The COVID Killer

Well, a content warning for our review of a super racist and somewhat sexist book.

You know that sense that you are being punished, but you don’t know exactly why, that’s what it feels like reading The COVID Killer. We feel bad, but the author who uses the Twitter handle @SuspenseWriter7 (at the time of posting, a suspended account) did not deliver any suspense! I’d say The COVID Killer was missing an editor, but I don’t even know if an editor could save this book.

It had, what I imagine is, the energy of a Chip Driver mystery (a The Good Place reference for those of you playing at home).

Join Natasha and Damien for bad motives and abysmal police work in The COVID Killer.

Rating out of five masks: Natasha and Damien: 😷 (combined, they gave half a mask each).

Do you have questions, comments or want to share your thoughts on what we’re reading? Email us at lowbrowlowdown@gmail.com.

Music from the Youtube Audio LibraryBook Bag by E’s Jammy Jams

My arts degree is my professional reputation

Hi, I’m Damien and I hold two arts degrees – and apparently this means I’m unemployable. Despite this, I have found myself a highly-sought-after employee throughout my career.

While reading Julian Meyrick’s essay Drama in hell in The Monthly today, I was thinking about just how critical my arts degrees have been to my career. Meyrick’s piece is about the decline in drama departments in universities across Australia. He argues that drama provides “a rough indicator of the health of creative arts teaching in. universities.”

This post isn’t about my wild (albeit non-existent) success as an author, rather it’s about how my creative writing degree is at the core of why people want to hire me.

My masters study was in writing and my focus right throughout was young adult fiction (mostly, but not always speculative fiction) – and very much embedded in my interest in creative arts. Admittedly, creative writing isn’t impacted in the same way as drama, which requires greater resources and facilities for fewer students. But the devaluation of creative writing is equally as short-sighted as it is for drama, music, film and television and the visual arts. While I may have only published a few short stories, I continue to work on independent writing when I have time. Of course, this post isn’t about my wild (albeit non-existent) success as an author, rather it’s about how my creative writing degree is at the core of why people want to hire me.

More than once in job interviews, I’ve been asked ‘How would you describe your professional reputation?’ I understand that a prospective manager is trying to gauge how I see myself and how I will fit with their team. My answer to this question about reputation might sound a little arrogant – although I can confidently say that it is 100% corroborated by former colleagues and managers. My professional reputation can best be described as highly ambitious and highly accountable. In more than a decade in the workplace, I am recognised as someone who can be dropped into any situation, and gets things done to a high quality, maintains integrity, and often in far-from-ideal circumstances.

Yep, cool, I hear you. Wow don’t I have tickets on myself. And you know what, I do. I’m really bloody good at making things happen. I also acknowledge that it’s only possible because I work with equally brilliant people, who all bring their own skills to the mix. Success does not exist in a vacuum and I am no exception.

This reputation – and literal job offers that come to me on a regular basis from people who have worked with me – is what you get from an arts degree.

My arts degree is where I built my problem solving skills. My arts degree saw me develop the critical and analytical ability to tackle new and difficult concepts, and find a solution. My arts degree is where I honed my project management skills. My arts degree is where I learnt how to think deeply and critically assess information in order to make the best decision. My arts degree taught me how to be accountable to myself and to others.

Most importantly, my arts degree was my passion. By going to university and studying something I loved, I was able to get the most out of the experience. This idea that people now have to choose a higher HELP debt to follow their passion suggests that the best degree for me, is actually reserved for the wealthy. Yet, a creative arts degree was my ticket to a successful career.

To devalue creative arts, and the arts more broadly, is to fail to see what creativity and critical thinking can do. In planning, structuring and executing a 20,000 word novella for my final MA (writing) submission, I held myself to a standard that has been the bedrock of my (quite successful) career.

Maybe one day I’ll publish my own novel. But to say my MA (writing) was not a great decision for my career is to admit that maybe you need an arts degree to build your critical and analytical ability.

Reading: The University of Google

Completing a first year unit at university can be an overwhelming experience. Our first year of university builds our understanding of the history and foundations of our field, and introduces the contemporary discussions that are relevant today. Perhaps most important, our first year of university is when we begin our journey towards competence in information literacy.

A disclaimer: I wasn’t a great student when I completed my undergraduate degree. I graduated my bachelor’s degree with a credit average, mostly because I was only scraping passes in my first year and didn’t secure my first HD until my third year. I recognise now that my information literacy in that first year was near non-existent. I also disengaged from some of the more challenging readings that come about in first year studies in media and culture. I could blame a lecturer assigning Foucault in my very first subject as much as I like, but I also didn’t seek out what contemporary scholarship was saying about Foucault – because I didn’t know I could (or in fact, I should).

