March 21, 2017
And just like that…I have an external committee member, feedback from the internal committee member previously known as the external committee member, and a list of potential dates for my formal proposal defense.
On Thursday morning (in before external time) I woke up with the conscious resolve to be through with the drama and shift my focus toward proactive researcher self-improvement. I was going to master NVivo, qualitative research analysis, and finally investigate Scribner. In addition, I was going to get back to blogging more regularly because writing helps me not only be a better writer but also process life.
Oh, and I was about to embark on an 16 hour road trip to Colorado so having a head filled with positive possibilities was way preferable to a head filled with “what-if” scenarios involving me never getting an external.
Somewhere between the Mississippi River and Des Moines, I got an email saying the five words I’d been fantasizing about for over two weeks, “An external candidate has agreed.” I kept on reading it over and over again just to make sure it actually was real…I had really understood and there actually was no rejection in the sentence. Reading the news was like a giant exhale.
I used to think that this kind of waiting was all an academic head game—it existed in my mind and just involved mental toughness, steely resolve, and perseverant thinking. I’ve since come to realize, like anything in life, waiting and all the complex emotions it brings is a whole body thing. I felt the tension of waiting in my chest and in my shoulders—the frustration and anger of waiting was in my stomach. It seemed even at times I felt the impact of waiting running in my veins. Waiting is achy, exhausting, uncomfortable business.
This experience has made me realize I know very little about patience and trust…I know very little about waiting with grace. Looking back from the comfort that is resolution, I can fully acknowledge that my experience of waiting was basically a first world problem…it was never “if” I would receive a positive resolution, rather it was just “when” that positive resolution would come. I have people in my life who are waiting on questions that have no guaranteed positive answers, just invitations to be present and learn from living within the tension. This experience has made me realize these people may be true superheroes…they certainly are people I want to learn from.
This experience has also made me realize the best thing about being in a season of waiting is the knowledge that you’re not alone. Given the complexity of my situation, my friends couldn’t fix it or make it go away. That said, they could and did listen as I worked through all the messiness of my feelings and rehashed the situation again trying to find a solution within my power to enact (even as we both knew deep down known that a “situation” of our own making was a myth at best.) These friends did not make the waiting hurt less but they did help me find perspective and humor in its midst. These too are the people I want to learn from…the friends who never cease to inspire me.
In the midst of all this, my supervisor and I discussed once more that doing a doctorate is roughly 20% growing a knowledge base and 80% growing as a person. These past two weeks have been crazy hard but I’m hopeful they’ve contributed a bit more to the 80%. Last week I could never imagine thinking this but…though it is excruciating at times, I’m glad for the process. Well, perhaps I should qualify that…I’m almost as glad about the process as I am that I now have an external. : )
March 15, 2017
If last year I was framing this journey as trying to listen to dark matter, fully appropriate a year later to find myself floating in deep space. It’s admittedly a pretty dark place but when I’m able to look past all the immediate discomfort of the present…so dazzling to realize I actually am here.
March 14, 2017
This week in my intro to graphic design course we’re discussing critique. Critique is one of those subjects in the art and design world that has a mythic quality to it. With my students I emphasize that critique is always just about the work and never about you personally though perversely…it always feels like it’s about you personally and never just about the work.
As designers we are fortunate to be part of an industry where we get paid to make things and be creative. In this transaction, we should do our best but ultimately we live in the creative tension that knows that the majority of our output isn’t for our own pleasure rather it is for communicating a specific message from a client to an audience. It’s hard work untangling your identity from a design piece—learning to hold it loosely. That said; if you cannot find that separation space between what you make and who you are, guarantee you will not be able to survive in the industry.
In design world, how you do the work matters just as much as what work you do.
A couple weeks back I received some bad news about my dissertation committee. Because I had done a pre-presentation to my full committee (well documented in such posts as this one) the member who was supposed to be my calm, cool, unbiased external had apparently become tainted. I now had an incomplete committee with no external member. Though he had only good intentions, the very thing my supervisor hoped might speed up the process moved it into an indefinite holding pattern. Education is a complex process. Inherent in this complexity is that realization that for better or worse, his errors will bleed into me and vice versa. For the record: knowing this in my head and feeling this practically are two entirely different things.
