The first half of my M.A. expierence was an “academic coming-of-age story”. Due to my background and hesitating attitude concerning the use of online media, I mostly took the role of a consumer and observer of academic knowledge sharing. However, this eventually guided me to a position where I feel comfortable with producing my Master thesis research. The three major themes that are reflected in this development are:
- First experiences with academic events and corresponding observations and realizations
- The extreme significance of an electrifying presentation style
- First active participations in academic knowledge sharing
My first blog entry “Scholarly Blogging: It’s Getting Real – Is it?” ended with the statement:
”And I have a feeling that in the end, there is one thing that I will have developed even more than my research skills – myself.”
A statement that has proved to be even more true than expected, when it concluded a reflection on my personal attitude towards scholarly blogging as well as my concerns about it and the decision to nevertheless give it a chance. Important for this decision was that I had long time ago realized that there
“was some evidence that I was not as open toward progress as I had always believed I would be. Would I have been one of those people that I found so stupid when they objected to the car as being inferior to carriages? I found this idea of myself rather shocking and I try to keep it in mind as a guiding tool since.”
Driven by this self-awareness I tried to fight a
“feeling is shared by a number of scholars, who are horrified by a development that is increasingly placing more emphasis on visibility via online networking.”
I tried to accept that
“it is an inevitable part of the academic world”.
However, I could not help having some doubts:
“One concern … is however, more than valid: The problem of attention that is taken away from a presenter’s input by participants who simultaneously following a conference and commenting on it online. On the other hand, is Scholarly blogging often considered as a tool to facilitate knowledge-sharing. I wonder, however, if the honourable objective of accessible knowledge might be contradicted by an uncontrollable flood of comments of varying quality.”
Six months a little bit more experience have not changed these concerns much. However, I also had to acknowledge the advantages of a successful academic online presence like the one of our lecturer Donna Alexander. Therefore, I was honestly determined to positively handle the challenge of blogging.
However, at the start of my second post “Feeling like a Postgraduate First Year Student – Still Trying to Gain Momentum” that progress was probably only internally visible:
“Another month is gone and my blog record does not reflect my stated intention to give the whole research blogging a real chance. However, the fact that nothing of consequence was put into writing, does not mean that I was not constantly thinking about potential blog entries. An event is experienced differently when every impulse is instantly reviewed in terms of its suitability as initial point for a blog entry. This enriched thinking process alone is a not easily made visible benefit of having a research blog.”
One reason for my difficulties was that
“I did a business degree in another country, I find myself in a position where I am treated like a postgraduate humanities student, but really feel like a first year one. Obviously, my intention was to broaden my horizon and I embrace the opportunities given, however, they also make me all too aware of my own limitations. Everything is new and unknown … My understanding of the academic world is still constantly being shaped.”
As another reason, I identified that I was
“not convinced (enough) that the world has waited for and needs to know what my thoughts are.”
As some fellow students shared this perception,
“I became to realize that is part of our agenda as postgraduate students to start to take ourselves more seriously. However, to fully internalize this belief is quite a challenge and requires a long process of small transformation. For me personally it started when a lecturer commented on approaching academic staff at the university: “I know that undergraduate students feel sometime awkward about contacting stuff, but I really hope you start to see us as peers really.” I think few of us have, but it is flattering that we should.”
To make a start,
“I threw myself into a lot of new academic experiences. They varied significantly with respect to format as well as content. Eventually, it was this variety that was more valuable than any of these particular events.“
To give some examples: A master class on sociology made me realize
“how important it is to engage with questions concerning the direction of an overall area rather than one own’s field of study only.”
Moreover, I took away
“the idea that experts are nowadays only interesting for the public domain if they can generalize and transfer their knowledge to other topics.”
I also experienced directly how
“research ideas are shared and how they might extend to become new projects”,
when upon hearing about a UK commemoration effort that intends
“to rebuild (the often distressing) physical circumstances in which women participated in or witnessed politics, … Irish scholars started to wonder in how far similar information are available about the women’s physical positions at the Leinster house.”
Furthermore, I made the critical observation that
“research areas are all too often occupied by academics who were driven to it by some sort of personal connection. While this is very understandable and even brings about some advantages, I sometimes feel that many fields would benefit from a more diversified background of its researchers.”
A perceived lack of balance and diversification was also one of my observations expressed in the next post: “When America Sneezes, the World Gets a Cold”. At
“UCC’s ‘America in the Era of Trump” symposium‘ that took place in the week of [Donald] Trump’s inauguration”,
it found that it
“obvious that opinions of the speakers were not very various. Maybe it is too much to ask for diverse opinions given this particular topic, but I still feel that it would have enriched the event.”
Nevertheless, the event
“gave an excellent opportunity to experience opinions in Ireland beyond a level of interaction with people and media coverage”
“appreciated the opportunity to experience a worldwide event in a third country.”
