Tag Archives: University of Manchester

What to do after a PhD? (University of Manchester Pathways 2011)

10 Jun

Today, Friday 10th June, I am taking part again in the University of Manchester’s PATHWAYS 2011 Career event for PhD students and Research Staff.

The event takes place over three days and is designed to support delegates in making career choices, exploring future plans and discovering the breadth of opportunities available to them.

Over the three days, Pathways comprises:

I am one of the 77 Panelists who will address questions such as:

  • At what point in your PhD did you / should you really begin to think about the next step in your career?
  • How did you decide on which careers to follow – what other careers did you consider or would you consider as a next step?
  • What other jobs do you know of which have been filled by PhD researchers?
  • How did you / should PhD researchers go about the process of looking for employment?
  • How did you / would you successfully market a PhD to potential employers?
  • How are PhD researchers perceived in the job market?
  • At interview what types of questions were you / could you be asked about your PhD?
  • What was your first job after your PhD?
  • How did you find that job?
  • Was that job what you expected? What was different?
  • Did you use the skills / knowledge from your PhD in your first job / in your current role?
  • What did you learn during your PhD which was useful in your first job?
  • Is there anything you learnt during your PhD which you use in your current job?
  • Is there anything you wish you had learnt or done during your PhD which would have helped your career?

I really enjoyed being a Panelist last year, as you will witness from my older blog post: “The Loneliness of the long-distance … VUI Designer!“. So  I am really looking forward to sharing some insight this year again into the world of Industry, the thrills and perils of start-ups, the luring flexibility of freelancing, and the dos and don’ts of Project Management.

P.S. Not sure who added those 2 extra lines in my profile that don’t make sense with the rest but it wasn’t my fault!

The Social Media scene in Manchester (UK) is very sociable!

15 Sep

Last week I was asked by John Cass (@johncass) of PR Communications for information on the Social Media scene in Manchester, where I live, after I attended his talk on “Tweeting across the pond – what lessons can we learn from the US/UK social media scene?” during the September meeting of the Social Media Cafe Manchester (#smc_mcr / @smc_mcr). I was very happy to oblige, as I have been part of the scene since the 2nd half of 2008 and it has given me many an exciting, insightful and fun times, so I thought I would give something back! I thought that my email reply to John would be just a dry list of a few links to meetups and organisations to complement his own list of SM organisations and events in the related blog post he had started. It turned out to be an essay, however, so  we both agreed that I should turn it into a blog post myself that he would then link to. Okay, it’s not speech application-related but it’s definitely future applications and technologies-related!

I suppose the “hardcore” Social Media and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) people of Manchester and the Northwest will already know everything I have written below and they may want to add or rectify facts and links (just write a comment below or contact me @aretoulaki on Twitter or maria {at} dialogconnection {dot} com). This post is mainly an initiation to the scene for the rest of you!

The Manchester Social Media Cafe (smc_mcr)

The Manchester Social Media Cafe (smc_mcr)

Social Media / SEO Organisations and Meetups in Manchester (the NON-definitive list!):

The Social Media Cafe itself (@smc_mcr #smc_mcr), very soon to be 2 years old! This is a group of Social Media and SEO aficionados who meet at least once a month to hear talks on, deliver talks on, and discuss new media and the related industries and technologies. It was first set up by Julian Tait (@julianlstar) of the famous and most influential internationally FutureEverything (@FuturEverything) music Festival-cum-New Media & Digital Technologies Conference; Martin Bryant (@martinSFP), UK Editor at The Next Web; and Sarah Hartley (@foodiesarah), Editor of Guardian Local. It was founded back in November 2008, as “there wasn’t really anything similar around”, as Julian put it to me. It is now run mainly by Julian and Martin still, but also Josh (@technicalfault) now that some people have moved on. ( I believe BBC North‘s Ian Forrester (@cubicgarden) to have been one of them.) However, they all assure me that everyone can get involved, as it is “a real community event!”, as Josh put it. According to Julian, it has “a pretty amorphous structure” anyway and “anyone can pitch up and input into the direction it goes”, which sounds very organic and collaborative! Julian also adds that Josh “has been driving things fantastically over the past few months” and reinforces the point that anyone who wants to help run it is more than welcome!

