My PhD gets a SuMa Award

It’s official now: My PhD gets awarded by the “SuMa-eV – Verein fuer freien Wissenszugang“!!! :) The SuMa-eV is a society with the central goal to assure free access to knowledge. In their doing they particularly focus on search engines, that have become central access points to the web and digital knowledge. Their ideology basically is to work towards a landscape of free, heterogeneous, and non-monopolistic search engines. More concretely, their goal is to raise awareness and information/ digital skills in the public and policy realm, but also to develop alternative technologies. You can get more information on SuMa technologies including a link to the SuMa blog here (in German, sorry for that).

© SuMa-eV

In addition to these activities they anually award works dealing with the future of digital knowledge. And I’m really happy that I get one of these SuMa Awards this year!!! Besides my PhD “Mediated Knowledge” (download), the OpenGovernment search engine “NewsClub im Bundestag” and the online dictionary “Linguee” are awarded this year. The award ceremony takes place on the 6th of October in Berlin as part of the SuMa-eV conference. I’m really looking forward to this event, especially as it nicely fits to my new project on the social construction of search engines and their information political implications. I suppose it’s a good spot to get to know relevant people in the field and their perspectives on search technologies. I’m particularly looking forward to see Markus Beckedahl from, a platform dedicated to freedom and openness in the digital age, and Lars Reppesgaard, journalist and author of the book “Das Google Imperium”. Futher, proponents from the policy realm and the commercial sector such as Microsoft and maybe Google will be there. Altogether I think it’s a good compilation of different actors and viewpoints to start off a discussion about civil society in the information/ digital age. Besides, there will also be a workshop how to install your own search engine. For more infos on the programme and registration please go to the conference website. Personally, I’m pleased to finally meet the director of SuMa-eV, Wolfgang Sander-Beuermann and Theo Röhle, who just published “Der Google Komplex” – with both of whom I only digitally corresponded so far ;). So I’m really excited about this upcoming event & keep you posted on all that.

Publish or perish?

The new level in this game of academia – the postdoc level – seems to include making a decision on getting the PhD published as a book or not. Encouraged by one of my PhD reviewers, Michael Nentwich, I started to contact publishing houses to get information about the procedure of transforming PhDs into books. Well, the first answer I got was pretty disappointing. One of the central points in the publishing guidelines was to consider whether I would like to spend another 12 months, minimum, up to 5 years on reworking my thesis. And whether I have got a contract that allows me to do so. Well, the quick answer to all that is no. No, I don’t want to rework my thesis for the next couple of years and no, I don’t have a contract that gives me time to do so (is there any contract despite tenure track positions – pretty rare in Europe up to non-existent in Austria – that allow you to do so?). Further, my empirical research conducted in Austria turned out to be too specific for the US market according to one publisher – although “it looks like an interesting piece of research”.. hm, local contexts don’t seem to be appreciated much in globalized academia. Since I wasn’t sure whether to go down this road anyway, I take it as an interesting experience having figured that out. Also, my heart beats for open access and thus an online publication may not be bad either. However, my own experiences made me talk to other people, also from the HUMlab, about this issue and it seems as if there are no standardized solutions to this problem. Rather, each local academic culture seems to have a different approach. While some people from the British context are convinced that it’s not worth the trouble and therefore better go for peer-reviewed journal publications, people from the US tend to go for a book publication straightforwardly. And of course, disciplines matter as well. So much for the globalized academic landscape. An interesting contribution in the digital arts context comes from Charlotte Frost, who has just set up the platform PhD2Published with helpful tips etc. Check it out here.

Besides these burning questions, I was exploring the surroundings of Umeå the last couple of days.. well, surroundings, this lake is approx. 5 min from my appartment – can you believe it?

settling in Umeå/ at the HUMlab

Astrid Mager is rebooting her life: new office, new flat, new fb friends.. That’s my facebook status right now. And it feels like this indeed. Provided with a lot of useful things a postdoc fellow needs in northern Sweden..

..I took the flight to Umeå, the town I’ll be living for the next year. Settling in here is comparatively easy as my HUMlab colleagues and the other postdocs are really really helpful (see also Jenna’s wonderful blog “Surviving Your First Two Weeks As A HUMlab Postdoc”). The most important thing to get here is the person number. Without a person number you won’t get internet access at your apartment, a bank account and your salary consequently. So without a person number you’re quasi non-existent.. with a person number, however, you’re treated like a Swede, which sounds fine to me. Although I’m not capable of speaking any Swedish apart from hej, hejda and tack så mycket (hope I pronounced it right!). The second important thing to get here is a bike, which I luckily got today. Living in Ålidhem, like everyone else related to the University, it just takes me like 5 min. to get to my office. Not bad, ha?

Speaking of my office, the facilities are great! HUMlab appears to be a very high tech, digital place with huuge computer screens. Coming from the University of Vienna, the equipment is simply impressive. I’m not sure whether I’ve seen such a big touch screen ever in my life. Apart from looking good, however, there’s a reason for these big screens. Quite some people are interested in virtual worlds, second life and the like here. They don’t only explore and analyze these virtual spaces, but also design and program stuff, which i find pretty cool actually. For more infos got to the very informative and up-to-date HUMlab blog. They’ve also introduced a HUMlab artist-in-residency programme in second life.

I’ve to check that out – it’s time to get a second life log in after all. So the lab seems to be a good place to study new media, digital technologies and socio-cultural implications – but it has traditional roots as well 😉

Altogether the lab has a really good atmosphere and its scholars are a colourful combination of people working at the intersection of digital media, art, aesthetics and literature. Well, it’s part of the humanities faculty. Surprisingly there’s also some kind of Science and Technology Studies (STS) department here. This is really nice as HUMlab postdocs are supposed to have a second affiliation with a University department. They’re working on environmental and sustainability issues as it seems. I may take a controversy from this thematic field as a case study for my search engine research project. To see how an issue such as global warming is negotiated in search engine results, as compared to other web spheres such as link networks or the blog sphere. I think that may be a neat project to do.. especially in a place like Umeå, where the winter is supposed to be dark and cold 😉 Well, I’ll figure that out as soon as I’ve settled research-wise. For now it’s good to know that my work at the intersection of search engine research, information visualization and STS is fitting in. So, I’m sure I’ll have an exciting upcoming year and learn a lot. Apart from my search engine research I may well be able to tie in with some second life project here, together with Michael maybe.. let’s see.

So altogether I think I gonna like working at the HUMlab and living in Sweden :) Next time I’ll show you the wonderful surroundings of Umeå and maybe some pics of my flat.. as soon as I’ve settled properly. And then there’s of course more to say about my research, but one step at a time.. guess that’s the Swedish mentality, which I highly appreciate! stay tuned!