Dissertating in the Open: Your First Meeting with Your Committee

It’s been more than 3 months since I had my first committee meeting, but I still want to write a little about the process.

If you’ll recall, my advisor, Sandra Hughes-Hassell, and I put together an awesome committee. She handled the scheduling of our first meeting, which we did using Zoom as I have two out-of-town committee members.

Before the meeting, I shared two things with my committee: a dissertation prospectus and a preliminary bibliography.

The main agenda item for the meeting was reviewing that preliminary bibliography and settling on the areas for my comprehensive examination package. One of my committee members couldn’t make it; there were 5 of us on the call. I had my prospectus and bibliography in front of me and my bullet journal at hand for taking notes. (My method is really a hybrid of Ryder Carroll’s bullet journal method and Raul Pacheco-Vega’s Everything Notebook, with some modifications of my own thrown in, but that’s a different blog post for a different day.)

I can’t tell you how this will go for you, but it had a couple of really positive outcomes for me.

First, with respect to information literacy: There is a whole world out there of information literacy standards, guidelines, and models, and quite frankly, by the time you’ve been working in this field for 10 years the basics start to get a little stale. I had them all on my preliminary bibliography and Casey Rawson suggested that, since we all know those models and nobody really wants to read about them again, I could focus on newer models. She specifically mentioned embodied information practices (especially as conceived by Annemaree Lloyd), as my research focuses on the information practices of cosplayers and cosplay is an embodied fan practice.

I mentioned to the committee that I was going to start with a focus on information literacy in affinity spaces and work my way out from there, and Heather Moorefield-Lang suggested that I consider subcultures as well as affinity spaces, specifically suggesting the work of Vanessa Lynn Kitzie, who has done a lot of work on the information practices of LGBTQ+ individuals.

Taking these two suggestions together led me to a complete reframing of my conceptualization of information practice and information literacy, moving me from thinking of it as an individual, knowledge-based process to a sociocultural set of practices. More on that another time, but this was a huge and immensely valuable shift.

Second, with respect to methods: Casey pointed out that the “mixed methods” piece of my study (counting qualitative codes for frequency) wasn’t really enough to qualify it as a true mixed methods study, and so it might be better for me to just focus my methods chapter on qualitative methods. This was great because it always helps me to narrow my scope; I tend to want to be far more thorough than is necessary or appropriate when I write a literature review.

After the meeting ended, I felt great. I was really excited about my work and excited about my committee, and those feelings have carried me through the last three months of slowly chipping away at the first two chapters of my comps package.

Featured image is the Chamber of the Council of 13 of the Guild of Calamitous Intent, from Venture Bros, provided by reddit user Empyrealist.

Unexpectedly shattered

I’ve been working on editing the fourth episode of my Buffy the Vampire Slayer podcast, Things of Bronze, and in that episode I talk about how being a mom is like being the Slayer.

And then I’m reading Barbara Brownie and Danny Graydon’s The Superhero Costume: Identity and Disguise in Fact and Fiction and I run across Ana Álvarez-Errecalde’s beautiful work Symbiosis and it feels like my heart stops for a second. My breath catches.

And I go track down this interview with her, and save it for later, knowing it’s going in the February issue of Genetrix:

 Symbiosis (The Four Seasons, 2013-2014) talks about relationships that nourish each other both physically and psychologically. It challenges the idea of a negated mother who also negates her body and her presence to her children, so they will all ultimately conform to our unattended, unloved, and unnourished society. It is not about being a “supermom.” It is about two complete beings that strengthen each other by the relationship they establish. That is where the mutual empowerment resides.

But also then I go back to Brownie & Graydon and flipping through I realize that Álvarez-Errecalde’s photograph is in a section called “Parent power,” with quotes like these:

As the death of family provoked the adoption of heroic identities in Batman and Spider-Man, new parents find themselves transformed by the birth of a child. (p. 130-131)

and

It is just as impossible to define any parent without acknowledging their parenthood, as it is to define Bruce Wayne without acknowledging Batman. (p. 131)

and

Parenthood, like crime-fighting, is labor-intensive, exhausting and emotionally draining… Superhero imagery allows parents to express the tremendous strength that is required in parenthood, along with the new sets of values that emerge with their new identity. (p. 131)

And this is all serendipitously making me feel immensely seen and I’m on the verge of tears.

