Catching up and concentrating on clients: the life of a freelancer

I’m looong overdue a blogpost: last time I wrote here it was about an Elsevier event in November! I’ve not been quiet exactly, just busy working for my clients. So I thought I’d share a quick look at some of my recent/current work.

Next week, I’m excited to be going to the OCLC EMEA Regional meeting. It happens to be in Berlin and OCLC are a relatively new client. I’m going along to listen for soundbites by the speakers and we’ll see what I write about, based on the inspiring talks in the programme.

I’m always busy working on the social media output for piirus.ac.uk, based at the University of Warwick alongside the more famous jobs.ac.uk. We’ve got a great team of correspondents who share the role of “tweeter” each day, and our blogposts cover a lot of themes relevant to the early career researcher, from time management and networking, to career paths and academic consultancy. We’ve got more good stuff in the pipeline, so if you’re looking for a blog to read then keep an eye out over there.

A hand with a pen, writing on paper at a desk

Since I became freelance, I’ve been regularly writing book back covers and unique selling points for SpringerNature: this is fascinating work as the books come from across the disciplines, from maths and philosophy to physics and health sciences. I get a little insight into some of the excellent research that is being published and learn something new with every book that I write for.

And I’ve been teaching the Information Ethics & Legal Aspects module at Humboldt University again, this last semester. I really like teaching it as I can see how it gives the students food for thought. And it’s so topical: we always find stories in the news to illustrate our themes. The students had their oral exam last week and I’m pleased to say that they all passed!

Well, those have been the main, big projects recently. Those and the tax reporting 😉

Image credit: CC0, via Pixabay

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Keeping up with academic library themes

Working mostly from home, I don’t talk to colleagues as often as I used to. Also, being freelance, I don’t have as much opportunity to attend training sessions and conferences as I used to have, but nevertheless, it’s important for me to keep in touch with developments in my discipline and improve my skills, just like Siobhan O’Dwyer described in the case of early career researchers. There are some sources that I particularly value for keeping me informed and up to date, which I wanted to highlight here:

  1. For keeping researchers and their needs in mind, good lunchtime entertainment: Radio 4’s Inside Science and The Life Scientific.
  2. BrightTALK channels: I like to listen to these whilst doing other stuff, and if they’re really good then I tune in and look at the slides too!
  3. Email lists & newsletters: Jiscmail for the UK and the ALA for the US. Daily digests help to keep it manageable to follow these. I also get a regular roundup of news from ResearchInformation.
  4. Blogs: I especially like dipping into the Scholarly Kitchen, RetractionWatch, LSE’s Impact of Social Sciences, Nature blogs and lately, Danny Kingsley of the University of Cambridge. The easiest way to follow such blogs? Twitter feeds!
  5. Twitter: I like to keep an eye on the following hashtags: #ecrchat, #uklibchat, #librarians #altmetrics #OA and recent discovery: #publishinginsights  Actually, I’ve been collecting academic hashtags along with colleagues from piirus.ac.uk, so if you want more then take a look!
  6. A MOOC? I did one MOOC module recently and blogged about it for my regular client, piirus. It was my first MOOC and it’s not an investment of time to be underestimated, but very much worthwhile. If you’re looking for one to suit you, then the platform for the one I did was edX, and you can find lots of courses on their site.

Finally, and this does count as a learning experience (honest!): I go to a local knitting group to pratice & keep up my German. It’s amazing what you can learn from such a group – and not only vocabulary!

What sources do you regularly turn to, or recommend?

6 advantages of a virtual meeting over a face to face one!

I work from home, so that means that I take part in quite a few virtual meetings. Whether you prefer Skype, Google Hangouts or full video conferencing, there are some advantages to virtual online meetings, as opposed to in person or even teleconferencing. Here is my list of six things that I gain from virtual meetings:

  1. No travel time: you can attend from where you are already
  2. No travel costs (although you might want to invest in some tools)
  3. It’s easy to share your desktop with folks, to show what you mean
  4. You can see faces, so it makes you feel more connected than by teleconferencing
  5. You can video record a meeting for others to watch if they could not attend
  6. Nobody will catch your cold, and you will catch no-one else’s!

