Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Follow my blog on Bloglovin'

Finally officially connecting my blog to my Bloglovin' account lol. I know a lot of you follow on Facebook or Twitter, but if you're already on Bloglovin', feel free to add my blog to the list of blogs you follow. I've recently become obsessed with Bloglovin', it's made it so easy to follow all my favorite blogs in one place rather than having to bookmark a million different blogs on my browser.

To follow, just click the Bloglovin' button to the right of this post. :)

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

15 Real Facts About Being A PhD Student

I recently did a series of videos on my YouTube channel related to Back to School time. Some people are only a week or so into the fall term, others (like me) are nearly a month in. In some of those videos I gave advice to grad students that might help adjusting to life as a grad student, whether you're doing an MA, an MFA, or a PhD. 

One thing I've learned as a 4th year PhD student (and throughout 2 MA degrees) is that grad school is NOT what you think it will be and it's definitely not what your family and friends think it is. The following are 15 "real facts" about being a PhD student. A lot of these will apply to MA and MFA students as well. Also, I'm an English major, in a Liberal Arts and Sciences College. Graduate work in the hard sciences, arts, or other programs might be a little different, but for the most part I think we all can relate to these facts.

1. There's no such thing as a vacation or "break"

During high school and your undergrad you eagerly count down to winter break, spring break, summer vacation, as well as all the other holidays and days off in between. School breaks used to be exciting and fun! Now they're just more work time. During a "break" the only thing that's different is I get a break from teaching, as all my students are enjoying their time off, and it gives me more time to work on my own projects and research and try to get caught up. But there is always something to do. Research, reading, writing, proposals, class prep, meetings, etc. It never ends and the work is never "done". I find that my "vacation" plans involve seeing how many pages I can get written or how many projects I can get progressed to the next stage. Though I do still let myself sleep in at least a couple times. :)

2. Every task and project takes significantly longer than you anticipate

It's like things get more complicated as you go along! Finding sources, reading through endless journal articles and books, writing draft after could go on forever if you let it. If it weren't for deadlines I probably would take forever for a lot of these. Oh, and let's not forget grading! If you're a TA as well as a grad student the grading is endless. You try to say you'll only spend 5-10 minutes on a paper but inevitably you start spending more time, especially if the student didn't do very well (poorly done papers always take longer to grade). Learning to balance this is very difficult but has to be done if you're going to survive your degree. I'm a big fan of setting timers for things like grading (set for 1 hour and and grade as many papers as possible) or deadlines (by X date I can no longer look for research sources at the library, I have to use what I've got already). If you don't set deadlines and timers you can end up wasting a lot of time falling down rabbit holes or giving copious feedback notes to a student who's never going to read them anyway. I've got more advice on grading, that will have to be a separate post.

3. You are always running behind even though you're not procrastinating

I've had people assume, or just say to my face, that if I just need to manage my time more effectively and I won't constantly be running behind or racing a deadline. I kind of want to tell them to go sit in a corner and think about what they're saying. Yes, talk to any grad student in your life and they are probably behind on something. Papers to grade, books to read, papers to write, notes to organize. Not to mention laundry, dishes, and cleaning the toilet. There's always something that we're not doing. But that doesn't mean we're procrastinating. Even when it looks like we are. If you were to randomly knock on my door, you might find me doing work, or you might find me watching Netflix. Even as I write this I have a list a mile long of things I should be doing instead of writing a blog post or filming a video for my YouTube channel. But does being a PhD student mean I have to give up having any time for myself at all? No. It doesn't. So yeah, we might take a night to binge watch a new series on Netflix or we might enjoy playing video games or watching YouTube (and when you're a rhetoric student like me, you sometimes get to consider these hobbies research lol). We can't be "go! go! go!" 24/7. We have to give ourselves some down time and permission to take a break. Yes, that does mean that we will likely being working on a paper the day before a deadline or have to give our students an extension on a due date because we haven't given them draft feedback, but you adjust and you prioritize and you learn that your mental health deserves to be high on the list of priorities. So pass the popcorn and turn on Netflix please.

15 Real Facts About Being a PhD Student

4. Emails...the never ending story

Seriously. They never end. Especially (I'm learning) when you teach online. Email is the primary way my students can reach me. But between students, colleagues, and countless department emails from the two campuses that I teach at the emails can get a little crazy. I can't remember the last time my inbox was empty. I wish I had advice for this but I don't. If anyone has great email management tips or tricks leave them below in the comments. But otherwise, if you're a PhD student...prepare for the emails.

5. It's impossible to explain what you do to people outside of the university/academic culture

I really enjoy this. *insert eyeroll* Going to social events like weddings or friends' birthday parties where you will meet people who aren't part of academia and you face having to explain to them what you do. For some reason rather than inquiring about hobbies or favorite films we just love asking strangers, "what do you do?" There is no simple answer to this. If I just say, "I'm a PhD student" that opens up the conversation to a lot of assumptions and stereotypes. Most people don't have a clue what higher education is like. Some people look amazed and think I must be really smart and cool. Others immediately tell me how much they hated college and they can't imagine why I would subject myself to that. My favorite (that's sarcasm) reply is, "oooh, what do you want to do when you graduate." The implication and misunderstanding here is that my career is something seen to be on hold and won't start until I get my degree. Make no mistake, grad students, especially at the PhD level, ARE professionals already. I have two Masters degrees. I'm already highly qualified for a number of jobs. But the jobs I really want all require a PhD (or some other terminal degree. My career has already started and when I graduate I will be judged for a job based on work that I am doing now. A graduate degree is not like an undergraduate degree. But unless you do a graduate degree you really don't understand that difference. But we're just making small talk at a party and "I want to be a professor" is the only answer most people are going to understand, so please don't make me get into the details of my research. Because even people in my own program don't always understand that. Which leads me to...

