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009 - Looking back to 2022

Over the past decade, I've started a tradition of taking a sort-of-day-long hike on the 1st of January. There is always a chance that the weather won't be on my side, but I like the idea of starting the year peacefully and embracing nature.

Before starting 2023 though, and without much originality, I wanted to dedicate a last post for 2022 to looking back to my first full year of phD and focus on its biggest highlights as far as my phD project is concerned.

Of course, the year sure didn't look like anything I had expected! I don't think I had envisioned any of what my trips to Montréal have brought me... but also how much they consume of the time available to actually work on my research project. As you will see, it is not necessarily a bad thing - I actually want to focus on the good parts - but it doesn't mean that it was easy to wrap my head around it.

I spent two thirds of the 2022 in Montréal: 8 months out of 12, with what looks right now like a super short 4 months of Summer in France in the middle. I specify that it was Summer because, you know, ... July and August, they're not usual months.

Overall, 2022 passed in the blink of an eye.

I spent a lot of time in class or preparing for class or working on final projects. Indeed, I took 4 classes out of the 5 required by the Université de Montréal, and attended 1 as an auditor.

  • SCI6304 was a bibliometry class taught by Vincent Larivière;
  • MSL6523 was a Digital Museology class conducted by Emmanuel Chateau-Dutier;
  • LCO6525 was a Compared Chinese Literature class given by Victoria-Oana Lupascu;
  • HNU7000 was a class focused on the Epistemology of the Digital Humanities lead by Michael E. Sinatra;
  • and SCI6203, the extra class, was about AI and textual data, it was given by Dominic Forest.

As you can see, they were very diverse but I think I learned quite a few things from them that I will be able to use more or less directly for my research.

  1. In HNU7000, we often had to write or present critical summaries of articles or conferences and in LCO6525, we were asked to turn in a "annotated bibliography" (at least 400 words for 6 references related to the topic of our final paper) halfway through the semester. With these exercises, I think I found a better way to summarize articles or books I read. I can still improve the "critical" aspect of the exercise, but I think I got better at summarizing what was actually relevant to me when I read. Now, I hope to publish some of these future summaries here.

  2. In SCI6304, my final project consisted in a bibliometric investigation on the publications on HTR over the past 40 years. I would like to publish the result as an article, which is a project for 2023. But I can already see that doing so, I gained a much better understanding of the field(s) related to my research project, I found some keywords that I need to investigate and I added a bunch of references to my potentially-to-read list.

  3. In MSL6523, the final poject consisted in a blog post for Museonum. Mine was focused on the current use of automatic transcription and crowdsourcing by patrimonial institutions. I have already been able to reuse this post as a reading suggestion for a class where I was invited to present eScriptorium.

I had a lot of other activities throughout the year (teaching, presenting at conferences, etc), but, as far as my thesis project is concerned, two of my biggest concerns were 1) reading and 2) refining my research project.

I tried different strategies to read more, but I am a slow reader and my schedule is often fragmented. I have started finding the beginning of a solution in keeping one day of the week totally without meetings, and by always keeping it the same day. I started implementing this during the past semester and it seemed to work: Wednesday was the day I was going to the library or simply dedicating to my homework. On Wednesday, I never scheduled meetings (unless absolutely necessary). Now that I am back in France for 4 months, I need to make sure I am able to keep this routine. On the other hand, I am trying to solve the speed problem by better sorting the references I end up reading in order not to waste time on a text that was actually not a priority.

One of the things I learned in 2022 and that affects my reading is the usefulness of expanding the types of publications I read. Let me explain. Working at ALMAnaCH, I saw most of my colleagues focus on reading articles and pre-prints. The main objective there is to keep up to date with a state of the art that evolves quickly and for a discipline that is fairly recent. On the other hand, at the Université de Montréal, more emphasis is placed on the conceptual frame of the research. Therefore, many more books and chapters, of disciplines that are not always the same as the envisioned project, make their way into the bibliographies. It might seem obvious to some of you, but it wasn't for me at the start of the year and this is exactly the type of enrichment I was looking for when I went for a cotutelle.

Now, as far as refining my research project is concerned, this is something that I didn't start solving before December. At the Université de Montréal, when I apply for a grant, I often have to introduce my research project, including my methodology and the conceptual frame. Writing these texts, it often made me feel like I was not progressing in terms of making my project more precise. I had a general idea of the topic I wanted to work on and which issues I wanted to address in general, but no clear strategy.

I often thought about it during the year, looking for a way to solve this problem. It wasn't a question of narrowing down my topic or use-case, I think mine is/are already well defined. It is only at the occasion of a 20 minutes presentation assigned during the HNU7000 seminar that I sat at a table and put together my thoughts and the results of my discussions with my supervisors. I will soon dedicate a post to the current state of my research project, but what I think I was lacking the most was an angle to efficiently narrow down the scope of my project and justify future choices.

Even though I started focusing on how different 2022 looked compared to what I had imagined, I am actually very happy with this year. I met a ton of people who have broadened my horizons on research and academia in general. And I start 2023 full of ideas for my phD and this blog! Keep an eye out for them in future posts!