Tips for submitting the thesis

The process of submitting your thesis in hard copy for the viva exam is often not particularly high on the list of worries towards the end of the write-up. If you’re pushed for time, you’re likely more concerned about finishing and polishing the conclusion, or receiving those last-minute comments and corrections from supervisors.

However, the final days of typesetting, printing and binding the thesis can be extremely stressful. Having just submitted, I can’t stress how important it is to give the process some thought as early as possible. I hope the following tips help. They come from my immediate experience, and as such some of them may be specific to Word users, though most of them are general:

  • Check you (and your supervisor) have submitted the right forms. If you can’t see this on your online record, go to the student centre where you would normally submit the thesis, and get them to check that everything is ready. Or ask your departmental administrator. When you turn up, exhausted, teary-eyed, with your beautiful thesis bound and lettered in gold, you do not want to find out that someone forgot to submit a form.
  • Check the style guidelines for the thesis early on (UCL example here). In this case, I mean the size and style of the font, the spacing, and critically things like the word count. Do not leave this to the last minute, this is critical information you need early in the write-up period. Does your university include tables and figures in the word count? Will you need appendices? What’s your minimum page margin? Do you need to include a table of figures, and where do you start the page numbers? Make no assumptions, and check these all explicitly.
  • Work out where you are going to print your thesis. Then faint a little at the cost. It’s probably worth avoiding colour printing except where completely necessary e.g. graphs and photographs, or the cost may be crippling. Do not assume that printing on your university account will be the cheapest, or even the easiest. Handing the file over to someone else to print may be the easiest, most stress-free approach, and it may be cheaper.
  • Work out where you will have your thesis bound. I used ULU, but beware – their website is of little use and doesn’t tell you that the ’24hr’ service is really a ’48hr’ service, unless you get them the printed copy before 11am. And how likely is that?
  • Check how many physical pages (leaves) can be bound into a single volume. Will you need your appendices as a separate volume? Will you need to print double-sided? ULU told me there was no limit, but there is. And on that note…
  • Avoid printing double-sided. I do think it looks good, and it does cut down the weight of your volume, but honestly, if you’re using Word etc. it can be a complete headache. If you have a bigger margin on one side than the other (to facilitate binding), then you will need to use ‘mirror margins’ which inevitably will go wrong at some critical point in the printing process, mess up your page numbers, and add hours if not days to your printing process. If it isn’t necessary, consider avoiding it.
  • Minimise landscape pages in a portrait document. Not for any technical reason, but again because it will drive you crazy trying to get them to look good, and placing page numbers on landscape pages in a portrait document in Word is difficult and can be time consuming. So if you can cut down on these, you will save yourself pain.
  • Convert your Word document to a PDF prior to printing. I cannot stress this enough. Your Word document will be huge, awkward, prone to doing crazy things and incredibly precious to you. There is also the chance that if you move the document between computers, you will end up with unintentional and possibly unidentified shifts in formatting. So, if you usually work on one single machine, finish your work on that machine and convert it to a PDF when you think you are ready to print. If need be, do this in sections or chapters.
  • Read your PDF copies through for errors. You will find them. I’m assuming you’ve already double-triple-quadruple proofed your own work, and had whatever hapless friends you can muster together proof it too (at least the conclusion – an educated friend from outside your disciple makes an excellent editor for the conclusion). However, you may find that the PDF’ing process has introduced pagination or layout errors. In my experience, these errors are not unique to the PDF process, but will also occur if you print direct from a Word file. Like me, you may find that four pages all inexplicably wish to be “Page 462” for no apparent reason. Double check all of this stuff, particularly crazy page numbers.
  • Print a single copy yourself, one chapter at a time, and check it. You will find more errors. You will find words obviously mistyped or misspelled. It will be awful, but it still needs doing. Once you are happy with a single copy where everything has gone okay…
  • Print multiple final copies. You will likely need at least two for submission to the University, who will pass them on to the examiners. You will also want a copy of your own. This is important because you get to look at it smugly, and also because you will want to read it through for errors (yup, there’ll be some, depressing isn’t it?) before you take it into the viva. I’m extrapolating here, but I imagine things will be much easier when your examiner says “About that figure on Page 145…” if you can look at your own copy!
  • Check the binding guidelines and get them bound. Maybe even treat yourself to a bound copy, as nothing makes it more real, or is as impressive to your family and friends. Waving a PDF at them doesn’t really have the same affect as knocking them unconscious with a book the size of a phone directory. Do remember to take your details, and what you need printed on the spine, with you to the binders (UCL example). Do not assume that they will automatically know what to write.
  • Check where to hand in the bound copies, and check it will be open. Its surprising (and frustrating) how short the opening hours are at many student centres. Chances are, if you turn up at 4:30pm on the day of your deadline, you will be in serious trouble.
  • Check the bound copies are correct. They binders do this for a living, so it should be fine, but a quick skim of the page numbers should reassure you that all the pages are there, and they are all in the right order.
  • Submit, get a receipt, and go and celebrate! You should get a printed certificate or statement that you have submitted, signed or stamped by the university. If they don’t do this automatically, ask for a print out. This is too important to mess around with. Then, go and have a drink, or coffee, or cake or something with a friend, preferably one who ‘gets’ how much of a big deal this is. It’s easy to feel deflated immediately after submission, so make sure you have psychological support, and inform your family or partner that you deserve taking out for dinner, or a takeaway, or a bottle of wine!

