Thing 23

It has been a surprisingly short 12 weeks to get us from the beginning to the end of these 23 Things, but here we are at the last one. It’s time to reflect on the programme and how I feel it’s helped and benefited me, and how I’ll now take it further.

I think the programme has been really useful in getting me to consider alternative software, technology and methods that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Some of them I’ve adopted, such as this blog, Twitter, ResearchGate and Doodle. Others of them I’ve left aside for now, vlogs and Prezi for example. Regardless of my uptake it has been really good at suggesting these techniques and getting me to interrogate them and justify my reasons for using them (or not).

The act of writing these posts has also helped introduce me to a new style of writing – not entirely casual, but also away from the more formal report writing style that is the bread-and-butter of my work.

Moving on from the end of the programme I definitely plan on keeping this blog and hopefully turning out a new post at least fortnightly (watch out for the much-promised one on  MS Project!!). I’ve really enjoyed writing these posts and interacting with the other students and staff taking this course and I hope some of that continues beyond the end of the programme.


Things 21 & 22

Things 21 & 22 look at *Research and consider our own personal websites, with an eye to our futures and career development.

After setting up an account through the University and having a look at *Research, I can see that it would be an especially useful tool for academics to try and find new funding opportunities, and in some respects I wish I had known of its existence when trying to find a doctoral programme as supplementary to findaphd. Within what I am doing currently, I do not see that it is immediately useful as I am fully funded both from public and private resources, whilst a quick search in the opportunities section of the website reveals few (more precisely, one) job opportunity in my field – another doctoral programme!!

With my aim to go into industry once I complete my doctorate I also do not see that *Research will be immediately useful there, though I can imagine as I start to progress through my career, knowing what research opportunities are open and who is working on what will be incredibly useful for building research links between industry and the universities.

What is of more immediate interest to myself is the consideration of my own personal website. I currently make use of LinkedIn to cultivate my personal brand within my professional sphere – it contains links to this blog and my twitter account, a far more detailed version of my CV and when I start to publish I also plan on uploading copies of the articles (once open access has been sorted!!). I’ll also be sharing blog posts from this blog that I think my connections will be particularly interested in reading (for example, my experiences of MS Project to help ease some of their pain when they start to use it!).

LinkedIn has its limitations, allowing only a limited amount of information. One example of this is that there is a tight character limit on sections where I wish to talk about the societies I’ve been on the committees of during my postgraduate study and how they’ve given me skills that will be very applicable to my future career. However, as a student I’m not sure that I’m entitled to a profile on the University website, and with pursuing a career in industry, which definitely encompasses some forms of confidentiality, I’m not sure a public profile website will benefit me much more than my LinkedIn profile.


Things 18, 19 & 20

There is an increasing permeation of technology into our daily lives, easily seen by the growth in “wearables”. With watches now able to tell people when they’ve got new messages and emails, if they’ve not carried out enough activity in the day and unobtrusive reminders that the meeting has overrun and they’re meant to be in another one which was due to start fifteen minutes ago, it could be considered strange that some tasks that could easily be done using technology are still done in person.

One example of this is meetings; often meetings involve some parties having to travel considerable distances consuming time that could be spent more productively. In place of a traditional, face-to-face meeting, webinars and Google Hangouts can provide the ability to have discussions without having to travel considerable distance. The technology has advanced from the early days of conference calling, to enable screen sharing so that everyone is looking at the same information and can even be used to carry out training on how to use software. I’ve personally experienced a seminar delivered over a phone line for the audio with a screen share set-up to enable a world expert in composite failure to lecture a room of composite materials design engineers on the other side of the world.

Another major challenge is setting up meetings, particularly an emailed suggested date can then lead to a long chain of “reply-alls” trying to move the date and time around to suit everyone. One technique I have found useful is at the end of a meeting arranging a time and date for the next meeting – with the ubiquity of smart phones with calendar apps linked to Outlook calendars, in theory this is easy. However, it requires remembering to bring the topic up, having time and the participants having their calendars up to date. Similarly, checking shared calendars in Outlook will only tell you the times where the participants have not put anything in Outlook, rather than when they are actually free!! A route around this, which many of my colleagues have started to use, and which I will be adopting the next time it falls to me to arrange a meeting, is Doodle. This enables multiple dates and times of a meeting to be suggested and the participants mark which ones they are able to attend. The organiser can then confirm the final date as that which all (or most) participants are able to attend.

