All the news that’s not fit to print

As you’ve probably guessed I’m a pretty big fan of blogging. I do it all the time, it is a central part of my professional practice. I find that setting stuff down on the blog helps to get my thoughts straightened out, I’m also lucky to have a tremendously informed readership who will invariably comment my more interesting posts to hell and back. Writing has become really important to me and the blog is the main vehicle for most of my writing.


Increasingly I’ve found that if I haven’t written it down (which means blogging most of the time) I basically haven’t thought it. Of course I do have thoughts that don’t make it onto the blog. One category of these thoughts is basically the usual – “I fancy a bit of cheese” kind of thought that I generally try and keep out of the public arena. However there is also a category of more serious thinking that I do and which doesn’t make it to the blog. In general these thoughts and ideas don’t get very well formed, they all swirl round together and end up in a big mess. I hop from thought to thought never really spotting which ones are actually interesting or even sensible. Writing them down, even if I decide that I won’t put it up on the blog, makes me nail down the ideas, give them shape and start the process of testing and refining them.


So my best thoughts make it to the blog (you may feel that this is a damning indictment of my thinking, but you haven’t seen the other stuff!). My second best thoughts are scrawled in a black book that I carry round with me which is filled up with diagrams and jottings and occasionally lost. My third best thoughts are spoken out loud in a room with other people and then refined (a bit) in discussion. My fourth best thoughts stay in my head (where they belong).


Of course once in a while I publish something that is “finished” – a report or article or something similar. However by this time what I’m publishing isn’t really thoughts anymore. It has become an artefact that has been worked on and refined, contextualised and shaped into a particular form or genre. This stuff is hopefully much better than what I push out on the blog, but it isn’t really my thoughts any more. Of course some of my thoughts are in there, but it has become more than my thoughts. This is particularly true because I rarely write anything alone, but it would be true even if I did. Proper writing is a dialogue between the author and the traditions that are being drawn on and the context the artefact will enter. Writing a blog is about sharpening your thoughts.


But, what about the thoughts that you can’t put on the blog? The ones that relate to someone else, or to some government secret that you know but isn’t in the public sphere yet. What about the thoughts you have about the things you’ve done wrong, that you want to learn from, but you don’t want the world to dwell on. What about all the news that isn’t fit to print. What do you do with all that?


Most people would say, just keep it in your head. Sit down, have a think, drink a cup of tea and move on. But, they probably aren’t bloggers. This stuff is starting to hurt my head and as I say, I can only really have fourth rate thoughts when I keep it up there. So maybe I should write it down in a big note book like Richard Crossman. I could then publish it to get my own back on everyone once I retire. However I’m not very good at delayed gratification, if I put the effort in to write something I want people to read it. I’ve thought about setting up an anonymous blog full of bile, poison, regret and revelation, but I fear that it would be ultimately unsatisfying. Anything of interest would lead people back to me pretty quickly.


Maybe I should get a Woody Allen style analyst and wax lyrical on ‘me against the world’ each week. However, I fear that giving free rein to my inner thoughts might make me feel worse rather than better. It is possible that there are some things that it is best to keep bottled up inside and that becoming better at expressing the things that shouldn’t be expressed is not a good idea at all. Once again I feel that I/we write our personalities and our selves into existence and it is probably a good idea to concentrate on the positive constructive stuff.


So what to do? I’ll probably stick with my fourth rate thoughts for now. What about you?


Guest post: The future of school based careers work???

The author of this post worked for the Connexions Service in the North West of England from January 2005 until November 2009 when he/she left the service to take up a position as a Careers Adviser within the higher education sector.

I worked as a Connexions Personal Adviser for around five years providing careers advice and guidance to young people in schools.  When I started I had responsibility for one large secondary school (almost 2000 pupils) and had 3.5 days based in school delivering a mix of groupwork and one to one guidance.  I took the job because during my training I’d done a couple of placements with Connexions and had been struck by the dedication and positive attitudes of the staff and I got to see first hand the very real difference these professionals can make to the lives of young people.  It was a concept I really believed in.


