Monday, 21 May 2012

Into the Academic Dragon's Den

Image borrowed from, although it appears online elsewhere so I have no idea who owns the copyright, sorry.

Today I did a Big Thing, for me. I pressed a Submit button on a funding bid, which has now gone into council to be peer reviewed. It's part of my job to pursue funding, and I've been involved with a variety of research projects that have received funding from a variety of places - but this is the first time I have written a whole bid myself, from start to finish, on an open call - rather than responding to a specific research call or question. This is probably academic jargon, so let me rephrase: for the past 9 months I have been crafting a proposal which says "give me lots of money to employ some people, to do some interesting work over a few years. Please. It's really interesting and I'm the best person to do it. And here's why".

It has been a lot of work, as it not only involves me, but four major institutional partners, so I had to approach and engage them in the process, getting permission through their internal structures to carry out some research which involves them. In addition to that, I had help from our Departmental Administrator and our Research Manager, our Head of Department, our Vice Dean of Research, our Faculty Research Officers (two of), and Research Managers in Finance. On top of that, I asked for - and received - fantastic feedback and proof-reading from 5 academic colleagues. This bid is now as good as its going to get, and I thank everyone wholeheartedly for their input.

So, 9 months from idea, to "let's write that up", to submission (bear in mind I have to do this on top of my other teaching, administration, and research duties). The whole thing comes in at 10,000 words or so, proof-read and double-checked and triple-checked. I would say that it has taken about the same amount of work it would take to submit a 10,000 word paper to a top research journal - if not more so - with certainly more input from colleagues. The difference is, of course, if a paper was rejected for publication I could recycle it and get it published elsewhere, or put it up as pre-print myself. If this funding bid crashes and burns, then there will be no mention of the investment of effort from me - or others - anywhere.

What happens now? It goes to council where a group of peer reviewers will decide whether or not it is worthy of funding. I may get a right to reply to some of the queries raised. There is around a 20% chance of being successful, or so I hear. I should know around Xmas whether or not the project will go ahead.

In academia, it's good to set the goalposts for your own successes. Whatever happens to this one, I will hold on to the fact that I set myself a goal to co-ordinate a large funding bid myself, and see it through to submission. Of course, I have my fingers crossed for this one (I wouldn't have pursued it if I didn't believe in the idea). But at the end of the day, the goal was to enter the academic dragon's den, and pitch an idea, to the best of my ability. And I did: I pressed submit. Phew.

And now? Give me a few days, then I have to dig out the funding council documentation for the next one...

Update: The bid was rejected by the peer review panel. I go and lick my wounds, and regroup, to try again. There will be no mention of this investment in time and effort in anyone's records, except for this post here. You win some, you lose some...

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Qrator at the Museums and Heritage Awards

Nothing quite complements a black tie outfit like a tattoo that, when scanned, leads to your (award winning) project website. You saw it here first!

It was a big night for UCL last night, with folks from UCLDH, CASA and Museums and Public Engagement, heading down to the 10th annual Museums and Heritage Awards where we were nominated in three different categories, and I'm pleased to say that the QRator project won the Innovation category!

If you haven't heard of Qrator, who better to quote than Claire Ross, whose idea it all was, from her blog:
QRator is a collaboration between the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities (UCLDH), UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), and UCL Museums, to develop new kinds of content, co-curated by the public, and museum staff, to enhance museum interpretation, public engagement and meaning making by establishing new connections to museum exhibit content.
Its a truly interdisciplinary team, including Mark Carnall and Jack Ashby from the Grant Museum, Steve Gray and Andy Hudson Smith from CASA, Susannah Chan and Sally MacDonald from UCL Museums and Public Engagement, and Claire Warwick and I from UCLDH.  Well done team - and thank you all for your hard work, and for letting me join in the fun!

As well as the blog posts from the Grant Museum and Claire Ross, Andy Hudson-Smith has a good write up on his blog about the QRator team and the award - I dont think I can add much more than these three posts cover, except that I'm delighted!

Me, I got the temporary tattoos made up which we had fun baffling other attendees with. And drank some wine. And grinned into the wee small hours!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

When was the last time you asked how your published research was doing?

