Wednesday, October 31, 2012

5 Questions Series - Belinda Walzer

1. How did you arrive at your dissertation topic or most recent project of considerable scope? 

This is is a uniquely difficult question for me because there are several different answers: 
a) My topic arose out of many smaller moments, experiences and realizations throughout my graduate career. I came to realize as I was trying to complete course work in two years to get to exams by the beginning of my third that I can't rush my intellectual growth process (and I don't always have control over it or know what that process has to look like). It took me 6 months or more to come up with exam lists and almost a year to draft a prospective for my dissertation. Partly because I'm a procrastinator and very deadline driven, but partly because it took that long for gut feelings to coalesce with research into something arguable and interesting. 
b)  If I was to choose one of those smaller moments, it was a very personal connection with a piece of literary work that I was personally invested in to an academic context. 
c) If I am also going to be completely honest, it also arose out of a desire to use work I had already done from course work and conferences, partly because I felt it was not finished and partly because I can't stand an empty page and copying and pasting is the best way to remedy that.

2. If you could go back and teach your grad school self one important thing about reading/writing/teaching/etc. that you learned after grad school, what would it be?

See question 1, part 1. Slow down. Take fewer classes at a time. Pay more attention in them. Realize it is a process and take LOTS of notes. Also, start building professional contacts early outside of your grad school. They will make you feel better about your work as an academic as you begin to professionalize from graduate student to scholar (no one makes you feel more stupid without meaning to do so than your own advisers!) Also, you must be your own advocate. All those nasty things you hear about the job market can be true so, without being jaded, be sure you are not naive. 

3. What aspect of being a professional scholar and teacher do you find most difficult?
At the moment, prioritizing my teaching above other commitments and deadlines. This was no different in grad school, but the stakes are higher in a job. 

4. What do you like most about being a professional scholar and teacher?

I like the ability to go to coffee shops most days of the week and I love being able to teach and read material that I am passionate about. 
5. What kinds of things do you do to maintain your intellectual curiosity?

I think this has already been said, but definitely read. Also try to participate in the intellectual life of your campus, some have very vibrant intellectual communities and that energy can be contagious. Another good thing is to try to maintain connection with your grad school cohort for low-stakes but productive intellectual conversations and things like writing groups.
_______________

Belinda Walzer is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the English Department's writing program at Wake Forest University. Her work focuses on the intersections between rhetoric, human rights in/and literature, and gender studies. She completed her PhD from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in August 2012 with a dissertation titled Rhetorical Approaches to Gender and Human Rights in Transnational Literature and Cultural Studies that analyzes the pedagogical and performative imperative that underwrites the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent instruments, the normative culture to which this pedagogy gives rise, and the ways human rights literature participates in and speaks back to that normativity. Before coming to Wake Forest, Belinda was a research associate at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon while she completed her dissertation.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

5 Questions Series - Annette Van






1. How did you arrive at your dissertation topic or most recent project of considerable scope?


I paid attention to the kinds of questions I was interested in, what kinds of problems drew me. I found myself going back again and again to thinking about form and aesthetics. I surprised myself in graduate school when I became a Victorianist. I had spent my first years of graduate school thinking I would do film and/or cultural studies, but I kept signing up for classes on the Victorian novel (revisiting the books I had read and loved in high school). My career trajectory has also influenced what I'm working on. I'm teaching in a small teaching-centered school now and this has enabled me to expand my research scope. I'm finding myself more and more thinking and writing about aesthetics (the sublime in particular) in the composition classroom. I guess my shorthand answer would be something like stay open, let your interests lead you.

2. If you could go back and teach your grad school self one important thing about reading/writing/teaching/etc. that you learned after grad school, what would it be?
 
This is a terrible question. The correct answer is something very patronizing like "use the time you have to think in grad school because it gets much much harder later on to find the time to read and write and think." But I'm not sure if that's entirely helpful. Can I be so crass as to say something like "don't defer life?" If you aren't living one yet, start living a full, rich, fun, meaningful life. Don't delay until some mythical date (when you're PhD'ed, when you have a job, etc.) when you think you will be able to start having a life. My grad school self spent a lot of time avoiding a good time out of guilt that I wasn't writing fast enough.

