Category Archives: SDP2014

Is This Heaven? No, It’s OII SDP

By: Stacy Blasiola

The time I had with my cohort at the OII SDP remains one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had in my academic career. As an American, I’m struggling not to use the word “awesome” but seriously, it was awesome. I’ll tell you a little bit about why, and I hope you’ll forgive the overwhelming nostalgia. Dr Nash has created a two week program that lasts a lifetime. Looking back, I think there are two key aspects of the SDP that make it happen: The people and the place.

The SDP brings together doctoral students who are in an advanced state of their degrees. This means that all of the participants are going through similar challenges and struggles. In the months leading up to OII SDP 2014, I was done with courses and focused exclusively on prelim preparation. As OII SDP 2013 alum Iona Literat noted, this can be an overwhelmingly lonely time. Academic writing is creative, and yet it can be difficult to find inspiration given the solitary nature of the work. If you don’t know it now, you’ll find that having peers makes doing the work a lot more fun, and it also opens doors for collaboration. When you spend two weeks at the Oxford Internet Institute with a cohort of enthusiastic, young scholars, you emerge with some new friends and a powerful support group.

As part of the self-described “best OII SDP cohort ever”, we continue to encourage each other. Since leaving the OII, I’ve worked with several members of my cohort on the Graduate Student Advisory Board for the journal Social Media + Society. We are planning panels for upcoming conferences, and a few us are co-authoring papers together. We visit each other when we travel, and we share rooms at conferences. And even now, as I write this, I’m chatting on Facebook about my dissertation with a fellow SDPer. This is what people mean when they say you make friendships that last.

In addition to the people, the place was what made SDP memorable for me. As an American, it’s an experience to be somewhere that has history. And when you think of all the scholars who have been through Oxford, a sense of amazement takes over. Everywhere, the city reminds you of its great thinkers of centuries past, and being in the presence of it all makes for a special time.

But more than just scenery, there’s something intangible about the environment that you can draw on. There’s a creative current that flows through the buildings; it’s in the smell of the old books, and etched on the walls. I wanted to tap into that feeling. Every day I made sure to spend some time alone. I got a library card for the Bodleian and spent hours in Duke Humfrey’s (that’s the library featured in Harry Potter and A Discovery of Witches) working on my dissertation proposal. I visited several of the museums. I rented a bike for the week exploring every back street I could find, and I’m sure I wasted a day in Blackwell’s Books. Although these were moments I spent with myself, they were far from solitary. In fact, they were regenerative.

As you can probably tell, I remember my OII SDP experience fondly. It was an opportunity to make lifelong friends, meet future collaborators, experience the beautiful city of Oxford, and be reminded of the reason we’re all doing this thing called academia.

Stacy_BlasiolaStacy Blasiola is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the editorial assistant for the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media and Social Media + Society. She is working on her dissertation proposal, “Algorithms and the Misrepresentation of Self in Everyday Life.” You can find her on Twitter @blasiola.

Falling back in love with the halls of academia: top 10 moments from SDP 2014

Lindsay_Megan_2014Megan Lindsay is a fourth year doctoral student in the School of Social Work, Arizona State University. Her research focuses on the use of ICTs and the impact these technologies have on human development. Her work has primarily focused on dating relationships and whether ICTs play a role in the way partners interact, particularly the new ways of relating, and building a sense of identity and intimacy. She has spent the past two years working with a multisite research team to produce and test a dating safety smart phone application targeted toward college females.

At the beginning of a PhD programme, we start out with great energy and nearly child-like excitement for the process — at least I did. However, as time pressed on, I began wondering where the momentum went and how I could get it back.

The Summer Doctoral Programme is perfect for students looking to renew their energy and fall back in love with the halls of academia. Whether you are a first-year PhD student still trying to define a research question or struggling through the painstaking process of actually writing your dissertation, the Oxford Internet Institute’s Summer Doctoral Programme reminded me of all the things I loved about academia and reinvigorated me in a way I had not thought possible.

The SDP, in and of itself, is a masterful montage of what an academic career potentially entails and its picturesque setting oftentimes made me feel as if I were a character in a movie. For that reason, I decided to share my “top ten movie moments” from my time at the OII during Summer 2014.

Here’s to the moments I’ll never forget:

1. Oxford. The city of Oxford, loaded with buildings hundreds of years old, has such a rich history that it is both humbling and inspiring to explore.

2. Magical powers not included. However, you can actually study in the same place where Harry Potter became a wizard.

3. The food, the food, the food. Participants are treated to delicious and ornate meals. Thank you, Mom, for forcing me to attend church activities explaining table etiquette.

4. Tea time. Post-dinner conversations concerning our shared research interests with coffee, tea, and delicious after-dinner chocolates that melt in your mouth. The Kenneth Burke analogy of academia seems all too fitting.

