Posts from the ‘reflection’ Category
August 7, 2017
And just like that…five weeks have passed. Week seven is in the books and I’m on the brink of my eighth week as a research gathering instrument. Though I had all good intentions of keeping up the weekly check in, the past month plus has been spent on the road visiting friends, visiting family, being a bridesmaid, and further fine tuning my packing skills by moving locations every two to three days. It was amazing though it did make me realize that life on the road and life as a writer are, for me at least, not so compatible.
The good news is I was interviewing (from such memorable locations as small closets and many a hotel room) and transcribing consistently so now have fourteen interviews down (when I left though I hoped to hit ten…I was stuck for awhile at seven…well laid plans are basically a siren call for unexpected chaos to enter the research process…frustrating but you do survive). I will have number fifteen tomorrow and will, hopefully, reach twenty by the end of August. I also have the first focus group scheduled for today beginning phase two of my research design.
Looking back at my life as a researcher these past five weeks, I can say with complete certainly I’ve become a much better interviewer. I’m much more comfortable listening without low grade panic that I won’t get good data. I’m much better at ignoring the voices of my own neurotic insecurities and entering wholly into the world of my interviewee. Its been such an honor to receive stories from each of my participants and I hope for them too it has been a good experience of being heard. As a person who naturally skews private and may even be guilty of seeing people more as a bit inconvenient to a very rich personal, interior world in my own head…the gift of intimacy has been humbling and inspiring to me on a personal level.
On a more practical note, its also been interesting going so deep into the qualitative research process. In many ways, it feels like a totally inefficient method and one I’d kind of not recommend to anyone who isn’t okay with very high levels of ambiguity. There is such a steep learning curve—the friction in human to human communication of any sort is a challenge to navigate and requires pretty deep reflection to test out and sort through. You will become hopelessly interwoven with your data and vice versa. This will most likely bring up things you never anticipated…its good stuff if you discipline yourself to work through it but…it will require work.
For example, I’m beginning to code my data which means I’ve concurrently begun fantasizing about algorithms that might do this all for me—computer code lines that I can blindly trust so I don’t have to deal with learning to trust myself again in this new endeavor. Like interviewing, like presenting, like writing…I know the early stages of fear and uncertainly always evolve into some level of mastery but like all of the former…knowing and feeling are sometimes diametrically opposed.
And so week seven of being a research gathering instrument finds me back at it again, showing up for the work with eager anticipation and a humble spirit ready to learn remember that this time and this challenge truly is a gift.
June 25, 2017
And just like that, I’ve amassed another week of life as a research instrument. This week has brought three more interviews and revealed what I hope are the first glimmers of actual categories emerging. In addition, I’m getting way better at interviewing, meaning I’m talking much less and listening feels like it’s slightly less exhausting than it was last week. Finally, I think I’m about 20% speedier with transcription and data cleaning than I was last week…which is massive.
My goal for this upcoming week is to get in four more interviews and bring my total up to ten. Though I was hopeful that having two people tell me almost verbatim the same info meant I was saturating a category thus could be one of those GT anomalies that only has to interview like eight people total to come up with a brilliant and robust theory…on my last chat with the supervisor he seemed to be using the phrase “at least twenty” quite a bit. If I can hit ten by the end of next week, I can use the following week when it seems many people take vacation to do a deep dive into actually assessing all thats come in on a somewhat deeper level and then strategize from there (yeah…gathering and assessing concurrently is a not so much thing not because I don’t believe in it but it feels like so much mental gymnastics to go back and forth so for me at least I think I need one of the other.)
In all honesty, the prospect of chatting with at least fourteen more people doesn’t feel like a bad thing because while its challenging and all to hold interviews, transcribe, etc. its even more super interesting to get a window into how diverse the world of design education really is. So far I’ve only swam in the pool of North American educators but in many ways between institution type and student population, all my participants seem to be worlds apart. This week I begin adding in international perspective to the mix (yep…first interview time where time zone is completely not in my favor but all part of the process) so it will be very cool to see if/how that perspective shifts anything.
And so week two check in seems a bit less dramatic than week one but I’m cool with it. There is indeed beauty in the routine slog and much celebration too that I’m actually at. this. place.
June 17, 2017
- Three interviews down.
- Two more scheduled.
- Multiple memos on all sorts of things.
- A coding scheme (that admittedly only exists in my head so far but still…that somewhat counts, eh?)
Time to make good on the whole “back to blogging” promise of last month and actually get back to the writing process about life in this interstitial place that is being a doctoral candidate and now also a research gathering instrument (related: I now relate way more closely to the non-human actors of surveys, questionnaires, etc.)
I still think that the whole doctoral process has two distinct parts to it. There’s the “constructing new knowledge part,” which is why you initially write the application letter, how you justify the tuition payments, what you tell people you want to impress at parties, and generally what seems to be the main impetus for doing a doctorate.
Then there’s the “constructing a new you part” which you definitely don’t put into the application letter, makes you constantly question if those tuition payments might be better spent on therapy…or maybe a beach house, and what you only likely bring up at parties after copious amounts of whiskey have made an appearance. As this is based on a sample of one, I cannot say this is a universal but I’m pretty sure “personal growth and transformation by being forced to work through my own issues” has not been on anyone’s list of “why do a doctorate?”
Yet, through my own nearly four years in, it is the latter that keeps surprising and fascinating me. Though this may be because I’m introverted and more than a little self absorbed, I still think there’s something to it.
And, as this is my blog for the next couple weeks “back to blogging” is going to look a lot like “here’s what I learned this week” through the process (and yep, these learnings are all helping me work through my “issues”.)