3. What aspect of being a professional scholar and teacher do you find most difficult?
 
Keeping my sense of self and self-worth separated from my job. I am not what I do, although I do enjoy and get a lot out of what I do. Because academics tend to work in structures that have fairly rigid ideas of success and productivity (in which we are often very personally invested), it feels terribly important to me that I stay very clear about what I consider success. At times, my values and those of my workplace clash and that can be hard to negotiate. For example, one of the things I have been thinking about lately is how to integrate my spiritually-informed (Buddhist) notions about what it means to be a teacher with the kinds of more quantifiable assessment that my institution demands. How does one measure the effectiveness of a teaching practice that is detached from outcomes?
 
4. What do you like most about being a professional scholar and teacher?
 
Being in a profession where thinking and curiosity are valued. Creating spaces for those things in the classroom. Being surprised and charmed by what students/colleagues say and do. Being around words, playing with them. That even when I am sitting in a faculty meeting and there are arguments and the usual displays of douchebaggery, that we're all basically on the same side, rowing the boat together.

5. What kinds of things do you do to maintain your intellectual curiosity?

I've never really had a problem with this since I'm naturally super curious, annoyingly so at times. But I am also naturally introverted and a homebody, so I try to challenge myself to do new things and get involved with stuff outside work. Right now, for example, I'm screening films for a documentary film festival and it's been an amazing way to keep the creative juices flowing. Be open to experience, there's just so much that can inspire out there. It's very humbling. Intellectual curiosity is so fundamental to my writing and teaching practice, I have no idea how I would proceed if it vanished.
_______________
 
Annette Van is learning new stuff every day at a small college in Mid-Missouri.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

5 Questions Series - John Pell


1. How did you arrive at your dissertation topic or most recent project of considerable scope?

I decided to pursue something that I found incredibly challenging and incredibly important to how I orient myself to the world. That is to say, I actually do think we should pursue projects that we think matter to our place in the world. I think my projects tend to find their genesis in texts I love or ideas that continue to perplex me. If I was more cynical, I would say that you should determine your projects based on current publishing trends.

2. If you could go back and teach your grad school self one important thing about reading/writing/teaching/etc. that you learned after grad school, what would it be?

Do work. Don't wait for inspiration. Don't wait for the perfect idea. Don't wait for gratification. Read. Write. Revise. Repeat.

3. What aspect of being a professional scholar and teacher do you find most difficult?

Self-Awareness. Most of us will receive PhD from very large universities where the only narrative is work at an equally large university. Of course, few actually get these appointments and yet most of our professional  discourse still centers on the R1 narrative. Most of us however will work in much less glamorous positions, with higher teaching loads and limited time to do "scholarship." Of course, if you understand your position, strengths, and professional aspirations, you can then begin to find balance in your work.

4. What do you like most about being a professional scholar and teacher?

Being entrepreneurial. I would argue that graduate school is very good at producing one kind of academic, but some of us don't fit that mold. Being out from underneath those strictures allows you to discover your strengths and develop your own goals. There are a million ways to impact students, impact your discipline, and build a life - and, for the most part, you can determine how you choose to make those contributions.

5. What kinds of things do you do to maintain your intellectual curiosity?

I have five journals in my field that I read regularly and from those I am able to chase citations, see what is taking place in the field, and (ideally) determine where I might make a contribution.

_______________

John Pell is the Writing Program Director at Whitworth University. Currently, John is exploring the implications of interactionist rhetorical theory on public sphere rhetorics and cross-cultural communication. His courses and professional presentations often explore the connections between rhetoric, empathy, and human rights. John also contributes a weekly column to the RSA Blogora, which focuses primarily on issues concerning undergraduate rhetoric and writing pedagogy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

5 Questions Series - Alan Benson


1. How did you arrive at your dissertation topic or most recent project of considerable scope?
 
My dissertation began life as a study of student identity in a blended (combination online and face-to-face) classroom. During data collection, I discovered that I had far more to say about (and was far more intrigued by) the students' interactions and negotiations of their required collaborative relationships.


