Every six months the staff and research students from the Social Informatics group at Edinburgh Napier University gather for an ‘All centre’ celebration of their recent achievements. The December 2019 gathering took place on Wednesday 18th December, with 19 participants. The format of the meeting allowed for a maximum 5 minute update from each person.
Normally our Professor Emerita Elisabeth Davenport chairs the talks, but on this occasion she was not available, so our part-time PhD student (and Director of Library Services at Goldsmiths, University of London) Leo Appleton kindly agreed to look after the running order and keep us all to time. I was also assigned a couple of duties: to turn over our enormous 5 minute egg timer at the start of each talk, and to distribute Secret Santa presents at the end of the formal proceedings. The report below summarises some of the highlights from the news reports delivered at the meeting.
It’s been a very successful six months for our research students: Leo Appleton and Lyndsey Middleton both passed their viva voce exams (with minor corrections) this month; Frances Ryan graduated with her PhD at the July 2019 graduation ceremony, then was closely followed across the stage by Alicja Pawluczuk in October; Lynn Killick submitted her MRes dissertation for examination in October; and Iris Buunk will be submitting her thesis in the next couple of weeks.
The recently completed work of Leo and Lyndsey has attracted external interest: Leo accepted an invitation to deliver keynote speech at a seminar on the societal value of public libraries at the University of Southern Denmark, Kolding in October; and Lyndsey is currently writing a briefing paper for Skills Development Scotland (SDS) while preparing a keynote presentation for the SDS PhD student networking event on 13th March 2020.
In the wake of the research students who have reached the end of their studies (or are almost there), we have three colleagues – all of whom are academics – working towards their PhD qualification part-time. The first is Najla Alamri. Najla is based in the Faculty of Computing and Information Technology at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia so could not be with us on 18th December. However, her Director of Studies Associate Professor Laura Muir was able to report that Najla is now about half way through her study of interactive education for female students in Saudi Higher Education, and has made a start on data analysis. Closer to home, Pritam Chita, who is a Lecturer in the School of Computing (SoC) here at Napier, is also busy coding up interview data for his doctoral study on agile project management in the NHS, and hopes to submit his thesis in 2020. Meanwhile Peter Cruickshank (also a Lecturer in SoC) will be also submitting next year for the award of PhD on the basis of an extended reflective commentary on his published work on eparticipation that has been disseminated over the past decade.
Our newest full-time on-campus research students are Rachel Salzano and Katherine Stephen. They joined us just a couple of months ago in October 2019. Given the short time that Rachel and Katherine have been with us, they had much to report at the All centre meeting. While conducting literature searches, writing literature reviews, preparing for their first review meetings in the new year, and taking part in training events, they have also both been working with Frances on the iDocQ 2020 organising committee for the event that takes place on Thursday 14th May 2020, helping with the delivery of the Research Impact and Value in Library and Information Science (RIVAL) project, and have started work on submissions for ISIC2020. In addition, Rachel reported her first conference acceptance at last Wednesday’s meeting. This is for a lightening talk at the iConference in Borås, Sweden in March 2020. Katherine was also able to tell us about some of the activities that have resulted from the work that she completed for +1 Masters degree at the University of Edinburgh last academic year. For example, on the date of our last All centre meeting in June 2019 Katherine presented a poster at a conference hosted at the University of Cambridge (based on work that she completed for her well-received Masters dissertation). Katherine is the University’s student rep for the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science, and as an SDS sponsored PhD student she will be delivering a 3-minute thesis presentation at the SDS PhD networking event on 13th March 2020. In addition, Katherine is exploring some public engagement ideas with a colleague from Teesside University whose academic work focuses on dance.
We also welcomed to our meeting John Marshall and Marina Milosheva. They are both currently following the same path to PhD as Katherine, and will be transferring to Napier when they have completed their +1 Masters degrees. They told us a little about their first semester of study at the University of Edinburgh, with John highlighting the modules that he has taken so far, and Marina making reference to the events and meetings organised by SDS that they have both attended. Marina also took the opportunity to tell us about the findings of some of the work that she has been completing for her Masters degree. Through this she has discovered, for example: the main reason that PhD students elect to pursue academic careers is for freedom, but they lack career support and would benefit from mentoring; and under-employment is more scarring to individuals than unemployment.
Recent applications to the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science (SGSSS) to add to the cohort of ESRC-funded PhD students in our group were also discussed at the meeting. Currently we have one pending. This is for a project entitled ‘Natural language interfaces to support career decision-making’. I submitted this application for an SDS collaborative award with Dimitra Gkatzia of the Nature-Inspired Intelligent Systems research group within SoC, and Pete Robertson of the School of Applied Sciences.
The staff contributions to the meeting were mainly on topics beginning with the letter P: projects, public engagement, publications, presentations, and PhD examining.
