Guest Feature: Laura Speers Returns from London
It was great to come back and visit Bloomington after leaving 10 months ago. Catching up with friends and professors and attending T600 provided much food for thought for reflecting on my time as an MA student at IU and for drawing comparisons between the Telecom graduate program and my current PhD program at King’s College London.
The T600 seminar given by Harmeet last Friday was very poignant for me in emphasizing the key factors that lead to success in one’s program of study. It is easy to get lost in the demands and pressures of classes and the various responsibilities of being an AI or RA, so much so that you lose sight of the big picture of where you are heading and the crucial thesis/project/dissertation at the end of your program. Instead, we should be aiming for ‘flow’, a current that guides and feeds into the big picture of where we are going and who we want to be. Throughout our time in grad school, it is important to focus on the bigger, over-arching aspects of being a researcher. Questions such as what kind of researcher do I want to be and why? What are my motivations and what type of research do I want to do? This kind of meta-analysing and reflecting some people do naturally with no prompts but others need to be pushed to think about and answer those types of questions.
Professional and personal relationships are an important part of the graduate program. In Harmeet’s presentation, he focused a lot on the role of the committee and the graduate student, but one of the most crucial relationships is with the advisor. Choosing the right advisor in my opinion is the key to success. It is not just about liking a particular professor, because you have to be able to build a rapport and maintain a dialogue with that person, almost like a partnership. An ideal advisor keeps you on track yet provides the flexibility and freedom to pursue what you want to do. Having a committee (unique to the North American graduate system) offers grad students amazing professors, essentially there for your disposal so make use of them. The committee meeting isn’t something to dread, or worse a bureaucratic procedure, but a time and place where some brilliant minds are focusing all their attention on you and your ideas, research and progress. Relish it and make the most of it by being prepared.
Since leaving IU and doing my PhD in London, what I have really missed is the sense of community and collegial spirit of the Telecom department where there are an abundance of opportunities to be involved in different projects and to collaborate with others. As Harmeet demonstrated in his presentation, the ‘action’ of the graduate program is not necessarily in classes or the readings. The ‘aha’ moment or intellectual breakthrough happens in between classes, even outside of school, or at a seminar or conference, in a professor’s office, and talking to fellow students informally at the winery in my case. An openness to the opportunities and conversations around you results in the cross-fertilization of new ideas, new questions and different ways of learning. These tend to always be more enlightening and powerful when student-driven rather than top-down. This shared space cohabited by grad students pushes you intellectually but also provides support.
After experiencing this at IU, I’m working to create this kind of environment in my new department. British PhD programs have no coursework, so from the outset you have to conduct independent research, which was difficult to adjust to after experiencing the highly structured US system. However, it is wonderful to not have the pressures of classes or teaching as it allows for freedom, reflection and flexibility in research and also time and energy to address the important over-arching questions mentioned above. Perhaps the American system could create more space and time to reflect on what constitutes success and how our goals feed into Harmeet’s idea of ‘flow’.
– Laura Speers
Brewing with Telecom
We’ve got more than just ideas fermenting here at Telecom. Two of our grad students, Nic Matthews and Lindsay Ems, have been trying their hand at brewing beer and making wine. For them, it’s a simple hobby that takes relatively little time and produces rich rewards.
After receiving a Mr. Beer home brew kit as a Valentine’s Day gift this year, Nic got started right away, choosing a lager mix from the kit for his first trial run. It failed. “Apparently sanitation is a lot more important that I initially thought. An improperly sanitized can opener might have killed my first batch,” he says. Nic recalls leaving the bottles alone for days at a time hoping the batch would get better with age. At first, he thought its unusual flavor might have been planned. “I asked myself, ‘Does this taste like wine, or is it a really sophisticated beer flavor?’ And then I determined that it was just really bad beer,” he explained. Nic’s second batch has been a success, and he hopes to upgrade to a bigger brewing kit in the future. “It’s kind of like brewing with training wheels, and I can’t wait to graduate from that when I’m good enough.”
