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to convocation and beyond (or beginning the autoethnography that is post doc life)

July 16, 2018

lisa hammershaimb

And now, it’s been just over one month since convocation. (Which conveniently can be viewed here! I appear around the 32 minute mark.) Last month I was in Canada, donning robes that would not be out of place at Hogwart’s, remembering to smile, remembering to breathe, doing all I could to be emotionally and physically present to every. single. second.

This was the fourth convocation I’ve been part of (three where I was a student and one where I was acting program dean.) The venues ranged from a chapel-like auditorium with distinctly puritanical decor to a massive arena which was built in the early 1940s as a livestock showcase, to a turn of the century art deco theater–heavy on the gold, to most recently a large multipurpose room in a sports complex, adjacent to a curling rink because….Canada. Though location, institution, and overall tone differed in pretty profound ways, I am convinced there is nothing quite like the magic of convocation. I know it is more a formality than anything–the hard work and deep transformation happens in all the mundane daily months and years leading up to it but still…there is romance in hearing your name called and walking across a stage to mark physically the identity shift that has been happening behind the scenes.

Before the big day I was 100% prepared to be an emotional mess and cry through most of the proceedings because this was legit such a big deal. Turns out, the only time I got even a little misty was during an acapella trilingual rendition of Oh Canada. It was equal parts joyful and haunting and, to my American ears, felt like a beautiful sign of inclusivity. Oh Canada indeed. Regarding my own role in the big day, I was number two of about three hundred graduates. As my name was called it was an out of body experience, floating from receiving my hood to a handshake to a photo to more handshakes to an exit stage right. I remember lots of lights, and lots of smiles from people in elaborate robes, and mumbling lots of thank you’s to said smiles and fancy robes. It was perfect.

The remainder of the event (because about three hundred graduates equals about three hours) was spent sitting on stage (in the second row) trying to chat discretely with my fellow doctors, regretting how much water I drank before the event, and repeating in my head “you did it Lisa!” Then the bagpipes began, the Mountie reappeared and I progressed off the stage and into the happy congratulatory chaos from my family (both biological and cohort). I 100% felt like a doctor. Also, it must have worked because I immediately stopped having panicked dreams that about the Faculty of Grad Studies telling me I need to redo all. the. things. Ruby appeared fully robed a short time later for a photoshoot and once again…it was perfect.

Since convocation I’ve been mostly on the move in the annual tradition of #nomadsummer. Last summer #nomadsummer meant I conducted dissertation research interviews throughout five different states and two countries and never stopped being thankful (and kind of amazed) by the power of the internet. It was logistically wild and crazy but I think in many ways the motion was catalytic in taking me out of my own mundane routine and helping me enter the worlds of my participants.

This summer, traveling is decidedly more low key. The only research question I am pursuing is a very personal “what is the experience of a newly hooded doctor transitioning from student to post doctorate identity?” (Yep…nearly five years of academic study mean I default to research questions for all. the. things. At this point I’m just accepting the quirky.) The frequent moves and general rootlessness in this season serve as a good embodiment of my internal identity shift as, metaphorically, home is no longer “student” or “candidate” or “hoping to be done in the next year.” Like this summer’s long term road trip that hasn’t been pre-planned, this shift is mostly exciting in its potential and occasionally deeply inconvenient in its messy uncertainty.

Just over two weeks ago we spent three days in the Pacific Northwest, at the edge of the continent. Though our house fronted onto an inlet, if you looked out over a certain side of the deck, you could see land’s end and open ocean. From here, the next piece of solid ground is Japan. I love big water and though it was ridiculously cold for being the end of June, I did my best to spend as much time as possible in close proximity to the Pacific. One evening as the Pacific and I drank wine together, I remembered another trip not so long ago where I was once again on the edge of the continent, realizing some unfortunate things.

Back in February we were in Florida, living about five hundred steps to the open Atlantic. Though the context was ideal it seemed as though everything was going wrong. The deadline for applying to graduate was approaching and my committee was dead silent (and had been for nearly six weeks) on final dissertation feedback. The process was in an indefinite holding pattern. I was trying to be more patient and philosophical than bitter about it all but…the waiting was taking its toll. On that trip the ocean taught me about mutual dependence and letting go. I sometimes am a terrible student but I did try my best to learn.

