23 Things

I am very excited that my most recent work project will soon be up and running – 23 Things for Research, Surrey.

Although I no longer work at the University of Surrey, I have most definitely left my mark through this project.

This blog post is all about what it is, how I did it, and why I am so excited about it.


I think it was my first week with the Researcher Development Programme at the University of Surrey when one of my colleagues handed me a bit of paper and asked me if I might be interested in “doing this”.

Always keen to say yes (and not entirely sure what I was supposed to be doing for this job), I gave the paper a closer look. It was a photocopied list. The text was all slightly wonky (I have always wondered if photocopiers have an inbuilt tilt angle), but it was clear to make out. It said ‘University of Oxford’ at the top and underneath it were listed 23 different online tools or websites. The paper said that they were things for research. Some of the things I recognised, as I use them every day – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. Other things I recognised as older – but still useful – internet sites and tools, like Wikipedia, Flickr, and RSS Feeds. There were plenty of things I had heard of, but didn’t know too well. I think there were just 1 or 2 that I didn’t recognise at all.

The paper was covered in pencil scribblings, like it had sparked a million ideas when it was first printed; but it was also slightly tattered at the edges, like it had been sitting at the bottom of the pile for a while.

My colleague went on to tell me that 23 Things is a self-directed course for researchers, run over several weeks. She showed me a website. I learned that the course is run through a blog. Students subscribe to the blog, and the organisers supply a new post every week providing information about an online tool or website that might be useful for research. Each new post asks the researchers to carry out a short task, or to write a blog post reflecting on their activity. The site was awash with commentary from both organisers and participants. It was clear that there were a lot of people involved here. There was a buzz.

My colleague explained that the concept and all of the content involved in 23 Things is sharable under a Creative Commons license, and asked if I might like to run one for Surrey.

Instantly, I knew what I wanted to do with it. I wanted to make it my own.

A lot of items on the list seemed outdated to me. Not un-useful, but not necessarily the most useful tools for research, currently. I was certain that there must be other things that were more relevant, more recent, or more important for today’s researchers. And so I began looking for these things. Along with getting advice and input from my colleagues, I immersed myself in social media around research, researchers, and academia. And there I found the proof of what I already knew – there had to be new Things.

A change in my home circumstances meant that I had to finish my contract at Surrey much sooner than anticipated, which, in turn, brought the 23 Things deadline much closer too. Although I knew which new Things I wanted to do, I hadn’t yet written the content for them. When the deadline came forward, I was pushed towards a copypasted version of Oxford’s Things. Drawing courage from my research, I held my ground. I knew the field, and I knew what was going to be most useful and relevant for our researchers. So, I defended my ideas and proceeded to work my bum off as the imaginary contract timer counted down.

Ultimately, I delivered something that I am exceptionally proud of.


Obviously there are still things which I would have loved to do with it, or would do differently given more time, Academia does tend to attract the perfectionists after all, but content had to be a priority.

Here is a list of the Things which are either new, or were overhauled by me:

  • Academia.edu and Researchgate
  • Altmetrics
  • Open Access and Surrey Research Insight
  • Webinars and Hangouts
  • *Research
  • Your Website(s)

As you can see from the full list of Surrey’s things, this constitutes a significant chunk of the course.

I had to do a significant amount of editing on the existing material also, because of the language it used. No, it wasn’t written in German or anything like that, but Oxford’s version was created for Arts and Humanities students. Given that the majority of Ph.D students at Surrey are Engineers and Scientists, I couldn’t risk turning them off with the text.

To round it all off, I left my colleagues with a very instructive ‘How To’ guide on how to run the course. To do this, I read the material on Screencasting (Thing 13), and then made a Screencast around the administration of the blogsite – something I’ve not done before!

Huzzah! The system works!

In the few days before my contract ended, the team’s administrator told me that my colleagues had been singing my praises in the office, while I was out. And I knew that I had done well.

So, I left Surrey with a spring in my step and a stapler in my pocket.

The course is kicking off on the 19th January, 2015. The few people that I did tell about it before I left were all very excited, and so I can’t wait to watch it unfold.


If you are a researcher at the University of Surrey and are interested in doing the course, see the Researcher Development Programme’s page.


About nicolajrolfe

Dr. Nicola J. Rolfe is currently looking for her next opportunity to make a big splash in East Kent industry.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 23 Things

  1. Thanks for your efforts, Nicola! I’m nearly at the end of 23 things and have found it very useful (ought to be compulsory for all new PhDs at Surrey!) Good luck with your future ventures!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s