Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: April 2012

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Graduate Personalities


    I often identify my first year of graduate school as the year in which I began to understand that I was more of an introvert than an extrovert. This narrative of the development of my self-knowledge has often comforted me in times when I need to understand some of the big-picture ways that going to graduate school has benefited me personally, as a soul moving through the universe, maturing and growing.
    So, considering that this topic of introversion vs extroversion has been something I’ve been thinking about for several years now in relation to myself, it was a pleasant surprise to see an article about introverts and extroverts in the April 20th edition of The Chronicle.
    In the article, entitled "Screening out the Introverts," William Pannapacker reflects on the cultural bias towards the qualities of extroversion.  He discusses the way that introversion is looked down upon and even pathologized in our culture, and wonders whether graduate school programs do enough to resist these kinds of biases, and to accommodate and even celebrate the qualities of an introverted personality.
    To set up his reflection, Pannapacker points out that academia might seem to be a haven for an introverted type of personality: “Many people are drawn to academic life because they expect it will provide a refuge from the social demands of other careers: They believe one can be valued as a studious introvert, as many undergraduates are.” But then he also points out that a career as an academic is very different from life as a student; it requires a person to be comfortable both with solitary tasks as well as with very public engagements. As an academic, he points out, “Long periods of social isolation – research and writing – are punctuated by brief periods of intense social engagements: job interviews, teaching, conferences, and meetings.”
    Reading this article made me revisit my own narrative of how I came to know myself as more introverted than extroverted, and how that story relates to my growth as a graduate student. All my life, while I was in school from basically kindergarten through most of my undergraduate years, I considered myself a “people person.” Also, I loved being on stage, performing and acting and singing.  So, growing up, everyone, including myself, would consistently describe me as an outgoing, sociable, and friendly. I would say I “loved people.”
    There was, of course, another side to me as well. I loved to get absorbed in a good book, a new CD, a great movie, or my own writing, and I loved the mental retreat of a beautiful view of the ocean, a distant city skyline, a mountain, or a valley. I liked having one or two special best friends who knew everything about me. I liked meaningful, long, one-on-one conversations.
    When I first took the Myer’s Briggs test as a college freshmen, I came out an as extrovert. I now believe that my “extrovert” result was at least partly because of the very stigmas about introversion that Pannapacker points out. He says, “Given that introversion is frowned upon almost everywhere in the US culture, the test might as well have asked, “Would you prefer to be cool, popular and successful or weird, isolated, and a failure?” I do believe that our cultural biases probably skewed the test results, at least in my case. Plus, I thought because I “loved people” and loved being on stage that it didn’t make sense to identify myself as introverted.
    But the real point I want to make here is that I actually didn’t even know about my introversion until I entered the workforce in the corporate setting. I had always and forever been a student, and so always was in a social position in which acts of reflection and study were valuable and worthwhile ways to spend my time. But this notion of time well spent changed when I entered the work-force. When I graduated from college, I began working in the corporate world, in a consumer marketing position. No longer was I in a position in which acts of reflection or study were acceptable; now was the time to produce, not study. I believe it was this new social role that caused my discomfort. I missed the feeling that some personal reflection time was a worthwhile way to way my time. I felt drained and exhausted after interacting all day with people I didn’t care about or wouldn’t choose to be with if I wasn’t at work. After work I would crawl into bed, watch TV, and try to gear up for another day.
    I remember when I first began graduate school a year later, a sense of balance was restored to my inner self. I had time built into my life to read, to be in solitude, to write, to study and reflect; I also engaged with people in meaningful ways that made me feel purposeful and connected. By the end of a day’s work in the graduate school life, I felt energized and wanted to socialize with my family and friends rather than crawling in a hole and watching TV.
    With this sharp contrast to the way I had felt after a day of work as a consumer marketing assistant, I finally began to rethink my characterization as an extrovert. I began to realize that the solitude involved in writing and research actually helped recharge me and make me feel alive, and then my relationships with people could thrive and my interpersonal interactions were full of the energy and sociability I had always known throughout my life. I felt sure I had found a kind of job and life that harmonized with my personality.
    Ultimately, I guess the point of this blog post is to continue the important conversation that Pannapacker began in The Chronicle – to think through how personalities can define and shape the system of education, even as the system of education can define and shape personalities. What has been your experience in graduate school in terms of your dominant personality traits? In what ways do you think your personality drew you to your field? Which personality traits do you think are more valued within the system of graduate education? Which traits are frowned upon? How have these biases affected you? Please share your thoughts and reflections! :)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Graduate Education and the Preservation of Conversation

In a recent essay in The New York Times’ "Sunday Review," writer/ professor Sherry Turkle makes observations about our culture’s “flight from conversation.” She laments that, despite our technologically linked world, as we are only a text or chat or status away from sharing something, we “hide from one another, even as we constantly are connected to one another.” Her insights are sharp and valuable, as we should be striving to see how our technological advances have shaped and will shape the social and cultural world around us. Turkle’s hypothesizing offers much provocation about the way our culture’s social values will evolve and shift over time, especially in the spheres of behavior, learning, and education.