5. The cameos. During our first week, Vicki Nash, SDP Programme Director, informed us that the one and only Professor Judy Wajcman was going to be visiting the OII for a social function to which we were all invited. A meet and greet with one of the greats ensued. We did, however, resist the urge to ask Professor Wajcman for her autograph, but she graciously posed for a photo with us, a photo proudly displayed on our Facebook walls, and someday, our office walls.

6. The Bill Spectre Ghost Tour. A ghost tour was a fun reminder of our own mortality and the things in life that are just too difficult to quantify. A fun introduction to the “dark side” of the city.

7. To punt, or not to punt? Do it. You will like it more than you think. Mostly because it’s the perfect chance for calm relaxing connection with nature — or a great reminder that motor skills are not everyone’s gift.

8. Sports Day. Imagine running, very quickly, with an egg on a spoon. Well, it shows the carnal competition everyone already knows exists in the academic world.

9. Happy Hour. After you lose the egg race — at least in my case — you can enjoy a cider (or more) at the local pub. They will have you feeling merry in no time.

10. Lifelong friends. Although you come as strangers, after punting and the egg race and the other exciting experiences enjoyed at the OII, what you are left with is a group of new friends, academics like you, who just shared a once-in-a-lifetime experience and are forever connected because of it. The last day will include many hugs, email exchanges, and maybe a few tears.

You may be wondering why the prestigious people of Oxford would encourage this range of experiences, but I have no doubt it was a strategic scheme. If you plan to continue in academia, for life, be prepared to step out of your own serious thoughts — take delight in the feast, fun, and people around you. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us” — a reminder from one of Oxford’s greatest stars, J.R.R. Tolkien, that we should learn to enjoy our journey.

SDP 2014 Students with Judy Wajcman

SDP 2014 Students meet Judy Wajcman

Through days and distances: could your dissertation use some space-time disruption?

Caroline JackCaroline Jack is a graduate researcher and doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Her dissertation (in progress) is a history of corporate-sponsored economic literacy campaigns in the United States during the latter half of the twentieth century, in which she analyzes institutional understandings of media’s potential to induce personal transformation amongst members of the public. She posts media ephemera and other archival findings on Twitter: @cjack.

If you’re in the middle of researching and writing up a thesis, you’ve likely spent the last few years finding your footing. You’ve been figuring out which questions interest you and learning how to choose the methods best suited to addressing those questions. You’ve been learning the theoretical canon in your discipline. Perhaps you’re in an interdisciplinary field, and you’ve been learning more than one disciplinary canon. At any rate, your committee’s blessing to begin your dissertation work signals that you’ve developed an understanding of one or more traditions of scholarly theory and practice.

Now, there’s a general sense in the academy that interdisciplinarity is a good thing, that a diversity of theoretical and methodological orientations will make for richer work. But in practice, the process of developing an academic identity asks each of us to figure out where we stand in relation to the methods, practices, values and theoretical orientations that are traditional for our discipline. Despite our admiration for interdisciplinarity, we may find disciplinary silos springing up around us.

Randy Lynn (OII SDP 2013) argues in this blog that the OII experience not only surmounts academic balkanization, but fosters a better future for the academy–one in which scholars identify and critique structural problems while taking a participatory, collaborative approach to envisioning new ways forward. And Ioana Literat (OII SDP 2013) meditates upon the deep personal connections that have their seedtime at OII. The academy of the future that Randy argues for doesn’t spring up overnight: it spools out through the friendships and collegial relationships Ioana describes. If we are to be the future of the academy, it is something we will become with each re-connection at conferences, with each collaboration on new works, and with each chat or email or Facebook post (or even the occasional snail-mail postcard sent on its slow path through days and distances).

Perhaps it’s my own disciplinary background in communication that leads me to think about OII SDP in terms of time and space–an obsession of media scholars for many a year. The historian Harold Innis, for example, wrote in the mid-twentieth century about different media forms and their tendencies to favor space or time in their transmission of meaning. Innis’s acolyte Marshall McLuhan argued that radio and television made a global village of the entire world. Media scholars in our own moment attend to the potentially ubiquitous, instantaneous and global reach of networked digital technologies across space and time (yet caution that intersections of income, class, gender, race, sexuality and other social categories influence both access to and use of these technologies). Thinking about the OII SDP experience in terms of time and space, I can’t help but see the experience as one in which we enter a point of richly generative rupture.

You’ll travel to an unfamiliar place, far from home. You’ll likely have at least a little bit of jet lag and a touch of culture shock. For a few weeks, your ordinary temporal routines will go out the window. And I think that these things are really crucial. The dislocation, disruption, and disorientation of travel to a faraway place can invite a traveler to become more open to his or her surroundings, to take things on their own terms, and to be unabashedly curious. The tutors and staff of OII nurture that sense of openness, and clear a space for us as participants to be fruitfully disrupted together. To be the seed of something new.