8 weeks in review

Hi readers of the blog!

I hope this post finds you all well and not too glum in what is a rather mild November.

I felt I should do an update on how I’ve gotten on with the course so far.  So in no particular order, here are some things that I have learned 8 weeks in:

Timekeeping

First off, that projected plan of a certain number of hours on certain days and certain times? Not really been happening. I actually felt that making myself do that amount of time on certain days was quite pressuring for someone who works full time (sometimes I just want to come home and have a cup of tea and do nothing). So instead I am judging it day to day, but trying to spend more time on the course on less impactful days – by that I mean I won’t go crazy on course stuff if I have to do a driving lesson the next day, as this does not agree with me. I do tend to do more focused time on the weekends.

I have pre-booked days off to coincide with deadlines, or rather organising my time off so I can have the best chance of finishing assignments a bit earlier than the due date. I am hoping this will work out!

Teamwork frustrations

Teamwork is frustrating in any and all versions of studying. I have had a bit of experience of team working over a distance course now and it is a real challenge. You might be separated by continents and time zones, but regardless of where you are, only interacting digitally makes it difficult to keep up with team mates. I think that at this point in the course, it is easier to progress by myself. If there is compulsory team work at some later point, I am hoping we get some guidance on how is best to manage this.

Course content and activities

I am enjoying watching recorded lectures each week and supplementing this with the written notes. Weekly activities are designed to help us digest the information, and I’ve really enjoyed some of these. Use of the forums is still a bit of a challenge for me, as it doesn’t feel possible to create the serendipitous discussions that one can in person. I think that this is just a facet of the course being online, though, and somewhat has to be accepted and dealt with as well as possible.

Assignments

My feelings about working on the assignments for this course have been quite up and down – some days I feel great about what I am writing, and others I feel the work is total pants. I know that this is normal, but it’s still hard to take the ups and downs. I only have one assignment per module, which I find much more manageable. The deadlines are well placed too (one before Christmas and one in early January) which, even though it means a holiday of doing some work, it isn’t overwhelming. I have had to give up doing as many hobbies because I just don’t have the energy. Now that I have done that, I hope I will feel more balanced.

I am very impressed that both my assignments have real-world applications: either directly or indicatively. My first, the information enquiry assessment, is an enquiry for a real person! We share our findings with them afterwards, as well as writing a report-style document that shows our searching techniques and appraisal of information credibility. I feel much better about conducting this search for a real person, rather than creating a fictitious scenario. The second, a faceted classification system, was really brought to life this week with a guest lecture from a previous student who has built this type of system for a real organisation. It showed the potential and real-time application of the skills we are learning, and I was very impressed by this.

I have to say that report writing is not my forte – as an arts researcher, I want to write ‘I’ and form arguments, but here I can’t do that. I do think it’s good to be challenged, though, and I can already see that writing in this format is making me rethink my sometimes florid prose.

Normal life

I have realised that it is still very important for me as a researcher, to still keep my research interests ticking over. Whilst this is a challenge, I am still looking at how I will adapt my PhD thesis into a book, because this is an important personal challenge for me. I don’t want to leave the music part of myself behind, and find I need to remind myself of this when I feel somewhat down.

 

Well that feels quite enough really. Have you recently started a course online or in person? How do you feel about it? I’d love to hear from others, especially if you are balancing a lot of things and how you manage to do that!

 

 

Advertisements

LIS course: some initial reactions

Hi everyone,

I thought I should record some thoughts on my more immediate reactions to the distance learning course in libraries and information. The aim of the blog generally is going to be a recording of my reactions at certain times in the process. I’m then hoping I can use it as a reference for the placement and portfolio we do in year two and generally useful to look back on. So apologies now if this stuff won’t be interesting to you!

First impressions of the virtual learning environment are very positive; each module is laid out in an accessible way. Each week of the module has its own section, and activities to work on each week. We are being encouraged to post our thoughts to the discussion forums, but this is quite a new way of conversing for me. I’m going to have to work a bit at interacting effectively with others online.

