A Space of Possibility

In the haze of (a) defending my dissertation, (b) getting a job, and (c) graduating, it completely slipped my mind that I’d intended to write a post about my students’ final project assignment from the spring semester. I’m not sure what a person is supposed to do after all of that stuff, but me? I’ve been sleeping.

A baby stretched out and sleeping with a smile on their face


That being said, let’s flash back to the last chunk of the semester. As I mentioned previously, I was teaching Digital Media Composing for the second time. I had a lot of fun with that class both times I taught it, for a variety of reasons, but most especially because it’s a class specifically predicated on digital play, inquiry, and composition, all of which I love.

Throughout the semester, my students created various compositions that allowed them to explore many facets of digital communication. They analyzed their own selfies, created visual essays, developed thematic playlists, conducted and edited audio interviews, and lastly, composed digital memoirs. As the final project of the semester, the memoir assignment was meant to pull together strands from the different modes they’d worked with throughout the semester. I got this idea from my pal Dr. Les Hutchinson when she shared this while I was still in the early stages of planning my class. While I didn’t think we’d necessarily pull together something that complex, I knew from previous experience that my students would rise to the challenge if given the opportunity, time, and tools to do so.

The requirements were pretty simple. They had to create a memoir using multiple digital communication modes that we’d worked with. That’s pretty much it in terms of restriction. From there, they had the freedom to play and create as they wished. To do this, you have to be willing to cede a lot of control over what the final outcome will be. There’s no singular right way for this assignment to take shape, which I think is a perk, but I know some folks might also struggle with (both from the teacher and student side). That being said, I also believe there’s so much untapped potential and possibility that we never get to in educational spaces because control takes precedence. There’s real value in loosening the reigns (which btw does not mean you allow the class to become Thunderdome, but it does mean you engage in more collaboration with students about what the class will be and what the work of the class will be).

Ultimately, my students turned in all sorts of digital memoirs, many of which went beyond whatever I could have imagined, but my favorite thing is that I could see their imaginations in their work. This was also my experience the previous time I taught this course. Students come up with all of these ideas for digital compositions, and then they figure how to make them happen in ways that are really amazing. At the end of the semester, they explored each other’s memoirs. When we discussed them after their exploration, many shared how interesting it was to see other people’s stories and to see the many ways that other people conveyed their stories. They were intrigued by all of the possibilities that this assignment offered. All in all, a great ending to one of my favorite classes.

To wrap up here, I’d like to share a few examples of the memoirs so folks can get a sense of what the students created and how awesome they are. Note: I do have permission to share these, and they were all posted online on purpose so that students could more easily have a broader audience in mind.

Paige’s website

Sameer’s video

Maggie’s website

Grace’s video


A Job Market Wrap-Up

I didn’t blog much about the job market process while I was in the midst of it for a few different reasons, including but not limited to: I was tired, I was busy, and it’s a really, REALLY long process. I do, however, want to do a little reflecting on my experience with this fairly unpredictable behemoth known as the academic job market.

This was my first year on this particular market. I had a somewhat similar experience applying for secondary education jobs years ago, but that process was not as complex. I sought advice from all sorts of resources, particularly friends who’d been on the market for multiple years as well as friends who’d already secured jobs. The thing is that the one bit of advice I heard regularly, which I think is really the most true, is also the thing that you really can’t calibrate for:

A lot of it is about luck.

That being said, one tip I received that I could work with was to draft and peer review basic job market documents over the summer before you start applying. So last summer, I worked with a group of folks who were also preparing materials, and for about 6 weeks we drafted, shared, and gave feedback on each others’ materials. I found this really helpful because it allowed me to get a headstart on apps, it allowed me to talk to the process with other folks and get multiple perspectives of feedback, and it provided me with materials to give my letter writers very early on in the process, which turned out to be pretty clutch because my first apps were due in…mid-September.

I turned in my last app on March 21st, and I submitted apps every month from September through March.


Anyway, because the dates are all over the place and because different apps ask for different things, organization was crucial. I maintained a spreadsheet that included info about all of the prospective jobs I was considering applying to, including the job title, job description, docs required, due dates, etc. I checked job sites at least a few times a week and added new postings I found to the spreadsheet accordingly. Eventually, the spreadsheet would also have tabs for interview requests and rejections as well.

