Tag Archives: grad school

How Do I Even Express…

getting on the busAs many of you already know, we have lost a brilliant scholar, teacher, mentor, parent, and friend. Dr. Jean Anyon, whose work has impacted the lives of so many, passed suddenly but peacefully on Saturday, September 7, 2013, after a long battle with cancer. While her body battled inwardly to fend off the disease that ultimately consumed her, she worked tirelessly to dedicate her time, passion, and energy to her life’s work of teaching and contributing to — and often resisting — the academic canon.

When I first looked for PhD programs in the summer of 2004, I was in the midst of doing a dance with socialism as a then-member of a large organization fighting for change in our often contradictory society, and stumbled upon Jean’s article “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work.” As a teacher in a school in Harlem with few supplies and policy-driven expectations that ratcheted up with every day that passed, I was in search of a language to help me unpack, understand, and resist what I witnessed on a daily basis: the overwhelming inequities inside the classrooms of New York City and beyond. Although there were multiple programs in which I thought I could do good work, I decided to take my chances and apply only to the CUNY Graduate Center (GC), in the hopes that I could study with Jean. Her work provided the missing link to helping me gain an understanding of how things really work within the education policy world, and I was eager to get started on the project of becoming a teacher educator under her tutelage.

I’ll never forget my first meeting with Jean, prior to submitting my application. I had read her book Ghetto Schooling and several other articles, and arrived at her office armed with copious notes and stacks of ideas for what I wanted to study at the GC, based on my experience as a NYC public school teacher. I remember her office door being open, and having her invite several current students in during our meeting to meet me. She immediately put me in touch with multiple students via email, so that I might ask questions and find out more about the program in a candid way before I applied. I was so grateful for this welcome. As she would many times throughout the years to come, Jean let me and countless others know repeatedly that we are part of an enormous network of people who share a desire to create a different kind of world. Those who knew her are all part of a community that she built, from the ground up.

As the following eight years passed in what now seems like a flash, I had my ups and downs as a graduate student. Like so many other students, I suffered heartbreak and loss, battled bouts of illness and writer’s block, and struggled through many email exchanges and phone calls in which Jean convinced me that I should stay in the program when I wanted desperately to leave — when I questioned if being a scholar would also allow me to be an activist for the work I wanted to do. Although I took longer than some to complete my PhD, she was my guiding light throughout the entire process. There are a number of memories that struck me last night, as I tried to fall asleep long after bed time. Thoughts of her wisdom, humor, and high expectations for her students cycled through my mind. I thought of:

  • the first time we talked about switching her email account from AOL to Google, and how she struggled (in her wry, humorous way) with accepting Facebook, Twitter, and the ways in which technology was changing communication and face-to-face contact
  • it taking quite some time to convince her that researching blogs written by public school teachers was worthy of dissertation research…and when I did, she was so proud. I look often at the email that she wrote after I submitted my final draft. In three words she summed up everything I was feeling: “YOU DID IT!”
  • the delight that lit up her face when she got an iPad and iPhone and admitted that she, well, could probably get used to this
  • the time she had to have major back surgery and we were all so worried for her…and she unexpectedly sent me in her stead to deliver a keynote address at a new teacher retreat in Columbus, Ohio
  • when she got on the bus with us to head down to DC to protest the war in Iraq
  • when she asked me to coauthor an article that has since become an important piece in explaining why policies such as NCLB don’t work, “No Child Left Behind as an Anti-Poverty Measure
  • when she invited students over to her apartment, or up to her home in upstate New York, reinforcing the idea that while an educational community may start in the classroom, it travels with you wherever you go
  • when she appropriately scolded me for not completing the revisions on an accepted article for Democracy and Education because I second-guessed the points I was trying to make (which would later lay the foundation for my dissertation)
  • how much pride she took in the many accomplishments of her students and the faculty with whom she worked so closely
  • always pushing us to think outside of our comfort zone, and above all, remain ourselves in scholarship, in the classroom, and in life in general
  • how much she talked about her daughter, Jessie, who she loved with all her heart

The memories are coming at me swiftly right now, and I am overwhelmed with emotion at the loss of a woman who, in her “free” time, reached out to act as a parent when I and many others needed it most. She was more than a teacher and a contributor to the canon; more than a friend and a surrogate parent. She meant so much to me, and I hurt in her absence. But I am not alone, and gather strength from the support of the large community she built. We will continue to honor her in days to come, and reach out to one another to find ways to express the loss of someone who impacted so many of us so deeply.

Please join us at the GC in the Urban Ed lounge tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, and stay tuned for news of a more formal gathering in the months to come where we can share Jean’s impact on our lives — both personally and professionally — and make plans for how to both pay forward the mentorship she so graciously offered, and ensure the immortality of her brilliant scholarly work.


Why meta? I am currently blogging about talking about blogging.

I was in Montreal for a few days and had the opportunity to speak in my colleague’s Qualitative Methods and Educational Psychology class at McGill University. I presented something similar to what I shared at the CUNY IT Conference this past fall, but I really tried to connect my thoughts on why I’ve developed this blog to my research via my methodology. The class has been discussing various qualitative research methods, such as photo voice and ethnography, and one of the readings they did for class focused on blogs as both a field for and method of data collection.