I wanted to say a little bit about the type of content and my reactions from an arts and humanities perspective. I’ve actually found in this first week that my brain finds it easier to absorb more philosophical information on these subjects, rather than the more specific, scientific points. My brain is used to thinking about things in terms of concepts and arguments, rather than realist facts. I think this is going to be a challenge for me, and will be spending some time thinking about how I can make this information more easily absorbable for my thought patterns. This in itself will have a wider impact, as I’m sure many who are seeking information are also from arts/creative backgrounds and want to look for info in a way that suits them.

My biggest challenge is going to be working against my initial reaction to anything new, which is always “I want to be able to understand/do it all now and will get very frustrated if I can’t”. I’ll have to try my best with this, and work on a bit at a time.

That’s a few thoughts for now. I think it’s good to be completing two complementary modules this term, i.e. how users look for information and how we can digitally facilitate that searching with organisational tools. Whilst it’s going to take me time to get used to, I will press on!

Motivations for LIS Distance Learning

When I started my first permanent library assistant job, I decided that I wanted to train to be a professional in this field. I knew I wanted to have more interaction with people, to teach them things and to help them feel more confident in their studies. As a career path, I anticipate that being a library professional will allow me to fulfill my passion of helping others, whilst satisfying my need for organisation, and giving me my evenings and weekends to pursue my own research interests.

Unfortunately, I was not in a financial position to afford any type of postgraduate course at this earlier time, mainly because I am one of many who are not eligible for the governmental loan schemes (something I have received countless emails about). Why? Because I self-funded my first MA. Yes, because I broke myself funding it with a Career Development Loan from a bank, I am not eligible for a governmental loan. No such governmental loans existed when I was doing my first MA. It was either fund it yourself, or you can’t do it. I did receive an alumni discount, but this is the only help I received financially. Now that I need to retrain, I can’t apply for governmental assistance.

So what factors have influenced my decision in taking the course I have chosen? Here I provide some of my personal thoughts, condensed into loose categories:

Why Distance Learning?

Distance learning can be expensive, and this is an important factor to consider. In terms of fees, it can cost you more each year to study DL than if you compare the total if you attend in person full time. However, I think it is very important to remember that distance learners will often be tied to areas by commitments, such as work and family. Therefore, the (financial) pressure of moving to a new city and leaving a permanent job would be far more financially risky than staying put and completing a course online. The motivations to take a Distance Learning course are many, and it is great to see more universities being sensitive to these needs.

If I am honest, part of me is reluctant to do it – I have a doctorate, I know that studying as a postgrad is stressful, but I have also not written any assignments for a long time. The importance of self-motivation and trust in yourself really come to the fore. But I want this qualification to open up new avenues of employment and experience, so this is my primary motivating factor. For me, distance learning is the best option for my life right now: I can use my day-to-day experience of working in a library to direct ideas for assignment content and I can ask colleagues for some help if I am stuck.

Cost

The question of cost and the prospect of full self-funding has undoubtedly influenced my motivations and timing for taking this course. In my new job, I am fortunate that I earn enough to self-fund my course. I will be paying in installments, after an initial enrollment fee for each year. The institution in question has a very good payment plan, which whilst still intense, is clearly explained and broken down.

As a rough guide, the Distance Learning course I am taking amounts to just over £3000 per year. As I will be only completing up to PGDip level, I will be paying around just over £6500 spread over 2 years.

I cannot stress enough the importance of honestly documenting your outgoing expenses if you are looking at self-budgeting for something like this; being overly optimistic about how much you will save is not realistic, and can sometimes cause you additional pressures. I would rather slightly overestimate what I might spend on food, travel etc. and then hopefully not spend what I have estimated.

I have also used a separate savings account to take a regular amount from my earnings each month and scurry it away out of sight. Whilst it does not work for everyone, I much prefer if it’s somewhere that I can’t see it! I then move the money back to my current account before payments are due.

Design

I am saying design rather than content, because for me it is about how the course is delivered, as well as content. Initially I felt that I wanted a course that would be very forward-thinking and with the option to specialise in certain areas. However, I realised that I wasn’t being entirely honest with myself – what I actually wanted was a rooting in traditional library skills and a good grounding in other aspects of the profession. As a result, I changed my course to one that covers more traditional skills, such as cataloguing and classification, and also covers important areas such as knowledge organisation, finding information, and managerial skills.

