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on teaching (or more honestly learning to learn) in complexity

January 26, 2019

lisa hammershaimb

Just over two weeks ago I attended the Teaching Complexity, an online hour-long seminar with University of the Arts London. (The annotated screenshots above are my notes.) Bonnie Stewart and Amy Collier unpacked the Cynefin framework, connected learning, and led us in several communal reflective exercises about our own digital practices, our own pedagogical practices, and the ways these two things may or may not overlap. When I was working on my doctorate, I attended many of these types of mind-opening sessions where, through the magic that is the internet, you get to serendipitously meet other people across all the time zones. I became good at the jumping in, meeting people, and following both speaker and the disparate threads of text-based chat communication that scrolls in simultaneous commentary during the main presentation. 

Since becoming Dr. Hammershaimb, I will confess I’ve mostly hung out in my own time zone. If I’m honest, I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate these interweb academic communities in life post-doc. Because of this connected learning atrophy, the first several minutes of the session were completely overwhelming. We were introducing ourselves, we were writing on the shared whiteboard, we were watching a presenter video, we were figuring out the Adobe Connect interface. (Added to the mix, I was also attending en route to New York City which meant patchy travel wifi added a whole other dimension.) It was unnerving to feel like such an outsider and I was more than a little surprised at just how hard it felt to figure out what was going on. 

Just over one week ago I attended a fellowship in New York City, a three-day event with Design Incubation. The fellowship brings a small number of design academics from all over the world together for a sort of “writing boot camp.” The days were long, filled with discussions of rhetoric and how to navigate the word of publishing. Each participant worked with both a mentor and the larger community to refine their project. My project was an article I’d roughly crafted from my dissertation. When I was working on my doctorate, I was writing for a couple hours every day and became good at losing myself in written language, playing with cadence and rhythm—challenging myself to see how much I could take away so my core message would shine through clearly. 

But, little by little I began to jump into the connected swirl with curiosity rather than trying to figure out a cohesive flow to the ideas. It was messy and imperfect and I felt like I was always three steps behind where I wanted to be but I also left the session re-inspired by the potential of online community. This is something I haven’t felt in a very very long time.  I’ve already marked the calendar for the next session.

Since becoming Dr. Hammershaimb, I will confess I’ve mostly watched a lot of Island House Hunters and Caribbean Life. Getting back to writing is something I know I should do but if I’m honest, I don’t quite know what it means to write in life post-doc. Also, vicariously house hunting for beachfront property is uniquely addicting. During the fellowship, we had a couple long chunks dedicated to working on our writing. We sat silence in a quiet classroom overlooking a busy corner of the East Village. For at least the first twenty or so minutes of each writing block I did more staring out the window wondering about the lives of the quirky New Yorkers rushing by than writing any words on my screen. I was more than a little surprised at how hard it felt to focus.  

But, little by little I began to jump back into the words before me. Seeing my dissertation through the eyes of my writing small group gave me new perspective. Their enthusiasm and framing managed to reincarnate ideas that had long ago become old news to me. Even more, the practice of just sitting with the content within the community of my writing small group gave me the accountability I needed to wade through all the twitchy excuses I generally can’t get beyond when trying to write alone. When the fellowship was over a friend asked if I had any “main takeaways” from the experience. I told her all sorts of stuff I’d learned about grammar and rhetoric and the importance of having your lawyer read your book contract (should you ever get one). These things are quite true but the more I think about it, I think what I am most taking away is a reconnection with Lisa-the-Writer. This is something I haven’t felt in a very very long time.  

Just over three weeks ago 2019 arrived with, at least in my house, very little fanfare. 2019 feels like its beginning on a very different tone than 2018—it is ambient music instead of improvisational jazz. If I’m honest, the change takes a little getting used to but I am hopeful it will be a year of jumping in with curiosity, sharing my ideas with others, and showing up, though it may be uncomfortable. I am hopeful 2019 will be filled with opportunities to reconnect with things I haven’t felt in a very very long time. 

countdown to convocation: day 34

April 4, 2018

lisa hammershaimb

April 3
Convocation Countdown: 28 days
Presentation Countdown: 3 days

Today begins the final, final read through the dissertation to prepare for the defense. You know that thing where it is difficult to hear yourself recorded because you end up thinking so much about how you sound that you forget to listen to what you are actually saying? Reading my dissertation is basically that…except with words. I have the urge to remove sentences, reorder paragraphs and generally tidy up rather than do the one ting I need to do which is sit in it and stay put.

So yeah…it is slow going to say the least. Though I know I will power through, it definitely may be more an exercise in grit as opposed to happy nostalgia. This is making me even more glad I’m at 112 pages total. Double spaced.

Speaking of grit…back to it.

day 21 (of 20)

April 22, 2017

lisa hammershaimb


  • One SUCCESSFUL candidacy oral defense presentation! (Which feels like really maybe three life events rolled into one because speaking a presentation plus taking two rounds of questions….woah.)

This morning I woke up with the goal of keeping my mind as black as possible for as long as possible leading up to the 2:30 start time. My theory was that all the words and info were as settled into me as they possibly could be thus if I could just let the accumulated wisdom be the thing that drove me onwards…all would be good. If I let my pesky neurotic brain take over…things might not go so good.

