Conference me in

One of the two courses that I’m required to take in my first quarter as a PhD student at the SOJC is entitled Teaching & Professional Life (interestingly enough, it’s being taught by my advisor, Kim Sheehan). The intent of the course is to help us see that, in addition to being a good teacher, a professor is expected to always have something in the “publication pipeline.”

I’m mildly shamed to admit that, save for my Master’s thesis (which I finished in 2008), I’ve not really had much of anything else published–and I’m certainly not counting the “humor” columns that I wrote for my college newspaper. So you can imagine how excited I was to learn that part of the expectation included with being a PhD student is that you are supposed to publish papers, either in journals or at conferences.

There’s just one problem: Since I’ve never done that (writing a thesis is a pretty cut-and-dry, prescribed sort of procedure), I had no idea where to start.

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Contemplating Kuhn

For those of us who were just admitted to the University of Oregon for this term, our classes start tomorrow after a long and tiring week of orientation meetings and activities.  Those of us who are embarking on the (newly renamed) Media Studies PhD program in the School of Journalism and Communication will be meeting together for the first time for a course called Proseminar IA, which is a broad overview of the major theories and schools of thought within the realm of communication and media.

Our first assignment for the class was to read and react to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn. This was my first exposure to Kuhn’s work; for those of you who are unfamiliar with the man, he was a linguistics and philosophy professor at MIT (he died in 1996), and his specialty was science history.  The book, as the back cover puts it, “challeng[es] long-standing linear notions of scientific progress [as he argues] that transformative ideas do not arise from the day-to-day, gradual process of experimentation and data accumulation, but that the revolutions in science… occur outside of ‘normal science,’ as he call[s] it.”

In other words, Kuhn has a big problem with the fact that scientists discard disproven notions as progress marches on; he would prefer more reflection on how we got here.  The end.

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This or that?

At some point, usually after qualifying exams have happened, every doctoral student has to begin writing his or her dissertation, which will ultimately end up as a lovely dust-covered leather-bound book somewhere deep in the stacks of his or her respective university library (this is how one “contributes to human knowledge” officially). But you have to start thinking about what, exactly, it is you’re going to write well before those qualifying exams occur; in our program, for example, you have to develop some sort of focus statement document thing roughly a year into your studies, and that is essentially the time when you decide what it is that you’re going to research and write about. This is the point where your professional hat is more or less hung on the coat tree of your permanent focus, to use a horribly tortured metaphor.

I’ve been thinking about this for a bit because I have two rather divergent fields in mind that both fit under the umbrella of “Communication and Society” (though apparently at some point in the last month that was changed to “Media Studies,” unbeknownst to pretty much all of us), and yet they really don’t relate to each other at all. Thus my dilemma–which do I ultimately pick?

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