Lindsay’s first attempt at wine about five years ago met a similar fate. Her grandmother grew Concord grapes, and she borrowed her mother’s juicer to use them for wine making. Her mother, allergic to grape seeds, broke out in a rash while helping with the process. Then Lindsay added too much sugar to the bottles, which made many of them explode. “A few survived, so I gave them away as gifts. I tried some of the wine later, and it was terrible,” she laments.
She purchased a user-friendly wine kit shortly after that, and eventually added a beer kit. “I’ve made about 4 batches in the year-and-a-half since I received it, and it’s turned out really well every time,” she explains. Lindsay’s beer kit is similar to Nic’s, but she’s modified the barrel to say “Ms. Beer” instead. She’s working through the last of the mixes from the kit, and then she plans to upgrade to a more complex system.
For both of them, the appeal of brewing is in the process. “There are steps to follow, and it’s fun. Six weeks later you have free beer,” says Lindsay, who will start brewing a new batch after has she’s worked her way through her last batch. “It’s a good sit-in-your-closet type of thing,” adds Nic. “You just have to check up on it from time to time, and then it rewards you with beer.”
Intellectual Circuits, Part 4: Kinsey and Social Informatics
The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction
Of all the inter-disciplinary links featured in the Intellectual Circuits series, the relationship between Department of Telecommunications and the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction is one that is seeing quantum development. Its roots were planted with a Ford Foundation study on how sex research is covered in the media, where Professors Bryant Paul and Betsi Grabe served as advisors. The study resulted in a mini-conference and laid the groundwork for further collaboration between Telecom and Kinsey.
While the relationship lacks true formality, Bryant Paul currently serves as a Kinsey Faculty Fellow and Appointee at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion. Bryant explains that due to the sensitive nature of the content that Kinsey researches, they have to be extremely careful with whom they associate. “The Kinsey Institute is an easy target for a lot of groups who are concerned with what they research. They conducted mostly survey research over the past 10 years and have steered recently towards experimental research, which opens doors for more criticism.”
In addition to its scientific activities as research center, the Kinsey Institute serves as a information resource. It boasts an extensive library and art collection. With regard to course work, the Kinsey Institute offers a minor in Human Sexuality at the undergraduate and graduate level. Bryant’s Sex and the Media course is one of the courses in the minor. There is considerable potential for further growth in the collaboration between Telecom and Kinsey. Bryant explains, “The Institute itself only has three faculty members, but it serves as a jumping off point for getting great research ideas. I have had the opportunity to work with a number of people from different schools and departments.”
Doctor student Lelia Samson came to Kinsey by way of her interest in gender studies. She took a course called ‘Concepts of Gender’ in the fall of 2008, which was held at the Kinsey Institute. This opened her awareness to other Kinsey courses and research. She was intrigued in particular by a course called ‘K690 Sexual Science Research Methods.’ It was this course that truly expanded her thinking about the scientific study of sexuality and useful employment of multidisciplinary research methods. She saw how beneficial it is to approach a topic from a variety of perspectives and employ a variety of methods. “The KI researchers manage to overcome any tributary allegiances to their maternal field and collaborate across disciplines to better understand their variables of interest.”
Lelia was awarded one of the Kinsey Institute Student Research Grants for 2010 – 2011. She says this grant had much to do with her ongoing collaboration with Dr. Erick Janssen, which started with a paper she wrote for K690. Janssen, Lelia’s mentor at the Kinsey Institute, encourages students to think in creative and progressive ways. He also serves as faculty in Cognitive Science, another program with strong ties to the Department of Telecommunications. Lelia hopes that these connections with the Kinsey Institute are only the beginning. “I hope that more and more students will pursue the studies of sexual mediated messages. The research questions raised appeal to our basic drives as human beings and serve as socialization and information agents in today’s society.” The Department of Telecommunications is indeed building on this collaboration with the addition of faculty member Prof. Paul Wright in the fall.
See more information about the Kinsey Institute Student Research Grant here.
