Grandparent communications


From the category of “thoughts that won’t leave your mind until you write them down,” I’m taking a brief writing break from my thesis to get some thoughts out, and then… back to it.

When I was little, my grandparents were largely Phones To Shout Into. They lived in the Philippines (later, my mom’s parents moved to Seattle). I was growing up in Chicago. We called each other on special occasions — Christmas, New Year’s, maybe birthdays — and it was always short, because long distance calls were pricey.

There’s no way to lipread on a phone call, so my general impression of my grandparents came from my bewildered looks at nearby parents to explain the blurry audio and prompt me for the proper answer.

“Hello, merry Christmas! (Mom: “They’re asking how is school.”) Uh, school is good! Uh, yeah! I love you too. Here’s mom! Bye!”

Not much in the way of conversation. More like hoping I could guess the right phrase to say into the phone, successfully enough and long enough that they would let me go. I knew they loved me, and they knew I loved them, but it’s hard to get to know someone like that.

Fast forward ten years later. It was my last semester of college, and it had been a good day. After spending hours volunteering at the tech nonprofit that would later become my first job after college, I had reluctantly logged out of an office flooded with rapid-fire English text conversations — computing discussions, made accessible to me for the first time by a distributed international group of contributors who happened to choose text chat as their collaboration medium. Warmed by the unfamiliar fuzzy feeling of full-throttle, large-scale communication, I was walking to the train on rain-slicked Boston cobblestones. It was a warm night.

My phone rang. I recognized my cousin’s name and was momentarily disgruntled at my family. “They know I don’t do phone calls, I can’t hear them.” And then: “Oh crap, I don’t do phone calls. Maybe something is wrong.”

“Hello?”

My cousin said something on the other side. I knew he would be speaking English, but the words didn’t make…

“What did you say?”

He said something again. He sounded serious — his prosody was far slower and more somber than I was used to.

“I’m sorry, I don’t…”

This time, I thought he might have said our grandfather — our Chinese dialect’s word for grandfather. I wasn’t sure. I said the word, hoping I’d guessed correctly. He repeated… something that was also probably that word. I thought.

I don’t know how many times I made my cousin repeat it over and over: our grandfather was dead. (“What?”) Our grandfather had died. (“I didn’t catch that last…”) He had a massive heart attack. (“Something about our grandfather?”) It was sudden and unexpected. (“Can you repeat…”) There was nothing anyone could do even once the ambulance arrived. (“Hang on, can you back up? Are we talking about our grandfather?”)

We gave up, hung up, and I made the long transit trek back to my suburban college dorm, wondering if our grandfather was dead, hoping I’d parsed the phone audio incorrectly, deciding whether I wanted to email my parents and ask if he was alive and risk looking like an idiot.

Eventually, I found my parents over email. He had died. I was to fly home for his funeral and sit while people mourned around me in languages I didn’t understand. Sometimes it was in English, but it’s hard to lipread people when they’re crying.

Fast forward a decade later. My grandmothers both live in the Philippines again. This time, we have Skype. I’m sitting beside my youngest cousin, and she’s the one relaying phrases, prompting my answers.

“Hello! (Cousin: “She’s asking how is school.”) Uh, school is good! Uh, yeah! I love you too.”

This time, I could be more eloquent about school; at the age of thirty, far more so than at the age of ten, I’ve learned to use my hyper-fluency in spoken English to cover for my inability to hear it. But our grandmother is not a native English speaker, and that language has grown harder for her over time — so I need to dial my language to a different setting than when I am sparring verbally in academia — and the awkward 10-year-old comes out.

I’m the canary in the coal mine for my family’s intergenerational communications, or at least that’s what it often feels like. When my grandmother’s English grammar started to slip due to the mental vagaries of age, I started straining more and more to understand her — without clear sentence structures to guess at, the clues I could glean from lipreading ceased to make sense, and at some point a wall slammed shut before me. In contrast, my cousins and my aunts and mother, brother, father, uncles… they get her words, unscramble them so slightly and so fast they barely noticed it at first. There are conversations I can’t be in anymore; there are thickets I cannot, with all my intellect and skill with language, force my way through.