So…I moved slowly through the day, went shopping, and generally puttered around all with the goal of not thinking. It mostly worked as I was able to make it to about 1:15 before the full gravitas of the situation hit me. Luckily by that time, time was already so close so I didn’t spend all that long in the “oh my goodness….what am I doing???” mode. After a practice round, a mega dose of magnesium, and a couple final touches on my webcam background, I logged in and basically the jet plane took off so there was no looking back. Roughly two hours later, after a presentation and two full and thorough rounds of questioning, I was politely asked to leave the meeting while the committee deliberated and then about ten minutes later called to re-join and given the good news that I was indeed a pass.

I’ve heard from people before that the presentation part is the nerve wracking part and then the questions turn into a fun experience because you get the chance to speak in depth to people who have read your work and are actually curious and interested in what you are doing. I have no doubt that this is true for others but I will say that my experience was almost the complete opposite. For me the presentation felt great and I think because I’d practice so much it felt like everything came together just right at the right time and in the right way. The questions on the other hand felt exhausting because I felt like I had to pay super close attention to the words and the overall nuance and remember the whys and the hows behind each of the points the committee was questioning. I came into the experience thinking that it would basically be a convivial chat but yeah…for me it was more like a marathon of looking at and trying to explain my own motivations. I think one of my best and worst attributes is that I act on instinct and what “seems” right for the moment and the situation and hold loosely onto any given situation. While that gets me nicely through daily life, that doesn’t seem to hold water in an academic sense so trying to get back to the real, root why took a somewhat profound set of mental gymnastics. But apparently, I was up to the task as I convinced the committee!

I’m still in awe that it’s done, I’m through, etc. I think this will take a couple days to sink in. And I’m fairly sure tomorrow I’m going to wake up with the same resident knot in my stomach that moved in just about a month ago and get to first remember all over again it’s done and then celebrate once more that this season is done. I know that there is so much massive work ahead of me and this is only just the beginning for now….I can rest.

day 20 (of 20)

April 21, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

*Further proof doing anything numerical and quantitative might not be a good choice: for the last 20 days I thought that when the magical 20/20 would arrive I would actually be on my candidacy day. Oops. 


  • More practice runs with the fam
  • More tiny tweaks to slides and script
  • One full read through the written proposal noting stuff and reacquainting myself
  • Much staring blankly at the wall thinking woah…you are actually in. this. moment.

Again…nothing very sexy. Lots of talking and recording and more talking and trying to consciously slow myself down as I am talking. I’m so close now that I know I have lost the ability to hear myself talk and assess things like speed and coherence. This is comforting because I think it means I’m developing vocal chord memory (if that’s even a thing) of these words. This is unnerving because the words feel more like just noise than anything coherent.

Whatever happens…I’m deeply proud of myself for making it to this point and through these twenty days of very conscious reflection and discipline. It feels like my whole world is basically cheering me on and confident in my abilities and sending an insane amount of positive energy my way. It’s nice to be loved so well and supported so fully.

I wish I could peak into the future and see how it all turns out…just a tiny glimpse like reading the last couple pages of a chapter before beginning it. That said it seems like the theme of this whole season has been learning to trust. First it was trusting the call to this research area, this kind of alignment of my interest and story with this hole in documentation and research. Next it was trusting my supervisor to take care of me and advocate–to carry me through a system that I could not enter. I think now I’m learning to trust myself and the strength that I know is deep inside me, the strength that has been forged through all the months of just showing up daily to the process with open hands. It’s easy right now to say this is the hardest season of all but I think while enmeshed in any of the previous trust learnings…I’d say that was the hardest because it was the one where I was situated–present context has an acute discomfort that time always dulls.

And so, though there will be no peaking to the end of the chapter, no reading ahead to see how it turns out and if the tears will be frustrated ones of happy ones at least I get to do this process with a pretty amazing girl who’s admittedly deeply quirky and has her moments but when it comes down to it…is also totally strong, totally trustworthy, and will totally make it through, whatever twists and turns may or may not occur.

day 19 (of 20)

April 20, 2017

lisa hammershaimb


  • Two complete run throughs including Q+A chat time with two completely different groupings of academics. Whew.

Today felt like a good run through for the “real day.” The first presentation was late afternoon (much like it will be on Friday) so I practiced trying to be a normal human for the morning and early afternoon–not giving too much into the desire to run into the mountains screaming, curl into the fetal position under the covers, etc. It helped that I had extended work meetings but even so, I think I have a somewhat good mental game plan for Friday morning.

The two groups I practiced with were composed of pretty vastly different academics. It was interesting to see and gauge reactions which honestly were quite different.

I left the first presentation (made up of primarily quantitative-oriented researchers) feeling deeply relieved that the experience was over. I think their comments and viewpoints were quite valid and interesting but they felt so far removed from my own grounding that enacting them in the ways they outlined really felt like they would remove “me” from the experience. As its ultimately my research (even though I’m not making the mistake that this will define me) this would be quite problematic. So…overall the experience felt super beneficial to see things from a viewpoint far outside of my own and also somehow through their eyes look back to be able to see, even more, where my own lines lie.

