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In 2018, when Antonio Michael Downing was a UWaterloo English student, he received an award from the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writers Mentorship Program to work on his memoir. Now published as Saga Boy, it’s receiving significant attention. Described as “a heart-wrenching but uplifting story of a lonely immigrant boy who overcomes adversity and abandonment to reclaim his Black identity and embrace a rich heritage,” you can read about it on CBC, in the Record, and elsewhere.
The Student Association of Graduates in English (SAGE) is hosting Vivify Your Vibe, a mental health education & spacemaking event occurring synchronously & asynchronously on the week of April 12th – 16th, 2021. To register and for more information, see here.
VYV is a mental health centered, conference-format “self-professionalization” event: how are you going to generate groundbreaking research if you don’t first take care of the body and soul you’re inhabiting? We know the pandemic has raised awareness and renewed institutional commitments to improving mental illness accommodations, supports and wellness initiatives, but this alone is not enough. We need to mobilize our departments, faculties and inner circles to take care of each other and empower each other in as many spaces and places as possible. We have created VIBE DOJOS (seminar sessions) to help equip you to help yourself, your loved ones and your cohort colleagues and students you may be teaching now or in the future. This is grassroots restorative justice and healing/helping techniques mobilized by yourself, your friends and your cultural spaces. We want you to be okay.
VYV is naturally a healing space & education space for complicated mental illness/wellness dialectics: what does ableism and mental illness look like in the ivory tower? How can I help or prevent these outcomes? How can I use the space I hold to better the experience of those around me who may be having a difficult time coping? How can I utilize self-healing to inspire healing in those who may need improved strategies and wellness practices? We leverage research from social work, postpsychiatry, neuroscience, health/medical humanities, restorative justice, Kingian Nonviolence leadership paradigms and importantly, lived/living experience practitioners to mobilize easily-implementable strategies to improve health, wellness and mental illness coping skills.
UWaterloo English may not have had an in-person awards ceremony this year, but the show did indeed go…online. Once again our students made it difficult for the judges, submitting excellent work for consideration. Congratulations to all of our winners, and thanks to all of our participants and organizers (Dr. Andrea Jonahs and Dr. Megan Selinger who hosted, alongside the reliably wonderful English admin staff, Margaret Ulbrick, Jenny Conroy, and Debbie Nahlik)
Andrew James Dugan Prize in Literature Award: Rachel Zehr
Andrew James Dugan Prize in Rhetoric and Professional Writing Award: Philip Hohol
Co-op Work Report Award: Wajiha Parvez
Diaspora and Transnational Studies Prize: Jane Lu
Diaspora and Transnational Studies Prize: Nicola Tidbury
Donald R and Mary E Snider Literary Award: Raha Nyakio Mahmoudi
Donald R and Mary E Snider Literary Award: Evangelos Tzoganakis
English Society Creative Writing Award for Poetry: Maya Victoria Venters
English Society Creative Writing Award for Poetry: Chrislyn Jo Fernandes
English Society Creative Writing Award for Prose: Julianna Suderman
Janice Del Matto Memorial Award in Creative Writing: Selina Barker
Masternak Foundation Undergraduate Scholarship in English: Jared Cubilla
Masternak Foundation Undergraduate Scholarship in English: Anna-Maria Brokalakis
The Albert Shaw Poetry Prize: Maya Victoria Venters
The Award in American Literature and Culture: Katrina Steckle
The Canadian Literature Prize: Emilie Stanley
The Hibbard Prize for Shakespeare Studies: Philip Hohol
The Rhetoric and Digital Design Award: Caleb Draper
The Rhetoric and Digital Design Award: Christina Piruchta
The Rhetoric and Professional Writing Award: Nicole Bourque
The Rhetoric and Professional Writing Award: Anna-Maria Brokalakis
Walter R. Martin English 251 Award: Kashfia Mahmood
Beltz Essay Prize (Master of Arts): Hannah Gardiner
Beltz Essay Prize (PhD): Shannon Lodoen
Beltz Essay Prize (PhD): Maab Alkurdi
David Nimmo English Graduate Scholarship: Jenn Rickert
Graduate Co-op Work Report Award: Neha Ravella
Graduate Creative Writing Award Prose/Poetry: Manahil Bandukwala
Graduate Professional Communication Award: Marion Gruner
Independent Graduate Instructor Award for Excellence in Teaching: Monique Kampherm
Jack Gray Graduate Fellowship Award: Dakota Pinheiro
Lea Vogel-Nimmo English Graduate Professionalization Award: Monique Kampherm
Lea Vogel-Nimmo English Graduate Professionalization Award: Jonathan Baltrusaitis
Masternak Foundation Graduate Scholarship in English: Christin Taylor
Rhetoric Essay Prize (Master of Arts): Christopher Rogers
Rhetoric Essay Prize (Master of Arts): Joseph Stapleton
Rhetoric Essay Prize (PhD): Jerika Sanderson
Rhetoric Essay Prize (PhD): Sabrina Alicia Sgandurra
TA Award for Excellence in Teaching: Toben Racicot
W.K. Thomas Award: Lillian Black
W.K. Thomas Award: Hannah Watts
To make things easier for our PhD students, SAGE (the Student Association for Graduates in English) will be hosting a virtual Area Exams workshop on Thursday, April 1st, 2021.