They say she’s still quite clear in our Chinese dialect, her native language, and I believe them. But I can’t lipread that. I’m only oral deaf in English, and in German, and a little bit in Mandarin and Spanish… languages with books, languages with grammars and phonologies I can learn in clear text first, and the fuzzy, lossy mouths of speakers second. And my family is made of people, not of books.

Sometimes — often — I can’t speak to my grandparents. But I can write — and so I write. Not so much to them now, but sometimes for them.

Hello! School… school is hard now. Hard in ways I never thought it would be hard. ButI know how much it means to you that someone in the family will get a Ph.D. You might not understand the words I’m writing, but you do understand that part of why I’m writing them is in appreciation of the generations worth of sacrifice and planning that it took to get us here.

I wish that there was more that I could say to you directly. I wish there was more of your world that I could understand, and vice versa. I wish it didn’t cost so much for me to try with spoken language, but it does, so I will do it indirectly with a written one.

Uh, yeah! I love you too. So yeah, here’s… back to my dissertation.

Bye.


Writing spaces


Part of the continuing adventures of Mel learning how to be an ADHD academic.

One very important thing I have learned and verified experimentally: when I write, I need to be in a writing place. For me, this means the coffeeshop around the corner, the coworking space inside my gym, or the Cambridge Public Library.

The point of the writing place is to increase the effort it takes for me to stop writing. If I’m at home, the effort I need to stop writing is simply… to stop writing and putter off somewhere else — the couch, my bed, whatever. If I’m at the coffeeshop, however, I have to pack up, walk home… that’s harder. I’m more likely to keep writing.

So: no writing from my house. (Bonus: I also have to stop working and go home and sleep at some point, because all the places I’ve listed close at 11:30pm at latest.)

My office also doesn’t work, because I do too many small administrative things inside my office to associate it with deep writing thought — although I do write well from other places on the Olin campus!

The one exception to this is that I can write from anywhere — including my house and office — if I am writing with someone else. If someone else is physically in the space with me and keeping me accountable to writing, I can be writing anything (and they can be doing anything) and I will be able to write. If they are not physically in the space with me but we are virtually collaborating on the same piece of writing, I can similarly write from anywhere.However, if I have a virtual accountability buddy, and we are not working on the same thing, then I have to go to a writing place.

However, if I have a virtual accountability buddy, and we are not working on the same thing, then I have to go to a writing place.

I like my writing places. At first, I thought they felt wasteful — but now I see them as infrastructure and investment, and they’re also beautiful places; one has great coffee (wonderful for ADHD focus), one has spaces where I can run around and lift heavy things and climb on other things (wonderful for ADHD focus), and one is beautiful and home to many wonderful books (okay, maybe not that great for ADHD focus, but it makes for a very happy Mel).


Reading the labels of canned beans


My friend Sheila recently shared this article about two (hypothetical) deaf kids of hearing families at the dinner table. It’s absolutely worth a read. Both children in the story are about 8 years old, and go to a school where they’re taught in ASL; both are bilingual in spoken English and ASL, and both have hearing parents who care for them greatly and want only what will give their children a better life. There are no bad guys here.

In this fictional story, the parents of “Sophia” sign, and use ASL with her at the dinner table; family mealtimes are full of learning and interaction for her, active participation, question-asking, learning more about the world, about her parents’ lives, telling them about hers. The parents of “Caleb” don’t, because they think it’s important that he learn to interact with the hearing world. Caleb learns to keep his CI on to keep his parents happy, even if he doesn’t understand. He learns how to pretend. He loves them. He knows they love him. It’s not a bad childhood, honestly.

And yet.

“Over time, Caleb has learned that it’s best to pretend to understand more than he does, so he will annoy them less… [at dinner, when his parents smile,] Caleb smiles as well, because he likes to see his parents happy, even if he knows nothing about what they’re saying. He has not learned anything from this dinnertime, but he doesn’t usually, so he does not think anything of it…  Caleb clears his plate and leaves the room to brush and ready himself for bed. He is not unhappy, and is in fact mostly fine, but there is a subtle quietness in his heart that he doesn’t completely understand. He can’t identify it yet.”

