Keep Calm and Carry On: Finding and Building PhD Career Paths

This title slide is a copy of the famous 'Keep Calm and Carry On' poster, with a CC-BY license and my name.

At the end of March this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Purdue University and talk about alternate careers for people pursuing the PhD. Throughout the day I enjoyed a number of interesting discussions with graduate students and faculty. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in the last 5 or 6 years in being willing to talk about what faces PhD students upon graduation.

In addition to these less formal discussions, I gave a talk and led a workshop focusing on the nuts and bolts of looking for and applying for different positions. If you’re interested in getting the full “Brian experience,” you can watch videos of the talk and the workshop on YouTube. But since I get fidgety watching a five-minute video let alone an hour talk, I wanted to share the text of the talk here. A portion of the talk drew on the short comments I gave in September 2014 at Penn State’s Symposium on #Alt-Ac. I was glad to get a chance to expand on that line of thinking here. My comments also drew on thoughts that I had had as I worked on a forthcoming article about alt-ac issues and the CLIR postdoctoral fellowship with Meredith Beck Sayre, Marta Brunner, and Emily McGinn. For the title, I of course have to thank the Internet without which none of this would be possible.

And of course, I need to thank my hosts at Purdue: the College of Liberal Arts, the Department of English, and the School of Languages and Cultures, and in particular Nancy Peterson, Madeleine Henry, and Hyunyi Cho, head of English, head of Languages and Cultures, and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education, respectively.

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New Job; or Come for the People, Stay for the Projects

I’m thrilled to announce that in July of this year, I’ll be joining the team at Brown University’s Center for Digital Scholarship where I will be the Digital Humanities Librarian. In this position I’ll continue to help imagine, design, and carry out digital research projects in conjunction with faculty and graduate students. Some of this work will be in connection with the newly awarded $1.3-million grant from the Mellon Foundation for long-form digital publications in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Since big data can often be a red herring, I will also continue to advocate for the value of small, short-term research projects. Finally, I will partner with colleagues in developing and deploying innovative digital pedagogy.

With this new position, I will be leaving Emory, where I have worked in one form or another for 12 of the last 13 years. (During that other year as I taught at Clemson, I continued to haunt the stacks at the Woodruff Library.) I’m proud of the work that colleagues and I accomplished during the last five years as we created the Digital Scholarship Commons (DiSC) and now the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship, which includes large projects like the Battle of Atlanta and small ones like Tweeting #OWS. What’s more, I’ll be here long enough to put the finishing touches on Belfast Group Poetry|Networks, which Rebecca Sutton Koeser and I have been working on for close to three years. Significant work is underway on other projects that I’ve helped design, such as “Schooling Donald Allen,” an exploration of the networks in and around mid-twentieth-century American poetry using the materials in the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library, and “Hacking Haiku,” which traces networks, allusions, and places in the work early modern female haiku diarists in Japan. Alongside these big projects, I’ve appreciated the chance to spearhead a number of small, undergraduate-driven projects in the courses that I’ve taught in the English Department over the last four years. I’ve learned over and over again that the computer-assisted pattern-recognition and interpretation of the digital humanities can operate at all sorts of different scales.

I think it’s telling that my work—as is the case with so many others in digital humanities—has been and will continue happening in the context of a library. Since libraries ultimately preserve knowledge, it’s critical that librarians be involved with researchers and others in the creation of 21st-century scholarship. But as anyone who has done research knows, libraries aren’t just the endpoint for research, they are where research begins. One needs the stacks and the databases when getting a new project underway, of course. Yet more and more, I think people come to the library not for the materials but for the people, as Virginia Tech’s Brian Mathews put it following a talk I gave there in November 2014.

I’m headed to Brown for the people, and I hope that people at Brown start coming to look for me soon.


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Constellations at the Convention: 10 Years of MLA Data

Title slide with a tree against star trails with caption 'Constellations at the Convention: 10 Years of MLA Daya'

Yesterday I had the chance to speak on a panel about “The MLA and Its Data: Remix, Reuse, and Research,” which I organized on behalf of the MLA’s Committee on Information Technology. The panel was very successful, due largely to fabulous co-panelists: David Laurence, Ernesto Priego, Chris Zarate, and Lisa Rhody. Ernesto has shared his slides for his presentation on his and Chris’s analysis of tweets from last year’s convention. Unfortunately we missed Jonathan Goodwin, who became ill. Lucky for us, he shared his talk as well.

