Haven’t Things Changed? (and other reflections on my first year of research)

A full year has gone by since I registered as a part-time PhD candidate in the School of English and it has all been wonderfully interesting and productive.

I visit Sheffield every couple of months or so, but am largely working from home in North Devon.  I am amazed that, given my geographical location, current technology allows me to feel part of a research group, with all the energy and cross-currents of information that involves.  The academic isolation I felt, some 25 years ago when doing a research MA at the nearest university, has shifted.  I now work from my isolated house, but am in frequent contact with my supervisor, colleagues and the University of Sheffield generally.  The library as my work base has changed to my desk at home, with the whole world at my fingertips via my keyboard.

My noisiest neighbour

My noisiest neighbour

I know this sounds a bit of a cliché – of course the Internet has changed the world and the way we find and use information.  I was, however, very surprised at a recent Sheffield lecture to discover that the majority of my graduate-student colleagues still see the library as the place where most of their work is done.  Not only do I have access to (nearly) everything I need electronically, it is quiet and warm at my home workplace and the need to make coffee is my only real interruption.

Recently I heard from an old friend that a large state university in the USA has now made much of its science library space available for other uses than holding books for checking out.  It does seem that, as new work is published electronically as well as on paper, the library will become a very different sort of place.  I certainly don’t predict the demise of the physical book (I appreciate a certain online company being able to supply me with obscure books for 1p) but electronic information is fantastic.

On the same theme, the Virtual Graduate School offers some very helpful online information, though I have found some elements of the DDP quite a puzzle!



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