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Eight Years After Room 524

It dawned on me a few days ago that today is eight years since I started my life as a skills trainer. On September 15th 2008, I registered my business. I was a guy with a PhD in maths, a few ideas about what I might do as a freelancer, but no real clue. This was me:

My last day in the postgraduate office

I left behind Room 524, my workspace for nearly four years. One day I was working surrounded by interesting people who loved research. The next day I was working alone at the dining room table: What to do? How to start? It seems like yesterday sometimes, and also like another life. A lot has happened in eight years (I got married! I have a daughter!). Work highlights include:

I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great people, and I know that I’ve learned a lot along the way. It’s not always easy to be a freelancer. There can be a lot of disappointments. But you can work to your values: it is very liberating to realise that you can step back from something that isn’t satisfying. You can say no to things that you think will get in the way, and say yes to things that excite you or you think can make a difference.

One of the things I like most is the freedom to do fun things, to play. You can do something “just because”. I have thoughts for more little experiments and “just because” ideas; let me know in the comments if you want to hear more.

Thanks for reading!

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)

news viva work

Books and the Workshop

My independent Viva Survivor workshop has helped me a lot and it’s not even run yet. It’s got me making very quick progress with some ideas I’ve been considering. With workshops run through universities there is a limit to what can be provided to participants in three hours or via handouts. I knew that I wanted to give participants at the independent workshop my ebooks to supplement their learning, but I’m also a print enthusiast despite my Kindle addiction.

A print copy of Fail Your Viva, my first book, seemed like it would be a valuable resource as part of the participant pack. I’ve been thinking for a couple of months that I would like to expand into print with my books, and I’ve had some experience through other new ventures of producing print runs. Deciding to do the independent workshop pushed me to get it done, and push past any barriers, real or imagined.

And I thought, “If you’re going to print thirty for a workshop, you may as well do a modest little print run to go along with it…”

The print run!

Book Reviews Please!

I Need You!

Have you read either of my books? If you have, would you consider posting a review on Amazon or on your blog? If you do, and send me a screengrab or a link that proves you’re the author, I’ll send you a 50% off code to my books on Payhip – you can either buy a copy of a different book for yourself, or give the code to a friend so that they can give one or both of my current books a try.


Book Review: Poke The Box

A few weeks ago I was sick. I had to take time off, pause and not really do much of anything. This is really hard when you’re in a house with a toddler. It’s one thing if you’re in the office and they’re in another room playing with your wife; quite another if you’re trying not to move too much in case you feel sick again, and they’re bouncing up to you asking to watch Frozen for the third time that day.

Being ill also coincided with feeling a little down. I don’t know why, but whenever I have to make decisions about the “what next?” for my business I feel a little down. I correlate it with thoughts of “but what if this isn’t a good idea?” and the doubts of “what if this really backfires or doesn’t go anywhere?” I was thinking about the coming academic year (which is out of sync with the business year by about six months, so it always feels a little odd when planning) and what new things I might do, when might I find time to write the next books and what shall I do about the projects on the back burner…

Doing all of this when feeling sick is not a good idea.

My wife, thankfully, suggested that I read an inspiring book to help find my mojo again, and after only a second’s pause I reached for my Kindle, curled up on the couch a bit more and started re-reading Poke The Box by Seth Godin.


The Reading List 2015, Update 1

In January I shared that one of my goals for this year was to read some of the books that I have bought or have been bought in recent years, but have yet to get around to reading. I tried this the year before, but it never worked because – surprise, surprise – I didn’t make the goal concrete enough. This year, I had to do something different, so like it says in the previous post I made a list of ten books that I would read in 2015. They wouldn’t be the only books I’d read this year, but they would be some which I had to read.

So far I’ve read three and started a fourth:

  • What If? – a great book which applies science and creative thinking to wonderfully strange questions. One of my favourite passages is in the introduction, where Randall Munroe says “…it turns out that trying to answer a thoroughly stupid question can take you to some pretty interesting places.
  • The Upside of Irrationality – a book which I both loved and hated. One of the things I really liked was how inventive some of the experiments were, the lengths that the experimenters would go to in order to test or measure a behaviour. At times though, I was a little frustrated by some similar sorts of experiments. Still worth a read.
  • The Ocean At The End Of The Lane – the only fiction book on the list, and a great little story. I read it pretty much in one go on a single train journey (and a cafe stop when I got off the train). If you like the fantastical and scary fairy tales for grown-ups then this might be your cup of tea.

I’ve started reading Playing At The World which looks at the history of role-playing games. I need to take my time with it though; it’s hyper-detailed, a serious academic work and not just a pop cultural story. I also started reading Serious Play, but I think when I bought it I may have mistaken it for another book, so I’m going to take another look soon. It may be that I replace it with another book off my oh-my-gosh-how-many-unread-books-do-I-own-pile.

I like reading for pleasure, but I also like to be inspired. Each of these books has inspired me in some way already, and the ideas form part of the mosaic of thoughts I put out in my work. It’ll be interesting to see how the other books impact.

What have you been reading lately?

Nathan (@DrRyder and @VivaSurvivors)


Goals for 2015

On Monday I shared some of my highlights for 2014, but of course a New Year is not all about looking back, it’s about thinking and planning ahead too. I’ve written about setting objectives and goals before, so I’ll try and follow my own advice when it comes to thinking about my year ahead! Some of these are objectives, some are announcements, some are hopes and dreams for 2015.


Nathan Reads: Gamestorming

Books Books Books

There are some great, helpful books on PhD topics (and vivas too, including my own short ebook on viva preparation, Fail Your Viva!) and about once a month I’ll post a review of a book which I’ve found really valuable, and which I think could be really valuable to PGRs in general.

The first up is “Gamestorming” by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo. This is a book that I have found invaluable in the kind of work that I do, and I think that it is something which can really help people in lots of ways.

Using a Heuristic Ideation Technique, which I saw first in Gamestorming.
Using a Heuristic Ideation Technique, which I saw first in Gamestorming. Picture taken at a workshop on blogging I delivered several years ago.