Reflecting back on those times in a place that was both different and similar provided a wonderful synchronicity. I told this to the Pacific. The waves applauded me in celebration and delight, glad I was on this end of things. I also told the Pacific about my summer research question, noting I was a little hesitant about the future…and, though I knew I couldn’t go back, slightly nostalgic for the identity I had acquired the past many years. I confessed that making the transition was harder than I anticipated. No doubt I felt like a doctor in many ways but also in many ways….not so much. This instability was vaguely concerning to me. The Pacific too is a good listener.

I was hoping the Pacific would have some magical answers about how to actualize all the way to a doctor, preferably in three easy steps. Turns out, instead the Pacific told me actualization is overrated. It manages to balance constant motion and flow in the immediate with clockwork regularity in the long term–one extreme holding the other in a dance of beautiful tension. The waves change minute by minute but the tides can be mapped months in advance. This both/and tension admittedly baffles me. And yet, this both/and fluidity is enough to nurture so much diverse life. For the sake of the world, this both/and fluidity is indeed very very good.

Which brings me back to my own highly myopic research question. It seems the experience of a newly hooded doctor now transitioning to a post doctorate identity is messy and changeable. I recently learned I was accepted to present my research at two different conferences this fall. This made me feel exceedingly doctoral. I also recently was in yet another work meeting trying to devise yet more strategy to help our students better persist and succeed. The problem is beyond complex. Needless to say, I felt far from doctoral.

Against this mercurial landscape, I like the ocean view of things. In the long term, I know I am now a doctor…this process has marked and transformed me in profound ways and there’s no going back. In the minute by minute pace of life, constant motion and flow reign supreme. More often anything goes and the long term is often obscured. There is solid ground regarding identity but perhaps it is something meant to live out of rather than grasp compulsively. This is exciting in its potential and deeply inconvenient for someone who likes to orient toward actualization. And so here is what I am learning in this season…if motion/flow along with grounded regularity can coexist in ocean, perhaps they can coexist in me too….perhaps this can indeed be very good.


an academic year in photos and facts and reflections

December 19, 2016

lisa hammershaimb



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:

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.

On Muppets, Community, and the magic that is Together Again

September 9, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

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.

Me too.

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:

Three Minute Thesis…Practice Time, Pt. 1

March 10, 2016

lisa hammershaimb

narrowing the topic…

October 3, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

The past several weeks I’ve been very studious in identifying both research gaps and my own hunches about art and design learning. Basically there’s a whole chunk of literature that presents the physical studio as the hallowed arts learning environment based on tradition, history, etc. and relationships developed there through face to face critique as being key to artist development. Then there’s another (somewhat smaller) chunk of literature looking at how students are using social media to circumvent traditional studio structures by sharing resources, giving informal critique, carrying on a backchannel to the formal studio etc. Finally there’s a very small chunk of literature looking at the impact of how artist-educators who use network practices to collaborate in their own art bring that influence into their teaching practice.

Though I believe in the power of a face to face studio and the learning community that develops this way…I don’t think that geographic proximity in a studio setting matters as much in creating community, conducting critique, and overall art/design learning as many educators think. It’s an odd disconnect to me that art+design learning resides so heavily in physical spaces yet for students to succeed outside of school, they need to at least have basic knowledge of presenting themselves and their work in online spaces and collaborating/connecting at a distance. These literacies are what an online studio could excel at providing students if given the chance but it seems they become things learned post graduation in a trial and error way. I think a big issue is the traditional historical structure is so dominant and evidence to support other means of learning is so scant…both students and instructors dabble a bit in other forms of learning and teaching but tend to default to the primacy of face to face studios as the ideal way. The few online studio programs running are anecdotally seen as odd outliers and going from literature representation…don’t even really seem to exist.

Following those lines I’d like to use my thesis to investigate the diverse range of student and instructor experiences of community formation and formative critique within the context of the online design studio. My hope is that my thesis creates a fairly rich description of online studio dynamics and also investigates how/if online studios + online crit can be a place to foster networked learning, participatory culture, and 21st century literacies. I want my thesis to bring formal research to a new perspective in the art + design education dialogue and demystify online studio practices.

on screen reading and book reading…

September 4, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

805 begins next week and in an effort to staunch the flow of panic I’ve been feeling all summer, I’ve begun chipping away at the course reading. It’s interesting stuff and as with the 804 pre-reads…my curiosity is very much engaged.

