It's midway through my first semester of grad school, and I've finally started to feel like the next cycle of my academic identity has emerged as a thing that can be blended with the rest of my life (as opposed to "good lord what the hell is that?") It feels like an alpha release of an early version; it's nowhere near done, but it's got some form to it now.
I've been looking for opportunities to blend it back into my (sorely neglected since school began) open source life. Writing pedagogical notes on OpenHatch mission design. Starting to wonder if I can do something more concrete with Plover (which probably starts with me finishing that opensource.com article for Mirabai -- soooo much backlog...) because boy howdy if I want to do ethnographic research and narrative capture for my fieldwork in a year or two it would be awfully handy to know steno. Iterating on my research proposal, which is starting to shape a research question of "what sort of engineering learning goes on in open source communities?" (I need to write the next revision after a good conversation last week with Robin, my advisor; my self-imposed goal is November 1st, which means the rewrite happens tomorrow.)
My brain is changing and reshaping itself. It feels good. I'm trying to figure out how to convey the things I'm learning back to the open source world. Maybe informal literature reviews, because I keep running into articles and books and going holy crap that's us, and then realizing that the paper looks like mumbo-jumbo to someone who hasn't spent a couple months beating their heads against that kind of material full-time. (It looked like mumbo-jumbo to me in August.)
It's a little frustrating, because I still feel mute -- before school, I had such a limited grasp of the academic side that I could translate most of it into open-source-speak, but now that my grasp of the academic side of things has grown, my translation skills haven't; I haven't yet been able to voice this new knowledge to my old compatriots, which makes it feel (to many of them) that I haven't actually learned anything yet. But I have. I just struggle to find ways to map them to my old world. Which means, in all probability, that I haven't actually mastered any of this new stuff yet. But it will come, and I need to be patient.
I have gotten better at going in the other direction. Last week's informal learning section on open source was excellent; there were some interesting reactions, including "I have always been curious about open source but thought it would be too hard and intimidating to tackle... but I'm glad you made us do it, because as I stepped through the readings, I started thinking wait, I can understand this... and then I realized, wait, is this how my beginning engineering students feel?" In a classroom full of future engineering professors, it became (to my surprise) an exercise in empathy as well as in the things I had expected (transparency, collaboration, awareness of academic culture, etc).
With spring semester registration upon me this week, I've been thinking (again) about what I want to get out of my grad school experience. I've decided to have some fun with my required competencies, so next weekend I'll be up in Boston helping with Olin's Board of Trustees meeting and getting it counted for grad school, which is epic win and an incredible opportunity that I am super, super, super grateful for. (Thanks to Christine Kelly for the inspiration, and to Rick Miller and Tom Krimmel for putting up with me.)
I am currently taking, with the encouragement and support of two of my Purdue professors (yay Robin and Ruth!), a 6-week workshop called Foundations of Communities of Practice, which is boiling over with things I want to take back to the open source world but don't have the words for... yet. This workshop is remote and features a weekly teleconference, so it's also the first time I've really asked for disability assistance - my first CART experience will be tomorrow. Excited and a little nervous, because this is basically countering 2 decades of "but I can mainstream all by myself!" identity buildup.
My course selections for the spring semester will be pretty straightforward: finish the core introductory sequence for my program (pedagogy, policy, and epistemology courses, though I may swap the pedagogy class for "Social Computing and Education" depending on what Robin thinks). And a little side project of insanity, which I'll probably write about later when the details are a bit more settled. This semester's side project of insanity: learn about physical training and conditioning, which has changed my muscle tone from "nonexistent" to "acceptably poor" -- back and shoulder strength helps reduce RSI, who knew? -- and will continue to progress through the remainder of the school year. Mad props to my trainer Mark, who regularly pushes me to not wimp out on running and is working with me on the goal of pushup and pullup (yes, one of each, and even that's a stretch - I told you I had no muscle tone).
Beyond that, things I've been thinking about... my engineering depth courses will either be computer engineering, software engineering, or computer science, and (if funding and time allow, it's not clear I'll be able to afford this) I'm considering tacking a couple more technical classes on and acquiring a MS, because really, I feel like I should know the academic side of the technical field I find myself most strongly grounding in.
My engineering education depth, on the other hand, can be in anything. And while I do plan on taking design cognition courses and other fun things, I think I may also look at economics and finance courses, management courses, and that sort of thing... because technical companies, technical projects, and learning institutions are institutions and I want to be a techie and an academic who can see and understand and shape the systems I'm working within. I had my painful "technical skill alone is not enough" moment of awakening at OLPC, I've watched Olin weather the economic downturn, I've listened to administrative conversations, and I've seen a difference between the people (in all of the overlapping circles of industry and academia and open source) who understand institutions from a business point of view and the ones who don't. And if I'm thinking of becoming an ass-kicking, skateboard-riding college president someday, I'd better understand endowments; if I ever want to run an engineering team in industry, I need to know accounting; I don't think "business" is ever likely to become my primary gig (I love the tech and teaching too much) but I think it's a good language to be fluent in.
It's past 3am. I should sleep. My sleep schedule is a little funky because I crashed hard this afternoon in an (unintentional) 7-hour nap, but I'm trying to use it as an opportunity to reset into an early riser once again.