6. Sometimes it's even impossible to explain to people in your program what you do

Broadly I study rhetoric, more specifically alternative/contemporary, visual, and women's/feminist rhetorics. Yes, those are all separate forms of rhetoric. More specifically still (and here's where I really lose people) I study fashion rhetoric. To be an English major who studies fashion is a bit of a mind bender for a lot of people. I've long ago gotten used to incredulous and skeptical looks from people, even other academics, when I try to explain my research. The funny thing is, if I explain my research to anyone in the fashion/retail industry, they completely get it. I also study rhetoric of costume design. That also gets weird looks from academics but if I explain it to costume designers or actors they understand it immediately and can have brilliant conversations. But usually it's colleagues that I'm explaining my work to, new grad students, people I meet at conferences, etc. I know I'm not the only one with this struggle. I would imagine people in the hard sciences also struggle to explain their research. Especially when you're working on projects that are more "out there". I'm lucky that my program values unique research and I've been strongly encouraged in the directions I've gone in and thankfully my immediate advisors understand my work. But there's still a lot of people who don't, or (even worse) make typical assumptions that because I study fashion it's "not important". I'm doing pretty well for myself with my research so I feel like I'll have the last laugh but it's still annoying.

15 Real Facts About Being a PhD Student

7. We don't spend all our time in the library

I wish we did. I feel like when people think of grad school they imagine us sitting around in the library just being really smart. If only. I can't remember the last time I got to go to the library. I need to get a bunch of books for my comp exam prep but I'm probably going to end up requesting to have them sent to the info desk and just pick them up there. Plus, if you're like me and research more contemporary subjects, a lot of your research is online in the various databases your university subscribes to. Books take so long to get published so sometimes the most current research is in an academic journal and is available online. Since we're so busy and racing a million deadlines, spending time at the library is sadly a luxury most of us don't have. Unless you study rare manuscripts, then you probably do practically live at the library. And I'm jealous.

8. "You must love reading"

This is usually accompanied by a laugh from whoever is saying. Oooh, clever you! You're so funny! And I haven't heard that a million billion times. Not every PhD student loves reading actually. For some people it's just a fact of the job. I do happen to enjoy reading novels, but I rarely get to do that. And all the books I'm currently reading for my comp exam (40 books, 20 articles fyi)...they're interesting, and I'd probably read them all for fun over the course of many months/years. But reading them all in a row and in preparation for a major exam that determines if I will achieve candidacy? No. I'm not "loving" that. I'm struggling to be honest. The pressure to feel like I have to remember every word and every argument and claim is enormous. And quite frankly takes all the fun out of it. We're not pursuing graduate degrees because we just love reading so much. Reading is just part of the job.

15 Real Facts About Being a PhD Student

9. You feel guilty for complaining about school, because you know how lucky you are.

One of the struggles I have as a PhD student is not complaining too much. It's easy to get caught up in the workload and the stress. Grad school is a 60+ hour a week job, it's not a 9-5, not even an 8-6 job. I don't get to come home from work and turn off. I'm always on. And I know I'm not the only PhD student who's like that. I have some colleagues that make me feel like a downright slacker! So yeah, it's tough and it's grueling. But it's also a huge privilege. And I'm not even talking about financial privilege, though that's definitely a big issue, there are lots of people who are more than smart enough but can't afford it. But even as someone fortunate enough to be in a financial position to do grad school, you're just plain lucky to get accepted. I attend a major research one, top tier university. It's huge. And my program is one of the top of its kind in the US. I don't know the specific numbers but from what has been hinted to me we get a pretty significant number of applicants to the PhD program. In my year there were only about 6 of us who were specifically rhetoric and composition focused, including me! 6 people out of what was certainly a large pool of applicants. I got rejected from 6 schools. It's incredibly competitive. And nearly everyone who applies is more than "good enough", there are so many factors that go into these decisions. Getting in is a huge deal. I was waitlisted for funding, and I know that the reason I'm here is because someone else turned down their offer. I could get insecure about that but I know that there are so many strong applicants each year and only a very limited number of slots available. So we may complain but we know how lucky we are and wouldn't trade it for anything. We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't think it was worth it.

10. You're nearly buried under the mountain of pressure you feel and that your program puts on you

Pressure in grad school comes from two places, your program and your mind. Your fighting a battle on two fronts. There are definitely pressures built into any graduate program. There are numerous degree requirements, department and college hoops to jump through, pressures of coursework and teaching and those pressures are definitely real. But there are also so many pressures that we create in our own minds. We tend to grab on to any pressure in the program and then magnify it times ten. It's not just molehills into mountains, it's mountains into Mt. Everest! As a PhD student you have to learn how to deal with those pressures and break things down into manageable pieces. It'd be very easy to let this pressure break you. But you have to realize that your program puts those requirements in place for a reason and it's to help break the program down into smaller steps. And the hoops...well, life is just a series of hoops you learn to jump through. I always joke that I minored in hoop jumping. Big hoops, little hoops, flaming hoops. I'm a pro. I don't enjoy it but I'm good at it. 

