My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Graphical Representation

Recently I have been having some issues with how to present my data and how much of it to present.

I am always inclined to insert graphs wherever possible. To me graphs represent an easy way to at a glance get a quick idea of the overall trends being discussed. However, it seems like this love of graphs rests mainly with scientists. However, doing research in an interdisciplinary field means that often I am not presenting my work to scientists, but to people from the arts & humanities. This means that my background and that of my audience is quite different.

So far it is proving to be a quite steep learning curve to figure out how to adapt what I say for a specific audience. I feel like I am definitely getting better (and this I hope is the reason I was chosen to be a NOISEmaker – that during the interview I managed to get my point across in an accessible way). However, there is still some way to go. I realise that the only way to improve is to learn more about the issues and also get more practice under my belt.

Today this article on bad ways of graphically representing your work. It made me think about how other people might react to the different graphs and images I have been using in my presentations. Are they serving their purpose? Or do I insert them just to fill in some space? And how much is my love of graphs and graphical representation of ideas in my presentations hindering my explanations rather than helping them along?

Love Graph?

Filed under: General, Rants, Complaints and General Malaise, , , ,

Form Filling: A Course

You might not think that form filling is an integral part of a PhD. However, it definitely is, and is very important at that. Why? Because there are always forms to fill, from forms to apply for courses, to grant application, as well as registration forms for attending conferences, together with abstract writing. Before breaking up for the Easter holidays I wanted to finish off all the applications I have pending, so the last few days have seen me doing quite a lot of form filling.

I realise however that form filling is definitely not my forte. Maybe I think that people should give me what I am asking for – because I said so? I also realise that I am not always too good at expressing myself and targetting the audience I am addressing. Take today’s case in point:

One of the forms I was filling was an abstract template for a conference next year (yes – that’s right – September 2011). The first problem I ran into was that I wasn’t exactly sure who my audience is. At first I assumed that the audience was a scientific audience. However, unfortunately, this is often not the case in my field. In fact the audience I should have planned was actually more for heritage professionals such as conservators. This meant that the aim of the abstract had to be turned on its head: from focussing on the nitty gritty of the scientific aspects of my work I needed to focus more on the usability and relevance of my work.

The second problem I ran into, and which my supervisor very helpfully pointed out as well, was that I needed to give more information about why my work is important and how it is so novel in the field. Since I still don’t have the results I aim to present (remember that the conference is around a year and a half down the line!), and what I was writing was mainly projections of what I hope to achieve, I was being very tentative in what I wrote. However, my supervisor sort of lambasted me for that and told me to get on with the job of writing a good abstract.

Before I finished my work for the day I sent off the abstract to my supervisor. Waiting for his response now. Hope I did a good (or at least better!) job!

Form Filling

Filed under: Rants, Complaints and General Malaise, Research Process, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lessons in Manual Writing (and Supplying!)

This is a rant…I apologise for this coming so early on in the life of this blog (hope I don’t put you off ;)), but I have been fuming about this issue for quite a while now!

Since our department is still quite new, we are continuously buying new equipment, which of course we need to figure out how to use. Now, since I am the one needing some of this equipment first, this means that it falls to me to figure out how these instruments function. Easy task right? Just follow the instructions!

That’s what I thought too! But the situation is not always as easy as it seems. Why?…

Well…first of all I think that some of these companies need to learn a bit about manual writing. Even a simple thing, like how to switch an instrument off, is often missed out! Some of them are quite straight forward (though that is not a sufficient excuse according to me…what if the person who should be using isn’t the brightest in the world, or just simply cannot figure it out at the moment? Shouldn’t that be included?), but in other cases, the switching off procedure requires you to press a combination of buttons, or depress the same button for at least 5 seconds, or something like that…not everything is exactly intuitive. They should also understand that the people using the instrument are new to the instrument…they may not understand the jargon you include, or cannot do the assumption leaps you do! (This is especially the case when for some reason the pictures/text described in the manual is different from what is happening in your instrument, or, worse, when pressing the buttons directed in the manual give you a totally different result to what you expect [worse off is if the button options are all scrambled up throughout the manual, so it’s not like one combination has been switched with just one other! Believe me…I have a manual like that right now…it took me some time to figure out what is what!]).

Ahhh! And once you write them? Send them to the people buying the instrument! Or at least make them available to your customers and tell them how to find them! I am sick and tired of getting exasperated at figuring out an instrument, only to e-mail the company, which replies saying…this is the manual you need…so why didn’t they send it immediately with the instrument like they sent I don’t know how many instruments? 

Worse off however was one company which send us an instrument, which I was trying to connect to my computer (it should have had the capabilities!). One problem…we were supplied with around 5 software applications on the CD…which one to use?…Well, most of the applications had at most a 1-2 page colourful description of what they should do (if anything), which was more advert than help! I installed all applications…still couldn’t figure it out. Hmm…at my wits end I decided to call the company

Call 1: I am told that they sent us an old version of the CD (We bought it end of 2008, and the new version of the application came out in 2007!). OK…I could download the new version on-line. I download the new version, but still nothing happens!

Call 2: I am told that the new version does not necessarily work on Vista…but I have Vista installed! OK, one of the research assistants has XP, so I try it on hers…still nothing! The computer doesn’t seem to be able to recognise the instrument.

I leave some time pass…

By this time I was highly frustrated, and I didn’t want to disconnect before they told me exactly what  I had to do…I was a girl on a mission! I wanted to get this instrument and the computer to communicate! It was essential that they do! (otherwise this would have meant me jotting down over 15,000 values by hand!!! Not a pleasurable task!

Call 3: A new person answers…as soon as I start explaining, he said: I know what your problem is, give me your e-mail address, and I will send you the instructions! WOW…OK…I gave him my e-mail and 5 minutes later I had the instruction sheet in my inbox.

I arrange the settings to the new settings…and…

  • drum roll*

It worked! They connected! They recognised each other! WOW!

What I didn’t understand was why they didn’t supply that sheet with the instrument itself, since evidently it is something they know about (if you talk to the right person). Not having it meant that I spent I don’t know how many hours trying. Do these people enjoy making life for others more difficult?

Oh well…I will shut up now, and go back to my happier self.

But really…people…write decent manuals and supply them to your customers!

Filed under: Experiments and Methodology, Rants, Complaints and General Malaise, , , , , , , , , ,

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