As my year had been tracking to a March defense, the news broke me. I was angry that no one caught the error…frustrated that by no mistake of my own my plans were stalled out. I was disillusioned by an opaque system secret society bent on giving me no information or power but wanting all of my trust. While at the beginning updates that things were being “worked on” gave me some hope, as days passed I stopped believing. I felt my own anger turn into bitterness as I realized I wouldn’t defend in March and with every day that passes, even defending in April feels like it’s slipping away.
I’ve spent the last few weeks doing what any logical human would do, namely sending copious emails to the single contact I do have in the system asking for updates, asking for information, and generally asking for any scrap of reassurance that I have not been forgotten. I’d love to say these have been rational, respectful emails but more often than not they’ve been messy, filled with equal parts desperation, rage, and demands for answers that might make the situation hurt less.
January 8, 2017
The end of 2016 witnessed a flurry of academic activity as I finished the year with both a (fairly) baked version of my dissertation proposal, and an approved committee!
Because the supervisor is a bit of a renegade (and I’m up for experimenting) we’re interacting with the committee in a somewhat different way than others in my cohort have done at this step in the process. Basically, my first meeting with my committee will happen this week and I’ll be doing a quick intro presentation of my research. This presentation will hopefully lead them to being deeply intrigued by my topic and deeply impressed by my professionalism/logic so the remainder of my candidacy will progress in a quick and painless manner and when they receive the written version of my proposal, their comments will be minimal. (I’m fully aware that none of these things may happen and indeed the complete opposite may be true but…the year is young so its good to remain hopeful!)
Below are slides and accompanying written narration which will most likely approximate what I’ll say in the actual, actual presentation. As usual, comments, suggestions, alerts to glaringly misspelled words, etc. is always welcome. You can also download a PDF version here: hammershaimb_introproposal_presentation.
December 19, 2016
In early January of this year, I wrote a post entitled A Week in Articles, with No Charts. It was a nod to Martin Weller’s A Year in Books with Pointless Charts which itself was apparently a nod to Jane Rawson (who is yet another name to add to the “Amazing women from Australia” list.) As the year began in reflection, it feels only fitting that reflection once more marks its conclusion thus An Academic Year in Photos and Facts and Reflections has arrived! And full disclosure, once more this is self-indulgent and most likely of little interest to a world-wide audience but as Weller says, “hey, blogging!” : )
2016: The Year of Eye Contact, Using My Voice Audibly, and Fine-Tuning My Packing Skills
2015 ended with the realization that I’d been doing this academic thing long enough that it was time for me to leave the (relative) safety of my computer-mediated bubble and see how my ideas would stand up/resonate with other academics and other graphic design educators. In order to test the former, I entered the Athabasca University Three Minute Thesis Competition in March. Surprisingly, I won second place! You can watch my presentation here: https://youtu.be/sUfi_esTAmc
In order to test the latter, (i.e. mingle with other graphic design educators) paradoxically (because designers essentially create the interfaces of the internet) I realized I needed to hit the road.
So, 2016 became the year of movement and meeting people—the year of intentionality about being in situations where talking and eye contact took precedence over reading and writing words. I wrote conference proposals that were accepted, was a member of various panel discussions, and staged a pop-up art installation about graphic design education. Ruby developed an affinity for high thread count sheets, her childminders, and ultimately became a far more relaxed airline passenger than I’ve ever been.
Though the process was intimidating in many ways, I found the more I engaged with other design educators—telling them about my research and listening to their stories—the more confident and excited I became about my own research direction. I used to think that my position on the relative fringe of design education made my work quirky at best—more sideshow curiosity than something to be taken seriously. I now realize I am uniquely positioned to build bridges between arenas and people. Far from being a hinderance, my somewhat quirky persona is an asset because it makes me approachable and helps me demystify what is honestly a pretty abstract concept. This year made me realize that the things that are best about me and make me most unique are also the things that also make me most insecure. It’s hard to be unashamedly who I know that I am inside but…I know this year has made me more brave. I think I am not alone in this dilemma and I hope I can be catalytic in helping others be themselves truly.