I hope these pointers help. It took me days just to go from finished digital file to bound physical submission copy, largely due to some incredibly frustrating printing errors and problems with landscape pages and page numbers. I’d given myself four days for printing and binding, and I ended up needing every one of them. Good luck!

6th Experimental Archaeology Conference, York, 2012

Wow! I got back from the 6th Experimental Archaeology Conference on Sunday evening, and it’s taken a few days for me to collect my thoughts.

I was presenting a paper on ‘Teaching and learning in Experimental Archaeology‘ (abstract here), which is one of the reasons I have been quiet recently. Along with proof-reading and chapter-writing deadlines, writing a conference paper on a topic outside my PhD was quite challenging and as a result I have been knuckling down.

The paper itself went over far better than I could ever have hoped. I felt like I was taking a chance, presenting a theory dominated and teaching/learning focussed paper at a practical and science dominated archaeology conference. However the attendees gave me overwhelmingly positive feedback, which was not only a relief but in fact buoyed my spirits with regard to engagement with teaching theory in archaeology.

Beyond my own paper, the conference itself was great, with a number of really great papers. I did a reasonably amount of live-tweeting the conference papers as they were given, using the hash-tag #exparch6, which was an interesting experience and I hope went some way to increasing awareness of the conference and the work of experimenters.

Rather than write a formal conference review, which I will probably do for HMSNews/PIA or similar, I’ve put together a Storify using the tweets of myself and others. It’s very informal and, well, story-like, but I hope that this too will make it an interesting read for people not specifically engaged with experimental archaeology.


Tips on writing an abstract for a conference paper

Presenting at conferences is an important part of entering academic society, and grad students are usually encouraged to present their PhD work at least once to a major conference. But before you even get to the stress of writing a presentation, you have to be successful in the scrum that is abstract submission.

Considering the brevity of these documents – typically less than 500 words – the amount of effort required to write one seems disproportionate! Whilst some conferences provide detailed examples of what they wish to see, others do not even give formatting guidelines.

I’ve had mixed success in the past, and the current abstract is intended for a particularly important conference which I really want to present at, so I’ve been trying to create an explicit pathway for creating the best abstract I can. Some aspects of abstract writing remain a bit of a mystery, so I’d appreciate any feedback you could give, but I present below what I’ve learnt so far:

Preparation – know your audience, know your material

One important aspect of abstract writing that is sometimes overlooked is the conference itself. Abstracts have to be tailored to the whims of the conference and session organisers. It is worth making sure that the conference you are eyeing up really is the best place for you to present. With money for conferences sometimes in short supply, check with your supervisor or colleagues whether this is the best conference. If you are certain,

  • Track down the names of the session organisers.
  • See if anyone you know, perhaps your supervisor, has the abstract handbook from the last edition of the conference
  • If the previous conference has published proceedings it may be worth examining this to get a feel for the approaches the conference prefers
  • Identify any special themes to this year’s conference
  • Double-check the abstract submission guidelines and deadline
  • If you are working with other people, get their permission before you submit

Trying to fit into the conference ‘theme’ is unlikely to work well at graduate level, because unless life is being particularly serendipitous, your work is probably so niche that shoe-horning it into a ‘theme’ will be obvious and not that successful. Don’t try and make your work something it isn’t, just to fit it into a particular conference.