Several of us have been working on externally funded projects in the past six months.
- Researcher Bruce Ryan reported on his work for the Scottish Funding Council to develop a web map of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) projects related to the sustainable development goals that the SFC supports. There is a draft version of this work available online on Bruce’s web site.
- Researcher Frances updated us on the Carnegie Trust-funded ‘Social media by proxy’ project. She has been working on this project for the past few months with Lecturer Gemma Webster. The empirical work is now complete and Gemma and Frances are busy writing it up for the project report, and for publication.
- Lecturer Wegene Demeke spoke about his two seed-funded GCRF projects in (1) Brazil (with Bruce) on participatory budgeting, and (2) Ethiopia on e-health. The data for both these projects have been collected and are ready for analysis. Wegene also told us about a grant on digital health that he submitted to the EPRSC for consideration in November, and thanked Associate Professor Colin Smith for his help with the application.
- Bruce and I gave updates on the RIVAL project. We are now half way through the delivery of four events of this Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) research network grant. The first two events fell in the past six months on July 11th and November 7th 2019, and there are two more planned in 2020 on 19th March and 9th July.
Social Informatics research group staff have recently enjoyed success in internal competitions for research funding. Bruce reported at the All centre meeting that the ‘Information avoidance and diabetes’ project has just begun. Gemma is leading this work, with Bruce as researcher. ‘Digitial identity security information practices of citizens’ (DISIPRAC), which is led by Peter with Frances as researcher, is funded by the same scheme, and is at a similar stage of development. A workshop for DISIPRAC is planned for 27th February 2020. (For more information about DISIPRAC, please see the post on Frances’ blog.) The third success in internal funding competitions in the past six months was reported at the All centre meeting by Senior Research Fellow Ella Taylor-Smith, who has been awarded funding to pilot a mentoring scheme.
Two public engagement initiatives proposed by members of the Social Informatics group have attracted internal funding in the past couple of months. Lecturer David Brazier told us at the meeting about some information literacy workshops that he will be hosting with the help of others (including Rachel), and Peter and Frances are planning public engagement activities around the notion of a digital information practice ‘confessional’. Laura told us about her experience of Soapbox Science in the summer, which sounded both terrifying and enjoyable. See Laura in action in the Napier News item on her performance.
In terms of publications, several successes were reported at the meeting. The following journal articles have all been published by members of the Social Informatics research group in the past six months:
- Hall, H., Cruickshank, P. & Ryan, B. (2019). Closing the researcher-practitioner gap: an exploration of the impact of an AHRC networking grant. Journal of Documentation 75(5), 1056-108. [Full text available from publisher with subscription access; full text available from the Edinburgh Napier repository.]
- Middleton, L., Hall, H., & Raeside, R. (2019). Applications and applicability of Social Cognitive Theory in Information Science research. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science 51(4), 927-937. [Full text available from the publisher with subscription access; full text available from the Edinburgh Napier repository.]
- Ryan, F., Hall, H., Cruickshank, P. & Lawson, A. (2019). Build, manage and evaluate: information practices and personal reputations on social media platforms. Information Research 24(4). [Full text available from journal web site; full text available from the Edinburgh Napier repository.]
A paper that I submitted in the summer to the Journal of Documentation with PhD graduate John Mowbray (now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Glasgow) is currently in press:
- Mowbray, J. & Hall, H. (In press). Networking as an information behaviour during job search: a study of active job seekers in the Scottish youth labour market. Journal of Documentation. [Full text available from the Edinburgh Napier repository.]
John and I have a second paper under review with the Journal of Information Science. Peter and I also have a paper under review, in this case with Information Research.
As well as writing up our research, we have been presenting it at various fora over the past six months. For example, I presented about the RIVAL project at the RSE awards reception in September, and then at the second RIVAL event in November (on the CILIP/ARA Workforce Mapping Project and its impact). Our newest colleague Lecturer-to-be David Haynes (so new to the group that he was officially a guest at the All centre meeting) delivered an internal research seminar on his work on online privacy risks to the group on 30th August.
A further topic that came up in reports relayed at the All centre meeting was PhD examining. For example, Leo was keen to acknowledge the effort that David Haynes put into reading his PhD thesis and hosting a mock PhD viva for him; Laura spoke about serving as internal examiner for Frances, Alicja and Leo; and Colin and I mentioned forthcoming external examination commitments far away (Colin for the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand) and close to home (myself for the University of Edinburgh).
Over the course of the meeting in 18th December 2019 frequent mention was also made of work in progress on several journal articles, conference papers, and grant proposal submissions. Here’s hoping that this work will be complete with good news to report by the time of our next All centre meeting at the end of June 2020. We should also hear then about contributions to the conferences and public engagement events mentioned above, and will be looking forward to seeing more of our PhD students cross the stage at the summer 2020 graduation ceremony.