I grew up closer to Caleb, without the CI, other d/Deaf/HoH kids around, ASL exposure, and with a family that regularly creamed-up English sentences into a creole’d rush of Southeast Asian languages. I know Caleb is a fictional character, but his experience hits close to mine in many ways, though I exhibited no visible academic delays (plenty of social ones, though — and although I was always at the top of my classes as a kid, I wonder what sort of learner I might have been with full access to the world… but that’s a complex experiment that can’t be re-run in any case, and I could have turned into a hypersocial party girl who thought studying was boring, too).

When I was a kid, one of the running family jokes was that I would read anything, anytime. Literally. Anything. I’d grab a can of beans out of the pantry and read the nutritional labels, and I honestly would find it fascinating (“whoa, ascorbic acid is in everything!”). Everybody found it weird and hilarious and cute; I thought it was pretty funny, too. I didn’t know why I kept wanting to read at dinner — and really, all the time — but I just did. It felt like I always had to, like the books were food and I was always starving.

The joke’s still funny, but now it’s also sad — looking at that family joke now, the books were food, and I was always starving. I look back now and see a little kid so ravenous for information that she scavenged the best of what was available to her, which was… ingredient labels. On canned beans. In hindsight, I understand this as tiny-Mel’s attempt to make family mealtime (and all times, for that matter) an information acquisition opportunity, since most of the discussion was… not entirely a closed book, but a heavily blacked-out, liquid-smeared, highly effortful one to read. In many ways, I made my own learning experiences at dinner, got my own content to the table when I was allowed or was able to sneak it.

Sometimes that content was a book I’d try to hide under the table and read until my parents scolded me for not “being present with the family” at dinner, which I could only do through lipreading. Lipreading is exhausting and inaccurate — I say this now as an adult with advanced degrees and a high degree of metalinguistic fluency and topical knowledge with which to guess, so it was probably even worse for a small child who was still developing language skills and vocabulary, and had less knowledge of the world to guess with.

Books are hard to hide under the edges of the table, so it wasn’t usually books. It was typically ingredients. Cereal boxes. The aforementioned cans of beans. Or advertising catalogues that had arrived in the mail. (I became hyper-aware of what I’d now call a typology of the rhetoric of bulk mailings.) This was the information about the world that I could make sense of as a child.

This is not too different from the information I can usually make sense of during hearing dinners now… the difference is that I have more coping strategies and use my speaking privilege like a powerfully wielded machete to get myself into discussions, I have more capacity to moderate and strategize my use of energy and brainpower to focus on important cues and topics, and I have a far richer mental model of the world and all of the ideas in it that I can use to make sense of the spots of information I am able to extract. The information, though… it’s still a crawl, a drip, a broken stream.

I remember this past fall when I was invited to the house of a Deaf family I’ve come to know in town, along with a bunch of other Deaf folks who were mutual friends of ours from church. My ASL receptive skills, at that point, were enough to make sense of most conversation — not to understand it perfectly, but it had surpassed lipreading in terms of cost/benefit (energy expenditure vs accuracy) tradeoff. I wasn’t really signing much myself, yet. I was a linguistic toddler.

I remember sitting in their kitchen and just watching… people… talk. About… local restaurants. Their jobs. Their kids. The snacks. Picking up their kids from school. Job hunting. Whether a kid was allowed to have another piece of chocolate. Topics shifted, nothing was particularly important, nothing was… it was… the most insignificant conversational content ever. And I sat there, wide-eyed, thinking: oh, this is how it is — this is a type of conversation I have never seen — this is what people talk about after meals, this is…

This is the rhetoric of everyday life, the stuff I kept on getting error pages for during my childhood attempts to access it — the “oh, it’s not important” response, or the classic of “I’ll tell you later” with a later that never came. This is the experience of an ethnographer plunged into a foreign culture, but the culture I was plunged into was actually… my own, except with (partial) access to the language for the first time.