Remember that in general, conference organisers only like to include presentations by people who have completed their work. If you have an incomplete study, it will be difficult to get a conference to accept your abstract because you won’t be able to tell them the conclusions of your work. This is a key piece of information they use to judge whether your work is suitable for the conference!

Whilst important members of your field, including your supervisor, may have a laissez-faire attitude to submitting on time, you are unlikely to have that luxury. Remember to draft the abstract early and enquire whether your supervisor will offer constructive criticism before you send it off. Submit on time: whilst you can try submitting late, don’t hold out too much hope!

Abstract structure – attention to detail

Every discipline is different, but there are some general guidelines that you can follow. Abstracts are often broken down into three paragraphs:

  • Paragraph 1: What the problem is and why people should care.
    Introduce the context of your study, perhaps including the particular issue or question your study responds to. In general people don’t mention their study in this paragraph, but use this opportunity to set up the context of the study and demonstrate their understanding of current literature. It helps if you can demonstrate that your question or issue is interesting and worth answering.
  • Paragraph 2: Your approach, and your results
    This is where we get the real meat of what you might present. Outline your project, the theoretical or practical techniques you used, the experiment or source material, and how you answered the question you outlined in paragraph 1. The number of words you have to play with governs to a certain extent how much detail you go into, but it’s worth trying to make this important section as meaningful as possible. Remember to explain your evidence and where it comes from, not just what it is you’re arguing. If your paper is an argument, remember to establish the steps you go through to get to the final point.
  • Paragraph 3: Conclusions, and why people should listen to you.
    Here you discuss briefly how your work affects the wider context of your discipline, and why it is relevant and exciting. You need to convince the reader that your research is significant and that you deserve the time to present it.

Some people place the study in the wider disciplinary context right at the beginning, others suggest making the first sentence/paragraph bold and challenging. That’s probably okay if you can count on people knowing the material reasonably well, but in some disciplines or interdisciplinary events your subject can be so niche that you need that first paragraph to properly give the context.

The above structure works for a 300-500 word abstract, but if you are allowed more or less you will need to adjust this outline. No matter how short or long, remember to avoid generalisations and make every word count. Reviewers always appreciate someone who gets to the point!

Abstract formatting – clean and clear

  • Some conferences have a template. If so, use this and do not deviate from it.
  • Pick a good name for your presentation. I’m not good at this myself, but it’s important.
  • Don’t go over the word limit! Your work may be dismissed out of hand.
  • Equally, it’s not a good idea to produce less than the minimum word number suggested.
  • Leave off the jargon if you can. If you use anything obscure, explain it. Otherwise, do without.
  • If the conference does not give formatting guidelines, use those of an associated or most relevant journal
  • Try not to use too many references – generally five is enough for a big abstract – consider including ‘classic’ and ‘cutting edge’ references
  • Double check any references if they involve one or more of the session organisers!
  • Don’t include a bibliography unless asked for one, it’s usually a waste of words
  • Do not forget the names of second/third authors

Some conference organisers send their abstracts to be reviewed anonymously – it might be worth making sure that any references to your previous work that you make are done carefully so that you don’t spoil that. Generally it is advisable not to put your name on the abstract or in the file name of a document unless you are asked to.

As ever, double-check things, proof-read and get as many people as you can to help you read through and check the draft. Supervisors should be happy to do this. Keep reading, revising and coming back to the abstract for as long as you can, as it will really benefit from your tender loving care.


Conferences are a great way to offend people, and this is also true of abstracts. Remember that the abstracts are likely to be visible to lots of people, so don’t be overly critical of another researcher, even if that is the main thrust of your work. Trust your supervisor’s judgement on this. If your work is conducted with someone else, make sure they are happy with what you are submitting. Lastly, if you need to include an additional author due to their earlier help – do not forget. Some people take this sort of stuff very very seriously.


Introduction to slag analysis: How iron is made in a bloomery furnace

Previous post: Introduction to Slag Analysis: What is it and why bother?

Whilst writing this series I realised that without understanding how iron is made in a furnace, all this talk about slag is a bit confusing. The following is an attempt to state the process clearly and concisely. As with many aspects of the archaeological record, iron production is not a simple process, so aspects of this may be confusing. Bear with me – and do feel free to ask questions.