It’s so exciting to see more and more researchers take on the genre, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to chat with students in Montreal doing important research around education, counseling, health and sports psychology, medicine, etc.–some with big questions about digital data collection. Their feedback was insightful and thought-provoking, and I’m already thinking about how to further address some of what came up for discussion:

  • What about access to blogging? This question keeps coming up as I talk to people about my research, and understandably so. What am I saying (and not) by giving weight to what’s written in blogs, despite the fact that not everyone has regular access to the internet?
  • How do I negotiate being a part of the community I am researching? Where does autoethnography begin and end? Can you be too me-search-y?
  • How do I plan to code my data (both logistically [i.e., in hard-copy or digital] and methodologically)?

Here is a slightly edited version of the slides I used for my presentation. Some of it’s unclear without context, but:

And the Search for Next Year Begins

When you’re starting to think about making the commitment to start a PhD program, you hear about how difficult/complex the academic job market is, but you don’t really get what that means till you’re staring down the barrel of your dissertation while simultaneously trying to make a livable wage, eat well, get enough sleep, and figure out what to do next year.  So far this school year, I’ve felt like a circus performer on most days, juggling more things than any person should.  And although I haven’t conducted a vast empirical study to test my hypothesis, it seems that most of my friends and colleagues are in the same exact boat.  I had a lengthy discussion yesterday with some classmates about how crazy (and a bit cruel) it seems that job and fellowship application deadlines are happening now for the next academic school year.

So how do people actually do it?  What does one do when they think they might finish their degree this academic year, but can’t fathom how the job search is supposed to happen right alongside the writing of the dissertation?  How do you know if you’re supposed to be applying for dissertation writing fellowships, jobs, or postdocs?  What if you’re not 100% sure you’ll be able to defend your dissertation by April in order to graduate by May?  What if you can’t have a lapse in healthcare?  What if you find a job but don’t graduate?  What if you graduate but have no job?  What if?

I have a lot of “what if” questions, and despite all the talking I might do with my mentors and colleagues, it ends up seeming like an arbitrary set of choices that may or may not work out in your favor when you’re trying to conceptualize what life might be like a year from now.  In an ideal world, I would either get funded for another year to write, or I would find a position in a school of education as a full-time professor, teaching a mixture of methods and foundations courses that draw on my experiences as a classroom teacher, literacy specialist, technologist, and artist.  I have yet to find a job listing that meets this criteria, but a grad student can dream, right?  In the meantime, I’ll keep at it with the job search on the Chronicle of Higher Education, keep poking around at various fellowships, and keep crossing my fingers that this all makes a little more sense come April.

Digital Dissertations

Since I decided that the focus of my research would be online, I’ve had a growing symbiotic relationship with the internet.  I spend most of my time in front of my computer, having a conversation with someone or Google.  I’m always searching for the answer to a question, and the conversation only ceases when I sleep.  I spent about ten days in Costa Rica a year and a half ago, and kept thinking that bug sounds coming from the jungle were text notifications–like many of us these days, I’m almost always on the grid.

So okay.  I’m not saying anything any of us aren’t experiencing at some level right now.  Even if you still have a cell phone that doesn’t connect to the internet, you’re saturated by discussion, information, and images from the internet all day long.  Everywhere you look, people are mid-conversation.  I saw this ad on the subway in March 2010, and took a quick shot of it on my phone because it struck me as meaningful and timely.  I’m not completely sure what the point of the ad is, and it doesn’t make me want to buy the camera, but I note an implication of unity–that we’re all in this together.  (There is also an assumption about equal access to new technologies.)

So the point is: we can’t deny that the way we communicate is changing, and every day brings more digital correspondences than the day before.  I want to know, given this onward march of technology, is it possible that dissertations will start looking like blogs?  Please??

As I started talking with more of my classmates, colleagues, and professors about my ideas for research involving blogs, it often came up in conversation if I would also be blogging as I gathered data.  I knew I would, but I didn’t know if I’d be making it public.  Well, here I am blogging about my ideas as I immerse myself in the digital world of what teachers have to say, and I’m not hiding.  A conversation with an old friend yields the following suggestion: that my blog becomes my dissertation.  I got to thinking about this idea, and chatted with another friend/colleague earlier this evening about it.  It turns out he’s already set his dissertation up as a blog!  It’s divided into an organized set of dropdown menus and categories for easy navigation, and is an evolving work that will culminate in an online publication of sorts.  Seeing his blueprint made me want to pursue the idea of using what I write in Mediated as part of my dissertation.  After all, I did start it to sort out the thoughts cycling through my head every day about teaching, policy, technology, and so on.  I know that writing these posts will be crucial in the actual writing of my dissertation narrative; however, it can’t be as simple as being the dissertation itself.

But I’m thinking about the concept of digital dissertations in earnest now…

In the meantime, I promised my friend I’d find out if anyone had actually submitted a dissertation digitally.  And I’m not talking about uploading a PDF of the tome you’ll deposit at the library in order to graduate, but rather a dynamic web page that is built more like a moveable non-fiction book than something you read cover-to-cover.  We decided we’d both like to know if any exist.

I didn’t find much in a cursory search on Google and Google Scholar, but I imagine something’s out there.  If you know of anyone who’s presented their dissertation online, please forward a link.