Manchester Social Media Surgery

The affiliated Social Media Surgery event run by Chi-chi Ekweozor (@realfreshtv) of Real Fresh TV, who also wrote a detailed blog post on the last Social Media Cafe event that took place on Tuesday 7th September. The Social Media Surgery events are free informal workshops on how social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook are used to market services and products and grow businesses. Chi-Chi provides Social Media training services through her Real Fresh TV company.

Northern Digitals

Northern Digitals

Northern Digitals (@northerndigital), a meetup group which was started around the same time (Sept 2008) by freelancing Web Designer Matt Booth (@matthbooth). Although there is a great proportion of web designers and developers, it is very much attended by all sorts of SEO, copywriting and PR types. In fact, it was through ND that I found out about the Social Media Cafe!

Creative Industries Meetup Group

CING, the Creative Industries Meetup Group which got started again at the same time, in July 2008 (do you see a pattern here?!) by Ben Hui (@Benny_Hui), a freelancer Business consultant and professional pianist, and Phil Northall from the CIDS organisation back then (Creative Industries Development Service – more on that below). This was actually my first ever meetup of such type and it is regularly attended by film makers, web developers, PR consultants, painters, fashion designers etc. who want to network for business and pleasure.  I found out about and attended this meetup group back in October 2008 after doing a Marketing for Creative Businesses Workshop funded by the Government through CIDS. The Workshop was delivered by David Parrish (@davidparrish), a marketing consultant and trainer, who has written a brilliant book on innovative and inspiring marketing strategy cases for creative companies, “T-Shirts and Suits: A Guide to the Business of Creativity“. He has also set up an online community on that, the Creative Enterprise Network, and a Facebook group (of course!).  He really incited my personal interest in social media, because I come from a different industry (Linguistics and Computer Science) and I thank him for that! I also have to mention that when I attended my first CING event back in October 2008 there were about 15 people there. It has kept growing and nowadays it’s got at least 700! Apart from pure business networking, CING occasionally invites big names from across the different creative industries to give a talk and mingle with the attendees afterwards.

Creative Industries Development Service

Now to the CIDS organisation (Creative Industries Development Service) that I mentioned above (now defunct but reborn as a web portal, see below).  CIDS used to provide free consultation and promotion of creative people and businesses in Manchester.

Creative Times Magazine

It used to bring out Creative Times (@CREATIVE_Times), a printed (or should I say “analogue”?) newspaper, trying to promote all things digital and creative by presenting local company and freelancer profiles, informing on funding, job openings, competitions etc. It was a government initiative that got halted sometime last year, only to be reinstated earlier this year in a leaner version (e-newsletter and website).

Creative Times - the rebirth

Creative Times – the rebirth

The new website, however, has been designed and is run by a brand-new compound company formed by the Cornerhouse (@CornerhouseMcr – a long-established flagship Cinema, Arts and Entertainment House), The White Room (@thewhiteroomcec), and Fudge (@madebyfudge), two of the biggest names in the Manchester digital agency scene. So the “magazine” has got heavyweight backing for its promotion and growth on a larger scale. It was in fact The White Room’s Phil Birchenall (@Creative_Times / @wordsandpics) who used to run CIDS for several years until 2008, and he was also the one who launched the printed version of Creative Times back in October 2005! He actually took it online as well, just before the organisation imploded, so it was only fair that his “baby” was returned to him now. 🙂 Once again, freelancers and companies can put their profiles up and promote themselves. Anything from web designers to architects, PR consultants and painters can be found there. Having a profile on this is free. Here is my own DialogCONNECTION Ltd one (@dialogconnectio). Defunct CIDS turned Creative Times portal has found – through the other Phil (Northall) – the CING meetup listed above as its new communication and events channel, so everybody is happy!

Manchester Digital Development Agency

The Manchester Digital Development Agency (MDDA) (@mdda) is also a core player in supporting digital businesses in Manchester and the Northwest. MDDA is part of the Manchester City Council and responsible for the city’s digital strategy, as its member Adrian Slatcher (@adrianslatcher) said. One of the organisations it supports is Manchester Digital (see entry below), which is the related independent trade association. MDDA acts as the Secretariat for this (hosting some of their meetings) and also has a seat on the Council.  They also have got a page linking to some relevant groups and meetups.

