What I’m Working On by Kelly Carty

This time last year, I was managing the kitchen at a cooperative center in rural Michigan. Most of my days were spent writing recipes, cooking, doing dishes, planning to feed 100+ people during summer camp, and talking to people about the link between food and social justice. I knew I would be starting grad school at UofL in August, but it felt so far away.

A lot has happened since last April. I’ve made new friends. I’ve learned a few things about Shakespeare. I’ve helped UofL students with writing. I’ve been able to add tons of books to my goodreads account.

So what am I working on now, as a second semester English MA student?

Seminar Papers

I have two end-of-term papers to finish before the end of the month.

One, which is for Dr. Anderson’s course on African American Literature and Environmental Roots, explores Baudrillard’s concepts of simulacra and the hyperreal in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. I might link this to Barthes description of mythology (because I ❤ theory) or (but probably “and”) double-voiced texts. I’m still sorting this one out and doing research to figure out what’s at stake for my argument.

My other paper is for my exotic non-English department class, Philosophy of Science, which is taught by Dr. Guy Dove. For that paper, I am evaluating Philip Kitcher’s essay on scientific reductionism (well, specifically biological antireductionism) by applying it to the move from classical genetics (i.e. Gregor Mendel’s pea plant experiments) to molecular genetics (i.e. most of the stuff done after Watson, Crick, Wilkins, and Franklin determined the structure of DNA).

Prepping for a Theory Exam

Dr. Kopelson’s theory class has a final exam in a few weeks (eek) so I am semi-planning for it. Mostly, this means maintaining a Google doc with brief summaries, significant excerpts, and keywords for each theorist. It also means helping plan a pre-exam study session with my theory classmates and making sure someone brings wine.  

Writing Center Tutoring

Although you may think I should have figured out how Writing Center tutoring works by now, I haven’t. I still think about ways I can become a more effective and compassionate tutor. For the most part, this “thinking” consists of me dumping my Writing Center-related ideas or problems on Cassie or Bronwyn.  In addition to these tutor-centered thoughts, I also think about ways I can help maintain the friendly, supportive environment we have in the Writing Center. My coworkers are great, so this is pretty easy. We do organize events (mostly potlucks) and pranks (e.g. wearing the same color each day of the week when Bronwyn returned from quick trip) from time to time.

Second Year/ Post-MA Planning

Because I’m nearing the end of the first year of my MA, I’m starting to mull over thesis and CP ideas. I came into the program broadly interested in the intersection of science Carty.0324171407aand literature, but I’ve recently been swept away by literary theory (thanks to Professor Kopelson and my theory classmates). Right now, I am trying to figure out a way to link all three.

I am also vaguely working out a plan for what to do after I finish this MA program. Perhaps I will continue onto a PhD program (but in what? And where?).  


This is an on-going project …

Kelly Carty is a first-year M.A. student.

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. 

What I’m Working On: Working on the Thing In Front of Me by Patrick Danner

Two pieces of advice from my M.A. stick with me still. First was a pretty consequential piece from an advisor who said during my first semester, “If you plan on getting a Ph.D. to be a Mark Twain scholar, don’t.” The second, which I find myself saying more and more as I write, was a bit of wisdom from my thesis chair: “It’s like bowling. You set the pins up and knock them down.” Without laboring the metaphor too much, I think what I’m working on is reminding myself to set them up, and learning how to set them up, because bowling without pins probably looks stupid.

With that image, I think my advisor then—as my committee now—recognized that I have a tendency to lob large theoretical claims at objects of study that aren’t fully explained. And being among humanities folk I think it’s fair to say that we sometimes want to latch onto broad claims before truly breaking down what’s in front of us. This past weekend I got a text from an old teaching friend saying that Hail, Caesar! upends Frankfurt School dialectics, or something, and for that reason I should see it, before plots were even mentioned (he then wrote a great piece on it, but the point stands). And now I’m forming dissertation chapters saying things three pages in about how the sub-field of rhetoric of science has neglected data as a thing—as if I’ve earned that claim on page four?