And the pressures of coursework and teaching that we agonize over? It takes time but you learn to stop agonizing. This week I got behind on responding to student drafts. So I extended their deadline. Believe me, my students don't care. Have to cancel a class because you're sick? Your students will be delighted. Can only manage 80% of your best effort on a paper? You'll survive and likely still get an A in the class, because let's face it. At this stage we're all Type A perfectionists and what we think of as an 80% effort is still above and beyond what some of our professors expect. I've been beating myself up thinking I'm behind on reaching ABD status. I finally met and caught up with my advisor and told her how I was feeling and she looked horrified and assured me I'm right on track. (I will do another blog post on how to choose an amazing advisor lol). We think we're floundering and failing but we're actually succeeding. It's important to keep that perspective.

15 Real Facts About Being a PhD Student

11. You have to learn how to embrace change and uncertainty

This is a tough one but so important. I've always hated change, I blame growing up in the Army and moving every couple of years lol. But as an adult I've learned to embrace change and uncertainty. Starting to travel again has helped with this. When I travel I'm happy to bury my map in the bottom of my bag and just go get lost in whatever city I'm exploring. I get excited to just explore new things and see what I discover. Grad school is similar. Even if you're like me and you come in to a program pretty much knowing what your dissertation project is you're still building yourself as a scholar and the small ideas and projects you work on in your coursework will become your first journal article or book chapter publications, your conference papers, your portfolio papers for your program (if they require that). It's important to be open to exploring new things. Don't be afraid to go in a different direction or develop a new research interest. If I had stayed locked in to my fashion and costume design research I don't think I would have ever discovered YouTube, I definitely would have never started my own channel. Don't be afraid to fall down a rabbit hole, you might find Wonderland. The best research breakthroughs often come out of moments of fear and uncertainty, so stand your ground and face down that fear, don't run and hide from it.

12. Competition is a fact of life, but one you can choose to avoid

I've learned there are two types of grad students. The ones who are confident and secure in their ideas and abilities and want to be part of a supportive academic community. And the ones who are insecure and competitive acting as if everyone is out to get them and steal their ideas, that the only way to demonstrate their own intelligence is to put others down. It's up to you to choose which kind you want to be.

This choice was easy for me, I'm not competitive by nature, if being better means that much to you I'll let you think you're better. I don't need to define myself based on how I compare to others. Also, I'm the only fashion scholar in my department. And that's how I think of myself. I'm a fashion scholar. Rhetoric is the perspective that I analyze fashion from, but fashion is where I ground myself. Which lets me set myself apart a little from others in my program. It's hard to compete when you're the only one doing your kind of research. I know things will get more competitive when I graduate but I'm enjoying having this time to develop my ideas and my identity as a scholar. When I look outside of my program at the work being done by fashion scholars I'm still the only one doing the type of work I'm doing. I found my niche and it feels good.

15 Real Facts About Being a PhD Student

13. You have to develop a thick skin

Rejection is an inherent part of grad school. I find it amusing that I left acting because I didn't want to deal with rejection only to end up in academia. Only this time, instead of being rejected for superficial things like not being pretty enough or not being thin enough I get rejected for more devastating things like my ideas not being strong enough or my writing not being developed enough. I have 6 rejection letters from the PhD programs I didn't get into. Each one at the time felt like a knife stabbing me. But I got through it. I had an outright panic attack in my office at school when I got back the feedback on my first draft for my first publication. "This paper has potential..." O.M.G. Can the ground just open up and swallow me? It wasn't even a rejection, just a revise and resubmit, I was still a part of the project. But it was devastating at the time. Looking back, my editor's feedback was a gift and a sign that she truly believed in my work. I've been relatively lucky, the few things I've submitted to I've been successful with. But I have colleagues who've gotten some pretty nasty comments on their work. You really have to learn how to separate the helpful feedback from the destructive comments and rejection. Most of the time when you're rejected from something (a graduate program, a conference, and edited collection, a journal article) it's not because you're work isn't good enough it's because there were a lot of equally good applicants but only a limited amount of space. This is especially true of conferences and collections. Conference organizers and editors are thinking of the overall end product and making the best choices about how to fill all those spots. Sometimes it's as simple as someone else is just a better fit than you but it doesn't make you or your work any less valid or important.

14. Accept that you will be broke or that you will have a mountain of debt...or both.

When you go through a PhD program you basically have three options: 1) find some way of living off of the small stipend and/or financial assistance your program offers you and be broke throughout your studies, 2) take out student loans to maintain a somewhat normal standard of living but graduate with significant student loan debt, or 3) some combination of 1 and 2.

I was in my early 30s when I got accepted and really had no interest in having roommates (long story, but I've had bad experience with this lol) so I knew I was going to live by myself. I also was, until very recently, paying for my own health insurance instead of using the school insurance (another long story, but I'm on campus insurance now as my other insurance got too expensive). Plus my car got totaled at the start of my second year and I had to buy a new one. So, yeah, I've learned that student loans are kind of a necessary evil. It helps in the short term but I do worry about paying it all off. For the most part that fear is, not completely irrational, but definitely self-constructed. No one who's graduated from my program has just not gotten any job at all. So worrying that I'm going to end up working a minimum wage job is probably not that realistic. But if you have anxiety about money grad school will definitely magnify that. There's just no way around it. This is why researching your prospective program, the kind of financial assistance they offer, what additional elements are included in the acceptance package (like a tuition waiver, health insurance, etc.), cost of living in the town you'd be living in, different types of loans or grants you could qualify for, as well as what jobs people tend to get and the incomes they earn after graduation are all important before making the decision to go to grad school.

