Checking out @PhD2Published for #KeepCalmandGetPublished

keep-calm-and-carry-on-213x300As I’ve been working on my book proposal (16 pages so far), 10 years after my PhD was written (and probably of even more relevance now than when I wrote it, though that’s taken quite a lot of time to research), thanks to Suzie for spotting this article:

I deliberately gave myself a year from my PhD defense to decide whether or not I wanted to turn my dissertation into a book. During that year I didn’t look at my dissertation at all. Instead, I talked to people – mostly outside of my own Department –about their experiences and advice. The number one advice I got is that you should only turn your dissertation into a book if you can find the motivation to do so. If you cannot be enthusiastic about it, don’t take it on. Similarly, if you realize that large parts of your dissertation are already outdated, or make it unfeasible as a book for other reasons, you’re better off turning the best parts into articles – if you hadn’t done so already – and move on to a new project.

Read full article.

Value in a PhD?

An interesting piece on the ‘value’ and employability of a PhDphdgrad

Who would do a PhD? Who would willingly submit to spending endless hours, over three or four years, in the laboratory or library, racked by self-doubt and money worries, in preparation for a career for which vacancies were never more oversubscribed? …

But do doctoral students really feel prepared for life beyond the ivory tower? And how ready are they to embrace it? Here, we speak to five current and former doctoral students from a range of disciplines and universities about why they did their PhDs, what their experience was like and where they see their futures now.

Read full piece, with a couple of more positive responses 28/811/9.


The value of PhD supervision…


Interesting piece on PhD supervision:

When a PhD supervision session constitutes just another blocked-out hour in a besieged diary, it can be all too easy to forget that it could make an impression that stays with the student for the rest of their research career.

We asked five academics for their recollections of the PhD supervision they received, and the way it had informed their own approach to tutoring. Three had enjoyed excellent supervision that had deeply influenced their own practice. But two had not. One recalls exchanges with their tutor characterised by yawns and silences, while another was treated with a “cutting harshness”, valuable only as an exemplar of how not to conduct yourself.

Read full story, and accompanying editorial.

PhD: Has the quality dropped? If so, who’s “to blame”?

mfIRNyuThis is rather concerning (but not particularly surprising, as we’ve heard all those complaints about GCSE, A-Level, degree level standards dropping, etc.) re PhD doctorates. Really, by the time you sit the viva, you should know that your work is ready to pass, and that your job in the viva is to demonstrate that you actually wrote it (although others will still see it as a test) … and as I hope to take on a PhD student before too long:

Our experience does not lead us to criticise any particular system of examination or type of thesis. However, it does raise serious issues about the quality of work submitted for the PhD degree (or its equivalent) and the standards employed to judge such work.

To cut to the chase, a significant number of the theses we have examined did not deserve to pass – at least, not in the form in which they were submitted. One of us has examined six doctoral theses in the past year and believes that not one of them was worthy of the degree. Yet he had the means at his disposal to fail only two of them. Administrative conventions and examination procedures, not to mention social pressures, simply did not allow the possibility of failure.

Read full post.

Academic Career or Plan B?

Story in Times Higher Education this week has attracted MANY comments already… it starts:

Universities benefit from the large pool of cheap labour provided by PhD students and postdocs, but there aren’t enough academic jobs to go around, so young scholars should prepare for the possibility of a future outside the academy, one postdoc advises

Not everyone who completes a PhD gets an academic job. I knew that. But still I thought that my prospects were good.

I have degrees from some of the best universities in the world, in the UK and the US, and currently hold a postdoctoral position. I have had no problems securing funding for my research, and am close to publishing some of the results.

This year, however, I have had some interviews but no job offers. I may be able to find an academic position next year, but it now seems unlikely.

On a good day, I feel confident about my research and believe I have something to contribute to my discipline and to wider society. But increasingly I wonder: if others do not value my research enough to pay me to do it, what else can I do to make a living?

Read full story, the editorial, and content from UCU conference.

Interesting comment:

As another commenter has said, the only reason to do a PhD is because you love your subject, and realise that this may be the last and only chance to do research in it. That, incidentally, is what gets people jobs: a true passion for the subject always shows (I speak as someone who’s been part of numerous interview panels). So please listen potential and current PhDs, this is the truth: you probabaly won’t get an academic job, so if that’s the only reason why you are doing it, give up the idea right now and go and do something else instead.