The second presentation was to people who are enrolled in the same program and institution as me. Though we are all studying different areas and are in no way really homogeneous…it still feels a bit to me like we’re an extended family and as such they’re a bit less intimidating. (Also…it was the second presentation so I didn’t have to wonder “if” I’d make it as just over an hour ago…I had.) The questions swirled around an entirely different set of items and they challenged me to dig into and consider some deeper “whys” in the research, digging into both its foundation and my own as an educator. I left the second presentation feeling profoundly thankful to have found this community.

And so one. more. day.

day 18 (of 20)

April 19, 2017

lisa hammershaimb


  • Another day, another practice run (or actually many many practice runs but…just one recording.)
  • More answers to questions that may or may not be asked
  • Many more deep breadths
  • Printed out all 82 pages of the proposal in case someone wants to reference a specific section and I need to do some quick scanning (because clearly 82 pages and swiftness go hand in hand!)

Not much new stuff to report. I am getting slightly better at not thinking panicked, irrational thoughts whilst in the early stages of the presentation but still tend to think around slide 13/14 that time has basically stopped and slide 41 will never arrive. Actually, I think I might just be getting better at ignoring said panicked, irrational thoughts. Tomorrow’s the double feature practice run with presenting to both the research lab and 806 so hopefully by tomorrow at this time I’ll be completely confident, and psyched-up-yet-relaxed leading up to Friday.

I got the “official” letter today outlining the process for Friday including timing, expectations, etc. It’s crazy to think that about a month and a half ago I was consumed with the angst of not having an external and could not imagine both having an external and being just a couple days from the main event. Though I would not wish the stress of this past season on anyone, looking back I think the ways it broke me were almost catalytic in the growth that I know is happening to me as I begin to build the “what’s next” bit of whatever the new season might bring.

day 17 (of 20)

April 18, 2017

lisa hammershaimb


  • Newly updated slides! (now with….page numbers! and even references!) Proposal_Presentation_V2
  • Newly updated script! (not quite updated with page numbers) Proposal_Outline_041717
  • Questions actually with answers! (well…some of them) Questions_to_Answer
  • More video recorded rehearsals (which I’ll not upload since…more of the same)

Literally…not many days from now is the. big. day. I think this knowledge is helping me focus and (hopefully) helping give my brain the extra incentive it needs to cram in some more info about coding schemes and data gathering and all the whys and hows and what-ifs that I think I need to be conversant on to make a good showing on these things. This final run is all about being focused-yet-cool as the last thing I need to do is amp myself up any more. So…from here on out it’s about working out the kinks and getting enough rest so I can keep myself in the mental good zone as long as possible.

Literally…not many days from now is the. big. day. (monumental enough to say twice.) Yesterday if I was completely honest, I would have said that even underlying a day that is a super holiday in my book…there was an undercurrent of panicky anxiety inside me that the day was coming faster than I was going to be ready for it and I was most likely going to get sucked under like a bad wave and probably never emerge.

I’m so thankful that this morning it had all washed away and between emails from my supervisor, another round of good practice sessions, and lots of time spent strategizing questions-with-answers, I’m finishing the day feeling way more grounded. In addition, I think yesterday was still the speculative “next week it happens” realm so I could comfortably catastrophize. It’s now the realm of “this week” and as such there’s neither room nor time for mental shenanigans. And so…onward it is as the countdown begins in earnest!

day 16 (of 20)

April 17, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

Today was 98% holiday, 2% presentation. Apparently by practicing, I’m actually getting longer in length….this is good because it means I’m better at actually taking breadths. This is bad because at the 20 minute mark—I have no idea what happens but I have a feeling it’s nothing good. After today’s session I have all of about 3 seconds to play with. I don’t think this is a big deal quite yet but if I get really great at the whole breathing thing…I may need to shave off some of the syllables.


day 15 (of 20)

April 16, 2017

lisa hammershaimb


  • Cleaned up tiny design details within the slides.
  • Cleaned up tiny wording details within the script.
  • Recorded the full presentation and began the listening to aid memorization. You too can watch and listen!

Today was a good, steady work day broken up by lots of sunshine and walks. Time off yesterday was definitely worth it as today I could focus way better.

After listening to the recording, I think overall I sound great! (and oddly like I am from the East Coast at times…apparently my inner New Yorker comes out in times of speaking all the words…good to know.) This was a good confidence booster as admittedly the mental picture I have of myself delivering this content has yet to reach the view others seem to be assuring me they see in me. Hearing myself helps me get enough distance to be able to pat myself on the shoulder (metaphorically) and say, “Wow Lisa, you may be scared but good for you showing up and getting it done!”

Easter it up! And….begin working in earnest to memorize stuff because me talking is a million times easier than me reading out loud.

day 14 (of 20)

April 15, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

Some days you do a lot, other days you do basically nothing. Today was the latter. Though it’s tempting to feel stress and guilt and all the “what if’s” and “shoulds” because I am just one week until the official, official day, I’m actually 100% okay with accomplishing nothing today because….balance.

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