Despite interesting insides, it was not the content of seminar that had influence on my academic identity. Instead it was another step on my pursuit to understand the academic world. I singled this event out, as it marked
“the first time that I could sense some personal progress as it indeed felt familiar. After I had attended quite a few of academic events and encountered different formats, I recognized that apparently one particular structure was favoured. It almost seemed like there was an unspoken agreement that this was the most reasonable structure and that one should try to follow it; at least in humanities in Ireland. The (rather few) events I had attended in Germany had been structured differently, however, I do not think that I can judge this comprehensively. The format I am talking about is a series of short presentations by four speakers, followed by a moderated Q&A session and the symposium followed this approach exactly.”
Furthermore, I noted in my mind that in case I ever moderate a panel of experts, I should remember to follow the moderator’s excellent example and
“request at the beginning of the Q&A part to limit the own contribution – if one could not do without it – to one sentence and to just ask a question. Such a reminder should be mandatory whenever an event is handed over to the audience, since the urge to demonstrate one owns knowledge seems to be even more common than the format of four moderated speakers, as even I have become aware of by now.”
Concerning the integration of online platform into academic conduct, I
“noticed that tweeting was particularly addressed at the beginning of the event, however not in a very devoted way. It was merely acknowledged that it is becoming increasingly popular to tweet about events and that whoever felt inclined to do so should just use one of general Trump-hashtags. Altogether, Twitter had been referred to at approximately one third of the research seminars I went to this year. I think it is nice to see that what we learn is actually relevant, but it is also good to know that some can do (yet) without it.”
You have earned a break! This proves: Germans do have humour! Wait for the end! “Fun Fact: American presidents age three times faster during their terms.”
As described above, the Trump symposium was special to me, because I perceived it as a track record of personal development. However, it really was an event that I attend a few days later, that left a much deeper impression. Indeed, I am still quite flashed by the experience. Once again – and more than ever – it was not the content of the research seminar that I found most inspiring, but its delivery. My memory of the event is still that surreal that I can only do it justice by quoting my post “Being in Love with a Research Seminar” almost in full. I had literally heard about the event
“only 10 minutes before it started. Coming from a very enjoyable first class of my Irish-German relations course, I decided that it could not hurt to attend the event about German author Bertolt Brecht, whose name was familiar to me while many background details were not. However, instead of diving directly into the topic, presenter Manfred Schewe (Professor of Drama & Theatre at UCC) made the bold statement that we all had must have come with some expectations and he asks us to reflect on these expectations. The first thought this provoked in me was a somewhat dismissive “Not true for me.” I had honestly believed not to expect anything from it. However, this direct request to reflect on the expectations made me realize that even though mine were not specific, I nevertheless had some: at the very least to kill some time and as best-case-scenario to take away something interesting from it. I had just reached this conclusion and found it quite brilliant that Prof. Schewe had evoked this in me, when he ended the reflective pause with the announcement that the believed our expectation was that he would sing. He then started out of the blue to perform Brecht’s “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” (Mack the Knife). I cannot speak for the rest of the audience, but this was in the least what I had expected at all. The performance (which was close to the one in the upper YouTube video, though various other interpretations exist) seemed quite bizarre, however it resourcefully set the tone of highly intellectual madness. What followed next was again a rather unusual creative approach, where Prof. Schewe assigned an adjective to each letter of B-R-E-C-H-T to introduce different aspects and to contrast certain opposites. Just like its well-conceived start, the whole presentation continued to be a perfectly balanced mix with regard to content as well as means of presentation. An extraction of Brecht’s childhood memories was read from a book, but then a Power-Point-embedded video was used to show a witty Brecht who in his late forties is interrogated by Americans about his potential connection to communism. Power-Point was also used to support some more presented facts including a table with Brecht’s most prominent works.
Performance Style similar to Manfred Schewe in the Seminar (singing starts at 0:28)
Frank Sinatra sings English version “Mack The Knife” in different style.
However, in between this a flavour of some of Brecht’s works was given every here and then. Again, I was impressed by the way this was done. Prof. Schewe had brought someone to assist him there. He would read a German passage, followed by the English translation read by the assistant. Longer texts were broken down, so that the translation could be closely linked to the German original. This was an excellent way to accommodate an audience of different language abilities. The presentation was given in English so this language could be clearly expected to be understood. However, I recognized at least some native German speakers as well as Irish people with a good command of German. It would have been a pity to deprive those of the German originals as translations do not always do justice to literary material. On the other hand, not everyone’s German might have been sufficient to follow the German text only, so that this material would have been lost on them. Finally, if one was able to understand both versions, this resulted in the opportunity to compare original and translation. In my opinion the involvement of a second person added enormous value to this approach. A change of voice clearly signalled the change from original to translation. Of course, it is easy to consciously recognize such a change anyway, but with a change of speaker one unconsciously knows it even before really knowing it. Perhaps it was particularly beneficial that the assistant was female which increased the contrast of voices. When a long presentation is given by one single speaker, there is always the danger of an audience’s accidental digression. Even more so, when he repeats the same content in a different language. A second speaker is a good remedy to prevent this from happening. Furthermore, I think it demonstrates a high esteem for the audience to make the effort of engaging an assistant speaker. This high appreciation could be felt throughout the whole event. It made me once more realize how important an elaborated presentation is, which unfortunately seems often to be undervalued in the academic world. This research seminar was entertaining while maintaining a very sophisticated intellectual level and it stimulated the brain strongly and lasting. I surely took some interesting ideas away from it. However, as indicated before it was the way the content was delivered that impacted me most. I might well try to incorporate one thing or another into one of my future presentations (e. g. the use of adjectives whose capital letters form the title). And I will most certainly attend any future research seminar of Prof. Schewe independent of my interest into the particular topic, as I can trust that we will present it in an audience-friendly way that allows participants to take something valuable away from it.”