As already mentioned above, an affiliated organisation, with some of their meetings hosted at the MDDA offices,  is Manchester Digital (@McrDig), the independent trade association for the “thriving digital (ICT and new media) sector in the North West of England”, as they put it. Apart from training and networking events, they also organise the Big Chip Awards, which aim to promote best practice, innovation and financial growth in the industry. A small membership fee provides individuals and companies access to more services but also influence over policy makers and lobbying in the Government, resulting in greater powers in shaping digital strategy development and the future of the sector as a whole in a “bottom-up” manner.  I know that Social Media Cafe’s Josh (@technicalfault) is a member of the corresponding Council, as well as leading the Manchester Digital PR, marketing and communications working group, so feel free to speak to him about this organisation and its MDDA host. Apart from Josh, I have to give some additional shouts out to Tim Dobson (@tdobson), who runs the Young Rewired State Manchester, and Richard Hudson (@RichardHudson) of Vanillastorm at this point, all McrDig Council members.  Finally, I have to mention the Manchester Digital Barbecue too, held every summer, a great and fun way to network (and stuff yourself for free). Check the photos from the last one here.


There is the Manchester Digital Laboratory, better known as MadLab (@madlabuk), founded and run by Dave Mee (@davemee), Hwa Young (@hwayoung), Asa (@asacalow) and Rachael Turner (@rachaelturner1). MadLab is a digital industries hub which hosts many workshops and other events (and a few companies too in the same building through the FlyThe.Coop concept):


Northern Digitals BLAB talks

  • e.g. the Northern Digitals BLAB nights, where someone from the industry is invited from anywhere in Britain to talk about their own business and the digital / creative industry in general
  • the various BarCamp events (more on that below)
  • the various GirlGeek afternoon teas and dinner parties (again, see below)
  • Thanks to Steven Flower (@stevieflow), I was made aware of two other events / gatherings at the MadLab, among the many that take place there: Manchester Net Tuesday, which has been meeting monthly for the whole of 2010 and is run by Steven himself. This is, actually, a worldwide Meetup group with local chapters and its focus is on using the web for social change (e.g. for non-profits and social benefit organisations).
  • Steven also told me about the long-standing and very much active Manchester Free Software meetup, a group for people interested in free software, open data, and programming (and hacking :)) freedom.
  • This list is definitely not exhaustive! Have a look at the MadLab website. There are loads of groups meeting there and even more events organised by them, on anything from hacking to graphic novels and sci-fi novel writing!

So the MadLab is – for me at least – the headquarters of Social Media in Manchester! But then again I’m not the expert on that!

BarCamp Manchester (@bcman3), mentioned above, is an institution of its own! The self-titled Un-conference is exactly that, a conference like no other. There is no pre-scheduled conference programme or a list of previously invited speakers. The speakers are volunteers among the attendees, and the programme is decided on a first-come first-served basis. And of course attendance of each session is decided by the level of interest on the presented topic among the remaining attendees. There are BarCamps all over the world, but the Manchester ones are run by Andrew Disley (@andrewdisley). I attended the 2010 session of this “user-generated conference” at the end of August and gave a presentation myself on what I do (speech recognition applications – design, testing and optimisation). Suffice to say I loved it! Most of the other talks were on more “normal” social media and digital technologies topics, such as crowd-sourcing applications and web programming. BarCamp is free to attend but competition for a place is strife! I remember the tweet at around lunchtime announcing that the online tickets were available. By the end of that evening (2 weeks before the event), it was “sold” out!