The nomadic life stopped in late October when I buckled down to re-write my dissertation proposal. The past two months have been a consistent cycle of writing, editing, reading, chatting with the supervisor (who isn’t a robot) and then writing and editing and reading some more. I’m the closest I’ve been so far to being able to both present and defend my proposal before my committee and hopefully I can do both those activities in the not too distant future. Speaking of the dissertation proposal, you can view it here and even offer comments if you’d like!
If all goes well, I’m hoping 2017 is the year of research + writing so 2018 can be the year of a new prefix added to my name. That said, this process is teaching me on a daily basis to only be here and now…so in that spirit, here’s to the New Year and whatever it may bring.
November 23, 2016
I have an app on my phone called TimeHop. Basically, it’s an aggregator, collecting posts from my social media past and providing an update each day about what I was doing last year, two years ago, etc. I enjoy checking it every day because it’s a bit like having an external memory, opening a time capsule and reading a message from past Lisa—seeing a photo of baby Ruby.
Last year today was apparently the first time I submitted my dissertation proposal for formal review to the prof who was teaching my proposal prep seminar. Ironically, a couple days ago I again submitted my dissertation proposal to my supervisor for review. Apparently late November is when one submits dissertation proposals for review.
As an educator, I’ve gladly jumped on the “delight in the process of learning” bandwagon. I want my learners to trust themselves, to trust the process and not be so consumed with achieving the perfect outcome because outcomes are flashy and fleeting—they don’t transform you like the daily engagement with process. I’ve been known to encourage my fledgling designers by telling them that if they learn to delight in process, they will eventually have both a great outcome and a great new set of skills. Through process comes abundance.
As a doctoral student, I’m so ready to sacrifice some of the transformation + new skills of process for the dazzle of a fleeting outcome. Daily engagement with process mostly feels repetitive. There’s little magic in the cycle of consuming and connecting information, writing about it, editing, repeating. Most days the only thing that is getting stronger is the voice in my head that points out how slow I appear to be moving and reiterating that maybe I don’t have what it takes. An abundance of self-doubt and low-grade shame was not what I signed up for in becoming a doctoral student.
But, here’s what I’ve learned this year—what the past twelve months of writing dissertation proposals has taught me: process does produce abundance but my definitions of both have been way too limited.
I used to think that process was like driving to a grocery store—abundance was seeing and reveling in all the choices you had upon arrival. When you delight in the journey, you are rewarded with a prize. You select, you consume, and you repeat.
Now I think process might be more like finding land and clearing it, planting seeds and tending them…watching, waiting, and hoping for good yet fully aware you are only one actor in the system. Process teaches you, but it is teaching through breaking, through reflecting, through moving on, through reaching out. Abundance too is not so much having many different options; rather it is realizing your place interwoven into a landscape whose edges are constantly shifting and changing. This new way of seeing helps me be more patient and though its far slower than I would choose, I know it is transforming me for good and at a far deeper level than I thought possible.
So back to work I go, reading, connecting, writing, editing…hoping for good yet fully aware I am only one actor in an abundant system. And for today…that is enough.
September 22, 2016
When I was working on my MFA in graphic design almost ten years ago, one of my first instructors began class by stating that the purpose of all design was to “tame the complexity of content.” As a dutiful student (with no formal background in graphic design thus that much more eager to learn all I didn’t even know I didn’t know) I wrote down this phrase and posted it to my workspace. The idea of the world being all sorts of out of control and designers being wild beast tamers captivated me. Whether it was through information graphics or publication design or even environmental signage—I was going to bring the wild things of complexity into submission and make the world a better place in the process.
This phrase became a mantra of my grad school years and when I began teaching students of my own, this was one of the first phrases I passed along to them in the hopes that it would inspire them as it had inspired me.
But here’s the thing…more and more I think it might be wrong.