Of course, if you turn the video off, or teleconference instead then you can attend a meeting in your PJs and no-one will know. And of course, I have found that there are disadvantages too:

  1. Technology needed requires a little time to install & get familiar/comfortable with (and might cost). For freelancers: different clients may prefer to use different technology!
  2. Internet connections & free tools can sometimes let you down: it’s better to be plugged in than rely on wifi if you’re using VoIP.
  3. In virtual meetings, only one of you can talk at a time: this might be an advantage, of course! But you lose the many “mini” interactions that take place around a larger, in-person meeting, eg pairs of attendees around a table chatting whilst waiting for a meeting to start or the person at the end who asks an extra question in private. So the virtual meeting is less personal and less social than meeting in person.
  4. It doesn’t signal your commitment/interest/availability to your client, so you may have to work extra hard with other forms of communication, to compensate. If you really want to impress someone, then it is better to go and see them in the real world!
  5. There is no travel time but you do need to prepare: plug your camera/speaker/microphone in, sign in to the software, put a smart jacket on, tidy your shelves behind you, silence your mobile phone and turn that washing machine off! You may also need to organise a back-up plan, in case your internet connection fails you.

Sometimes a real meeting is what you need but often, a virtual chat is more efficient and if you live miles away from your client or team then it might be your only realistic option.

What tools do you like to use for meetings, and what advantages do they bring you?

Two events this week: one in Berlin, one on Twitter for #ECRchat

Busy times here as term is underway at Humboldt University and as well as teaching on Wednesdays, today is the day that I present with my co-tutor at Humboldt’s School of Library & Information science, as part of the BBK series about how we teach our Information Ethics module, and why Berlin is a suitable place for our topic.

And Thursday is the day of a long-awaited #ECRchat on Networking and opportunities in the third and public sector at 11am UK time. ECRchat is an event/chat in Twitter itself, using the hashtag #ECRchat. If you’re not already used to hashtag events Twitter, then the easiest way to follow the event would be to look on the Piirus blogpost that I linked to above, at the time of the chat. Or to wait until a Storify summary is announced on the #ECRchat channel.

I am also full of inspiration from last week’s Frankfurt book fair, but you’ll have to wait for me blog about it because I obviously have a lot of things on at the moment!

A trip to New York city

So my blog is called “A librarian abroad” and I haven’t blogged very much about my trips! This week I was in New York to visit a client: I saw lots of Soho/Noho and I must say, it’s my favourite part of the city. I daresay that I felt more at home there because it’s got lots of older architecture which makes it feel more like Europe, and of course because it’s where New York University is to be found. Here is a picture of their lovely red sandstone library:

NY Uni Library
Or is it a pic of a tree? I’m no photographer, sorry! But you get the idea: the library is opposite Washington Square Park…

I didn’t try to go in and visit: it was really, really busy and I could see the card barriers just inside the doors. I did look in through the windows, and I love the repeated square maze-pattern lighting, which you can see if you look very hard in my picture. Not only is it visually appealing but there’s no need to worry about the alignment of your shelves & your lights, as with strip lights!

It’s nice when you can speak your own language on your travels. Well, almost! I learnt to call the toilet a “restroom” for a few days, and to ask where the nearest “trashcan” is, but still forgot to call a full stop a “period”! Also, there’s no such thing as a flapjack in the US (apparently there is something called a flapjack but that’s what I would call a pancake!) and the nearest I could get to the ubiquitous (in the UK) British flapjack was an oatmeal cookie or granola bar, neither of which is quite the same.

And of course, as a tea drinker, I struggled to get a decent cuppa: it’s even more difficult than in Germany! I actually bought one “tea” that was undrinkable from the “Argo Tea Cafe”. I was enticed in by the name, but suspicious when I saw the bubbles on top of my tea and caught a scent of something more like bubble-gum than earl grey tea! Then I realised that there was no trace of either tea leaves or tea bag. I tried to drink it, I really did, but I had to settle for a bottle of water in the end.

