Book gifts for the academic/researcher in your life

Unless you have been living under a rock, you would have noticed by now that this is the time of the year were we are all supposed to turn into consumers in order to ‘demonstrate’ our love to others. Having worked in academic for a while means most of my friends are either PhD students, researchers or academics. Every year I look for something ‘cool’ to buy for them and I always stumble across these ‘great gifts for geeks’ articles and I often wonder, does that mean we fall in the category of ‘geeks’? Is a solar powered phone charger and a fancy hard drive storage REALLY what I like? I grew up in a family of teachers and was brought up to think that books make the best gifts so I am doing a post with some book gift ideas for that special  ‘academic’ or  ‘researcher’ in your life.

1)  Design Meets Disability

This book starts with the following quote by Charles Eames (designer of the iconic molded plywood chairs manufactured by Herman Miller) that says : ‘design depends largely on constraints’. Reflecting back on this, its clear to see that in the design of thiss iconic chair, there is a (healthy)tension between ‘problem solving’ and ‘creativity’. The author shows us examples of how design and disability can inspire each other and try to push the boundaries of inclusive design. Why shouldn’t hearing aids be as fashionable as eyewear? How can we avoid the complicated accessibility features? I think this books is a fascinating read that I personally thouroughly enjoyed and I think it would make a great gift for that friend/family member with an inquisitive mind.

2)     Design for everyday things

Although I am aware that this is a best selling book and has ‘been around’ for quite a while- I have decided to include it as I think it is one of those books that could be read and enjoyed by everyone (not just designers). The emphasis of this book is on people and how we interact with physical objects. I think this book is for the people in your life that stand in front of a door completely clueless on how to open it. Although it is a book about product design- it is not a book primarily aimed at product designers. This might not ‘rock the boat’ if you buy it for someone who works in the field of design research (as some might say the concepts introduced are rather ‘dated’) but it is still interesting to read it and see how design has evolved over 25 years.

3)     The unwritten rules of PhD Research

I read quite a few books when I was doing my PhD and this is the one that stood out from the rest. I found it funny at parts, especially when the authors explain how academia works. For example, the authors embark on drawing parallels between academia and ‘sharks in the water’, by giving an example of the ‘feeding frenzy’ that is sometimes witnessed when PhD students make a mistake and are immediately jumped on by senior academics.I think this is a great book for a PhD researcher (at any stage of the process) as it recognises and discusses the social complexities of doing a PhD. It will take your mind off the boring side of your PhD and it will leave you nodding in agreement.

4)     Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia

This is the Marmite of my book offerings (you will either love it or hate it!).  This book offers a frank discussion of race and gender issues in the workplace by documenting experiences of women in academia that have struggled and survived in unfriendly work environments. I think this makes a great read for academics and for those whose friends and loved ones are scholars. I think this book is not just aimed at women but for everyone who is interested in social justice and structures of oppression.

5)     Changing Places – David Lodge

Have you ever wondered what happens when 2 English professors change jobs with each other; one goes to U.C.L.A. and the other goes to Birmingham, swapping colleagues, students and even wives? Although this book is more for those who come from a ‘classics’ field  rather than a ‘technology’ field- it is an enjoyable story depicting the academic world the 60s. Although some might argue the concepts are dated, I found it still quite relevant to today’s academia as it discusses the two professors’ struggle with making their way in a world where the only mantra is ‘publish or perish’. This is a great satire of academia and would make an excellent gift.

6)     Stylish Academic Writing – Helen Sword

This books is for those people who get annoyed everytime I make all these classical English language mistakes (is data singular?) when I write academic papers. The book discusses the findings of  a review of over a thousand articles, dispelling the myth that you cannot get published without writing wordy, impersonal prose. As English is not my first language, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Its one of those books that you want to read excerpts out to others (which I understand is very annoying).

7)     Wake, watch and wonder

There are many amazing web design books out there and even more amazing novels and the wake, watch and wonder trilogy are my favourites. Although these are not the best books I ever read, I think they are great if you love the web and enjoy solid science fiction writing. This is for those who think that Christmas shouldn’t be the time for reading work-related books. The story is about the emergence of an artificial intelligence on the web combined with a parallel story of a girl who has been blind since birth gaining sight. If you are travelling home for Christmas and you have a long journey ahead of you, get these on your Kindle and they will (hopefully) captivate you.

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