Girl Geek Afternoon Tea

Girl Geek Afternoon Tea

The GirlGeek afternoon tea / dinner and other parties (#mancggd @mancggd) also constitute an institution (worldwide!), although they cover wider areas than social media and digital applications. They are regular (less than monthly I think) practically free workshops targeted at women and (very young!) girls to incite their interest in science and engineering (there have been workshops on building robots, and website building with CSS) but also less technical but obscure stuff (depending on the presenter’s personal interests and expertise). The workshops can be either afternoon teas (yes! with coffee and biscuits!) or dinner parties. Then there are also Girl Geek events where the attendees can “show and tell” something they know about (e.g. I will be talking about speech recognition applications again, in December), so it’s like another un-conference. The Manchester Girl Geek Dinners are run by Cat Ashton, whereas the Tea Parties are organised by Sam Bail (@bunmagazine), who is actually from Berlin (my old playground)! It’s all interconnected! 🙂

I also recently discovered (through tweets!) the Manchester Blogmeet (#mcrblogmeet). I actually attended that one on the Spencer Tunick exhibition at the Lowry (and if you look closely, you will find me in the photo above! The photo has been taken, by the way, from the related Fishink blog. I thought I would appropriate it since I am in it :)).  The Blogmeet is a gathering of bloggers: professional and amateurs, creative, music, tech and marketing bloggers. It is run by Kate Feld (@katefeld) who has just had a baby, so she has delegated her duties to music bloggers @FatRoland and Jonno Hopkins (@jonnohopkins).  Kate is an American actually and one of the main people behind Creative Tourist, an alternative tourist guide to Manchester. Below you will see the infamous brown piece of paper where FatRoland collected all the Twitter names of the attendees! Jonno has also just reminded me that the next Blogmeet is on 30th September at Umbro’s impressive design studio on Dale Street, who are also sponsoring the beverages! Everybody is welcome. I will certainly be going, because I loved my first Blogmeet!

Manchester's Bloggers

There is also Vision+Media (@VisionandMedia), another significant organisation focusing on the support and growth of the digital and creative industries of England’s Northwest by providing advice, (direct and indirect) funding, networking and collaboration opportunities, apprenticeships and training to both companies and individuals in TV, Radio, Publishing, Music, Games, Film and Digital & Creative Services. One of their roles is helping productions identify locations and staff in the region (as it was notably the case with the recent “Captain America” filming in the Northern Quarter), but also supporting film festivals and maintaining related archives.  The person to speak to there is Ian Wareing (@ianwareing) from their Digital team.

This summer, there was also the first Twitnic (@MancTwitnic – Picnic for Manchester’s Tweeters) at Spinningfields, which I didn’t attend in the end and I heard it didn’t attract a big crowd, but it is sure to be repeated next year, if not earlier. In March this year, for example, there was a Twestival, an “international social media meet-up to raise money for good causes”.


The Eword agency (@theEword) is also very influential. They compiled the only “Manchester Twitter Report”  I know on the use of Social Media by Manchester companies and organisations!  I have read it and it’s an eye-opener (for me at least!).

The eWord

Finally, I only just discovered the Manchester SEO Meetup that I didn’t know about! I assume it is a gathering of mainly people actively involved in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and related strategy and practice. I need to attend their next meetup!

What about the Social Media in Universities?

Regarding the spread of Social Media among Manchester Universities and Colleges, apart from the courses offered by the Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Salford, as already reported by Chi-chi Ekweozor (@realfreshtv) in her blog post on the last Social Media Cafe event,  I have got very interesting insider information about the University of Manchester (still the main University of the city). Apparently, at the Department of Sociology, there used to be a Media programme, a degree in Media, Culture and Society, with just one lecturer. That got shut down apparently back in 2007, because it got horrible ratings, mainly due precisely to the fact that there were not enough people to teach it! That in turn was a political decision by the new Head of the Department who didn’t think that new and social media was “relevant” / important for sociological research, so they wouldn’t fund more teaching positions. Since it got shut down, individual modules are still taught apparently and they are extremely well-subscribed! The students are very interested in them and take them as part of their courses, but it’s usually junior lecturers who (have to) teach them! So social media doesn’t have a very high priority at least at the Department of Sociology! I haven’t researched on other departments, but as my friend said there are bound to be courses or just modules at other Departments such as the Linguistics Department.

University of Manchester

I think that exhausts my knowledge and information I have available on the subject, as an “Outsider”! Feel free to comment below, if you have any additions or corrections to make. Check also John Cass’ (@johncass) earlier blog post on the Manchester Social Media scene that he started compiling the week he was over here and also his post on his local Triad North Carolina Social Media Scene.

Proud to be part of this!

