Working environments

Meetings in the great outdoors

By Judy Robertson & Alison Williams

Background

If you need to work with other team members, but you don’t want to disturb your colleagues in the office, why not take your work outside?

Changing the environment gives a new point of view. Moving a regular meeting to the garden, park or forest can help the group to establish new ways of thinking. There is considerable research into the beneficial effects of biophilia, the psychological attraction to life, aliveness or living systems (Fromm, 1964). It is also known and studied as naturalness  (Ulrich, 1984; 1993; Barrett & Barrett, 2010) and as connection with the outside context  (Kelly, 2001; Roessler, 1980; Wyon & Nilsson, 1980).

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Uncategorized, Working with others

Research interest visualisation

By Marian Dörk

Background

Effective research relies on cross fertilisation of ideas between different researchers. Considering the likelihood of researchers with different backgrounds working on similar or related problems in a research institution, it is unfortunate how often they may cross paths without knowing about each other or their research. Meeting around the proverbial water cooler may simply not be an option for researchers in different departments, based in different buildings.

This recipe, developed through conversations with Graham Earl, proposes a dynamic technological visualisation of the spatial and academic dimensions of co-located research activity. The visualisation juxtaposes researchers’ changing interests and locations on the campus. It reveals commonalities among people in their research topics, problems, and methods, prompting ad hoc brainstorming meetings, coffee breaks, and beer outings. Apart from helping people find each other, the visualisation can also be used to stay aware of the changing research landscape – both digital and physical – at a large institution.

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Working solo

Keep loving your thesis (even when it hates you)

By Inger Mewburn

Background

Maintaining love for your thesis topic can be exhausting, basically because a thesis is such a hard thing to love. A thesis slowly takes shape over a period of years and must be closely attended to for most of the time. Many cooks find this exhausting and impractical, yet for best results, it is wise to keep your eye on it at all times.

A thesis doesn’t love you back. It demands a lot of energy and only gives you irregular rewards. Like any long-term relationship, it can be hard, at times, to remember the spark that got you interested in the first place. However, if you want to succeed, it is essential to try to keep the love alive.

One of the reasons we can become so estranged from our thesis is that the pressure to perform can spoil the enjoyment. This recipe shows you how to use ‘free writing’ to spend quality time with your ideas, without expectations. Free writing is advocated by many writing teachers as a way of overcoming writer’s block, but it is used here to help you break your habitual, mechanistic relationship with your thesis.

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Uncategorized

BITE featured on The Thesis Whsperer

Judy Roberston has authored a guest post on The Thesis Whisperer, featuring the recipe My work is not me, by Alison Williams.

The Thesis Whsperer is Edited by Inger Mewburn, Director of research training at the Australian National University and we were really fortunate to have contributions in the book from her (more on this soon – pages 50 and 156 in the book!). In her case study, she discusses her experience of blogging on the process of research – touching on many of the subjects raised in the recipes and papers in BITE and especially the ‘other things’ around research that are rarely discussed explicitly.

Any PhD students, researchers and supervisors out there should definitely put The Thesis Whisperer in their ‘to read’ list – somewhere near the top…

So watch out for Inger’s recipe next week – Keep loving your thesis (even when it hates you).

BITE: Recipes for Remarkable Research is available in paperback, hardback and as Open Access from:

Sense Publishers: Paperback | Hardcover | Free Open Access
Amazon: Paperback | Hardcover
Barnes & Noble: Paperback | Hardcover

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Uncategorized

It’s ok to have a stationery fetish

Background

Admit it, you probably already do. It’s OK, so do I. I have a favourite make of pen. I have a favourite notebook. I have a particularly favourite make of pencil.

There is an academic myth that, upon realising that his favourite Moleskine notebook was no longer being manufactured, a reasonably famous academic was so upset that he was no longer able to think (see Chatwin (n.d.) for a further example). Although this might or might not be true, we do develop emotional attachments to the tools we use – in many ways they become part of us, our thinking, or our processes. At their best, they become embodied, visceral artefacts – the deepest of ontological elements.

