Monthly Archives: July 2010

What to Expect: 4th Year

The final post in our four-part series about the CRDM experience comes from Dr. Amy Gaffney, who recently graduated and will begin her new position as Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Kentucky in the fall.

I was asked to write about the experience of being a 4th year Ph.D. student at a chaotic time–I was packing up my life in Raleigh, saying goodbye to friends and colleagues, making arrangements for my move, and trying to get ahead in projects such as converting my dissertation research into journal articles (the latter of these tasks because I was about to start a position at a research university). I thought it would be no problem to sit down and write a quick blog. But the writing kept getting pushed back. And now that I’ve stepped back somewhat from the past year, I realize just how much those that theme would carry through: while becoming more independent as a scholar, you are still being pulled by many forces in many directions. I think this theme carries through in the three main concerns of the fourth year: dissertation, job hunt, and TA/RA/work obligations.

Let’s start with the big one: Dissertation. Not surprisingly, you will at times both love and hate your dissertation. The dissertation will be (or at least should be) a top priority in your life during your fourth year, but it’s important to remember that you are the one responsible for keeping it as a top priority. Ideally, you’ll be able to meet regularly with your advisor (and possibly other committee members) and I found this regular check-in helpful for keeping me on track–if only to ensure that I was keeping myself on my own schedule. It’s also helpful to work on different parts of the dissertation in shifts so even if you are waiting on feedback, you can still be productive.

The Job Hunt: Expect that job postings will start over the summer leading into the fall semester and continue to be posted well into the spring semester. Many applications will require some basic pieces (cover letter, vita, teaching philosophy) and even though many of these pieces will need to be adapted to a particular position, it can be helpful to have these at least started before deadlines start hitting. Expect to dedicate large blocks of time to putting together applications. Sometimes I felt like I was constantly printing, collating, and mailing applications. No matter what, applying for jobs and following up with those potential jobs will take more time than you imagine.

TA/RA/Work: The other source of pressure will come from your responsibilities as a TA or RA (or in your job outside of the university). At this point, you’re probably used to balancing your own work and your TA role. With the other two major concerns of the year, however, I found it helpful to make sure that I did my job to the best of my abilities, but was also selective in taking on extra work.

I went into my fourth year for high hopes of finishing my dissertation early and staying on top of all of the job applications. While I met the broader goal of defending in time for a May graduation, the reality of the multiple pressures meant that I wasn’t able to meet all of my smaller deadlines. But, in the end, it is very possible to complete all of your work and even have time for occasional socialization. Expect those around you (such as your cohort) to be dealing with the same pressures and know that supporting each other will make the process much easier. Remember that even though it won’t always feel like it, there really is a light at the end of the tunnel and you can get a job. Then you can have my crazy summer of transition as you embark on your life as a CRDM grad!

~Dr. Amy Gaffney

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What to Expect: 3rd Year

The third post in our four-part series about the CRDM experience comes from Shayne Pepper, who’s entering his fourth and final year as he works on his dissertation.

After two years of coursework, I remember anxiously awaiting my third year of the CRDM program. With my committee in place and reading lists approved, I had wonderful visions of a year at my own pace. Without classes, my schedule would be wide open (aside from teaching). This magical third year would be spent reading for exams and focusing entirely on my own project. I imagined that I would also finally get around to doing all of those projects I had been putting off – book reviews, revising papers, and reading that book I said would read two years ago!

I thought to myself, “Use the summer to get a head start, and then by the fall semester you’ll be ahead of schedule!” By the end of the summer, I had done lots of travelling for archival research (Los Angeles), conferences (Tokyo), and fun (Las Vegas), but my reading lists had very few highlighted books indicating that they had been read. With a renewed determination, I knew I needed support, encouragement, and someone to shame me when I had not done enough reading because I spent all day reading tech blogs like Gizmodo. My classmates Dawn Shepherd and Kathy Oswald were quick to the rescue.

We devised a plan that would get us across the finish line by a reasonable date. The plan was a simple: form a reading group. With our flexible fall schedules, we began to meet for five or six hours a day on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. We would start off with a walk around the lake where we would talk about our progress (and everything else under the sun). After lunch we would then spend the rest of the afternoon reading, writing, or grading. By working together we could vent our frustration, share fun passages from Foucault, or decide that we needed a day off to just play Beatles Rock Band. By the end of the fall semester, most of my reading list was done and I had a ton of notes. It was time to schedule a firm date for my comprehensive exams.

After several meetings with my committee we finalized the dates, and I spent the first two weeks of February locked in my apartment studying my notes. The exam days came and went, and the three of us celebrated with a night of dinner and drinks. Two weeks later, I defended my exam answers and presented my dissertation prospectus. Again, we celebrated that it was all over. It took a few days for it to sink in that I actually passed my exams and was ABD. I kept having nightmares that my exam answers had to now also be peer reviewed by members of NCA and SCMS! The nightmares soon ended, and, after a nice spring break in New Orleans, I began working on the dissertation.