I tend to have a low boredom threshold, but I still get excited every time I see a new poster, or a variation on Keep Calm and Carry On… and I’m clearing my backlog to get around to publishing my PhD!

Why undertake a PhD?

Thinking about why I undertook a PhD? The biggest driver I think was intellectual curiosity, although I’ve always wanted to “teach”, so that was also a factor…

The proportion of doctoral students who find academic jobs is greater than the proportion with a definite aspiration to do so – except in the arts and humanities.

This is the surprising finding of a major survey of PhD students’ career aspirations carried out by Vitae, the research careers organisation.

The online survey, carried out in 2010, attracted more than 4,500 responses from doctoral researchers across 130 UK universities and research institutes.

An overwhelming majority of respondents had entered doctoral study for reasons of intellectual curiosity, and only about a third had formed definite career plans, even by the latter years of their doctorates.

Read full story, where Vitae indicate that a surprising number of students aren’t studying in order to enter academia!

From PhD to published…

This has been published from the train – I’ll be back to sort headings, links, etc when on something other than an iPad
In 1991 (I think it was) I picked up a postcard ‘Women of Britain’ at the Imperial War Museum. So started a fascination with British wartime propaganda posters… With an A-Level project, a BA dissertation, and a PhD in the subject, as well as chapters, articles and press coverage, I think you can call me the world’s No 1 authority on the subject.. And with my specialist knowledge on Keep Calm and Carry On, why have I not published?

Why publish?
I work in academia, and publishing is core to moving forward in the sector, but I’m now working outside of my core discipline of history, so the core reason for me is that I want to see MY book on the shelves. I really won’t feel that the PhD is ‘done’ until I see that, although I have put the PhD (minus images) on my website under a Creative Commons attribution licence.

So why haven’t I published before now?
There are two big reasons. Time is one of them. Those of you who know me, know that I have multiple different interests and get involved in lots of things, and for a while the project felt ‘done’, although I’ve always known that I wanted to publish. A bigger reason, however, is that I haven’t had a stable job (well, a stable/horrible job followed by redundancy/world travels, then contracts), and that I keep moving house. At present, I haven’t moved house for 1.5 years, and have 0.5 of a permanent job, combined with variety of interesting projects… So time is still tight, but I’m thinking a minimum of an evening a week will start to move me forward… The other issue is image rights… And I’ll come back to those. I suspect there’s also a fear of putting the material out there, but it’s currently been outweighed by the fear that someone else (less qualified clearly) may publish first!!

What have I already got in place?
Well, of course, the PhD is already written, but needs to be re-written for that elusive ‘non-academic specialist’ or ‘academic non-specialist’ audience! I have already written a chapter for London Transport Museum, and have journal articles in process. I also have a promise from Lord Asa Briggs (who was one of my PhD examiners and described my work as ‘highly readable’) to write the foreword, so I should chase that up! I have some ideas of publishers, and need to pull that together into a list, and decide where to approach. I can do this with the help of my PhD supervisor, Dr Martin Polley, who I’ve helped to create a website for (expect him to be in demand in Olympics year, it’s one of his specialisms), and who is going to help me get to book proposal stage.

So how to overcome the obstacles?
OK, so time: start! I’ve set myself the start of Semester 2 (15th January) to get the book proposal done, and need to organise times with Martin to do that. I have already been told by someone from Manchester University Press that should I get the image rights sorted I I’ll have publishers biting my hand off … And that was before Keep Calm and Carry On kicked off. So, the image rights. The majority of the posters are out of (Crown) copyright, but as I don’t own the originals I would need to obtain materials from the Imperial War Museum or the National Archives – potentially in a deal to co-publish (although the IWM recently published a text, but it’s very much a populist text), otherwise with at least £8000 of costs. I do wonder, however, about an opportunity to crowd-source poster owners, who would probably love to see their images in a book, and Onslow’s may be interested co-publishing. All avenues to be explored when the book proposal is complete. Then there’s the question of developing a timescale/plan to write the book itself… But that can be broken down to a chapter at a time.

