What I’m Working On by Michael Baumann

MU headshot
“What I’m Working On: Poems”

Yo, I’m writing a dissertation (analyzing data from a national interview-based study on whether, why, and how LGBTQ-identified writing professors “come out of the closet” or “pass” as straight/cisgender in their classrooms), teaching online (ENGL 102–my students rock more than I do, which is saying something, if I do say so myself), teaching at Marian University, Indianapolis (I direct new media writing studies for their Communication Department), and Coaching Marian’s Speech and Debate Team (JUST became Indiana’s 2018 State Champion Runners Up)… But I don’t really want to talk about that (bc too often we talk about what we’re doing for Academé). What I do really want to talk about is a recurring, Indianapolis-based poetry performance show in Indy that I’m co-producing called Poetry on the Fringe. Y’all it’s so cool:

Poetry on the Fringe brings performance poetry and theatre arts into concert with one another. Every other Sunday at 7 p.m., we drop jaws with a 20-minute open mic for emerging artists, followed by a never-before-seen theatrical production, and finally a NPS-certified poetry slam competition ($60 to the champ–with a grand slam prize at the end of our season somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 bones).

My co-producers Gabrielle Patterson, Sylvia Thomas, and I are all poets, writers, and performers in Indianapolis. Gabby is a national poetry slam champion and playwright; well-versed in performance poetry and theatre, poetry is in her blood. Sylvia is a local poet with international recognition; she cares about people finding empowerment in their story and their art. As a team of producers, we each strive to bring performance poetry and theatre arts to the hearts of Indy.

We believe that poetry is magic and performance is healing. We each plug into the community from different outlets in order to reach out to our communities, discover emerging artists, honor legendary performers, celebrate diverse voices, and engage our audiences by welcoming them into our storytelling performances that bridge poetry and theatre. And we wish to divide our rewards equitably amongst ourselves, ultimately folding them back into the community.

We’ve designed the limited open mic to bring diverse voices to our poetry scene and to invite new artists to share. Our open mic, free for all, is safe, inclusive, invitational, supportive: a space to take your first steps as a poet.

The theatrical production samples a kaleidoscope of performers (including, sometimes, our own audiences) from drag queens to actors to musicians to comedians–storytellers of all kind. We invite our youth, our elders, our queers, our students, our teachers, our veterans–our voices of all colors, histories, shapes, sizes, and abilities–to perform with us.

The slam is the only certified venue in Indianapolis where poets can compete for substantial prize money every other week and vie for membership on a team that we hope will compete both regionally and nationally. We’ve got the talent. We’ve got the cred. We’ve got it all. We just need YOU.

Michael Baumann is a doctoral candidate at the University of Louisville’s Department of English. He’s also a college professor, book editor, speech coach, and performance poet.



What I’m Working On by Michelle Day

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 9.50.20 AMHaving finished coursework, exams, and my prospectus, I’ve entered a weird stage of the doctoral program that is both more freedom and more pressure. That is, the work feels harder, more draining, and higher stakes, but it’s also more mine, and I feel much more in control of my time. Here’s how I’ve been using that.


Like, obviously. My dissertation explores principles and practices that can help writing classrooms/instructors be more responsive to student trauma. Studies show that at least 68 percent (and that’s the most conservative measure) of students at public colleges have experienced trauma before arriving at college, and many of them will experience trauma during college. It’s a widely documented fact that trauma impacts (often, impedes) learning and classroom behaviors, as well as general ability to adjust to adulthood.

Since we’re in a unique position as writing teachers—smaller classrooms, more one-on-one and small group interactions with students, etc.—I am developing flexible strategies that college writing instructors can use to respond to the impact of trauma on their work and their students.

Celebration of Student Writing

This is my second year leading this annual event, and this year, with the help of Megen Boyett, we are working on ways to expand its reach. Students seem to enjoy this event, but express a desire to connect with more peers to share their work. So, we’ve added door prizes (including some Beats headphones), guest judges, and cool opportunities for students to make stuff, all in order to incentivize attendance and generate more excitement for the event. (Interested in participating? Email me or sign up here)

Competing in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

I just moved up to the second level (“blue belt”) in the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and I’m beginning to train more so that I can compete in some cool tournaments across the country. So far, I’ve medaled in every tournament I’ve competed in, and I am planning to compete in the World IBJJF Championship in May. I will almost certainly lose very quickly at World’s, but having grown up doing sports, it’s a blast to be competing again with teammates that I love in new areas of the country I haven’t been to before. And it’s really nice to have accomplishments outside work/school.