The basic idea

Iron in the environment is almost always found combined with other elements (usually oxygen or sulphur) in rocks, excluding meteorites and native iron which have limited archaeological significance. When a rock contains enough iron for it to be profitable for us to attempt to use it to create iron, the rock is referred to as an ore. In order to make them easier to smelt, and to drive off unwanted elements like sulphur, ores can be roasted at around 800C in pits.

The process of turning ores into metal is called smelting, and involves heating the ores to high temperatures (usually around 1200C) in an atmosphere that is at least 75% carbon monoxide (Killick and Gordon 1989, 120). The carbon monoxide strips away the oxygen in the iron ore fragments, reducing the iron oxide to iron metal. Any unwanted minerals are melted down into a liquid rock-like mass called slag.

The furnace

In order for these high temperatures to be reached, the reaction must take place in a container: this is the furnace. Fuel, usually charcoal, is burnt within the furnace creating both the heat and the carbon monoxide necessary for the reaction. To create the high temperatures enough air must reach the charcoal, and this is usually provided by manually forcing air into the furnace using bellows. The bellows are connected to a hole or tube into the furnace referred to by archaeologists as a tuyure.

The furnace is usually made of a ceramic, often tempered with silica in the form of sand grains or crushed quartz, but it can also be made of stones, or may include stone pieces in its construction. Silica helps to protect the ceramic of the furnace from the high temperatures, but in many cases the ceramic melts during the process of smelting.

But what exactly happens inside the furnace?

Exactly what is going on inside a furnace during smelting is not exactly known. The widely accepted theoretical model is:

[Hydrated iron oxides, FeOOH] – – – > haematite (Fe2O3) – – – >  magnentite (Fe3O4) – – – > wüstite (FeO) – – – >iron (Fe)

If we assume the ore has been roasted, and the water driven off any hydrated iron oxides, the chemical reaction can be expressed:

    1. 3 Fe2O3 + CO  – – – >  2 Fe3O4 +CO2
    2. Fe3O4 + CO – – – > 3 FeO + CO2
    3. FeO + CO – – – > Fe + CO2

At the same time, some iron is lost to the production of slag. As well as iron oxides, many ores contain unwanted ‘gangue’ oxides like silica, and as well as the melting furnace wall, the fuel itself may also contain numerous other oxides. In the high temperature conditions of the furnace any silica present is likely to combine with some of the iron (II) oxide, creating a olivine mineral known as fayalite:

2FeO + SiO2 – – – > Fe2SiO4    or    2FeO.SiO2

Fayalite, as well as the lower levels of other oxides, combine to form a liquid with a melting temperature below 1200C. Collectively this is known as slag, and drips through the furnace, sometimes being collected in a pit at the base of the furnace, sometimes being allowed to flow out of the furnace in a process known as ‘tapping’.

Depending on the exact conditions inside the furnace, the iron oxide reduction may take place in stages within the slag, or independently within the individual ore particles.

The difference between iron and copper

The reaction which reduced copper oxides down to copper metal happens in a very similar manner, using similar equipment and raw materials. However copper has a melting point of 1084C, which means that at the temperatures above the copper metal will melt and form a liquid at the bottom of the furnace. This makes it relatively easy to get out of the furnace.

In contrast, the melting temperature of pure iron is 1535C. This means that if the iron remains pure during the smelting process, it can’t melt in the furnace. If the above pathway of reduction is correct, the ore is reduced to lots of microscopic fragments of iron metal. How do these particles end up as useful lumps of iron?

Iron particles, slag and making the bloom

This is where things start to get a bit tricky. Killick and Gordon wrote a short but very interesting paper in 1989 that dealt with how ore particles actually get reduced to iron, and perhaps most importantly how that iron actually conglomerates at the base of the furnace.

I’ve found the paper quite hard going, and I’ve tried in the past to translate it into something visual which would be more accessible, but with limited success. At its most basic we theorise that there are two different theoretical pathways for ore fragments to be reduced. One uses a lot of fuel to create a really reducing atmosphere which turns the ore fragments to a mixture of metal and slag. The other uses less fuel to turn the ore fragments to slag first, which is then reduced to metal.