Social Informatics is a multi-disciplinary route for those interested in the way people interact with technologies and the ways those technologies interact with them. “The term ‘social informatics’ does not really exist outside of a few schools,” explains PhD candidate Ratan Suri, adding that the late Rob Kling, renowned scholar at the School of Library and Information Science coined the term.
The interdisciplinary nature of Social Informatics is reflected in the range of schools and departments whose courses are included in the PhD Minor in Social Informatics: School of Library and Information Science, School of Informatics and Computing, Department of Communication and Culture, Kelley School of Business, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, School of Education, Department of Geography, Department of Political Science, and Department of Telecommunications. “Classically, social informatics is the study of the computerization of social structures,” explains PhD candidate Mark Bell. “It’s a school of thought essentially brought about by Rob Kling, who thought people were getting hyperbolic views of technology and said, ‘Whoa. We need to take an empirical look at this.'”
PhD student Lindsay Ems explains that Telecom and SI are intrinsically linked to one another. “It’s really a better question to ask how the two aren’t related,” she says. “Social informatics is the nexus of technology and people, and everything we study in our own department falls under that.” In addition, the two complement each other by allowing a researcher to study the same phenomenon from different angles. “Telecom people might look at technology and media in a broader sense, CMCL (Communication and Culture) might look at technology and lifestyle, and people in Informatics might see technology and work, and by studying social informatics, we get to see all of that,” Lindsay explains. Ratan adds that it’s good to get a sampling of how each department approaches the study of technology.
The Social Informatics courses are good vehicles for extending viewpoints beyond what many Telecom courses offer, but having a background in Telecom classes also helps bring a unique perspective to a Social Informatics class. “I think that in Social Informatics, sometimes the quantitative side of research can get forgotten, and so taking my social science stuff from here helps over there. I also think that we live in our cave of social science too often, and it’s good to get out every now and then,” Mark says.
Recommended courses: S513: Organizational Informatics, S514: Computerization in Society, S518: Communication in Electronic Environments, C626: Digital Cultures, I709: Social Informatics, T551: Communication, Technology, and Society
Measuring Motivation Activation in a Virtual World: Predicting Individual Differences of Appetitive and Aversive Measures
Mark Bell, PhD Candidate, Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University
Abstract: This presentation describes research that extends previous work on motivational activation systems linking Approach System Activation (ASA) and Defense System Activation (DSA) levels to media use, gender and age. This study collects individual Motivational Activation Measures of virtual world residents (N= 480), using the Virtual Data Collection Interface (VDCI) developed in the Indiana University Department of Telecommunications, and compares them to previous results. The results show the virtual world residents as higher in both ASA and DSA with larger than normal proportions of co-activating and inactive individuals. This work helps validate the MAM by expanding the pool of participants.
You can access the audio for Mark’s T600 talk here: Mark Bell T600 Audio
Applying a Socio-technical Lens to Study the Influence of GIS on Historical Research Practices and Outcomes
Ratan Suri, PhD candidate, Department of Telecommunications, Indiana University
Abstract: The last decade or so has seen the uptake and use of GIS (Geographical Information Systems) by an enterprising group of researchers interested in applying this technology to study historical events. This presentation reports the preliminary results of a two year ethnographic research study of a Community of Practitioners (Lave & Wenger,1991) using GIS for researching historical events from a spatio-temporal perspective. Using two case studies, ‘Ghettoization of Budapest, and ‘Role of railroads in shaping the spatial politics in wheat growing districts in California in 19 Century’, the study showcases how use of GIS is not only transforming how historical research is being done, but also tries to capture through explicit examples, how a spatio-temporal approach sheds new light on historical events.
You can access the audio to Ratan’s T600 talk here: Ratan Suri T600 Audio
Katie Birge: Brewing with Telecom, Social Informatics Intellectual Circuit, and Brown Bags
Nicky Lewis: Speer Returns and Kinsey Intellectual Circuit
Laura Speers: Guest Feature