Saturday, 10 March 2012


Well, now I realise that the thesis is only part of getting a doctorate, you need to be able to talk about and defend your work orally as well as in written form.

My viva date is the 22nd March. Being 6 months into a post-doc at King's College London, I do not have the time for preparation that I might like, and am having to be efficient with time.

Having watched some excellent videos on viva preparation and the examination, I've realised that I fall into the 'it will be alright on the day, I know the stuff anyway' camp of PhD viva-ee, and need to pick up my game a bit. Reading the thesis through is not enough. Even though I've been editing chapters for paper publications, this is not going to be enough to prepare me for the viva.

What is good is that I've given two talks on the thesis (or bits of it) recently, to various types of audiences. I'm giving another talk at Warwick university on Monday. This is giving me (a) a broad perspective on what I'm doing, and (b) lots of practice at dealing with a diverse range of questions, some of which were unexpected. I'm also collecting questions on my thesis from all sorts of different people, from my supervisors and collaborators to people who have never come across my work before. This is really useful - I need to practice answering these. I'm also practising summarising my thesis, e.g. during runs or gym sessions(!) and am going to have a practice discussion with my supervisor. Lots of practice going on here!

From the videos I've just watched, I've compiled some pointers, and am including those here so I can refer to them again (and so that perhaps they might be useful to others).  Finally, wish me luck!

1. Overall points and general questions
? Does your overall argument make any sense? and does it address your research questions?
? Why is your thesis important?
? What is the general area surrounding your thesis and how does your thesis fit in?
? What is the scope of your thesis? (and what does it not cover?)
? What are the strengths of your thesis? [don't be afraid to push the bits that are good]
? What are the weaknesses and limitations of your thesis? [recognise, acknowledge and overcome- good to show that you have ideas how to deal with them - but don't invite extra corrections!]
For both these Qs:
? Be aware of the strengths and weaknesses
? Be precise
? Be ready and willing to talk about them
? Expect challenging and interesting questions
? What's missing from your thesis? 
? Are there counter-arguments to your arguments? How would you address these?
? Why did you make the research decisions you did? What alternatives did you consider, and why did you dismiss these?
? What interested you in this research area, and drew you to this area of work?

2. For the day itself
Read thesis, mark up a copy (with page tags so you can find things!) and bring it in to the exam. Also make a ~2-page summary of the key themes as a reminder.
Be prepared to summarise your thesis arguments and findings at the start, in a concise way. Practice this! Should be natural and relatively informal (e.g. not reading from a prepared script but describing it in a conversation to somebody interested)
Some bits of the thesis may not make sense, or the examiners won't read as you expect them to (haven't got the same reading background, etc) - I may need to clarify. 
The examiners want to make sure I wrote the thesis and did the work - of course as I know I did, I need to make sure I demonstrate this in a satisfactory way.
In facing questions, don't get defensive - but be brave! (and diplomatic)
Answer questions succinctly and in an informed, knowledgeable manner. I can take my time if necessary, ask for questions to be clarified, and even start an answer again if I've completely mucked it up! 

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


Well, the thesis is now printed out and at the binders, ready to be picked up and submitted this Friday morning. At the back of my head, I know that this is not the last time I will work on it. I want to submit a paper based on the thesis to a Cognitive Computation journal special issue which has a deadline of 1st November, generate papers out of the thesis and return to it again at viva time. And it's not handed in, yet. An academic's work is never done?


A little celebrating will be done on Friday!

For the moment, the thesis in its submitted form is available at 
It's a large file (23.8Mb) so I'd like to put it up, chapter by chapter if possible, on or similar, and probably link to it on this blog too. But that is to be done another time, let's at least allow myself a day or two off of it!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The loneliness of the long-distance writer... or misery loves company?

I will hand in my PhD thesis this September. It is official. I handed in a form today that says as much.

Right now, two months seems like both an incredibly long time to be refining a document and an incredibly short time to finish everything off satisfactorily. Having spent July intensively writing up my thesis work (then getting ill, then getting back to the intensive write-up), I'm starting to produce something that I feel really proud of, slightly sick of and which continually surprises me with where it takes me, even now that all the data is collected and collated.

What has really surprised me during this time is the little community of 'writer-uppers' and 'finishers' that has developed around me.

I'd expected that these few last months of PhD would be lonely, spent mostly in front of a computer screen. That has turned out to be half true: the computer screen and I have become extremely well acquainted.

But... there seems to be so many people around me who are in the same boat, aiming for that September deadline. Even those not doing PhDs seem to be getting into the act, with contracts finishing in September, new jobs starting then, gig calendars starting to look towards October, etc. If I'm stressing about a particular problem in the thesis, or going slightly numb from trying to turn a dry set of numbers into some fascinating facts, then I don't have far to look before I find someone who can emphathise, or someone for a tea break.

So despite the title of this blog post, the tail end of the PhD tale isn't turning out to be like the loneliness of the long distance runner, bravely struggling on alone in the face of all adversity and difficulty. In all honesty it hasn't been that miserable either - in fact on occasion it has even been... almost... enjoyable! (I may have to keep reminding myself of that sometimes in the near future though?)