There are major differences between the raw material use and the outcomes of these methods. In the first method where lots of fuel is used to reduce ore directly to metal, minimal iron is lost to slag production and consequently rather lean (say less than 40% iron) ores can be used. However fuel usage is high, which is an important consideration when the fuel in use is charcoal which is costly and time consuming to produce and is difficult to transport. Additionally the powerful reduction atmosphere is thought to be likely to encourage reduction of other unwanted elements into the metal (Killick and Gordon 1989, 121). Additionally the availability of carbon and the early reduction of iron means that there is the chance that carbon-iron alloys may be created. This might be desirable if a harder iron is desired, but at high levels of carbon (2-4%) cast iron is created. This brittle, hard and not workable by standard smithing techniques.

By contrast, the lower fuel methodology dissolves all the ore to the slag before reducing available FeO to metal out of the slag. The major downside of this methodology is that it relies on having a very rich ore as much slag is created and there is the risk of loosing considerable iron to the slag. Due to the decarburising nature of the slag (Killick and Gordon 1989, 121) these blooms are usually low in carbon, but by controlling the frequency of tapping (Percy, 1864) it is suggested that producers could control how much carbon was taken in and consequently how steely the bloom was.

One of the aims of the analysis of slag is to work out whether these theories can be verified, and whether a particular sample shows evidence of particular production techniques.

And in the end?

So once the bloom is formed at the base of the furnace, what happens? As we’ve discussed, it’s not easy to get to that point. It’s important to remember that you can’t know what’s happening inside the furnace during the smelt – you can guess, and experience informs, but you can’t actually look. All this talk of how producers intentionally controlled the smelt is largely done on faith – only a handful of people in the world have sufficient experience in this method of iron production and all of them were self-taught.

However we do know that as the slag levels build, they will eventually reach the point where they cover the air blast intake holes. At that point anecdotal evidence suggests that the furnace will start booming and bubbling. At this time you have a choice – if you have the sort of furnace with a hole in it for letting slag out, you can proceed to do that. If not, then you have to stop the process there, before the liquid slag flows into your bellows and burns them and you!

If you decide to tap the slag out, you can keep the process going as long as you want, adding more ore and charcoal at regular intervals. If you’re stopping, then in the majority of cases it looks like the producers would break down the front of the furnace and pull out the bloom of iron whilst it was still hot.

At that point the race is on to consolidate the bloom – that is, to drive out all the liquid slag that is likely to be entrapped within the bloom. The bloom is very hot and it is likely that producers wouldn’t have wanted to waste this heat, which takes a lot of fuel to get, so they would have pulled the bloom out and started working it immediately. This involves smashing it with a large sledgehammer and forcing the slag out in a shower of glowing sparks. It’s at this point that the smith can get a feel for the quality of the iron. If the iron has taken in any unwanted elements – phosphorus, sulphur, high levels of carbon – things will start to go wrong and the bloom might break, crack or just be too hard to work.

After that, what happens to the bloom depends on who wants the iron and what it’s being used for. It’s likely to be turned into bars at some point, but whether this always happens at the same place as the smelt is unclear. What we do know is that it’s extremely rare to ever find iron at a smelting site, and if you do find iron bloom pieces it’s likely to have been discarded as unusable rubbish!

Killick, D. & Gordon, R.B., 1989. The mechanism of iron production in the bloomery furnace. In R. M. Farquhar, R. G. V. Hancock, & L. A. Pavlish, eds. Proceedings of the 26th International Archaeometry Symposium, held at University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada, May 16th to May 20th 1988. Toronto: University of Toronto, pp. 120-123.

Teaching and learning styles in Experimental Archaeology

A couple of weeks ago I was very pleased to find out that my paper had been accepted at the 6th Experimental Archaeology Conference in York, 6th-7th January 2012.

Teaching and learning practices are something I’ve become really interested in, after studying for the HEA qualification earlier this year. During this summer’s experimental work I found myself thinking critically about what I was doing, and how I was communicating and being communicated to, within a framework that was drawing heavily on the research I’d done on teaching and learning.

This naturally began to form itself into a discussion in my head, and when the call for papers for the Conference came out, it seemed like a great chance to force myself to finish laying the discussion out explicitly. I was a little surprised that the abstract was excepted as a paper rather than a poster, as I had assumed the organisers would focus more heavily on practical aspects of experimental archaeology. However they’ve constructed a session called “Practicing Experimental Archaeology”, where I’m presenting with another researcher, who is giving a paper entitled “Practitioner, professional and the public. Examining the impact of experimental archaeology on different user groups.”