One thing I have noticed and indeed what’s prompted me to write this post has very little to do with the messages I have been reading and everything to do with the medium. For the first time this year I’m doing a significant amount of reading in a physical textbook as opposed to reading digital articles or even a digital edition of a text. As I said, the content itself is interesting but in many ways the whole experience feels oddly isolated.

Sure I can read in public places and even read aloud passages and then discuss with those around me but…it just feels so different than the process I’ve been engaged with over the last many months and called “reading”.

I’ve spent most of this year (and indeed my time as a doctoral student) reading on a screen in a fairly non-linear manner—looking up info about authors as I go, linking to other articles references, looking up unfamiliar words, referencing Twitter, watching videos. My process feels part word decoding/traditional “reading” and part archeology…with a generous twist of wandering built in. The interface of my computer makes these shifts seamless and though I can get sidetracked, the distractions often prove serendipitous. While I could do all these things simply by opening my computer next to my book…it feels cumbersome and almost like I’m cheating on my book to not give it my full attention.

It’s interesting to think about why I do what I do when reading on screen and when this shift happened. I spent my undergrad studying art history thus was steeped deep in physical books and then did a masters in graphic design thus was steeped in making artifacts, primarily using screen-based methods. Perhaps now as I work on my doctorate the two worlds are beginning to merge? Or perhaps I’m at a point where I’m still trying to figure many things out thus favor a more fragmented approach to on-boarding information? Perhaps the analog format of the book itself is subtly corralling my wandering mind while the screen is beckoning me to explore?

I doubt there is one reason or answer but it’s been an interesting meta bit of reflection on my own learning process and particularly on just what I tend to mean when I say I’m “reading.”

back. to. writing.

July 9, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

It’s been over a month since my last written entry, July is moving along at a much faster rate than I ever remember it doing in previous years, and my own feelings of guilt about my lack of writing are mounting thus…time to get back to it.

In February I had a mild crises at the thought of all that was going to happen over the next 11 months with a looming candidacy proposal to be produced and coursework to finish. I’m fortunate that my supervisor is totally okay with being a combination guru / therapist / drill sergeant / cheerleader thus whenever I feel an academic meltdown on the horizon…he’s on the email equivalent of speed dial.

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statement of intent…

April 24, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

Recently a friend who is making a transition asked me if I had any examples of my own teaching philosophy, personal research plan, personal statement of intent, etc. Though I don’t know that I have quite what she was looking for, her request made me think of the documents I’d written for AU and so I dug them up, reviewed them, and passed them along. Reading them was a bit like coming home and though I have much more fancy academic language to describe these ideas, I think the majority of this still is true. Heading into what will be a strategic summer filled with big decisions, it’s good to remember where I came from…where this mission began. What follows after the break is my official statement of intent and my research goals.

Here’s to the new adventure….

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capstone project in progress

April 17, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

version 1
version 2
version 3

version 4…ready to begin seeing the larger world.



April 10, 2015

lisa hammershaimb

And just like that…another course is finished. (Or, I should say the seminar portion of another course is finished. In an amazing stroke of grace everyone in class will be receiving a 10-day extension on the beast that is our Capstone project. Though mine is legit pretty much baked, I’m never one to deny an extension. In addition, I know I’ve gotten way too close to my project so forgetting about it for a couple days and then revisiting it before final submission is sure to make it much stronger.) 

Though I don’t have many words left in me this week, I did want to capture one small element about tonight because I think it’s important on many levels. After the general info portion of class, which was mainly talking about what we’d learned, our experience, suggestions for future, etc. Dr. M turned the conversation to our next course, 805 (I took this as a good sign that we will all be passing 804!)

My initial reaction to thinking about 805 is to just not do it because I know even saying the word “805” tends send me boarding the panic train with lots of “what ifs??” and “what next?” and “how can I ever do it?” But, as she brought it up and it is actually going to happen in the not too distant future, I thought I should at least practice engaging with the idea like a reasonably normal human.

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