Links worth sharing

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There are days where I feel like I have a lot to say, but at the same time nothing to say – that is, there’s a lot going on, but it’s not necessarily all blog-worthy.

But what I can offer are some insights from others around the interwebs that have got me thinking about bigger and better things than the extraneous situations you inevitably deal with while working on your PhD.

I’m really digging Dave Parry’s (from UT-D) web project, Profound Heterogeneity. He researches text beyond the print age, and if you read the description of the site, he includes some fascinating references to those who say we need to “burn the boat/book” and quit defending a dead industry (print books) and focus on make digital endeavors better than ever.

Miriam Posner’s post for Prof Hacker on the Chronicle online, “Creating Your Web Presence: A Primer for Academics,” is a must-read if you are a young academic looking to establish your online presence or want to better control your online image. Her tips are introductory, and you may have heard of some of them before, but I’m betting there’s a least one suggestion that will help you anew.

It’s actually her post that led me to find the site Amplicate – which I will not link to because I do not want to support the site – that I think everyone needs to know about. It’s a beta site that takes information you post publicly – ie. on a blog or Twitter – and amalgamates the information into product reviews. It all has to do with posts that include some kind of sentiment that could be construed into an endorsement or complaint, ie. if you use the word “love” or “hate” in your Tweet, and happen to also mention Overstock, the site will take your Tweet and put it on their site under “Overstock love” or “Overstock hate.” My Twitter name had its own page on the site (!) with several Tweets I’d posted about various products/situations. I’ve since deleted those Tweets on my profile and will be much more careful about what I say in the future – I want to control my image and not have my words misconstrued on a site by some dude who wants to make a million bucks in the social media/tech bubble. (Case in point: I originally titled this post “Link l*ve,” but have since changed it so I can tweet the title of my post without it being appropriated inappropriately.

And for a frivolous link, I’ve just discovered Honey and Fitz, a home decor blog written by a local woman in Raleigh. She has great taste and super organization skills. Her creative and smart posts are just what I need in the morning to gear up for another long day of reading, ‘riting, and running to class.

Encouraging feedback

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This week has been quite a busy one with school and my husband being in California for work! One of my obligations this week was a meeting with one of my professors last semester to discuss the project that I completed for the course, History of Communication Theory. While early February is a quite a long ways past when I submitted the project at the beginning of December, I still felt it was important to hear what he had to say about my research and the topic’s potential.

Overall, the meeting was highly encouraging. Not because the project was so amazing that it’s ready for publication, but that he felt the topic had really great potential to become my dissertation topic (!!). I was already planning on submitting the paper to NCA to present this fall, and his enthusiasm for the topic gave me some new energy to pursue it further in a course this semester. The topic is still huge and essentially untouched in the field of rhetoric and communication, so it will take some time for me to work through some ideas to figure out how I can approach it for my dissertation. The great news is that I still have a lot of time to explore the topic (another year’s worth of classes) and I can be well on my way to designing my three concentration areas and reading lists with this topic in mind.

So, despite the somewhat discouraging nature of academia right now, I’m running on a high of having a general topic to pursue for the next 3-10 years and helping my prospects of finishing on time because I’ve got a topic figured out. Now to determine what my concentration areas will be, based on how I want to frame my research, and form a committee of faculty that can work with me on the project. Next step: a talk with my unofficial advisor to get the ball rolling. And I’ve already got that on the agenda for next week!

P.S. I love that I can tag this post “PhD” and “happy.” How often does that happen?!

Writing Program Administration

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This semester, I’m balancing two theory-heavy courses with a more practical course: Writing Program Administration! And yes, I’m really enjoying the class such that I’ll tag an exclamation mark at the end of that sentence. Taught by two of the field’s best, Dr. Chris Anson and Dr. Susan-Miller-Cochran, the course focuses on both theoretical and practical issues of WPA. Our work combines readings, class discussion, listening to Drs. Anson & Miller-Cochran’s experiences, and the best part, an in-depth study of a writing program. For the study, we work closely with a WPA from another school, sending a weekly question set based on that week’s topics and readings. We then write weekly reports about the program based on what our WPA tells us, what we can get from the school’s website, and our readings, reflecting about how that all comes together.

For my WPA study, I’m looking at a small, private, liberal arts school without an official “writing program” structure. It’s a great juxtaposition for NC State, a large state school with an immense first-year writing program within the English department. My WPA has been great to correspond with, and we’ve got a great system going for communicating with one another. Immediately after our class for the week (on Tuesdays), I start on next week’s readings and review what I already have on that topic before sending questions that will allow me to write a report for the next week’s topic. I send the questions by Thursday, which gives the WPA the chance to both reflect on and answer the questions on her own time. I usually get my responses by Monday morning, leaving me plenty of time to read, reflect, and write a report by Tuesday.

At first, I was really nervous about contacting a faculty member that I’ve never spoken with, met in person, or will likely ever have contact with again after this semester. However, the WPA put me at ease and has shown such genuine kindness in answering my questions – generally two parts each, and I try to keep it to only four q’s per email – with short essays! I’m very encouraged by the WPA’s generosity with his/her time: as a graduate student, it seems that faculty are always so busy with their work and that email is not a high priority. Obviously, there are faculty who value collaborating with graduate students and want to help them develop projects that they are mutually interested in.

I also hope that my weekly reports will help the WPA; at the end of the semester, I will amalgamate my weekly reports into a final program report, perhaps with a few friendly suggestions, that I will send to the WPA (hence why I am not going to name the school that I am profiling; this information is private to the school and I am privileged to be given it). The school is currently undergoing re-accreditation and the WPA is conducting an internal assessment of the writing initiative, so the time spent reflecting on the questions I send also has some value for the WPA in the assessment process.

Overall, I see great value in this kind of class for graduate students. Part of being a professional in the field – a faculty member – is administration. No one ever just teaches and researches; whether it be committee work, taking the role of assistant director of a program, or even greater responsibility within a department or the university, every one does administrative work as a part of their career. Graduate students are always primed to research (through coursework) and teach (through workshops and actual teaching assignments), so why wouldn’t we want to be educated in the other main part of our professional responsibilities, too? Some may argue that giving grad students administrative responsibilities is exploitative, or that exposing them to the inner workings of the school (and thus politics, budget issues, etc.) isn’t right. However, I disagree: we’ve got to learn about all the parts of our future professional responsibilities if we are going to be competitive candidates in an increasingly dire (desperate?) market for PhDs. Anyone disagree with me? Have an unfortunate experience with administrative responsibilities while doing their PhD? I’d be glad to hear from you.