Yesterday I sent off a 98-page portfolio PDF (and that was the shortened version!) and nervously stepped into a process I've never engaged in before -- but with people I know, trust, admire, and respect. Robin, Ruth, and Matt are the best committee a grad student could ask for. This grad student, anyway.
The Readiness Assessment is my department's (Purdue Engineering Education) equivalent of quals -- or in some other departments, prelims. It's what you do after you've taken core classes to show you've got a reasonable grounding in your field and the ability to synthesize ideas from it, and is a prerequisite before you write your dissertation proposal. This meeting was the Readiness Readiness -- the first time my committee ever met, a chance for them (and me) to get to know the space I'm playing in, the things I'm doing, the direction I might head. (Consensus on the latter: who the hell knows? An interesting one!) They listened and prodded and brought up ideas and saw patterns that I hadn't been aware of before.
It was... see, this is why I love hanging out with professors. Just like leaping into the midst of experienced dancers makes me raise my physical game and throwing myself into a crowd of experienced R programmers is forcing me to raise my technical game, being involved in a conversation with deep-thinking faculty makes me raise my intellectual game by pulling me into a zone of proximal development and making me react to it in realtime.
That was one thing that was pointed out. The fact that I love working with faculty, doing research on faculty (rather than students) -- that's a big thing, although we're not sure how it will unpack yet over time. Why do I love it? What is it about them? The richness to their all-too-rarely-overheard conversations, the leverage for lasting change they represent, the joy of being with people who love what they do, long-term? And should I learn more about faculty development -- and how? There aren't many people working in that area. Perhaps it would make sense for me to set off on an apprenticeship for this at some point, absorb more of the art by doing (which will help me contextualize the little literature there is on it more solidly). I'm young and mobile, I told them. While I can move to learn, I will. Texas, Seattle... send me anywhere. I love to roam.
The second note was what wasn't my specialization. I'd thought that Radically Transparent Research might be it -- "inventing weird research methods," basically. But RTR isn't a method, per se; it's a mindset. You interview and code and analyze the same way; the difference is the default-to-open part (which comes with specific techniques to make it possible) and the interesting things that might follow from that. But in the end, I'm not inventing a method, I'm... well, I'm not sure what to call what I'm doing, then.
So what's a specialization for me? Maybe it could be teaching design -- but what about teaching design fascinates me? I love the dialogue aspects of design and other arts that share that feature of heuristic-centered improvisation; we teach rules-of-thumb, lens-for-seeing, ways of being in and of and with the world rather than algorithms for processing it. Jazz shares that. Blues dancing. Language-learning. Design education fascinates me because it's a practice of getting others to transform their way of thinking rather than accepting data and skills. How do you do that -- how do other heuristic-improv disciplines do that? -- and how do they figure out their curricular content, how do they assess, what is their pedagogy? Not sure yet what classes that might end up being. We will see.
Finally, a note I scribbled over dinner: "What happens when you let people overhear?" It's another way of framing my research question, and makes the driving force behind my passion for transparency painfully (to me) clear. I instinctively push for access for everyone because I'm used to struggling constantly for that access myself. I want to do hearing aids as my engineering concentration, and that's all well and good -- but that's a Thing floating Out Somewhere still, and it's the notion of access, access, access, openness, inclusion that pervades everything I say and do. Access to dialogue, access to participation, letting people see and join the party they've always wanted but didn't know they were looking for.
I'm looking forward to writing my questions -- the two-week writing period will start for me on October 15, and I will be able to blog about it along the way (yay!) which means I need to whip up a post header that links to an explanation of the Readiness and the conditions under which I'm taking it. It's an individual evaluation, so while I will be thinking out loud, and people will be more than welcome to comment, I can't ask y'all for help, and you obviously can't write my stuff for me, all conversations will be documented and cited, and so on. The public/collaboration line is something I'm not worried about negotiating as we go along, though. I think it will be interesting! I might write a lot about frustration and tiredness and confusion and the generation of so much text in so short a time and scrambling for resources and whatnot. Hugs will be much appreciated. Actually, possibly most appreciated. Hugs, music playlists, and opportunities to break from my keyboard and run and dance and have good healthy food.
October 15! A week after getting back from Seattle. Plenty of time. I'll be ready for this. Hooyah. I need to tell myself this sort of thing repeatedly. Being brave is being scared and going for it anyway -- and I know I'm ready, even if I don't know I'm ready. It will be enough.