Archive for the ‘research’ Tag

My breakup letter to academia

Can you be a librarian without a library? I am.

Can you be a researcher without an institution? I am.

Can you be a teacher without any students? I am.

I am other I now.

But who?

I started working in academic libraries in 1998. I qualified as a librarian in 2008, and began my first professional post in the same month. In 2018 I became a postdoctoral research fellow in higher education pedagogies. And in 2020 I experienced burnout for the final time and walked away from academia. This chapter both records that journey and is the final step in it.

Download repository version (preprint)

Coonan, E.M. ‘From survival to self-care: performative professionalism and the self in the neoliberal university’. In Lemon, Narelle, ed. Healthy Relationships in Higher Education: Promoting Wellbeing Across Academia. Routledge, 2021.

Image credit: A. J. Booker


Journal articles: the ‘Thing Explainer’ version

Some while back I had a great conversation with my friend and esteemed library colleague @_moo_ about how the structure of a journal article can be explained in very simple language, even if the thought processes that lie beneath it might feel convoluted. “Look,” I said, putting my beer down briefly, “The ‘findings’ bit is really just ‘what I did’, right, and the methods section is just ‘how I decided to do it’, and if you put in a bit at the end about ‘further research’, well, that’s basically ‘Here’s what I didn’t get around to so, like, someone else should, yeah?'”

That’s a fairly loosely paraphrased version, given that we weren’t on our first beer. But what I remember of the conversation inspired me to have a go at writing a ‘simple English’ version of how journal articles in the social sciences are often constructed. I figured that if Randall Monroe could explain rocket science (or at least the Saturn V rocket) in the most common thousand English words, we should be able to do the same for scholarly comms. (Oxymoronic? Never!)

I showed it to participants at an Information Literacy Group Research Day, and they seemed to think it was OK, so here it is.

Here’s the thing I did Introduction
This is why it needed doing
Here’s what other people said about this thing Literature review
·    And what they left out
Here’s how I did it Methods
This is why I did it that way
·    Here’s someone else doing it this way because that helped me see why it would work for my thing
·    Here’s why doing it this way meant I’d be able to actually learn something from it
Here’s how it might not have worked fully, all the same Limitations
Oh, and this is why it’s OK to do it to humans Ethical implications
Here’s what happened Findings
This is what I think it means for what I started out wondering Discussion
This is what it means for the rest of us and what we do (or know)
Here’s what else we could do about this Further research

Note: it’s absolutely not meant to be followed slavishly. Lots of good articles deviate from this structure, especially more theoretical pieces; but it might be a handy springboard for jumping off. Or even a launch pad.

(Updated) downloadable version

Image: Up Goer Five, (CC BY-NC 2.5)

Getting it wrong so you can get it right(er)

Image: Haragayato on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Image: Haragayato on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Last week I had the huge privilege of giving a keynote talk at the Cambridge Libraries 2017 conference. Not only were there some great speakers present, both external and internal, but I’ve worked in various roles at a number of Cambridge libraries and attended many a CamLibs conference in my day: so to be asked to keynote at one was enormously exciting, gratifying, and above all TERRIFYING.

As it turned out, it was one of the best days of my life. Being given a platform to talk about issues that mean a great deal to you – in this case the importance of failure in learning, research, and teaching – and to be received with empathy, recognition, thanks and hugs, is one of the most amazing things there can be. I don’t know how to express my gratitude that it’s happened to me.

I’m always fascinated by how people use scripts, prompts and other aids to speaking. I don’t usually use much in the way of notes, relying on my slides to keep my argument on track (yes, this can sometimes go a bit wrong!). This time I didn’t want to wander too far off-piste, especially as my slot was 90 minutes long and I had visions of my audience petrifying with boredom, so I scripted the talk much more tightly than usual. Of course I added a bunch of revisions at the last minute all the same … so for fun or in case anyone is interested, here’s the version I spoke from, with all its scribbles and alterations, to complement the neat and tidy transcript that will appear on the CamLibs site in due course.

The talk is a wild melee of random things that go round in my head a lot, but there are many important anchor points that come from other people’s thinking. Most of these are attributed in the script, but there are three that aren’t and deserve to be:

“the Ow factor” was a phrase used by Hazel Rothera in talking (very postively!) about her experience of the peer review process

“you never get to be a good teacher” (because it’s an ongoing balance) was said by Michelle Bond

And I’d either forgotten or never knew that the wonderfully comforting “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly” – which I suddenly remembered mid-flow and managed to include – was written by G K Chesterton.