I applied to 56 jobs.

Map of application locations

I think I forgot a few toward the end, but that’s most of them.

Now how many jobs a person is able to apply for is wildly variable. I was able to apply for those jobs because I have a mix of research interests and teaching experiences that cover both English and Media Studies. I also applied to digital media positions (including a few non-teaching staff positions) because I have both work and teaching experience with digital media. I believe I may have also applied to a couple Teaching and Learning Center positions because, as y’all know, I’m a nerd for all things pedagogy. I say all this to say that I cast a wide net.

This was aided by the fact that I was not locked into a particular U.S. region. I would say that I certainly have some location preferences, but ultimately, that didn’t make a huge impact on the application process for me. For other people, it definitely does, and I think that’s totally valid. I think the idea that you should apply any and everywhere just because you can is not great, especially when these applications are so taxing and time-consuming. While I did apply to 50+ jobs, there were positions that I either didn’t add to my list or ultimately cut from my list because I decided, for one reason or another, it probably would not work out. I did apply to a couple of Canadian jobs, but mostly stuck within the U.S., mostly for economic reasons. Though I was extremely tempted by a few posts in the Caribbean…

So how’d it go? Out of 56 completed apps, I had 7 first round skype/zoom/phone interviews, 3 campus visits, and one job offer. I also had another campus visit invite by an institution that doesn’t pay for visits, which is a thing that I could not personally afford, and another invite for a first round interview (that I declined) after I’d accepted a job offer. The three campus visits that I did go on were institutions that were completely dissimilar from one another. I would not have been able to predict those three collectively inviting me at all. It was really great to get to experience different campuses in that way.

And then I also got lots and lots and LOTS of rejections. Almost 30 thus far with the oldest being in October and the most recent being 4 days ago. They’re still rolling in, and while I definitely am on the side of “it’s better to know that not know,” I won’t pretend that receiving a stream of rejections isn’t tough. It’s a tiny pinprick every time.

I’ve alluded to this already, but the hardest part of this process for me (besides the uncertainty) was time. It takes so much time, not just in a linear calendar sort of way, but also in the time you have to devote to the apps. Because the thing is that even though you have baseline docs, you have to (or at least should) tailor to each app. If you’re doing other things at the same time like I was (teaching, dissertating, etc), that means you have to find time in what’s probably an already fairly stacked schedule. For me, that meant that nearly every weekend was spent on apps, and the only break I took was when I was home for the holidays. There’s also time that has to be devoted to preparing for interviews, having interviews, traveling to visits, etc. My campus visits pretty much all occurred in a one month span that also included a conference presentation. I have never spent so much time in airports in my entire life.

Again, I’m lucky to have a lot of support from friends, my committee, and my family. Folks provided encouragement, answered questions, came to a mock job talk I did, etc. Also, shout out to Hello Fresh for ensuring that I did not have to really think about what to make for a dinner for half the week because I definitely did not have the bandwidth for that during this process.

In the end, everything came together for me in a really fantastic way. This fall, I will begin a position as an Assistant Professor of English at the College of DuPage. COD was actually my first visit, and it quickly felt like a great fit for me. Their investment in teaching corresponds quite well with my own, and everybody I interacted with was super welcoming. The campus has a bunch of cool resources that I’m looking forward to exploring, and in general, I’m just excited to get started!

(Also, I’m extremely happy to be done with all things job market)

One Last Dispatch from the Dissertation

A week ago today, I (successfully!) defended my dissertation. This means, final bits of paperwork pending, I’m ~*~officially~*~ a doctor.

ER cast photo

Not that kind of doctor

I’ve found many of the steps along the path of grad school somewhat mystifying because you often don’t receive much explicit direction about what they’re supposed to be like, and this was true of the dissertation defense as well. I have often heard that a responsible adviser would not let you go into the defense if you weren’t ready, and knowing that my adviser is indeed a responsible person, hearing this was somewhat helpful. Though it did not completely remove the feelings of stress leading up to the defense. It was helpful to have support though, from people both near and far. I was at a conference a couple of weeks before I defended and got a lot of encouragement from folks there, which is always appreciated.

