I am now a 4th year student in my program, which means I have completed all of my required coursework, proposed my research project and had it approved by a small group of professors (my committee), and am now collecting data that I will use to write my dissertation, which will basically be a book or a collection of articles.
Sounds simple, right?
Honestly, it is pretty simple, but like all simple things, it conceals a tangled network of social and material support systems, logistical acrobatics, and—for me—deeply felt and often painful emotions. I’ve been doing this academic thing long enough now to understand that there is nothing special about what academics do. It is a kind of work—like any other kind of work—that rewards some kinds of behavior and punishes others, that values some kinds of expression and dismisses others. Its impact on the public is minimal, for the most part. This distresses me sometimes. Other times, it is a comfort.
Anyway, I don’t mean to be a downer. I’m in one of those lulls where the work seems overwhelming, and the point of it is not too clear. This attitude comes and goes. I feel better when I’m actually collecting data, so today I’ll talk about that a bit. But first, the elevator pitch for my project:
I study high school students’ use(s) of technology for social and academic purposes, attending to the ways their composing practices in each context converge or compete with one another.
To do that, I observe two high school classrooms, survey all the students in those classrooms about their attitudes and beliefs about technology for social and academic purposes, and interview a smaller number of students in each class to get more in-depth and fine-grained descriptions of (what might be called) their digital literacy practices. It’s actually pretty fun. Students say (and do) funny and interesting and unexpected things. They have fascinating ideas about what is important and interesting (in life and regarding technology). I’m at home in those conversations, though I worry that I’m not asking the right questions or noticing the right things to produce the kinds of data I need to make the kinds of arguments that will be interesting/persuasive to an academic audience. I worry that I’m not really going to be able to say anything that hasn’t already been said.
And I guess that’s where the title of this post comes in. How I orient myself in the classroom as a teacher feels quite different from how I am orienting myself as a researcher. Navigating that new territory is strange, and I worry that I am not giving back to the community in a way that is satisfying (to me). When I think about how I might do that, I feel overwhelmed by the potential time commitment. I am currently a parent of two teenagers who go to two different high schools and a researcher in two (other) different high schools, and a student taking a history class with a heavy reading and writing load, and an employee with the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative and with the Center for Research on Teaching and Learning, and a mentor to two undergraduates through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, and a co-facilitator of a Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop. The time commitments embedded in all these things fluctuate from week to week, and they push hard against the dissertation work, which still feels dreamy and speculative to me.
So, I guess, if part of my project here is to track not just how I feel about the dissertation project (tired), but also how I am developing strategies to do the work—and it’s just work!(remembering that helps)—then right now it looks something like this:
I like to think globally. It helps me see that there is a light at the end of the project. But I also like to compartmentalize and rank my lists, breaking down the project into (more) manageable pieces. The next trick: managing the time.