The past three years of being a doctoral student (not to mention the past thirty-four years of being a human) have shown me that if anything…complexity is gaining the upper hand as it aligns me to its rhythms of serendipity and teaches me each day to have open hands in the midst of constant unpredictability. Rather than taming complexity, complexity may well be taming me.
Meredith Davis, a design educator from North Carolina who has been foundational in one of the first design PhD programs in the States, says that design education today is ill equipped to deal with complexity thus students today are leaving programs ill equipped to actually function as designers in society.
Design education is defaulting to simplistic, reductionist methods allowing a student to “solve” a visual problem over the cycle of an eight, ten, or sixteen-week class. Though these problems are somewhat grounded in real-world practice, they are always under the control of the teacher. In this narrative, students do not learn to navigate the complexity rather they have the illusion, as I did, of taming a creature that in fact…was never fully wild to begin with. Davis calls on educators to make pedagogical shifts so that students’ educational journeys are more about learning to be comfortable living in the complexity rather than reactively reducing or taming it.
This morning my supervisor was part of an opening keynote debate on the shortcomings of art + design education at the Designs on eLearning (DeL) Conference, an international conference on technology in art + design higher education. Though I completely wanted to attend in person because technology in art + design higher education is basically my life, a whole bunch of complex and decidedly un-tameable (hahaa) circumstances prevented me from making that a reality.
And so this morning I drank coffee in my pajamas with Ruby Joy and tried my best to hear from a seat about 700 miles west of center stage, mediated completely by Twitter. Though he’s lately been very into emotions and wellness and what it means to be human, I don’t see my supervisor as being a particularly relevant guy to the artsy crowd so I was curious just what he’d have to say about the shortcomings of art + design education.
That said, though my perspective was exceptionally limited as it was cobbled together from the experience of about three people live tweeting, it seemed as things unfolded….he and Meredith Davis are apparently besties.
According to my supervisor, design education is failing in its ability to provide students with experience navigating complex systems. It’s solutionist and reductionist and ultimately views the world as a complicated set of items to be sorted and classified as opposed to a complex set of variables with multiple points of engagement that no one person can fully grasp. Design goes for the low hanging fruit of pleasing aesthetics while ignoring the deeper issues of social justice, cultural engagement, and sustainability. In other words…design education is operating under the assumption that if we can tame the wild things—charm them into submission so they look respectable, this is enough.
I want to say that I don’t agree with him and as design educators we’re so far evolved that it’s all about systems thinking and design-for-good and equality and yet…I know what my curriculum looks like and I know my institution-mandated learning objectives and both skew way more toward surface-level taming, with as little complexity as possible.
That said I also know educators who are making a profound impact moving design from exclusive studio space to inclusive interdisciplinary domains. In many ways I think they are living in embodied solidarity with the wild things and both their students and their institutions are much better for it. I hope this is our future.
It was a fun + challenging dialogue to watch (in a highly detached manner) as it unfolded. I think it’s very good for design to have these dialogues, as I know too well from conferences I’ve been to it’s too easy as educators to geek out about visuals and type and the minutia we’re all passionate about and forget that we have actual human students in our care and nurturing them to care about the world by interfacing their skill set may well be even more important than making sure their type skills are flawless (or perhaps a very very close second)….maybe my supervisor is relevant to the artsy crowd after all.
September 9, 2016
Disclaimer: This post was written initially as a reflection piece for Athabasca University 806: Doctoral Research Seminar.
Growing up as a child of the 1980’s, I was a massive fan of The Muppets. The Muppet movies from that era (in good old VHS complete with fuzzy bits) were on repeat and I could (and actually still can) recite almost verbatim most of the dialogue. Though this personal eccentricity seems like it has no relevance to Lisa-of-2016-as-a Doctoral-Student, tonight during our bi-weekly 806 check-in, the Muppets were very much on my mind and I think might still have much to teach us about life in general and this doctoral process in particular.
As a bit of quick background, in the third movie, The Muppets Take Manhattan, the Muppet troupe endeavors to “take Manhattan”, break into Broadway and become rich and famous. They quickly realize Manhattan is a tough city and are forced to split up and go their own ways.