School careers work can be a tough and lonely experience; when I started I had to work hard to build up my profile, not just with pupils but also amongst staff, many of whom saw me as an outsider.  Even though I wasn’t employed by the school I still found myself being put under pressure by school staff to encourage year 11 pupils to continue into the sixth form, even if this wasn’t the most appropriate option for them.  It takes a strong person to be able to resist this pressure, which for me occurred almost on a daily basis. 


In this school and others where I worked, Year 11 and sixth form leavers going into employment/apprenticeships were seen as a priority for Connexions and I often didn’t deal with those staying on for sixth form or going to university as the schools felt they dealt with these pupils pretty well themselves.  But do they?  Only a few days ago there was an article in The Guardian by Andy Gardner of the ICG, on why he felt the need to write a book on A level subject choices, as it seems that young people are not getting the right kind of advice about this.  I think currently there’s an assumption among some school based staff and managers within Connexions (certainly where I worked) that young people going to sixth form or university don’t need careers advice; that they will “work things out for themselves”.  Andy’s article makes clear that this isn’t the case and the new all age guidance service will need to address this issue to ensure that guidance is available for all young people.


During my time with Connexions one of the local schools went through an Ofsted inspection in which pupils and parents were critical of careers support provided by the school.  I was asked to get involved in looking at how to address this and I ran some focus groups with pupils.  The results were interesting; many of the pupils wanted advice from someone impartial about things like A level choices and higher education but didn’t think Connexions was the best place to get this.  Many did not even consider that Connexions could offer this kind of help.  Several highlighted the fact that the Connexions Centre appeared to be like a youth club and didn’t stock the kind of information resources they needed. 


When Connexions was first set up, the publicity seemed to suggest it was going to change the world.  Here was a new concept in youth support where young people could find all the support they need under one roof with a team of dedicated professionals to help.  Unfortunately it was never given adequate resources to see this through, the result of which meant that for many young people, the service was seen as one only there to support young people with “problems” or in crisis.


Over the five years I worked for the service I saw resources stripped back and budgets cut.  By the end of this time with the service I was not only responsible for one school; I was responsible for four separate institutions and my time allocation in the largest school had been cut to just one day a week.  The result of this was my work became reactive rather than proactive and my job was one of “fire fighting”; dealing with young people in crisis.  It was no wonder that pupils perceived the service as only there to support young people with problems; that’s exactly what my job had become.


It seems clear that the current government is committed to providing an all age career guidance service after April 2012 but what is less clear is if there will be adequate funding to allow professionals to deliver a high quality service.  There will also need to be some careful thought and planning on how the service is publicised and promoted in a way that is appealing to young people.  “Guidance” is a nebulous term and for many young people (and indeed other users), fairly meaningless and the term “career” might also be seen as irrelevant for young people who are focussed on “getting a job”.  Some research undertaken by the National Youth Agency highlighted that young people prefer to get advice and guidance from adults that they know well and have built up a relationship of trust with.  This poses a challenge in terms of ensuring that careers professionals in schools are given the time and resources to build up those relationships.


Careers professionals in schools also need to be properly supported in order to do their jobs well; it’s no easy gig.  Access to good quality information resources to support the guidance process, support from management to challenge schools when they come under pressure over im
partiality (and they will) and adequate time for CPD activities such as employer events and networking are essential.  Sadly, given the current state of affairs regarding funding I think this might just wishful thinking on my part; I hope I am wrong.



Would you ask Withnail for careers advice?

Speed is like a dozen transatlantic flights without ever getting off the plane. Time change. You lose, you gain. Makes no difference so long as you keep taking the pills. But sooner or later you’ve got to get out because it’s crashing, and all at once those frozen hours melt through the nervous system and seep out the pores.