What follows is the text of my talk, “Constellations at the Convention.” The metaphor of the title suggested itself immediately as I began looking at the network within Gephi, but I couldn’t help but think of Matt Kirschenbaum’s post following the 2011 MLA Convention, “The (DH) Stars Come Out in LA.” I think that the methods I’ve been able to begin deploying here might help us track the star system—if not within the profession, but within the convention.

Even though I say it within the talk, it’s critical that I acknowledge up front the assistance of two people. First, Chris Zarate kindly provided the data from the MLA that I asked for. (The MLA itself needs to be thanked for being willing to support this scholarship.) He made suggestions about the sorts of information he could provide me and gave me exactly what I asked for. Unfortunately, since I had never done something like this before, I didn’t quite know what to ask for. So when I discovered the data weren’t quite as I needed them, my colleague Sara Palmer who took the raw XML and transformed it with XSLT and Python into a format that I could use. Sara and I then spent several hours playing with the data and then talking about the different things that we were seeing. She identified the Midwestern Mafia as a question worth pursuing. Finally, Rebecca Sutton Koeser pointed out the Javascript exporter plugin for Gephi, which is why you can now play with the data easily.

I appreciated the interest from the crowd and the thoughtful questions about “algorithmic cruelty” and where such work might lead in the future. If you want to play with the data yourself, you can download the Gephi file of the 2014 and 2015 Mark Sample data. I will see what I can do about sharing the MLA data set. But for the moment, you can explore the four different networks that I showed.

As always, my work is Creative Commons-licensed. Let me know what you think!

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Links for my 2015 MLA talk

I’m currently speaking at the 2015 MLA on the panel “The MLA and Its Data: Remix, Reuse, and Research,” which I organized on behalf of the MLA’s Committee on Information Technology. I’ll be posting the full text of my talk—“Constellations at the Convention: 10 Years of MLA Data”—shortly, but here are some links that people might want to play with in the meantime.

The latter two might take some time to load. See if you can find yourself in the data!

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The Future is Now: (Re)Training for an Alt-Ac Future

Two weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of visiting Penn State University for the first time. I was one of several invited speakers for the Center for American Literary Studies (CALS) Symposium on #Alt-Ac. Sean Goudie, Director of the Center, was our kind host and the MC for the day’s discussions.

Brian Croxall speaks at the CALS symposium

The day-long event kicked off with an opening discussion led by the inimitable Bethany Nowviskie. Bethany’s remarks referred to her presentation at the 2012 MLA, “Two & a Half Cheers for the Lunaticks.” (Interestingly, she and I both spoke on that panel, which suggests that we’ve been at this for a while.) In addition to discussing the origin story for the term “alt-ac”, she provided a timeline of what the term has meant to her in each of the years since Jason Rhody coined it in 2009. I appreciated this overview of how the term and conversations around it have grown and changed.

Bethany was followed by panel conversations about “What does #alt-ac mean?” and “(Re)Training for an #alt-ac future,” the latter of which I appeared on. The panelists featured other invited alt-ac individuals and both Penn State participants. I was delighted to get to finally meet Timothy Powell and Rebecca Schumann for the first time and to become acquainted with the work of Paul Erickson at the American Antiquarian Society and Megan Doherty from the German Marshall Fund. The Penn State team included alt-ackers—Patricia Hswe and Daniel Tripp, who told us how every department needs “a Dan”—and faculty—Michael Bérubé, Christopher Long, and Rosemary Jolly, who holds so many cross-appointments that she is all but “alt” to herself.

All in all, it was a day filled with stimulating discussion. For some broad coverage of what was said, Rebecca reported on portions of the Symposium at Slate and CALS recently published a summary. Chris Long has posted his comments, and I hope that my fellow presenters will eventually, especially Bethany whose remarks were characteristically considered and delivered with her trademark beautiful slides.

As I note below, we were asked to be brief in our remarks so as to make as much room for conversation among the panelists and the audience. It’s always interesting to discover how much harder it is to brief than to be expansive. I was glad of the opportunity to finally say in a public forum some of the things I’ve been thinking about alt-ac since my 2013 MLA talk and to learn that some of the things I have been imagining are well underway at Penn State and other campuses.

A steel garage door with 'the future is now' spraypainted on it. Read the rest of this entry »

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