When it comes to first year units (and in my case, first year units delivered online), there are more and more students who are starting out just like me: I was blindly stumbling into university; I didn’t know where to start; and I was prone to disengaging with the assigned readings when I felt overwelmed.

The ‘online’ arm of the university I’m working for is, in my opinion, the best online delivery of university education that I’ve ever seen. I say this having completed both my BComn (PR) and MA (writing) online. But I also acknowledge that in this constantly evolving field, I came to this teaching role in a very different environment to when I completed my undergraduate studies. Examples of rapid change in online education are constantly being updated. The ability for online collaboration alone has just seen a massive leap forward because of the pandemic.

Still, great online infrastructure and design also requires teachers who are aware of the challenges that students face.

My goal as a teacher in a first year media/culture/screen studies unit is to help students understand how to deliver on the expectations of university study. You may be thinking ‘shouldn’t the goal be to teach them the syllabus’, and it absolutely is my goal. But ‘just’ delivering syllabus assumes that students arrive at university with an equal level of experience. Just delivering the syllabus assumes every student has the privilege of generations of university study and knowing what is expected of them – this is rarely the case.

University is self-directed. The learning materials, readings, lectures and tutorials are your starting point. It is then up to the student to follow the thread and seek out answers to the questions these raise.

A good first year essay uses the assigned readings, while a great first year essay seeks a range of sources, including peer-reviewed sources found through the vast digital library now available to every student.

And so, it’s time to talk about information literacy. The lack of which is not just a challenge for university students, but for society more broadly.

Since I started teaching four years ago, I have been constantly looking for new ways to both inform and inspire students about the importance of information literacy. Because even when a source is popular and holds the top Google ranking, that doesn’t mean its credible. Even peer reviewed journal articles will have questions raised and opposing positions published in journals to challenge the argument made. Arguments evolve and currency matters – arguing a position based solely on a 40 year old paper probably won’t hold up.

I would say I’ve had some success in building student interest in information literacy skills. However, I am swimming upstream against the current of the inflated value of personal opinion, ‘fake news’, conspiracy theories, and the ever increasing ease of publishing and disseminating anything we want in ways that appeal to existing biases.

In my ongoing search for ways to help students build information literacy skills, someone recommended I read The University of Google: education in the (post) information age, by Tara Brabazon. While The University of Google was originally published in 2007, which is perhaps a long time in the world of digital learning, the message feels as relevant today as it was then.

Early in the book, Brabazon raises a position, which mirrors where I think I am right now: “After surveying literacy theories for insight and assistance, I realized that there is a mismatch between my expectations of research and scholarship and what my students assume is university-level work.”

I’m still reading Brabazon’s book, so can’t draw any conclusions just yet. What reading the first section (of three) has shown is that there is a bigger conversation to be had.

What I’d love, is to find out what resources or approaches other teachers have found useful for scaffolding information literacy into their lessons.

What has worked for you when building information literacy skills for first year students?

What examples, analogies and interactive discussions have been effective to get first year students to consider the expectations of university study?

Reply with a comment if there’s are resources or ideas you think I should look into!

I’ve passed the first milestone: officially a PhD Candidate

In what is some wonderful personal news, today I passed my Confirmation of Candidature, which is the first major milestone of my PhD. Confirmation determines that there is a strong likelihood that this research will be significant and high quality enough to warrant moving forward. Confirmation is also the point that I transition from being a provisional candidate to a candidate. As such, I’ll be having a glass of bubbles tonight to celebrate.

While not about me personally, my PhD research proposal, ‘Queering Australian screens’ is deeply personal. I am exploring queer representation on Australian television and how queer characters make it on our screens.

So, what’s next for my PhD?

Well, this is where the work really begins. With confirmation, I’m officially a PhD Candidate and able to start collecting my own data.

There are some university processes I have to complete (ethics approval, anyone?) and then I’ll start interviews *nervous squeal*.

I can’t wait to tell you how it goes!

What to do with downtime… Nintendo Switch, anyone?

It’s time for an update on the PhD journey and how it’s progressing so far.

A quick recap: I started a PhD researching LGBTIQ+ representation on Australian television in February this year. And I’ve been busy working through this initial stage of exploring my field to understand where my own research will fit and finding that all important gap in knowledge.

This week marks an exciting moment. I have sent off my papers to the panel for my Confirmation of Candidature, the first major milestone of a PhD. While my panel reviews the documents and I wait for the meeting, I have found, for the first time since I started, that I am dealing with some downtime. Yes, there’s still things I can be doing, and I am doing them, but I’m also trying to take the break before things pick up again (assuming I progress at my confirmation).