In practice, I found the defense itself to be very…relaxed? Like now that I’m all the way through everything and can look back at the entirety of my grad school career, I can say with absolute certainty that the most difficult part for me was candidacy exams. In particular, the oral part of the exam (even though my committee folks were great) was just not an enjoyable experience for me. And I think that approaching the defense, that earlier experience was taking up a lot of real estate in my head. But the defense wasn’t really like that at all. I did get a lot of questions, but I was much more certain about my responses at this point. I also got a lot of tips and suggestions for future development of the project, which was great. I already had a few ideas in mind, but now I have even more to work with going forward.

(I feel decently confident about this becoming a book one day, but we shall see. Stay tuned, eh?)

A lot of people have asked me what it feels like to be at this stage, and I know other folks have written about the highs and lows that they’ve experienced post-dissertation, so that’s definitely out there if people want to look for it. But for me, I just feel DONE. And I don’t mean that in a “I’m putting this whole town in my rearview” sort of way. I just mean that I feel appropriately finished with this particular stage. It has been really nice to be able to get more sleep though, haha. I’ll also add that it’s been cool to get kudos from other grad students, especially grad students of color. That pride matters a lot to me and helps to remind me of why I do what I do.

So what comes next? Well, I have a few more weeks left in the semester. So in the immediate future, I’m finishing up this semester’s teaching (I owe the blog a post or two about that as well), getting those last bits of paperwork done, prepping for graduation, and putting some things in motion for future life plans. Mostly, I’m just trying to relax a bit after being turned up to 11 for the past few years. So far, so good.

–Dr. J

Dispatches from the Dissertation (Part 10), the Job Market, and Pedagogical Fun

So I wrote my dissertation Introduction. I purposefully waited until I had the chapters drafted before starting the Intro. I know some people take the opposite approach, and I tend to start with the Intro on shorter pieces of writing. But for my dissertation (Which Is Now Hovering Around The 250 Page Mark OMG What On Earth), I really needed to know what I was saying before I could try to figure out how to introduce it. Out of all of the drafts I’ve written thus far, I think I might feel most confident in the Intro. And that’s not because I’m not also confident in the chapters, but it’s because I think that purely by way of continuous writing practice/feedback/revision in this project, I can see pay offs. The intro draft benefits from all I’ve learned along the way. Plus, the dissertation workshop class I participated in this semester really helped me to get a better sense of how my writing comes across to readers and how I can continue to improve as I make revisions leading up to the defense. If your department and/or university offers a class like this, I would definitely recommend taking it. Admittedly, sending out pieces of your writing to a bunch of people can be stressful, but I think the good outweighs the bad. At least, it did for me. Plus, I got to talk about a topic that I love quite a bit, which was an added bonus.

Lamb Chop, Hush Puppy, and Charlie Horse meme with the Song that Never Ends

I’m working on my Conclusion now, and I find something deeply ironic about crafting an ending to a project about remakes, reboots, etc…

In other news, I’ve also spent most of this semester deeply enmeshed in the academic job market. I’m probably not going to post too many specific details at this juncture, but I can say that I’ve applied to a fair amount of jobs, most of which have their own particular requirements for application. What this means, if you intend to go on the market, is that you’ll need a significant amount of time in order to complete applications. For me, this has meant being even for more intentional about keeping my schedule. It has also meant that I have had to work more often on the weekends. I say all of this to say that dissertating, applying for jobs, and teaching simultaneously is a heavy load that will require increased time management, planning, etc. For me, I think it’s worth it. I’m pretty clear about what I want to do (whether it pans out in reality is TBD). For some though, the whole process might not be worthwhile (for a variety of reasons). And I think that’s totally valid and reasonable! I’ve been happy to see more and more programs and professors discussing futures outside the professoriate this year because I think it’s important and necessary. But there’s still a long way to go on that front.

I got to teach Intro to Pop Culture this semester, which is a class that I’ve wanted to teach for most of my PhD career. The relatively open parameters of the class allowed me to incorporate an assortment of my research interests into the class (the syllabus is accessible on the syllabus tab). By the end, most of my students had noted that while they knew about pop culture when the semester started, they’d never thought about it (and its various tentacles) in as much depth as we did in the class. This is the kind of thing that I love about the material I research. I love taking something that is often interpreted as commonplace or irrelevant or unimportant and really digging into what lies beneath the surface. For the final project of the class, we developed a collaborative alphabet of what the students believed to be the most important/influential figures/people/ideas in pop culture. You can check that out here.