15. You have to love, really love, what you do.

Ultimately doing a PhD is an up and down process filled with just as many highs as there are lows (which is basically life in general). Grad school, either a Masters or a PhD is not something to enter into lightly. You need to be as sure as possible that it's what you want and need to do. I always tell people that if there is any other way to get the career you want, do that instead. If you do a PhD you should find the right program that will allow you to do the research you want and will prepare you for the career you want. If you make the right decision with your PhD it will be worth it, even when you have a rough day. My worst day as a PhD student is still better than some of the average days I had in other jobs. It's hard and grueling sometimes but I've had some amazing experiences that I wouldn't have had otherwise. Studying abroad in Oxford, presenting at a major international conference and meeting some of my academic role models, researching and writing about Bond Girls, YouTube, and fashion icons, these are things that I wouldn't have been able to do in any other job. I love my research, I love studying and writing (even when I hate it lol). Overall, as difficult as the hard times can be, they're worth it. My first year was rough, and I think some people get freaked out by how hard the first year is, but when you get past the first year and advance through coursework and get more involved in academia the more fun you can have if you let yourself. 

My number one tip when you start a PhD...think if it as a job. You're not a student anymore even though people will use that word. You are a junior/apprentice scholar. The more you think of yourself as just a student the more difficulty you'll have adjusting to your new life as an academic. You're in the big leagues now. Hiding behind "student" status doesn't help you and will prevent you from enjoying everything a PhD program has to offer. It's not the last stage of your student journey, it's the beginning of the rest of your academic life.

15 Real Facts About Being a PhD Student

Friday, September 16, 2016

YouTube Observation Notes #3

I wish I could say that I will be posting blogs on a schedule but it's all I can manage to do that with my YouTube videos. I feel like this blog and I have a complicated relationship. We're working on it. Back to my YouTube observation notes...

Technical Issues

So, in my research on YouTube, one thing I discuss is that there are a lot of behind the scenes creative decisions and technical issues that beauty vloggers contend with. I knew that it couldn't be as easy as it looked. Boy was I right! OMG. More like FML. I'm generally pretty good with technology. I can read directions and know how to use Google for troubleshooting help. YouTube has really made my head come close to exploding a few times. This was something I definitely wanted to cover in this series. I think it's really important for new YouTubers to understand going in what's involved from a technical standpoint. I was trying to keep things as simple and basic as possible and STILL managed to run into issues on an almost weekly basis and continue to do so. Here's just a selection of the assorted issues and some of my advice so far.

Setting up the camera

When I first started in April (where the hell has the time gone?) I was using my Canon Rebel T1i DSLR. I was lucky to already have a DSLR but it's pretty old by camera standards. So while it had a 1080 setting it wasn't really true HD quality. But it was better than using my MacBook Pro's built in web cam and I didn't want to do my main videos on my iPhone 6, I wanted to use that just for vlogging (I will probably do a separate post on my experience vlogging). I filmed my first video using the web cam as I couldn't be bothered to deal with my Canon until I felt like this was something I was going to actually do regularly. I filmed my "welcome to my channel" video and an unaired February Favorites video. I never uploaded that video because holy cats it ended up being 40 minutes long and I still didn't really know how to use iMovie to edit. Plus I got sick and there was a long gap before I finally got around to uploading and the Feb Faves just seemed not to be relevant anymore.

But I had decided that I would definitely continue, so while I was sick I ordered a tripod from Amazon for $22 and set about figuring out how to use it. Which led to another issue...

Tethering to my laptop

The T1i doesn't have a flip out screen, so there was no way to see myself and make sure I was in focus. I knew that I had heard somewhere that there was a way to connect your camera to your computer to use your screen as a monitor. So I did some searching on YouTube to see if I could find a video that would explain the process. I got lucky. Not only did I find a great video (check it out here) but I also had all the items needed. It ended up being pretty easy, most of the software was already installed, although I did have to go to Canon's website to update the firmware. All in all, I was tethered and ready to shoot in about an hour or so? I now had a way to see myself, check the lighting, adjust the focus, and do lots of other stuff that I'm still playing wth since I know next to nothing about ISO or F stops or aperture lol. But thanks to Alice Red's blog and channel I've been learning a bit more. :) Tethering has been a huge help. There's still the occasional time I end up filming out of focus (because I have crap eyesight) but for the most part it's been a lifesaver.

I'm now filming on my mom's T3i, which is a pretty sharp improvement. She's kind enough to let me borrow it indefinitely, since she only uses it when she travels. I'd like to invest in a new DSLR but I really want a vlogging camera first. More info on that when I make a decision.