Finally, here is a photo of the nearby physics building in the same warm, glowing red sandstone finish as the library, which of course my photos don’t capture:

NY Uni Physics building
With classic NY street “furniture!

I also write for Piirus: a selection of my recent blogposts for them

As a freelancer, one of my clients is Piirus: they match researchers together so that they can work collaboratively, and I am their social media manager. Consequently, I’m writing a lot over on the Piirus blog! Lately, I’ve been participating in the Thesis Whisperer’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), called “How to Survive Your PhD“, and if you want to know what I’ve been finding out on that course then please do take a look at my latest blogpost for Piirus.

I also share a lot of my tips on using Twitter on the Piirus blog, including a kind of mini series lately on the hashtags that may interest anyone supporting researchers, or indeed researchers themselves. In other topics that I’ve blogged about for Piirus, I looked recently at motivations for digitisation and I shared tips for researchers considering crowdsourcing projects. If you’re interested in following my writing over on the Piirus blog then please do take a look. Although I will keep writing here too, of course!

Clear out your e-mail inbox with Boomerang!

This is the story of why I like to use Boomerang. It works with Google mail so if you don’t use Gmail or don’t want Google to have your e-mails then it’s probably not for you. (Although you might find this post by Benjamin Mako Hill an interesting read, if you are keen to block Google from accessing your emails. I digress…).

If you’re like me and use your e-mail inbox as a bit of a “to do” list, well you probably know that it isn’t the most efficient of such lists. You probably have another, real to do list somewhere else (my pieces of paper floating round my desk) and have to balance your inbox with that list/those lists. Maybe, like me, you also leave messages for yourself on your calendar for any important deadlines, and every now and then you try to block out time on your calendar and plan in advance so that your colleagues can also see how busy you are when you’re available.

I once read somewhere that every time you have to read an e-mail twice, you’re wasting time! And yet you sometimes do have to read them twice: once to know that it’s nothing urgent (perhaps on your smart phone, of an evening), and then a second time when you’re ready to deal with its contents (eg the next working day). OK, so checking e-mails on your smartphone like this is definitely a waste of time, but sometimes you read stuff at work and know that you can come back to it in a couple of days, or even later.

Then, you leave it in your inbox and later you have to wade through your inbox to get to the e-mail that you know is now urgent/important, and there’s a risk that you might not remember it in time. Who hasn’t had to apologise to someone for leaving their e-mail buried for too long? I know it’s not just me…

With Boomerang though, I can send emails out of my inbox, and set them to come back at a time when I will need to/be able to deal with them. You get 10 such “boomerangs” per month for free: it definitely helps to keep the clutter out of my inbox.

Now all you have to do is to get rid of the uneasy feeling that just because your inbox is not packed full, that does not mean that you have no work to do!

Working from home works for me!

I already blogged the things I like about working from home… so here is its opposite. Four things that are not so great and how I overcome them.

  1. It can be lonely: telephone and videoconferencing help to overcome this, but really, loneliness isn’t something I struggle with. All the e-mail interactions help, too.
  2. I lack a change of scenery in my day. But when I get a change, it really helps: it’s amazing how much a little lunch time walk can lift my spirits and inspire me.
  3. It’s annoying sometimes when the weather is great and I don’t even get a commute in it. I can always just step out onto the balcony for a breath of fresh air, though. That is better than working in most offices!
  4. I have to cook and wash up for myself at tea/lunch time… as well as all the breakfast and dinner things…

I got 7 advantages and only 4 disadvantages, so there’s proof that it works for me.

A webinar called “Mastering motivation: the neuroscience of engagement and collaboration”

I watched a recorded webinar over lunch the other day, and it became an extended lunch as I took notes for this blogpost. The speaker is Michael Bungay Stanier and he seems to be a leadership coach or consultant to companies. I found the webinar title interesting: researchers are often sceptical of management training, but advice that is based on scientific research must surely appeal!

