An Appetite for Learning

By Mona Malacane

Who would take classes after achieving tenure, winning major grants, and earning the title of Distinguished Professor?

If you’ve taken T501 then you’ve heard her motto, “A PhD is a license to teach yourself.”

If you haven’t already guessed by now, I’m talking about the one and only Annie Lang. She practices what she preaches – that learning never stops –and if you can believe it, she enrolls in a course almost every semester. “The first time I took a class was when I was an assistant professor actually, and I took a class in Electrical Engineering on electrical circuits, circuit design, and I did that because at that time I was setting up my first psychophys lab and back then it wasn’t like how it is now, you couldn’t go buy a lab in a box. You had to buy equipment that was not made to do psychophysiology with and you literally had to solder it …  So I thought ‘well I just need to learn how to do this ’…  And I did.”

This semester, Annie is taking two courses: Dynamic Systems Theory (Q580, Cognitive Science) and Perception & Action (P651, Psychological & Brain Sciences). Initially, her plan was to only take Dynamic Systems but then she learned that Perception & Action, a rarely offered course, was being offered this semester and so of course she had to sign up for it as well. “Instead of just taking one which I probably could have handled without killing myself, I’m now taking two … It’s just like being a graduate student: I’m teaching one, taking two, and doing everything else professors have to do. So I’m actually busier probably than I’ve ever been in my whole life.”


She has also taken four semesters of Italian, Mathematical Psychology, two semesters of Calculus, a master gardening class … oh, and golf, just for the fun of it. But the most “meaningful” course Annie has ever taken is Developmental Psychology; a rather far cry from Electrical Engineering but necessary nonetheless because she had just won a grant that involved research on children and hadn’t taken a developmental course since grad school. She wasn’t expecting the course to have such a profound and lasting impact on her scholarship. “That’s where I first encountered Dynamic Systems approaches to Psychology … That’s when my paradigm first started rocking … And I still remember walking into Walt’s office about halfway through [the class] and I said, ‘well I’m in deep trouble. I think my paradigm is shifting.’”

[Please indulge me with this little detour from our interview which almost resulted in my death from laughter. Annie told me more about her professor for that course, Esther Thelen: “She was such a good teacher. She would always give you a question to write about the readings. And I would always do the reading and go ‘I don’t see what this question has anything to do with this reading’… which is of course what I do to students all the time … but I hadn’t had it done to me in a long time!”]

Being the tree-hugger that I am, I thoroughly enjoyed Annie’s analogy for the process of self-teaching/self-learning. She explained that when you’re teaching yourself, you don’t get “the whole tree.” “When you get a good class, it gives you the trunk and the big branches. And then after that you can always hang stuff.” But before you have the trunk and branches, you sometimes just have a bunch of knowledge to hang but no idea how to organize it.

Which kind of describes the entirety of graduate school when you think about it. We go to grad school because we have questions and stuff that we want to hang so we understand it better … So we find some good, solid trees and where to hang some of that stuff – also known as getting a PhD. But like Annie said, a PhD just gives you a license to teach yourself, so you’re constantly learning more about trees and collecting stuff that you want to hang and … wait a minute.

I see what you did there Annie... you're good.

I see what you did there Annie … you’re good.

Telecom Improv Team Hosts Sanctioned Silliness

By: Niki Fritz

Before I begin this article, I have to admit some bias. I used to hate improv; like really hate improv. I’m from Chicago, land of Second City, Tina Fey, and approximately one billion people trying to make it in the improv or comedy world. Throughout my five years in Chicago, I sat through countless improv shows of friends trying out the craft. And I can’t lie; they were painful. Eventually one day I made a rule for myself: no more improv shows.

Ironically about a year before I left Chicago, I found myself accidently taking an improv workshop where I learned the most important, foundational rule of improv was a fairly simple one: “yes, and,” which was basically the opposite of how I had been operating in Chicago. “Yes” meant saying yes to the silliness of a scene even if it is not what you expected. “And” meant, after saying yes, you had to add your own silliness to the mix. “Yes, and” as a rule means not looking for or expecting perfection but existing in the moment and then moving forward. It was deep and stuff.

Little did I know, that the “yes, and” philosophy would haunt – I mean reappear in– my life in Indiana in the form of IU Telecom’s very first, very original improv team, “The Faces of NPR.”

Rule #1 of improv is “Yes, and”

I asked  Edo Steinberg, founder of the Telecom improv team, fearless leader of the troupe and all-around funny man, why he decided to start an improv group with a bunch of stick-in-the-mud social scientists.

