What I’m Working On by Keri Mathis

In a PLAN workshop on backward design planning, Michelle Rodems always tells a story about rocks — big rocks and small rocks — to help us conceptualize our responsibilities as graduate students and how to effectively plan our research, teaching, and personal lives so that we can find some semblance of “work-life balance.” The idea is something like this: if you have an empty jar that represents all of your time, and you have rocks, pebbles, sand, and water to fill your jar, you need to put the big rocks in first because these are your biggest priorities. The rest can fall into place after and around the big rocks to fill in the empty cracks and spaces.

And importantly, if you don’t put the big rocks in first, the smaller ones won’t fit, and you won’t have the time or energy to devote to those bigger rocks that matter most.

So, Michelle always asks the question: “what are your big rocks?” In other words, what are the things you prioritize or cannot lose? I think about this question quite a bit, and in this post, I’m going to talk about a few of the “big rocks” in my jar (or, what I’m working on right now):

#1: The Dissertation

The dissertation is one of my biggest rocks — currently big, misshapen, and not nearly as stable as most rocks are (I don’t know if “stable” is the right word. I’m not a geologist. Just play along, please).

My dissertation is tentatively titled “Pens, Print, and Pixels: Gendered Writing and The Epistolary Genre in Transitional Eras.” The project is a genre and media analysis of women’s letterwriting in three moments of technological change–from manuscript to print to digital. I am primarily interested in retheorizing the relationships among genre, media, and modalities and making the implications of this relationship, particularly for individuals writing from the margins, more visible. The case studies for my dissertation include women’s letters from the English Renaissance; letters, epistolary novels, and manuals from the 18th century; and finally, from today’s digital age, social media posts that have appropriated epistolary conventions to respond to current cultural exigencies. My ultimate goal is that a narrow, deep dive into these three historical moments will help pave the way for writing studies scholars to more closely consider how genres and media work together to create opportunities for multiple voices to be heard and for intersectional identities to be shared and valued.

#2: Graduate Student Professional Development

My second rock comes from my role as the research assistant to Dean Beth Boehm in the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies. In this role, I have helped plan and lead multiple professional development workshops, and I have co-created one of SIGS’ newest academies: the Community Engagement Academy. This program has involved a lot of coordinating with multiple stakeholders — administrators, faculty, students, and community partners. Now in its second phase, the Community Engagement Academy started as a partnership with the Parklands of Floyds Fork, and we are now expanding to include projects with other community partners that foster interdisciplinary collaboration.

#3: Teaching

I am currently teaching Business Writing, and after teaching a more traditional business writing course for the past three semesters, I decided to collaborate with Megen Boyett on a “Professional Writing for Non-Profits course” this term. Megen and I have been working diligently to establish partnerships with four organizations that are currently working with the students in our classes: the Backside Learning Center, Americana Community Center, the Council on Developmental Disabilities, and the Center for Women and Families. We used what we have been discussing in the Community Engagement Academy to develop a course and writing projects that will, we hope, be mutually beneficial for the students and the non-profit organizations.

#4 Self-Care

I am currently (and constantly) working on self-care and just being present in other aspects of my life that are not necessarily related to academia (though some of them are). Some of these things include:

  1. Figuring out what “self-care” means for me and how to practice it.
  2. Learning to say No, especially to things that are just “extra” and do not align with my interests and needs, personally and professionally.
  3. Being grateful and showing gratitude daily — to my husband and to all of my friends and family who are constant supporters of this crazy PhD life.
  4. Showing up and being present. The showing up part is easy, but the “presence” part is difficult when we are spread so thin. Going to keep working on that one.
  5. Striving for “Done Well, but not Perfect” in everything I do.

If you’re interested in learning about the productivity rock metaphor, here ya go: https://zenhabits.net/big-rocks-first-double-your-productivity-this-week/

Also, other smaller rocks and pebbles that fall in around these bigger rocks are included on my website: kerimathis.wordpress.comscreenshot-2017-03-03-12-24-47

Keri Mathis is a fourth-year PhD Candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Louisville. She will be on the academic job market in the fall and will appreciate all kind words and hugs from anyone who wants to share them during that time.


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