In my upcoming final semester at OSU, I’m scheduled to teach Digital Media Composing for the second time. If you’ve been following along here for a while, you might recall that Digital Media Composing was the class I was teaching when I started this site. It remains one of my favorites out of all of the classes I’ve ever taught, and I’m excited to take another swing at it. In terms of digital media itself, so much of it has changed since Fall 2016, and I can’t wait to jump into it with a new group of students.

Dispatches from the Dissertation (Part 9)

When I last updated about my dissertation progress over the summer, I’d just sent the a revised version of my first chapter to my committee. In the nearly 3 months that have passed since then, I’ve been chugging along with revisions based on my own sense of what needs to be changed, feedback from my committee, and feedback from a dissertation workshop class I’m taking. At this point, I feel pretty…decent (?) about the whole thing. I still have more revisions to make, and I need to work on my Introduction and Conclusion, but it feels more manageable on the whole. And that March deadline feels pretty good too :).

I think this is the case for at least a couple different reasons. One reason is that the bulk of the thing is now in existence, so now it doesn’t like as much of an uphill climb as it did last year. Another aspect is that, courtesy of my committee seeing the chapters and the workshop, something like 12 people have now seen at least some portion of my dissertation. This, I think, makes it feel like more of a real, concrete piece of writing than like a weird, solitary endeavor.

One of the main areas I’m focusing on right now with revisions has to do with ensuring the chapters (and their arguments) make sense both individually and as part of a cohesive unit. To me, this is one of the more complex parts of the process. With seminar papers, articles, chapters, and such, I think it’s more obvious to see such connections as a writer (at least for me). But the massiveness of the dissertation makes it trickier (and my dissertation is not really on the longer end of dissertations I’ve heard about haha). However, with continued feedback, revisiting and reconsidering my outlines, examining individual paragraphs, and continuing to think about my writing and writing processes, I think this part is becoming more clear.

I will say though that I still really enjoy my topic, which is something that I didn’t necessarily expect to be the case at this point. I think the television industry is fostering this to some extent through its continued production of reimaginings, which makes me newly inspired every time another announcement comes across my screen. But also, I really do think this topic is the best encapsulation of my research interests. There are other specific topics I could have written about, but this one crisscrosses pretty much everything for me. It’s a good thing. I like it.

One Day at a Time poster

In which, a series is both part of my dissertation and an apt descriptor of my approach to my dissertation.

Adventures in Online Teaching (and Condensed Teaching and Teaching Something You Haven’t Taught in a Really Long Time)

Earlier this year, I was offered the opportunity to teach a class this summer. As a grad student, I was super excited about the possibility of not having to live the #gradstudentsummerstruggle again. As someone who loves teaching, I also was excited about the prospect of teaching a summer course, which is something I hadn’t done before. So, of course, I accepted.

Because many of the typical summer offerings are Composition classes, I’d expected to be slotted into one of those courses. However, I was assigned to teach Introduction to Fiction. Now if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I primarily research television, film and pop culture. But you might not know that my BA is in English Education, my MA is in English & American Literature, I previously taught at the secondary level, and I’m actually getting my PhD in an English Department (we’re a big all-encompassing English Department, but an English Department nonetheless). So I have a fair amount of familiarity with both the study and teaching of literature. However, until this summer, it’d been several years since I’d done either.

Intro to Fiction at my university is a pretty flexible course. The basic expectations of the course are that we provide opportunities for students to analyze and interpret literature and they make connections between literature and culture. Beyond that, a person could focus on whatever texts they want, whatever assignments they want, etc. I both love and hate having a lot of space to build classes because I’m the type of person who has approximately 1 million ideas that I ultimately have to whittle down. That being said, the class did come with some constraints. First, it was only six weeks, which is a pretty brutal contrast to the typical semester I’m familiar with. Second, the section I was assigned to was online. In fact, all but one of the sections of this class that my department offered this summer were online. There are a number of reasons why this occurred, but on a purely fundamental level, students were much more inclined to sign up for the online sections than they were for the in-person section.

