Originally, my plan was to create a blog just to document “Bread Science Weekend” experiments, but I’ve decided to try this new thing where instead of writing only for myself (or only for a very small group of pre-screened friends and family and Facebook’s “On this Day” feature), I produce a shared record of my delightfully mundane life interspersed with discoveries and adventures and even—gasp—talk about some of the things that matter to me and that happen to be vocational.
Mostly, I’ve compartmentalized work (especially the messy details of what I do) from my public life, for a variety of reasons that mostly made sense re: professionalism, NDAs, and not wanting to absolutely bore everyone I know. But as I stand at the (metaphorical) threshold of the (metaphorically) beautiful Sieg Hall, I realize that by beginning a PhD, I’m very intentionally shifting my relationship with work as well as the ownership of my process and outputs into a much more open, collaborative common. I’m still—for the time being—staying the fuck away from Academic Twitter because it does not make me better or more thoughtful or more generous as a researcher or human, but I’ll try to push through anxieties and share more about my experiences as a student and researcher here in this space, where I can be as verbose as I want.
I feel as though I should answer some of the more common questions I’ve received when I tell people I’m starting a PhD:
- You bet, I’m terrified! (Ohmygosh, I still can’t believe it. Is this real?)
- Yes, my partner knows I’m doing this. (???)
- Yes, I’m leaving the corporate job I’ve had for four years. October 18th will be my last day. It’s a whole situation, balancing classes and an RA position with work for a few weeks, and I’m grateful to the people who are accommodating me in order to make my timeline possible.
- I’m just beginning and I know nothing…including what my dissertation topic will be. I don’t know what my General Exam topics will be. I don’t know what my Preliminary Exam topic will be. So far, my work has drawn upon Participatory Design, feminist HCI (where HCI is human-computer interaction, the meaning of which I remain convinced does not exist) and design justice. I’m particularly interested in community-owned, civic technologies and community/organizing/practices of care. Here, I self-plagarize from my PhD application research statement: “My research is motivated by a desire to help shape and engineer deeply human-centered sociotechnical systems—designed and adopted with enthusiastic consent by the individuals and communities who will live with them, with consideration and regard for future generations, non-human life, and broader ecosystems.” I quibble with “human-centered” but it’s also right there in the name of my department, so.
- I don’t know who my advisor will be. We have mandatory rotations for the first year. Yes, it brings me tremendous anxiety and I have spent many sleepless nights wondering what happens if I don’t get picked for nerd dodgeball.
- The average time to PhD in my department is 6 years. I just completed a Master of Science from the same department, so it may be shorter. Or it may not be, depending on life and research. The subjects (justice!) and methodologies I’m interested in (Participatory Design and Participatory Action Research) necessitate breathing room and I don’t have professorial ambitions or anything other than a need to provide for myself (which, admittedly, is a major consideration) that inclines me to move particularly fast.
- No one knows who will “make it” to the “finish line.” But this is what I want to be doing today, in the here and now. The important thing to remember is that I’ll never be the kind of doctor you’ll be relieved to find on your airplane!
- After this? (If there is an after). I want to continue doing work I care about. Beyond that, my mind doesn’t know how to even begin to approach the question.
Mostly, I know I’m in for an extremely difficult and, hopefully, extremely meaningful experience and I am profoundly grateful. I never imagined this was possible.