But (as shown in a very creative 1980s montage) each individual never quite makes it on his or her own without the wider community. When all seems lost, through a series of miraculous events, Kermit finds a way to fund the show and everyone comes from far and near to help out. Together they finally create the Broadway blockbuster they had always hoped for. The show opens with the song Together Again and each character takes their turn singing about how amazing it is to in fact be “together again,” reunited once more because, “no feeling feels like the feeling of…together again.”
Tonight as each person was checking in and sharing their summer story I realized afresh how thankful I am that I get to go on this journey with a small group of fellow misfits and how amazing it feels to indeed be “together again” in 806.
I think my supervisor’s great but…there’s just something about getting back into a routine (however loose) with others that are familiar-like-family that feels refreshing because I can let the community carry part of the load that is being a doctoral student. It feels a bit like the exhale of a breadth I’ve been holding for way too long.
During our meeting, each person shared some variation of “I wanted my summer to be about ________ but then life happened and I discovered ________. But now that I’m back I am ready to get serious again about _________.”
I get it.
I wanted my summer to be about me writing the perfect proposal (complete with my supervisor weeping) and then getting unconditionally passed by my committee. But then life happened and I discovered the world of art and design education is exponentially more complex than I realized and I will not change an entire system with 200 parsimonious pages…my research will just create a space where people can connect—where fear can be diffused and this is enough. Now that I’m back I am ready to get serious again about doing the work that is mine alone.
When I was a kid, I always wondered how the Muppets felt living in a world that was largely populated with humans. They certainly seemed to know what to do to get by and yet…I wondered how it felt to live in the tension of being just a little bit different.
In many ways I think we as students on this doctoral journey are all a bit like Muppets because we all must know what to do to survive in the day-to-day world of work and family and neighborhood and yet…under it all we also have a constant awareness that there are things that are ours to do that are decidedly unlike most of the people we meet. We’re a little bit different. I know in my life that’s been an underlying tension I’ve felt since starting the program three years ago.
While I have no doubt we could all be solo superheroes, I think there may actually be something to the power of “together” and particularly…“together again.”
And indeed…no feeling feels like the feeling of…together again (in 806).
See an abbreviated clip of the Muppets here:
July 27, 2016
Hello Digital Pedagogy 2016 Attenders!
Though I know you’re different than I am, the academic environment in VA is way different than WI, and the second time is inherently different than the first time around, I thought it might be helpful to share a couple recommendations.
So first…congratulations on making the choice to pack up your life for a week, trek to Virginia, and be open to whatever may happen! If you’re anything like me, the prospect of week-long sleep away summer camp (complete with pedagogy rockstar counselors) is ridiculously exciting and also (if you’re totally honest) a a bit terrifying. Embrace and be open to both the excitement and the terror because they’re both giving you good practice being a “normal human”…which is the best way to receive what will happen during the week. Though no doubt robots and machine learning will be hot topics during the week…digped is messy human to its core.
Along these lines, jump into things as soon as you can. For me as a super introvert, my first impulse is to watch from the sidelines, assess the situation–be aware of all exit routes. If this sounds like you too…totally cool…but for this week try to do the complete opposite. Introduce yourself, meet people, share your ideas and your background and your story and do everything in your power to make others feel comfortable so that they can do the same. These are your people…this is your team for the days ahead when you’re going to be called upon to do difficult, vulnerable work so do your part to make sure everyone is seen and heard and valued.
Next, be intentional about making time to hang out with others outside of your track. This is one of my regrets about my DigPedLab experience. I was part of the Networks Track and we were a tight knit crew, which I completely loved. However…we became so comfortable with each other that as the week progressed I found myself seeking them out in common sessions, at meal times, even on Twitter so we could continue to conversations we began in our own dedicated meeting times. I think finding your tribe inside your team is vital but…stay curious about how other tracks are coming along and what other tribes are learning. It sounds simple, but try sitting with new people at meals and in large sessions and again ask questions and share and learn from their learning too.