Why now?
On our office wall is a quote: “It always looks impossible until it’s done” (Nelson Mandela), and that was reiterated tonight, when I attended Scanner’s Night – which focused upon ‘idea-storming’.

Stage 1) Identify what you want to do in one sentence (publish my PhD as a book)’ and what excites you about that (holding my book in my hands.. And knowing that others can enjoy it). There’s a sheet to write ideas that you want help with – and others can offer that help.

Stage 2) Identify the major obstacles stopping you, and, in a group, storm ideas to get past it/them. (Time/image rights/#getbexwriting required)

Stage 3) On the action sheet write name/sentence/an action that you can undertake in an hour or so. (Break the project down as to what needs to be done, clarify the obstacles, and think through ways to get last them).

There was also a sheet to ‘give away’ your ideas. So, there you have it. I think, unlike #getbexrunning, I’m not sure I want to force people into another ‘cheer Bex on’ group, but do feel free to cheer me on/hold me accountable via this blog… Combined will encouragement to chill out!!

See @ww2poster for more on the subject of wartime posters…

PhD: Piled Higher & Deeper

Check out

When Jorge Cham adapted his hugely popular PhD cartoon for film, he eschewed animation and hired real Caltech students and academics for his comically true-to-life doctoral tales. Paul Jump reports

Absent-minded academics and scientists who are a few base pairs short of a double helix are as much a cinema staple as maverick cops and superheroes with a troubled past. For all the recent rise in 3D film, Jorge Cham believes that researchers are rarely portrayed in ways that transcend that stereotypical dimension.

So when it came to making a film based on his highly successful PhD Comics series, the key theme he wanted to convey was that academics and research students are “real people with relationships, multiple talents and passions”.

Cham has spent the past 14 years highlighting the humorous side of the downsides of life as a research postgraduate – the huge workload and the inherent sense of anonymity and personal limbo. His Piled Higher and Deeper strip, subtitled “the ongoing chronicle of life (or the lack thereof) in grad school”, is syndicated all over the world and his website, where the strips are archived, receives about 7 million unique visitors a year. More recently, the website has also acquired some video content, in which Cham, who holds a PhD in robotics from Stanford University, interviews researchers about scientific concepts such as dark matter.

Read the full story and visit the website.

Google leads search for humanities PhD graduates

Will Silicon Valley be calling in the long run? My humanities PhD is leading me in all kinds of interesting directions!

Those worried about the value of studying the arts and humanities, particularly at the postgraduate level, take heart: Google wants you.In a boldly titled talk at a conference at Stanford University last week, Damon Horowitz, director of engineering – and in-house philosopher – at Google, discussed the question of “Why you should quit your technology job and get a humanities PhD”.

Dr Horowitz was one of several Silicon Valley executives exploring the theme at the BiblioTech conference, an event that united academics with entrepreneurs and senior managers from some of the world’s leading high-tech companies.

For Marissa Mayer, who was the 20th employee taken on by Google and is now its vice-president of consumer products, the situation was clear: “We are going through a period of unbelievable growth and will be hiring about 6,000 people this year – and probably 4,000-5,000 from the humanities or liberal arts.”

Companies such as Google were looking for “people who are smart and get things done” from every possible background, she said, yet the humanities had a particular relevance.

Developing user interfaces, for example, was at least as much about knowing how to observe and understand people as about pure technological skill, she added.

Read full story in the Times Higher… and another bit I particularly love:

Others speakers developed similar themes. For June Cohen, executive producer of TED Media, anyone who had studied for a PhD, however seemingly irrelevant the topic, had “learned stamina and focus and how to listen” – and those skills would always be valuable to employers.

As long as PhDs were regarded as essentially academic qualifications, commented another speaker, many people were likely to feel like failures because there were never going to be enough academic jobs, particularly tenure-track ones at elite universities, to go around. Yet the reality was that PhDs offered transferable skills, that many people with doctorates went into business, and that universities needed to acknowledge and celebrate this.

Transferable Skills: PhD

An article by Pat Cryer explaining the many transferable skills students gain whilst studying for a PhD (1997), and an article from 2004 explaining why many PhDs desert academia.