About two years ago, my sister started writing her own music as “Violet Moon,” and now, I get to play keyboard and sing back-up vocals for her. Over the last 8 months, we’ve recorded two songs and started playing live shows. I never thought I would ever have the courage to play and sing in front of an audience, and overcoming that fear was a personal victory for me. Now that I have more time to rehearse, I’m looking forward to playing in more shows and connecting with other musicians around town.

Michelle Day is a 3rd year doctoral student, an Assistant Director of Composition, and a graduate assistant for the Cooperative Consortium for Transdisciplinary Social Justice Research.

What I’m Working On by Caitlin Ray

dairykastleThe further I get into grad school, the more I avoid reading or participating in “what I’m working on”-type blog posts, long Facebook updates, and #phdgrind-style tweets because I often feel like I am not being productive enough with my time and start to feel that imposter complex creep in. I begin to feel like I am simultaneously working on everything and nothing, and am embarrassed to admit some of the things I am “working on” because I feel they are things that should be “done” and I am constantly “behind.”


[Image description: Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop in The Good Place with the text, “That’s Bullshirt.”]

However, I want to take the time to celebrate, too, something that I often neglect. When I end the weekly Graduate Student and Faculty Writing Group, I always have us go around the room and say what we accomplished during our time in order to purposefully mark what we have done and that, no matter how small, those things matter. But, in my own practice? I am bad at doing that. So, let’s give it a shot:

The Writing Center


[Image Description: Kristen Bell as Eleanor Shellstrop again, facing away the audience on a couch, with the words “Welcome! Everything is fine” on the wall.]

Most of this past school year has been spent working as Assistant Director of Graduate Student Writing at the Writing Center, doing exams, and starting my dissertation. Working at the Writing Center has largely been a new experience for me, and I have learned that I especially love working with graduate students on dissertations, manuscripts, and grants. The Writing Center and Graduate Student Council also co-hosted a Mini-Dissertation Writing Retreat this past January where a bunch of PhD students gathered on Saturday mornings for productive writing time. I am also in the midst of planning a Health Sciences Drop-In event where a bunch of consultants will meet with people working on grants and manuscripts. I also attended a NIH Grant Writing Workshop, a great way for me to understand more deeply the grant writing process in science writing, and will hopefully connect to my scholarship in the rhetoric of health and medicine.



[Image Description: A screenshot of the “Shit Academics Say” twitter account, with the text, “To Do List: 1. Write All of the Things; 2. Denial”]

Third year is the year of exams. I finished my general exam in September, and my dissertation prospectus in January. I am also in the process of studying for my SLA, coming up in about a month. My SLA focuses on a dual reading of Shakespeare plays alongside  disability studies texts, in the hopes of finding out what a more overt focus on themes of  disability can reveal about Shakespeare’s plays. How do notions of the body, normalcy, and difference shape ways we make meaning of these well-known texts? Can it help us think of these plays in new ways?



[Image Description: Meme of a Golden Retriever in a tie, with their paws on a computer keyboard. Over the image is the text, “I have no idea what I’m doing”]

Broadly, my dissertation is about how representations of people with rare illnesses impact the lived experiences of people in those rare illness communities. I will look at popular culture representations (movies, TV, and books)  and advocacy groups that try to shape policy and how both impact a specific rare illness community—the one that I myself belong to. As I embark on my data collection, I am excited and grateful to have an academic excuse to watch TV (always!), that the Annual Myositis Patient Conference will be in Louisville this year (serendipity!) and that I will be able to go to the Rare Disease Week in Washington D.C. (?!?). As for that last one, I will be leaving for Rare Disease Week in about two weeks. For that event, I will be travelling to D.C. where I will go through training on advocacy, meet with my members of Congress and other rare disease advocates from around the country, and then attend the Rare Disease Congressional Conference Briefing and Rare Disease Day at the NIH. This will help me in gathering data on representations surrounding rare diseases and the potential consequences of such representations.