The problem? I’m struggling to stop and relax. I’m finding myself searching for things to do and terrified I’ll lose momentum.

As a result of this struggle, I have been thinking about how I used to relax and if that could help now. Something I haven’t done in a long time is play video games. Fifteen years ago, immersing myself in an interactive world was just-the-ticket to switch off, so why not today?

And so here I am, a little late to the party, buying a Nintendo Switch and a few games that I know will hit those nostalgic strings: Mario Kart and The Legend of Zelda. I’ll need to stay disciplined and not let the excitement of a new toy take all my focus. But I am excited to distract my brain and hopefully get it in a good place for what comes next!

At the risk of creating a distraction for myself, I have to ask: What are your recommendations for Nintendo Switch games? What should I play? And what is just right for a bit of escapism in the midst of major PhD milestones, a pandemic and a continuing lockdown?

Lowbrow Lowdown E4: Kissing the Coronavirus 3 – The Mutant Strain

What happens when COVID strains meet in the night? The mutant strain? Look, the science is always a bit murky in these books, but Dr Amyson’s motivations are no secret.

It’s the final instalment of MJ Edwards’ Kissing the Coronavirus series, the mutant strain *ominous music plays*. Honestly, the whole idea of a mutant strain is traumatic as Delta sees Natasha and Damien stuck in a never-ending Melbourne lockdown. Of course, that means there’s no better time to record a podcast, because we literally have nothing else to do.

In Kissing the Coronavirus 3: The Mutant Strain, Dr Alexa Ashingtonford and Dr Kelly Cauldron are distant memories, as we meet Dr Amy Amyson, a microbiologist who knows human anatomy in the way only a microbiologist can. Look, we were puzzled by that too. Join us to find out all about the mind-bending sex of the world of microbiology. Oh! And don’t forget, the mutant strain of COVID that will change everything.

Join Natasha and Damien for mile-high antics, Big Momma’s House 2 and characters who are truly defined by their job in this parade of provocative pathogens.

Rating out of five masks:

Natasha: 😷😷😷

Damien: 😷😷

Do you have questions, comments or want to share your thoughts on what we’re reading? Email us at lowbrowlowdown@gmail.com.

Music from the Youtube Audio LibraryBook Bag by E’s Jammy Jams

Lowbrow Lowdown E3: Kissing the Coronavirus 2 – The Second Wave

Image is the cover art for Kissing the Coronavirus two. It includes a well-muscled green man covered in COVID-like spike proteins. An equally muscled blue man. And a woman in the middle being ravaged by these mutant men.
The cover of Kissing the Coronavirus 2: The Mutant Strain

Our promise of erotica continues with a review of Kissing the Coronavirus 2: The Second Wave. And boy does this book deliver, with smorgasbord of food analogies for the between-me-down-there. Maybe listen to this one after you’ve eaten your breakfast… Or maybe before.

MJ Edwards is back with a second instalment in her Kissing the Coronavirus chronicles. This book picks up a month after Dr Ashingtonford’s vaccine discovery and the vaccination effort is well underway.

In Episode 3 we follow Dr Kelly Cauldron as she plays her part in the vaccination drive against the coronavirus, giving out thousands of vaccines each day. Are they using the Pfizer? AstraZeneca? Moderna (the Dolly Parton one)? Who knows!

Join Natasha and Damien has they review this wild erotic tale of cool injections and even more hotdogs. Of course, it wouldn’t be an MJ Edwards novel without graphic and confusing sex scene. And the bulky, chonky, thicc boy, COVID from book one returns!

The Covid Killer Lowbrow Lowdown

Well, a content warning for a super racist and somewhat sexist book, The COVID Killer was… well… you know what you need most in a genre that is built on suspense? That's right, suspense. I'd say The COVID Killer was missing an editor, but I don't even know if an editor could save this book. It was a lot like a Chip Driver mystery (a Good Place reference for those of you playing at home).Join Natasha and Damien for bad motives and abysmal police work in The COVID Killder.Rating out of five masks:Natasha and Damien: 😷 (combined, they gave half a mask each).Do you have questions, comments or want to share your thoughts on what we're reading? Email us at lowbrowlowdown@gmail.com.Music from the Youtube Audio Library: Book Bag by E's Jammy Jams See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
  1. The Covid Killer
  2. Death Vaxxers (2021 Vaccine Zombies Book 1)
  3. Courting the Coronavirus
  4. My Handsome Sentient Face Mask Protects Me Despite The Ridiculous Conspiracy Theories That He Won't Also He Pounds My Butt
  5. Kissing the Coronavirus 3: The Mutant Strain

Rating out of five masks:

Natasha: 😷😷😷😷

Damien: 😷😷😷😷

Do you have questions, comments or want to share your thoughts on what we’re reading? Email us at lowbrowlowdown@gmail.com.