Read more on my PhD at

Nicely summarised by the University of Michigan:

Analysis & Problem-Solving
  • Define a problem and identify possible causes
  • Comprehend large amounts of information
  • Form and defend independent conclusions
  • Design an experiment, plan, or model that defines a problem, tests potential resolutions and implements a solution
Interpersonal & Leadership Skills
  • Facilitate group discussions or conduct meetings
  • Motivate others to complete projects (group or individual)
  • Respond appropriately to positive or negative feedback
  • Effectively mentor subordinates and/or peers
  • Collaborate on projects
  • Teach skills or concepts to others
  • Navigate complex bureaucratic environments
Project Management & Organization
  • Manage a project or projects from beginning to end
  • Identify goals and/or tasks to be accomplished and a realistic timeline for completion
  • Prioritize tasks while anticipating potential problems
  • Maintain flexibility in the face of changing circumstances
Research & Information Management
  • Identify sources of information applicable to a given problem
  • Understand and synthesize large quantities of data
  • Design and analyze surveys
  • Develop organizing principles to effectively sort and evaluate data
Self-Management & Work Habits
  • Work effectively under pressure and to meet deadlines
  • Comprehend new material and subject matter quickly
  • Work effectively with limited supervision
Written & Oral Communication
  • Prepare concise and logically-written materials
  • Organize and communicate ideas effectively in oral presentations to small and large groups
  • Write at all levels — brief abstract to book-length manuscript
  • Debate issues in a collegial manner and participate in group discussions
  • Use logical argument to persuade others
  • Explain complex or difficult concepts in basic terms and language
  • Write effective grant proposals

Most PhDs desert academe

More than half of UK PhD students quit academia for industry as soon as they get their qualifications, according to the first-ever detailed report on the early careers of those with doctorates. While the report will quash fears that PhD students are so specialised as to be unemployable, it will raise concerns about the future supply of academics.

The report, What Do PhDs Do?, from the UK GRAD programme, found that about 60 per cent of UK PhDs in physical, engineering and biomedical sciences leave academia, compared with about 30 to 35 per cent of arts, humanities, social science and economic PhDs. The report says that over time these proportions increase as, for example, PhDs on short-term postdoctoral positions move into other employment sectors. Report author Ellen Pearce said: “The figures will raise serious issues about how universities retain PhD students and sustain the teaching base of UK universities.”

The report, which analyses what UK rather than overseas PhD students do, found the students to be highly employable. Nearly three-quarters got jobs – in or outside academia – six months after graduating. This compared with 69 per cent of masters students and 61 per cent of undergraduates. UK PhDs are about 50 per cent less likely to be unemployed (3.2 per cent) than first-degree graduates (6.6 per cent).

“It is hard to say whether this is brain drain or brain circulation,” Ms Pearce said.

The report also found that the percentage of female PhD graduates had increased from 40 per cent in 1999 to 46 per cent in 2003. In all, 12,520 research students were awarded PhDs in 2003. Between 1999 and 2003, there was a 31 per cent rise in the number of PhD students registering for their final year.

“We interviewed employers from different sectors and found them to be highly enthusiastic about PhD students,” said Ms Pearce. “Their response puts all the emphasis on transferable skills into perspective. It is clear that PhD students have a high value in the market.”

Stephen Court, senior research officer for the Association of University Teachers, said there had been a sharp decline in the number of young entrants to academia coming from the UK.

“It is not surprising that a high proportion of people with PhDs do not choose a career in higher education,” he said. “Universities are finding that the prospect of fixed-term contracts and the low pay they offer are extremely unattractive to potential academics.”

In 2002, Sir Gareth Roberts’ report SET for Success put in motion a major programme of transferable skills training for PhD students.

Morgan Kavanagh, a director at recruitment consultants Huxley Finance, said: “We recruit for clients who require high-level quantative skills, so we look only at PhDs – first-degree graduates simply can’t compete.

“PhDs are much more sophisticated in their thinking and have a broader toolkit of skills to draw on in the demanding roles we place them in.”

The general manager in a private engineering firm said: “We’ve found that PhD graduates have a combination of maturity and autonomy that is more useful for our work than engineering graduates with a similar length of experience in industry.”

Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities Colleges and Employers Association, said: “Higher education recognises that recruitment and retention of academics is a vital area and for that reason the framework agreement on pay modernisation addresses work-life balance, career development and renumeration. These have been shown to be the most important issues people consider when making decisions about their working life. The framework will deliver on all three. Real progress is already being made to offer postgraduates an academic career that is both attractive and fulfilling.”

The UK GRAD report shows that 38 per cent of PhDs are in the biosciences, 33 per cent in the physical sciences (including engineering), 14 per cent in the arts and humanities, and 11 per cent in the social sciences. Some 4 per cent of PhDs were doing theses in other areas such as education.

Taken from the Times Higher Education Supplement
Claire Sanders
Published: 08 October 2004

PhD Skills

Postgraduates do not realise how employable they are. Pat Cryer explains how to get well paid job.

“Students often give up when they realise how few jobs there are in their specialism. Believing they have nothing else to offer they end up jobless.”

The long haul is over and the prospect of lucrative job offers are an enticing alternative to months of solitary confinement in the research laboratory. Yet very few PhD students do themselves justice in the job market, often under-selling themselves to prospective employers because they fail to appreciate the value of the special skills they have honed during their research.

Surprisingly few doctoral students are aware of their employability. They often give up when they realise how few jobs are on offer in their specialist area. Believing they have nothing to offer elsewhere, they end up depressed and jobless.

Others cannot see beyond their contribution to their field of study. But most employers do not view findings at the frontiers of knowledge as relevant to their business, except in rare cases.

In order to be more attractive to employers and to prepare for a wider range of careers, PhD students need to thing further than their subject expertise. They need to be able to sell those skills and abilities developed during the process of the PhD, and which are valued in wider settings – the so-called transferable skills.

The Association of Graduate Recruiters in its reports, Skills for the Twenty-First Century, suggests that graduates who are most attractive to employers will possess transferable skills in four broad areas: specialist, generalist, self-reliance, and teamwork.

Specialist skills are easily recognised. Therefore a great deal of work has to be done to shed light on the skills in the other three areas, largely due to the Employment Department’s Enterprise in Higher Education Initiative, but it has been almost entirely for undergraduates. Little work has been done on what additional skills it is reasonable to expect at PhD level. There are a few transferable skills which employers would value, and which it is reasonable to expect from postgraduates. The crucial point about these skills is that they should develop naturally, as part of the PhD process. Students, who are aware of these additional skills should have a competitive edge. Furthermore, in jobs outside their specialisms, they should attract higher salaries than applicants without PhDs. All PhD students will, by the time they finish, have spent three or more years on their research, with its various highs and lows. This feat should develop the transferable skill of being able to see any prolonged task or project through to completion. It should include, to varying extents which depend on the discipline and the research topic, the abilities to plan, to allocate time and money, and to trouble-shoot.

In addition, the PhD research needs to keep up with the subject, to be flexible and able to change direction. The abilities to think laterally and creatively and to develop alternative approaches are also highly necessary. Adaptability is highly valued by employers who need people to anticipate and lead change in a fast-moving world, yet resist it where it is only for its own sake. All PhD students should have learned to set their work in a wider field of knowledge. The process requires an extensive study of literature and should develop the transferable skills of being able to sift through large quantities of information, to take on board other points of view, challenge premises, question procedures and interpret meaning.

All PhD students have to be able to present their work through seminars, progress reports and their thesis. Seminars should develop confident presentation, and group discussion skills. Dealing with criticism and presenting cases ought to be second nature. Report and thesis-writing should develop the skills needed for composing reports, manuals and press releases and for summarising bulky documents.

The doctoral road can be lonely, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. Yet the skills of coping with isolation are transferable and can be valued highly by employers. They include self-direction; self-discipline; self-motivation; resilience; tenacity and the abilities to prioritise and juggle a number of tasks at once. Students working on group projects should be able to claim advance team-working skills.

Further examples of transferable skills are many and depend on the interests of the student and the nature of research. Think about advanced computer literacy, facility with the Internet, and the ability to teach effectively. Negotiation skills in accessing resources can be highly sought after. And doctoral students used to networking with others, using project management techniques, and finding their way round specialist libraries or archives.