Attendees will need to create a Discord account to access the event. More information will be sent to PhD students via email. In case you need more information on Discord, or if you have any further questions or concerns regarding the workshop, you can direct them to: email@example.com.
On World Theatre Day (Saturday, March 27, 2021) Kitchener Waterloo Little Theatre will be hosting a round table discussion, Theatre and the Art of Adaptation, on the promises and perils of such adaptation of dramatic works from 2pm to 3:30. Both Dr. Danielle Deveau and Dr. Diana Lobb of UWaterloo English will be participating.
About this Event
With live theatre being difficult under pandemic restrictions, many artists have found themselves adapting stage plays to audio or other media. On World Theatre Day KWLT will be hosting a round table discussion on the promises and perils of such adaptation of dramatic works. The conversation will range from artistic to practical concerns, with plenty of opportunity for our audience to participate.
The workshop will take place over a video conferencing platform. Link will be provided before the event to those registered. This session is free for members of KWLT, $5 for non-members.
On March 30th, UWaterloo English’s Dr. Sarah Tolmie will be interviewed at 6pm on on 98.5FM CKWR, talking about her book Check, and writing speculative fiction. If you miss it, don’t worry–it will be available as a podcast in April at Watershed Writers.
Congratulations to Dr. Vershawn Ashanti Young, who has been appointed by The College Language Association as the Editor of CLAJ. From the journal’s description: “The CLA Journal is a multilingual, peer-reviewed quarterly publication by the College Language Association. Established in 1957, the journal fosters the publication of socially engaged, innovative, and groundbreaking scholarship in language, literature, linguistics, and pedagogy cultivated by the diverse, international membership of CLA. CLAJ is the voice of a community of scholars, the first in establishing a forum for intellectual discourse among black scholars in language and literary studies.”
This past February, Dr. Danielle Deveau invited Marcos Moldes (Qualitative UX Researcher, Pinterest) to her ENGL 295: Social Media class to discuss how he uses his academic training in his job as a UX Researcher.
In his interview, Moldes talks about the importance of human-centred research and how his academic training has laid the groundwork for his non-academic career path. He offers some very useful advice for English Language and Literature undergraduate and graduate students hoping to forge a path into applied research or technical communication. Moldes suggests that all of those years in school reading difficult texts prepared him well to quickly synthesize large qualitative data sets, and that a broad humanities and social science background are key to his success working in a digital media company.
Here is an excerpt from the conversation:
DD: So, you have a Ph.D. in Communication from Simon Fraser University and undergraduate and Masters training in Communication and Cultural Studies. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about what attracted you to that field, and what kinds of things most interested you when you were a student?
MM: Sure. Well, I started my undergrad at Laurier, and I planned to be a history teacher. Then, I realized I don’t like teenagers. So I asked myself, “what else do I want to do with my life?” I briefly flirted with the idea of going into Public Relations, but then I planned to be an academic, because I really liked the idea of studying people and trying to understand how people inhabit interesting contradictions throughout every part of their lives. So, I was like, “okay, I guess I’m becoming an academic.” I graduated from Laurier, I did my Masters, where we met, and then I went on to do my Ph.D. As I was wrapping up my Ph.D., I was like, “I don’t know if academia is for me.” I was working in Student Affairs at the time. I’d get to work with young people and mentor university students and that was really rewarding. And as luck would have it, I ended up moving to London, U.K. for personal reasons and kind of fell into a consulting job. I was a Resident Ethnographer Consultant for Idea Couture. I was there for about two years and after that, I got a job with Pinterest and I’ve been there for one year, eleven months today.
DD: I remember when you were taking an ethnographic research methods course and you had this moment because you really loved Foucault and Foucault’s theories, and the teacher in the course turned to you and they said, “but that’s not how the real world works, Marcos!” Can you talk a little bit about that moment of having to grapple with -you have all of these interesting, exciting theories that are fun to use or feel right to use, but then, there’s also a real world that sometimes they don’t map on to or support that transition?