“Making the familiar strange” is a common phrase used in training qualitative research students, but I think I might always live inside a world that’s somehow strange to me — as do we all, but I am very much aware of this particular way in which the world is strange to me because of how I grew up with communication.

That’s all I’ve got for now.


Startup/shutdown and research circuit routines


One of the best things I’ve started to do consistently this semester is to think of my research work the same way I think about my physical training. I do equipment setup, warmup, cooldown, and takedown for all my workouts and rehearsals… so why not for my scholarly life?

This isn’t an analogy. As an experiment, I’m taking it as literally as possible and doing my research as a workout, with various research tasks as a part of circuits that include planks, rows, turkish get-ups, and so forth.

Sample circuit: As many rounds as possible (AMRAP) in 2 hours (I usually get through 3-4 circuits).

  • Shoulder mobility circuit, 20 each of T/Y/L/Ws (similar to this set of exercises, but standing)
  • Read and sticky-note a chapter in the book I’m reading. If all chapters are sticky-noted, type notes from one chapter into my personal Zotero format.
  • 2 turkish get-ups on each side, using kettlebell of appropriate weight
  • 5 kettlebell haloes in each direction
  • Complete and send feedback/assessment on one student project (20 minute maximum; set a timer)
  • 10 straight-leg situps, 10 burpees; another 10 straight-leg situps, another 10 burpees
  • Write setup/context paragraph before one piece of data in a dissertation chapter
  • At least 5 minutes of recovery, during which I must drink water.

This circuit changes each time I do work, depending on what I need to get done. However, there are some consistent things.

Setup checklist

  1. Put on appropriate clothes (in my case, I need to be able to move my shoulders so they don’t get stiff; this might mean changing a shirt or taking off a jacket).
  2. Ergonomics setup: wristguards on, or monitor raised and external keyboard in position.
  3. Earbuds ready, music set up (FocusAtWill)
  4. Water bottle (+ coffee, if applicable) on the table.
  5. Notebook and pen open to the next blank page.
  6. Pomodoro timer (Toggl button) ready to go.
  7. “Locating” text document from the end of last work session open

Warmup (every time):  Once everything in the setup checklist is complete, I do this; it should take 20 minute max.

 

  1. Shoulder muscle routine (combination of arm circles and other light mobility work)
  2. Use “Locating” document and notebook/text editor to design the current day’s research sprints/circuits
  3. …then do my physical warm-up (a ~5 minute series of stretches, squats, etc. that I do each time)
  4. …and then sprints/circuits can begin.

 

Cooldown (every time): This should take about half an hour max.

  1. One short (10-15 minute) pomodoro to get to a good closing place on whatever I have worked on that day.
  2. Stop pomodoro timer, put away.
  3. Stop music, put away earbuds.
  4. Clear browser tabs and open documents on my computer.
  5. Gather up water bottle, coffee/food and walk to put it away. Before returning to my computer from this trip, I think about (1) what I need to characterize about where I’ve left off to locate myself, and (2) whether tomorrow’s-Mel needs to keep anyting else in mind.
  6. Return to computer and type those things into “Locating” text document for tomorrow. Make this the first thing I’ll see when the laptop opens.
  7. Close laptop. I’m no longer allowed to open it again for the day.
  8. Put away ergonomics setup.
  9. Arm circles,  trunk spirals, and cooldown stretch routine.
  10. Shutdown complete; pack everything inside my bag, clean up any additional items, and I’m done.

Qualitative research: the discussion section, or: “kryptonite – so what?”


Originally written as an explanation for my qualitative research methods students.

The discussion section of your project is where you answer the question: “so what?” This typically comes at the end, because you are discussing that question in relation to the results of your project, not the problem statement like you did at the beginning. Here’s the difference.

The introduction comes before you talk about the results, and tells us what problem you’re trying to solve (or what question you’re trying to address) and why it is important. For instance, ”we should find out what kinds of things make Superman weak, because if he’s going to keep saving the world, we need to know what might prevent him from doing so” would be an introduction that explains the motivation behind the research question of “what effect do various ore forms of radioactive elements have on the strength and flight abilities of Superman?”