Whilst being the last paper on the last day of the conference isn’t ideal, I’m pleased not to be entirely out on a limb on my own, and I hope that what I have to say will be of interest. In any case, the programme looks very interesting, though I am disappointed not to see any metallurgists presenting! I can’t believe that with all the smelting and metalworking happening around the UK and Europe that no one has a paper to present.

In that vein, I’m interested in hearing anyone’s opinions on the abstract that I’ve submitted. It contains the basic outline of my ideas for a framework to describe our practices in teaching/learning. If you’ve taught or learned techniques that could be called experimental archaeology – smithing, casting, glass working, ceramics, weaving, dying, the list is endless! – I’d be really interested to hear your reflection on this framework. Be as critical as you like!

I’m also interested in hearing experiences of successful or not successful teaching experiences in experimental archaeology. So go on, have a look at the abstract and let me know what you think. Your help is much appreciated.

6th Experimental Archaeology Conference – abstract

Below is the abstract I submitted for the 6th Experimental Archaeology Conference.

Learning and teaching in experimental archaeology

The ways in which past peoples communicated knowledge is of considerable importance to studies of technological processes, and is an area in which experimental archaeology could prove highly informative. Whilst some teaching of experimental work takes place within traditional Further Education structures (c.f. Sheffield University), much of the techniques we seek to study are learnt or communicated in a strictly ad-hoc, informal, and sometimes solitary manner. In all cases, it is difficult to assess methods of past communication without codifying our own methods of teaching and learning.

In this context, I use the term ‘experimental archaeology’ to encompass not only strictly empirical hypothesis testing (Johnson 1999), but also the domains of experiential work (Mathieu 2002) and the ‘re/creation’ of past technologies for demonstration, replication and pleasure. I argue against the act of seeking legitimacy in the eyes of ‘mainstream’ archaeologies (cf. Experimental archaeology session at EAA 2006) by focussing on empirical approaches, and for a rejection of the hierarchical perspective (cf. Jones 1974) which privileges this. Rather I propose an integrated model where we accept that experimental archaeologists often work within multiple domains and that this contributes to deeper, more complex understandings of technological practices than any individual approach.

Within this structure I propose four distinct patterns to learning and teaching; describing these modes as self-taught, advisory assistance, formal apprenticeships (cf. Barab and Hay, 2001) and informal participation. I discuss their use in terms of the domains of practice discussed above, and crucially how these different teaching and learning relationships contribute to different understandings of the technological process itself. The teaching and learning environment has considerable and prolonged impact on our understanding of both the finished object and the technological process, and I explore how this has the potential to influence the way we frame and contextualise the practice of these technologies within our own work, and how this can echo beyond to confines of experimentation to the interpretation of archaeological evidence and its communication.

Understanding our own learning environments therefore forms an important part of a self-reflexive and critical approach, and is necessary in contexts where we position ourselves as experts, whether those are formal academic, informal exchanges of knowledge or experimental studies or interactions with the public. In identifying the way we have learnt our own skills by mapping these different learning environments, we are closer to understanding the modern context of our experimental practice, a necessary step towards relating our own experiences to past practitioners. Whether we consider ourselves empirical, experiential or re/creative experimental archaeologists, understanding current methods of knowledge communication should help us better ground our own practice and our research into past practitioners.

Barab, S.A., and Hay, K.E., 2001. Doing science at the elbows of experts: issues related to the science apprenticeship camp. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 38 (1), 70-102.

Coles, J.M., 1979. Experimental archaeology. Academic Press, London.

Hurcombe, L., 2005. Experimental Archaeology. In Archaeology: The Key Concepts, edited by C. Renfrew and P. Bahn, 110-115. Routledge, London.

Johnson, M., 1999. Archaeological Theory. Blackwell, Oxford

Mathieu, J.R., 2002. Introduction – Experimental Archaeology: Replicating Past Objects, Behaviors, and Processes. In Experimental Archaeology: Replicating PastObjects, Behaviors, and Processes, Mathieu, J. R. (ed),  1-11. BAR International Series 1035, Oxford.

Update: You can read about the conference through a Storify I created based on the tweets that were written.

#AcBoWriMo – What type of writing counts?

As I explained earlier, I’m taking part in #AcBoWriMo. As the whole idea is rather loosely shaped at the moment, I can basically decide what I want to do. This is probably a good idea, if the idea is going to have any legs, as academic writing is a rather varied business. However, as with the original Nanowrimo, commitment is the key.