So begins Withnail and I’s soliloquy to Marwood’s narcotic of choice. A student favourite, the film is full of great lines and hilariously funny moments. However, at core it is essentially a representation of a career turning point. I/Marwood is faced with making a choice between remaining in the shabby, drug fuelled shadow of Withnail or striking out to pursue a career as an actor. In making this move he is letting go of much of his core identity and cutting his hair (be careful, they’re you’re aerials man!). However, he is also moving on and self-actualising in a way that would never be compatible in a life spent with Withnail.


Viewed through this lens, Withnail and I is an incredibly conventional and even conservative film. This is probably why it appeals to students as it promises that a few crazy years of wild-oat sowing do not need to leave you washed up in the counter-culture for good. If you just heed the classic piece of careers advice and “get a hair cut and get a real job” it is amazing how quickly you can restart your career and reintegrate into the mainstream. University manages this transition for us in a pretty comfortable way, or at least it did in my day, these days it is probably all employability skills and student satisfaction.


I’d guess that I haven’t watch Withnail and I for a decade. I’ve got kids/mortgage/job/partner (and haircut of sorts) and Withnail and I’s celebration of walking on the wild side feels at once puerile and intensely wistful. So why did the line about speed pop into my head this morning. I’m on a train with a tie on and entirely free from narcotic influence.


I suppose it is because work is functioning like a narcotic to me. I’m on trains and planes constantly, I’m battling deadlines and strategising – high on the buzz and occasionally drained by the adrenaline. Like Marwood’s speed addiction work eventually becomes my reality. While I stay within it everything makes sense and life proceeds with some perception of rationality. If I try and gain perspective on my behaviour by thinking back to what the me that was watching Withnail and I might have thought about it the whole thing looks as crazy as any other kind of altered consciousness.


Work forms our reality. There is no point in railing against it, because work is our reality, it is where we spend most of our time, energy and angst. However, we do need to remember that our particular form of “work” is a construct. Our sense of how much we should and do work, the nature of the relationship between work, recognition and recompense and the inter-relationship between paid work and our other types of activity all need to be looked at from outside from time to time. Careers work has the potential to do this. To quote the great careers advisor Timothy Leary, thinking about your careers can be about opening the “doors of perception”. It can be about helping you think about what might happen if you get off the transatlantic flights or at least helping you to notice that you are on a transatlantic flight.


Do these kinds of insights make us happier? Realising that you are a rat in a race might make you considerably more miserable as it labels you as a rat and your work as an arbitrary and pointless activity. But, it might also propel you to either get out of the race or see if you can change the rules. Marwood’s ability to build a critical frame of reference beyond his relationship with Withnail ultimately enables him to self-actualise and return to mainstream life. Your criticality might propel you in a different direction altogether as all of the downshifters have found.


Now, enough of this… bring me the finest wines known to humanity. I want them here and I want them now!

Undertaking research with children and young people

Today I’m running a session on undertaking research with children and young people. I’ve co-written the session with Jo Hutchinson and we’ll be delivering it to a variety of research officers based in East Midlands local authorities. I’ve put the slides up here so that they can access them after the session, but also because they might be of interest to other people.

The Digital Researcher (#dr11) blog

Today I’m directing Vitae’s Digital Researcher event. This is a day of training/discussion/activity designed to explain the value of social media for researchers. I’ll try and blog more about what happened after the dust settles today.

However, over the last few weeks I’ve been writing a series of posts on the #dr11 blog. Wander along to the blog to have a look, as there have been some interesting discussions taking place. I’ve written the following posts that might be of some wider interest:

Hopefully there might be something of interest in all that lot.

Right, I better get to #dr11

Social media: A guide for researchers

I’ve been working with Alan Cann and Dina Dimitriou on producing a new guide to social media for researchers. The guide is now out and can be accessed at Social media: A guide for researchers. The guide is designed to be pretty practical, but is about discussing the general approach that social media facilitates rather than teaching you how to use a particular tool. We interviewed 11 researchers who use social media as part of putting together the guide. Their experience was really useful in grounding some of the theory of social media use in the practice of researchers in a range of disciplines.

The guide is published by the Research Information Network and they have also put up a range of supporting resources on their website which we collected whilst writing the guide. I hope that you’ll find the resource useful.