And so it begins…

The first day consisted of a two-hour orientation with our cohort of five incoming MATXstudents and a lovely reception with much of the MATX community: faculty, staff, students that are ahead of us, a number of professors affiliated with the program, and the new director for the VCU School of Mass Communications, Dr. Hong Cheng, who is from Beijing (so he and I connected over stories of our Arts in the Alley trip to China) and who is very gracious and kind.

ffadf840093a11e3962522000ae80eca_7The orientation was helpful – a good overview of the program and of the important steps we need to be focusing on during the next two years (besides doing well in our classes and finding the best electives for our specific research focuses): finding a good dissertation advisor (check: I have a wonderful one – one I already have worked with), finding four other faculty members who will serve on our committee (I have a few people in mind, but nothing definitive), deciding on a competency and how that will be measured (an extra skill that will help us in our research and further endeavors), our bibliography exam, and our prospectus development and defense. After all that (and, again, after at least 36 credits of classes and independent study semesters) we will all hopefully gain those three coveted letters. No, not those (PhD). These: ABD. All But Dissertation. When you officially become a PhD Candidate. It seems very far away now.

For today, my last first day of school picture in a new program – perhaps ever.

First day of school

How many times have I done this, in some way, shape, or form? Even if I just count the first days at a new school: kindergarten; elementary school in Vught; elementary school in Klimmen when we moved halfway through first grade (Ummer Clumme); Junior high/High school, which is one entity in the Netherlands (Bernardinuscollege); Maastricht University for my bachelor’s and master’s; and most recently George Washington University for my master’s in Strategic Public Relations (but that was primarily online, so the whole “first day” dynamic was decidedly different).

Tomorrow will likely be the last first day of a new school I will ever experience – not because it’s the last year (I have at least 3-4 years ahead of me), but because generally, after a PhD, you don’t go after another degree. A post-doctoral fellowship, yes. Teaching. Getting a certificate, here or there. But another entire program? Not unless you decide to go in an entirely new academic direction.

So: tomorrow. My first day as a VCU student. My first day as a doctoral student. At the end of this road: hopefully a PhD. A Doctor of Philosophy in Media, Art, and Text. I’m a bit terrified. A lot excited. I’m wishing I took more of a break this summer (I did not take one, at all. Sigh.) But ready or not…. here we go.back_to_school_banner

I love reading

I love reading. I always have. My mom has classic stories of me, hiding under my sheets and blankets after lights were supposed to be out and reading as many more pages as I could get away with, and one story in particular: my parents took me to the US on vacation (from the Netherlands) when I was 13, and a348511a07c611e3ab5722000aa821d3_7I packed my own carry on bag. The thing is, I packed it so full of books (16 – one for every day plus two extra for long days) that the bag ripped at the airport and
my parents, understandably upset, had to buy a new bag for me.

So: I love reading, and always have. Good thing, because I’m told that this PhD journey involves, well, a fair bit of it (if “a fair bit” is more-than-you-ever-thought-humanly-possible-and-then-some). Facing the Rocky Mountains (or the Swiss Alps, if you’re so inclined) of reading assignments for the next two-plus years, I want to make sure that occasionally I read something for pleasure alone or for professional (in my case: Arts in the Alley) development. Here’s the first one: Digital Storytelling – Capturing Lives, Creating Community.

My muses

All through my master’s degree, our sweet dogs were my muses – sometimes poignantly, since we lost both Snowball and Cooper to cancer in4a56573a054811e38d3322000ae800aa_7 the midst of that degree. Now Foster and Lola will continue the muse-roles during
what I am sure will be more reading, writing, and researching than I have ever managed before. They are quite good at it, too – see the proof in the photo below:).

