Fund my research! … please?

The other day I sat through a long session where research funding was being discussed. There were professors, researchers, doctoral students as well as representatives of funders (i.e. foundations) present. Of course there were, I might add here, for applying for funding seems to be the single most important function of the modern university!

The art of wooing the evaluators is something all academicians today must learn, and of course in many ways this has always been so. Whether the source of funding has been an aristocrat’s family or an industry tycoon, we often come back to the question of how to sell our darling projects to the uninitiated. However, listening to some contemporary funding sources explaining their procedures and principles I cannot help but think that the structure has become more important than the content. This is especially prevalent in so-called public funding (I’m looking at you, EU). If you don’t follow the rules by the tiniest detail, you will be automatically dismissed. If you happen to submit your application to the wrong field, even if there is no right one for you, you are out of luck. Okay, one representative of a regional fund said that they (or he) sometimes corrects an application that has clearly been marked as something it is not. I wish the systems would be flexible enough to provide more opportunities for this…

The situation is not all that easy from the funders’ point-of-view, either. Sometimes, especially when a fund is based on wills or donations, the original donator might have specified very carefully what kind of research can or cannot be supported. This can actually lead to very interesting results. For example, a will might have specified that the money can only be given to research on a specific illness and/or for researchers coming from a specific geographical area, but it is impossible to evaluate whether there will be applicants filling these requirements once a call is opened.

I am a great proponent of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. I think we cannot ever know what kind of knowledge or insight will be of use in the future, and sometimes (often?) even this is not the point. We simply need to try to understand the world around us and ourselves in it, and this endeavor is important in itself. This is why I have followed with some concern the development of universities towards what I feel is a more applied direction, where “innovation” and industrial contacts are being stressed as funding criteria.

Learning how to apply for funding is one of the key competencies of contemporary researchers. It is a double-edged sword, this need for simplifying and selling your study, but it is something that you cannot escape from if you want to flourish in the academia. Time to practice your elevator speech?


“Managing” communities

One of the new job titles that many communication specialists have these days is “community manager”. Of course the idea of taking care of your customer base or key stakeholders has been important before, but the prevalence of social media has made it a much more visible task. Of course this also ties in with established social media ideas such as produsage, and the broad ideology of moving away from a push-centered approach to a more interactive way of being in contact and utilizing the network around, say, a business.

On Friday I will be taking part in CMAD2013, the second annual Community Manager Appreciation Day here in Finland. It will be interesting to hear thoughts from the trenches, from those people who are doing this kind of communication right now. It will also be interesting to hear their thoughts about the near future, as difficult as it is to predict.

As we know, most gaming companies today understand the importance of having a supportive community around their company or games, and this is something that even small indie studies should look into. For example, a succesful kickstarter campaign should definitely put a lot of effort in communicating their process to their fans, and of course work as hard as possible to also expand the fan base before the product is ready! Unfortunately this seems like a lot to ask, as we see from a review that Rock, Paper, Shotgun did of some of the successes of 2012.

No, not *this* snow plough...

No, not *this* snow plough…

Finally, I fully expect that Friday’s meeting will be full of enthusiasm and positive vibes about the possibilities of new media. While there is nothing wrong with that, I also want to remember those who are not as exstatic about the topic. Case in point, last weekend I heard one older gentleman tell a story of how he went to a store to buy a snow plough (really). He tried to get service, but all he got was “Go check it from the internet”. So he went to “the internet”, searched for another retailer of said snow plough, and bought it from there. Nice community management on the micro-level…

Haastateltavana Lapsemme-lehdessä

Aina silloin tällöin tässä työssä toteutetaan ns. yliopiston kolmatta tehtävää antamalla lausuntoja tai olemalla haastateltavana suurelle yleisölle tarkoitettuihin juttuihin. Olin tässä roolissa vastikään, ja ajattelin jakaa lopputuloksen täälläkin. Juttu ilmeistyi Mannerheimin Lastensuojeluliiton Lapsemme-lehdessä, ja löytyy seuraavan linkin takaa sivuilta 32-34:

Olen ollut silloin tällöin puhumassa tämänkaltaisista aiheista seminaareissa, ja keskustelut ovat kyllä aina olleet todella mielenkiintoisia. Esimerkiksi koululaisten vanhempien kanssa (jollainen itsekin olen) saa varsin rikasta keskustelua aikaan ihan vain sillä, että vertaillaan eri perheiden tilanteita ja toimintatapoja. Näitä keskustelutilaisuuksia kannattaa järjestää tai kysyä niiden perään, oppilaitokset ovat kyllä yleensä hyvin myötämielisiä näille. Puhuimmepa aikanaan vanhemman tytön tarhassakin aiheesta, on hyvä muistaa että tieto- ja viestintäteknologian käyttö aloitetaan nykyisin paljon ennen kouluikää, ja jo eskarilaiset alkavat olla kiinnostuneita uutisista. Toinen hyvä keskustelunaihe ovat digitaaliset pelit, jotka edelleenkin herättävät paljon (usein aiheetonta) huolta ja murhetta vanhemmissa.

General purpose for changing a game (your life)

I was recently reading through Bernard DeKoven’s seminal book The Well-Played Game: a player’s philosophy, while searching for a clarification on a quote for a book chapter I am writing, when I encountered something worth sharing. First of all, the book is from 1978, and the copy that our university library has is not only dog-eared but actually broken – the cover is loose and the book holds together only with some rubber band (helpfully provided by the said university library). Well, as you can imagine, old books like this often contain notes scribbled throughout their pages, marks of long-gone students who have once tried to make points worth remembering. It was one such a note that I am now talking about. On pages 67-68 of the book there is a section titled “General Purpose for Changing a Game:” Behind this title some industrious student had made a small addition, and it is with this addition that I now present you a quote that can change your life (or at least advice you on how to go about changing your life).