So what can you expect in your third year of CRDM? Expect to have lots of expectations. Some will be met, and some won’t. Set unreasonable goals for yourself so that when you don’t meet them, you can fall back on the more reasonable goal that you pretend to have planned to meet all along. Rely on your friends to help you through the rough times and to drive you home after celebrating the good times. Keep your teaching and grading time separate from your exam prep time. It becomes far too easy to put aside reading for exams when you have a stack of papers to grade. Just find the method that works for you, and stick to it. Your third year will probably mean lots of time away from campus, but don’t let the wide-open schedule turn into watching “Mad Men” all day… three days in a row. Trust me, it happens.

~Shayne Pepper


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What to Expect: 2nd Year

The second post in our four-part series about the CRDM experience comes from Jason Kalin, who’s entering his third year and preparing for his exams. Or should be. Get back to work, Jason.

(I already work around the clock!)

Row, Row, Row Your Boat Gently Down the Stream of Academia

I begin with a topos of the contemporary rhetorical scholar, if you will allow me to act as if I am one.

“Imagine that you enter a parlor. . . .”

So begins Kenneth Burke’s invocation of the unending conversation wherein we find ourselves surrounded by discussions not entirely of our own choosing—especially true my first year in the CRDM program. Bouncing around the first-year parlor of classes and cohorts, every new-fangled idea, every theoretical conversation sparked what was sure to be my next research project, or better, my yet-so-distant dissertation. Digital Rhetoric. Locative Media, Space, Place, and Mobility. Posthumanism. Visual and Material Rhetorics. All flowing conversations. All tempting. All resounding.

“You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar.”

So continues Burke’s description of the unending conversation. And so goes the second year.

Where I spent my first year flitting about the parlor listening to all conversations, I spent my second year looking for my oar. Or, given that he was an inveterate punster (and as Dr. Hans Kellner told our contemporary rhetorical theory class), Burke may have been implying, “then you put in your or.” In my second year, I went looking for my o(a)r.

The o(a)r : research interests manifesting as scholarly poses, as exam areas and reading lists, as disciplines and methodologies, as dissertation chair and committee, as dissertation topic and prospectus.

The second year marks an increasing pressure to find and pick conversations and to put in your o(a)r.

Rowing is more difficult than listening.

In your first year, you are or should be listening to as many conversations as you can (and, as Lauren Clark suggests, reading at least a little of everything). In the second year, you should begin to narrow your listening, to narrow your research interests. Row, row, row.

In the first year, you are expected to write seminar papers and to submit them to conferences. In the second year, you are expected to go to those conferences and to present those papers. And once there, you are expected to find those panels, those conversations wherein you can put your o(a)r—to acquire a scholarly pose, to begin the process of professionalization and disciplinarity. In my case, the contemporary rhetorical scholar with which I began this post. Row, row, row.

In the midst of my third semester, I began to ask more earnestly the quintessentially rhetorical questions, “Who do I want to be as a scholar? Who is my audience? What are my arguments?” Drawing upon all those first-year parlor conversations and seminar papers, I decided that my research interests should center on the role memory—individual, social, cultural, collective, public, digital and otherwise—plays within digital media contexts as studied from contemporary and digital rhetorical perspectives. Row, row, row.

With my o(a)r in the conversation, whom I needed as my dissertation chair become clear, Dr. Victoria Gallagher who studies visual and material rhetorics as they relate to issues of public memory. And with her help, my fourth semester schedule fell into place. I proposed and planned two readings courses—one with Dr. Gallagher and the other with Dr. Kellner—that furthered my research interests in the rhetorical nature of memory and digital media. And with these reading courses and with the advice of Dr. Gallagher, my exam areas—what conversations will help me write a successful dissertation?—became more defined along with my dissertation committee—who will help me write a successful dissertation? Row, row, row.

In addition to the two reading courses, I also took, along with my cohort, the required CRD 790, a special topics course dealing with issues of multi-, inter-, and trans- disciplinarity. Here, again, I was, as you will be, forced to think about the choice of o(a)r as discipline, however multi-, inter-, or trans- disciplinary that choice may be. Row, row, row.

Second year conversations and pressures induce you to put in your oar and to row farther down the stream of academia and professionalization.

Nevertheless, unless you are among the few and the rightfully proud, the second year is still early to know exactly what your dissertation topic will be. There is always time to rest from rowing and to listen and to change o(a)rs.

Or, that is what I have been told.

Row, row, row into the third year. . . . ready to make a splash.


(Photo by Edward Townend Photography)

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What to Expect: 1st Year

The first post in our four-part series about the CRDM experience comes from Lauren Clark, who’s entering her second year and thinking about selecting her committee. (Right, Lauren?)