Now, suppose you find that among the elements you tested, only kryptonite has a measurable effect on Superman’s strength and flight abilities, and that it strips him of his powers and makes him physically ill. Those are your results — see how they’re a direct answer to the question you asked earlier?

The discussion comes after your results. Now that we know that kryptonite weakens Superman… so what? What difference does this specific answer make to how we operate? Well, maybe we want to preserve Superman’s superpowers, so this means need to make sure Superman doesn’t come in contact with Kryptonite… perhaps we should make it illegal to possess the substance. Or maybe we want to give a subset of people access to Kryptonite so that they can take Superman down in case he goes evil.

That’s a discussion. Note that the discussion depends on the results you got — if the results change, the discussion changes. For instance, if you found that no ore forms of radioactive elements had measurable impacts on Superman’s abilities, you wouldn’t recommend outlawing Kryptonite because it’d make no difference in this case. If you found out that all ore forms of radioactive elements came close to killing Superman, but only on alternate Tuesdays, and only if he ingests them, you might talk about creating a Superman Radioactivity Food Scanner that only operated once a week to save resources. You get the idea.

The discussion question of “so what?” is not a question you need to have an answer to until the end, but you should know at every point in time that you will need to answer it… in other words, it’s something to constantly keep in mind, and you’ll find it along the way as you develop your project. The introduction and discussion are both important places where you tell us why your work matters — but the introduction is where you tell us why the question is important, and the discussion is where you tell us why the answer is.


Things I want to remember while writing


Probably only coherent to my future self, and that’s perfectly okay.

It’s not selling out; it’s helping other people to buy in.

Besides, you can’t be disruptive within a place you’re not allowed into. (The point of graduate school was to get commit access to the academic culture repository so that you could use and share it for Great Awesome, so go get it.)

There are different ways to say the same thing I want to say. Sort of. Yes, the medium is the message, but all the alternative-format things I have — specifically, the ones that look like theatre dialogues — could easily be reworded into more “conventional” academic prose. “Hamlet said… (blah blah blah), to which Laertes replied (blah blah). In contrast, Polonius…”

The literature review is not meant to prove how smart I am or how much I have read.
The literature review is not meant to prove how smart I am or how much I have read.
The literature review is not meant to prove how smart I am or how much I have read.

The literature review is supposed to put the things the reader needs into their knapsack. I only need enough to explain what I’m doing and why.

You can do great things with words once you’ve written them. You simply need to write them.

Just write.
Just write.
Just sit down and write.

(And yes. This is hard.)


QualMIP week 11: semester feedback


Part of the QualMIP series, introduced here. 

Technically, it’s week 12 but blog entry 11, since week 11 was a review of the semester plus a presentation of projects. Tonight… was feedback night.

Major takeaways

  1. Constant awareness of positionality and related concepts — bias, personal experience, etc.
  2. Rich awareness of everyday interactions. Formerly “boring” situations reveal a depth of interaction, and there are more tools with which to analyze what’s going on; there are always questions we can ask.
  3. Along the same veins, “having a larger toolbox” with which to experience the world (one of our original goals, so that’s fantastic.)
  4. The importance of self-care and sensitivity to one’s own state and emotions. “You are your own research instrument.” Along these lines, the policy of grace weeks was a MASSIVE hit, and… I will do this again.

Other takeaways, in absolutely no particular order

The value of team dynamics in learning qualitative research, which I’ll need to consider for future (presumably larger-group) iterations. It’s nice to have a team and learn about your differences in perception, and to get comfortable tossing ideas around with — but there’s also value in switching it up. Cesar, Paige, and Emily worked together super-well, and this contributed tremendously to the success of the project.

NINJAs. Instructor-student ratio is key. If I scale up much, I absolutely need course NINJAs (teaching assistants) and/or coinstructors.