Since transferable skills of the type I have suggested should be developed naturally during the PhD, the problem for students does normally not lie in acquiring them, but in appreciating the full scope of what they are, in recognising the extent to which they have been acquired and in being able to demonstrate them to potential employers.

How much better it would be if PhD students could be made aware of their exciting and developing transferable skills as a regular ongoing part of their PhD. This would need only modest amounts of time and money. At institutional level, probably all this would need would be overt encouragement.

The main action would start at the level of the department or research group, to develop a checklist of possible transferable skills along the lines described above, but with an emphasis appropriate for the discipline. Supervisors as well as students would need to contribute to this task, so as to use all the available experience, enthusiasm and creativity. There would then need to be small but regular inputs of awareness raising activities, possibly within supervisions, or as part of a departmental seminar series, or provided centrally, perhaps by a graduate school.

To reach the largest number of students successfully, the provision must be integrated into their PhD programmes, so that supervisors, tutors and heads of department regard it as mainstream rather than peripheral. Bolt-on extras have little appeal as they do not contribute directly to the students’ main aim which is to complete the PhD. Ideally any such provision would also help students to show that they have acquired their transferable skills. There may be a case for a small portfolio containing, for example, photographs of press cuttings, etc. showing the student’s involvement in key activities; products or results of research, or plans, photographs or sketches representing them; and documentation of any special awards or commendations. Very little of this is done at the moment. This is both surprising and unfortunate. It is surprising since training in transferable skills is not uncommon at PhD level. Many PhD students, particularly in large departments in science and professional subjects, are trained in those transferable skills which now have general currency at undergraduate level. Also many PhD students are trained, via an institutional careers service, in the skills for career progression, such as researching the job-market, making applications and performing well in interviews and selection tests.

The lack of provision of the sort I envisage is unfortunate because it would require only modest resourcing and would be highly cost-effective in terms of raising the self-esteem of those PhD students who believe they have little to offer employers outside their field; improving the employment prospects of all participating students; and benefiting society by enabling employers to utilise expertise that they might not otherwise know existed.

At the time of writing Pat Cryer was a senior visiting professor at University College London and the originator and convenor of the Postgraduate Issues Network of the Society for Research into Higher Education. She is now Honorary Professor for Research Student and Supervisor Support and Training at the University of Winchester, so I hope to get the benefit of her wisdom next year.

The Times Higher: Research Opportunities. May 16 1997 p.1

My bucket list starts with: Visit Canada

Visit Canada
Canada looks a beautiful, friendly country, and all the Canadians I’ve met (and shared rooms with on my travels) have been lovely! I read all the Anne of Green Gables novels when I was younger, and have always wanted to go and see Prince Edward Island… also want to get the train across to the Rockies, see the bright lights of Toronto, ski in Banff, and just take in the beautiful landscapes… while trying out some daft activities and taking a million photos no doubt, see: for evidence of that!

Publish my PhD as a Book
I will never feel like I’ve finished my PhD until I see my name on the spine of a book in the bookstores. There’s plenty of interesting material in my PhD (see, lots of interest in it (see the recent furore over ‘Keep Calm and Carry On': Originally I intended to call my book “It’s Up To You” after a poster which takes the Kitchener “Your Country Needs You” as a design inspiration, but now Keep Calm and Carry On seems far more appropriate, as I’m particularly interested in why such images still resonate over 60 years later). At my PhD viva we spent most of the time discussing turning the thesis into a book (would probably take around a year on top of a steady job), and the book proposal is in process… meantime, travelling and job-seeking have rather taken away from that!

Visit Israel
OK, so it’s another “visit somewhere”, as the remainder may be… I want to take a trip to Israel with I know loads of people who’ve been and they all say the same thing… really tiring, but completely awesome and inspiring (well, that describes pretty much any Oak Hall trip that I’ve been on!)