- Follow the flow. (or how I’m learning if I want people to take me into the rich parts of their stories, I must show up and be patient.)
Though I’m tightly planned in this endeavor and have the whole process journey mapped out, researching with humans (and I’m going to even say researching as a human) means it’s all inherently an experimental process. Hands down the biggest thing I learned this week is to be present fully with participants so they trust me and allow me to meander along with them as they share their ideas and process their motivations. It’s not a linear process for my participants and I must be open to the wander because then I can be part of the discovery. As a researcher I never realized what an intimate thing it is to gain access into participant experiences but I now realize these interviews are indeed somewhat sacred moments.
- Video is worth it (or how I’m learning to cringe a bit less at my own voice, gesturing, and generally be less self conscious.)
On my REB application, I had to do all sorts of justification as to why I wanted to use video. At one point I was ready to scrap it as in all honesty I didn’t have a great reason beyond just I thought it would be more personal to have faces than to just have voices. Though it was a hassle to justify, I’m 1000% glad I did because seeing expressions and gestures has made the data much richer than just voice alone could. Conversely, I feel like my participants seeing me in all my quirkiness (including with a small dog at one point) has made them feel more open and again helped them trust me.
- Listening is hard work. (or how I’m learning to not just nod and murmur comprehension all the while daydreaming but actually internalize what is being said.)
It seems fairly straightforward that in an interview you’d ask a question, the participant would answer, and you’d follow this pattern for the hour. Turns out because my interviews are unstructured, questions don’t occur in a linear manner but instead weave in and out of what is being said. Many times multiple questions get answered without me explicitly asking and even better, often questions I didn’t even think of are “answered” as I learn to step back and listen to my participants. This is hard stuff to navigate because if I haven’t been listening carefully it’s immediately apparent. On the other hand, if I am listening closely I can further prod and we can go even deeper together as we connect past segments together and see what more emerges.
April 3, 2017
- Created a prelim slide flow with educated guesses as to what will go where and why.
- Took a very long walk and tried to think of good visual metaphors for transient spaces that might guide the overall design of the presentation. So far inspirations include: air plants (no roots!), rock climbing (ever changing topography calls for ever nimble response!), and points on a map (movement and networks!) but I’m still too in love with the look + feel of my initial presentation to make a logical design decision.
- I’m thinking this writing every day idea was a stupid idea because so much of process is mulling ideas while doing other stuff. Or perhaps…the weekend won (as it always should). Anyways…tomorrow is a new day.
April 1, 2017
Today marks twenty days until I formally defend my dissertation proposal (April 21!!!)
Today also marks the first day of a new month and the somewhat recent beginning of a new season here in the northern hemisphere. The freshness of new and the round number of days until the “big day” clearly means I’d forever regret not starting a twenty day writing challenge (or at least…on the first day this seems like a good idea.)
In all seriousness, this feels like an important season in the long, liminal space of being a doctoral student. I feel I’m maybe on the brink of the next step (which I fully cannot imagine) and though I’m trying my best to be present in the moment…the emotions are running high and the days are far from being well curated mindful polaroids. I think if I don’t consciously leave some sort of trace—engage in some list making and reflection, I’ll lose some this season in a blur of just trying to stay afloat.
500 words max each day outlining + updating the following:
Oh, of course use Scrivener to compose all of the above because nothing like learning via blogging! And to Dr. Lisa of the future…I hope you are smiling as you reflect back on these salad days. : )
- Further refined the presentation outline. With 14 sections and 20 minutes max things are looking good.
- Began brainstorming a graphical model of traditional F2F studio pedagogy and studio learning in a more open/less transmissive space to show visually my study focus. Hopefully this will not “lull” (*committee member’s word) audience into thinking I’m going full online only to bait and switch that I’m actually more curious about the deviant motivations + behaviors of educators who have ever reason to go full traditional but choose to augment + expand their studio spaces vie the internet.
- Added paragraph to the proposal on tacit knowledge a la Polanyi to Ch. 1 (fully aware no one will see this until post defense but still…good to put it in while its fresh in my head)
- Bulked up on McLuhan reading…pretty sure he can get a passing reference and add “gravitas” (*committee member’s word) in the “Problem Statement” zone with his message + medium thinking re: interaction and spaces and pedagogy and medium
- Summarized Polyani’s ideas to a cohort mate and now feel 30% more confident in his thinking re:tacit knowledge (bonus: told my parents too…now we’re all way more aware of the tacit knowledge sprinkled through our day…which might make it less tacit…hmmm….)
- Began scouting out blended/hybrid lit to possibly incorporate into the lit review per committee feedback
- Began trying to detangle “New Media” per committee feedback (spoiler alert: it feels super opaque and gimmicky but trying to keep an open mind)
- Realized this morning while running that I’ve already presented to two of my committee members on these ideas and I’ve lived through it (they might have even actually liked and been interested and encouraging in my ideas…shocking, eh?). Also, I’ve gotten over being scared of my supervisor so in all honesty, I probably don’t need to use mental effort to make up and play out scary stories of insecurity about what’s going to happen and if I will live. I could make up scary stories of insecurity about my external but as I’m still filled with warm fuzzies that he did in fact accept being my external, imagining him as anything but benevolent feels wrong. This all sounds quite silly when its written but it did feel like a giant exhale to realize…like maybe this whole thing will be okay after all.
- Read blended/hybrid lit to see if it’s necessary or just a rabbit hole
- Read New Media lit with a consciously nonjudgmental attitude to see if it’s necessary/beneficial to my overall narrative
- Slide Design 1.0
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.
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.