My adventures in transcription!

I like to consider myself quite prepared and organised, but when I suddenly had interviews that needed transcribing, I realised I didn’t know much about it at all. I then undertook a magical journey of finding the right way of transcribing, that worked for me. I have detailed it here for those who are looking to read more about alternate methods of transcription.

Attempt 1: Using voice-to-text, speaking the interview out loud

I had read online that voice-to-text options are the way to go for transcribing. I did a quick google and found otter.ai which is a voice-to-text transcriber. Otter.AI is good if you want to record the conversation and have it transcribe for you. Sounds almost too good to be true right?

Right. Unfortunately I had also read that with voice-to-text they don’t quite understand accents that aren’t American. I’m Australian and speak extraordinarily fast. My interview participants speak English as a Second Language (or third, or fourth) so they also have an accent that isn’t American. I knew that this option would probably not work for me, but I had a way around it. I had read the simplest way to work around the accent problem is to put headphones in, listen to the recording on your phone, and speak it out loud to your computer. Quickly edit the mistakes and boom you are done! The site suggested it would only take around 2 hours for a 1 hour interview.

The only problem is that Otter.Ai works from being able to distinguish between two voices to create the transcript. So what I ended up with was a jumble of text that was a mix of both my text, and the interviewees text. Here is an example in which there are two speakers, with their text jumbled (I ask a question, then the participant responds, and I ask a follow up question):

Screen Shot 2019-02-28 at 3.12.39 pmWhilst it cut down on typing, I had a severe amount of editing to do AND the timestamps didn’t align with the interview audio, as when I was speaking out loud I was actually a lot quicker than the interview had been. I think the first 1 hour interview took around 10-12 in total, due to the need to listen and re-listen and correct the words that Otter had heard wrong (quite a lot of words actually – turns out it really doesn’t like my voice, or African place names). Not to mention questions didn’t have question marks, some sentences were cut off etc.

Result: less typing but 10-12 hours (1 of speaking the interview out loud, roughly 10 editing)

Attempt 2: Letting Otter.AI have free reign of the recording

After my first attempt, I decided to letter Otter.AI just have complete control of the transcription. My second interview I wanted to transcribe had a much more British accent and I was hoping that Otter would be able to pick it up. Turns out Otter liked that participants accent, but it still didn’t like mine at all. This was quicker in the editing phase, as it could recognise that we were two different speakers. It was also quicker as I didn’t need to speak the interview out loud, automatically cutting an hour of editing time. However, it still had problems when my participant spoke too quickly or whenever I spoke. To give you an example:

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So here I have put white boxes over identifying features (names of people and companies) I have put a clear box of mistakes that would require editing. I have also added two red annotations that I added which shows how Otter didn’t always keep text together (a small, but time consuming issue to fix).

One frustrating thing about otter is that when you click on a word to edit it, it automatically starts playing the recording from that word. I hated this, sometimes I wanted to edit a word without having to fumble around and hit pause.

Result: no typing beyond editing, but 7-8 hours of work. 

Attempt 3: Heading back to Nvivo

By now I had also realised a fundamental flaw in Otter.AI. It requires the internet. This is fine for those who are in a country where there is stable internet and electricity, but we have had two scheduled power outages in the last month (lasting all day), and random ones in between (lasting from 1 hour-8 hours). In one of these power outages I realised, I am importing my interviews into NVivo anyway, why not have a go at using it?

I began transcribing in NVivo and it was honestly a breeze. I can choose the speed that the interview plays back (Otter.Ai can do this too) and it is a much simpler interface. I could control when the audio played, could use my keyboard to go back and forth (using the shortcuts my Mac has). I can also use the keyboard to create new transcript lines, meaning I don’t need to pause the audio if I can type quick enough to keep up.