So, enough procrastination - it's back to the dry sets of numbers then. 2 months and counting till hand-in and the start of the next challenge.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The perils of word counts in LaTeX

I'm currently writing up my thesis. I am writing it in LaTeX, which for the uninitiated means that rather than writing it in Word or similar, I write it in a text file and include lots of formatting commands around the thesis to say `this bit should be emphasised' or `this bit is a subsection', then LaTeX produces a pretty pdf file from my text file.

Like any self-respecting numbers girl, I like to keep a watch on how many words I have written that day, and in total. Although I don't have a word limit to adhere to, hitting a good word count for a day makes me feel like I've done good work, even if a lot of it gets cut later...

For a while now I've been dubious about the word counter I've been using: the inbuilt Statistics word counter in TeXShop, which works using detex | wc -w , or in plain English, it strips the thesis file of all the formatting commands and then counts the number of words left. According to this word counter, I have 61138 words, but I've noticed that this total tends to fluctuate: there have been days where I've written a lot and have ended up with less words than I started with.

Trying some alternatives out:

  • texcount *.tex: 60239 in text + 1457 in headers + 2469 in captions = 64165
  • ps2ascii thesis.pdf | wc -w: 83415 (but this includes the bibliography which is currently 7686 words and any appendices text) 
  • copying and pasting the text into OpenOffice: 75222
  • copying and pasting the text into Word: 74664
  • copying and pasting the text into TextWrangler (a Mac text editor): 74093

So I've anything between 61000 and 83000 words. TeXShop's statistics is instant but inaccurate. Texcount takes about 30 seconds to process then a quick calculation has to be done. ps2ascii also takes a little while and doesn't separate the thesis text from the bibliography/appendices. Copying and pasting, sadly, looks the most accurate (though now I have no idea how many words I've actually got...)

What I mostly want is a tool that measures progress very quickly, for some motivation - so I'll probably stick with TeXShop's Statistics or use texcount, after all of that!

As my housemate says, however,
it doesn't really matter if its 60 or 80 or 100,000 words, just finish it!

Right then: enough procrastination, back to the writing...
PS Must mention the excellent LaTeX tutorials written by Andrew Roberts.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Looking for survey participants - no specialist knowledge required - the more participants, the better!

I'm running an online survey for my PhD research, about computer systems that improvise jazz. The survey gives you some brief information on four different systems and some demos of their music, and asks you to think about how creative the systems are.

I'd really like a spread of opinions on this - from musicians to non-musicians, people who improvise jazz to people who don't, from computer programmers through to people who have the ability to break computers just by looking at them (!) - and I'm after as many participants for the survey as possible... so...

Please could you help me by doing my survey? The survey is at this link:

So far it's taken people around 15-30 mins to do. People are saying that they've found it interesting and that even if they haven't known about computer music or jazz improvisation, they have been able to take part in the survey.

Sadly I can offer no payment/sweets/etc for doing the survey - all I can offer you is a warm happy glow for helping a PhD student in need, or if that isn't enough, the chance to procrastinate for a bit and take a break, whilst doing something research-related. Also it's fun to see what music the computer systems can come up with and how they do it, if you're interested in this sort of thing? Thank you in advance, I really appreciate people's help!

Results will be published in my PhD thesis (due for completion September 2011) and I may summarise the results briefly in a blog post here too.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A 'marks' sheet for evaluating how creative a computer system is

My research looks at how best to evaluate computational creativity systems - how creative is this computer program?

Computational creativity is when a piece of software acts in a way which would be perceived as creative if seen in a person.

From this research I have produced a sheet which can be used to evaluate and assess how creative a creative system is. It helps you judge the creativity of the computer program on several different aspects and components (see this previous post on identifying building blocks of creativity).

Here is the sheet.

Feel free to go ahead and use it, let me know how you get on. To cite this, please refer to my PhD thesis (title, more details and papers on this at my academic web site).

If you want even more detail, then you only have to wait till my doctoral thesis is ready in September 2011, or else please contact me (contact details on my web site) - I would love your feedback.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Update: Building blocks of creativity

There has been a lot of useful feedback from my previous post reporting on my empirically-derived definition of creativity.

As a result, and after some more work that I have done, I've updated the results.

These factors form 'building blocks' of creativity - they contribute to the overall idea of what creativity is. This could also be thought of as an ontology of creativity - a collection of information relating to the nature of creativity.

                           Creativity is...

To expand on these 14 factors, here is a diagram with a little more detail in each factor. (Click on the diagram to enlarge it)

Depending on what creative domain you are looking at (e.g. art, music, problem solving, proof generation, language use, design etc.) some of these factors will be more important than others.

From the results of a survey on musical improvisation, this is a breakdown of which factors are more important (and less so) in this type of creativity:

The importance of different components of creativity, in the context of creative musical improvisation. This illustrates the results of a survey of 34 people, spanning a variety of musical backgrounds from novice to professional expert. Note that some factors are considered to have some negative influence on creativity as well as a positive influence, e.g. Domain Competence.

The next step in this work is to use the survey data and above results to evaluate and compare a number of music improvisation systems, to explore which are more creative than others and why. Results coming soon...