Recently I was asked by some students at a nearby college to answer a survey about my experiences in the field of communication studies. Here's the result:
1. How did you get interested in studying rhetoric?
Participation in college forensics inspired my love of rhetoric, especially when I learned to deliver a type of speech called rhetorical criticism (also known as communication analysis). Part of the appeal of this event was the chance to write and present a piece of original scholarship about contemporary communication. One year I analyzed a speech presented by Boris Yeltsin before the U.S. Congress; another year I tried to make sense out of the rhetoric of former Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosovic. In these speeches, I began to read published research in the field of communication studies in order to apply methods of analysis to topics that fascinated me. I really enjoyed the opportunity to solve the rhetorical criticism puzzle while competing with some of the smartest folks in the country. When I discovered that some college professors can dedicate their professional lives to solving these puzzles - getting paid to do so! - I was hooked.
2. What are you currently working on?
Having wrapped up a multiyear project of essays and a book built around the omnitopian framework, I'm just now thinking about the next five to ten years. I plan to build a research project around a new topic that reflects some of my current interests. This project might focus on gamification, studying ways to improve teaching and learning by applying insights from "sandbox style" video games. On the other hand, this project might expand on some in-progress research on world's fairs to focus on a broader intersection of architecture, mobility, rhetoric, and resistance. This work would include essays on augmented reality and street art. Of course I've also co-written an essay about rhetoric in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), following a research trip to that country last year. We've already submitted that essay to a journal for review. Depending on the response, DPRK research might become an increasingly central part of my scholarly profile.
3. What got you interested in researching omnitopia?
A number of experiences and conversations got me interested in omnitopia (a mashup of Latin and Greek roots that I've used but do not claim to "own"), but mostly the topic emerged from conversations during family road trips. Driving thousands of miles along interstate highways, we'd observe certain qualities to airports, shopping malls, theme restaurants, and casinos, and we noticed that these environments inspired different feelings within us, different forms of interaction. As is my practice, I found myself theorizing about the places we visited, positing ideas and concepts to make sense of the "placeless" vibe that both troubled and intrigued me. Jenny and Vienna, my patient and thoughtful companions during these lengthy sojourns, asked questions and pointed out errors in my thinking. Gradually I formed a framework that seemed to make sense. Back on campus, I found ways to build lessons and even an entire course around the questions I was seeking to answer. There I could count on students to pose more questions offer more challenges to my still inchoate ideas. By the time I published a few essays on the topic, it was clear that I'd be living in omnitopia for a long while.
4. Who was your faculty advisor in graduate school and what did they teach you?
My grad school advisor was Roger Aden, a professor at Ohio University specializing in rhetoric, popular culture, and a wide range of topics that include fandom and spatial practices. Among his principle lessons was a reminder that I should strive for simplicity and clarity in my planning, writing, and speaking. It's relatively easy to build a byzantine structure of thought and attempt to bamboozle readers with a dense fog of words. It's a much finer thing (and a much more rigorous challenge) to communicate plainly and directly. I continue to struggle with that goal, and I thank Roger for instilling its value in my life. I would merely add here that many women and men guided me through those years. Roger played a key role as my advisor, but he'd be the first to insist that my training was a team effort. [Additional note: My dissertation committee included Roger Aden (chair), Judith Yaross Lee, Raymie McKerrow, Tim Simpson, and Julie White.]
5. What do you fine most fascinating about studying communication?
The most fascinating thing about studying communication is always the most personal thing, the fact that you can follow your bliss and concentrate on any aspect of life that involves human sense-making. Folks in this field study a vast array of topics, each one drawn from some aspect of their life stories. Our goal is always to useful outcomes, not simply to gaze at our own navels. Yet I can think of few other professions where folks enjoy such freedom to explore ideas and follow them wherever they may lead.
6. What is the best piece of advice you can give a transfer student to your program?
I fear that any advice I'd offer will be generic, given that the best guidance comes from one person speaking to another person's unique concerns and talents. Nonetheless I'll offer one tip that would apply to most transfer students: Get to know the faculty. Read their published works, attend their colloquia, and chat with them outside of class. Your education will include access to books and articles, syllabi and assignments, but there is no better resource than a professor who knows you. Such a person can direct you toward internships, travel opportunities, and other forms of professional development. Of course you must take the first step by learning about various faculty members' strengths and interests. Show a genuine interest and think about the relationship you seek to build - don't just fixate on what you want - and you'll have a chance to enter a collaboration that can transform your life. Some of my best friends are professors who instructed me at all levels of my schooling. Allow yourself such a meaningful gift by getting to know the folks who've dedicated much of their lives to teaching you.