Australia’s 1st Social Network Analysis Conference

As a PhD Student expecting to use SNA (Social Network Analysis) to analyse my data, it was a no brainer for me to attend this conference. Also, my supervisor, Associate Professor Dean Lusher organised it, so…… Dean leads the SNA team within the Centre fosnaconferencer Transformative Innovation within the Business & Law School at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne. Over the previous few year, Dean’s group has grown in number and I am proud to say I am part of this team by virtue of undertaking my PhD research under Dean’s guidance and with the fantastic comradary of my research colleagues.

I have to say that this conference was most excellent. This was due to a number of factors.

Firstly, the comparatively low registration fee, $90 for a PhD student. This significantly reduced the barrier for entry, both encouraging and facilitating engagement by the many researchers using SNA in Australia, with a few international registrations also. The fee covered all food (tea,coffee, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea) and a cocktail evening during the poster session. The food was excellent and I count a paltry $90 for two days a bargain. I have organised conferences before and that’s an unbeatable price. This means no wasteful, unnecessary, conference paraphernalia. Just good people, great food and excellent presentations. Research stripped to its bare essentials.

We were fortunate to have the worlds most highly acclaimed SNA researcher deliver a keynote – Professor Garry Robins. The joy of hearing Garry present is his ability to break concepts down into understandable and elegant presentations. It was a joy to listen to his talk exploring the origins of WWI using SNA techniques. A treat really. That there were only 50 key individual decision makers who had a role in the commencement of WWI. Just 50. And that despite individual efforts to prevent the war from happening, Garry showed how key geopolitical ties embedded within a global network structure overwhelmed the desire of individuals. It was a clear case of structure and peoples position within a network working to influence their actions.Garry is an esteemed researcher and his sound research coupled with an elegant presentation technique is highly enviable. If you haven’t yet read Garry’s book, Doing Social Network Research – I suggest you check it out.

A key feature many people mentioned as their favourite was a single stream. No jumping between rooms with constant interruptions. No hand wringing while you tried to figure out how you could be in two places at once. Just one, single, session. This approach was perfectly suited to this conference. SNA is a methodology, an analysis technique. It didn’t matter that I don’t have a background in health, education, big data or music. Everyone attending had SNA in common, so we could understand the research questions and results presented as we each hail from the common platform of SNA. I got to hear fascinating presentations on addressing anorexia online, its application in criminal networks, my PhD colleagues speaking about the role of successful transfer of tacit information in open innovation and the spread of a CSIRO platform technology throughout the world. A single stream was a genius idea. Dean modestly claimed it resulted from laziness but it was a brilliant design/stroke of fortune that the agenda was kept this way. I hope for Australia’s SNA conference #2, they stick to the same formula.

I left feeling energised by being part of this community of like-minded people. I made some useful contacts. Each of us understands that the world is connected and SNA can help us unpack the links between individuals and their place within the structure of their network and how this influences action. The application of SNA will only continue to grow over time and I feel like I am part of an exciting era of Social Network Science that once mastered, can be applied to so many different domains; business, corporate learning and development, environmental studies, politics, social policy and innovation to name a few. Now all I need to to is collect my darn data!

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I’ve started a PhD, now what?

I have been thinking about doing a PhD for many years. It seems that the stars have aligned, an opportunity has come my way and now I am thrilled to have finally enrolled in a PhD on innovation networks @ Swinburne University, Melbourne. So after the overwhelming excitement that a swim at the local pool now only costs me $5, I am thinking about my 4 week and 6 month PLAN for my PhD project.

I am absolutely aware that time is the enemy. I do not want to be one of those PhD students who gets 2.5years in and suddenly realises that there are 80,000 words to write… So I am taking some time to think about how to organise myself, plan effectively and prepare for success!

The top 3 tips I have for PhD planning are:

1. Install Mendeley I am converted. So far this product hasn’t disappointed. For a referencing tool I was using End Note as this was my organisation’s default product. Except I had a few problems accessing my database from home across VPN – so I started looking around. Mendeley ticks all the boxes for me. I took 5 mins to transfer my reference list from End Note to Mendeley. Its now available on my work desktop, laptop, iPad and iPhone. It’s stored in the cloud (beautiful) so I am never searching for a paper. It’s helped me go completely paperless – all reading, highlights, notes are done online. It’s social. I have joined a group in my research area and suddenly I have a whole pile of references recommended by colleagues working in my area, not to mention international contacts! So far the in-text referencing works well but I haven’t yet published using Mendeley so I am trialling it for this purpose. Despite my short time of ~ 1 month using Mendely, I strongly recommend that you take Mendeley for a spin as part of your PhD research.

2. Install Wunderlist If you don’t want time to creep up on you, then get control of your tasks by writing them down. This tool is free, elegant and will ensure you remember all the big and little things you have to get done as you start to get you head around enrolling, planning and getting that literature review done…speaking of which..

3. Start your literature review! You know your topic, your research questions (which of course will change), now start reading! Even better, start your planning on what your literature review will be. What journal will you aim for? What is your topic? Will you publish alone or with a colleague? What methodology will you use? Use #2 and #1 to help you with your literature review. Most of all, set a realistic target for completing a draft and break down your task so you are more likely to finish. It’s your PhD, enjoy it. I certainly am and these three things are the focus of my PhD life in week 1.