Distinguished Annie; Brown Bag

(approximate visual representation)

Distinguished Professor Annie Lang: The tiara was a gift; the brain is all hers.

For the professor who has it all, by Ken Rosenberg

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “awesome” as “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.” Sounds about right. By denotative measure, Professor Annie Lang is awesome.

One colleague, tasked with finding less colloquially-abused words to describe her, remarked upon Annie’s “ferocious intellect.” Professors do not pick words without purpose and careful specificity. “This describes Annie in many dimensions,” said Professor Walt Gantz, Department Chair. Her own words seem to justify this assessment, at least in terms of her professional rigor:

“‘Does it meet the criteria for all those things you might someday want to do? Are you moving the field forward, or just padding your vitae?’ Those are questions I ask myself every two, three years. I sit down and look at my publications from three years ago to make sure I’m not still doing the same thing. If you haven’t added anything new or had a new thought, or changed the way you look at something, or invented something new—a measurement, a technique, a way of looking at something—then what are you doing? Not that everybody has to do that, but those were my standards for myself, because those are the standards you have to meet if you want to hang those awards on your wall—and I did want to hang the awards on my wall. I mean, who wouldn’t? I’m not really big on struggling in obscurity.”

Struggle in obscurity, indeed! Annie has, among many other credits to her name, the Chaffee Career Productivity Award—as the youngest recipient ever—and is still twelve years from retirement.  “I’ve kind of won everything, and I’m still young,” Annie said, proud but bemusedly flustered. Still, as anyone who knows her can attest, she is not in it for the awards. “What’s to make you come to work,” she asked rhetorically, “other than being interested in what you do?” To project how much more prolific her work can become in the last third of her career, one need only look at Annie’s tremendous vitae. She is a former Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. With her co-authors, she has given the field seven psychophysiological measures, either through adoption from another discipline or ground-up, from her own ingenuity, including heart rate monitoring, skin conductance, and facial electromyography (EMG). For some people—most, even—this would easily constitute a career’s worth of work. But then, there’s her work on the measures for message complexity and secondary task reaction time, not to mention her way with completely shattering students’ worldviews in T501: Philosophy of Inquiry in Telecommunications, as she replaces them with a much better explicated mentalite (something this author considers award-worthy in its own right).

For a graduate student, it is the dissertation; for those with a fledgling professorship, it is about tenure—but what is left for an academic who has mastered the roles of student, teacher, philosopher, and researcher? Well, for those select few professors who manage to strive further than that, there is the process of becoming distinguished. A title bestowed by consensus from those who have already earned it, “Distinguished Professor” is one of the most prestigious distinctions anyone can put after his or her name. It indicates global, field-wide recognition and respect. Each year Indiana University allows no more than five to obtain the title. This year the committee appointed only four; Annie was one of them.

When trying to express the impact a character has made in a two-hour story arc, sometimes a filmmaker will rely on a symbolic trope: a gathering of all those friends met along the way, smiling and nodding (and often uttering one last catch-phrase) in a way that is collectively and overwhelmingly positive. Cue the thumbs-up and high-five gestures, introduce a “slow clap” that culminates in unrestrained applause, and fade to black. As surreal as this event seems, it is not too dissimilar to how Annie received her latest accolade.

“Distinguished Professor” is one rank one cannot apply for.  One can only be nominated.  The department put together a dossier that included letters from leading researchers from all over the world and her “academic family,” including mentors, mentees, and co-authors. Professor Gantz wrote an extended cover letter and the rest of the department, led by Professor Ted Castronova, wrote the departmental statement. For tenure or promotion to full professorship, the number of letters from outside experts is usually around eight. “In Annie’s case,” Walt recalled, “we sent twenty-four letters from external reviewers.” The response was overwhelming. “No one said no,” Walt said about the request for letters. “Everyone who could [write a letter], did.”

That is a sizable crowd, certainly suitable to any cinematic, celebratory soirée. However, reality is rarely as beautifully truncated as film, or as excitingly dramatic. Most of the communication was via email, and the whole process took more than a year. Annie was nominated last year, but was (obviously) not elected; first time, very few are. Furthermore, simply being at IU, with its very high standards for distinguished rank, made the application more challenging. Annie stated, only half-jokingly, that you usually have to obtain most of the awards in your field before this committee will entertain your submission. At least the standards imply more deserved prestige for those who make the cut.

Annie is the first member of the Telecom department to earn the title. It’s good for the department to have a member in this distinguished group, which has impact on the university. “It provides input for the department on a level we’ve never really had before,” Annie said. Walt sent out a letter to notify everyone that Annie had been promoted to the distinguished rank. “That was a really nice day,” Walt said, “because I was getting emails from all the luminaries in the field.”

Though her career is comprised of new scales and measures, Annie’s reputation defies proper measurement and documentation. To make their points, students are supposed to cite the words and thoughts of wiser, more accomplished scholars. Unfortunately, there is no entry in the APA style manual for “practically everyone in the field.”

Speaking on behalf of the department—all faculty, staff, and students—we are so very proud of you, Annie. Congratulations!

(Video: By Mike Lang)

Brown bag

Communicating Stigma: the Pro-ana Paradox

Daphna Yeshua-Katz (Presenter), Bernice A. Pescosolido (Discussant)

Adolescents increasingly use the Internet as a primary source for health information, including information about eating disorders. One of the controversial online communities that have attracted the attention of scholars, health professional and the media is the pro-ana community.

Daphna’s study focusing on the personal experiences of pro-ana bloggers, using Erving Goffman’s foundational work on stigma, identifies the motivations, benefits and drawbacks of blogging about a stigmatized eating disorder. Professor Pescosolido presented the “Pro-Ana Paradox” in the larger context of stigma research.

The complete audio recording of this past Friday’s seminar can be found here: Brown Bag – January 20, 2012 (Daphna and Bernice on Pro-Ana Bloggers)

Daphna Yeshua-Katz is a second year doctoral student in Telecommunications at Indiana University. Her research interest focuses on the ethical dilemmas created by new types of social activities on the Internet.  She seeks to understand the interconnections between technology, society and norms, in particular with respect to online communities that have a strained relationship (e.g. stigmatized groups) with the rest of the society.

Bernice A. Pescosolido is Distinguished and Chancellor’s Professor of Sociology at Indiana University and Director of the Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services Research. Professor Pescosolido received a Ph.D. in Sociology from Yale University in 1982. She has focused her research and teaching on social issues in health, illness, and healing.  More specifically, Pescosolido’s research agenda addresses how social networks connect individuals to their communities and to institutional structures, providing the “wires” through which people’s attitudes and actions are influenced. This agenda encompasses three basic areas: health care services, stigma, and suicide research.

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