A month or so ago, I posted about whether blogging and tweeting about academic research papers was "worth it". Whilst writing up my thoughts, the one thing that I found really problematic was the following:
I also know nothing about how many times my other papers are downloaded from the websites of published journals, or consulted in print in the Library. The latter, no-one can really say about - but the former? It seems strange to me that we write articles (without being paid) and we get them published by people who make a profit on them, then we don't even know - usually - how many downloads they are getting from the journals themselves.
That's true enough, I thought. But whose fault is it that I don't know about access statistics for journals I have published in? Heck, have I ever asked for the access statistics for how many times my papers have been downloaded from the journals they are published in? Has anyone?

So, Reader, I asked for some facts and figures, regarding the circulation of journals, and the download statistics of my papers.

I have to say that the journals were really very helpful, and forthcoming, if surprised:
"I imagine the publishers would be happy to tell an author the cumulative downloads for their papers... So far as I know, you are the first author ever to ask... certainly the first to ask me." said David Bawden, Editor of the Journal of Documentation.  Jonas Söderholm, Editor of HumanIT, highlighted some of the issues journals will face if people start asking this kind of question, saying
"A reasonable request and we would gladly assist you. Unfortunately we do not have direct access to server logs as our web site is hosted as part of the larger University of Borås web. We will take your request as a good excuse to check into the matter though, and also review our general policy on log data."
Most journals got back to me by return of email, telling me immediately what they knew (and being very aware of the limitations of their reporting mechanisms, for example whether or not the figures excluded robot activity, the fact that how long the user stays on the website is not known so accidental click-throughs are undetermined, etc. Such caveats were explained in detail).  Emerald, the publishers of JDoc and Aslib Proceedings, were not comfortable in giving me access to wider statistics about their general readership numbers, given this could be commercially sensitive information, which is understandable: they were very happy to give me the statistics relating to my own papers, though.

The only journal not to get back to me was LLC , published by Oxford University Press (The editor replied to say he was not sure he had access to these statistics, but would ask). This is ironic, given I'm on the editorial board. I'll press further, and take it to our summer steering-group meeting.

I suspect that the actual statistics involved are only really very interesting to myself. I had originally planned to make comparisons with the amount of downloads from UCL Discovery (Open Access (OA) is better, folks! etc) , but I think the picture is foggier than that. What this exercise does do is highlight the type of information that, as authors, we dont normally hear about, which can be actually quite interesting for us, as well as stressing the complex relationship between OA and paywalled publications. Here are some details:

  • One of my papers published in JDoc (Ross, C and Terras, M and Warwick, C and Welsh, A (2011) Enabled backchannel: conference Twitter use by digital humanists. J DOC, 67 (2) 214 - 237) was downloaded 804 times from the JDOC website during 2011, and was number 16 in the download popularity list that year. The total number of paper downloads from JDoc as a whole during that year was 123,228. Isn't that interesting to know? I have a top 20 paper in a really good journal in my discipline! Who knew? It has now been downloaded 1114 times from their website. In comparison, there have been 531 total downloads of that paper from UCL Discovery in the past 6 months. But the time frame for comparison of downloads with the OA copy from Discovery isn't the same, so comparing is problematic - and there are more downloads from the subscription journal than from our OA repository. Still, it shows a healthy amount of downloads, so I'm happy with that.
  • The Art Libraries Journal - only available in print, not online, were quick to tell me that the journal is distributed to 550 members: 200 going abroad to Libraries/Institutions, 150 sent to UK Personal members, and 200 going to UK Libraries/Institutions. My paper published there (Terras, M (2010) Should we just send a copy? Digitisation, Use and Usefulness. Art Libraries Journal, 35 (1)) has had 205 downloads in the last six months from UCL Discovery, so I perceive that as a really good additional advert for OA: the print circulation is fairly limited, but the OA copy is available to all who want it.
  • My paper in the International Journal of Digital Curation - itself an OA journal - (Gooding, P and Terras, M (2008) Grand Theft Archive: a quantitative analysis of the current state of computer game preservation. The International Journal of Digital Curation, 3 (2)) was downloaded 903 times in 2009 out of the 53,261 times the full text of a paper was accessed. (The average was 476, with standard deviation 307). In 2010 the paper accounted for 919 out of the 120,126 times the full text of a paper was accessed. (The average was 938, with standard deviation 1045.) That compares to only 85 downloads from the UCL repository, but hey, its freely available online anyway, without having to revert to an OA copy in an institutional repository. It might be worth drawing from this that copies of papers in institutional archives are only really used when the paper isnt available anywhere else, but you would hope that would be obvious, no?
  • InternetArchaeology journal has an online page with their download statistics readily available (how I wish all journals would do this). The journal gets around 6200 page requests per day. But since article size varies widely, with some split into 100s of separate HTML pages, it is difficult to know how meaningful this is.  I was sent a spreadsheet of the stats from my paper published there (Terras, M (1999) A Virtual Tomb for Kelvingrove: Virtual Reality, Archaeology and Education. Internet Archaeology (7)) which suggests that there have been 2083 downloads of the PDF version of the paper from behind the paywall since 2001 (but some may be missing due to the way the reporting mechanism is set up) with none in the past year (compared to 276 downloads of this from UCL Discovery in the past six months, so many more from our institutional repository comparing like on like periods). The HTML version of the table of contents has been consulted 16, 282 times since 2001 (this is freely available to all comers) but there have been  67, 525 views of all files in the directory since then - but since the paper is comprised of hundreds of individual files, its difficult to ascertain readership. Judith Winters, the Editor of Internet Archaeology, notes "It is curious that when the journal went Open Access for about 2 weeks towards the end of last year, the counts did increase but not dramatically so" - so when a non-OA journal throws open its doors for a limited time (IA did this to mark open access week last year) its not like access figures go wild. That's really interesting, in itself. 
If you are still reading, then thanks. This stuff gets pretty turgid. But its been fascinating, for me, to see the (mostly positive) reactions publishers have to being approached about this - and surprising that not more people have actually asked publishers about these statistics. We are giving away our scholarship to publishers, in most cases: shouldn't we get to know how it fares in the wide, wide world? As citation counts, and h-indexes, and "impact" become increasingly important to external funding councils and internal promotion procedures within universities, why would journal publishers not make this information available to authors? But why don't they do it more routinely?

Will you need this type of information for the next grant proposal, or internal promotion, you chase? Why would you not be interested in how your research flies?  But journal publishers will only start providing authors with this kind of information routinely if enough scholars start to ask about it, and it becomes part of the mechanics of publishing research - particularly when publishing research online.

So if you have published in a print journal which has an online presence, or in an online journal, drop them an email to ask politely how your downloads are going*. Do it. Do it now. Ask them. Ask them!

*Perhaps someone online can provide some input as to whether such a request comes under the rights of individuals in the Data Protection Act in the UK.   If you are a named author on a journal article, does access statistics about that journal paper count as personal information? just a thought...

Monday, 14 May 2012

Announcing the Slade Archive History Project

Treasures in the Slade School of Fine Art Archive, waiting to be looked at... 

A few months ago I was invited to the Slade School of Fine Art at UCL, by the Head of Department, Professor Susan Collins, to have a poke about in their archive and a chat about what to do with it.  Since 1871 the Slade School of Fine Art has educated and trained generations of world-renowned artists, from Gwen and Augustus John, Stanley Spencer and Ben Nicholson around the turn of the 20th century and early 1900’s, to Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi in the 1940’s, through to Derek Jarman, Paula Rego, Euan Uglow and Craigie Aitchison in the 50’s and 60’s. More recent Turner Prize winning alumni include Martin Creed, Rachel Whiteread, Antony Gormley and Douglas Gordon. The Slade has an extensive archive on site which includes objects, papers, photographs, class lists, student records and artefacts dating throughout its history at UCL, which contains rich evidence of the time artists spent at the Slade. However, this archive is difficult to access, and no attempt has been made to present this rich information to a wider audience.

Until now. I'm really pleased to announce that UCLDH have received a UCL Small Research Grant to work with the Slade to undertake a pilot project with the Slade Archive - to see what is there, and how it can be exploited and used. One of the things we are going to do is dig up old class photographs, and try to identify people in them. We're also going to be rummaging... and digitising... and plotting... and scheming... and posting things online... and...

The project starts in October, for only a few months, but I'm really looking forward to being involved. Dave Beavan, the UCLDH Research Manager, will also be on the case. You'll hear more about this in the autumn!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Pop-up publicity

I just got sent this flyer from the UCL Art Museum. How cool is that? Grin!