But I’d never taught online before, and I’d heard more than a few online class horror stories (from both teachers and students). So I really wanted to make the class…not terrible. One of the first things I had to figure out was what students were going to read. Because, by the time I got the assignment, the spring semester was almost over. If I was going to expect students to get novels, I would have to sort that out pretty quickly. I knew that a lot of people had used short stories in the class, but I’ve always been the type to prefer novels to short stories (except fan fiction, but that’s its own category for me). After discussing possibilities with people who had taught the class as well as people in my department who’d taught other literature-based summer classes, I decided to go with two novels (sidebar: I initially thought I’d do three novels, and I had to pull myself back from the brink of ridiculous). The two books I chose were Sherri L. Smith’s Orleans and Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation:


I read both books earlier this year, and I found them very engaging reads and thought-provoking in various ways. They’re both YA, which is generally my preferred category of reading (my Master’s thesis is actually about YA), and I knew I wouldn’t likely be duplicating what students would be reading in other classes (I have read Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales so many times for classes, y’all). Also, both books feature young Black female protagonists, and if given the opportunity, I definitely wanted to share those voices. I knew there was a possibility that some people might not see them as “significant” texts. But I was confident that they had a lot to offer the class, so I let it roll.

Because I’m a nerd, I read a bunch of books and articles about online teaching in preparation for the class. This spurred me to make at least a few key decisions: (1) Have basically everything ready and uploaded on day 1, (2) Don’t give students access to everything at once, and (3) Be present, but not too present (this last one usually meant restraining myself from responding to every single discussion board post haha).

Speaking of discussion boards, within a classroom context, a lot of people hate them. I get it. As I was putting the class together, I thought about experimenting with audio and/or video submission options in lieu of discussion board posts. But I didn’t want to take on too much in the first run. So I stuck with the discussion board posts, but again, I tried to make it not terrible. Students had ten posts throughout the summer session. The prompts were identical for each post except there’d be one different question for each that was tied to that module’s lecture (the lectures themselves covered an assortment of critical lenses and elements of fiction). Beyond that, the tasks that students had to complete in every post were to (1) share their response to that module’s reading, (2) make a text-to-self, text-to-text, or text-to-world connection, and (3) compose a discussion question. And then they each had to respond to at least one discussion question per module (but the posts and the responses were due on separate days, so we could avoid the mad dash midnight posting flurries).

Honestly, the discussion board posts went really well. Students dug into the material and reflected on the messages being conveyed in fantastic ways. One other thing I did was put the students in 10-person discussion groups rather than having one giant discussion board for all forty students. I think this made the students much more inclined to really share and engage with each others’ submissions. In particular, the responses to the text-to-self/text/world portion were often illuminating. As indicated above, I didn’t really lecture on context, but the students often brought it in here, including but not limited to making connections between the texts and internment camps, the proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

One thing that I realized here is that students know a lot. I mean, I’ve always known that. But I was able to see it here more concretely because I was getting individual responses from each student about their thoughts and feelings and understandings while reading these texts. I definitely know more about each student’s thoughts than I probably would know in a face-to-face class, and that’s a difference that was both welcome and not something I anticipated.

(Lest anybody think they were simply parroting each other, I’ll also note that the discussion board was set up so that they could not see each others’ posts until they posted)

The other assignments for the class, bearing in mind the condensed nature, were 5 quizzes and a final project. I’m often somewhat ambivalent about the value of quizzes, but I wanted to offer something that wasn’t discussion board posts that would allow me to check in on student comprehension. They did fulfill that role, but I’m not sure that I would do them again if I could think of a more impactful way to accomplish the same goals.

The final project is probably one of my favorite things I’ve done in a class thus far. Students had three options: (1) a traditional analytical essay applying one of the critical lenses to one of the novels, (2) a creative writing remix in which students had to rewrite part of one of the novels from another character’s POV, or (3) an analytical mixtape in which students had to identify a theme in the novel and develop a playlist based on that theme (this last idea is one I got from Maia Butler). The latter two options also required explanatory components in which students shared their thought processes and made connections between the texts and their creations. To my surprise, about half of the students chose option #2. The remaining students were split almost exactly between options #1 and #3. Honestly, I expected more students to go with #1 because it was the most familiar option (as a student, I would have gone with #3 myself). I really enjoyed having this variety of assignments because I feel like the students really were able to pick something they were interested in, and it showed in the final products.

