Semester Recap: Exploring New Topics, Learning Methods

I told you the writing challenge wouldn’t last long.

The rush of the semester is over and I find myself with some time… or I should say I don’t have coursework taking up too much of my time right now which means revisiting the blog and developing the ol’ writing habit.

I’ve completed my third semester of grad school and it’s been a challenging one in terms of workload—something I had hoped for my first two years at the New School.

Despite being enrolled in only two classes (as opposed to three the previous two semesters), Fall 2015 proved to be very tiring. If this is what feeling burned out at the end of the semester is, by golly, I felt it for sure.

I started the semester taking Interviewing Methods, and Fundamentals of Urban Sociology. Interviewing Methods was recommended by a friend and colleague who knew I was looking to move onto the Ph.D. after the M.A. She said it would be good practice and the professor teaching it recommended it to her. (Thanks for that, friend.) I initially enrolled in Urban Sociology out of pure interest. The professor’s “street cred” also didn’t hurt. Unfortunately, I ended up dropping that class because of some issues and switched into Theory of Publics. I’m a little disappointed that the other class didn’t work out but Theory of Publics ended up being valuable in its own way. It got me thinking more broadly about some of my interests in education.

Theory of Publics

I started this class a month late but I don’t think I missed a beat. The readings illuminated my understanding of “publics” more so than what was covered in Contemporary Sociological Theory. I also got to explore media’s role in discourse. That’s always fun.

The professor is a brilliant man. I enjoyed his non-bullshittery. If he didn’t get what you were saying he’d tell you. If he didn’t agree with what you were saying, he’d tell you. He’d then engage with you to flesh out your opinions or arguments so he can understand them better. If he still didn’t agree with you, he’d tell you. He was very conscious of the lecturer/student relationship and worked hard to create an environment that was more collegial.

The readings were varied and interesting. It included the Habermasian and Arendtian notion of publics, as well as more contemporary explorations by Ikegami, Anderson, and Goldfarb, among others. There were the political discussions and the (attempt at) non-political discussions about publics. Networks. Interactions. Media. Everything. The public was so inherent in our many discussions that I often forgot it was a class on publics and not something else, like media.

What’s great about grad school, to some degree anyway, is the opportunity to explore topics of interest to you. For my paper I focused on the formation of publics (i.e. communities) in relation to the Common Core State Standards debate, and media’s role in those publics. This is a diversion from my typical school discipline focus, but the idea to explore Common Core discourse was something I’ve had on the back burner since my full-time days at Education Week. I’ve come across some fairly interesting comments and criticisms about the standards while producing articles and managing the social media feeds. I even jot down a possible research question that analyzed Common Core discourse in media.

Voilà.

It’s a term paper so it’s short. When I finished the paper, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with it but I knew I got the main points of it down. I’m pretty sure I could flesh out the paper some more if space were not an issue. Maybe next semester I can revisit the topic further in another term paper.

Interviewing Methods

This class is the ultimate reason the semester ended up being as challenging as it was. Despite the cries and hem-hawing, I’m all the better for having taken this class. It reminds me of the brutal Journalism 201 class I had to take at University of Maryland. You know. That class where you couldn’t pass without having published 10 articles? Yeeeeeah…

Ten interviews is a lot to do in a single semester. Ten interviews to transcribe in some fashion, code, and analyze is a lot to do in a single semester; particularly for someone who’s never really had to analyze their interviews beyond too deeply. All about them quotes.

It’s very strange that I used more of my journo skills and learning in this one class than I have ever used prior to attending grad school. Thanks for that, j-school (I think).

One of the books we read for class. Proved pretty useful for a class that threw you into the deep end.
The class. Interviewing methods. What can I say. It’s pretty straightforward, no?

When the syllabus arrived in my Inbox a few days before the semester started, I read it voraciously like I read the Hobbit. (I have no shame.) Then a panic set in. Could I really do this class? I wondered. Fears of failing crept in.

It was a methods course and what better way to learn methods than practicing it first hand? In a nutshell: We each designed and conducted an interview study with at least 10 in-depth interviews. There were roughly 18 students in this class. Meaning there were roughly 18 different projects that we talked about. They were all very different and many of them were really interesting.

But… This is JOUR201 all over again! Was it a mistake to enroll in this class? 😓

That was a legitimate fear but I pushed that out after convincing myself that if this helps with my Ph.D. application then I’m all in. Challenge accepted. [insert other ridiculous poster memes here.]

After a tense start, I completed the necessary interviews and punched out a paper that was good. Just like my Theory of Publics paper though, I wasn’t particularly satisfied with it. It felt unfinished. Luckily I’ll be able to go back and fix it up some to submit as my writing sample for one of my applications. Despite feeling short and unfinished, I’m pretty happy about the fact that I was able to do a project like this to begin with, and I’m hoping the writing sample conveys my ability to conceive, do, and analyze a research project (or something) to the application review committees.

Oh- yes. What was my project on? I looked into how teachers interpret and practice school discipline in their classrooms. Pretty simple topic, but my data is huge… varying from leadership issues, education training issues, race, socioeconomics, systemic issues, and more. Goldmine 💎

I’m excited for the potential that this project holds for the future.

And that is that. My semester in a nutshell.

It’s not over though. Next week, my friends and I will be convening in some remote corner of campus. Or somewhere. Our heads will be crammed together as we study and prepare for our upcoming M.A. exam. It’s do or die time. The moment of truth that will give me my M.A. degree in sociology.

By next fall I’ll be headed towards a Ph.D. Or, that’s the goal anyway.

Excitement abounds for the upcoming year.

Cheers.

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