Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Plastics Research Group

We held the first meeting of the Plastics Research Group involving members of both faculties of the University on 23 November, 2016. We were pleased to have Rachel Worth, the AUB’s Head of Research Development, and Valerie Lodge, the AUB’s Research Manager, at the meeting along with the following members of the Group: Louise Dennis, Kate Hall, David Lund, E-J Scott, Will Strange and Channa Vithuna. Apologies were received from Iain Archer, Jeffry Baggott, Laura Cotterill, Elena Crehan, Russell Gagg, Kirsten Hardie, Jonny Hoskins, Christian McLening, and Humphrey Trevelyan.

Presentation by Rachel Worth

The meeting began with an informal and extremely helpful presentation by Rachel Worth about how to get academic papers published. She covered the motivation to write, how to get started and the most common reasons why proffered contributions are rejected, drawing on Paul Silvia’s How to write a lot: a practical guide to productive academic writing, Washington, 2007 and Hilary Hamnett’s ‘Why are academic papers rejected by Journals?’, Times Higher Educational Supplement, September 2016.

Why we write

Our motivation to write is our passion for our subject. We publish because we want to communicate our ideas to a wider audience: students and public alike.

Getting started

Nonetheless getting started can be hard. We tend to create specious barriers to stop us getting on with writing, for example:

  • we need to do more research,
  • we need a new computer,
  • we need to be inspired,
  • we can’t find the time.
None of these is true. There comes a point when you just have to commit to writing and it is not a matter of finding the time but quite simply of allotting the time.

The recommendation is to select a regular amount of time, say one hour a day, and to stick to it. It is a good idea too to keep a log to build up a sense of achievement: the more you get down, the more you will be inspired to do. As creative people, we must be creative with our time. She also recommended carrying around a notebook and jotting down ideas as they come: you can write anywhere.

She also made the point that it can be useful to have more than one project on the go. It is important as a writer to meet deadlines but sometimes for a range of understandable reasons the publishing industry may not be able to get back to you when expected and then it can be useful to have a parallel project to fall back on.

Approaching a journal or publishing house

It is important to research relevant journals or publishing houses in order to make sure that the ones that are approached have a track record of publishing in the relevant subject area. It can be a good idea to write to an individual within the publishing house to discuss the appropriateness of the proposed article in terms of their remit. Some publishers have complex submission processes and it is important to follow the requirements carefully.

Revisions requested as a result of ‘peer review’ should not be taken as personal insults but rather as the means of making the text as good as can be. Peer reviewers may not agree and it is then for the writer to choose which route to go down.

Causes of rejection

Hilary Hamnett has outlined the following reasons for rejection:

  • the paper is outside the scope of the journal.
  • it has no novelty: it does not say anything new.
  • it is fragmented and without sufficient structure.
  • it is weak in conclusion.
  • it is not well referenced and/or the references are not up-to-date.
  • it is not clear how the article would change perception / thinking.
  • the writer has not responded adequately to peer reviewers’ comments.
Thank you Rachel, questions and comments from the group showed how much this presentation was appreciated.

Research being undertaken within the Group

Those present then shared with each other their research relevant to the plastics theme.

David Lund, a post-graduate student linked to MoDiP, described his subject as how plastics have changed the model and dominated its development since the introduction of plastics and explained his intention of inventing a conceptual framework for critically investigating the model as a material-social object which would be applicable to the study of objects of all kinds.

Channa Vithana, Architecture, talked about his fascination with the pure plastic phenomenon and his interest in writing a paper on the word ‘plasticity’ in terms of how it relates to other materials as much as to ‘plastics’.

Kate Hall, another post-graduate student linked to MoDiP, told us of her research into how the perception of objects, and specifically plastic chairs, are changed when viewed through the lens of poetic narrative.

Will Strange, Modelmaking, is undertaking an MA in Creative Thinking with a view to deepening understanding of maker culture and the value of making things for yourself rather than buying them readymade, or commissioning them from another source.

E-J Scott, Fashion, talked about his research into the synthetic fabric, Crimplene. He is fascinated by its ubiquitous nature, that everyone had it and how it presents a different history from that of elite fashion. It is a material that does not fray and therefore does not require over-locking which made it attractive to home dressmakers. Basing his findings largely on oral histories he has evidence that it was this fabric that led the democratisation of sixties fashion, for example the designs of Mary Quant. He drew links between his research and that of Will Strange into today’s Maker Movement.

Louise Dennis, Museum of Design in Plastics, who is undertaking a PhD at the University of Brighton, discussed how her research into why plastics are collected by museums links to the research of others in the group with notions of value, ubiquity, the everyday, and their place in the museum.

I am currently editing selected papers from the AUB’s conference, Provocative Plastics: plastics in design from the practical to the philosophical into a book focused on the conference theme which gave rise to the most interest: ‘Plastics and value’. It approaches the theme from two perspectives: plastics’ value as a medium for making and plastics value as perceived by society in use.

Susan Lambert (Head of MoDiP)

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