What I’m Working On: Ashanka Kumari



Ashanka Kumari

Last year I was working on navigating what it meant to be in a doctoral program, what I described as messy. This year, I continue to embrace and work in/through/with the mess but with a renewed focus toward balance and self-care. For me, that means finding ways to delegate and say no more to give myself realistic time to brain the expectations and responsibilities I have as a graduate student, teacher, and in leadership roles with those I have as a person, especially as a person who recently made some major life leaps (e.g. getting married, moving into a house in a new city).

Dissertation Foundations

These ideas are what have sparked what I’m currently beginning to pursue for my dissertation project. How do graduate students negotiate and balance the expectations of graduate study in the humanities with their lives? To this end, I’m beginning (IRB-accepted!) a qualitative interview- and document-based study that (this semester, at least) looks at how and what graduate students in composition and rhetoric 1) understand as the goals of their graduate program, 2) balance their professional goals with their personal lives, and 3) professionalize and work towards their degrees. Particularly, I’m hoping to collect organizational documents (e.g. lists, charts, journal writings) and other writing graduate students produce to process and/or “make sense of the mess,” so to speak.

Multimodal Post-9/11 Literature

I’m working on wrapping up coursework this semester and transitioning into exams. This semester, I am taking Andrea Olinger’s Methods class in which I am beginning the study I described above. I am also working toward taking my SLA exam in late April (#PHDOMG) with my SLA-exam committee (Fran McDonald and Bronwyn T. Williams). I am enjoying reading yet often devastated by the texts on my SLA exam reading list themed on Multimodal Post-9/11 Literature. I chose this topic primarily out of personal interest, but knew going in that it wasn’t going to be an easy topic for me, a person who spent the first nine years of her life growing up in Queens, NY, having only moved away less than a year before 9/11. Here, I find this exam project helping me to balance and further comprehend my emotions about 9/11 and post-9/11—a strange catharsis.

Teaching English 102

I balance my coursework and SLA reading with teaching my English 102 course themed on issues in Popular Culture. I have some incredibly bright students and am regularly impressed by their writing. To this end, I am continuing to navigate my own teacher-identity, having only taught versions of 101-courses up until this semester. I am working on revising my teaching philosophy statement as one way to respond to and make sense of this teacher-identity growth.

Watson 2018

I’m also working on laying the groundwork for the 2018 Watson Conference as one of the Assistant Directors with Mary P. Sheridan and Laura Matravers. Right now, we have confirmed the theme of the conference and our 2018 keynote speakers (exciting announcements to come!) as well as beginning to develop what a digital publication out of the future conference might entail. I am eager to engage more as we put together the 2017 Watson Symposium.


I try to commit a few hours each week to revising writing towards submitting it to journals this summer. Currently, I’m wrapping up an article on experiences teaching a unit on privilege and identity in a first-year writing classroom in my Master’s (co-authored with Brita Thielen, who I co-designed the unit with); building a piece on the significance of failure in producing digital projects that I will present at Computers & Writing with Erin Kathleen Bahl (and then continue to work on towards submitting to a journal); and, revising my seminar paper from Bruce Horner’s fall Mobility Work in Composition class with hopes to send it off later this summer. Setting regular writing center appointments and Skype meetings with collaborators are what helps me stay on task and continue forward with these projects since I’ve learned that they can often be pushed to the bottom of the to-do list, though some weeks are definitely better research and writing weeks than others.


To balance all of the above, I read. I’ve read a lot since January partly due to my new one-hour commute to campus (audiobooks are incredible). I read lots of fiction and nonfiction that has nothing yet often so much to do with my research. I’ve renewed my love for reading novels by reading them regularly and almost-daily for the first time since undergrad. It’s sometimes perplexing how much we read for research projects, coursework, teaching prep, but how little we might read for ourselves—that’s something I’m working on. I also cook a lot. I have learned how to make my own pizza dough (need a stress reliever? Knead dough.). This week I’m teaching myself how to make pies from scratch.

More of what I’m working on can be found at my website: ashankakumari.com.

Ashanka Kumari is a 2nd-year PhD Student and an Assistant Director of the Thomas R. Watson Conference. She thinks the KitchenAid Stand Mixer is one of the most magical inventions in the world. 


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