I typed the whole interview in 5 hours. This includes time taken to wander around the house, stare aimlessly into the fridge, and check social media. So considering that professional transcription time is roughly 4 hours for every 1 hour, I’m pretty happy with NVivo. I type quickly and used keyboard shortcuts, so if you are a slower typer this might not be for you.

Result: 5 hours transcription time, no internet required, but lots of typing.

My transcription tips

  1. Try many methods, don’t just settle for the first one you try, or the one recommended to you.
  2. Learn the keyboard shortcuts for your program.
  3. Put your phone in another room so you aren’t tempted to pick it up and get distracted.
  4. Just do it! It is a pain, and can be quite boring but it won’t happen if you don’t do it!
  5. Enjoy the time of listening to your interview again.
  6. Buy a transcription pedal (something I haven’t done, but everyone recommends them).
  7. Don’t be sad if you don’t have funding for transcription. Being sad won’t make your transcription magically happen (I say this because I did spend a few days wishing the transcription fairy would visit).

Hope this has helped, even if it gives you some potential ideas for transcription. Comment below if you have questions, or you can always connect with me on Twitter.

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The way I take notes for my PhD

In high school I was really bad at taking notes and studying. So much so that I barely got into a university degree! In my undergraduate I slowly learnt tricks for studying and remembering all the things I had to do (not easy with ADHD). But when you begin a PhD, it is quite honestly a whole new ball game. The things you read you will need to be able to find, and remember in two or three years time!

Everybody has a different process, but I thought I would outline mine in this blog post. I’ll begin with a confession; the thought of PDFs in folders has always scared me.  To me, the idea of knowing what a file is by the way I name it and being able to find the things I have highlighted a year later seemed (and still seems) impossible. I honestly do not know how people just use PDFs on their computer to remember all of the things they have read (hats off to those who can do that!). In the beginning of my PhD I printed every article I read, so I could file it manually (my inspiration here). I still think this is the best method for me, but I have had to adapt it due to overseas fieldwork (can’t exactly drag printed articles around the world with me).

Below I detail the steps I take when reading an article/book/whatever for my PhD.

Manually enter the article into EndNote

I know some (most?) PhD students import database searches into their EndNote libraries and work from there. But I have two issues from this:

  1. You have to check the references to ensure authors don’t have different name versions (otherwise in documents your EndNote will automatically treat them like two authors who have the same last name and first initial).
  2. How do you know what you have read? Or where to start reading?

I manually enter the details to avoid this. In the beginning I used the EndNote keyword feature to help find articles I had entered, but now I do not do this (as I use Nvivo and it is easier to find things and it is a bit redundant with the way I file articles). In my endnote I simply add all necessary bibliographical information and attach the PDF (my back up in case of catastrophic tech failure). I also use the endnote online to sync my library to the cloud.

Add an annotated bibliography entry to my scrivener

This annotated bibliography is whatever I am thinking/feeling at the time. Some entries are more detailed than others. See the example below:

screen shot 2019-01-29 at 2.23.30 pm

I have blocked the first two entries APA reference as I am quite critical in my entry of them (not quite ready to have such a strong academic voice just yet). You will notice how all four of the entries are quite different with what they identify and talk about. I don’t follow a set pattern for these, it is quite literally my thoughts. For most it is a summary of what the article said and my thoughts. This is a good way to begin to think critically about all of the things you read.

Add some writing to my scrivener file

This part has helped me to actually start writing. Since the beginning of my PhD I have always added sentences to my Scrivener file to match the article I am reading. For example:

Screen Shot 2019-01-29 at 2.30.31 pm.png

This is my scrivener file for my whole PhD. On the left side you can see I have folders set up and each of these contains sub-folders and text within. The top ones are actual chapter drafts that I have begun working on and the ones filed under ‘research’ are things I have randomly written that I am unsure if I will need/what chapter they will be in. The text in this screen here is an example of where I have begun to write about postcolonialism and education. Notice how I have written sentences about what Matereke argues, but also included a quote I think might be relevant. When I begin to write this section later, I can use these as starting points to construct an argument that flows (and actual paragraphs). I will also know what authors I have read who are related to this area. My other files generally have more writing in them than this, but I chose a small example in case someone wants to read the text (to see what I mean)! Let me know if you want more detail on using Scrivener for a PhD!