Congratulations, Dr Henriette Roued-Cunliffe!

Henriette's Interpretation Support System (ISS), which forms the basis of her thesis "Building an Interpretation Support System to aid the reading of Ancient Documents".
Yesterday was a nail-biting day for me, as I headed over to Oxford to meet Henriette Roued-Cunliffe, one of my PhD students who I supervise with Professor Alan Bowman, to find out the outcome of her doctoral viva. (For those who dont know, the 3 or 4 year process of writing up a 100,000 word PhD, or D.Phil as they call it in Oxford, is examined by a face-to-face grilling with two examiners where you are expected to show you are a worthy intellectual combatant).

We had arranged to meet at 5pm (her viva started at 2pm) but there was no sign... 5.30 came and went... then the time edged towards 6... Doctoral vivas in Oxford are usually around 2 hours, so we started to get worried. But then Henriette arrived, slightly dazed but happy - the viva had started late due to one of the examiners being held up in traffic, and the examiners wanted to be thorough and let the viva take its course.  But the strange thing about doctoral vivas in Oxford is that they are not allowed to tell you in the exam how you have done! So it wasn't until all the paperwork was filed after that we got the news - around 7pm by now - that Henriette has passed with corrections (which is the best you can hope for!) Hurrah! Champagne all round!

You can read about Henriette's doctoral work, "Building an Interpretation Support System to aid the reading of Ancient Documents", here.
The aim is that the expert reading an ancient document should be able to use the ISS for the things which humans find difficult, which are things like:
  • Remembering complicated reasoning
  • Searching huge datasets
  • Accessing other experts knowledge
  • Enable cooperation between experts on a single document 
Henriette demonstrates that this can be used to help experts search through different hypotheses and record the interpretation process of reading an Ancient text, whilst consulting and reusing existing information sources from other projects. 

Congratulations, Henriette!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Planning a Pop Up Exhibition at UCL Art Museum

Today was my first day in UCL for 5 weeks, and I had a really enjoyable task to start the working day with: off to the UCL Art Museum to choose items in the archive, with the help of the curator, Andrea Fredericksen, for a pop-up exhibition I will be holding there in a few weeks time.

Pop-Up displays at UCL Art Museum are held throughout the year.  By becoming a guest curator for one day, anyone at UCL can select works from the vast art collection. They can share their choices with students, colleagues and the general public in the informal setting of a free lunchtime exhibition in the museum. I am delighted to get the opportunity to do this! But what to choose?

UCL Art Museum. One of my choices is on the easel behind the painting, handily obscured by the glare to keep it a surprise.

Given my background in computing and the arts and humanities, I thought it would be really fun to try and see what computer generated art there was in the collection. UCL has a good history of this - there was a lot of experimental computer art going on with the aid of the engineering faculty in the 1970s, and the Slade School of Fine Art (part of UCL)
established what was later called the 'Experimental and Computing Department'. The Slade was one of the few institutions that attempted to fully integrate the use of computers in art into its teaching curriculum during the 1970s. The department offered unparalleled resources with its in-house computer system. [see here for a picture of the Slade Computing System, halfway down the page]
 The Slade Centre for Electronic Media in Fine Art has been running since 1995.  What interesting art works that started their life on a computer now lurk in the UCL Art Museum archives?

Well, to find that out you'll have to come by on Tuesday 29th May, 1-2pm! Free entry. See you there?

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The blog post that was

So, I admit, I committed a crime in social media circles. I created some content that I thought a few people may be interested in, posted it, then promptly went on leave for four weeks and didn't follow up here. Sorry. Real life cant be helped though (we had to vacate our house for four weeks as it is being massively extended and I took the boys out of the way while walls came down and went up again. And when I got back the internet was broken in my shed).

I didn't predict the level of interest that my post on blogging and tweeting about research papers would garner, though! It has been retweeted at least 500 times, featured in the Times Higher, been circulated to all the Deans and Heads of Department at UCL (so I'm told), been guest featured at the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog, and been viewed by at least 7000 people (including the stats from LSE). I even have 200 or so new twitter followers (hullo!) So, further evidence that its worth keeping up this blogging malarky then...

Best get back to it.  Need to think of something else as interesting to write next... but therein madness lies. I've enjoyed seeing how far a little, simple, idea of mine flew. Now on to the next thing...