In more zen moments I see this idea—setting them up before knocking them down—at work beyond my writing, too. At ATTW last week entire panels were dedicated to dealing with and conceptualizing the things in front of us: new workplace models, the weird history of technical writing, the lack of ethics as a subject in our curricula, the fact that user manuals are now all on YouTube. And there’s the leg work of doing that conceptualizing (far before the sweeping claims of and therefore everything about [major scholar’s] claims are shortsighted!) that I’m learning to value more.

I’m doing that kind of leg work now. It isn’t glamorous. But as Joanna Wolfe and Susan Youngblood reminded me after my ATTW talk, there’s little that’s glamorous about the mess of writing, the scrapped pages, or the actual monotony of setting up the pins. (I have no qualms in saying some of this research is monotonous—I mean, some of this work is about defining things like “p-value” and “correlation.”)

The project is a workplace observation of a non-profit that allows me to track the life of public policy data in “A Large Midwestern City.” I attend their meetings, get cc’d on their e-mails, track their collaborative work on Google Drive, go to their events, and interview team members and members of other, partner organizations that they interact with regularly. And I’ve been doing this since June. It’s a lot to keep track of, a lot of “pins” to get set up and in order before I toss a 10-lb. theoretical claim at it. I have a “hook” in mind, something like the “life” of data as it’s mined, aggregated, disaggregated, has rhetorical scaffolding built around it, and is sent into the world to be acted on, but neither my observation notes nor the actual practices of this workplace—like most writing practices—are that neat.

So I’m working on making sense of the things in front of me—the circulated drafts, the observation notes, the interview transcripts—and getting it set up and in some sensible written form. I’m working on valuing the richness of the data I collected, the tensions and contradictions in it, so that before I make claims with phrases like “ecologies, not networks!” and “iterative invention!” and “the rhetoric of the algorithm!” I have my evidence lined up. Screenshot 2017-03-22 16.46.40

And if anyone wants to go bowling, let me know.

Patrick Danner is a third-year doctoral candidate in rhetoric and composition. His research interests are all over the place, a result of finding too many things interesting. He has ongoing/under-review projects about (1) the anti-vaccine movement and biopolitical rhetoric, (2) voter data and invention in technical communication, and (3) an on-hold project about 19th century public health. He likes teaching about data visualization and group writing processes, and somehow finds himself involved in digital projects all the time (check out MASH, folks), too. He once bowled a 190, which he thinks is pretty good, and fully embraces “going to protests” and “activism” as legitimate hobbies. Current nightstand books: Mina Loy, a Belgium travel guide, and some Spinuzzi.

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.

What I’m Working On by Michael Baumann

Michael Baumann, a second-year Ph.D. candidate, created an audio file to discuss what he is working on. For accessibility, a script has been provided below.

What I’m Working on by Michael Baumann



What am I working on this semester? A piano(!) (Literally, but then also that’s a metaphor.). In addition to adding little weights to little hammers (another literal / metaphor) so that they (re)set and so that the keys won’t stick and so that I won’t get so grumpy–I’m tuning it, which is easy: I have perfect pitch and a musical ear (when it comes to pianos) (but not really about much else). Ya just sound it out.

I’m doing a lot of stuff this semester (sounding it all out) (that is). A comprehensive literature exam on the sonic rhetorics of slam poetry, a dissertation on the politics of ethos and avowal when queer writing teachers (in)audibly “come out” (or don’t), a couple of courses (of course) on new media writing (which–duh–employ such sound).


Literature exam: I’m tracing the history of American confessional poetry as an antecedent to its contemporary iteration(s) of slam. I harbor so many questions, but I’ll blight you with only a couple here: first, slam’s autobiography-ness explodes the first-person lyric, and the politic/al foregrounds a shift from modernity (in)to a postmodern conscientiousness of what poetry is (not) rhetorically and generically. For example, a page-poem’s grandest conceit is that there’s always a speaker, and that speaker isn’t necessarily the author; a slam poem implies (or necessitates) that the speaker and the author are the same. What does this mean for audiences’ phenomenological and ontological conceptions of “speaker”? In a neo-Foucauldian sense, too: What tensions might exist in performance poetry regarding sincerity/authenticity versus performativity, especially considering various (in)visible intersections of identity? Finally, in terms of Writing Studies’ interests in processes, I find it difficult to pasteurize process from product, as the performed genre is not complete until shared with a live audience, who breathe textures, modalities, rhetorics, and semiotics in/to the product/poem during the final stages of its process/performance. So (to what extent) is the space between rehearsal and improvisation, between rhetor and interlocutor, dialectical or queer? Additionally, considering the Western rhetorical canons, in contemporary writing studies, we’ve often stretched rhetorical theory, which once applied to oral/aural, as well as multimodal, performances of oratory, to fit our needs, meaning in this case that we substitute, reinterpret, and perhaps even (mis)appropriate the canons memory and delivery in particular (cf., Trimbur, DeVoss and Ridolfo, Ehses and Lupton). Do these canons enjoy a comeback in slam poetry?