2. If you could go back and teach your grad school self one important thing about reading/writing/teaching/etc. that you learned after grad school, what would it be?
 
Given that I am still fresh out of grad school (seriously--I still have the new faculty smell!) this is a difficult question. I do wish I had done a better job of scheduling my writing. I had a bad habit of planning to write that day, then letting the day get away from me. Scheduling time to write, just as you schedule time to teach, is really the only way to move a project along.

3. What aspect of being a professional scholar and teacher do you find most difficult?
 
Letting projects go. I have a bad habit of writing, stewing on it, tearing it all down and starting again, stewing more, ad infinitum. Learning to let projects out of your hands and exposing your work to an audience before it is "done" can be a valuable way of re-seeing your work.

4. What do you like most about being a professional scholar and teacher?
 
I like the autonomy and self-directed nature of much of the work, but lots of jobs (including many I've held) allow for that. What I really like is that the teaching element of the position requires that I get out of my head and interact with a wide variety of people. These interactions--my teaching, my work with writing center consultants, my work with faculty--make me a better scholar.

5. What kinds of things do you do to maintain your intellectual curiosity?
 
Read widely, both in my field and outside. Talk with peers outside my area about their research and their new passions. Play with making connections between the writing and rhetoric I study and the types of writing and rhetoric students bring into class.
_______________

Alan Benson is the Director of the Center for Writing Excellence and Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He received a BS in Journalism from Boston University, and MA in English with a Teaching Composition concentration and a PhD in English with a Rhetoric and Composition concentration from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He completed his dissertation, which focused on collaborative writing, in the spring of 2012.

His scholarly interests include peer learning and tutoring, writing center pedagogies, online writing centers, collaborative writing, usability and rhetoric, digital literacies, and digital culture studies.


Before coming to academia, Benson worked as a reporter, editor, page layout designer, web developer, technical writer, and documentation developer. His non-academic writing, humor, and web projects have been featured in such publications as the Boston Phoenix, Rolling Stone, LA Weekly, Maxim, and the Wall Street Journal.


Currently Professor Benson is sketching out a project exploring critical reading in the writing center.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

5 Questions Series - Jennifer Feather



1. How did you arrive at your dissertation topic or most recent project of considerable scope?
 
The topic for my first book came about as I shaped my lifelong interest in chivalric contests into an intellectual project that intervened fruitfully in my field.  My most recent projects are based on ideas that I wanted to pursue further in the first project but that would not fit into that argument.

2. If you could go back and teach your grad school self one important thing about reading/writing/teaching/etc. that you learned after grad school, what would it be?

Feedback on your writing is almost always tough to hear at the time but frequently invaluable when it comes to publishing your work.  Put yourself (and your work) out there as often as you get the opportunity. 

3. What aspect of being a professional scholar and teacher do you find most difficult?

Being a professional scholar and teacher requires a great deal of social engagement, especially for those of us who are more introverted by nature.  One has to be deliberate about finding quiet, interior time.

4. What do you like most about being a professional scholar and teacher?

I find the exchange of ideas with both colleagues and students most rewarding.  I feel extraordinarily privileged to share an intellectual life with so many interesting thinkers. 

5. What kinds of things do you do to maintain your intellectual curiosity?

Recently, I audited a class in Ancient Greek, and I got an enormous amount from the experience.  Many of the colleagues with whom I shared this particular intellectual joy told me that they had had a similar experience when learning a new language.

_______________

 Jennifer Feather is an assistant professor of English literature at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, specializing in early Renaissance literature with an additional interest in contemporary theories of gender and violence.  Her book “Writing Combat and the Self in Early Modern EnglishLiterature: The Pen and the Sword” (Palgrave 2011) examines competing depictions of combat in sixteenth-century texts as varied as Arthurian romance and early modern medical texts to demonstrate the continued importance of combat in understanding the humanist subject and the contours of the previously neglected pre-modern subject.  In addition, she has published essays on blood in Shakespeare’s Othello (forthcoming in Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England) and the importance of Brutus’s suicide in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (in Shakespeare and Moral Agency, ed. Michael D. Bristol. New York, NY: Continuum Books, 2010).