Blog Post

Transforming the Dissertation: Models, Questions, and Next Steps - #HASTAC2015

Join us for this curated conversation on Thursday, May 28, 10:20-11:35 a.m. at Kellogg Center Auditorium, East Lansing, MI.



Jade Davis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (unable to attend)

Gregory T. Donovan, Fordham University

Kathie Gossett, Iowa State University

Justin Hodgson, Indiana University

Amanda Licastro, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Liza Potts, Michigan State University

Nick Sousanis, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Kalle Westerling, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Chair: Katina Rogers, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Respondent: Cathy N. Davidson, The Graduate Center, CUNY



Scholarly communication practices are changing rapidly as researchers present their work in new ways and through new channels. Some of the most innovative work is being done by emerging scholars who are blazing new trails with their dissertations. The challenges now are to develop new systems to support this rigorous work, and to provide models to graduate students who hope to create projects that go beyond traditional text-based dissertations.

This panel features a number of scholars who have successfully completed or are completing innovative dissertations with non-textual components.  It is a follow-up to and expansion of the highly successful “What Is a Dissertation: New Models, Methods, Media” Forum (#remixthediss) held at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York on October 10, 2014 and at over 20 satellite locations around the world, and co-sponsored by the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center and HASTAC@Duke and HASTAC@CUNY.

Our panel will use as a jumping off place a series of questions generated with the virtual and face-to-face audience of “What Is a Dissertation?” and shared on a public Google Doc ( Before HASTAC2015, we encourage anyone interested to explore the materials below, which include links to the speakers’ projects or reflections that they have written on the their experiences creating innovative dissertations; questions that we hope to discuss during the panel; information about each speaker; and our original panel proposal.


Links to panelists’ projects and reflections


Before the session, check out some of the work that will inform the discussion:



Questions for discussion

The questions below were generated during  the Q&A of the first #remixthediss panel at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Visit the original think-pair-share document to see additional discussion. For panelists’ preliminary discussion on these questions, take a look at the Google Doc that we used to plan the discussion.



  1. What are the learning objectives of creating a dissertation, and how do we approach it differently than other types of learning?

  2. Does remixing the dissertation necessarily mean creating digital projects, or are there other ways we might reimagine it as well?

  3. Is "remixthediss" about product, process, or both?

  4. What is the role of collaboration in a “remixthediss” model?

  5. If we push non-textual media to an appendix, what values are communicated? How do we move that material to the core of a project?

  6. What was the review point for “publication”?  Was it a formal process or was the process more free form?

  7. How do we transform our understandings of (visual, aural, performative) creativity itself as a mode of analysis, especially in humanities and social sciences disciplines (excluding visual & performing arts)?

  8. How to evaluate digital ‘process’ and ‘output’ of your dissertation? How to assess the life of your digital work / project after the viva (archive & leave or keep working on it & developing)?



  1. How can we translate the validity of alternative dissertation styles to more traditional fields? What have been the most salient arguments when talking to traditionalists?

  2. How do we take advantage of the way nontraditional studies challenge notions of public and private information/space?

  3. How can we rethink the dissertation in other disciplines? What models exist in (e.g.) history?

  4. How do we redefine rigor in new models of the dissertation?

  5. How can we apply this approach of long-form scholarship to Master’s Projects-- especially when there are many programs that want their graduate students to produce papers instead of projects? How might we imagine remixing at different levels of academic programs?


Institutional support and challenges

  1. How do we get around bureaucracy?

  2. What are some tips for talking to advisors about innovative dissertation projects?

  3. Who are the gatekeepers and how do we provide adequate documentation to satisfy them?

  4. How can we really shift thinking when faced by institutional requirements like word limits and formatting boundaries?

  5. How do we support students (with teaching, new skills, etc) in places where the institution isn’t DH friendly?

  6. How have the panelists dealt with accreditation at the state level?

  7. All three speakers so far said "my advisors were very open to my writing in new ways." That's really not typical. So is the takeaway that grad students wanting to #remixthediss need to carefully pick their discipline?



  1. What might we need to think about in terms of preservation and archiving of different media in our research? As technologies change will your work become inaccessible?

  2. How does ProQuest (or other proprietary databases) deal with new media in dissertations?

  3. How does the time required to teach yourself new skills compare to the time required to write a traditional dissertation?

  4. How do we start moving away from closed-access databases? Is the discussion about #remixthediss an opportunity to create new ways of doing the dissertation in an #openaccess way?

  5. What do we do about issues around licensing of images/video/content, IP, potential reluctance from administrators to expose themselves to copyright claims?

  6. How are people building access into their "innovative, experimental formats"?


Careers and professionalization


  1. If students know they are going on more of an #altac path, does that free them up to be more experimental with their diss?

  2. The dissertation for most scholars will probably be the only opportunity for long-form scholarship. What does remixing the diss mean for adjuncts? Community college professors? Regional State U professors?

  3. In the age of hiring biases that privilege those with publications, how have these projects translated to “publications” that are acknowledged?



Jade E. Davis is student and Teaching Fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Department of Communication Studies. She is a member of the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge at Duke University, the Program Coordinator for the Digital Media and Learning Competition at HASTAC, and a member of the HASTAC steering committee. She is a former PhD Intern with Microsoft Research New England’s Social Media Collective. Her research looks at how digital media affects how society makes, understands, and accepts knowledge and culture. More specifically she is interested in spaces that make digital information into knowledge and culture and the ethics and ownership of the data traces that are left behind. You can find some of her work on her website and follow her on twitter @jadedid.