As explained, this event is responsible for my strong believe that a high-quality presentation style matters more than it is acknowledged for in the academic world. It will also have influence my future presentations. The same effect had our final course work, a “Mini-Conference” where we presented our proposals for our research projects. We had to follow a specific technique, where 20 slides are presented in 20*20 seconds; called Pecha Kucha. In “Textualities Conference 2017 – Or: The Most Rehearsed 6:40 Minutes of My Live“ I concluded:
“Pecha Kucha is a very effective mean to restrict the presenters’ time and thus to keep an event’s timetable. It forces the speakers to be precise and prevents them from relying too much on their slides.”
This is because
“Key to this presentation style is to have little to no words on the slide but a picture that gives away “the top of the iceberg” while the spoken text explains deeper context. Having been forced to rely entirely on the power of pictures, has changed my approach to presentations: I had been conscious to make slides lean and readable before, but this time it was taken to an extreme – and it worked. Where I usually believed that it might be helpful for the audience to have key ideas in writing, I now trust to place more emphasis on what I say.”
Probably even more important this event was an academic activity that I did not only attend, but of that I was an active part. It
“was a valuable test run and the atmosphere was surely different from a normal in-class-presentation: Everyone was clearly taking the event serious and I almost for the first time felt a responsibility to be well prepared for the audience’s sake and not only for my own one. Moreover, it was impressive to witness the question and discussion section after every panel of four presenters. The responses and input of the audience seemed to be very thought-provoking and a great help for some students. Unfortunately, my research interest on German business founders in Ireland seemed to be a little bit out of direction. I was looking into interested, but bewildered faces and the input with regards to content was limited. … [Still,] I got the feeling of participating in a conference”.
Another active contribution to academic knowledge sharing is described in the entry “’Wikipedia Editathon’ – An Assignment with Lasting Impact”. In addition to reflections on content selection, technical aspects and insights about the nature of Wikipedia, it was the perception of doing something that is actually meaningful that made this experience special:
“Once I had found out that there was no ‘Irish Journal‘ Wikipedia page out there, I started to feel a purpose of the task beyond completing just another assignment. When I was preparing the page content I was delighted by the idea that my efforts would not just end up in a forgotten computer file like student assignments usually do. With any luck, there will at some time someone be as grateful for the provided information as I always am. Therefore, I believe that more lectures should and hopefully will “force” their students to contribute to Wikipedia as part of their course work. However, I also hope that those students will not exaggerate it and will not make pages more academic and voluminous than necessary.”
THE FINAL CHAPTER
In the end, it is fair to say that I was forced on a journey from which I eventually benefited a lot. A constant reflection on 6 months of academic encounter certainly deepened this experience. I still do not feel an urge to “put myself online”, but I have opened up to it and acquired helpful skills to do so. Moreover, I have become more clear about my presentation style ideals. Finally, I have arrived in the academic world. The first image I used in my blog reflected a lot of caution, while the last one shows me presenting my research intentions.
“Being in Love with a Research Seminar….” Quest for an Acadamic Identity, https://aonbheannach.wordpress.com/2017/02/24/being-in-love-with-a-research-seminar/. 30 March 2017.
“Feeling like a Postgraduate First Year Student – Still Trying to Gain Momentum.” Quest for an Acadamic Identity, https://aonbheannach.wordpress.com/2016/11/30/feeling-like-postgraduate-first-year-student-still-trying-to-gain-momentum/. 30 March 2017.
“Scholarly Blogging: It’s Getting Real – Is it?.” Quest for an Acadamic Identity, https://aonbheannach.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/first-blog-post/. 30 March 2017.
“Textualities Conference 2017 – Or: The Most Rehearsed 6:40 Minutes of My Life.” Quest for an Acadamic Identity, https://aonbheannach.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/textualities-conference-2017-or-the-most-rehearsed-640-minutes-of-my-life/. 30 March 2017.
“’Wikipedia Editathon’ – An Assignment with Lasting Impact February.” Quest for an Acadamic Identity, https://aonbheannach.wordpress.com/2017/02/28/wikipedia-ediathon-an-assignment-with-lasting-impact/. 30 March 2017.
“When America Sneezes, the World Gets a Cold.” Quest for an Acadamic Identity, https://aonbheannach.wordpress.com/2017/01/20/when-america-sneezes-the-world-gets-a-cold/. 30 March 2017.