This decision was influenced by my career aims: I am a trained musician and I want to ideally bring my music and librarianship together. As such, being able to catalogue, for example, will stand me in better stead when applying for more specialist collection-related jobs. I am hoping to supplement this with some shadowing/project work at my workplace in the future.

Regarding delivery, I am impressed at the lack of pressure and welcoming atmosphere that my course has presented so far. As I will be working full time through this course, I am conscious that I want the ability to manage my own time. The guidance for self-study per week is 15 hours – my aim is to spread this across 2-3 evenings in the week, and 1 weekend day. This is all iterative and we will have to see how it pans out, but I am impressed by the lack of pressure that is exuded by the course team. I will have to report back on how the course is delivered when I have experienced the online platform.

Resources

As part of my induction pack, I watched a very informative video on the support the library provides to distance learners. Online learning is a fast-growing area that allows for many to partake in further study who were previously unable to access these facilities. My library will provide a postal book service, provide a great deal of online content, and a librarian for online learning. I fee confident in this provision, and it’s also great to see that we will have a personal tutor.

Getting Started

As a final point, I thought I’d touch on how new starters to the course are expected to ‘get going’. I am impressed that rather than being pressured to attend any events in person, specific sessions have been designed for online participation. We have been asked to contribute our thoughts to a wide info literacy topic, and have also been given two dates for online chats to discuss our questions and concerns about the course. Finally, we will be taking part in an online meetup.

Summary

So to sum up, my top tips for choosing a distance learning course:

  • How easy are the team to email/chat to? You need to know that if it gets difficult, the course team will be responsive to your emails and friendly.
  • What are the payment plans like for distance learners? Read these very carefully – I misunderstood some of this information and thus my budgeting was off. If you aren’t sure what it means, email before you budget and ask.
  • Budget honestly not idealistically
  • Does the content reflect what you want to learn? Be honest with yourself about the skills you want to acquire – do you know what your ideal job is? What skills do they want you to have?
  • Does the method of delivery suit you? Will learning through an online platform suit you?
  • Self motivation is really key in any postgraduate course: make sure you are committed and are prepared for directing your own study.
  • Be kind to yourself: it is a difficult thing to do, and it’s Ok to feel burned out. Assess what is troubling you, and see if there are some helpful steps you can take to make things better.

Well that was a really long post! I hope that some of this is helpful to those considering Distance Learning as an option. Once I have gotten stuck into the first semester, I will report back…

Update

Hello readers!

This post is hopefully going to revive my blogging efforts which, up to this point, have been rather poor. I am hoping very much to use this platform as a more regular place to share thoughts and experiences relating to libraries, research and how I combine the two.

As a short update, I passed my PhD and graduated in 2016! Needless to say, this one of my biggest achievements and am proud to have made it through.

I now work full time for a university library and support Open Access and Research Data Management. These are still relatively new areas for academics and researchers to ‘get to grips’ with and our workflows are constantly changing. The Open Access agenda is getting bigger and it is exciting to see where this sector will go.

In addition, because I cannot ever be content with one commitment, I am enrolled to start a part time distance learning PGDip from late September 2017. I want to use the blog to reflect primarily on my experiences of this, in particular when I am a mature student, retraining in a new profession, and I am not eligible for any of these governmental loan schemes – my first MA was completed only through acquiring a hefty Career Development loan, the weight of which was a source of great anxiety.

I also have plans to edit my thesis work into a monograph and work on some edited collections with other researchers, as well as present some papers. But that might be pushing it too far! We will see how I can manage my time…

I am hoping that through my sharing of experiences, others can feel hopeful to also retrain in something they enjoy and feel passionate about.

That’s all for now – I will be thinking of some more ‘themed’ posts in the upcoming weeks that I hope will be of help to others. I might do a post on how I chose to do distance learning if people are interested!

Sewing September 

Hi all,

Sadly I am no longer a GT (the job runs until end of August) 😦 and am in that odd place between jobs where I’m not sure what to do with myself. I’m going to do a separate reflection post in the next few days too.

