Category Archives: (#Alt-)Academia

The place of beauty in scholarly writing

[Update: Cross-posted on the Scholars’ Lab blog]

I’ve just returned from two thought-provoking days of conversations about assessment and authority in new modes of scholarly production, the second in a series of three SCI meetings on the topic. We’ll synthesize the key outcomes and insights into a report very soon. For the moment, though, I want to think a little more about a question that occurred to me after the meeting: What is the place of beauty in academic writing? While this wasn’t something the group discussed directly, it did seem to be an undertone of certain threads of conversation.

I got home from CHNM on Friday evening feeling pretty brain-dead from the hybrid (and quintessentially #altac) work of wrangling meeting logistics and absorbing stimulating and thoughtful discussion. Ready to relax, I sat down to watch Pina and was entranced within minutes; the film is stunning. The clips of Pina Bausch’s dance company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, are mesmerizing; they are made even more compelling by Wim Wenders’ directorial work. Something about the visual beauty of the film and the dance it portrayed helped me to think about the preceding conversations about scholarly work in a new light.
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Works in progress: Survey results, Praxis Network

[Cross-posted at the Scholars’ Lab blog]

This spring marks a new phase for my work with SCI. Data collection for the survey on career paths is complete, and analysis is underway, meaning that the next step will be much more focused on sharing outcomes. In some ways, this is a less comfortable step in the process for me (nerves! public speaking!), but also an exciting and satisfying one.

I’m honored to be giving several invited talks over the next few months:

All talks are open to the public, so please come if you’re in the area! I’d love to see friendly faces, and I’m very much hoping for dynamic discussion at each event.
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Rebooting Graduate Training: An MLA Roundtable

Cross-posted on the Scholars’ Lab blog.

I gave the following talk at the 2013 MLA Convention in Boston as part of an excellent roundtable organized by Paul Fyfe, who has also collected a number of resources in a Zotero library. The wide-ranging presentations sparked many thoughtful questions that I hope will lead to continued discussion about the ways that graduate training could be modified for the good of students, the discipline, and the public. Some of the slides are taken from my earlier presentation on SCI’s survey on career paths for humanities PhDs (a full report of which will be available later this year).

Rebooting Grad Ed_COPY.001

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Reflections on 2012

When I look back on 2012, I have no doubt that it will stick in my memory as a year of renewal. It has been an incredible and enriching year in so many ways, from a new home to a new job to what feels like a thousand and one new skills (many of them half-baked, but good starts nonetheless). I know that the tech skills below are no big deal for most everyone in the DH community, but I came to them all from total unfamiliarity.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned in the past year:

  • I learned how (and why) to use the command line.
  • I learned how to use Github, both for my own projects and to collaborate with others.
  • I learned how to use vim, and that using vim makes me feel pretty badass… or else it makes me feel like a hopeless case. The line between the two feelings is pretty thin.
  • I learned that everybody has to look stuff up in the documentation, and that half the battle is knowing where to look.
  • I’ve gotten pretty decent with HTML markup.
  • I can figure stuff out in CSS. Sometimes.
  • Along the same lines, I finally figured out how to get a domain name and host, get a proper WordPress install, set up a child theme, and start making my website look the way I want it to look.
  • I learned how to use an FTP client, and eventually I got brave enough to move remote files around from the command line.
  • I learned enough JavaScript to piece some D3 visualizations together (though not really enough to get myself out of trouble).
  • I learned a tiny little bit of Ruby.
  • I learned how to type curly quotes, and why it matters (thanks, @clioweb!).
  • And finally, it might rank low on the list of essential life skills, but I have learned to do a headstand without a wall to catch me, and that feels amazing.

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Outside the Pipeline: From Anecdote to Data

I gave the following presentation at SCI’s recent meeting on rethinking graduate education. It was the first time I’ve publicly discussed results from the study on career preparation in humanities graduate programs that I’ve mentioned previously in this space. I was honored to discuss the topic with our extremely knowledgeable group of participants, and the thoughtful questions and comments that the talk generated will inform my thinking as I work toward a more formal report and analysis. I would welcome additional comments and questions.

A PDF of the presentation is also available, and has been cross-posted to SCI’s website and the Scholars’ Lab site.

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MLA Convention conundrum

This year’s MLA Convention program is up, and I’m already excited about connecting with people and hearing about their latest work. I’m also feeling a little uneasy about my own presentation, though. Or rather, I wish I could belatedly add a second presentation that is rooted in my current work at SCI.

Proposals for MLA presentations are due early in the year; I submitted mine mid-March, and I think most deadlines fell around the same time. It’s an entirely reasonable time frame given the size and complexity of the convention, but it also means there’s a significant lag between submission and presentation. At that time, I was still at Sloan, though I knew (unofficially) that I’d be starting at SCI soon after. I knew that my work this year would have me digging deeply into the landscape of alternative academic careers, but I didn’t know enough of the specifics it would entail to write a proposal on it, and the study that has been my primary focus didn’t exist yet. So, because I knew I wanted to go to the MLA (and because I wanted to give myself some research and writing homework), I proposed a paper that was grounded in my academic background — one I had been wanting to write, and that I’ll be happy to present and get some feedback on.

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A grassroots counter-MOOC, Brooklyn artisanal style

At a moment when the most discussed disruption in higher education is the anonymous, asynchronous learning of massive open online courses, a separate disruption — one that brings small-scale seminars out of the university and into the public sphere — is thriving in Brooklyn. For the next six weeks, I’ll be spending my evenings discussing feminist theory in a sci-fi bookshop tucked away in an eerily deserted corner of DUMBO. Sharing in the discussion are women from a range of backgrounds — some are artists and writers, some have PhDs or other grad school experience, some are lawyers, some are in publishing. We’ve had just one session so far, and I can tell that the class will be an interesting twist on a grad seminar — the dense, complex readings will be there (in manageable doses — after all, we’ve all got day jobs), as will the conversation and debate of a successful seminar, but without the pressure (or posturing) that often accompanies the grad school experience.

The class is part of the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, a collaborative of grad students and recent PhDs who are working to make the walls of the university a bit more permeable. The model is interesting to me for a few reasons.

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A gloomy day in higher ed news

First came the brazen academic job ads from CSU and Harvard; then came the announcement that Emory is drastically cutting undergraduate and graduate programs. Selfishly, on days like this, knowing that I’ve decided not to deal with the academic job market floods me with relief. I’m sending my best thoughts to all my friends and colleagues who are braving it. Meanwhile, SCI’s work on graduate education seems more timely than ever, and I’m glad to be a part of it.

Update: Because others have written on both of these issues more thoughtfully than I have, check out their posts if you want to know more.

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Data visualizations: Learning d3.js

[Cross-posted at scholarslab.org]

The SCI study on humanities graduate programs and career preparation is humming along, and while survey responses come in, I’ve been working on determining how best to translate the data into meaningful graphics. After a lot of experimenting, I think the winner is d3.js. Short for for Data-Driven Documents, D3 is Michael Bostock’s creation; a quick glance at his gallery shows the kinds of beautiful and complex visualizations it’s capable of. It’s a low-level tool, though, which means that learning to use it even in a rudimentary way has already involved picking up some html, css, and javascript along the way. It’s a lot to chew on, but I think I’m starting to turn a corner as a blurry whirl of concepts, terms, and commands are slowly resolving themselves into some clarity.

While I don’t have anything that cool that to show yet, I’m excited that I do have a little something. Here’s the fruit of everything I’ve learned so far:

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