Code the article in Nvivo

I have already discussed this in my blogpost: Nvivo for a literature review: How and why. I use Nvivo to help me sort my PDFS and find quotes that I like, or in general sentences that I think are really eloquent and helpful at understanding a concept. For example:

screen shot 2019-01-29 at 2.35.38 pm

A quick glance at my code for ‘colonialism’ allows me to see some ways of writing about colonialism and allows me to remember the key words that are used when discussing this concept (‘civilising mission’ ‘racialised hierachies’ etc).

In conclusion…

I hope this blog has helped you understand the way I take notes, as I have managed to transform from a person who was completely analog with note taking (in undergraduate) to able to work digitally. Not only do I work digitally, I always know where my readings are, how to find something quickly and I don’t start writing with a blank page!

If you are just beginning your PhD, don’t be afraid to find the system that works for you by experimenting with a jigsaw of other people’s methods!

How I avoided a PhD meltdown

In August-September I had a few really bad months. Somebody really close to me died, my dog died, my partner had a sports injury, and then I accidentally drowned my laptop. This was a really hard time for me, to top it off I was busy with teaching undergraduates for the first time and trying to plan for my fieldwork (see my post on The P in PhD should stand for Paperwork.)

Losing my computer could have been the last straw to make me throw in the towel completely. I learnt two things from losing my computer: 1) IT departments will sometimes quote you more than the cost of a new laptop to fix your laptop 2) making regular backups is extremely important.

If I had lost all of my PhD files I honestly do not know how I would have reacted. I think I probably would have cried for a week and then seriously contemplated quitting. But I was lucky.

I was lucky because I use OneDrive, provided by my university, to automatically backup all of my files. My EndNote library is not kept in this automatically syncing folder because I have read that cloud storage can cause corruption of your EndNote library. It is kept in a seperate folder, but I use my online EndNote account to sync all of my References in library. People who use a Mac should note that for about six months I wasn’t syncing my files properly, so make sure you are pressing the sync button NOT the ‘sync status’ button (seems obvious in hindsight, but keep it in mind). In fact, the only file I lost was some of my NVIVO file (read more: Nvivo for a literature review: How and why) because I also do not keep that in my cloud folder as I am unsure of the stability of the file in cloud storage. I lost this because I had been inconsistent with adding my backup files into my cloud folder.

So yes, I was very lucky that I didn’t lose everything and I now take even more precautions. I have a 1TB hard drive that I have set up ‘Time Machine’ on and I also sync my whole PhD folder to my student folder on the University drives (when I am on campus).

So consider this your timely reminder to make sure you have a system for backing up your files and that you use this system regularly.  I didn’t expect for everything bad to happen at once, but this is the way life works sometimes and you need to ensure that accidentally drowning your laptop won’t ruin you! The title of this blog post may be melodramatic but you really don’t know when, or how, you may lose all of your files and trust me, the timing definitely will not be perfect!

 

The P in PhD should stand for Paperwork

If you have read the title of my post it might be pretty obvious what I will be discussing today: paperwork. I’m going to give you a brief overview of my own experience of post-confirmation paperwork and some general advice. I passed my confirmation in July, so while I was very excited and happy to have passed that milestone with very positive feedback, one thing loomed.

The dreaded ethics application. As a result of my honours project and some research assistant work I have previously completed ethics applications. So I was not overly concerned about my ethics application, as it was something I have experienced before. However, I wasn’t prepared for the leg work that is involved. For my honours project my supervisor helped a lot with the ethics application, by finding the peer review, organising the head of school declaration and creating the ethics application itself in our university’s software. It is only now I realise how much assistance I received for that application.