Edo admitted that he actually “stole” the idea from the grad students at the University of Pennsylvania. The year before coming to IU, Edo was in Philly, helping his sister adjust to city life and getting kind of bored. He was browsing the profiles of the Comm grad students at UPenn and saw many were taking improv classes. Edo followed their lead and for the next two months, he learned the tenants of improv at the Philly Improv Theater. Edo also humbly noted that the teachers at the Philly school, were actually trained at the iO Theater in Chicago.

“In a way, I was trained at iO,” Edo explained using some shaky-at-best logic.

At this point, Josh Sites, improv team member and first lieutenant of the great beards of improv, felt the need to interject: “Tina Fey was trained at iO so basically Edo and Tina Fey are friends. So really Edo is on a first name basis with Alec Baldwin. Edo is a pretty impressive guy. I try not to boast about it though.” Clearly there is some raw talent on the team when it comes to name dropping and flexible logic.

Edo enjoyed the lessons he learned in Philly so much that he decided to bring the improv philosophy to IU. Also he just missed having an excuse to be silly.

Within two minutes of starting the improv practice, I could see what Edo meant. I had been peer pressured into joining the team in practice to get the full experience; I found myself clucking like a chicken as I walked around in a circle during the warm up activity. It felt silly but it also felt weird to be silly especially with my colleagues.

Josh explained that this feeling is why he joined improv. “I wanted some creative dissonance,” Josh said. When I gave him a look of “Really dude? Did you just say use scholarly jargon?” he restated. “I just wanted the opposite of what I do all day and all week … I get stress relief out of improv. I may just be simply because I’m out of that rut, out of those tracks. Or because it’s silly and goofy and carefree.”

The practice was definitely silly, but as we got further into practice, it also became somewhat challenging. I stepped up to participate and my mind went blank. Without a PowerPoint or lecture outline to follow, my mind was empty, unsure of how to proceed without guidelines.

After this happened a few times, all-wise, fearless leader Edo, told me about another important tenant of improv. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Just try it,” Edo encouraged me. After that, words fell out of my mouth and although they mostly were not funny, I, at least, was participating.

Improv is not about perfection

Nicky Lewis, another veteran member of the troupe, also gave me some much needed perspective on improv, telling me, “It’s the crazy ones that are the fun ones.” The more outlandish a scene, the more fun the team seemed to have. Practice seemed to be a safe place to joke about everything from fat babies and dead bodies to Edo’s secret life as an underground fighter and farts.

It was clear to me that this improv team is not about perfection, it is not about making it onto SNL and it is not about any seriously scholarly pursuits; it is about being silly and recognizing there is more to life than academics.

By the end of practice, I found myself succumbing to the “yes, and” philosophy I had fought so hard years ago. I realized that although I was not only feeling funnier, I also was less worried about being funny. I was more in the moment; I was feeling looser, like the muscles in my body had all just relaxed a bit.

It was then I realized what all my improv friends must have realized years ago in Chicago. Most people don’t do improv for the audience, they don’t do improv to be funny. People do improv to connect to something back inside themselves, that uninhibited part of self that is still silly and free. It is a part of ourselves that sometimes we lose when we are busy being important academics.

If being silly sounds like something you want to try, the Faces of NPR improv team will be having practices on Fridays. Feel free to contact Edo if you want more details.

Improv team members pose for their first official team photo. From left to right: Josh Sites, Nicky Lewis, Edo Steinberg

Improv team members pose for their first official team photo. From left to right: Josh Sites, Nicky Lewis, Edo Steinberg

Question of the Week

You may notice a theme of sorts in this week’s blog. It is rather “Edo-centric.” From an article about the Edo-lead improv team to the sine qua nonsense post and even this week’s question, it is all Edo, all the time. The blog question of the week was actually inspired by the writing that mysteriously filled the whiteboard in the lab over the summer (See below).


Unfortunately, it seems the Department didn’t want to commit to writing an Edo quote on the grad lab board when prompted, although they did enjoy discussing Edo-isms on Facebook and in real life. Of the quotes not posted, here are some of the best:

From Josh (whose reliability when it comes to authenticity of quotes is somewhat sketchy): “What? No, I won’t give you a quote.”

From Niki (who heard this in an interview she stupidly did not record): “I’m an edo-maniac.”

And the very meta-quote that Teresa posted directly after Edo reflected on this week’s poor question of the week participation: “So far,  this is the question of the week with the least responses. This is negatively affecting my self-esteem.”

Buck up Edo! We all know that no one is as punny as you!

question of the week edo

Fourth Brown Bag of the Semester – September 26, 2014

Rob Potter, Associate Professor, Anthony Almond, PhD Student, Sharon Mayell, ICR Lab Manager, Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University

Tools Available for Researchers in the Institute for Communication Research

We tried to come up with a catchier title.  But, in the end, we are hoping that this is enticing enough for social science researchers interested in learning about the array of data collection measures available at the Institute for Communication Research (ICR).  The mission of the ICR is to enable social scientific research conducted by faculty and students in The Media School at IU.  Eventually, we will be located in Franklin Hall—very close to the action. But, until then we are in Eigenmann Hall.  Which means, we need to bring the action to YOU.