Battery and memory card issues

With any camera two issues you're going to hit are your battery dying and your memory card being full. So these were the next two things I invested in for the channel. I bought a spare batter for my T1i (I've now also got two spares for the T3i) and an extra 16 GB SD card. I think I want to get a 32GB, but so far the 16GB has been doing ok. Filming several videos at once for my "Back to School" week series is the first time that I've really filled it up. I tend to not delete things off the card until the video is edited and uploaded, that way if something happens I have the original footage in a couple places. I definitely recommend in getting a spare battery and extra memory cards if you're starting a channel. It will make your life so much easier. Now, when my battery dies I have a charged one ready to go and I don't have to pause filming for a couple hours while it charges. I also recommend having a travel charger if you use your phone for vlogging like I do. Using my phone throughout the day for vlogging drains my battery pretty quick, so having the travel charger is great.

Editing images: PicMonkey is my hero

My first few videos I allowed YouTube to choose a few options for thumbnails. I very quickly realized this wasn't a good idea. After some searching I found PicMonkey. I had used another site to do my channel art banner (that was 3 hours of frustration trying to do it on my own before finally finding an online editing site that could do it. Two minutes later I had a useable banner. Ugh.) The original site I used made some changes and I didn't really like what they'd done, so that led me to PicMonkey. Now I do all my thumbnails on there. I knew I wanted to come up with a basic design theme to keep the channel uniform so my thumbnail pictures usually have a brightly colored border with a matching text box. One day I'll probably switch up the design but this is easy and works for me for now.

Uploading to YouTube

In the beginning, uploading was super easy. Well, except for the first video, but that wasn't YouTube's fault. I went through the whole uploading process, published the video, and then realized my video had no sound. I immediately took it down, checked the original file, and sure enough, no sound. So I had to export the video again. I will talk about this issue when I get to discussing iMovie. So, once I had sound, I re-uploaded and it was super easy. When you upload you just drag the file over, and the process starts. There's a space to upload your thumbnail, a box to add search tags, a title box and a description box where you can put any relevant info about your channel and your video. All of this was smooth sailing for awhile. At this point my videos still weren't in HD, I hadn't found the 1080 setting on my camera. But once I did it created larger video files (of course). I didn't really notice a change to uploading other than it took a little longer. But one day I hit a snag. And of course it would happen the day I uploaded my "Small YouTuber Tag" video which was also the video that I was going "public" with. I hadn't been sharing any videos before this one, but this was going to be the first time that I would tweet about my channel and share it on Facebook and basically tell everyone what I was doing. 

I uploaded it, held my breath, clicked "publish" and then opened the video to see how it wasn't in HD. Crap! 

I immediately deleted it and tried again. Long story short, I got more anxious as I uploaded it a million times and each time it still wasn't HD. The file was showing as 1080 but it wasn't going up to YouTube that way.! @#@$#&$#@*! I finally did a Google search and found other people had had this trouble and this was when I learned that even though YouTube says it has completed processing the video there can still be an additional processing time for HD videos. I've now noticed some YouTubers responding to comments about blurry quality saying that it just needed more time to process and the viewer should watch it again later. Ok, good to know. But those channels typically have 50k subscribers or more. I'm not counting on people coming back to rewatch a video once it's fully processed.

One of the troubleshooters suggested setting your video to "private" and not publishing it until it was fully processed into HD. This is now what I do for every video. I let it process, I leave it for a bit (usually 5-15 minutes) and then I check, once it looks good on my end I click publish. Yet one more thing you don't learn about until you experience it. 

External Hard drive: Your new best friend

Another thing I learned about the hard way was storage. Back in December, at the most inconvenient time of the semester, my hard drive died. Like, completely. I managed to get it replaced and didn't have to buy a new computer and now have a fancy 1TB solid state hard drive in my MacBook Pro. However, within a month or so of starting YouTube I realized my brand new hard drive that only had about 320GB on it in December was now nearly full! Videos add up. Thankfully I had an extra external hard drive so I transferred all the files over. That made a huge difference. However, it wasn't much longer before it was nearly full again. This was when I realized how much space iMovie can take up. I went through and deleted all the old events and projects and boom, my hard drive was back to less than half full. So now I only keep current projects on my laptop, once a project is published the raw and finished files get sent over to my external drive and are deleted off my computer and iMovie. Which makes my computer a million times happier.

Editing: My love/hate relationship with iMovie

I feel like I saved the best for last. I have such a love/hate relationship with iMovie. It was free and already on my computer, though I had a very old version. The old version was very user friendly though. In the beginning I really only used it to cut off the awkward bits at the beginnings and ends of videos but eventually I got better at cutting out bits from in the middle of the video and could soon easily cut a video from 30 minutes down to 15 minutes. But I had a big problem with exporting videos. On the old version it wouldn't keep the sound on the first export. But magically it would work on the second. To this day I've never figured out why it does this or how to fix it. But if I use that version I always have to export it twice and it takes at least 3 hours each time, 5 hours if it's a longer video. I got into a habit of waking up in the middle of the night to start the second export. 

Eventually I caved and got the newest version (despite it having terrible reviews). In the beginning it was great. I had to watch some tutorials to figure out how to do everything and some things (once I learned them) were much easier. Others were harder but nothing I couldn't train myself to manage. And the exporting process was so much easier and faster! Oh my goodness. That alone seemed worth it. And then trouble hit. For some reason it was distorting the video playback. The audio would be fine and smooth but the video would be out of sync. But here's the weird part. The original file would play fine. And the export would look fine on other computers or when uploaded but just wasn't playing right on my computer. 