More memo assignments. In perhaps the first instance of students asking me to give them more homework, the group requested more exercises focused on forcing them to try different memo formats during exercises. In a 2-credit independent study, I tried not to overload them, but this is top priority to add in for a full-scale class. Suggestions include having some group-facing memos (both small and large) in addition to individual ones, so they can see what it’s like to memo with and for different audiences as well as in different formats.

Interview nonverbals were a good skill to gain — you don’t really need to talk during an interview. (Quote from last night: “It’s kind of like therapy. They just listen so you can talk and figure it out yourself.”) Each individual has distinctive movement patterns. (I think of them like voices.)

More rounds of interviewing/observing skill practice. There was universal acclaim for more repeated practice for interviewing and observing, specifically. This fits nicely with the request for more memos. I think “more structure” will be the order of the day in the next (larger) round of the class.

Ambiguity, followed by framework introductions (worksheets, whiteboard grids, etc.) is a good pattern. Don’t give the frameworks at the beginning — let students try to figure it out — but at some point, it’s really nice to see how others have ordered topics. (I agree! It’s hard to do this without introducing reading assignments… or is it? I could make worksheets from the readings, and leave the citations at the bottom for students to optionally look at if they want, I guess.)

The introduction to various qualitative research paradigms was good (although I feel it was too theoretical). This might be something valuable to use reading assignments for (one of my restrictions in this independent study design was “no course readings,” and in a full-scale course I would relax that somewhat). Showing examples of work in each paradigm and having students do work across at least two (somehow) would be a plus, since everyone ended up in the interpretivist camp this time.

Project development lifecycle examples. Similarly, the close reading was useful so they could see parts of a project at a different stage than where their own projects were at. Finding some way to see (close readings of) different projects at different stages in development earlier on might help.

Instrument development was useful to see! This time around, it happened accidentally when Emily created one as part of her project (a massive table for sorting data about dance events). Do this more explictly next time.

Inter-rater reliability and validity could have used better discussions. (Yeah, I kinda pulled those out of the top of my head when it became clear we needed to discuss it during studio. More planning would have been good, I admit.) Also, we did not have a unit on member-checking, and should.

Using Olin as a convenient study location was a plus, largely for the exercise of “making the familiar strange,” and the ease with which we could (potentially) experiment with environmental disruptions (something we did not do this time). Using locations other than Olin on occasion was also a big plus, so… mix it up. (Me: “I’m sure I can find strange, safe, but uncomfortable situations to dump people into.”)

Protocol testing was a good exercise. However, we won’t have a convenient AHS capstone in need of protocol feedback in future iterations of the course, so teams will have to come up with protocols for that exercise and swap them (a good addition to the exercise, really). Make sure to specify those protocols be made on non-sensitive topics; this time the AHS capstone topic was about something that some people considered touchy, and about something others didn’t have experience with, which made it difficult to test as they scrambled to fabricate stories.

Keep the unicorn exercise (that we did with Insper).

The artifact analysis scavenger hunt was too much to pack into one day — split it over two class periods so we can take more time doing it.

Bounding projects was something everyone did, and a good skill to develop in general. Perhaps develop exercises specifically targeting this? (I’ve talked with faculty at other times about “project bounding” being a skill that Olin students need to develop more generally.)

Derrida. In a simultaneous I-am-proud-but-also-sort-of-scared moment, the idea that “everything is text” ended up being an impactful phrase… I think the students meant it as “everything is data” and “everything can be analyzed” or something similar, but I’ll need to be careful about introducing Derrida in the future, because… there is such a thing as just enough postmodernism to be dangerous (I’m at that stage myself, right now).

The machine trick/geneaology. Related to the above thought, the constant asking of “how did that get there? how did this come to be?” is a habit of mind that I am silently rejoicing over. Even the most intimidating, formal-looking things have some kind of backstory (and psst… the world is hackable.)

Apparently, my metaphors are popular (and help with conceptual understanding, I… think). I don’t even remember what they were, but I supposedly compare things to programming and dancing quite a bit, and there was laughter.