I’d have liked more linking and references to neuroscience research but it isn’t really about that. It’s about four factors that can influence our brain’s degree of comfort and thereby increase our engagement and collaboration with each other. Much of the webinar is about how we can take control of those factors, and those tips don’t seem to come from neuroscience but are common sense, and familiar to me from other management training that I’ve taken part in. So it’s good, but not what I expected.

Here is my summary of the webinar:

Neuroscience is the study of how the brain works. It tells us how people’s brains are reacting to questions or tests, and we can draw some conclusions from that.

Neuroscience tells us that the human brain needs to feel that things are safe: we aren’t aware of it at a conscious level but the brain is running a programme in the background that is constantly checking safety, and it will lead you away from risky and dangerous things. So it is important that we make our environment feel safe, to reassure our “lizard” or primitive brains. (Entrepreneurs may be able to review situations and see them as less risky than others.)

Michael identifies 4 factors that we can influence, to make the brain feel safe (Nice abbreviation: TERA).

Tribe – In the company of others, your brain is asking: “Are you with me or against me?” So we can try to increase this sense of belonging to the same tribe: tips include smiling, laughing together, small talk at a virtual meeting (Ask people to share their high point of the last week.) and other tactics for achieving rapport and empathy.  Suggests defining a common goal or a common enemy!

Expectations – Your brain is asking: “Do I know what’s happening, can I predict what will happen?” If it’s really obvious what will happen, then the brain feels more comfortable, but if it’s too comfortable then you will get bored and distracted. Setting an agenda is important for a meeting. Be clear about timing and outcomes when talking about things: eg let’s talk about this for five minutes, and in that time we’ll try to come up with x y z. An agenda doesn’t have to be standard, or set before the meeting. We should start a meeting by setting the agenda together: “What are the key decisions we need to make?” Ask a different question at the start of each meeting, to keep things fresh.

Rank – People feel more comfortable if they are high status, or more threatened, if they feel of lower rank. The sense of rank can be influenced.

  • If you are of lower rank and want to increase it: stand up to face the rest of the meeting, when speaking. If you have a question and want to seek help: consider asking yourself first. (See below, the way to answer your question with other questions!)
  • If you are of higher rank and want to make others feel more comfortable: talk at the same level as others, and perhaps sit at 90 degrees to them rather than directly opposite. Praise people. Learn and use names. Listen to each other! Let others go first. If someone asks a question of you and you just give your advice/answer, then you increase your status, but if you respond by saying “that’s a great question, what ideas do you already have”, then you can increase their status. Then ask them, “what else?” Beware of sounding patronising: tone is important, so be genuinely interested in the other person’s answers.

Autonomy – What are the small decisions you can get others to make, rather than you making? Increase reports’ sense of autonomy, and give yourself a break from working so hard! Decide agenda together.

At the beginning, Michael asks you to think of someone who you are trying to manage/lead/collaborate with, and apply this theory. What’s very important to you, in this setting, and what’s least important? And what is important to the other person? At the end, he asks if what is important is the same for both parties. 71% of the people who responded to the poll in the live webinar said that no, it wasn’t the same. Being aware of this might make you do things differently. He asks what two things will you do differently now that you know this?

My two things:

  • Try not to automatically, always answer questions that are asked of me.
  • Start meetings a little more slowly: I’m always eager to get stuck in!

Amongst the discussion at the end, there are lots of tips on how to handle lateness at meetings. And another key phrase I picked up on is that sometimes we have to “pick our battles”. So true!

A quick way to save time, online: A browser for privacy

Here is my tip for 2015: Install a browser that is specialised for privacy, such as the Epic Privacy browser. I find it much quicker than editing settings on other browsers, and it really does lead to faster webpage download times. Tracking information is not passed on to the websites that you view and adverts are not personalised, and that’s why it’s quicker, I believe.

Happy New Year to one and all!