Music from the Youtube Audio LibraryBook Bag by E’s Jammy Jams

Lowbrow Lowdown Episode 2: Kissing the coronavirus

Kissing the Coronavirus, available on Kindle eBooks

Kissing the Coronavirus is the debut novel of author M.J. Edwards. Natasha and Damien review, critique and cry-laugh (and laugh-cry) their way through this very surprising book.

Imagine this, you’re a sexy scientist tasked with finding a cure for the coronavirus, or is it a vaccine? Look the science isn’t clear, but the steamy desires of Dr Alexa Ashingtonford are crystalline, she is in love with COVID.

We promised erotica and after a bumpy start, in Episode 2 Natasha and Damien break down Kissing the Coronavirus. Join us for waterslides, hotdogs and a cavalcade of fun park analogies as we find out how COVID can get steamy. Perhaps Dr Ashingtonford loves her work a little too much.

Lowbrow Lowdown is available wherever you get your podcasts.

The Covid Killer Lowbrow Lowdown

Well, a content warning for a super racist and somewhat sexist book, The COVID Killer was… well… you know what you need most in a genre that is built on suspense? That's right, suspense. I'd say The COVID Killer was missing an editor, but I don't even know if an editor could save this book. It was a lot like a Chip Driver mystery (a Good Place reference for those of you playing at home).Join Natasha and Damien for bad motives and abysmal police work in The COVID Killder.Rating out of five masks:Natasha and Damien: 😷 (combined, they gave half a mask each).Do you have questions, comments or want to share your thoughts on what we're reading? Email us at lowbrowlowdown@gmail.com.Music from the Youtube Audio Library: Book Bag by E's Jammy Jams See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
  1. The Covid Killer
  2. Death Vaxxers (2021 Vaccine Zombies Book 1)
  3. Courting the Coronavirus
  4. My Handsome Sentient Face Mask Protects Me Despite The Ridiculous Conspiracy Theories That He Won't Also He Pounds My Butt
  5. Kissing the Coronavirus 3: The Mutant Strain

Rating out of five masks:

Natasha: 😷😷😷

Damien: 😷😷😷 (and a half)

Do you have questions, comments or want to share your thoughts on what we’re reading? Email us at lowbrowlowdown@gmail.com.

Music from the Youtube Audio LibraryBook Bag by E’s Jammy Jams

Lowbrow Lowdown Podcast: Episode 1 The COLDVIR-20 Killer

COVID-19 literature is going viral, and we’re reading it so you don’t have to!

Episode 1 of the Lowbrow Lowdown podcast and Damien and Natasha tackle their first piece of pandemic prose: The COLDVIR-20 Killer. What happens when an anti-mask, anti-vaxxer, right wing conspiracy theorists writes a novel? Tune in to find out!

Here we are thinking this whole thing will be a slew of bad erotica, and the first title we pull out of the hat is an alt-right COVID thriller. Yes your eyes don’t deceive you, we’re about to see how a right-wing conspiracy theorist writes a character with an arts degree. Major content warnings, this dude is racist, sexist, homophobic and never learnt the principles of ‘show don’t tell’.

Lowbrow Lowdown explores the cultural moment in front of us right now and how it manifests in pop, trash and pulp culture. Season 1: Pandemic Prose is all about self-published literature of the coronavirus.

Subscribe to the Lowbrow Lowdown on your favourite podcast app.

Do you have questions, comments or want to share your thoughts on what we’re reading? Email us at lowbrowlowdown@gmail.com.

The Covid Killer Lowbrow Lowdown

Well, a content warning for a super racist and somewhat sexist book, The COVID Killer was… well… you know what you need most in a genre that is built on suspense? That's right, suspense. I'd say The COVID Killer was missing an editor, but I don't even know if an editor could save this book. It was a lot like a Chip Driver mystery (a Good Place reference for those of you playing at home).Join Natasha and Damien for bad motives and abysmal police work in The COVID Killder.Rating out of five masks:Natasha and Damien: 😷 (combined, they gave half a mask each).Do you have questions, comments or want to share your thoughts on what we're reading? Email us at lowbrowlowdown@gmail.com.Music from the Youtube Audio Library: Book Bag by E's Jammy Jams See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information.
  1. The Covid Killer
  2. Death Vaxxers (2021 Vaccine Zombies Book 1)
  3. Courting the Coronavirus
  4. My Handsome Sentient Face Mask Protects Me Despite The Ridiculous Conspiracy Theories That He Won't Also He Pounds My Butt
  5. Kissing the Coronavirus 3: The Mutant Strain

Music from the Youtube Audio LibraryBook Bag by E’s Jammy Jams.

