejman assures me it'll be worth it! I need to resubmit my abstract in the correct format.

I think I mostly got my student report written for this year, although the plan makes me feel a little like the Underpants Gnomes. (Step 1: submit thesis, Step 2: ?, Step 3: Get paid in October 2013.) I even managed to get all three academics to agree on a time and place for my review. So just the poster to go, and since I need to do one for Fun and Games I may as well kill two birds with one stone. The post needs to be done by Friday, for printing. Good pressure there then.

Now that the lab meetings are finished we've moved onto a series of 'people' posts, so those are hopefully writing themselves. Gareth was first to respond, so first to be published.

I saw Judith on Tuesday, which was a reassuringly brief meeting suggesting I'm moving in the right sort of direction.

The coding was slightly slowed down by a bit of a computer rejig. I've been having problems with my mac losing its network connection, which is a major problem when your home profile (including lots of application configurations etc) is stored on the network. It could take me 15 minutes to get the thing shut down, because of the force quitting that had to happen. So on Thursday Christian came and moved me to a local profile, with stern reminders to back everything up myself regularly. Moving stuff over seemed to take until halfway through Friday, and then everything needed setting up again. I'm not quite there yet actually. Still, made some progress. (Not enough! Don't panic yet!)

Jim is on holiday for the next two weeks, so I want to achieve stuff to show him when he gets back. We'll see...


Athene SWAN follow up

I got no responses directly on my blog post, but I did have several illuminating conversations on both Twitter and Facebook. Thank you very much to the people who helped me to have such a constructive conversation on Facebook - an unlikely group to manage to pull together in real life.

I feel I have a slightly clearer idea of a few of the potential pitfalls. I still maintain that other than the time to physically recover from the ordeal of childbirth solutions to other child-raising issues would benefit people of either gender. I'm personally all in favour of trying to put something like Sweden's parental leave system in place, not that it is ever likely to apply to me! Child care and help for parttime researchers will probably still help women more than men, I recognise that.  

There are some purely physical concerns, from being able to dominate a room to being able to project your voice well enough to lecture to a large hall. There are clearly issues around appearance still (although these also apply in industry). Name-changing (more common for women but still some men do it too) is difficult in a career that relies on reputation so much - I was recently irritated by a Gamesutra article about Constance Steinkeuhler Squire that went on to call her Squire throughout. At least they put the Steinkeuhler in once I guess! 

However, an unexpected thing I've started to notice (when you start looking) is that there are side-effects to being the visible woman. The role model for others to follow. Suddenly in addition to all the work you have to do anyway, you also have to be prepared to 'represent'. Committees that need input from women, interviews that have to have a woman present. Suddenly they all need you. And that eats up time, and actually could be quite undermining. You're pretty sure you're not there because they value your opinion, you are just 'the token woman' who they have to have. 

I'm not sure there is a good answer to that. If you want women to have a say in things and help remove any inbuilt prejudices/imbalances, you need to rely on the few women who've made it to give up their time. (Of course the women who've made it may not be the most helpful, as they've overcome or ignored the difficulties.) But it is something that I will try to remain aware of in the meetings I have coming up. 


That was week 88

I am starting to notice with weeks that there is always an excuse as to why I didn't achieve what I'd hoped. This week we have plumbers in ripping out our bathroom, which has meant coming and going at different times to try and let them in or out, plus more cycling than I'm currently used to, and some really irritating network issues even when I'm in the office. So. Not as much done as I'd have liked. Maybe if I reflect on this enough I'll come to terms with it and start a) using the time I do get more profitably and b) getting more realistic with my expectations.

Coding-wise I tried a new tack this week. With Jim out on Wednesday and Friday and Katy off on a well-deserved post-thesis-submission break, I went out for coffee twice this week. I took my iPad, and spent the time offline (deliberately picking spots that I don't think have wifi!) thinking about my code and writing quite specific to do lists. "I need this class creating, it needs this function, this class must call it in this function with this information" and so on. What this meant was I then went back to my desk knowing what I needed to do, and just got on and did it. So I got more done than I have for a while. I do think it only worked quite as well as it did because of the hours I've spent staring at the code so I know the problem inside out, but at least it felt like (pleasant) progress. More next week hopefully.

Writing was still a little sporadic. I started my student report for my annual review, but then hit problems trying to organise a date for the damn meeting. Trying to get three specific academics in the same room at the same time is really hard. I wrote up my thoughts on the Athene SWAN meeting I had on Wednesday, and I followed up on our lab meeting last week a little. So that is writing, just not for a paper.

I didn't make it to Tea at 3 because of the plumbers. The lab meeting didn't happen because apparently I really do need to send out a reminder the day before or no one shows up. (I was irate/disappointed, but I'm over it. I'll eat the cake on Monday.)

No meeting with Judith this week, so I'd better book one for Tuesday.

And that was week 88.


Help required please - Athene SWAN

I recently got asked if I would join the self-assessment team for the University of Sussex's Athene SWAN application. Now, in some ways I see this as a continuation of a role I had as a fourth year undergraduate at Cambridge. I was the women's cricket captain, and a surprisingly large chunk of the job consisted of sitting in committee meetings with the men (for the most part the club committee consisted of male academics) reminding them the women's team existed. I spent a lot of time asking questions like "what kit will the women have? It will need to be smaller." "where will the women stay?" "what coaching will the women get?" and so on.

The thing is, I knew exactly what we needed as women cricketers. In a lot of ways it was just the same as the men's needs, they just weren't used to remembering that we needed it too. My problem with this role is that I don't have a clear feel for what may be holding back women PhD students in the sciences. Any complaints I may have personally are not gender specific (and it could be argued that I'm not the most feminine female out there). So I'm asking: what are the things that you felt were barriers to signing up for a PhD? What would help you, as a woman, to do get the job done? Are you considering staying in academia, and if not why?

I'm sure there's good research been done on this already, but I want some annocdotal, qualitative feel for what's going out there. I'm not just looking for Sussex stories, I'm sure there will be plenty of overlap with other unis. All comments much appreciated!