MM: The precise line was, “you know, Marcos, people don’t always behave the way Foucault told you they do,” and leading up to that moment, I was only interested in viewing people through a theoretical lens. Then I took this ethnographic research methods course, and I knew that I wanted to do ethnography -perform it for my dissertation and I realized people will say one thing and do the other, constantly. So really, the only way to make sense of people is to go hangout with them and identify those contradictions and identify how they reconcile them.
DD: Some of my students who are receiving any kind of critical or humanities or social science training, -find that they enjoy the critical work they are doing, but sometimes understanding how they will apply that in their Technical Editing job or their UX Research job that is their eventual goal is a bit mystifying. Can you give some examples of how you still draw on that critical, theoretical training that you have in your real-world, very interesting, applied-research job?
MM: Totally. I do it all the time. I use theory a lot, but I sort of disguise it. So, recently I was having a conversation with my boss and she was like, “you are really fast at synthesizing field data, and I don’t really know how you do it.” Well, I spent ten plus years reading dense, thick, hard-to-understand material and had to make sense of it and had to apply the critical theory I was reading to a live case. So,[I had to be] able to look at a broad range of response data and identify patterns and link those patterns to broader senses of meaning. That is my job. That is what I do all day long. But, I think as well, the ability to understand how to ask a research question, what good research questions look like, that all came as a result of years of training at the undergraduate level, at the doctoral level as well. Having spent some time formulating a research question and a hypothesis and learning to test that and learning is what UXRs do day-in and day-out. When I was a Communications Studies student, I’d get really frustrated because it felt like there was no clear canon and we were all reading different things and [we had] to quickly onboard into a field of literature. In one class, we were reading Adorno and Marx and, in another class,, we were reading Judith Butler and Michael Foucault. We were like, “how do I learn to pick up the main arguments from all these different bodies of literature?” So now, when I onboard into a new product or into a new set of stakeholders who all have different agendas, [I’ve realized] studying at the school of everything has helped me learn to ramp up quickly into an argument that the team would be having and what they’re worried about today. It taught me how to move quickly, which I think in tech is everything, because you’re always behind.
DD: And you had a leg up in terms of moving from an academic discipline into applied research because you chose ethnography as the primary research method for your doctoral studies, but what would you say were the places where you needed to move quickly or play catch-up in terms of your training as you transitioned into UX?
MM: My first non-academic job was with this consulting firm that specialized in hiring Ph.D.- trained ethnographers and anthropologists. That was the unique selling point. It was a great place to be because they knew the team of nerds doesn’t actually know how to talk to a client. There was a lot of upscaling in terms of stakeholder management, client management and strategic thinking. I am still learning to do them, frankly. I’m still learning to bring a business mindset because that was ruthlessly beaten out of me for ten years in academia which is not a bad thing, it just means I had to learn a lot of business jargon. Outside of academia, Methods isn’t something people are as excited about as I am. I could spend hours telling you how I did something. My clients at the time were like, “that’s wonderful, but what did you find?” In a lot of ways, you really have to learn how to shift your focus to really highlight, synthesize, and condense information into valuable, actionable, and crystallized chunks that people could go away and do something with. It’s not necessarily about the ongoing debates in the field and ethnographic research. I think that stuff is very important in the context of a research team, but I think when you have an engineer who’s like, “what am I building? Hurry up. What am I supposed to build?” -understanding how to take all of that dense information and then provoke thinking and discussion in a really clear and concise way -that was difficult and continues to be difficult.
DD: Thinking about the digital environment and social media environment, where are the big places where human-centered design is being applied well and what are some of the gaps?
MM: I see it being applied well in UX design. At least, my experience of working with UX designers has been really great. They’ve been really open to contextualizing a problem. “Okay, how do we actually address XYZ usability problems in the flow or the interface we’re creating?” I think the place it struggles is in resolving some of those highly-order tensions. So, for example, I want really highly-curated, highly-relevant information pushed to me when I search for something, but, I don’t want to give up my personal information. I don’t want to be served irrelevant ads and I don’t want a ton of information about me stored on the cloud somewhere that makes me feel like I’m being surveilled. I also get really angry about seeing an ad for meat when I’m vegan or an ad for female beauty products being served to me, but I’m male. I don’t think we’ve done a good job trying to hold both of those things as both those things are true and figure out how to balance them.
DD: Where do you see the future of user experience design methods? What are the big shifts in how we do user experience research that you’re seeing on the horizon?