Oh, the first year. I’m proud to say that my cohort members and I all survived year one of the CRDM program, which is proof that graduate school doesn’t actually kill you (well, it’s some favorable proof, anyway). But it wasn’t a cake-walk! Though I can’t speak for everyone (they can leave comments to confirm or deny my claims), I have some opinions about what it takes to rock your first year after having lived through it. This is all stuff I’ve heard before and I’m sure you, incoming first-years, have heard it as well. But there is a reason why suggestions such as these get reiterated so much they reach platitude status; it’s because following them really will help you succeed. I’ve gotten this advice, I’ve not followed some of it, and I’ve suffered setbacks as a result. Don’t let the same thing happen to you!

Suggestion #1 (this one’s important): Talk in class. You don’t always have to be the discussion-starter (though those people are fantastic), but you do have to participate. Why? Because if you don’t, your only chance to show your professor that you were actually paying attention all semester is through your seminar paper. And that doesn’t really cut it. I know it can be hard; it’s hard for me. I get shy and think I’m going to sound stupid. But no one has ever made me regret speaking up; CRDM is populated with smart, interesting, and seriously noncompetitive folks. In fact, chances are you’ll end up advancing the discussion, perhaps onto a new trajectory, and that’s always the point at which things start to get more interesting and fun to debate.

Suggestion #2: Read (at least some of) everything. Don’t bog yourself down trying to figure out what the hell Deleuze and Guattari are talking about while ignoring the other 200 pages of stuff you have to read for that week. If you’re slugging through an assigned reading, put it away for a while and move onto something else. I tend to take an all-or-nothing approach toward my reading, but when my workload reaches my eyeballs, that method isn’t advantageous. If you can take even just one measly thing away from a reading, you’ll be better off come class time. Being as prepared as you can be for each class is much better than being super prepared for one class and completely in the dark for another.

Procrastination cat ignores suggestion #3 at his own peril.

Suggestion #3: Sign up for presentations early. There are two benefits to this: the first is that you get your presentations out of the way, and you’re not stressing about them at the end of the semester when you should be focusing on your seminar papers. The second benefit is that if you present early, you get to help set the bar for the rest of the presentations in class. If you can be an early presenter, you’ll generally rock it, and then it’s done. One less little thing to worry about.

Suggestion #4 (maybe as important as suggestion #1): Make friends. Be social. Take breaks during the week and go out on the weekends to keep your sanity and stay refreshed in the face of your workload. And talk to each other. When you’re feeling down in the dumps and like you’re not going to get out of CRDM alive, tell someone. Chances are very good that your cohort members feel the same way. Knowing that helps you to recognize that the challenges you’re experiencing are par for the PhD-student course. Talking to someone a year or two further in the program is helpful, too, because they can empathize and then build you up again with reassurance that you’ll triumph and carry on to your next set of CRDM challenges. Also, go see your professors. Visit them during office hours and clarify what is expected of you. They won’t think you’re dumb; on the contrary, it’ll help you build an important rapport. I know this sounds like undergraduate advice, but when you’re feeling unsure of yourself, it can be easy to keep it hidden inside. Don’t let your apprehension get the better of you.

As with any academic program, I believe that breaking the CRDM program into chunks to master one at a time is the best way to manage your time at State. Don’t overwhelm yourself at the prospect of becoming a Doctor of Digital Awesomeness in four or five short years. Take your first year a semester (or a month) at a time, and take advantage of your resources; your cohort members, other CRDM students, and your professors. No matter how scared or intimidated you are, everyone does want to help you and see you succeed. I promise.

~Lauren Clark


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What to Expect When You’re Expecting (To Start Your Next Year in the Program)

We’ve spent much of the last year congratulating our 3rd and 4th years for successfully passing through the gauntlet of their exams, and rightfully so. That kind of arduous task shouldn’t go unnoticed. However, in the next week we’re going to be rolling out a series of consecutive posts from four different CRDM’ers, each at a different stage of the program. They’ll be giving their perspective on what 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years can expect from the year in front of them.

Update: links to Lauren’s advice on the first year, Jason’s advice on the second, Shayne’s on the third, and Amy’s on the fourth.

So, are you a prospective student thinking of applying to the program? Some of your questions might be answered in these posts, and if they’re not, feel free to ask them in the comments.

Are you a current CRDM student who had a different experience than the one represented here? Pipe up and let’s have an open dialogue in the comments.

Are you a student in a similar program looking to compare your experience to ours? Let us know in the comments–we’re always interested in what our peers are up to.

Are you a current professor who wants to reflect on how different (or similar) the PhD experience is from when you were earning your degree? Our comments section is all ears.

Are you a pet owner looking for information on Chronic Degenerative Radiculomyelopathy (CDRM)? You’ve misspelled your acronym. Check your search terms and try again. We sincerely hope your older German Shepherd feels better, though.

Check back for updates from our very own Lauren Clark (’09), Jason Kalin (’08), Shayne Pepper (’07), and Dr. Amy Gaffney (’06).


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