This week, my Science Writing students will begin their scicomm blogs, and it occurred to me that the things I’m asking them to reflect on with respect to their careers are things that I’m reflecting on right now as an early career researcher. I also recently came across this article from American Scientist, and with my best friend visiting the Sallie Bingham Center to look at the comics archive…just, all the things.
So, for the next few weeks, I’ll be posting alongside them, introducing myself, understanding the lay of the land in communication, composition, and rhetoric. Their first prompt (excerpted):
Describe your values, interests, personality, and skills. Introduce yourself to the world using these characteristics of yourself as a soon-to-be career professional/scientist. In the next paragraph, tie your values, interests, personalities, and skills to your dream job. What do you want to be when you grow up (even if you’re already grown!)? Where do you hope to be able to make your name? Explain why this is your dream job and how it fulfills your values, interests, personalities, and skills. In thefinal paragraph, do some research on your field’s trajectory. Think futuristically: where is the field going to be in the next few years? What developments are happening now that will affect the kind of work and research scientists in your field will be doing when you graduate? Develop a preliminary argument about where the field is going and what the future of your profession will look like.
When I think about my values, interests, personality, and skills, they really coalesce around two major ideas: that material entanglements are integral to what it means to be a human in the world, and that any career I choose must necessarily give back to my community. I value hard work, but recognize that that looks different for many different kinds of people. I value my community and my family, and I value the places that I’ve grown up around – rural places, wild places, agricultural places. I’m interested in making stuff – I don’t use this word often, but when I am making, crafting, coding, etc., I feel pure, unadulterated joy. I also love making because it connects my cognitive processes to concrete realities, and it is in this place and moment that I feel I can produce knowledge. My personality is fierce: I work hard, and expect others to do the same, but I do this in the context of a safety net, with the knowledge that I should and will step up to help others. My skills are both “soft” and “hard” – I can craft in a lot of different ways, including fiber, wood, electronics, writing, etc. But I can also communicate complex ideas to a wide audience, and when working with others, I’m very good at drawing out clear arguments and action from seemingly jumbled thoughts.
With this in mind, my dream job is to run a Makerspace, whether as a nonprofit, B-corps, or in an academic environment (even as a classroom!). My understanding of how people learn through material and concrete entanglements, my ability to bring ideas together, and my experience partnering with different entities, institutions, and kinds of people would fit well with this kind of work. As a Southerner, I’ve watched talented researchers leave their home states for bigger, more inclusive cities with more resources to offer. My dream would be to be able to offer my skills to my hometown or the rural parts of North Carolina, to support those research and development initiatives that bring resources to the community, that open up the idea of who can contribute and in what ways, but to preserve the ways of knowing and being that are endemic to those communities.
As for my field’s trajectory, there is some research in my field and in education in general that is concerned with making practices, but for the most part, this scholarship privileges academic ways of knowing and highly electronic spaces for making. Despite this, my field is currently very interested in the ways that imperialism and colonization has co-opted the knowledges and practices of everyday, often marginalized people. I feel this is where my niche lies: in showing how Maker communities exist in these out-of-the-way places and communities, and how we can readjust our existing structures to recognize and validate these para-academic spaces of knowledge practice. Looking at the number of rural research initiatives that are centered around economic development and arts communities in the South, I feel as if there is a lot of opportunity to create partnerships and to contribute to the development of rural and marginalized populations through the idea of a Makerspace.
My reflection on this so far: this looks increasingly like the first draft of a research statement! Where do one’s goals and experience align? How does one’s research fit into the mission and vision of an institution?