I think the most surprising thing about the dissertation thus far is that (in the early stages anyway) how quickly it moves and changes, and how I need to allow that to happen even though I’d much prefer things go to plan, thank you very much. I thought the prospectus would be defended, and it would be the general plan that I followed into my data collection. And then the defense happened and it has changed already. I am really happy with the changes, at the same time, I am nervous to reset my task a little bit to get ready for this new phase. As I move through to the next steps of #PhDlife, I will just  keep reading, keep moving forward, and try to remember to celebrate the small milestones along the way.


[Image Description: Four Golden Retrievers from the twitter account @TheGoldenRatio4, smiling up to the camera. Text is over the image stating, “You’re doing amazing sweetie”]

Other things:

Currently Listening To: Dessa’s new album Chime is coming out soon, and her latest single “5 out of 6” is constantly on loop while I’m writing.

Currently Reading: I am woefully behind on my personal reading (as I’m working on my SLA), but I am reading  the Graphic Memoir, The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz.


[Image Description: From Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half series. A cartoon girl with a blond ponytail and pink dress is spreading her arms over her head, with a rainbow and smiley faces in the background. The text over the rainbow says, “Maybe everything isn’t hopeless bullshit”]

Caitlin Ray is a 3rd year PhD student, working as the Assistant Director of Graduate Student Writing at the Writing Center. Her research interests include the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine, Disability Studies, and Pedagogy/ Theatre of the Oppressed.


What We’re Working On by Brent Coughenour and Nicole Dugan

IMG_1777Aside from our intense course-loads full of healthy amounts of literary theory, our jobs working in the University Writing Center, and our commitments to tattooing quotes from our favorite authors on our bodies (this mostly applies to Nicole), we are also undertaking something entirely new to both of us: editing a literary journal. Under the watchful eye of faculty editor Dr. Sarah Strickley, we are serving as the Graduate Editors for the tenth issue of Miracle Monocle, an online literary journal that publishes prose, poetry, creative non-fiction, experimental and/or hybrid work, and visual art, which is housed right here at the University of Louisville.

We’re both drawn to the Monocle for similar reasons. In the hectic span of our daily lives, creative writing has been a safe haven for the both of us—creative non-fiction being the favorite genre of Nicole, while Brent is heavily invested in short fiction. Miracle Monocle also gives us a chance to explore the world of publishing. Regardless of where we end up using our English degrees, we know that publishing will be a key component, and Monocle is a great learning experience in the sphere of digital publication, a medium that’s becoming rapidly common in our digitized world.

As Graduate Editors, the two of us have the privilege of reading something from every literary genre that is submitted to Monocle—which has mostly been poetry and fiction at the moment, so hybrid writers and non-fictioners send us your best! This has been a learning experience too, especially considering the relative inexperience that we both had outside our “comfort zone” genres, and we’re thankful that we have a staff of four undergraduate editors (all wonderful!) to assist in reading the submissions.

Something else we’re responsible for is sending letters of query to our favorite authors asking them (but not quite begging them) to send us something for publication in the journal. This is also a venture out of our normal boundaries, but it’s something that excites us, even if the possibility of rejection lingers. Unfortunately, some authors are more difficult to track down than others, but, while it’s not very likely that we’ll rope in the big dogs like Joan Didion and Stephen King, it doesn’t hurt to try! Rejection is inevitable in the publishing world; not only are we willingly opening ourselves up to rejection from our favorite authors, we’re responsible for sending rejection letters to the writers whose pieces don’t quite fit with this issue of the Monocle. We’ll update you if this begins to emotionally scar us.

Last semester, while we were acclimating to grad school life, we bonded over our shared interests in true crime and podcasts. This ultimately led to creating a podcast of our own, and also forcing our fellow staff into hearing way too much about the murders Georgia and Karen tell us about every week. (If you haven’t listened to My Favorite Murder and you didn’t shut down once you read the title, give it a try and come talk to us about your impressions.) We recorded four episodes before the responsibilities of grad school swiftly overwhelmed us after midterms; however, we have tentative plans to return to it with more structure and planning. Miracle Monocle has given us the opportunity to do just that, with a series of interviews with the visiting Axton Readers this spring. We’ll be asking each writer five standard questions, bringing up topics of craft, genre, publishing, and maybe even a favorite horror film. This will hopefully give us some momentum for returning to TBA with Brent and Nicole with new fervor and fresh ideas.

Miracle Monocle is open for submissions until March 12th, and the Award for Ambitious Student Writing is up for grabs ($200, guys!). And if you’re interested in talking writing, publishing, and/or managing the craziness of grad school, you could always come hang out with us on TBA. Give us a shout, we love having conversations with people who can empathize with all the crazy.

