The Year of our Lord 2020 was a cavalcade of unexpected and awful events. In my life alone, we had the coronavirus, the shutdown of the university, two bomb threats on the campus, one arson threat, and the accidental death of a young man who drowned in the university “Biodiversity pond”.
In addition to all that tragedy, there was the personal issue of not being able to follow through with any of the research plans I had made. While this may seem trivial in the face of all the aforementioned appalling events, we all must keep moving forward in an attempt to make sure our lives continue to have positive meaning: good professional health breeds good mental health, which in turn gives positive energy to the people around us. As was once told to me, “sitting down is the new smoking”: inactivity is very bad for you, both physically and mentally.
Regular listeners to the podcast will remember back in episode 2 when I was interviewed by Jonathan, we discussed the receiving of research funding. This interview was undertaken at the end of March and the funding decision was but days away. Well, for good or else, I received the money I had requested, and then someone threw the off switch on human contact, and, as a researcher who deals primarily in qualitative methodologies, this was a big problem. My research plan called for dozens of in-person, recorded interviews and the production of video and audio materials for the investigation and teaching of English as a lingua franca (ELF) focused courses. This was now not going to happen as I had planned.
Therefore, I seized the best opportunity that had come my way in a long time to build my skills and produce researchable content for publication. After my interview with Jonathan for his second ever podcast for “Lost in Citations”, he invited me to join him as co-presenter, suggesting that we would produce interviews in alternate weeks. Having never produced a podcast or any long-form publishable interviews, I was nervous to accept. But, as I tell myself all the time, that feeling of nervousness is not because there is anything to actually fear; my concern is not doing a good enough job to please the other parties to the enterprise, and THAT provides a lot of motivation to get better. There was also the added bonus of learning how to conduct interviews online, how to edit them, and, although we did not know it at the time, how to produce a website.
My bread and butter as a research-oriented academic are publication-based presentations. How, if travel was severely restricted, meetings with colleagues were discouraged, and even online presentations became difficult to organize and attend. I was able to keep my article writing moving forward with a couple of submissions to journals from work completed before the COVID situation, but future publications require current research activity; there was, in my mind, nothing I could do to continue building on my body of work. Therefore, I approached 2021 with a sense of concern for how to proceed in this new era of reduced contact options.
However, I am a positive chap. Don’t let the visage of a haggard, bearded Northerner put you in mind of a dreary contrarian: I like what I do and will always find a way to keep doing it. In that vein, my topic for this month’s blog is ‘Research Resolutions’, the steps I am going to take to make 2021, although still under the ‘COVID Cloud’, a better experience than 2020. Although we, as a nation, a region, a world, are not out of the woods yet, it is to be hoped the worst of what the pandemic wrought is now behind us, at least in terms of our psychological ability to deal with it.
1. Put my experience with Lost In Citations to work in my other current project
The main reason for joining Jonathan on this podcast journey was not (sorry, Jon and Todd) to spend more time with my wonderful co-hosts, although this has been a side benefit of having more personal contact and support in the time of ‘The 19’; as noted above, I wanted to learn new, specific skills. Having started to become more proficient at conducting long-form, semi-structured interviews, I became more confident in the process of the interview as a whole, from contacting possible research subjects, scheduling, preparing my interview notes, keeping track of the answers during the interview, and developing the interview in real-time as routes to interesting content presented themselves.
As my research plan calls for interviews, both in-person and online, familiarity with the software and hardware requirements of online interviewing was also paramount. My initial setup used a program called Audio Hijack to capture Skype conversation audio and store it as a wav file for ease of export into my editing software. This worked well for my first 14 interviews, but a software update affected the audio settings in a manner I have, at the time of posting, been unable to fix. I am currently using ZOOM, recording the interviews to m4a files, converting them to wav using the Online Audio Converter page, then editing using Audacity. The interviews are stored online and published using Podbean.com. In order to track our progress and plan for the future, we created a shared Google Doc. In addition to the podcast, I constructed and operated Lostincitations.com, the dedicated webpage for our podcast and future audio journal. This was developed in and hosted by Wix.com. Finally, to build content for these blogs and for the future production of publishable research papers, we use an app called Otter.ai to produce transcriptions. This is the source of the keywords added to the guest posting on our website, the 20 most used words in the interview, which are given to help newcomers to our work decide which of the podcasts they might want to listen to.