We’ve had meetings in person or carried out online, and we’ve used Doodle to help schedule them, but now it comes to spreading the necessary documents to the attendees, be this reports they need to review, an agenda, the slides et cetera. Paper copies are big and bulky and not great for the environment, and if you aren’t seeing the attendees before the event, how will you get a paper copy to them? Snail mail? The next alternative is to email it to them, but email accounts often have restrictive limits on the size of attachments so how do we get that 30 page report (full of pictures), a slide show and an agenda to everyone? We could send it in multiple emails but everyone is already getting so many of those it is easy for them to get buried and make it harder to find the documents. Emailing also has the problem of distributing one issue, with any revisions needing redistributing (a problem that paper copies also have). The use of cloud-based software solves this issue, enabling the most up-to-date revisions to be accessible by the relevant people (with permissions granted) and no limit on how much can be distributed. For the purposes of this Thing we are meant to be discussing Google Drive and Dropbox (and, for the sake of balance, MS OneDrive) but I have issues with using these for my work – depending on where the servers are based it brings in confusion as to where the data is  – if  I save work documents onto a Google Drive folder and that gets stored outside the EU then did I need an export license for that? And what laws govern the protection of that information? And who owns that information? What if it is commercially sensitive? These might not be issues or are questions that are easily resolvable, but for my sponsor that doubt is too much. In place of these, we use a different third party cloud software, which enables all of my data and files to be backed up and I can then access them either through the desktop on my work laptop, or through a website if I’m working on my uni desktop or my personal laptop. It’s also great as, due to security issues, my company does not issue laptops with functioning USB sockets. As such, if I’m in the lab I can’t transfer data to my laptop by USB, but if I have an internet connection I can quickly sign in and upload all the data and images, which is then accessible at any of the above computers!

I really think embracing some more of this technology could really help peoples’ work lives get simpler!

Things 14, 15, 16 & 17

These four Things consider Open Access to research, measuring the impact of that research through bibliometrics and altmetrics, and Creative Commons and copyright.

Open Access and Surrey Research Insight is something that got discussed at great length at the beginning of my research degree, as a fair portion of our funding comes from the EPSRC, a government research council. As such, we are bound by the regulations where all publicly funded research has to be published in an Open Access form. As such, I’m personally going to look for the Surrey Research Insight team to get any publications I submit to be published to the Gold standard of Open Access, such that they are widely available and also allowing me to link to them on my professional media, such as LinkedIn, with colleagues and potential employers able to access them even without subscriptions.

This leads in to a discussion of the use of bibliometrics and altmetrics to measure the impact of an article once it has been published. The way of measuring impact through bibliometrics is the citation count. This is also what is used to measure the impact of a journal, with the impact being the average citation count per article over a two-year period. The citation count is easy to find, using such tools as Web of Science, Scopus and Google Scholar. Looking at an example of a paper I’ve read many, many times for my own work (“Characterization of Prepreg-Based Discontinuous Carbon Fiber/Epoxy Systems” by Paolo Feraboli et al., 2009), we can see how the citation count varies between these tools:

  • Web of Science: 8 citations
  • Scopus: 23 citations
  • Google Scholar: 35 citations

The variation in the citation count comes from how the various databases collect their entries, with Google picking up the most and resulting in the highest number of citations.

With Open Access, articles can be shared with interested parties who do not have subscriptions to journals. As such, altmetrics allow the measurement of impact through alternative means other than citations. For example, ResearchGate allows the authors to see the number of times a paper has been read online or downloaded. Publishing articles on LinkedIn allows you to see the number of times it has been read, liked and shared, thus seeing a wider impact.


Things 12 & 13

out-to-lunch-sign-out_to_lunchApologies for the long absence. It has been a hectic few weeks at work with writing several reports, fresh literature searching on some new topic areas and pulling my hair out as I grapple with learning MS Project (the joys of which I will bring to you in a post coming soon).

With all of that done, I find myself with just enough time to catch up on 23 Things before a training session on hazardous chemical handling, sending a dozen relatively important emails and finding two different very knowledgeable technicians to ask their advice about some practical work I’m looking to carry out in the next week or two. Anyway, time to get down to business with Things 12 & 13.

Things 12 & 13 are about making and sharing multimedia online as a method of communicating my research to a wider audience. As with some of the other Things, I run into certain problems with sharing my research due to the industrial partnership that is a part of the EngD. This is mainly due to the confidentiality clause in my contract, which is understandable in such a competitive industry.

Whilst that confidentiality prevents me sharing in-depth information about my research, results and direct applications, I can easily see the use of video & audio recording to create a series covering the fundamentals of composite materials and the mechanics of the material that is a particular focus of my research. These would then be shared on this blog and possibly a nascent YouTube channel.

Screencasts don’t immediately appear to be so useful as my time spent on a computer is either using MS Project, Word to write reports, searching for literature or crunching data in Excel; none of which would make for particularly thrilling viewing. I am however currently searching for some software that is involved in process modelling of my material, and if this avenue is successful I could see the use of a screencast to maybe demonstrate this, particularly internally within my sponsor company as a tutorial on how to use it/why it would have application to the business.