Read Fangirl by Rainbow RowellRainbow Rowell (goodreads.com)
Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan.. But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words... And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
Fangirl Cover

I just finished reading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. And now I want to be best friends with her, because she gets me.

This book means so much to me. I didn’t have a good time in college. I was lonely. I had no interest in partying. I was clinically depressed. And fandom saved my life.

I did have an adorable tall boyfriend with a receding hairline. (Reader, I married him.) He talked through my magnum opus with me, a blatant Mary Sue in which I wrote my hopes and dreams for season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (I deleted it from fanfiction.net in a fit of embarrassment in 2009, but I’m planning to resurrect it from my old personal domain in the Wayback Machine and post it to AO3 soon.)

I was more distant from my sister than I’d ever been in my life. My little brother was very sick and ended up hospitalized.

I got a job explicitly to pay my way to fannish events. I made so many fandom friends. I printed up pages and pages of fanfic.

I started a fan campaign. It gave me a sense of purpose when my grades were tanking and my mom was in the hospital.

I embarked on a teaching career in a town two hundred miles away from anyone I loved. I read fanfic and posted on forums and LiveJournal and it was my only human contact outside of work.

This book just feels very personal and I’m so grateful to Rainbow Rowell for writing it.

Text: "Rupert Giles Actual School Librarian" and "A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Story by Kimberly Hirsh" on a brown background, in front of an image of antique books on a bookcase to the right of a wooden podium with a framed picture on the front of it.Still drafting the first chapter, but it has a cover and a summary…

The Watchers Council had made certain promises. First, that Rupert Giles would have no trouble getting his cover job as the new school librarian at Sunnydale High School. Second, that this role would require minimal actual librarianing, which was a good thing, as he had been rather distracted during his library studies coursework what with all the simultaneous advanced Watcher training. And third, that he would not have to deal with teenagers other than the Slayer herself.

The Watchers Council had lied.

I’ve fallen down an internet rabbit hole! My current work = reading about cosplay. Cosplay is part of fandom, and I feel disconnected from fandom so I started listening to Fansplaining to get me back in touch, and that took me to Wattpad, and then I started reading a Wattpad blog post that linked to Fanlore (which I already knew about but have never explored in-depth) and now I guess I’m going to just die of starvation while reading all of Fanlore? But also, please stay tuned for details about my upcoming fic, Rupert Giles, Actual School Librarian.

Book Review: Pop Classics Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Most people who know me know that the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of my favorite things. It has been the dominant pop culture text in my life for almost 20 years, so of course my husband bought our son the BtVS picture book for his second birthday.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer picture book cover

We read it for the first time a few nights ago, and, y’all, this is done so lovingly, I almost cried. If you love BtVS and you like picture books, pick this one up.

The plot is simple. This is, let’s say, an AU where Buffy lived in Sunnydale when she was in elementary school. Don’t think about canon too hard. The writers of the show didn’t, so we probably shouldn’t, either. Sixteen year old Buffy introduces herself at the beginning, then sends us in a flashback to when she was eight years old and afraid of the dark, because OF COURSE there is a monster in her closet.

And you know how BtVS is all about literalizing tropes, so… She’s not wrong. She recruits Willow, Xander, and Giles to help her with the problem, and of course through the power of friendship it all works out.

But where the whole thing shines is the little touches in the illustration. Each time I read it, I find a new BtVS easter egg. I don’t want to spoil too much, so here are just a couple examples.

Below, I’ve noted a few special  Sunnydale locations in the front endpapers in yellow.

Front endpapers

Next, a few things worth noticing in Buffy’s room, this time in blue:

Buffy's room

And this is just the beginning. Each page has tons of this stuff, and the book’s climax has the best references of all.

Right before the climax, though, we get this page:

Together we stepped into the darkness.

And really, isn’t stepping into the darkness together what BtVS is all about?