My intention is to write a thousand words a day on something related to my research. At the moment that’s going to include drafting bits for my thesis, an article I’m trying to finish up on the Altberger 1 material, and perhaps another on the dreaded helmet which I’ve been avoiding for about a year. I’m also tempted to count a conference paper I’m giving at the Historical Metallurgy Society’s Research in Progress meeting on the 9th November and haven’t written yet.

I feel that the thesis is what I should be writing, the articles clearly count as academic, and the conference paper is a bit cheeky but – considering it’s on my thesis work – probably counts. However the question remains – should I include blogging? I do have two blog entries waiting in the wings, and my writing here is related to my academic work. But is it cheating? It’s very easy to knock out a blog post – whereas it’s a lot more taxing to write-up analytical work. Opinions, as ever, gratefully received.

By findsandfeatures Posted in Writing

Introducing Nanowrimo for academics… AcBoWriMo

I’ve watched with envy for the last few years whilst friends took part in NaNoWriMo, a project where people try and write 50,000 words of a novel during November. I had been thinking about trying to do something similar with my thesis for some time, when lo-and-behold, the PhD-to-Published blog decided to trial something they refer to as AcBoWriMo, or Academic Book Writing Month.

Their idea is to set yourself a word goal that seems reasonably impossible, and to participate in a month of writing to try to achieve that. One of the major selling-points of the Nanowrimo idea is the community support, and knowing that other people are involved in the same terrible, awkward, difficult, intimidating business of writing. As I have a lot of writing to do at the moment, as well as a lot of analytical work, I’d certainly appreciate the support of doing so in a community.

One could argue that being in a university department with one of the biggest bodies of post-graduate students would provide a suitable community, but that hasn’t proved true. It’s a commonly held belief that doing a PhD can be a very lonely experience, and even here in UCL that remains true. In archaeology many students travel for field trips, and many more are foreign nationals and often travel home or work in their home countries for portions of time. Some live outside London, as I do, and more prefer to work from home rather than an office. As a result of this broad demographic, the chances of anyone actually being in the office when I am is usually pretty slim – though this has picked up as my cohort has hit the third year running.

People often express doubt that an online ‘community’ really can really offer much in the way of true support, but my experience with #phdchat argues that it can. #Phdchat is a weekly discussion held at 7:30pm -8:30pm using Twitter and the #phdchat hashtag. Every week people talk about a different topic, asking questions, offering advice, and just chatting. It’s developed into a regular, reliable community and people continue discussions informally throughout the week, making new friends. Even students such as myself, who are lucky enough to be in large departments full of other PhD students undertaking similar problems, benefit from sharing their concerns and chatting with others.

Whether AcBoWriMo can be as successful as #phdchat is entirely down to getting a big-enough buy-in from students and having a dedicated moderator. With PhD-to-Published introducing the idea very late in October it’s unlikely many people will take part, but they’ve introduced it as a ‘trial’ for a bigger version next year, so it could work very well. And for those of us taking part this year it’ll hopefully get us in the habit of writing daily, which considering I’m beginning third year has got to be a good thing!

By findsandfeatures Posted in Writing

How to produce an academic poster: someone elses’s good opinions!

A few months back I produced a couple of posters for an international conference, and you lot were kind enough to offer lots of suggestions etc., which was really helpful.

I did a lot of research on the internet – they don’t do classes in that kind of stuff at university, that would be too useful! – and although I came across a reasonable amount of examples, I didn’t actually find any good tutorials. Most were either out of date and not much use for modern technology or were rather subject specific.

However recently I saw this site posted on twitter and having read through it I was really impressed. I wish I had found this before writing my posters!

Check out Trinker Media’s post on posters (first of three parts).

One thing I will say. I was at an international biennial conference and some people actually made posters put together out of multiple pieces of A4 paper.

Seriously, this is not a good idea.

Some people examined them, mostly with a look of astonishment and disbelief on their face, but no one took them seriously. Don’t do it!

Literature Reviews

So in my continuing quest to better understand the literature review process, I’ve been reading Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates by Wallace and Wray (2006).

I’m not going to do a review, but suffice to say it’s a good book. It’s actually pretty complex, and delivers more than the title might promise. I’m still working through it, but I can really recommend it. It also comes with some good free access handouts – have a look at the publisher’s webpage.

In particular, have a look at the Critical Analysis template and the Critical Synopsis template. They’re word docs with ideas to think over when you’re reading, and the analysis template is very in depth.