For my PhD ethics I was given much more space to learn. I found the ethics application software myself and transferred all of the questions to a word document. I would recommend this as a way to send drafts to your supervisors. Once I had some clarifying questions and edits from my supervisors, my various consent and PIS forms, it was time for peer review. This was the first step I had not encountered before. Who did could I approach that wasn’t already tied to my project? This is where my tips about treating your PhD like a job come in handy.

I approached someone I knew! Now, I currently tutor on a course for this person, but the way we met initially was through interactions on twitter and by me being present on campus. I think it is very important to develop relationships with the people who you share a hallway with. Peer review is a key example of this especially if like me, you feel awkward emailing people you don’t know out of the blue. After my peer review came back, with a few minor edits, it was time for the Head of School declaration. This one was a bit harder, I felt very awkward cold emailing someone I have met a few times – questions loomed in my head, does he know who I am? Have I ever introduced myself? etc. But I realised that this was part of the process and I had to just send the email and hope for the best. This also came back relatively quickly!

Following this I submitted my ethics application and gave a sigh of relief. However, this was only the first step towards my fieldwork which is planned for January 2019. I quickly realised my faculty has deadlines for funding related to international travel (we are allocated a certain amount per year for research funds). This meant finding two forms, one for approval of funds and the other for approval of international travel. I also had to create a travel diary in excel that showed what percentage of my trip would be personal or business. It was whilst doing one of these forms I remembered there was a process I had forgotten about: safety clearance. I quickly submitted these forms and began the process of safety clearance.

This is where my post may get a bit frantic, in reflection of my feelings. After realising I needed to apply for my safety clearance I began to search in the university website to find the correct form. To my frustration it wasn’t clear which form I had to fill in but eventually I found the first form. I began filling it in, when half way I was directed to also fill in another form. At this point, I thought ‘Okay, two forms isn’t so bad. Even if these two forms seem to have pretty similar information.’ After completing the first form I began on the second form. But to my dismay, it directed me to a checklist. This checklist advised me to fill in another four forms. At this point I was lost, I had 8 different forms (as I had somehow found another two forms related to international travel) open in multiple different formats and across multiple screens (web browser, pdf and Microsoft word). I felt very overwhelmed. Luckily, we have a good team of administration staff who are in my building and always willing to answer my questions. I confirmed with them I in fact only needed two of the forms. Now, after some time of stress and feeling overwhelmed I have the following clearances/things organised:

  • Safety clearance
  • Approval for international travel
  • Approval for funds to be spent on international travel.
  • Travel insurance: not included in the post, but it did involved filling in a form for every day of my trip – 98 days – about my location and what I would be doing, very tedious in itself, this is seperate to the excel spreadsheet but identical information.

All that’s left is ethics! Now my advice:

  1. Know your administration staff and don’t be afraid to ask them for help.
  2. Learn the policies of your faculty, especially if you are planning overseas travel (for my university these can be found online and in the student handbook).
  3. Plan a few months to organise your ethics application prior to submission. Getting the relevant signatures takes time; as does making sure your application makes sense to someone not involved!
  4. With your supervisor make a plan for submitting all of the paperwork needed, as sometimes their signature is required. You don’t want them to be away on a trip while you desperately need a signature!
  5. Plan for unexpected forms!
  6. If you need safety clearance you will need to think about the risks involved with your travel. This can be tricky.

I hope these tips help make your own process smoother for completing all of the post-confirmation paperwork!

Nvivo for a literature review: How and why

Recently, I decided to use Nvivo for my literature review. Firstly, Nvivo doesn’t take out all of the leg work of doing a literature review, for me it is an organisational tool. Secondly, I wish I had started this sooner!