Nicole and Brent are both first-year MA students who do indeed have separate lives. Nicole’s emphasis is in Rhetoric and Composition, while Brent concentrates on Creative Writing; both are unsure about their future goals in academia. 

What I’m Working On by Megen Boyett

pastedImageSeveral of my friends choose a “word for the year” at the beginning of January, as an alternative to resolutions, and I’m trying that this year. My word for 2018 is “intentionality.” Since I fill a lot of roles, I of course want to be intentional about how I use my time—something I’m not naturally good at. Outside of that, though, I’m focusing on being intentionally present where I am, giving my energy to the people I’m with. My goal is to practice wise use of my limited resources—namely time and energy—so that I can also rest without feeling guilty about it!

Reader and Writer

Here in the middle of year two, I’m finishing coursework—Mary P. Sheridan’s “Feminist Methodologies” and Bronwyn William’s “Composing Identities” will (hopefully) both directly inform the theory and methodology of my dissertation, and get some of my prospectus finished, too. My dissertation, broadly, will examine how refugee mothering communities draw on their literate histories as they gain new, emergent practices. Since this population is often figured as either invisible or consummate victims, my interviews and text analyses will ask how they see their literacy use as re-constructing their identities, pushing against dominant discourse from outside commenters.


This semester, I’m teaching English 102 for the third time. Usually, I theme my class around identity and community, especially focusing on engaging with communities outside of the university. This year, my theme is humor writing, especially focusing on satire and parody. It’s been fun to plan a new kind of research class, even if it’s led to lots of YouTube rabbit trails. (what’s one more Key and Peele sketch, after all?! It’s for class!)

Assistant Composition Director

I’ve loved being part of the ADC team this year, learning how a department fits into the larger university culture. Right now, I’m working on the Celebration of Student Writing, which takes place every spring semester, giving students an opportunity to display their semester work through tables, creative writing reading, and digital displays. Two major ways to get students involved: 1) Sign-up and participate! You don’t have to know all the details now, and Michelle Day and I will be happy to help you make the celebration a low-stress (and even fun) way to connect student work to a larger audience. 2) Give extra credit (or a homework grade!) when your students attend the CoSW. Participants are eligible to win prizes from Heine Bros and Grays Bookstore, as well as a grand prizes—Beats headphones—as they interact with presenters and events. Instuctors who want to get their classes involved can sign up here, and/or ask me any questions you have: Megen.boyett@louisville.edu.

Person Outside of the University

Parenting y’all. It’s a fulltime job. I’ve always been good at taking time out for people, so stopping to read my preschooler a book isn’t too hard. I’ve found, though, that letting go of the “you should be working now” cloud hanging over my head is a lot harder. Right now “what I’m working on” is being happily present with my babes (especially my always-energetic two-year-old) when I’m home, but also being honest about when I need time to work away from them. Not many people in the department have kids, but all of us have to find ways to manage the lie that “if you aren’t working, you’re wasting time.” For me, right now, this looks like guarding my work time carefully, but also making a lot of moment-by-moment decisions about what’s most important right now, and recognizing that perfection has never been the goal.

Megen is a second year PhD student, an Assistant Director of Composition, and a mom to Eamon (2) and Rory (8 mos). Her research interests include community engagement work, in and out of the classroom, transnational feminism and motherhood studies.

What I’m Working On by Rachel Rodriguez

Rachel Rodriguez

The one on the RIGHT is clown school 😉


As a first-year PhD student, when asked, “What are you working on?” my initial response is “My classes!” But that would make for much too short of a blog post, and in truth we’re all master jugglers (I went to clown school in preparation, srsly, here’s photographic evidence).

So here are a few other things up in the air:


I’m trying to be consistent in saving citations from what I’ve read in EndNote, a citation management software program. UofL offers a free download of EndNote for students (which, considering its retail cost, is nothing to sneeze at), and I hear tell it’ll be useful during future writing and research projects. I’ve found that working on EndNote is a perfect compromise when you’re battling between the urge to be productive and the urge to watch the Great British Baking Show (I ❤ you Mary Berry).


