Monday, 20 June 2016

Post 86: Grad Student Resources: Tech Help on Campus

I'm writing this post with my colleague Sally in mind. Sally is a mature graduate student, having returned to university to complete a PhD to study other folks' motivations for similar volunteer work that she has done for years and years. There's a lot to admire about Sally: her kindness, her empathy, her hard work, her humour, and her willingness to problem solve and seek out resources when she doesn't know how to do something herself. She has a skill I'm not particularly good at: asking for help! For a bit more context, Sally is in a position where technology has quickly moved past the skills she learned and applied during her professional life, and she's had to do some scrambling to pick up some of those skills for her PhD work.

At the same time, I'm writing this post because I think it's generally quite useful to know your resources as a graduate student, because you never know what'll come up when you're working with software and hardware during your degree! So this post will talk about some of the tech resources we have on campus here at the University of Victoria, whether you want some extra help in making tables in Word, or learning how to make diagrams and visual models from your data.

One of several different roses at the BC Parliament Buildings. Gorgeous!
Resource 1: Your Colleagues and Peers
Intergenerational graduate student relationships are SO important during grad school. They help to counter the Impostor Syndrome, build collegiality and community, and if you're the one asking for help, you get to let other people look and feel smart and valued! And, by the time that people are in graduate school, you never know what kinds of skills and resources they have brought with them from their previous years of experience! Ask away! Ask people in your own cohort, as well as those further into their degrees: either second year or third year and up master's students, or other PhD students. In my own lab, a previous graduate student of my supervisor's gave us a presentation on how to use NVivo, a qualitative data analysis program that I subsequently used for my thesis work. I also met with her one-on-one for a more in-depth discussion afterwards, which was quite useful. I also had other graduate students make recommendations for me about different programs to use and other tips, so you never know what will all come up when you happen to fall into research conversation. And as you advance in your program, make yourself available for newer graduate students so you can help them out if they need a hand. I just responded to a few questions about transcribing for a colleague, and it was helpful for me to reflect on my own progress and the programs that I've learned to use during my degree.

I was also recently stumped about how to make a specific diagram for my thesis, when my awesome colleague Tanya recommended Lucid Chart, which she has been using for her own thesis. The free version is quite good, and has been more than enough to meet my thesis needs so far. If we hadn't bumped into each other and talked at the office, I certainly wouldn't have been able to solve my problem so expediently!

Love the texture and aesthetic of these little stonecrops (Sedum sp.)! 
Resource 2: Your Supervisor
If your supervisor wants you to use a specific program or software for your graduate work, they probably have used it themselves, or know why they want you to use AtlasTi instead of NVivo (different software for the same purpose: qualitative research analysis). Your supervisor will be a treasure trove of information on specific programs or software, and will also know about other resources if they aren't entirely certain themselves. Sometimes the reasons for choosing on program over another are as arbitrary as exposure—NVivo has been around longer than AtlasTi—but in any case, your supervisor should not be an underestimated resource. A few weeks ago, my supervisor and I could be found in our office meeting room problem-solving how to import the UVic thesis template into Scrivener, the composition program I've been using to write my thesis in.

For high-learning curve programs like ArcGIS or Adobe Photoshop or R (statistical data analysis program), you will likely be taking specific classes to learn to use these, and some of them may even have been requirements for entry into your grad school program, depending on your department. Frequently, however, graduate school is an opportunity to dive deeply into something, and learning new programs or statistical methods are certainly within the scope of what you can do in grad school. It depends partly on what you want to learn, how you see the opportunities available to you in grad school, and what you need to negotiate/discuss with your supervisor.

But that brings me to another thought: you can ask other professors in your department or across campus for their two cents of advice when you need it. Your supervisor can make introductions, or you can take initiative and reach out on your own. If they're not able to help you with the specific question you have, then they can likely make recommendations for where you need to go.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) from a wander on Galiano Island!
Resource 3: The Computer Help Desk
The Computer Help Desk has saved my butt and my work both during undergrad, and during my graduate degree. They are there to help problem-solve computer related issues, including equipment repair and network problems. Go check them out if you're getting Windows' blue screen of death, or the Mac equivalent of the blinking folder with a question mark. But also, please be wise, and make back-ups and follow other general data-management to-dos so you don't have them telling you that your hard-drive is corrupted, and all your work is gone.

Resource 4:  Computer Labs at UVic
There are several Computer Labs, some with specific focus, on campus. Each of these has friendly and capable staff that can provide help for your Windows or Mac questions. I haven't used these much myself, but the help is there. They are there for graduate student use, as well as for undergrads, so if you're teaching and need to make recommendations for your students, it's good to know about these as well.

Resource 5: The McPherson Library's Media and Music Equipment to Borrow!
So it turns out that you can borrow a whole bunch of different equipment from the library: everything from laptops and computers, to noise-cancelling headphones, to video cameras, to foot pedals for transcription! Bill Blair is the Music and Media librarian, and you can contact him about availability of the equipment, though I suspect if you were really in a pinch, you could ask him about how to use some of the equipment as well. For more involved tech stuff, your supervisor or your colleagues will probably be more helpful in either troubleshooting specific hardware issues, but I have an inkling that Bill would probably be able to make some useful suggestions for where to go as well. If not, there's always The Internet (discussed below).

The Music and Media Commons area also has some other hardware and software that you can use. Everything from scanners to Google Earth Pro, to the full Microsoft Office suite and Open Office Suites, to Garage Band, and lots and lots of others. It's actually amazing to me how many different programs there are available to use. There are tutorials within the programs (and Help pages, too), though you can likely also ask the librarians in that section of the library for help. I think that you'll have some thinking to do about where to spend money on programs that are needed for your thesis projects. Do you use the resources publicly available though perhaps limited in scope because of sharing the resource, or do you spend some of your own research budget to get your own copy of these programs? Asking these questions should probably happen with your supervisor, as discussed above. However, doing simple things, like using the scanners and turning hard copy versions of journal articles into digital ones, are things that aren't too difficult to learn on your own.

Western Starflower (Trientalis latifolia) from a wander through East Sooke Park recently. 
Resource 6: Other Specific Tech Resources
Are you TAing a class? Do you have power-point presentations? Do you want to show videos during your lectures? Do you need to organize a meeting with between your supervisor and committee member, but one of them is out in the field in Ontario, and needs to be video-conferenced in? The Audiovisual and Multimedia services on campus is our resource for all of these things at UVic!

My lab group and I have had one, if not two, presentations on Blue Jeans, the video-conferencing software that the University of Victoria has recently endorsed. We had a presentation from one of the fellows from the Audiovisual and Multimedia services, and it was super helpful! Your department may be pro-active and organize one of these presentations for your and your grad student cohort, or you may need to take initiative and get such a presentation organized yourself, but the resource is there.

Resource 7: The Internet
If it's 1:32AM, and you're at home plugging away and your research project, and you're asking yourself, what kinds of software is out there to help process interview files, you can always ask Google (no need to be as polite as this British grandmother, though!). This is how I came across Express Scribe, a free transcription software that was easy to use, and super helpful for transcribing my interviews.

Maybe you have a more specific computer issue that you're dealing with? Google and the dispersed intelligence of the Internet can probably help you, too. So, don't be afraid to look around for help in unexpected places. Afterall, we're researchers. We can ask questions, and get resourceful about finding the answers to those questions.

There are likely other resources (both on-campus and off) that I have missed. If you know of any, let me know, and I'll update the post!

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