My first conference

Well, not my first conference…. but first in my PhD-related career. It’s the AEJMC conference – Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications – and in the throes of finishing my thesis earlier this year my future dissertation advisor (and then-informal second thesis reader) recommended I create a “short” (=35 page) version of said thesis and submit that to the AEJMC conference call for papers. I whittled away enough time to create a much shorter version of my thesis and never expected to hear4c1b0c3401ae11e381cb22000a1f9a0a_7 anything – after all, I was new at this, and I was so absorbed by finishing my thesis that I figured this wasn’t going to work out. To my surprise, I discovered a few months later that my paper had been accepted – and was the third of the top three papers! That meant presenting at the conference (unleashing an avalanche of insecurities starting with my first experience with the in PhD circles well-known “Impostor Syndrome” and continuing into the realm of “What should I wear? How do I squish 35 pages into 12 minutes? Should a use a fun graphic on the first slide or is that not done?” My knees were shaking a bit, last night, but I survived. Hubby said I did well, and so did my dissertation advisor. I made some new contacts (research contacts! this is getting… real!), and I have a pretty certificate and a (small, but welcome) check to show for it. And… now that I have done this – it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it could and would be. Hmmmm….. I wonder what other paper calls are out there right now……:)

Fast changes

The Nonprofit Learning Point class I took a few days ago was intense and fascinating.  Perhaps the part I enjoyed the most is that, in spite of my fairly regular focus on social media from both a nonprofit practitioner’s perspective and an academic perspective, new tools appear to often that I discovered several I had 349265-zeennever heard of. Amo
ng them: vizify (which creates an infographic-based bio based on your social media activity and posts) and Zeen (which creates an online magazine based on topics and interests you specify). Both are easy to use and it seems one can produce at least some content within a limited timeframe – so in the midst of class readings and tomorrow’s AEJMC conference I will be using both services when I have a few minutes to take a break.
And last but not least, a big thank you to Sarah Milston of The Spark Mill for introducing me to these tools!

An external class

My PhD classes don’t start for another 16 days, but tomorrow I am taking a class not directly related to my studies, although it’s very related to my nonprofit work. It’s a one-day advanced social media class by the gifted Sarah Milston of The Spark Mill and it’s part of a program for nonprofit leader by Nonprofit Learning Point. One of the things I am trying to put into place before the craziness of the semester starts is a stronger social media strategy for Arts in the Alley, and this class will
be a nice reminder to get this done – and will help in getting it done. I have taken many classes with Nonprofit Learning Point before (and I just started to teach their basic social media class, which I am loving), and starting those classes 542085_446278655424867_1130818463_n1was one of my early forays back into the land of education. Those classes – intensive, two-day classes – made me realize how much learning energizes me – and in some way, I needed to know that before I started thinking about a doctoral degree. The other, fun, side of all this is that I work on social media from two different directions – the practical, needing-it-for-my-nonprofit side, and the academic, let’s-research-how-and-why-this-actually-works side. So: I’m off to class tomorrow, and I’ll blog about it when I get back.

From 160 pages to 10 slides…

When I was still deep in the throes of writing my master’s thesis, one of my informal advisors (who incidentally will be my dissertation advisor) encouraged me to submit part of the thesis as a paper to the annual AEJMC conference (Association for Education in Mass Media and Journalism). The deadline was four weeks before my thesis was due, so I scrambled together a 30 page paper, fully expecting it to be rejected (since A. I had never submitted anything like this before, and B. my focus was on finishing my thesis, so the paper, while I gave it a few days of my full attention, did not get the best of my attention).

To my surprise I received an email a few months ago notifying me that my paper was picked as one of the top three student papers in the communications technology section, and could I present at the conference for 15 minutes? So, the AEJMC conference is next week, and over the past few days I have been valiantly trying to distill 160 pages into 10 Powerpoint slides. OK, technically it’s 30 pagephoto1-1

I finally finished my first draft tonight. It was wordy, the font was too small, and its looks left much to be desired. Thanks to my amazing husband and a grad school friend from GW, I am now looking at a much better third draft. I estimate another two-three drafts before I can start practicing my actual presentation (with a timer, oh boy). But the interesting thing in this process has been re-acquainting myself with the work I dedicated more than a year of my life to. In some ways, everything was so familiar. In others, it almost seemed like someone else’s research. And I had to continually restrain myself from rewriting the entire thing.