Graduate Student Advice Month


Picture from: www.toothpastefordinner.com

 

Nobody really knows what is like to do a PhD until they do one. I am half way through mine and I still only half know what it is like to do one very specific PhD: my own. Everyone’s experience is unique to their own research topic, their own field site and their own personality, but many of the challenges, pressures and anxieties we encounter are more similar than we realise. We all seem to spend most of our time oscillating between contradictory emotions (hope and despair, enthusiasm and exhaustion, excitement and frustration), hoping that eventually all of this turmoil might (miraculously) become something worthy of calling a thesis.

I wouldn’t really call the following five things ‘advice’, and they are by no means a description of how I have been approaching my own research so far. At best, they are a few things that I now know I need to keep reminding myself of, and that other researchers might be able to identify with. more...


An image uploaded by ‘zigzagzilla’ to the review section of the ‘Avery Durable View Binder’ on Amazon.com

Amazon.com provides a number of feedback spaces. These kinds of spaces are the communicative loops that situate digital consumption. Recently we have seen a number of variations in the form of these reviews. Critically, these reviews include ones that take the form of explicit social commentary and go beyond the particularity of a simple product review. This practice drew me to the thinking about economies of review, as parables for digital communication and consumption. Can such reviews challenge spaces of consumption, transform them, go beyond their commercial logics? If so, could we be reviewing these goods not just on their functional or symbolic usefulness, but on how their production is embedded in social, political and ecological vectors?

In the early days of Amazon.com staff would write the reviews of the books were being sold.[1] Over time Amazon developed an agreement with publishers and newspapers to copy their reviews of books onto Amazon.com. This method evolved into the system of feedback we know today whereby customers themselves are able to create an account and write reviews. Not only can you review products, but also review specific comments of other reviewers. In addition, other customers/reviewers are able to rate the review according to ‘helpfulness’ and, as a result, the reviewer will be ranked in relation to other reviewers. The top 1000 reviewers often receive perks from Amazon such as discounts.

I would like to now distinguish four ‘types’ of reviews. The first, perhaps most obviously, being the ‘genuine’ review that is written by a consumer with the interest of informing the public about the product. Here, “self expression” and “enjoyment” seem to be the driving factors of review writing.[2] Reviewers of this sort do not appear to earn a income from their reviews, but see it as a way to express their opinions about a product in a space where others can used their advice in order to make decisions regarding consumption.

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