(I’m going to talk more about this final project in an upcoming post Pedagogy and American Literary Studies)

Ultimately, there was a lot that I enjoyed about this class. My students brought a willingness to really think about literature that was very much appreciated. I loved getting to read all of their thoughts, and this has spurred me more to think about more ways to encourage such sharing in face-to-face scenarios. I loved teaching those particular books, and thinking about different ways to read the books.

There were some things that I didn’t like as much. Like the thing about having everything ready at the beginning of the class is that it makes logical sense, but it doesn’t mesh well with my typical responsive teaching style in which I often tweak things as we go.  That being said, one way that I did sort of work around this was to send weekly emails in which I summarized some of the points students were making in their posts, made relevant connections, and provided useful resources outside of our course material. I also know that I thrive on my interactions with students in face-to-face classrooms. My personality comes through pretty strongly in my teaching, and it was harder to do that online. Though I did try to convey it in both lectures and the discussion board responses that I did make.

In the end, based on the final projects as well as responses on the class’ evaluations, students seemed to mostly enjoy and take a lot away from the class. There were some changes that were suggested such as making everything available to students at the start rather than having things unlocking throughout the semester (I probably wouldn’t do that because I know it would be disastrous for a lot of people), making fewer/longer modules (I probably would do that though), and adding more quizzes/fewer posts (eh, we’ll see). A fair amount said that they were now thinking about the texts they consumed differently, and they appreciated having choice for the final project, especially more creative options. For a while, when I was preparing the course, I stressed myself out a little bit trying to think about the plausibility of doing a semester’s worth of work in six weeks. Ultimately, I don’t think that’s a useful way to think about a condensed class. But I do think we achieved the learning objectives designated for the class. And as I currently work on building the face-to-face class I’m teaching this fall, I’m taking lessons I learned in teaching this summer back with me to the front of the class.


Dispatches from the Dissertation (and the Impending Job Market), Part 8

Yesterday, I sent a revised version of my first chapter to my committee for the first time. I made revisions based on feedback I received from my advisor on the first draft, reverse outlining I did at a retreat earlier this year, and a meeting with my advisor a few weeks ago, in which we discussed devoting more attention making sure each chapter’s argument is evident as well as establishing throughlines throughout the four chapters, now that they’ve all been drafted.

I definitely feel more comfortable working from the drafts than I did creating the drafts (surprise!). There was a lot of cutting, a lot of adding, a lot of rewording, a lot of rethinking, etc. And I’m sure there’ll be more in the future once I get feedback from my committee. But it feels like I’m in a good place. Summers can be difficult because the openness of the schedule can make it harder to focus when needed. I try to balance that out my creating a set schedule habit for my work days that I (mostly) stick to. I also started out the summer by setting goals/deadlines for myself to work toward. For example, one of the goals for this month is to revise chapter two and send that to my committee. Part of the bigger picture for me has been trying to have as much done as I possibly can before the fall semester kicks off because life and teaching and writing and the job market is…a hefty load. It’s not that I don’t think I can manage it, but if I can alleviate some of the pressure ahead of time, I definitely want to do so.

Speaking of the job market, I’ve been collaboratively working on the development of job market materials with some colleagues this summer, and I’ve found that to be incredibly useful. This is an idea that I got from Maia L. Butler and Krista Benson, and the idea is pretty straightforward. On a weekly basis, we share job market document drafts and provide feedback to one another. We’ve been at it for about a month now, and we’re almost done with what we’d planned to work on. I now have drafts of the majority of the job market documents I’ll likely need, and instead of creating from scratch, I can focus on revising and retooling as needed this fall. It might seem like we started early, but having already seen some fellowship and job posting with August and September deadlines, I’m actually really happy that we did start early.

I suppose the theme of this post is planning/thinking ahead. I’ve always done a fair amount of that, but going into my final year of grad school (🙏🏾), it’s been on my mind even more than usual. I don’t know what all is going to happen in this next school year, but I’m ready for it.

Title screen from BSG that says "And they have a plan"

My first chapter is about BSG, so this seemed apropos.

(Some of y’all are thinking “WHAT? IT’S JULY! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” I’m like that sometimes too, but also, I was the kid that was definitely ready to go back to school by a smooth August 1st at the latest. This is all very on brand for me.)