I’m preparing a presentation for the SWCA (Southeastern Writing Center Association) conference coming up next month in Richmond, Virginia. SWCA is the regional affiliate of IWCA, and I’m excited to meet writing center folk from this neck of the woods, and very thankful for English Department and Graduate School Council funds getting me there. Before coming back to school to pursue a PhD, I worked as the writing specialist at a community college’s interdisciplinary tutoring center (go Chesapeake Skipjacks!). During my time there, the school underwent a massive re-organization to improve all-around workflows, but especially for students. When the dust had settled, the tutoring center was in a different division, there was talk of appropriating our treasured spot in the library, and we were seeing an influx of student populations we hadn’t served before (like nursing students, and students working towards their GED). I’ll be speaking about how my colleagues and I strategically navigated those changes without compromising our tutoring philosophy, and without losing old alliances or roadblocking new ones. Unlike other presentations I’ve given that required me to turn a seminar paper into something talkable, this one is more reflective, which feels both scary and maybe easier(?). I just got the news that there’s only one other speaker on the 50 minute panel, so we’ve each been given 25 minutes instead of 15. I’m putting on my “flexible teacher” cap and re-envisioning how I’ll use that time. Small group work, anyone? 😉


Last semester I took 4 classes, and though I wasn’t teaching, the workload was every ounce as heavy as I had imagined it’d be. At one point in early December, I remember rewarding myself with a gummy bear for every paragraph I drafted. Then I consoled myself with a gummy bear for every one I deleted. Millions of gummy bears and 4 semi-successful seminar papers later, my tummy hurt. This semester, with only 3 classes, I’m finding healthier habits for my long days. I got an Apple Watch for Christmas, so I’m letting the minion nag me in a friendly way to stand up every hour and breathe every once in a while to shake me from my carrel-induced trance. I’m finding happiness in cooking alongside my husband on the weekends, and trying to keep up with svelte 18-year-olds at Power Yoga at the Student Recreation Center. Just a quick public service announcement: You can watch Seinfeld on the treadmill in the SRC. Seinfeld. On the treadmill. That would motivate even Newman.

Rachel Rodriguez is a 1st-year PhD student. In addition to clown school, she attended an Academy for Young Engineers and Scientists. Neither worked out too well.

What I’m Working On by Ashanka Kumari


Ashanka Kumari

When I contributed to this series last year, I described renewing my focus to balance and self-care, which for me meant finding ways to say “no” more often and being more realistic about how I used my time as a graduate student, teacher, in my leadership roles, and most of all, as a person. This year, I hope to continue on this trajectory but commit to writing more regularly.

The Dissertation

I am officially to the point in my program journey where I can say “I am working on my dissertation.” My dissertation project focuses on the perspectives of first-generation doctoral students in Rhetoric and Composition. The stories of doctoral students and doctoral program alumni can illuminate the present-day culture of doctoral study in this field and unveil academic literacy and identity development in higher education. If we want to increase support for and growth in more diverse student populations, we must reconsider how we gain, train, and mentor future scholars in Rhetoric and Composition.

This semester, I am focusing my energy on data collection, which means scheduling and conducting interviews with the key participants for my study both here at UofL and at Miami University in Ohio. The IRB is approved and the study is happening. Here we go!

Teaching English 306: Business Writing

I am also working on teaching Business Writing for the first time. A course like this is one I’ve dreamed about teaching since my first teaching semester in my master’s program. I’m particularly excited to engage with students about workplace communication practices.

Watson 2018

I’m also working on the logistical pieces that make up the next iteration of the Thomas R. Watson Conference as one of the Assistant Directors with Mary P. Sheridan and Joe Franklin. *Shameless plug — The Call for Papers is out and everyone in our program should consider applying!


I am committing several hours each week to ongoing writing projects such as drafting dissertation chapters, revising and resubmitting an article on teaching privilege in the composition classroom, and revising seminar papers toward publication. Setting regular writing group appointments and regular meetings with mentors and collaborators are some of the ways I’m trying to stay accountable as a writer.


Last year, I wrote a bit about how I try to read things I want to read and cook regularly as ways to balance. This year, I will add spending quality time with my husband and cat and regularly going to the gym to this list. I’ve been going to the gym 1-2 times (minimum) every week since late September 2017, and I’ve been impressed with how much this has helped my focus and mental health.

If you want to learn more about what I’m working on, feel free to email me, come by my office, or check out my website: ashankakumari.com.

Ashanka Kumari is a 3rd-year Doctoral Candidate and an Assistant Director of the Thomas R. Watson Conference.