Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Top Ten Tips for Getting Graduate Grants

It's the time of year when graduate students are stressing themselves out filling out grant applications. Having won a SSHRC for my master's and doctoral research, I've been asked for tips. I wrote a lengthy grant treatise a few months ago, but here are my top ten tips:

1) Follow instructions
The first and most important tip is don't consider any instructions or tips from a granting agency as optional; they are commandments. Don't deviate from their instructions - no matter what. If you think you have a compelling exception, change it so it follows their instructions.

2) Think outside the application form box
I don't like to have blank areas in application forms. Don’t put in inappropriate material, but something is better than nothing. For publishing, consider non-conventional sources such as blogs (it's better if it is not self-published though). For awards, include professional awards and for experience include relevant volunteer work.

3) Choose references wisely
Make sure they'll write a glowing letter and consider their credentials (at the least they should be from academics). Give your them your program of study as they should refer to it in their letter.

4) Good writing style is always important
Everything in your application form and program of study should be clear and effective. Avoid jargon or imprecision. Use subheads and spacing to break up your program of study so that it isn’t a monolithic block. Tell an interesting story that keeps readers interest and distinguishes you from the stack.

5) Convince me
The information in your application form and program of study should all work together to form a cohesive, powerful narrative of the merit of your study and your unique ability to execute it. Include your professional and personal as well as academic details that describe how you have the knowledge and access to the relevant topic or groups.

6) It's not a Miss Universe pageant
The social relevance and impact of your proposed research should be strong, but don't be like beauty pageant contestants and promise to change the world and create world peace.

7) Method to your madness
There's not a lot (or for OGS – any) room to get into the minutiae of your research plan. However, your study should be clearly enough articulated to appear purposeful and viable. So I don’t think you need details about your transcription style, but you should specify the method steps and type (e.g. unstructured or semi-structured interviews). Include a sentence about your ethical review process as well.

8) Seek and obey criticism
Run your program of study by a bunch of reviewers. Try to get a variety of people, particularly academics without expertise in the area (as if they don’t understand it, grant reviewers probably won’t either) and methodologists. Listen to their feedback and if you disagree with it, you probably should change it anyway. Grant proposals are not the place to shake things up nor is it worth the risk of being misunderstood as there are no second chances.

9) 100% Proof

Proof read your work and then proof read again. Rinse and repeat.

10) Comfort in numbers
Get advice, fret, and lament collectively with peers or online via GradCafe

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Canada and the Role of Location - Mobile Media World Conference

Day Two of the Mobile Media World Conference in Toronto focused on mobile marketing, yet one of the early speakers declared "Nobody wants advertising". His continuing remarks highlight the overall theme of how to be effective in mobile marketing, "Nobody wants advertising, but they do want content. And the difference is relevance."

The day's sessions covered a lot of ground, but I believe the most important issue discussed is how mobile can greatly improve the relevance of content.

It is, however, important to first point out, as a speaker did, that mobile media is not monolithic. Mobiles actually comprise several channels, such as:
  • audio (voice and music)
  • video
  • photography
  • mobile Websites
  • mobile apps
  • text messaging
  • text documents
  • email
  • geographic positioning.
There are lots of different mobile mediums, but a presenter cautioned that each has its place - and geography.

The data that can be provided by a mobile user or their device about their context can help make content, whether marketing material or otherwise, useful to a person's immediate situation.

The implicit privacy concerns were raised but as one presenter declared he was careful about what data he releases and notes that "if I give up my privacy I want them [mobile applications] to learn about me and give me useful recommendations". Most presenters were agreement that Canada hasn't seen a lot of great examples of this due to our small market and the data limitations imposed by carriers. (The presenters today weren't carriers and there was a much more open blaming of uncessary data caps for limiting mobile development and adoption in Canada.)

There were a couple good Canadian examples raised. Well, Metro News' links with the mobile app Foursquare (the first newspaper in the world to do so) was touted as exemplary. Having been "friends" with Metro News for months now on Foursquare and having not once encountered any of their content, their success to me appears to be overrated.

Another success story came from RIM and their usage of their text messaging service (BBM) to capture and hold the youth market. They used the medium at cultural events and festivals to build a relationship with their new and current users. Another example was an ad program that used geographic positioning for microtargeting. By determining the location of people within an 8-block radius of Toronto's Pride Festival, targetted, relevant advertising was delivered on specific mobile websites.