Clearly, I had to get up to speed on many processes between April and now. I’m no expert in these programs yet, but I certainly feel more confident about approaching other recording activities in my research in the future.
2. Commit more creative energy to the audio journal side of “Lost In Citations”
Having seen how much can be learned and practiced by producing a podcast and website, I fully intend to use these many opportunities to learn even more. The intent for 2021 is to promote more widely the journal element of “Lost in Citations” and encourage more people to record their own interviews and submit them for publication in the feed. It has taken nearly a year to get the gears of the podcast working smoothly enough to where we might be able to accommodate outside submissions, but that is the intent.
To encourage submissions will require more promotion on social media to raise awareness of the opportunity. There is also the possibility of time-lag before any submissions are received, but I am hopeful we will have submitted works before too long. If you, dear reader, have a person in mind who you would like to interview in order to share their work more widely, please feel free to get in touch.
3. Proactively produce opportunities for disseminating works and contacting more people
Jonathan likes to joke that I “use all of the buffalo,” in reference to me continually finding new ways to repurpose the basic materials we produce, the podcast mp3s, in as many ways as possible. The website contents are testament to this approach: the top page includes upcoming interviews, hopefully encouraging visitors to check back if there is an interviewee or topic that interests them; using Otter.ai to produce transcripts and them using these to make blog posts including quotes and time-stamps; taking the keywords from the transcripts and adding them to the guest profiles. For a project that ostensibly involves releasing one interview per week online, a large amount of additional material exists.
In truth, most, if not all, of this additional mining of the material is centered on understanding the dynamics of the project better and working out ways to promote the work or build research activities from it. The production of an interview for publication, the background reading, scheduling, recording, editing and post production, and creating promotion on the website takes significantly longer than the running time of the episode itself. If such a time investment can be made to provide a second dividend, I’m all for it.
Therefore, I will actively seek events and outlets where our work can be more widely disseminated and promoted. As we say on our website we “seek to form a new way for academics, educators, and free-thinkers to connect and share their work” - I will continue my efforts to make this a reality, starting with the Conference on International Education set to be held at Lakeland University in June.
4. Support my colleagues in their work
Some of my best friends have been guests on the podcast, from those I currently work with (Shaun O’Dwyer, Gabrielle Decamous, Andrew Chapman) to academics I have had the pleasure to work with previously (Kris Ramonda, Joe Siegel, Howard Brown) to those with whom I have an ongoing academic relationship (Annette Bradford, Aaron Hahn). My interviews have also included people I hope to have the opportunity to work with more in the future (Aya Matsuda, Jennifer Jenkins, Ahmar Mahboob, Mahboubeh Rakhshanderoo, Nobuyuki Hino). They are all highly-skilled academics in themselves, and their resumes attest to this so they would be deserving guests on any academically-oriented podcast series. However, they chose to share their time with me and I, therefore, pledge to do the same for them if they come calling.
5. Be ready for the ‘World After COVID’
This is a big one because we don’t know when this will be. Will there be a ‘Long COVID’ with reoccurrences, new variants, and further scares in the future? Will we get to a point where the virus is manageable with vaccines? Whenever it does happen, we need to be prepared to return to a normal life. So much has changed in how we interact with each other and with other countries. Travel, which used to be an integral part of my working life, might never again be so crucial. I recently spoke with a colleague in an interview to be aired in February about attending conferences and the networking opportunities that exist around the research presentation themselves. In fact, several of the interviews I have conducted for Lost in Citations were with people I met through attendance at conferences. We need to get back to a method of in-person attendance or replicating the atmosphere of a conference, not merely the content.
Finally, Jon asked me to add one more resolution, which is actually more of a challenge: produce interviews that require no editing. The guests for my interviews will notice that the published podcast is shorter than the original interview. I sometimes flub my questions or stumble over my thoughts, mispronounce something or just start a sentence that goes nowhere and has to be reset; my guests are far better at speaking than I am, that is for sure. We enter 2021 with me having published 18 podcasts with another couple ready for publication in the coming weeks (check website for details). This equates to about 20 hours of interviews which have required a further 30-40 hours of work to review and edit, so nearly a full working week taken up by this process. If I can get my act together, I’ll save enough time to produce more content or put my energies somewhere else to improve the product. Either way, tightening up this aspect of my performance will lead to benefits all round.
These are the things I pledge to do in 2021. Feel free to comment with your research resolutions, and have a great year!