Mental health. One of the most surprising but gratifying comments was that QualMIP was a good influence on student mental health this semester — that it contributed to better self-care, ways to move on from cycles of overthinking, permission to be kind to oneself, awareness of one’s own state, and… well. Mental health. I’m glad for this — I’m glad this could be a space for that — and I’d like to find a way to keep making it a better space for that, because it’s SUPER important, especially at a place like Olin.

And finally, having a giant teddy bear in the office is fantastic.


Musings on movement and somatics in qualitative methodology


Adapted from an email conversation with Alice Sheppard.

We’ve been discussing the domain of qualitative research methodology, and you asked how movement figures as a part of sensory perception. The short answer is I don’t know, and we’re still playing with that. But I do have fragments of what might become a longer answer someday. using one’s own body/movements as clues — if you’re in an observational situation and realize your posture

One fragment is the idea of using one’s own body/movements as clues during an observation, essentially treating your body as a complex sensor. Qualitative researchers are often told that they are now their own research instrument — but sometimes I feel like discussions assume that this is mostly about the mind, the cognition you have and what has shaped it. I’m explicitly exploring integrating embodiment into this and actively prioritizing it. If you’re in an observational situation and realize your back slumps, or you’re fiddling with a pen, or your stomach is tensed, what does that mean about how you’re observing and the state you’re in and what viewpoint you might be taking and how you might want to respond? This is somatic awareness. It’s key to get students to realize they are not disembodied observing brains.

Another connected element is noting the movements of others as a way to flag significant moments, and echoing that movement back to them as prompts in later conversations/interviews (“when the box opened, your hand came up like this, and you looked away — what were you thinking at that point in time?”) Basically, validating and allowing kinesthetics/movement as data, and practicing ways to perceive, record, remember, and communicate that movement back to others. It might be fun to mix this into more dance/choreography practice. For instance, movement notation could be a tool for

For instance, movement notation could be a tool for fieldnotes. I can’t for the life of me read Labanotation (yet) and would need lots of training/practice for that to become a useful tool to my work… but the principles it breaks movements down into are helpful. There’s also the dancer’s/actor’s practice of observing and imitating fine details of movement, studio-based practices for dialog/iteration around movement… so much training and pedagogy in the fine and performing arts that would cross-apply. I don’t have the depth here to cross-apply it, but there are people who can, and I would love to help translate from the engineering/qualitative side.

Another is veering into more of a critical theory direction, looking at influences on power dynamics and performances with, within, and/or against systems and structures. I attend — and want to teach attention to — physical placement and constant motion of self during interviews/observations; height, gaze, placement, etc. of the observer and observed communicating dynamics of power, role, etc. Movement is an intervention and a tool to use in dialogue with participants, and we can think critically about it the same way we scrutinize question wording in survey design, look over lab protocols, and so on. This is almost akin to a clinical skill development, in my mind — and my mind jumps to the pedagogical practices of teaching future speech therapists how to work with a child’s articulation, teaching future physical therapists how to palpate muscle, teaching future counselors how to listen and respond…

Perhaps one way to categorize it would be looking at disciplinary pedagogies and seeing how some of them cross-apply to the ways of being that I want to examine within qualitative methodology, especially with an engineering student audience. I love methodology; I love exploring it, examining it, being on the boundaries of practice and philosophy.


Want more inclusivity at your conference? Add childcare.


Providing conference childcare isn’t difficult or expensive, and it makes a huge difference for parents of young children who might want to come. If your community wants to (visibly!) support work-life balance and family obligations — which, by the way, still disproportionately impact women — I urge you to look into providing event childcare. I don’t have kids myself — but a lot of my friends do, and someday I might. I’ve seen too many talented colleagues silently drop out of the conference scene and fade out of the community because they needed to choose between logistics for the family they loved and logistics for the work they loved — and there are simple things we can do to make it easier for them to stay.

A good number of conferences have already started offering free or low-cost childcare on-site, and Above All Human is one of them. (Above All Human also used a Code of Conduct, another simple way to shift conference culture towards inclusivity and diversity.)