Bad examples were also raised. Despite the hype that Starbucks earned for being one of the first big companies to embrace Foursquare, a presenter noted that the ubiquity and popularity of Starbucks in major urban areas rendered their campaign more annoying than successful. She noted that no matter where you go in Toronto you are near a Starbucks, so whenever one checks into Foursquare a Starbucks promo will also pop up as a nearby deal. As the deal was only limited to one extremely frequent customer (the"mayor") this offering was not relevant to almost everyone.

Foursquare has been the subject of my research focus for the last few months. There was a lot of excitement at the conference at the potential of Foursquare. Few felt it was currently delivering on its potential anywhere, and even more so in Canada.

Overall, the conference did offer vision for the future of mobile marketing. One presenter noted that advertising needs to move away from preconceived stereotypes based on demographics, and instead use the data provided by mobile users and their devices to tailor individual messages to people. Achieving this successfully has a good potential return on investment as people are present and motivated.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Canada's Role in a Mobile Media World

By now, you’ve no doubt heard 2010 proclaimed as the year of mobile. Auguring the profound impact of mobile media, a speaker at this year’s Mobile Media World conference believes 2010 is instead the year you do mobile or you’re dead!

Mobile Media World 2010 is a two-day conference in Toronto that is part of Mobile Innovation Week. The week offers series of events, tradeshows, thinktanks, and conferences dedicated to the many business, development, and social facets of mobile telecommunications.

The conference nicely balanced futurist predictions and industry hyperbole to foster excitement on the impact and potential of the medium with present-day practical advice that businesses could implement. Over twenty speakers presented, mostly business leaders from domestic and international companies, with the exception of OCAD University (continuing their leadership role in this space amongst Canadian academia).

The conference was also the platform for some significant announcements. Bell Canada, fresh off its purchase of CTV, announced the Business News Network would be available on their mobile television service. Also, ComScore announced the extension of their mobile market data to the Canadian scene.

Rather than recount a chronology of speakers’ points – I’ll identify the main themes raised today:

1. Mobile eclipses PC-based Internet access
As popular as Internet access is via home and work-based personal computers, mobile access greatly surpasses it. With the increasing uptake of mobiles in developing world this trend will only increase.

2. Mobile does not mean smartphone
Smartphones generate more hype than traditional cellphones or feature phones, but even despite the continued adoption of smartphones, older types of phones will continue to occupy a large share. Add to this the increasing adoption of other networked devices, such as tablets, netbooks, and e-Readers, and the mobile space is indeed quite diverse.

3. Don’t forget SMS
Sexy multimedia can distract one from the dull but phenomenally popular usage of text messaging.

4. O.S. war rages on
Don’t expect an end to the mobile operating system war any time soon. The market is still too young and there are too many major players (Apple, BlackBerry, Android, Symbian, etc. – and Windows soon to be coming on strong) for this battle to be over in the next two to three years. To further make development difficult, there are also various O.S. iterations that remain – making unified development or universal access unlikely.

5. Mobile Web or mobile app? Answer: both
Usage of both downloadable mobile applications and mobile browser-based content are both too strong to ignore either. Speakers suggested that if developers have to choose, then a mobile website is easier and more affordable to build and maintain.

6. Emerging form
As with any new technology, it takes time for standardization. Speakers noted that mobile usage tends to be broad but not deep. Those developing mobile content must consider the implications of the new – if developing – form to be effective.

7. mCommerce builds momentum
More people are expected to bank via their mobile than via their PCs, but it may still be a couple years before Canadians are able to pay for purchases via their mobile device.

8. Bandwidth catch-up race
More mobile customers and increasing consumer demand for more mobile content and services will strain networks even as the providers continue to improve their networks.

9. Enabling technology for mobile revolution is here
The network infrastructure, security mechanisms, physical devices, etc. are all already here to allow for mobile media to integrate into and improve more realms of lives.

10. The grass is greener on the other side
Canadians need to stop navel-gazing and consider global markets. The Canadian market is smaller and less mobile-frenzied than other markets (such as Japan & South Korea). As one speaker noted,“Why sit and wait for this market to develop? Why not go to a mature market?”

Mobiles are clearly a technology impossible to ignore. Acknowledging this role, Ontario premiere Dalton McGuinty recently sparked debate by supporting mobiles in classrooms. The conference organizer opened the session today by encouraging participants to keep their mobiles on and beep away freely. No such invitation was necessary to glue attendees to their devices, but a telling moment arose when one of the speakers momentarily delayed beginning his presentation while he checked his mobile.