Blog Post

Writing in Community, Circles of Collaboration, and Becoming a Future Professor Today

This week, I spent three days at the University of Iowa to give a series of talks on digital writing, civic engagement, and the transition from life as a graduate student to a faculty member.  As part of my presentation, I assembled a website with some links and materials that you can find here.  Because all the presentation information is on that website, I’d like to use this space to share some of the questions we talked about after the presentations.  The Q&A is always my favorite part!

On Thursday, I met with the Digital Studio for the Public Humanities as part of their PDH4L (Public Digital Humanities for Lunch) series.  I talked about “Collaborative Digital Writing: New Ways of Writing in Community,” and shared some ideas for how to Twitter, Zotero, Google Drive, and Wordpress to engage students in a more collaborative writing process.  We also talked about Video Feedback as a way to improve the process of evaluating students’ work, and Writing in Community, as a way to help students write for authentic audiences in meaningful ways.

After the presentation, I had a number of great questions, but the two I’m still mulling are these:

  • How do you get students to be invested in their work, and does writing collaboratively make them more or less invested?
  • How do civically engaged writing projects create productive frustration for students?


I love the idea of productive frustration as one of our goals as teachers... we had a great conversation about the value of building relationships to support student learning.

At the Obermann Center, I met with a group of Obermann Graduate Fellows who participated in the Obermann Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy, a week-long introduction to public scholarship.  I am a 2009 alum, and the Institute was a radically inspiring and career-changing experience for me--it was such a delight to talk with new fellows just beginning their civically engaged work.  The talk focused on finding a narrative arc within a serendipitous path, and the ability to tell a story about your work.

After the session, John Keller (who is Dean of the Graduate College at Iowa, and a wonderful advocate for civically engaged graduate education) told me a story about his own serendipitous graduate path: it was working in a factory and being familiar with power tools that eventually earned him a position in a lab, and later entrance to graduate school.  What a testament to treating your work with purpose and integrity--whether it’s your calling in life or a side path, a temporary position or a hobby.  So much of our story only makes sense in retrospect, and so many ‘aha’ moments happen and doors open in the places we least expect it.  

Dean Keller’s story mirrors a bigger message I’ve learned from him and my other mentors at Iowa: while we sometimes think of focus and depth as the single hallmark of a successful graduate career, it is the breadth and richness of experience that makes us good teachers and researchers, and that gives us full lives.

Some of the most compelling conversations from this event included:

  • What did you do in graduate school that wasn’t as worthwhile, or didn’t fit into narrative?
  • How is civic engagement work different in a small town and a liberal arts college than an urban university?
  • How do you explain civic engagement work that can’t be fully captured by a CV?
  • What did you learn or gain from publishing collaboratively?


On Friday, I met with a wonderfully diverse group of graduate students and junior faculty from Microbiology, Social Work, Computer Science, the Writer’s Workshop, Music, Management, Urban and Regional Planning, Art, Rehabilitation and Counselor Education, Immunology, and more to talk about “Becoming a Future Professor Today."  I shared some of the unexpected changes in my transition from a graduate student to a faculty member, and the advice I wish I could tell myself then.  You’re invited to participate in a follow-up conversation online to share ideas about keeping teaching reflections and finding a work/life balance.

Because I taught courses independently as a graduate student in UIowa’s English department--around 15 sections in all, between Rhetoric and General Education Literature--I didn’t need to look for teaching opportunities.  It was great to brainstorm with graduate students from STEM disciplines, for instance, about how summer teaching, guest teaching, an active learning conference presentation, or writing a teaching philosophy might be a way to create teaching opportunities.

Other questions we discussed included:

  • How do you find opportunities for service as a graduate student?
  • Is it more important to find service opportunities in your field (ie peer reviewing for journals) or in your institution (ie serving on a committee or search)?
  • How do you put together a teaching portfolio?
  • Where do you find Alt Ac careers?
  • How do you keep doors open for both research and teaching jobs?
  • What are some challenges of new faculty—especially young, female, minority faculty?


My visit concluded with the Rewiring the Classroom conference organized by UIowa’s HASTAC Scholars... look for another post about the conference shortly!

A special thanks to Jean Florman, Teresa Mangum, Jennifer New, and Jon Winet for inviting me to visit... thank you for supporting me, and for being such great mentors for UIowa graduate students!  You all make the world a better place!

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