This post however is focusing on the sewing challenge I am setting myself for September. Guidance as follows:

  1. Pick 3 fabrics from my stash
  2. Pick what to make from them: I must already own the pattern
  3. These 3 makes are in addition to some WIPs I already have
  4. Blog the results in a months time, roughly Saturday 1 October

I think this will be a good way to get things made and to share with the blogosphere. I will blog my choices and what I think I might make first. Somewhat following the setup of vloggers I watch on YouTube (check out Sew Over It and Sewn if you haven’t already!) but this formula seems successful for them. I’ve built up quite a stash and need to push through the apprehension of using these fabrics and just start!

Excited to report back 🙂

A brief word on corrections

I thought it would be a good idea for me to get these thoughts about corrections out now.
For non PhD readers, corrections occur after the Viva (the verbal discussion of your submitted thesis). Corrections can take a lot of forms; usually, corrections are major or minor.

Note: different universities class different periods of time as different types of corrections, so what your friend received at one university might not match your outcome!

The main point of what I wanted to say is that there should be less stigma attached to getting anything bigger than minor corrections. I feel very strongly that the question you should ask yourself is whether a more indepth set of corrections might in fact be best for your project. Research is a very iterative process, and self development is a key part of it. You want to continue learning, to become an even better researcher and a better writer.

This has been my personal experience with my PhD. I received more corrections than I had thought, but it has actually helped me to shape a project that has a proper central aim. Moreover, my writing is better because I have been shown what errors I had made in the text. My examiners believed in me, and thus they gave me the time to shape this work.

So I want to close by saying that I know how it feels to be disappointed when you don’t hear ‘no corrections’ needed or the like. However, getting this time to shape your work afterwards is actually really important, and might be just what your project needs.

A term in review

Well, I really thought I would have found a window earlier than now to do some reflection! I think a New Years resolution will be to plan out some posts to keep this blog active.
Anyway, for now, I thought I would put together some reflections on my first term as a graduate trainee.

Adjusting to the new routine has been one of the biggest challenges. I commute to Manchester from Liverpool, so I am out of my house by 6.30am, arriving at Manchester at 8.05 (on a good day and the trains are on time, which is not that often!). I’ve found that I’ve felt so tired that you can mistake it for being unwell, and that’s not pleasant! I’m pleased to say I can cope much better now, but it is definitely a tiring part to the experience.

Something that has particularly surprised me is how much I have enjoyed my term as part of LSS (Library Support Services). Before starting, I had only ever been involved with front of house work (greeting visitors, covering for the library assistants, manning study spaces). However, a real perk has been seeing how integral LSS is to the smooth running of all of the front of house services. My IT skills have certainly become broader (a lot more experience of data entry and Excel). And I have gotten to do tasks such as paying invoices, ordering books, processing journals and newspapers, seeing the digitisation process, and a lot more. To have finished my only term as part of LSS has made me rather sad, and I hope to still keep contributing to this sector in some way. Moreover, I would seriously consider looking for employment in this division of services, and I can’t say I knew I would say that at the beginning of this experience!

Balancing PhD corrections with full time work is a real challenge. There have often been times during this term that I have doubted my ability to balance both successfully. I think in those first few weeks, you beat yourself up because you are actually too tired to do anything else other than your new job! Having met with my examiner to discuss my progress, I now feel more at ease that I am in fact managing to balance both. So I’m here to tell anyone else that might be struggling with the same worries that it is possible and you’ll make it!!

Concerning how I have dealt with balancing (effectively) two jobs, I would say organisation and motivation are the key pointers. It might sound like I’m a broken record, but the sooner you do it, the sooner it will be over! Also, it’s important to have manageable tasks of varying size. Designing these tasks mean you’ll still feel you achieved something, even if you were too tired to do the ‘big job’ on your list. That being said, it’s also been important for me to keep an eye on how much time I actually have left for corrections. So long as those things are factored in, it’s OK to take a day off, and it’s OK to be doubtful about it too.

I feel a lot more like myself when I am in the office now, which I think is very important. I work with a group of very supportive and nice people, and that’s a real highlight.

I think that’s enough for now. See you in the new year for themed posts! Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and wishing you luck and happiness for 2016