"I can't carry it for you... but I can carry you."
--Samwise Gamgee, in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Stephanie Cutler was right. Friends are carrying me through my dissertation. Last week, Lindsey Nelson and Todd Fernandez provided crucial feedback on two-thirds of my lit review (on poststructuralism/postmodernism and narrative). Tonight, Julia Thompson got me back to a place where I could look at the third part -- faculty development and academic culture.

I am an extroverted scholar, and I do my best writing in dialogue. Scholarly work is supposed to be in dialogue with the conversations in one's field. For me, this dialogue needs to reflect a much larger and more complex dialogue I am already having, well before and beyond the formal publications I am writing.

As a deaf scholar, I'm relearning that I need to have a lot of those informal, idea-bantering conversations in text chat. Chat is a medium I mastered while working in the open source world, since I can't just pick up the phone or walk down the hall to strike up work-related conversations. I'd just never applied it to my academic network until fairly recently, and I'm stunned by how big a difference it makes.

Most of my life has been spent struggling against disconnect and isolation. The tiny bits of social-idea lubrication that others take for granted -- overhearing hellos and small talk in the hall, knowing that people are nearby and easy to connect with -- I crave that. I treasure that. I can begin by writing alone, but I cannot write if I feel like I am in a vacuum. I need to know I can access others easily if I need to -- that I won't flail in a black hole if I reach out. The feeling of community wraps me like a security blanket as I write ideas I am unsure and afraid of. It makes me feel safe enough to take risks in my thinking and writing.

When I am nourished by community, I naturally give back. I start to write -- prolifically. When I am writing for specific, concrete people -- when I am finding a real answer to real questions by real people who care -- I am on fire. I become an eager puppy going "yes, yes, I can fetch that thing for you!"

So it helps me to know that I'm writing the poststructuralist/postmodern section of my lit review for Ian, who wanted a crash-course on the topic after our microresidency. It helps to know that Zhenya and Alex are investigating faculty agency, and would benefit from drawing on my results. And it helps to know that Julia's work on service learning is asking some of the same questions that last tricky bit of my lit review needs to cover. Here are those questions, which I'm now writing towards.

Julia and I are both looking to facilitate and value a particular sort of transformative experience in engineering education. Her focus is service learning, and as part of that, she wants to work with faculty. My focus is faculty development.

  1. What, precisely, do we mean by "these sorts of experiences"? (Words we've used: transformative, whole-person, ontological, reflective, emergent, making-space.)
  2. How have those ideas and experiences shown up in the history of faculty development -- who has done this before, what did they do, and how have they written about it? (High
  3. How have those ideas and experiences interacted (or not) with the way engineering education researchers write and think about faculty development?

I have... so much reading to do. Why do I have so much reading to do?