The Why

I was reading about data analysis for my confirmation document and every book suggested familiarising yourself with the program you would use. At the time, I had no experience with Nvivo, I thought how am I going to get practise with no data? Some how along the way, I discovered that some people use it for their literature review. I decided this would be a fantastic, low pressure, method for familarising myself with the program. This actually had the unintended result of allowing myself to confidently say ‘Yes! I can do that!’ when offered Research Assistant work that would involve using Nvivo.

The next reason I decided to use Nvivo was I had no method for organising my quotes that I liked, beyond a spreadsheet and a word document. I personally didn’t like this method, as I felt I couldn’t search and categorise things the way I wanted. Nvivo allows me to categorise quotes under multiple ‘nodes’.

My research focuses on tourism and I wanted a method for sorting my articles (quickly) into: tourist, organisations, volunteers, and host communities. I also wanted a way of looking at how the methods intersected, along with the theoretical frameworks. I know this could probably be done in excel, but I couldn’t quickly access my quotes while searching for the above criteria (well, at least with my limited knowledge of excel).

The How

The next section will require some knowledge of Nvivo and will contain screenshots of Nvivo 11 for Mac. Although they have similar features, I know the Windows version might look different and has extra features. Throughout the post below I have tried to provide the alternate names for the Nvivo 12 (Windows).

Importing references

Firstly, I import my articles under the ‘internals’ sources and into a folder called ‘articles’. I name each one with the authors name and year. In Nvivo 12 (Windows) I think the ‘internals’ folder is simply called ‘Files’.

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This is a quick shot of what it looks like. If you already have a significant EndNote library you can import this, which is what I originally did. I code all of my articles using nodes kept in my ‘literature review’ folder. This will allow me to keep these nodes seperate from my data collection later.

At first, I was unsure of how to keep this current. My technique is to enter an article into EndNote, then manually import it into Nvivo. I then code it as I read. I think this is the most efficient method.

Assigning classifications to the references

As mentioned above, I originally wanted quick access to both sorting and finding quotes. To do this I use the ‘source’ classification available in Nvivo. This is called a ‘file classification’ in the Nvivo 12 for Windows.

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As you can see, my source classification has a title: ‘Reference’ and different attributes listed below. These will import from Endnote (some of them). The most important reason for doing this is it allows me to do a ‘Matrix Coding Inquiry’ which I will now show you an example of output:

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In the left column you can see some nodes I chose to display for this example. The row across the top shows the ‘attributes’. The intersections of these show the number of times these have been coded together. If we look at the yellow box, we can see I have coded ‘Images of Africa’ three times in a reference that has the attribute ‘volunteer tourist’. This is useful to me if I want to write about literature on volunteer tourists discuss their host communities. I can double click on this and view the three times I have coded this and it looks like:

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This of course takes a fair amount of organisation, but it helps me to easily find intersections of different categories. You can also look at the intersection of two nodes in the same way.

If you don’t need to find specific intersections you can also view individual nodes:

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I wrote this post because I struggled to find the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of using Nvivo for a literature review. I would strongly recommend it, as it is a great tool for this purpose. I’m not an expert at Nvivo yet, but I really enjoy using it.

If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below!

Tips for treating your PhD like a full-time job

I treat my PhD like a full-time job. I would like to start this post by acknowledging how fortunate I am to be able to do this. I have no kids, a supportive partner, a scholarship and desk space at my university. This post will not apply to everyone. I had a friend who  was forced to treat his PhD like a full-time job. This was because his supervisor was very stringent about him being in the lab every day. I, on the other hand, do not work in a lab and my supervisors do not check on me every day. This means I have to independently make sure I move my PhD forward every day. Here are some tips if you struggle to commit time to your PhD.

