Saturday, March 14, 2015

staying in the loop

I have recently found how difficult it can be to maintain independent study or research when you are not officially affiliated with any institution - whether you are coming out of undergraduate studies or a graduate institution. As I've mentioned in my previous post, I quickly learned that there are many paths to graduate study; some paths are more direct while others seem to be involve a lot of meandering. Many incredibly inspiring (and brilliant) people I encountered within a graduate setting were considerably older than I was, yet they are currently pursuing a PhD. For many of them there was a significant gap between their undergrad/Master's program and their current PhD programs, but they managed to keep their studies going even when they found themselves outside the walls of higher ed. As someone who has ultimately decided to decline a PhD offer and take some more time off, I have struggled with balance and motivation in personal study. One thing that has been on my mind a lot is the question of how to stay in the loop with what is happening in your field.

Most people can easily see why medical professionals or researchers need to stay on top of the latest studies/concepts that pop up in their field - if you're not in the know, you could do some damage to someone. It's a little bit harder to convince people that those of us in the humanities also need to keep up with the latest ideas. But just like other fields there are trends and new discoveries happening within the humanities that could potentially change the way you are approaching your own research. The problem is how to remain connected to your field if you aren't currently affiliated with a university because, let's face it, access to a lot of the journals we need to read are not cheap!

One way I stay in tune with what's happening within my own realm of research is, perhaps surprisingly, Twitter. Many scholars, journals, publishing houses, and graduate interest groups are very active on Twitter and post resources on a whole host of academic related topics. Some accounts are very pragmatic and post tips on improving writing or time management: I find GradHacker to be a very fun resource because it is written by current graduate students. Even if you yourself are not in a program, the contributors present ideas that can be good guidelines for those of us outside higher ed. One article I particularly like is on how to approach PhD coursework. Other accounts I follow for graduate topics are: Vitae, Inside Higher Ed, and (for a lot of laughs) Sh*t Academics Say. All of these accounts will also link to outside blog posts for more info as well! I find Twitter a nice practical option for the alternative academic, because it gives you a bit of academia each day to tide you over.

As I try to keep in tune with what's going on within my own areas of interest, I have also run up against the issue to getting your hands on materials. If you are like me and working in a field where the texts can get pretty expensive (yes, I'm talking about you, Strange Encounters!) I make a bee-line to my local library page to check out the state-wide Interlibrary Loan system. I admit that this is not really paradigm-shifting information in any way, but it doesn't hurt to remind people how amazing a lot of library systems can be. I have been able to get my hands on almost every single book that I have searched for so far, even ones that I had expected to be more elusive (including Strange Encounters!). If I can't get my hands on a text, but I am sure that it would be really useful for my studies, I do bite the bullet and get the Kindle editions which tend to be cheaper than hardcopy editions.

These are just two ways that I myself have been trying to keep up to date with research. Thankfully with the information age that we live in it is much, much easier to stay in the loop with all the online resources that are available. As always, I'd love to hear any ideas you guys have (regardless of what you are studying) and would love to get some fresh ideas!

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