See a Formula 1 Race live
I used to follow Formula 1 avidly, watching heats, races, repeats, highlights – you name it, and reading all the magazines. I then realised how much of my life this was taking up and pretty much went cold turkey. However, getting to know Emma @ Manchester we chatted about Formula 1 lots, and I would still like to go to see a live race… not sure where yet. I have stood on the starting grid and podium at Albert Park in Australia, and may watch some of this weekend’s… if only to remind me of the time I spent in Australia (and there’s somewhere else to go back to!)… I had a day’s race car driving experience:, whic was great… bring on the skid-pan racing next!

Run the London or New York Marathon
I’ve done a couple of 10ks, and would even need to build back up to that length at the moment, but I’ve always wanted to run the London Marathon (although sometimes I think the New York would suit my traveller mind more). I have actually completed a full-length marathon event:, which is maybe almost harder than a daytime marathon, but still, running a marathon beckons…

Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (unusually) kept me occupied for several evenings whilst travelling through Asia (I have been known to read 3-4 books in a day!). I hadn’t realised until I started to read it, and found the odd bit of text slipping off the page, that I’d bought one of the notorious photocopied texts so easy to find in South East Asia (not much respect for intellectual property there!).

Stupid as it sounds, it hadn’t really registered in my consciousness that the author was male, and I certainly hadn’t realised that he was American. The author of the book appeared to have got into the mind of a Geisha so well, that many people believe that she was a real character – she’s not, she’s fictional, but he apparently did his research well!

So, last night, I borrowed my friend’s DVD and watched the film and all the extras. I can’t remember the ins and outs of the book, but with the time lapse, I certainly didn’t notice anything particularly jarring/missing, and really enjoyed the film, which was well-paced and intriguing. I enjoyed the extras even more (as always… watching the ‘Making of Shrek’ was very inspirational for writing a chapter on the way an artist approached poster design for my PhD), and it was fascinating to see how the authenticity was approached, with each actress undergoing 6 weeks of Geisha ‘boot camp’, working with Liza Dalby, the only western woman ever to become a Geisha (as a part of her PhD research). 

Even more interesting was that the director/producer said that they looked to establish what were the rules/authenticity, and then looked for ways to re-interpret that in a more modern way that would work for film. 


[ABSTRACT] The Planning, Design and Reception of British Home Front Propaganda Posters of the Second World War

Montage Pics

This project focuses upon propaganda posters produced during the Second World War (1939 to 1945), primarily by the British government, aimed chiefly at their civilian population. The project uses Foucauldian discourse analysis and content analysis to investigate the images and their context, and identify key themes across a wide range of posters, over a long time-frame. This thesis contributes to an historical understanding of the British popular propaganda experience, largely ignored in previous historical research.

Drawing upon material from several archives, including the Imperial War Museum (IWM), the Public Record Office (PRO) and Mass-Observation (M-O), the project also uses questionnaires to elicit memories of the posters, and a poster database to collect together material which would otherwise remain dispersed. The thesis sets the posters against a background of contextual material, it identifies key propaganda theories, discerns relevant poster styles and recognises British poster style as one of pragmatic functionalism. The thesis outlines the poster production and distribution processes of the Ministry of Information (MOI) and considers the first (highly criticised) posters before concentrating on four case studies, each of which is structured in three sections: the planning (context), the design, and the reception of the posters.

The first case study examines what people were fighting for, and identifies their ‘imagined community’, by considering urban and rural representations of Britain in the posters. The second case study considers industrial propaganda, emphasises the idea of the island nation, and identifies those involved in the industrial effort. The third case study looks at ‘the enemy within’, and examines who was excluded from, or was considered damaging to, the war effort. The fourth case study explores in detail who was compromising the war effort through their sexual behaviour, putting themselves at risk of venereal disease. The thesis argues that the posters drew heavily upon longer term discourses emanating from new and established institutions, although there was often a clear distinction between those that drew on the past and tradition, and those that pushed forward to the future.

See PhD Proposal and Bibliography.

On 25th June 2004, “Rebecca Lewis successfully negotiated her PhD viva for her thesis entitled ‘The planning, design and reception of British home front propaganda posters of the Second World War’. The thesis was described by the examiners, Lord Asa Briggs and Dr Adrian Smith, as excellent, with no corrections. The supervisory team was Dr Martin Polley (Southampton University, formerly of University College Winchester) and Professor Joyce Goodman.”