General Purpose for Changing a Game: (Your Life*)

The one you’re playing is no longer giving you enough of a challenge for you to feel you want to play it well. ou can play it well, but you’re losing interest. Your gaming mind is bored. You’re not playing the way you want to be playing. Or, vice versa, you can’t play it well, the challenge is too big, your playing mind is overwhelmed, the game is too hard. The general purpose for changing a game, therefore, is to restore equilibrium.

Specific Recommendation for Technique:

Change one rule at a time. Change the rule and see what happens to the rest of the game. See what other changes you have to make in order to restore the balance. If you try to change too many rules, and the game doesn’t work, you won’t be able to tell why.

(* Student addition)

Looking for a place at Fincom2012

Last week I took part in a communication sciences conference here at Jyväskylä called Fincom 2012. The conference was organized by our Department, and I was also part of the organizing committee. This time around, I got the special treat of being responsible for our social media coverage. We had two students cover our Facebook page, Twitter feed (under the name Fincom2012) and blog roll at the home page of the conference, and I have to say that it went tremendously well! We also had a lot of active tweeting going on even without the official tweeters, so that the conference had a lively backchannel all the time. We also used Twitter for questions from the audience during a panel, even though we went old school and did not present a continuously updating message feed on the background of the panel discussion itself. We also had a go at a simple conference game where the participants were supposed to try and find the official tweeters (who were anonymous), but unfortunately this didn’t pan out the way I had hoped it to. Well, another conference, another conference game, eh?

While I am not the biggest Twitter user out there, I really enjoy tweeting during conferences. Of course one has to be moderate and not tweet everything and all the time, because quite frankly that will take away from, you know, actually listening to the presentations. But the possibility of “seeing” what is going on in another conference track can be really valuable, and for example in the case of plenaries there is often a real discussion going on in the background.

What I also enjoy is having multiple roles in a conference. In Fincom 2012 I was a part of the organizing committee, as well as a session chair and a presenter in another session. When I go to a conference I like to go “all out” and just enjoy the experience. Conferences, to me, are one of the best parts of this job.

Having said that, I have to note that unfortunately this year will be a bit light on conferences. I will travel to ECREA Istanbul later on this autumn, but otherwise it looks like I will be mostly teaching and writing in the following months.

Heading towards summer vacation

Well, the academic year 2011-2012 is well and truly over. The vacation season is upon us, and for the most part the university will start to cool down after this and next week.

I will also try to forget work and get some rest. If only I would not have just gotten into the “zone” when it comes to writing! I feel like this vacation comes at a very bad time, but perhaps I can jot down some notes with pen and paper and just be creative with it – not approach writing like it would be work. It is anyway interesting how writing can sometimes feel like it is a break from the “real work” I do when teaching and supervising. Of course it depends on what I am writing, but I must say that a good, solid afternoon of writing can be just as invigorating as doing some other recreational activity. It clears the head and leaves you relaxed.

Currently I am working on a book chapter to Routledge Companion to Video Game Studies (due August 15th), and a couple of other conference papers and article drafts in the works. Let’s see how the summer pans out with regards to writing:)

Jammin’ at the Nordic DiGRA 2012

For two days now I have the pleasure of participating in the Nordic DiGRA 2012 at Tampere, Finland. This event is the little sister of the DiGRA main conference, arranged bi-annually. Being a partner in the Finnish Science Academy -funded project looking at gaming cultures in Finland, I got to participate in creating this conference from planning meetings to overseeing one review track (games as media and communication). And during the two-day conference, I will chair three work groups and be the respondent in one paper session.

It is nice type of work, to get a varied look at what is happening in the field, and to be able to give input to work in progress research. While the new financial realities of Finnish universities do not encourage conference participation, I feel very strongly that this kind of cross-pollunation is ever so important for the academia, and that it is a shame that our resources for organizing and participating in such events are often so limited. Conference, I give you a thumbs-up!

Are we blinded by choice?

Courtesy of Young SIETAR‘s Facebook-feed I just stumbled upon this fascinating talk by Sheena Iyengar about choice and the way that our perception of it differs culturally:

It got me thinking about international students in Finnish universities. While I don’t know how we compare to people from the United States in general, I do feel that we Finns generally value choice tremendously. Especially with the history of living next to a model of a society with limited or no choice (the Soviet Union -era countries), choice has presented itself as something to be proud of. For example, at our Department the freedom of students to choose their M.A. thesis topic is almost sacred, and it has become almost a shared fantasy (in the sense of Ernst Bormann‘s Symbolic Convergence theory) to separate ourselves from those departments and subjects where students are given topics by the staff. However, on many an occasion I have encountered students who struggle enormously with this choice, and who would much rather have a limited set of alternatives or a ready-made topic instead of choosing freely.

Now, I don’t want to make cultural generalizations, since I have also met Finns who have trouble with the total freedom of choice we offer them, but I have the feeling that with some international M.A. students the issue is even stronger. Perhaps they are used to an educational culture where students have limited choice, or perhaps their other cultural upbringing has not prepped them for what we expect here, but I have seen my share of troubled students who struggle with the choices related to writing a Master’s thesis all the way throughout the process.

Could it be that we need to become more sensitive to this (baffling) possibility that our students might not want to have the choice? Might there be other ways to operate, or if we agree that choice is *that* important, how could we train our students better in the art of making them?

Starting up

After a long pause during which I did not have my own home page, I finally decided to become visible again online. My aim is to make this blog a hybrid space of sorts, where I store both more permanent information as well as post ever-changing ideas about studying communication and social interaction in technologically mediated contexts.