Gregory T. Donovan is Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, a researcher at the Public Science Project, a founder of the OpenCUNY Academic Medium, and co-editor of The Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy's Media and Methods for Opening Education. Gregory’s research concerns the mutual shaping of people, place, and proprietary media in urban environments and draws on participatory research and design to reorient such shaping towards more just outcomes. He received a Ph.D. in Environmental Psychology and a doctoral certificate in Interactive Technology and Pedagogy from the CUNY Graduate Center. His dissertation product, participatory research process, and public defense have been archived at Find out more about Gregory’s work at and @gdonovan.


Kathie Gossett received her Ph.D. from the Center for Writing Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is currently an assistant professor at Iowa State University in the rhetoric and professional communication and human computer interaction programs. Her research interests include digital dissertations, open-source design, digital media theory & practice, and medieval rhetoric. In 2012 she received an NEH Start-Up Grant, “Building an Open-Source Archive for Born-Digital Dissertations,” with Dr. Liza Potts. She is a member of the editorial review board for several multimedia journals and was the associate editor for the journal Kairos: Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy from 2009-2011. Before returning to graduate school she worked in the information technology sector as a project manager, systems designer, Y2K integration manager, web designer/architect, and technical communicator.



Justin Hodgson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Indiana University. His work focuses on the points of connection (and spaces of contention among) digital media and rhetorical studies, with a particular tint toward multimedia production, aesthetics, media studies, game/play theories, and rhetorical invention. While a graduate student at Clemson University, Hodgson attempted two dissertations to demonstrate the parallels, connections, and distinctions between a print dissertation and a digital one (using the Sophie platform). As a scholar, Hodgson’s work has been published in the journals Enculturation, Kairos, Pre/Text, Composition Studies, and Education Quarterly. Further, he is the founding editor of The Journal for Undergraduate Multimedia Projects (TheJUMP), a journal dedicated to (1) showcasing undergraduate multimedia scholarship and (2) serving as pedagogical resource for instructors of multimedia composition.


Amanda Licastro is currently completing her doctoral studies in the English Program at the Graduate Center, CUNY focusing on the relationship between technology and writing, and has certificates in Interactive Technology and Pedagogy and Teaching in the Two-Year College. Her dissertation applies digital humanities methods to issues concerning composition and rhetoric, with a particular focus on pedagogy. Amanda is an instructor in NYU’s Gallatin School and an Instructional Technology Fellow at Macaulay Honors College. She is also the co-founder and project manager of the Writing Studies Tree, serves on the editorial collective of the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, and is on the CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative team.

CUNY Academic Commons site Digitocentrism :



Liza Potts is an associate professor in the department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. At MSU, she is a senior researcher at WIDE, Director of the Experience Architecture Program, and the Director of the Creativity Exploratory. Her research interests include digital rhetoric, internet studies, participatory culture, and social user experience. Dr. Potts earned her PhD in Communication and Rhetoric from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the country’s oldest technological research university. She is the Chair of ACM’s Special Interest Group for the Design of Communication (SIGDOC), a leader in the Women in Technical Communication group, and affiliated with the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR). Her work has been published in Technical Communication Quarterly, Journal of Business and Technical Communication, and Technical Communication. Her new book, Social Media in Disaster Response, is the first in the ATTW series by Routledge.


Nick Sousanis received his doctorate in education at Teachers College, Columbia University in 2014, where he wrote and drew his dissertation entirely in comic book form. Titled “Unflattening,” the work’s form embodies its argument for the importance of visual thinking in teaching and learning. A book version will be published by Harvard University Press in March of 2015. Before coming to New York City, he was immersed in Detroit’s thriving arts community, where he co-founded the arts and cultural webmag and became the biographer of legendary Detroit artist Charles McGee. He furthers his advocacy for the medium as a powerful tool for thought in the comics courses he developed and taught at Teachers College and at Parsons in New York City. He is currently an Eyes High Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Calgary. See excerpts from his work at



Kalle Westerling is a Ph.D. Student in Theatre at The Graduate Center, CUNY, and at Stockholm University in Sweden, working concurrently on two dissertation. One dissertation focuses on the formation of the Swedish brand of drag show, and the other concerns male-identified bodies in 20th century burlesque and boylesque. He is a Futures Initiative Fellow, who also co-directs the Scholars project for the The Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC). He is on the Board of Directors for CLAGS: Center for LGBTQ Studies, as well as the board of Swedish Performance Studies-focused publishing house STUTS.


Katina Rogers (chair) is deputy director of The Futures Initiative at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her work focuses on many aspects of higher education reform, including scholarly communication practices, professionalization and career development, public scholarship, and advocacy for fair labor policies. Her study on perceptions of career preparedness, forthcoming from Digital Humanities Quarterly, provided valuable data on the skillsets and career paths of humanities graduate students. She edits #Alt-Academy, a digital publication dedicated to exploring the career paths of humanities scholars in and around the academy, and holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Colorado at Boulder.


Cathy N. Davidson (respondent), a distinguished scholar of the history of technology, is a leading innovator of new ideas and methods for learning and professional development–in school, in the workplace, and in everyday life.  In July 2014, Davidson moved from Duke University (where she was Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies) to New York City where she is a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center, The City University of New York, and Director of the Futures Initiative, a new program dedicated to envisioning the future of higher education.  She is co-founder of HASTAC and directs HASTAC@CUNY.  She is co-PI of the Digital Media and Learning Competitions, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and administered by HASTAC.  Davidson is the first educator to serve on the Board of Directors of Mozilla. She received the Educator of the Year Award (with HASTAC cofounder David Theo Goldberg) from the World Technology Network in 2012 and currently serves on the National Council on the Humanities, appointed by President Obama.    







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