One fascinating thing Turkle says is that the “thing we value most is control over where we focus our attention.” Valuing our own control over where we focus our attention will surely have vast social consequences, especially in the area of learning.  If learning at a distance that we ourselves control becomes the norm, what will happen to learning itself? Will we stop being able to leap into someone else’s perspective, in order to understand a problem or see a solution in a better way? Will we stop paying attention to things that we might be drawn to unexpectedly? How will our privileging of the control of our attention change the way we learn, and change the way we think? Turkle's essay opens up this necessary dialogue. 
Another thing Turkle discusses is the way technological connections prevent us from learning how to be alone. “Indeed our new devices have turned being alone into a problem that can be solved,” she writes.  She worries that our habits of being only a click or a text away from sharing our thoughts will deplete our cultural ability to be alone, and as a result, everyone will be lonely, ironically creating a world more disconnected than ever before.  Turkle suggests, “Lacking the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people but don’t experience them as they are. It is as though we use them, need them as spare parts to support our increasingly fragile selves.”
Turkle provokes thought on things like “Siri” which promise a simulation of companionship and compassion; she surmises that with technology we are “cleaning up human relationships” which are “messy and demanding.” But for a price – human relationships have a richness that the simulations, for obvious reasons, don't have. In the end, our flight from conversation represents a loss for humanity that will have ripple effects in all areas of human life.
As I read, it struck me that we often talk about the “academic conversation,” and I wondered how Turkle’s thoughts and ideas about technology’s influence on social conversations could be thought of in the context of academia. Conversations teach us patience, she proffers, while technological connection and exchanges speeds things up, but only by dumbing us down and removing complexity and true understanding. How will this dumbing down of our communication affect the kind of sustained conversations we aim to create and participate in within and across our academic disciplines?
Looked at through the frame of education, the flight from conversation would wound our ability to see and understand different and new perspectives, a cornerstone of true forward thinking and learning. Turkle says, “In conversation we tend to one another.” To unpack this statement, she looks at the etymology of the word, which comes from the verbs that mean “to move, together,” and suggests that having a conversation is kinetic, and generates energy, and asks us to see things from perspectives other than our own. The loss of this sort of mobility in perspective, as well as these changes in social habits of expression that Turkle describes, will surely affect academia and scholarship in more ways than we can predict.
But what I want to suggest here, though, to contribute to these speculations, has to do with the way these changes may affect our perception of graduate school in a positive way.  My provocation here is that perhaps a benefit of these changes may be that the inherent value in a graduate education will become more visible -- will be thrown into sharp relief -- as this social and cultural lack that Turkle identifies persists and intensifies. 
From some advice given in The Chronicle by writers considering the cause and effects of the bleak academic job market for liberal arts and science Phds, it doesn’t always seem that a getting a graduate education from a arts and sciences school is a smart or practical decision. 
Yet, if we insist that graduate liberal arts education is built on meaningful exchanges of ideas between people, then perhaps it will become one of the only spaces in which the skill of sustaining a conversation – and by this I do mean an oral, face to face conversation, complete with eye contact, internalization, reflection, depth, and response – is still fostered, nurtured, and practiced. 
With no irony here or facetiousness here at all, I can see a way to look at graduate school  and graduate education as a location in which an insistence on conversations will continue to exist.  I offer this with all earnesty, and perhaps with a shade too much idealism. But perhaps a graduate school education will be a space in which the value in conversation, solitude, patience, messiness, demanding relationships, and mobility in perspectives will be preserved. And perhaps if we look at it as such, we may begin to understand the terms under which a graduate education in the arts and sciences is inherently worthwhile, despite the kinds of obstacles that exist for grads to becoming employed and earning a living. 
What do you think of the role of graduate education in the preservation of conversation? What do you think about our "Flight from Conversation" in terms of education, higher learning, and academic scholarship? I’d love to hear your sustained, intimate, genuine thoughts – even if it’s just in a post to Facebook or this blog. Perhaps then we can go get some coffee and discuss one on one! ;)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Creating an On-Line Presence for Grad Students