Dissertation: I wonder sometimes what is, after all, different between teaching a class and performing a poem: are they not both performances? Anyway, I’m interested in a mixed-methods (auto)ethnographic dissertation so I can listen to students re: how openly “out” queer teachers affect writing classrooms. Especially considering the politics of “passing,” at odds–always–with Writing Studies’ fetishization of “authentic” voice, how do students interpret queer writing teachers’ ethoi and author/ity?


While tightening my piano’s heartstrings this semester, certainly I’ve plucked some of my own. I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, and it would suck if I already did. With so much focus on sound this semester, I’ll be hearing much, listening a lot, (and certainly there’s a difference between hearing and listening).

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. 

What I’m Working On: Layne Gordon

This year, what I’m working on is broader than it ever has been before. Because I am an Assistant Director in the Writing Center, an instructor for a section of 102, a 2nd year PhD student, and a new mother, I find myself writing more than ever before and juggling SO many more projects. Here are just a few of the roles/projects I’m working on:

1) Research: that big dissertation thing

Last semester I began a pilot study for my dissertation in the hopes of figuring out my research questions and my units of analysis. (FYI my dissertation will be an analysis of the UPS Metropolitan College program with a particular eye toward the experiences and literacy practices of student-workers in the program and the implications/opportunities of programs like this for composition pedagogy.) I interviewed three students, transcribed those interviews, and wrote about them a little bit for my seminar papers. This semester, I plan to continue this pilot study by interviewing some more students and hopefully some instructors as well. I have found this pilot study to be such a great way to get some practice in the methods I’m interested in before the stakes get high. One of the biggest things I have learned is that interviewing is really, really hard.

2) Professional writing: ADWC

For my position in the Writing Center, I find myself writing all the time, but in ways that I didn’t necessarily anticipate. One of the most interesting and challenging things I have worked on so far in this position is the Writing Center’s Accessibility and Accommodations page. It was really cool to write something on behalf of the Writing Center–something that would serve as an official statement/policy and would help shape the identity of the Writing Center. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to work on this. This project really got me thinking about all the individual identities and perspectives that contribute to an institution’s collective identity. In this case, I was writing the Writing Center’s accessibility and accommodations page, and not Layne’s accessibility and accommodations page. Nevertheless, my own perspective, knowledge, and experiences are, of course, nestled in there.

3) Personal writing: my website

The main “non-required” project I’ve been working on is developing my website, which you can check out at http://laynempgordon.weebly.com. Creating a personal/professional website is something that had just been sitting on my to-do list for about a year, and I finally got around to working on it over winter break. I have really enjoyed working on this both as a form of productive procrastination and as an exercise in writing about what I do for a broader audience. Part of why I finally got motivated to work on my website over the break was because I was anxious about family members asking me over the holidays what exactly I’m doing in school and what my dissertation is all about. I find that even after four straight years of rhet/comp-oriented grad school I still struggle to articulate to a general layne-gordon-picaudience what exactly it is that we do in our field, let alone what I want to accomplish in my dissertation. Working on my website has been a great way to practice that a bit more. However, the other audience for my website is of course rhet/comp “insiders,” which will hopefully include potential employers some day. So, this project has ended up being both more complex and more fun than I originally anticipated.

The biggest thing I work on, though, and the thing that shapes everything else I work on, is being mom to my son, David. It’s definitely work, and it’s definitely amazing.

Layne Gordon is a second-year Ph.D. student.