I also noticed it didn't play nice with my vlog footage. Anything filmed using the front camera was fine, but the back camera (the better one on the iPhone) would have the same sync problems. So I had to switch back to the old iMovie. I didn't like uploading footage that I wasn't sure would play right. Now, for my current "Back to School" videos I've been filming on the T3i and editing in the newer iMovie and so far (knock on wood) it's working. But I'm still having trouble with vlogs. I need to go to the Genius Bar but I haven't had the time yet. So that's where it stands. I still have and use both versions of iMovie but one doesn't export properly and the other gets weird about video playback. *sigh*

So those are my current observations about technical issue and things I'm learning as I go along. I'm in the process of researching vlogging cameras. I'm torn between two different ones so I'll keep you posted. And as I run into new technical issues or resolve any of the ones mentioned I'll update you on that as well. If you're a YouTuber many of these above issues will be familiar to you. If you're interested in starting, learn from my mistakes lol. And message me if you have any questions. :) 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

YouTube Observation Notes #2

Random Haters/Trolls on the Interwebz

So, I didn't want to make a full post about this but I couldn't help myself. I finally got my first hater/troll comment. I say "finally" because I've honestly been waiting since I started in April for this to happen. Short story short (lol), when I uploaded my "Best Friend Tag" video today I got a comment from an account with a male name, but no profile picture (most likely a dummy/spam/troll account) saying, "two uglies who dont show dem feet"[sic]. Um...ok? So a guy on the internet is calling me ugly. And I think fat? (I had to ask about the feet reference) Whatever. Like, that has to be the most generic internet insult ever. Do I get a badge? Do I get to level up now? That's definitely a square on "lame shit guys say on the internet" bingo. *note to self: make up an actual bingo card for this, it could be fun*

Anyway, I deleted it in like 33 seconds, so I'm pretty sure no one else saw it. And that gets at my main issue. I'm 35 years old. I have colleagues who studied online culture. I follow feminists on Twitter. I know what guys on the internet are capable of throwing at women. If I was surprised by this comment it was only by the generic "13 year old boy" quality of it. And that might even be an insult to 13 year old boys. Maybe it was a bot? Like, a computer generated troll insult? Does that exist? It was just so weird. But yeah, I know the kind of abuse women can get online. And women in the beauty community on YouTube are no exceptions. I've seen some pathetic comments on other channels. So I knew it was going to get to my channel eventually. And while I can deal with it I know I have a lot of pretty young subscribers (15/16 years old) and I wouldn't want them to see a comment like that, or feel like they should respond to it.

I'm noticing so many things as I'm crafting my channel identity and the community I'm trying to build within my channel. I want it to be a safe space for people to feel like they can comment what they feel. I can handle being called ugly, fat, whatever. Because that's what insecure people do. They go on the internet and insult other people. I understand that and can move past it. But it's a weird feeling when you feel like you've created a positive space and everyone seems happy with new subscribers joining every week and then some jerk comes popping in and dumps a load of crap in your comment section. It's kind of like when you find your rude neighbor has let their dog crap in your yard and doesn't pick it up. When someone purposely violates basic rules of decency in a community space.

So, I deleted the comment and thankfully within a few minutes some genuine and positive comments came in from some of my wonderful subscribers. It's done and I'm trying to just put it out of my mind. Writing a blog post about it helps lol. Though let me be clear, this isn't about this guy or his comment. It's also not about me being upset (honestly I was laughing, it was just so bizarre!). That I'm thinking about it enough to write a post about it is not personal at all, it's entirely academic. It just got me thinking about why people do this? I have no answer. Some people will say, "it's the internet, what do you expect?" I expect to be treated the way I would in person. I expect people to act decently. And I'm not going to change those expectations. I'll just keep deleting shit comments until people on the internet stop treating the internet like some mythical fantasyland where words don't have consequences.

And I damn well am not going to be shamed or bullied off YouTube. And while I'm cool with internet linguistic practices, this guy needs a lesson in rhetorical effectiveness, because I'm still not completely clear on what he was trying to say. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Journey Begins - YouTube Observation Notes #1

YouTube Observation Notes #1

A journey begins. It's now been a little over 4 months since I started my YouTube channel. A professor of mine once said that she wished she could get her first few weeks on Twitter back, so that she could take notes about what it was like starting out on a new platform. When you're starting out on a new digital platform (new to you, that is) there are so many rules and practices that you might have been previously unaware of. Even on something like YouTube, where I'd been an observer and casual participant in the comment section, I quickly realized that being on the creator side of things it was far different from what I was expecting.

So I thought I'd start a series here on the blog, with my observations. I'm noticing so many things as I'm diving into this whole YouTube thing and I don't want to forget any of these initial/early observations and experiences.

Early days

The beginning was terrifying. No joke. Would people watch? Would they like my content? Would I get mean and nasty comments? It's the internet, anything could happen. But instead something amazing happened. It started slow. One comment on my second video (a Sephora haul), then eventually another comment. Then I got my first subscriber! Another YouTuber had recently followed me on Twitter and when I followed back she sent a message with a link to her channel, so I subscribed and sent her a link to my channel and asked if she'd check it out. And that's the story of how Bex Halling, a fabulous London based YouTuber became my first subscriber lol! And soon there were more. Usually one or two new subscribers with every new video. In the first couple months it felt like the number just kept doubling every week. First 5 subscribers, then 10, then 25, then 50. And I was getting more comments. A lot were "sub for sub?" (I'll get to that later) but a lot were really lovely, genuine comments. Including some other older/grad students. Like Kate, a PhD student in New Zealand, who somehow found my channel and has now become a great online friend. I recently (as of the beginning of August) passed 300 subscribers and 4,000 views, which for someone who thought that maybe....if I was really lucky...I might get 100 subscribers in a year. Oh my goodness. Now I don't even know what's possible with this channel. Fingers crossed, I might be able to get to 1000 by my first anniversary on YouTube?