Third, (and somewhat paradoxically as the undercurrent of the previous paragraphs have been “go!” “meet!” “be best friends with everyone!”) take time away from DigPedLab when you need it. DigPedLab is a marathon. Five days is a long time to live in such a high challenge, high contact, high engagement space. Sean Michael Morris and Jessie Stommel always encouraged us that if we needed to skip a session and go be in nature or go take a nap or just go mindlessly drink beer and eat brats (remember…we were in Wisconsin) do it and feel no shame because part of pedagogy is knowing how to self regulate. Needing to take some time off doesn’t mean you’re weak or not as dedicated as other participants…process at your own pace. The conversation will always be ready to welcome you when you get back.
Finally, remember to share with all of the DigPedLab attenders who may not be physically present in VA but who inevitably will make their presence known via Twitter, Virtually Connecting, etc. Donna Lanclos write a brilliant piece about Absence Presence DigPed PEI.
It’s a weird mind warp all the ways boundaries are hazy and soft when people aren’t limited by presence meaning same time zone or geographic real estate. As physical attenders, you all have the “front row seats” on the action so relish it and be fully present but also remember that there’s a whole metaphorical stadium around the world also attending with you. Share your thoughts via the hashtag (if you’re comfortable), share your reflections via a blog (again if you’re comfortable), find a Virtually Connecting hangout and get some camera time (guaranatee that won’t be comfortable but…will be worth it! : ).
The power in these ideas and experiences is ultimately in the ways they can be fluid and living–growing and evolving. The seeds from DigPedLab are wildflowers scattering on the wind, resilient and bringing beauty wherever they land. Treasure the ways your experience is fully yours…special to you alone, but scatter too and see how your experience can transform in ways you cannot even imagine.
June 7, 2016
To continue this season of firsts…tomorrow is my first foray into the world of being a remote panelist as part of the Virtual Connecting session at the T3 Conference. Two weeks ago I led my first panel in person at the UCDA Graphic Design Education Summit and had two remote panelists as part of my panel so…it’ll be an interesting experience to be on the other side and see how it feels.
As I’ve been both on vacation and pre-occupied (or perhaps obsessed) with what feels like the never-ending quest to write my dissertation proposal I had thought a bit about what I will say about Virtually Connecting, my questions for the others, etc. but I hadn’t yet visited the conference site to know the larger context for the panel. This morning I thought perhaps that would be prudent so I logged in, read a bit, and eventually found the following image:
Apparently the panel will be composed of three amazing ladies who do cool stuff like teach and write and start things and one name who is basically a blank space–an empty circle of nothingness. Though I know this lack of information has everything to do with the fact that I’d not updated my conference profile and was in no way a prophetic reflection on my own identity, in darker moments (which as a doctoral student who is, as mentioned above, on the never-ending quest to write a dissertation proposal seem to happen like clockwork) this feels exactly the right descriptor of me: blank, empty nothingness nested between people who are parsimonious and winsome—generally way more grounded than I am and probably ever will be.
Which, crazy as it sounds, is a perfect segway into why I am such a fan of Virtually Connecting.
As someone with very limited income, being part of Virtually Connecting has given me access to events that I otherwise would have no chance to attend. With this access comes pretty amazing content but even more comes invaluable exposure to the “human creator” that is behind behind every idea. This latter element is admittedly what I love the most. Three years of being a doctoral student means I am getting the hang of how you write as an academic, engage with ideas, etc. but…I’m still super curious as to how one actually lives as an academic.
One of my favorite parts of Virtually Connecting is its casual immediacy and spontaneous insight. Seeing the kind of “unplugged” version of people I’ve previously only encountered in highly polished + edited perfection is so refreshing. Perhaps it’s just me but…I think this modeling of open sharing and community amongst participants as all are willing to jump into an experience that is fully unpredictable and emergent is so inspiring because it reminds me that behind all of these ideas are humans who actually aren’t all that different than me. If they’ve done it…perhaps someday I too will find my way and be able to help others along.
And so tomorrow as I am a panelist amongst three amazing ladies who do cool stuff like teach and write and start things, may I model open sharing, be willing to jump in to an experience that is fully unpredictable and emergent and remember how amazing it is to share being human as…we all find our way together.