Moving on from screencasts, videos and podcasts; presentations are one of the main methods for communicating my research. I use presentations internally (within the University and my sponsor company) as a presentation followed or accompanied by a discussion is often a far more useful and rapid way of distributing information and receiving useful feedback than reports, although reports have their place, often following on from these presentations. Additionally to internal presentations, public lectures and academic conferences make use of presentations to distribute research and I’ll be participating in both of these before long.

To produce my presentations I always use MS PowerPoint, but for this Thing we have been asked to consider Prezi. The first time I ever saw a Prezi presentation it was incredibly slick and suitably impressive, however as Prezi has been catching on and gaining more and more popularity I find the pan in-pan out and rotation getting more and more gimmicky, similarly to excessive animations in a PowerPoint presentation. Further to this, in my field we generally want to tell a story in a linear manner when presenting, making it clear how everything follows on. PowerPoint is ideal for this. I think there are two other issues with Prezi – it can be problematic for members of the audience who have developmental disorders such as autism, ADHD and dyspraxia as it can be hard to follow, distracting from the content and provide a degree of sensory overload. The second issue is that when operating within the corporate sphere, both within the University and my sponsor company, for example, there are set templates and guidelines for presentations, which are built around MS PowerPoint. These must be used as part of the company’s branding and so make the switch to an alternative presentation software difficult to the point of impossibility.

I think I’ve made it clear that I’m unlikely to use Prezi, but keep an eye out for some videos in the future on the basics of composite materials!

How Not to Plagiarise: My thoughts on reference management software


From the point of secondary school onwards it is drummed into students’ heads that they are not allowed to copy and paste: that their work must be put into their own words. As students get older and move through the education system they are introduced to quoting and eventually proper citing and referencing. Everyone at a university has, at some point, suffered the pain of filling out references and citations by hand, trawling through the text to make sure they haven’t left out a citation and then studiously checking the reference list, trying to ensure that nothing will put them foul of the dreaded Turnitin. Accompanying this are the decisions over referencing style: Harvard or Vancouver? What to bold and what to italicise in the reference list? What if I can’t find the DOI? Now what if I told you all of this pain could have been avoided by using a reference management software which deals with all of these problems for you?

My first trial of a reference management software was RefWorks. This is a website which, when you’ve created an account allows you to export citation information about the paper you’re reading directly from the journal website or database you’re using, all by clicking a dropdown menu and telling it to export to RefWorks. This allows you to build up your library of relevant literature (complete with links to the full articles), which you can sort by any number of ways and if the bibliographic information is wrong, you can edit it to correct it. Not only this, but if you install the correct plug-in it will manage your citations in Word as you write your essay/paper/report/article/thesis, construct your reference list and change all of them to the referencing style you choose to use (making changes quick and easy to implement). Needless to say, I thought I had found the Holy Grail when I first discovered RefWorks. But for all of the usefulness I had my problems with RefWorks – it was somewhat clunky and I didn’t find it terribly intuitive and I never quite cracked how to use the Word plug-in (a University PC and a sponsor company laptop, neither with administrator privileges didn’t really help me with getting it set up).

It was about the time that I was suffering through these issues and going back to filling my references out by hand (still using RefWorks as my personal library, however), that my partner mentioned something called Zotero to me. Zotero was apparently this wonderful software, which would not only collate your bibliographic information but you could store the electronic copies of these documents as well. And it would even extract the bibliographic information FROM the documents. I must admit, I was rather stubborn and didn’t really pay too much information. I grumbled something along the lines of “I’m already using RefWorks” and we didn’t revisit that conversation until several months later.

It is a requirement of my programme that I must publish at least once in a peer reviewed journal before I am allowed to submit my thesis, so despite only being in Year 2 of a 4 year programme, my supervisory team and I are already considering writing a paper. We’ve worked out the practical work which I need to do to go in it, we’ve even eyed up which journal we want to publish in, so like any eager postgrad student, looking to get published I toddled off and looked up the guidance for writers. In the references section it suggested using the reference management software Mendeley. Being completely honest, they weren’t suggesting it because they necessarily thought it was the best software for the job, but because Mendeley is owned by Elsevier – the same company who publishes the journal whose guidance I was reading, but I went away and looked it up anyway. And it looked really good. It was easy to use, would sync across different computers (and phones and tablets) which is really convenient given that I have two work computers, occasionally work on my home computer and use my phone and tablet to keep up with reading when travelling. It would not only collate your bibliographic information but you could store the electronic copies of these documents as well. And it would even extract the bibliographic information FROM the documents. If that sounds familiar, it is. I just copied those sentences from the section on Zotero. When I was waxing lyrically about Mendeley, my partner turned to me and said “Yes, I told you this type of thing existed months ago.” She was not impressed with me.