One thing that became very apparent early on is how community functions on YouTube. There seem to be two main types of small YouTubers and for a new YouTuber starting out you have to learn how to balance those types, as well as decide which type you're going to be. Type One is what I'll call "Community Friendly Creator" or CFC. This is a content creator who loves making content, loves engaging with the community they're building within their own channel as well as the broader community their channel is situated within, such as the small Beauty YouTuber community (which is where I'd say my channel fits). They watch each other's videos, they leave comments on other channels, they engage in conversations in their comment section and the comment section of other channels, they don't just "shout out" a list of channel names but they share channels they love and why, they tag each other in videos because they genuinely want to know what that other YouTuber would say or do in their version of the tag. 

Type Two is what I'll call the "Channel Building Creator" or CBC. This creator is entirely focused on their own channel. They tend to have higher subscriber numbers, or are on their way up (if I check back in a week they will likely have 100 or more subscribers than the week before, sometimes 1000 more). They leave "sub for sub" comments on your videos, usually without much more to the comment. Or they will leave a long and effusive comment about how amazing you are and how obsessed with your channel they are. But since, YouTube is a big community made up of small communities, you tend to see the exact same "lovely" comment, literally copy and pasted into the comment sections of at least a half dozen other channels you are subscribed to. CBCs also tend to not comment or watch any of your videos after that first one (and they probably didn't even watch the one they left a comment on). Once you subscribe to their channel you never hear from them again. Or if you do, it's a comment asking you to check out their most recent video. Honestly, I've had people ask me to subscribe and leave one of these "omg you're amazing" comments, a month after they did it the first time, after I've been watching and commenting on at least half of their videos. There's nothing wrong with being a CBC. Let me be clear on that. These YouTubers are generally very nice, but their focus is on their channel, not the community. So I take their comments with a grain of salt, tell them I'll check out their channel, and move on. Because I know I'm never going to hear from them again. 

For new YouTubers you have to decide which type you'll be. You can be a slight combination of both, but one side will generally dominate. I've come across some CBCs who do leave genuine comments, come back a watch another of my videos every now and then, and engage in dialogue with me on their channels when I comment. I've also seen some CFCs with really high subscriber numbers, view counts, and comment numbers who are clearly succeeding at YouTube even though they have a very community focused perspective. Now, their numbers still aren't as high as some CBCs but I do think it points to an important observation. In the game and business of YouTube, if you really want a shot at being successful, slow and steady wins the race. Adopting a more CFC perspective and really engaging in the community helps to build a strong channel. A lot of CBCs I've observed have very high subscriber numbers but incredibly low view counts, sometimes as low as 5-10% of their subscribers. Whereas the ratio between subscriber number and view count is a lot more even on CFC channels. So, it's definitely a choice you have to make. It's also one you can change at any time. A CBC can decide to take a less aggressive approach to building their channel and start engaging in the community more. Likewise, a CFC can start seeing their numbers rise and get caught up in the excitement and start taking a more aggressive approach to building their channel. Also, let me clarify, by "aggressive" I don't mean verbally threatening or anything of that sort. I'm referring more to the practice of spamming as many channels as possible in a day with "sub for sub" comments or comments of a similar nature. Which leads to the next observation...

"Sub 4 sub": An annoyance or a useful tactic?

Anyone who's created a YouTube channel has had to deal with "sub for sub" comments. In theory it's a great idea. "Let's each subscribe to each other's channel and support one another as we grow." In practice it only works that way about 5% of the time, if even. Most of the time what happens is you sub to each other's channels and never hear from them again. I admit I did "sub for sub" a few times in the beginning. It definitely helps get your numbers up as a small YouTuber, which in turn makes it easier for your videos to be found and for people to subscribe to you. The more content you have and the more subscribers you have, the more likely someone is to subscribe to you. But after awhile it gets pretty discouraging, so I tend to thank people and tell them I'll check out their channels when I get those comments, but I rarely subscribe anymore. I'd rather grow my channel slowly but with subscribers who actually watch my videos, maybe not every single one, but at least a couple each month, which is fine since my content is so varied, I know not every video will appeal to every subscriber. My videos tend to get between 60-100 views, which to me is pretty good for 300 subscribers. Could I have more subscribers if I engaged in "sub for sub" practices? Definitely. Would my channel be a strong one? Not so much. There's a bit of a contentious debate among creators about "sub for sub"? Some really don't like it, others have seen how useful it can be to build your numbers. So, like the CFC vs. CBC choice, you have to make a choice for your own channel about "sub for sub".