Come and hear descriptions/see demonstrations of these tools available for you to use:

  • Media Lab & Direct RT software for experimental design, questionnaire construction, and psychological measurements
  • Qualtrics software for online survey and experimental data collection
  • Tobii eye tracking hardware & software
  • Biopac physiology data collection hardware and software (that’s actually rather easy to use)
  • Emotiv 14-channel EEG data collection hardware

    Rob demonstrating some of these gadgets

    Rob demonstrating some of these tools.

Sine Qua Nonsense

A Primer on Graduate Student Jobs

Indiana University is weird when it comes to graduate students’ jobs. Not only are the titles odd, the definitions are so broad that every department can implement them in their own way. This is probably out of a divide and conquer mentality. The powers that be don’t want students from various units to be able to compare notes on their employment conditions, making students think that comparing an assistantship in Telecom and an assistantship in Political Science is like comparing apples and oranges. Confused employees don’t unionize.

IU also has a few unique job titles. If you are a Student Academic Appointee (SAA), you are either an Associate Instructor or Graduate Assistant. Very rarely, you might be called by the more familiar title of Research Assistant. Each one of these has a deeper, more sinister meaning than you have ever realized.

An Associate Instructor here does what a Teaching Assistant does at other universities. So why the different title? Some will say that an Associate Instructor sounds more important, almost like an Associate Professor. In truth, it is meant to remind you who’s the boss. It is no coincidence that AI also stands for Artificial Intelligence. The instructor of record is an accomplished professional with years of experience and knowledge. You, dear AI, on the other hand, are only faking it. You barely know more than your students, so remember your place in the class hierarchy!

In our department, you can be an AI without actually teaching. If you don’t have to run discussion sections, it is even easier to be artificially intelligent. Just sit in the back, look wise beyond your years, and tackle undergraduates trying to leave as soon as they sign the attendance sheet. If you do a half decent job, you may be recruited to the IU football team. Really, their standards are quite low, from what I understand.

Now we come to the subject of Graduate Assistants and Research Assistants. GAs are internally funded and can have a wide array of duties, like helping to develop course curricula or departmental websites. RAs, on the other hand, work on research and are externally funded. In other words, RAs are the ones who are working for the government or big corporations. Spying on the rest of us is part of their job description, written in disappearing ink in their SAA contract. In fact, GA and RA truly stand for Gullible Academic and Reconnaissance Agent.

So, what kind of SAA am I? The other day I purchased a clicker, a magic wand to remotely advance slides. This was a sign that after two years of being a Gullible Academic, I am now an Artificial Intelligence. It is a step up from the last time I was in this position, back in my very qualitative MA program teaching an undergraduate statistics class as a TA (Total Amateur).


Jessica Myrick: A Midwest Gal

By: Niki Fritz

Professor Jessica Gall Myrick just finished her first year as an assistant  professor in Journalism. Although she had to get used to a lot of things as a new assistant professor (like people calling her Dr. Myrrick and the absurd amount of emails she now gets), moving to Bloomington was actually coming home for this Indiana native.

She explained this to me in very simple terms: “I’m just a Midwest gal who got to come home.”

But Bloomington was not meant to be Jessica’s home, as per her Purdue graduate father.  “My dad claims my first word was Purdue but I came [to visit IU] and fell in love with the rolling hills. Purdue is great for engineers but I fell in love with the [IU] campus,” Jessica says.

Jessica came to IU as an undergrad track star and continued to compete through her master’s studies in journalism.  She rocked school as much as she tore up the track. “I was always on a mission to show not all jocks are dumb,” Jessica notes.

Jessica really was a track star during her years at IU!

Jessica really was a track star during her years at IU! That’s her in the #1 spot!

After graduating, Jessica worked for three years in journalism and digital media before returning to grad school to pursue her doctorate. She landed at the University of North Carolina, in an interdisciplinary health communication program, where she focused on emotions and health messages. She finished her doctorate in just three years before returning to the homeland. Jessica says the three years of industry work between her master’s and doctoral studies really helped her be productive in grad school.

“Working before I started my PhD gave me a much better perspective on the world. It helped me not be as stressed out,” Jessica reflects. “I had classmates that were going straight though and they were always very anxious. I had already failed many times and the sun kept sunning and the world kept spinning.”

Now that Jessica has landed back home, she is thinking long-term.

“As a young scholar you’re constantly shaping your identity. I identify as a health scholar but incredibly broadly,” Jessica says. “I have so much more freedom to do the research I want to do. Once you pick a dissertation topic you are locked in and you don’t have option to explore. Now I have some more explorations space.”