Three skills I’m glad I had before starting a PhD

When I was in primary school, I wanted to be an actor and a lawyer – I held some unusual vision that I would be both of these things in some kind of Zoolander slashie division of the industry. In hindsight, I think it’s just that I only understood the job of a lawyer through what I saw on television. Maybe I thought all lawyers were actors(?). That might need some unpacking…

The obsession with television was perhaps more important. As a queer kid in a conservative regional town, television was a window to a world beyond what I knew. And maybe that’s why I wanted to be an actor, because I saw these people playing out lives I wanted to be part of.

When it came time to decide what I wanted to do with my future, I didn’t have the passion for law my six-year-old self may have hoped for, nor the talent or drive to be an actor. However, that obsession with television remained.

Everyone has their own journey to success and their own vision of what success will look like. For me, it was more circuitous than many of my peers. There was a moment in my bachelors degree where I was researching the influence that television has on culture for an essay and just wanting to know more – I thought I could make a career of this, somehow. I didn’t have the institutional or social capital to even begin to navigate what that would look like. And so, the idea sat in the back of my mind.

Here’s the thing, I know plenty of people that completed their bachelors, honours and then went straight into a PhD, and thrived. But I’m not that person, and I think it’s okay to talk about that.

The best thing I did was spend more than 10 years in the workforce before starting a PhD

My bachelor and master degrees were earned while working full-time, and then I spent my subsequent career working on everything from internal culture change communications to major advertising campaigns.

The subject-matter of my work matters less than the lessons I learned along the way.

Here are three skills I’m pleased I developed before I started my PhD.

1. Project management

It might seem obvious, but a three-year PhD research project requires project management skills. I mean, most jobs require project management skills.

Do you do the roster at work to ensure there are enough people on to cover the work required? Have you volunteered to organise a fundraising morning tea? It’s all project management.

Get familiar with what works for you for planning and allocating tasks. I like GANTT charts because I like being able to visually see how different tasks relate to each other and when I will have a lot of things coming together at the same time.

2. Managing up

This is possibly a loaded term, and some managers don’t like it because they see it as a slight on their management skills. For me ‘managing up’ means caring about your manager or the decision-maker and making their job easy. It is an approach I try to take with my supervisors.

‘Managing up’ is anticipating the questions, a decision-maker might have and thinking about how they work. There are some simple ways to do this:

  • Wherever possible (and make this the rule with clear reasons for exceptions) agree ahead of time on what you need from a manager and when – good project management is about having a plan and executing it.
  • Proactively communicate delays to expected timelines.
  • Email subjects should tell a manager exactly what the email will require of them so they can organise their priorities, for example: “For action by [DATE and TIME]: review draft website content.”
  • Give managers time to do things or an explanation of why there’s no time – if every approval is urgent, it often means there a break in the system – help them see where things are falling down.
  • Provide context – seriously – seeing an email that says ‘For review’ with an attachment is infuriating. It doesn’t take much to write two-or-three dot points with the context, remind the person reviewing the document about how this is addressing a request they made – they’ve probably forgotten, because we’re all busy.

3. Writing an write an email for action

I feel like I’ll be starting something, but so many poorly written emails have crossed my desktop!

People generally don’t know how to write a clear and succinct email for action. If you’re approaching someone to participate in an interview in your research, the instinct is to start with a long explanation of why it’s important.

And then we minimise our requests: ‘I’m just hoping you could’, ‘If it’s not too much bother’, ‘I’m just following up’!

Delete ‘just’ from your email vocabulary, now!

Here’s a quick template on how to write an effective email for action

Subject[For action/information/approval] by [date and time]: [Subject] OR [Invitation to participate]: [Interview topic]
OpeningDear [Name],

Clearly and directly explain the purpose of the email in one short sentence, if they stop reading here, they need to be able to know exactly what you want. – even if the answer is ‘no’.
ContextExplain the background in a few sentences, anticipate questions the receiver may have.

Use dot points if required.
What happens next?What are the next steps? Again a few short sentences.
Contact details and sign-offProvide contact details for any questions and a polite sign-off.

I realise these will be seen as pretty obvious to some, but not to everyone.

As I’ve chatted to students and friends who are interested in a career in academia, these are the skills that often aren’t priorities. But they are skills that will make your PhD journey a little smoother.