Creating content

So this is another big decision I had to make, what kind of content was I going to be creating. I find it very interesting that while "YouTuber" or "beauty vlogger" is a common designation used (don't get me started on my thoughts about "beauty guru"), YouTube technically considers us "content creators". I really like the emphasis on "creators" since this has definitely been an incredible creative outlet. So, deciding what kind of content I was going to focus on for my channel was a big decision. Initially I had two motivations for starting the channel, 1) to see what the experience of being a creator/vlogger was like after studying it and to actually live the process for myself and 2) to document my 35th year--I turned 35 the day I filmed my "welcome to my channel" video--and have it be a sort of video journal of what I did, what I was studying/doing at school, what I found interesting, what products I was using, what purchases did I make, etc. So I knew I needed a format that would be very flexible and allow for a lot of variety. I also had to decide what my uploading schedule would be and how many videos I would do each week.

I ultimately decided to upload twice a week, Tuesday and Friday. I felt that two videos was something I could manage with my schedule, and at the time I started those two days worked best with my teaching and school schedule. I had to work backwards to figure out when I'd have time to film and edit in order to determine when I could upload the final video. Little did I know this part would be fraught with many technical issues lol. But that's the next blog post. Once I had the days set, I made a decision on content. I knew I wanted to do beauty/fashion content, since the majority of YouTubers I watch are beauty vloggers and that's what I've been studying for my research. But I also wanted to talk about grad school, general college advice, my life in general, do daily vlogs, book reviews, etc. So I decided Tuesday videos would be "anything goes", as long as it was life related, and Friday would be typical beauty/fashion content. So far it seems to be working.

So yeah, I started filming and editing and uploading and the channel started to grow! It's hard work. But since I decided to do this purely as a hobby and it's definitely not a career ambition, I have to limit how much time and effort I put in to it. My quality could definitely be better but at this point I'm not willing to invest money in better equipment or more time to film and edit more creative videos. Because there's still the whole matter of me being a full time PhD student who really needs to focus on passing my comp exam. Life. 

I'm going to wrap this post up here. But there's still lots more that I've observed and experienced. The next post will focus on the technical side of things and all the stuff that I was NOT prepared for. Seriously, when you just watch YouTube videos, they make it look so easy.

Until then, feel free to check out some of my recent videos. :) Or click here to see my channel, I hope you'll subscribe! xx

Monday, May 30, 2016

I've Started a YouTube Channel! What?!

For real everyone, I really have started a YouTube channel. But let me back it up a minute and explain some things and let you know how I got here....

So, I have seriously neglected this blog, and that's sad, because I like writing and posting on here. Quick update:

My last posts were from the UK, the rest of the summer went great. Oxford was amazing, I fell in love with that city even more than I had the previous summer. The Ed Sheeran concert was incredible. Best night ever! The summer just flew by. I got home in mid-August and immediately got sucked into school. Third year of my PhD is done and I honestly don't know where it went. Seriously, where has the last 9 months gone. Fastest academic year ever. I taught a few classes, presented at a couple conferences, had a chapter published in a book on James Bond and Bond Girls (OMG!), turned 35, and a bunch of other cool and crazy things.

A good portion of the year was spent working on my research on YouTube, specifically beauty vloggers (or beauty "gurus" but I personally don't like that term lol). I presented a paper at the Feminist and Rhetorics conference that was held in Tempe back in October and got great feedback. I continued to develop that paper and presented a follow up in February at the Southwest English Symposium, and also got good feedback. As I continued to study and observe YouTube and Fleur de Force (my main subject) as well as other beauty vloggers I was discovering it got me wondering even more about what it would be like to have a channel of my own.

Part of my research is examining the ways of making these women (and a growing number of men) in the beauty community engage in throughout their channels. What is it like to film, edit, and upload a video? What about the supporting aspects like creating dynamic video thumbnails or promoting and marketing your channel via social media? How is community constructed within the channel through engagement with subscribers? I had been watching Fleur do this for a couple years now, but what would it be like to do it myself? I think one hazard of academic research is that it is very easy to get sucked into your research and go from being a lurker or an observer to being a casual participant (commenting on videos I watched) to being a full participant. Which is what has finally happened.

Another contributing factor was turning 35 and being half way through my PhD. I thought it might be fun, even if only for a year, to make some videos, engage in this process, see what I could accomplish with it, and have a nice record of what my favorite things were, what I was doing, how I was feeling, etc. I didn't have any real expectations. I honestly didn't think anyone would watch. But they have! Without using social media I've managed to gain about 40 subscribers, which I think is awesome. It's 40 more than I was expecting. And everyone has been so nice! My two fears were that either no one would watch or that if they did there would be a negative response. Neither of those fears has come true (though I know the "hater" comments will roll in eventually, trolls always find you).

So yeah, I've got a YouTube channel now. Currently I upload every Tuesday and Friday. On Tuesday the videos are more personal, so far I've done a couple vlogs of my life, a tag video, a book review, school advice, and will be doing more of these types of videos in the future. On Friday, the videos are typical beauty channel standards, what's in my handbag, shopping hauls, monthly favorites, skin care routine, etc. Combined, the videos uploaded on each day are able to represent all the different aspects of my life: school, teaching, fashion, books, beauty, etc. 

If you want to follow me on my new YouTube adventure you can subscribe to my channel by clicking the big, red "subscribe" button on my channel page. Or simply keep following me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as this blog, as I will be sure to update all of my various social sites when I upload a new video. I'm also including a couple videos in this post, embedded below, so you can preview the channel here on the blog. But I would love you forever if you went to the actual channel page and watched some videos. :) 

Enjoy! xx