  1. I dress professionally every day. I am lucky, again, in this aspect because my profession is a school teacher. I already have an arsenal of professional clothes from working as a teacher, donations from my mum and mother-in law, and professional placements. Dressing professionally helps to put me in the mindset of work. Some mornings I feel like wearing my biggest hoody and leggings. If I chose to wear these, I can guarantee my mindset for the day would also be to relax and slack off. This doesn’t mean everyone who wears hoodies and leggings slack off, it just means that professional clothes put me into a professional mindset. It also means if I see someone important in the hallway I can confidently say hello.
  2. I arrive at the same time everyday. If you want to treat your PhD like a job, you should have an allocated start time. Mine is 8:30am, but I usually arrive before this time. This means I can settle in, check social media and begin to think about my day. Your start time could be later, or earlier, whatever works for you. But you need to make sure you are strict about following this.
  3. I plan my days. I have a weekly plan which outlines goals and tasks for the week. This helps me stay focused on the tasks I need to do.
  4. I smile at people in the hallway. This might sound weird; but, if I consider this a full-time, job the people in the hallway are my colleagues. I don’t smile at random undergraduate students, because they would probably think I was crazy, but I smile at the other postgrads and those who share the floor with me. This means I now have conversations with people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It also means that I don’t feel as isolated. A PhD can be a VERY lonely journey. These small human interactions make it seem a bit more friendly and slightly more like a real job.
  5. I aim to have lunch with my ‘colleagues’ once a week. In my School there are multiple office spaces for PhD students. This means you don’t always see people in the hallway. I have organised a weekly lunch to keep in touch with people. I know that regular offices have a day of the week where they might order take-away and have a bit of a silly lunch. I consider this to be very similar.
  6. I pack my lunch, everyday. This one helps because it means that I don’t buy food from the outlets on campus (expensive and not always the best quality). It also means I don’t have an excuse to leave early, or go home because I am hungry. Most office workers pack their lunch every day (or if you work at my sister’s accounting firm they have lunch provided) so this is another way of treating your PhD like a job. It is all about creating a routine.
  7. I avoid social media. When I am in my office I tend to only use social media in my breaks between working. I have scheduled 90 minute periods, with 15 minute breaks in between. I also have a 30 minute lunch scheduled in. I tried Pomodoros of 25/5 but this did not work for me.
  8. I call it a job. I tell my friends, family, that it is a job. My partner knows that I leave the house at a certain time and that I am going to ‘work’. This helps me to remind people that although a PhD is ‘study’ it is also a full-time role.
  9. I make the most of my desk space. My desk is decorated, has piles of books, articles and other things on it. I’m lucky that I have a permanent desk. If you have a permanent desk you should consider making it the place you want to spend the most time at. One way to do this is to start using a whiteboard, calendar, post-its and other things to brighten the space and make it easier for you to feel comfortable.

I hope you have gotten some tips that might help you to treat your PhD like a full time job. Please comment below if you have any suggestions!

 

Advice for doing a PhD

 

Recently on Twitter I asked “If you could give only one piece of advice to a PhD student what would it be?” and I received lots of useful advice from the twittersphere. Might tweet spread further than I ever anticipated. I received 48 responses over all.

You can view the tweet above but I thought it might be worthwhile to summarise the tweets here. As a result, this post will be quite short as I think most of the tweets speak for themselves, so have a look at the thread!

Overall, it seemed to me the most common advice is:

  • Keep a work life balance, take your holidays and look after yourself.
  • It will be harder than you think.
  • It is a slow process, embrace the skills you learn along the way and it is your process. Don’t compare yourself to others.
  • Be organised and start writing early. Don’t assume you will remember everything from the start of your PhD at the end, having a system helps.

Here are some of the key tweets I liked:

I encourage you to read through the thread. It provides insightful advice from people who have been there before.

My own advice would be, don’t compare. I wish I had known this at the start of my PhD. I remember meeting someone in the sciences and following them on Twitter. They are about a year ahead of me in their journey, and were already teaching and publishing. I immediately felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Never mind that this person was doing experiments, so had results to share, and that they were a year ahead of me. My brain chose to ignore these facts. Remind yourself every time you compare, that it is actually impossible to compare your journey, even in the same field.