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.

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