“23 Things is a self-directed course that is facilitated by the Researcher Development Programme (University of Surrey). It aims to expose you to a range of digital tools that could help you in your professional development as a researcher, but also in your personal development as an employable individual. The aim is for you to spend a little time each week building up and expanding your online skills.”
As some of you already know, since October 2017 I’ve been a part-time student at the University of Surrey. ‘23 Things’ is a course I have elected to do as part of my studies. I’m excited. Pumped. Ready to go. I guess that energy is easy to channel at ‘Thing 1’.
Question is: will this youthful enthusiasm see me through to ‘Thing 23’?
Traditionally we tend to think of PhD students as pastey academics who spend hours, even years, ensconced in labs or libraries, or both, far removed from the ‘real’ world. While I’m enjoying immersing myself in my research I don’t want to become a library hermit or a lab rat. I’m not a scientist. I’m not a cosmologist. I’m not deciphering ancient hieroglyphics. I’m a professional musician. Interacting with people is an essential part of what I do. I know I’ve mentioned this before but for the benefit of newcomers: I’m doing my PhD on the ukulele.
Yep! That really gets a mixed reaction. Tell people you’re doing a PhD and they give you the, ‘wow, that’s so impressive’ face. Then add, on the ukulele. At which point they either fall about laughing, look horrified, or say, that’s so cool (usually under the age of 25). And it’s not just on the ukulele, it’s on the classical ukulele. Now, you don’t hear those two words in the same sentence very often.
If you need time for that to sink in click the play button on the video below.
I hope those who were ROFL are now curious and those who were horrified are sitting down with a nice cup of tea. To those who thought, that’s so cool, I just want to say, Thank you, I love you! Why not grab a ukulele and join in the fun.
Studying, improving, developing, researching and creating are all part of this journey. But I really don’t want to become a fusty academic. I need balance. I want my work to be accessible. I want to share my ideas, my arrangements, my compositions and my pedagogical material with other ukulele players. I also need their / your feedback. The ukulele has a huge on-line presence with many forums, Facebook groups and websites. Through the internet I can communicate and interact with classical ukulele players all over the world. Social media isn’t just an optional extra for me, it is essential. I’m already quite good at social media. I have two active YouTube channels, Twitter (I’m really rubbish at that), Instagram (also rubbish at that) and Facebook. ‘23 Things’ is a fantastic opportunity for me to learn how to do things better.
Before I started my uni course in October 2017 I created the I Love Classical Ukulele website. The site doesn’t just focus on my own work; it’s a resource for other players and people interested in classical ukulele. I also want it to be a part of my research portfolio. It’s early days and I’m not sure how it all fits together yet but, so far, feedback has been positive. (Supervisor raises one eyebrow.) One objective was to start a blog. (Supervisor raises other eyebrow.)
But where to start? I had a lot of doubts. What should I write about? How do I make my blog interesting? How do I make my blog informative but fun? Do I sound stupid? Do I sound full of it? Who is my audience? What am I trying to achieve?
4th blog into the journey the doubt and uncertainty are still there. How crippling these feelings can be! Staring at the blank page. Deciding to make another cup of tea (the British antidote to every-thing). Deciding I need to go to Waitrose (Why? To buy more tea, of course). All the time thinking, where do I start. Pen poised. Page blank. Where do I start? Oh wait, I need to do the washing.
I don’t have the same doubts and mental delay tactics about using YouTube. I started a guitar channel way back in December 2008. My most watched video has over 100,000 views. As a friend pointed out, if you got a pound for every view you’d be doing well…
This was an early video. I was a bit camera shy back then so I used audio from my CD. The photographs were supplied by photographer friend, Josie Elias. We’ve since collaborated on many videos. In 2014 we were commissioned to make a video for Minterne Gardens in Dorset. Having a friendly photographer has been invaluable. Being able to use professional quality photos on websites, social media and blogs is a huge advantage. It enables you to break up the text and gives people a chance to mull.
These days I also make ‘live’ videos. I know some people who go to a lot of trouble to make their videos look professional. I’m quite envious but, to be honest, I don’t have the space, the editing skills or the software. I also don’t have hours to spend creating videos. I’m more of a ‘welcome to my kitchen’ kind of a person.
Like Real People Do (Hozier).
How important are the videos to my work? With regard to promoting my arrangements, which I sell as ebooks through my website, the videos are essential. I wouldn’t be able to do a PhD without this vital, but rather unsteady, source of income. My work and my studies have a symbiotic relationship. I’m not a youngster starting out on my career, I’m a seasoned professional. I am getting older and I want to keep going. I want to keep learning and improving. In today’s society the reality is: I need to be good at social media to survive. Ask Darth…
This video was the result of a dare from a couple of Facebook friends. What more can I say…
My YouTube ukulele channel has 1,672 subscribers. Not bad. But I need to increase that number. On Facebook I have 3,406 friends. Most of them seem to ignore me. The I Love Classical Ukulele Facebook page, which was launched in September 2017, has 271 likes and 282 followers. That’s interesting because 11 people who are following that page haven’t liked it. Why? Could it be because I can see who liked my page but I can’t see who is following it? Spo-oky.
Sometimes I find Facebook very cynical. There’s a lot of ‘cyber stalking’ going on. People watch you but don’t interact in any way. They don’t like or comment. They just watch. A couple of years ago I made a tutorial video on playing the C major scale in campanella style. About three weeks later I noticed a spate of similar videos on ukulele forums. Coincidence? Hmm. Then there are the endless groups you suddenly find you have ‘joined’. People can actually add you to a group without your permission. I promptly leave, turn off notifications and hit the button that prevents anyone else from adding me to that group. You can also be tagged and suddenly find yourself in a heated discussion about which are the best strings to use, or worse. Learning how to use the Facebook settings to control tagging is really important. It’s also really annoying how often Facebook changes it’s policy and you find your privacy settings have, mysteriously, all changed.
I try not to think too much about dark side of social media. Perhaps I’m being an ostrich again but I prefer to focus on the good side of the ‘force’. For instance, without Facebook I wouldn’t have found out about the International Guitar Research Centre at Surrey Uni and I certainly wouldn’t have submitted an abstract to do a lecture / recital on John Tavener. A friend encouraged me to have a go, and being an Aussie at heart, I did. I went to Surrey and made some very important contacts. After Surrey I was invited to a guitar research symposium in Cambridge. Now I’m doing a PhD at Surrey. The two people who first accepted my Tavener abstract are my supervisors. Meeting them, making them aware of my work and my interests opened up a whole new world of possibilities. It also gave me a real sense of belonging and being valued.
So, take the plunge, start a blog, tell the world about your passion, you never know who will read it, where it will lead you, or the confidence it will give you to follow your dreams.
In December 2017 I went to Madeira to visit some Facebook friends.
Using social media is a great way to bridge the gap between academia and the ‘real’ world. I’m looking forward to learning how to get more out it.
Bring it on!