In closing, I just wanted to say how happy I am to be part of the Manchester Social Media scene, as I feel I am part of an extremely intelligent, innovative, creative but also friendly and co-operative elite! I seem to be making more and more friends and business contacts every month through those meetups and groups, as well as the aftermath tweets and twitter accounts! Attending John Cass‘ (@johncass) presentation on the US scene referred to at the start of this blog post has put everything into a much wider perspective for me, because I realise that I am associated with pioneers in the industry. And it is all happening in Manchester, the new digital hub of the UK and Europe!

It was a very happy “accident” that I attended David Parrish‘ (@davidparrish) Marketing for Creative Businesses” workshop at CIDS back in October 2008! It got me into the CING meetup, which got me into the Northern Digital meetup and the MadLab organisation, which, in turn, got me into the Social Media Cafe group, which got me into the Blogmeet, the BarCamp, the GirlGeek events and the various tweetup events.

Although I have been a myspace and a LinkedIn user since 2005 (heavy user of both by now!), I only got into Facebook for promotional reasons in 2009 and I only got my Twitter accounts (all 3 of them!) at the start of 2010, after being literally “ordered” by some SEO guys from the Northern Digital meetup! You know who you are! (OK, I will reveal! Jag Uppal [@jag4091] and Eddy Gonzalez [@eduardogonzalez] :)). And now I’m very much in the middle of it and really loving it!

Here’s to the next innovative technology / social concept!

The Loneliness of the long-distance … VUI Designer!

13 Jun

On Friday 11th June, I took part in the “Pathways” event organised annually by the University of Manchester Career Service to support PhD researchers as well as research staff in “making career choices, exploring future plans and discovering the breadth of opportunities available to them“. I was Guest Panellist at 3 different Sessions:

  1. Opportunities for Engineering and Physical Sciences
  2. Working as a Freelancer or Consultant and
  3. Enterprise, Entrepreneurship and Business Start Up

The University of Manchester Logo

As a University of Manchester graduate (well, technically UMIST, I felt compelled to take part in those Question and Answer panels in order to give some insight on how a career can develop: from a Bachelors in English & Linguistics in Greece, to a Masters of Science in Machine Translation and a Doctorate in Automatic Text Summarisation in the UK, to a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Spoken Dialogue Management and a position as a Research Project Manager in Germany, to working in Industry both as a full-time employee and as an external contractor as a Voice User Interface (VUI) Designer in Germany, the UK, Switzerland, the US and further afield. It’s been a fascinating journey for sure! And I probably would never have arrived where I am now, if I hadn’t done those degrees or taken up those jobs in those specific places.

Have a look at the Guest Speaker profiles, including mine (p. 24), here: http://www.careers.manchester.ac.uk/media/media,172749,en.pdf

Some very inspiring career journeys!

I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole journey, the projects I have worked on, the people I have met on the way, the different organisational cultures I had the chance to experience. Plus, I wouldn’t change what I do now for the world! I love working as an external contractor and coming in to design speech self-service systems and voice-to-text services from scratch, or optimise existing ones, and the whole development, testing and tuning cycles:

  • writing functional specification documents
  • defining the system persona
  • drawing call flows
  • crafting system messages and coaching voice talents for the recordings
  • writing speech recognition grammars and pronunciations
  • devising and carrying out Wizard-of-Oz tests and Usability tests (including recording test subjects on video and interviewing them afterwards!)
  • transcribing and analysing phone calls
  • writing tuning reports

Everything is a lot of fun! It’s also great to be bringing in the same VUI Design processes and skills in different organisations and projects, and also getting to work at different places in the world at any one time! I love the variety of work and location of work, as well as the flexibility to work anytime and from anywhere! (Yes, working on your laptop – iPad soon – from a beach in the Caribbean is no longer a daydream but a realistic plan! :))

working on a deserted beach in the Caribbean is no longer a daydream!

Okay, it does get lonely. No gossiping in the kitchen during coffee breaks and no Christmas office parties. I still get to have probably as many face-to-face project meetings and conference calls as the average office worker though. We all have to work independently and in isolation, when analysing data or composing a report anyway. Only office workers have also got the hectic running-around of their colleagues and lots of intrusive and loud phone calls they have to unwillingly witness in silence. So my loneliness is a very content one! 😀