Hello All!
     Hope you are enjoying this summery weather here in New York City! It makes it a bit easier to get out the door, for me, at least, when it's warm and sunny outside, even if most of the day will be spent inside a building teaching and/ or writing and reading.
     Today's topic is E-PORTFOLIOS for graduate students. I had been thinking about this since one of my colleagues in the department asked for some feedback as she was launching her awesome new web-site for professional purposes. The wonderfully informative, functional, and accessible site she had designed got me thinking about having an on-line identity as a graduate student as we work our way through our research and onto the job market. I checked out the topic on The Chronicle, and of course I found a great piece on the topic already, entitled "Should Graduate students create e-portfolios?" by David Brooks. Mr. Brooks talks about "crafting our on-line presence," which is a great way to think about it, since, he points out, much of what we find on-line when we Google ourselves is a mish-mash of random clips and quips from social networking, conference programs, and on-line local newspaper archives. As Mr. Brooks said, "I had no hand in creating how, or where, my work had been displayed online."

     So, of course, the obvious answer to Mr. Brooks' question is, "Yes, we should create e-portfolios!" Digital, web-based, and technologically innovative teaching and research will be the defining characteristics of this generation's academic careers, and we must embrace that at once. Furthermore, creating our own site would give us a space in which to design, control, and craft our professional and scholarly identity in a cohesive presentation. Some ideas to incorporate could be:
  • A website for your dissertation project
  • An on-line teaching portfolio, which incorporates teaching philosophy, sample lesson plans, and demonstrations of your uses of technology in your classroom
  • An on-line CV
  • Videos of teaching and/ or research presentations
  • Current events in your field
  • A professional blog
  • Links to favorite professional websites, journals, and associations
      There are several platforms on the web that will allow you to create a site like this. My colleague that I mentioned above used, and Mr. Brooks mentioned There are also Weebly and Webstarts, to name just a few. Many of these have free options as well a premium upgrades. Another option is to use blog sites such as (the free blog platform related to, or In addition, there are "academic" networking sites such as which allow you to create a professional profile that will link you to a network of other academic professionals and also provide you an on-line space to post a CV, bio, research information, and other links and documents. Finally, you could always take advantage of the more standard online tools such as Linked-In.
      Perhaps even Facebook could be a tool if you tailored a specific page towards your professional profile -- keep your personal page unsearchable and private, and use FB publicly to present your professional academic face to the world.
      I'd love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and experiences! Share links, sites, and comments. :)
-- Liza Z.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Neurodiversity and Autism Awareness Month

       I hope everyone at Fordham and beyond had a nice Easter Break, and will continue to enjoy the upcoming holidays and beautiful spring weather!
      This month, I wanted to mention a cause that is dear to my heart: Autism Awareness. April is Autism Awareness Month, and in this post, I wanted to increase awareness by sharing briefly how my interaction with individuals with autism has shaped my academic interests and intellectual pursuits.
      I began graduate school as someone who loved literary studies. I thought, and still think, that studying and teaching literature, and art in general, could make the world a better place; that by extending conversations about art, we could forge connections and understandings between individuals and groups that would create harmony in the world. I know these are maybe naive ideas, but I truly feel that studying and teaching humanities provides a benefit to the world.
       In order to help put myself through graduate school financially, I began working as an ABA therapist in the home of a family with two children who had been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. What was incredible about working with these two boys was that it opened me up to understanding how diverse the human brain and mind really is. These boys each learned, thought, and processed information in ways completely different from each other, and completely different from anyone I'd ever met. It changed my whole perspective on the ways in which studying and teaching art, language arts, and humanities subjects could, indeed, have an impact on the world. Suddenly, I began to see that forging connections and understandings between individuals and groups was important to bridge not only cultural and social gaps but also cognitive, perceptive, and sensory diversities.
      This realization changed my life and changed the way I studied literature and narrative. I embarked on my dissertation project which studies the history of representation of mental disabilities in American fiction. I also began attending disability studies panels and conferences, which are great because they are interdisciplinary and thus have exposed me to a wide variety of graduate research and scholarship  related to disability, bodies, difference, and neurodiversity. I also began working at a school for children with Autism, hoping to be able to help more learners with Autism acquire the skills in the way they learn best, in order to become more independent and self-expressed.
         In celebration of Autism Awareness Month, I urge you to learn something new about ASD, or share what you know and have experienced with someone else to keep the conversation going!
In the meantime, check out the Organization for Autism Research, which gives grants to graduate students researching autism issues across disciplines such as psychology, sociology, biology, neuroscience, and more. And, here's a great article from The Chronicle in 2009 called Autism as an Academic Paradigm. 
Let me know if you have any other questions or thoughts!