Jessica has an article on Shark Week in press right now and is currently working on an article on “internet cats” as pet therapy.  (Both of these studies are incredibly interesting but I can’t do them justice in 700 words. Definitely talk to Jessica if you are at all interested in health messages and discrete emotions.)

In general, from skin cancer messages to grumpy cat, Jessica is interested in how emotions influence media message and vice versa.

“I am fascinated with emotions. It seems as though people can be really knowledgeable, they know everything they need to know, but unless you have some affective response they’re not going to transfer that knowledge into action,” Jessica explains. “Emotion is the key link between knowledge and behavior.”

Jessica is looking forward to collaborating with grad students with diverse interests.  Although she identifies as an experimentalist, she also is interested in survey and content analysis, anything that “comes out of real world situations.”

In addition to expanding her research interest, Jessica is ready to break out the sweaters that have been in boxes for three years and settle back into life in the Midwest with her friends and family.

“[After leaving Indiana] I realized I really like the Midwest. The people are friendly but not too friendly,” Jessica says. “I really wanted to get out of Indiana and I’m happy I did but I’m super happy to get to come home.”

I could have written an entire article about Biscuit, a very important member of Jessica's family and the world's cutest pug. Jessica credits Biscuit for helping her get through her dissertation. If you're lucky maybe you'll see them both on campus one day!

I could have written an entire article about Biscuit, a very important member of Jessica’s family and the world’s cutest pug. Jessica credits Biscuit for helping her get through her dissertation. If you’re lucky maybe you’ll see them both on campus one day!

Dr. Kevin Kline

By Tamera Theodore

Actor and IU alumnus Kevin Kline returned to the Bloomington campus last week to receive a Doctorate of Humane Letters honorary degree and to be a guest of the Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture Series. With about 1,200 attendees present at the IU Auditorium, President Michael McRobbie and Provost Lauren Robel offered introductory remarks on Kline’s illustrious stage and film career, one that has spanned over four decades and resulted in a long list of accomplishments including an Academy Award, two Tony Awards, and induction into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

To a roar of enthusiastic applause and lots of woo-hoo’s, our very own Professor of Practice Robby Benson and his wife, Karla DeVito, introduced their longtime friend Kevin Kline by recounting the details of how they came to be fellow cast members of Broadway’s “Pirates of Penzance.” Robby and Karla, possibly the most adorable couple in the entire history of couples, explained that because of Kline’s stellar performance, Robby agreed to join the cast in the role of Frederic and thus met and fell in love with Karla, and the rest is history. Robby summed it up by saying “… and the only reason that my life has been so extraordinarily blessed is because of Kevin.” It was said tongue in cheek, of course, but clearly there’s a lot of love between these old friends.

Here are a few selected tidbits from Mr. Kline’s – indeed, Dr. Kline’s – hour-long, very funny onstage conversation with Jonathan Michaelsen, Chair of the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

On his visit to the Bloomington campus last week:

“I wandered around the campus yesterday and a flood of memories came back. And hearing myself extolled today, I thought ‘Oh, it’s all nonsense’ and then I thought ‘No, it did all start here.’ It’s great to revisit the place where I learned so much valuable stuff.”

On being a member of the Vest Pocket Players at IU during the Vietnam War:

“If they brought back the draft, if there were conscription right now, I think the student body would be much more politicized than they are at the moment. I’m not advocating that. What I’m saying is – this is sort of what The Big Chill was about. A lot of the … idealism that we had came from [the fact that] our lives were on the line and we took a stand. We wrote a manifesto … because we wanted to put down our commitment to the community, our commitment to serving the community and being a voice …”

On preparing for roles:

“Each role, I think, requires its own preparation. Part of what one learns the more one does this is it starts with preparation. How do I prepare? Or do I not prepare? Let’s not even learn the lines, let’s just show up because the director loves to improvise. Great! I’m not going to plan it. I’m just going to respond on the day to the material. Other times, [preparation takes] hours, weeks, months, years. I carried around a copy of Hamlet in my pocket for about ten years before I did it. Each one requires its own preparation.”

On auditioning:

“I learned a lot about auditions, about casting directors, how to work and how not to be seduced by the idea of ‘there’s a way I’m supposed to play this character.’ And I started to learn this important message that there’s no such thing as a right way or a wrong way – there’s just a good way and a bad way. It was a great lesson to learn.”

During his visit, Kline also taught a masterclass with theater students (here are some video highlights) and was present for a screening of A Fish Called Wanda at the IU Cinema. Coming full circle from his film debut in Sophie’s Choice, Kline will begin work in a few weeks on a new film with none other than Meryl Streep (who is also a 2014 recipient of an honorary doctorate from IU).



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