This may seem a gratuitous and frivolous recipe but there are some serious underlying ideas. We often underestimate just how much emotional and sensory attachment we make with the objects we use – a fact that designers make use of regularly. Steve Jobs famously said that one of the design goals of the look of Apple’s new operating system (OSX) was that “…when you saw it, you wanted to lick it” (Jobs, 2000).

If you want to get philosophical about it, consider Heidegger “…the less we just stare at the hammer-Thing, and the more we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become” (Heidegger, 1962, p. 98). Or if you prefer the embodied phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty: “The properties of the object and the intentions of the subject… are not only intermingled; they constitute a new whole” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962).

In design, the link between people and object/product is understood as an essential aspect of the value of design, for example Schultz, Kleine and Kernan (1989), Chapman (2005) and Spence and Gallace (2011). It is even argued to be central to genuinely sustainable design (Chapman, 2009). Whichever philosophy you prefer, our world around us is intimately connected to ourselves. Don’t ignore the visceral.

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It’s ok to have a favourite pen…

 

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Working solo

Relieving attention fatigue

By Richard Coyne, Jenny Roe, Peter Aspinall and Panos Mavros

Background

To concentrate on a task you need to block out distractions. In fact that’s what it means to concentrate – to inhibit other instinctual inclinations. Once that blocking function gets worn down by fatigue you are more likely to act on impulse, to run away if something challenges you too much, to take unnecessary risks, to become irritable, and to get distracted from your task by things that are more engaging but less challenging, such as video games, television programmes, or random images on the Internet. These are symptoms of attention fatigue.

Attention fatigue is useful. If you kept on with challenging tasks, no matter how important, without a break, then you would be less likely to notice what’s going on around you. You’d be like the dysfunctional inventor, scientist, writer or student cramming for an exam who has to be dragged from the laboratory or study desk in order to wash, eat and socialise.

How can you restore your ability to concentrate on the important task at hand? Sleep is one approach, but attention fatigue can disrupt it and can lead to irregular sleep patterns and sleepless nights. The solution seems to reside in taking a rest from direct concentration and instead redirecting one’s concentration to things that don’t require as much effort, i.e. things we find ‘naturally fascinating’ that command our attention effortlessly.

There are many candidates for recuperative attention, depending on your inclinations: reading a novel with a suspense element, checking up on whether an email or post has arrived, buying lottery tickets and following the results. Most people are fascinated by animals, so watching YouTube cat videos might do it, or even playing with a real pet.

Most people are drawn to extremes in physical appearance and circumstances. So watching car racing, cartoons and soaps, reading gossip columns, and experiencing unusual architecture may fit the bill. Whether through biological, social or cultural attunement these are sources of fascination for many. They easily arrest and hold our concentration, and offer some restorative benefits, though exaggeration in its own right can have other disturbing effects, a bit like the effects of watching a horror film or movie.

But there’s another kind of fascination that maintains our ability to concentrate, willingly, with little effort, and more effectively. This is soft fascination, as proposed by the psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989; Kaplan, 1995). Soft fascination is best for recuperation as it provides opportunities for reflection, is non-taxing, and deals less with exaggeration and its attendant disturbances.

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Working environments

Work that space

By Siân Robinson Davies and Evgenij Belikov

Background

We often take the arrangement of elements in our research space as fixed. Though we might rearrange the space when first moving in, after this first period we might not think again as to how our spatial needs change with our changing activities and environment, such as the changing of the seasons.

Some recipes in this book are based on the principle that changing spaces affects one’s creativity and aim at moving away from your workplace to a new space to induce creativity. This complementary recipe suggests rearranging the elements of the workplace itself to achieve a similar effect and to better reflect the requirements arising from the current activity.

By changing your environment you are expressing agency in that space – that you can effect change in your own immediate environment. This can be quite important in generating hope for creative thinking (Rego et al, 2009).

Similarly, change in and of itself has a few beneficial side effects for your thinking – basically, it makes you think, which in turn makes you come up with new thoughts.

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