I talked with Scott Handsaker, one of the conference organizers, to ask how they set it up. It was easy. There was an existing daycare facility nearby, so trained staff, equipment, space, and insurance were all taken care of. All Scott had to do was negotiate the price, which ended up being $30 per child. Out of 1,000 people in attendance, roughly 10-15 used childcare, for a total price tag of $300-$450 per day.

The resulting slew of publicity was tremendous. Scott mentioned they were late in organizing childcare — too late to advertise it on the conference website — so they only had a little time to message via email and social media. Even so, childcare was the #1 thing people tweeted about leading up to the conference. (“This [twitter search] nowhere near captures the volume of tweets or the sentiment,” Scott wrote.) In fact, that’s how I found out about Above All Human in the first place — a former classmate raving about childcare on social media. This is the sort of exposure you want for your event, brand, and community. Financing conference childcare was snapped up by Slack as a low-cost, high-impact, high-visibility corporate sponsorship opportunity.

If your conference location doesn’t have childcare on-site, talk with nearby childcare providers or a local college with an education/teacher-training program. You’re looking for care providers with training in early childhood education or some similarly related field, medical knowledge (CPR/AED etc), and enough experience to take care of insurance and logistics, which often involves negotiating directly with the hotel or other conference location about space and setup.

Some conferences have written documentation on their childcare setup. GovHack wrote a behind the scenes look at childcare for their conference, and YOW stands as a good example of how to promote it.

Right now, determined conference committee members can pull something together for their own event by taking advantage of resources like these, as well as tapping into the informal network of conference organizers who’ve coordinated childcare in the past. However, that network can be hard to find — so as more and more events attempt to do this, we can share notes and work to make it easier. A great next step would be to compile more writeups about the childcare-at-conferences process and to list events that have had it and are willing to talk with other events who are interested. Eventually, we could create a series of templates and guides for how to email daycare providers, how to advertise, what insurance to secure, and so forth. If you know of existing resources or efforts, please let me know and I’ll add them to this post.

Edit: Reader-provided resources so far…

  • David Nelson Adamec noted that PyCon, a major programming language conference, provides childcare: https://us.pycon.org/2016/sponsors/. “I like that they call out “Company X is our childcare sponsor”, making it a cool thing to be and encouraging others to follow suit,” says David. He also noted that http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Childcare has more general tips for organizers.
  • Sara Melnick noted that SIGCSE, a major CS education conference (academic) provides a kids’ camp, almost like a parallel conference for children: http://sigcse2016.sigcse.org/attendees/kidscamp.html
  • Bonnie Tesch submitted MoMiCon, an academic gathering deliberately designed as a conference format experiment designed for mothers with young children. Some very cool design ideas here.
  • Anne Lucietto noted that childcare isn’t the only need — sometimes adult care is needed as well.
  • Peter Barszczewski noted that the same setup applies to hackathons.

High-level reading notes: “Promotion and Tenure: Community and Socialization in Academe”


High-level reading note summaries, in ongoing experiments to make intermediate products of my work more accessible/useful to others.

This book was authored by William G. Tierney and Estela Mara Bensimon. Worth reading if you’re interested in faculty socialization and/or the promotion/tenure process and how it can be situated in history and critically assessed. The book draws from stories about the hiring, tenure, and promotion process as told by new faculty.

Tierney and Bensimon point to many inconsistencies and gaps in the faculty hiring/promotion experience. They’re not necessarily bad inconsistencies or gaps, but seeing that they’re there lets us make decisions about what to do with them. For instance, what should happen between hiring and campus arrival — is it an issue that this space is often scattered and chaotic?

The book also has a chapter devoted to gender, and another chapter devoted to race and ethnicity, as particular factors that impact faculty socialization into academe. If you’re looking at gender, race, and/or ethnicity, those chapters are full of good stories situated in the early-professor life.

It ends with a section on what colleges and universities can do, so the last chapter is worth revisiting or reading if you’re involved in the hiring/promotion process in your institution. For instance, it recommends adopting (what I’d call) a user-centered experience design perspective on the faculty hiring perspective. For instance, instead of only considering what the campus needs to learn about candidates when they visit, also consider how candidates experience your interview process — and how you would you like them to.