California, Here I Come
When I got in today, I had a very nice email in my inbox. It was an invitation to attend the AAAI spring symposium on Computational Approaches to Analysing Weblogs. It’s being hosted by Stanford University. I am very excited about being able to attend such a presigious event.
If you have a look at the programme committee there are some very interesting people (from some very interesting places doing very interesting work) involved in the symposium. It really is a fantastic opportunity to meet people in the field, get myself and my work better known and learn even more about research in the area.
Blogging as Thought Process
I've been getting a few emails recently from people who have been reading my thesis, and have had questions about it. However, I got a very interesting email the other day that wasn't directly about my work. It was in fact about this very blog.
As you may (or may not) be aware, this isn't really a personal blog. It is about my work on blogs, I've reported how my PhD has been going, discussed associated thoughts. Essentially, the avid blog reader who emailed wondered how much, if at all, keeping this blog helped me prosper academically. I may, or may not have discussed this before, but it felt right to do it again.
The media reports on academics using blogs as places to put down their ideas, discuss their work, keep written notes. This I have pretty much done. And I think it has helped. I'm not the sort of person who generally gets round to writing down all the smart ideas I have. But with this blog, I have tried, on occasion, to do so. Having to write down a thought coherently is an excellent way of solidifying the idea within. Having to explain something to someone else is always the best way of making sure you understand it. You spend more time thinking and considering a point that may have normally been dismissed to the dark corners of your mind. Blogging is after all thinking with one's fingers.
Blogging can also foster discussion and communication. If a reader has a similar idea but, say, comes at it from a different view point, they can leave a comment to say as much. This may give the original author further ideas and lead to the progression of research. This is of course what conferences and symposia are all about, meeting like minded individuals and further your thinking. Blogs and on-line communities are a new way of doing this and participating can be of great benefit.
Saying that however, it must surely be apparent from the distinct lack of comments throughout the history of my blog, that there tends not to be much discussion around these parts. So, if I'm not getting the benefits of writing on-line and publishing my thoughts, why bother? Surely by just writing a private journal I could still excise my thoughts and exercise my mind? However, I have never been good at keeping a diary, and sometimes I'm not even that great with the blog. However, the fact that it IS on-line, and there ARE people reading it, is the motivation to continue. Because I know there are people reading, and I haven't posted for a little while, I know I must post, and
invariably I do.
So, in conclusion, to sum up, I think what I am trying to say is that blogging has been a good thing for me to do, and it is its own motivation. I think. Any thoughts...?
Here's Looking At You
Do you have a web counter? Do you check it regularly? Certainly in the early days of the internet, the page count was a form of vanity...your first web page...your first hit (was you)...your first ten hits (all you)...and so on. Well these days, web trackers can tell you so much more. Mine (formerly NedStat) can tell you where a reader came from, what browser they used, what they had for breakfast...
Statistics also tell you how readers found you - what link, if any, they followed to arrive at your site. I always look at this, not to necessarily see how many people are linking to me, but to see who they are, and what they say. This isn't vanity, more a case of my being interested in other people's interest in me.
Turns out...I've been caught red-handed.
Of course, I think this behaviour is essential to the community spirit of the blogosphere. Some of the work I referenced in my thesis (see Lilia Efimova) concerns the social network aspect of blogs, and I feel that is something very important in the academic use of blogs.
As the post that revealed by guilty secret says, there is interesting stuff you can learn. By reading what people are saying about my work, I can be involved in any discussion that arises. This then may give me ideas about my work or allow me to help other people with theirs. If people only ever read blogs, they would be useless as a form of communication...we would lose all the interactivity with which computers provide us.
I could write more about the nature of communication, and facilitation therein of blogging, but I'll save that for now. If this area interests you, why not post a comment and start a conversation.
We've Set the Date
So it's been a sparse patch I know. I've been taking it easy on the Blog research front for the last month or so. I've been concentrating on job work (you know, the kind that pays you) and trying to figure out how to get us to Australia (things are happening, I'll post more about that later).
It is now time however to look back at the thesis and start thinking blogs again. Why? Well we've set a date for my viva, my thesis defense. This is the bit where I sit down with my examiners and we discuss my work. At the end of what could be between 1 and several hours, they talk and make their recommendations. There are various levels these can take from minor corrections, 1 or 3 month's corrections, all the way up to full resubmission. Obviously we don't want to even consider that last one as a possibility...shudder.
I'm fairly confident that my thesis was good enough, though as I've looked back at it briefly, I have identified a few mistakes. And there is a small extension to the work I've done since that I would like to include. So the plan now is to carefully look over my thesis, make sure after my break that I know it inside and out. I want to identify any errors or areas of improvement that I can before I meet with the markers, so I can be prepared for anything they might want me to look at.
I think I'm very lucky in that my markers are both very well respected academics. My internal examiner is Keith Stenning, a leading cognitive scientist whose main interests lie in human reasoning and communication.
My external is Jean-Marc Dewaele of Birbeck College London, co-author of the F-measure paper I based some of my work on, who studies in the "interdisciplnary field of applied linguistics, second language acquisition and production, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, psychology and bilingualism."
I'm sure at the time I'll be nervous, but at the moment I'm certainly very much looking forward to it. The next date for your diaries...Friday the 9th of December, at 2pm.