I’m finding Mendeley incredibly useful. It syncs all the documents on my different devices so no matter which computer I’m using I just have to open Mendeley and all of the literature is there to read. The Word plug-in is very simple to use. There’s a browser plug-in which makes capturing the bibliographic information quick and easy and it will even try and download a pdf of the paper at the same time, if it can. If not, it is easy to quickly download the paper and just drag the pdf into the programme. It also allows annotation and note taking on the papers within the programme (which then syncs up with all your devices). There’s also the ability to upload your own papers, which, I believe, is part of a plan to create a professional network using Mendeley in much a similar way to ResearchGate.

It might surprise you that the point of this article isn’t to go and use Mendeley and I am NOT being paid by Elsevier. The point is to play around and work out what reference management software is best for you. Spend a bit of time now and it’ll save you a lot of time in the future. And hopefully help you avoid plagiarism. Have fun writing.


Things 7 and 8: Professional Accounts


This week’s Things were looking at professional accounts; namely LinkedIn, ResearchGate and as a way of connecting with other researchers and professionals in our fields, potential collaborators, job hunting and publicising/tracking the usage of our research and papers.

linkedinAs I’ve made reference to several times over the past few weeks, I already have a LinkedIn profile. I started using LinkedIn very early in my career as a second year undergraduate student. This gave me time to get used to the website and make lots of mistakes with it before the time came for me to start job hunting and having possible employers looking at it. As time progressed I have built more onto my profile and I now use it as a useful, more full form of my CV containing more information (CVs being tailored to the individual application). It is also, I have found, an incredibly useful way of building my professional network, linking with old and current colleagues along with those I have met professionally with whom it is a present or future benefit to maintain contact with.


I had come across ResearchGate during my literature research for both my MSc and during this EngD but had never engaged with the website, but for this Thing I created an account so that I could better explore the website. Once I had created my account and followed some of the faculty in my department who I interact with frequently and share research interests, I then went hunting for some of the names from the papers I have found most useful with my current project. Within fifteen minutes of starting the sign up process I had already found three more papers that contributed to my research area via these profiles. ResearchGate seems far more useful than just aiding me in my literature search, however. I am currently looking to start writing my first paper for publication and the tools of ResearchGate, allowing papers to be uploaded and shared, whilst tracking not just the numbers of citations but also the number of views and downloads of a paper, seem to be immensely useful.

Due to the limited amount of time available to manage all these professional accounts (now having this Blog, alongside Twitter, LinkedIn and ResearchGate) I chose not to register with at this time, as ResearchGate seems to provide services that align more with my immediate priorities, though this may change once I have been published.

Given the link between my research and industry and my career goals being more industrially focussed, I do not see Facebook as a suitable tool for pursuing my professional profile, instead using that for personal connections. I think LinkedIn is incredibly useful for building a professional network, although often the articles found on LinkedIn lack technical content. My LinkedIn account I then feel is complemented by my ResearchGate account, which is driven by the sharing of technical content – namely published papers, conferences and the ability to ask questions of a technical community.


Thing 6: Images Online

The final task of this weeks Things was to explore online image sharing websites such as Flickr, Pinterest and Instagram. I’ve chosen not to set up accounts with any of these (although I have now set up a personal account with Instagram, to go with my Facebook) as for my professional purposes, there will be very little in terms of images I will be able to share (due to commercial confidentiality) and I’m happy to share what images I can either through this blog or Twitter. Similarly, there will be little on those websites that will feed into my research.

Thing 5: Twitter

As I mentioned in Thing 1 (and this week’s Thing 4) I have recently set up a Twitter account to accompany this blog (@samfkite). I was quite dubious about Twitter at first – who on Earth would be interested in hearing the ins and outs of my day. Or what would I even say?! But since setting up my account I’ve fallen straight into it.

Like most things in life, Twitter is what you make of it and it isn’t all celebrities talking about their latest awards show or commuters talking about delayed trains. I’m following various researchers (including my supervisors and other members of faculty from my department!!) and research bodies, along with all sorts of interesting science feeds. I’ve even found space for one of my hobbies and have followed every F1 time in anticipation for the new season, and am finding all sorts of interesting articles to read through the links people are sharing.

These articles range from my own area of research to general science, doctoral students discussing the trials and tribulation of PhD life to slightly daunting statistics about the mental health research students. There is also room for humour with @PHDcomics being an early follow (I’ve fallen deeply in love with that website over the past 17 months).