MM: I spent my first year at Pinterest pre-pandemic. I was on the road for four months of the year. I clocked one hundred and thirty thousand kilometres and flight hours. I was in people’s houses; in one project I threw a dinner party for a bunch of women who brought their makeup bags and we talked about makeup. I really hope we come back there. But the pandemic has forced us to go entirely remote, entirely digital. I’m really grateful for my employer who was like “we will not put you at risk, we will figure out a way to work that keeps you safe.” At the same time, I’m worried that this way will be taken as the way forward from now on. I study digital products but humans aren’t digital beings entirely. Understanding how the digital space and how things like this interact with my actual, physical environment is really important. So, my concern is, in an era of remote, the idea of remote research being the end-all and be-all is something I’m a bit worried about. I’ve noticed more interest in user research jobs. If you look at the tech space now, what happens in a lot of cases is small firms will hire a designer and the designer is expected to also do the research. As the organization matures, eventually, those disciplines split out and work very closely together yet are done by different people. I’m starting to see more of that at smaller levels which I think is great because I can barely draw a stick person, let alone design an interface. Research can take a long time, so it’s a bad investment to have that collapsed together. They are a designer. It makes sense to keep those disciplines closely linked but almost parallel to each other.
DD: Given your experience and what you’ve seen in the industry for undergraduates with media and technology training, or a graduate student with more advanced research training, what do you see as productive steps to move into the workplace from a firm that doesn’t necessarily train you to be a UX researcher or human-centred designer, but that might be your field that you’re interested in moving towards?
MM: There’s usually about one Ph.D. student a month asking me “how did you get in? How did you escape?” I have answers, but I don’t think people like hearing what I have to say. My first consulting job was entirely from my network. Not that I got the job with no merit, far from it. Someone I knew from my undergrad was working at a consulting firm that had a London office and they were hiring a researcher. So, it became about having that intro conversation, “hey, you should talk to Marcos,” and so we set up a coffee date. I did research; I prepared for weeks for this coffee date and that led to my first job, which opened a lot of other doors. Landing that first gig should be treated like a job. So, you need to be networking, attending meetups, reaching out on LinkedIn to folks and say, “hey, can I grab a half hour of your time? I’d love to hear what your job is and how you do it.” Humans love talking about themselves, so it’s really not a ‘hard sell’ to get time with someone. From there, it’s about checking in every once in a while. think networking is something you have to do, period. My philosophy is, if you know you have to do it, it’s just a job you have to learn to like, so you have to find a way to learn to like that. That’s step one. Step two is: the best way to learn user research is to do it. That was the advice given to me when I was starting to do ethnography. The best way to become an ethnographer is to do ethnography. There are some interesting organizations out there who pair volunteers to non-profits who need a bit of research done. It’s one of those ‘volunteer your time, land yourself an internship’ ideas. There are a couple routes in. If you’re a graduate student who has more advanced training, some tech companies and tech firms are starting what they call ‘apprenticeship programs,’ where they’ll bring you in, put a tech name on your CV and help train you in the parts you might be missing and address some of those comprehension gaps. There is no clear path in but, I don’t think that’s unique to UX research, I think that’s just the world. Networking as much as you can to land that first interview and interning, -that can be really tough, but it’s really important. When you get to that conversation or you’re writing your cover letter, you can say, “here, I did this. I have experience in researching and here is what I did, how I did it, what I learned and what happened as a result of that.”
People want to know what you did. That was my biggest takeaway. It was not talking a lot about how I did research, but what research I did and what came out of it. Finding opportunities to build that narrative for yourself is really important.
About the Author:
Madison Taylor is on her 2B co-op term at the University of Waterloo. She works as a Research and Production Assistant with Midtown Radio, a nonprofit community broadcaster in the Waterloo Region.
Congratulations to UWaterloo English professor Dr. Jennifer Harris, whose picture book She Stitched the Stars: The Story of Ellen Harding Baker’s Solar System Quilt (Albert Whitman, 2021) is now available for pre-order. She Stitched the Stars is a lyrical account of how Baker’s quilt came to be, as seen through the eyes of her young children. Baker was a nineteenth-century woman from Iowa who traveled to Chicago to peer through a telescope, and returned inspired to reproduce the solar system in the medium best suited to her life as a wife and mother. At a time when science education was not as widespread, Baker’s story shines. A historical note provides more context for Baker’s achievement, which is now preserved in the National Museum of American History. Dr. Harris’s second picture book, When You Were New, is forthcoming from HarperCollins in early 2023.