What I’m Working on by Caitlin Ray

One of my goals as I go into the second part of my second year in the PhD program is to figure out ways of refining and articulating the question of “who I am” as a scholar. I realized, as I was teaching my 306 Business students “elevator speeches,” I am not sure I can articulate in about 20 seconds, who I am and what I do.  In fact, I sat down this past week trying to, in a witty and clever way, to describe my work for this post.

And then, as it happened and has happened through my entire graduate career, my fatigue and pain got in the way. The closer I near my regular infusion treatments (which I get to control my autoimmune disorder) the more tired I get. My infusion was Friday, and I always forget how tired I get before them and directly after. But, each hospital visit reminds me of my research interests and the importance of the work I want to do. As it always does, I am given new motivation.

Right now, I am primarily interested in issues of disability and medical rhetoric, in addition to how the humanities and the arts can deepen our understanding of medical issues and help people with health conditions advocate for themselves. Basically, I am constantly trying to reconcile my own position in a broader society that doesn’t value people with chronic pain/ illness/ disability. Thus, my research is often focused on theorizing, uncovering, or making connections that highlight and embrace people with disabilities.  As a result, many of my projects come out of this central theme.

As I’m in the middle of my second year, I think I am in the midst of a fascinating mishmash of small projects rooted in my coursework or exams and very (VERY) preliminary work on what I hope to be my dissertation. One of the realities that I have found in grad school work is that I am undoubtedly working on MANY projects at the same time, and some of these projects started YEARS ago. I am still trying to find homes for them.

Some of these include:

  • A section of my Master’s thesis about how people with fibromyalgia develop ethos through blogging practices. I am currently revising this paper for publication
  • A paper from my Master’s program about ableism in Theatre of the Oppressed facilitation has been accepted in the newly formed Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Journal.
  • The role of disability and the gothic in Flannery O’Connor’s short stories.

I am also in the midst of some research projects:

  • I am Dr. Deborah Lutz’s Research Assistant this year, and we are working on finding Emily Bronte’s poetry manuscripts in libraries across the US and the UK, and arranging them in chronological order.
  • I am also increasingly interested in disability activism, and the role that this activism plays in digital spaces. I am working on revising a seminar paper from last semester on the hashtag #cripthevote, in order to examine how broader protest culture (certainly relevant in today’s time) can benefit from the creative protests done historically by the disability community.
  • How small group and peer-to-peer mentoring can help new teachers gain confidence and self-assurance in the classroom.

I am also working towards my possible dissertation project, which hopes to examine how the arts can help people with chronic pain and illness develop self advocacy and find ways to articulate their experiences, particularly when language is often insufficient to describe illness and pain.

Oh, and I am teaching myself to crochet! So there’s that, too. I research and write about things that make me angry and then I make soft things. That is what I’m working on.ray-gradschool

Caitlin Ray is a second-year Ph.D. student. 

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