What I Learned in Year One by Megan Hartline

None of my best work happened alone.

Before starting at UofL, academia had always seemed like an individual venture to me. I had mentors and friends who would read over my papers, but the majority of what I did, I did alone. “Group work” was a scary phrase that always reminded me of projects I was forced to do in undergrad, which were never actually collaborative and always a nightmare.

That began to change during Mary P’s Community Literacy course, where I learned more about (and started wanting to do) research that happens in partnership with community organizations. Spoiler alert – community engagement is inherently group work.

My interest in community engagement led me to apply for the first year of the Digital Media Academy, and let me tell you, that is a project that is designed to be too big for anyone to do alone. Through the process of planning the pedagogy, logistics, technology, and assessment for this camp, I came to implicitly trust and rely on my team, which was absolutely necessary when it came to the craziness of enacting those plans in a two-week digital production camp for twenty sixth-grade girls. During planning, we learned to trust each other to do the work required to set everything up, and when camp started, we were ready to shift in and out of leader and supporter roles, making sure that camp ran smoothly and that none of us were overtaxed. After this experience, it’s unsurprising to me that so many of my other collaborative work has involved people I’ve worked with on DMA–people I learned to trust during the long-term planning process and the intense implementation of a major project.

Since that first DMA, I’ve worked at DMA a second summer, co-developed a community-oriented composition course, co-designed the Digital Composition Colloquium, worked with English grad students and the Council on Developmental Disabilities on Art as Memory, and collaborated with graduate students at the Community Engagement Academy on a project for the Parklands of Floyds Fork. I’ve written four collaborative articles and designed numerous workshops and conferences, and I’ve done none of this work alone.

These are the projects that I am most proud of and that I see as my best work.

And these experiences have led me to share the burden of the more independent projects, like my dissertation, with others. I join my writing group every other week so we can help each other develop our ideas and write the best work we can, and I can see how they have helped me shape and structure my project to be the best it can be.  

During my four years here, I learned not only to like but to fully embrace the group project, and I, along with my work, am better for it.

My suggestion is this: Find the people who make your work better. Talk to them. Share with them. Design projects with them. Don’t do the work of grad school alone.

Or in the wise words of Leslie Knope, another blonde go-getter trying to change the world: “Go find your team and get to work.”

Megan Faver Hartline (pictured with several of her collaborators) is a fourth year doctoral candidate in rhetoric and composition. She is in the final stages of dissertation writing, in which she is examining institutional structures for community engagement, and in the middle stages of freaking out about leaving Louisville in the next few months.

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