Toward a personal brand

I find myself admiring people who seem together. They are well-coiffed. Their clothes are carefully styled. They welcome you into their homes and effortlessly manage to make it feel like everything is totally fine and will continue to be so. They are pleasant. They are calm.

I recently gave myself permission to accept that I will never be one of these people.

Smooth and collected will never be part of my personal brand.

Then I gave myself permission to think about what is, naturally, part of my personal brand, and go all-in on that. Here’s what I came up with:

  • scholarly
  • whimsical
  • geeky
  • magical
  • enthusiastic
  • bada** who gets sh*t done
  • big and epic but also sparkly
  • warm
  • loving

And you know what? I really like all that stuff.

“I forgot to create a personal brand” card by Emily McDowell. You can buy it! There’s also a mug and a magnet.

Dissertating in the Open: Putting Together a Committee WITH TEMPLATES!

Y’all, I’m scholarlily-enamored of my committee. (Scholarlily is a new adverb. I give it to you.) Everyone on it is so cool and down-to-earth and does interesting work.

Want to know how to get an awesome committee like mine? Well, I can’t tell you, but I can tell you how to request that someone serve on your committee. After meeting to discuss my prospectus and where we thought my comps should go, my advisor and I planned for me to request that certain people serve on my committee, with her sort of taking over committee organization/management after they agreed to serve.

In my department, a dissertation committee consists of five people and at least one of them must be external to the department. We identified four people to be on my committee; the advisor is always the chair of my committee. We chose two professors from within the department, and two from outside the department. Here’s my prospectus in case you want to review it again. And here’s my committee:

Sandra Hughes-Hassell: My advisor. She’s on the committee of course because she’s my advisor, but also because of her interest in youth services.

Casey Rawson: A friend, colleague, and classmate from my MSLS days. She’s a professor of research methods, so she is my research methods expert. Youth services is also an area of research interest for her. In addition to her areas of research expertise, she has personal interests in fandom and crafting, both of which make my topic of interest to her.

Brian Sturm: A professor who taught me in my MSLS days. He studies immersion, and boy is cosplay about being immersed, right? Also helpful to have on the committee because of his expertise in youth services.

Heather Moorefield-Lang: My first external committee member. She’s got expertise in qualitative and has done a lot of research on makerspaces. Because I see making as a key element in cosplay, I wanted her on my committee. She also used to be a theater teacher and I am a lapsed theater person, so I expected there might be some good personality fit there. (I’m pretty sure I was right.) I didn’t know her, but I’d interacted with her some on Twitter and Sandra had met her at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians conference.

Crystle Martin: My second external committee member. If you’re basing your whole study on providing confirming evidence for/extending someone else’s study, it’s nice to have that person on your committee. She’s also a Connected Learning expert, and that’s a framework I definitely want to bring into my dissertation work, as it’s kind of my whole reason for getting a PhD. I also had expected a good personality fit here, as we share interests in fandom and gaming. (She once spoke on a panel called “What Buffy the Vampire Slayer Has to Teach Us about Games, Education, and Self-directed Learning,” soooo…) I had met her once about three and a half years ago, when she came to campus for a visit and I was working in the School of Education.

So Sandra and I settled on these four people to ask to serve, but then it was up to me to actually contact them. I looked around on the internet for examples of how to invite people to be on your dissertation committee and found a little advice but no clear templates. So, keeping in mind the advice from the blog post The Basics of Professional Communication, Part I, I set about constructing my own, which I will share with you in just a moment.

But first, a note: please remember that you are requesting a service, not conferring an honor. Serving on committees is part of professional service for faculty members. But also, if they accept, they are doing you a favor. So try to keep that in mind in your verbiage.

Now, three templates for asking someone to be on your committee! But be sure to read after the templates for one more note.

1. Someone you already know well (in my case, Brian and Casey)

Dear [Recipient Name]:

I hope this semester is treating you well. [Include some more conversational detail if you like.]

I am in the process of putting together my dissertation committee, and your expertise in [recipient’s area] would be very helpful. Would you be willing to be on my dissertation committee? I’ve written a brief draft prospectus for my dissertation research that you can review here: [link to your prospectus]

[Information about who will follow up – you or your advisor; scheduling a first meeting; any additional information you might provide later such as a bibliography]

If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Thank you for considering this request.

[Your name/email signature]

2. Someone you’ve met but don’t know well

Dear [Name]:

My name is [your name], and I am a [your year] doctoral student at [your institution and department] working with [your advisor]. For my dissertation, I am planning to research [your topic/research question]. [A one-sentence reminder of when and how you met.]

I am in the process of putting together my dissertation committee, and your expertise in [recipient’s area] would be very helpful. Would you be willing to be on my dissertation committee? I’ve written a brief draft prospectus for my dissertation research that you can review here: [link to your prospectus]

[Information about who will follow up – you or your advisor; scheduling a first meeting; any additional information you might provide later such as a bibliography]

If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Thank you for considering this request.

[Your name/email signature]

3. Someone you’ve never met

Dear [Name]:

My name is [your name], and I am a [your year] doctoral student at [your institution and department] working with [your advisor]. For my dissertation, I am planning to research [your topic/research question].

I am in the process of putting together my dissertation committee, and your expertise in [recipient’s area] would be very helpful. Would you be willing to be on my dissertation committee? I’ve written a brief draft prospectus for my dissertation research that you can review here: [link to your prospectus]

[Information about who will follow up – you or your advisor; scheduling a first meeting; any additional information you might provide later such as a bibliography]

If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Thank you for considering this request.

[Your name/email signature]

Some notes:

When selecting what to call the recipient in the greeting, here are my general guidelines:

  1. If it’s someone I know well, I use the name that I know they prefer. In my department, some professors prefer students use their first name, others prefer their title and last name, and others might prefer a title but last initial, so that their expertise is recognized but the relationship is still a little informal. Respect what this person wants to be called.
  2. If it’s someone I have only met once or don’t know at all, I use the title and last name. Once they’re on the committee and you’re actually having meetings, you may end up calling them by first name as I have in the blog post above. But always begin from the most formal position possible.

All of the people I requested to be on my committee accepted, and we had our first meeting last week, which is why next time on Dissertating in the Open, I’ll write about Your First Meeting with Your Committee!

Thanks to for the Final Fantasy VII Party Select Screen Image.

2018 Year-in-Review

Hi Internet friends. For the past several years, I’ve gotten some version of Leonie Dawson’s My Shining Life workbook. It is big, beautiful, full, and you can get it in PDF if you don’t want to get a physical version. So this year, I got mine out from the end of last year, and started reviewing it.

I looked at all the hopes and dreams I poured in there last December.

And I was devastated that I had accomplished so few of them.

Am I still glad I did her workbook? 100%, and I recommend it wholeheartedly to just about anybody.

But I wanted to take some time to write about how my year has gone, since it didn’t go remotely like I had planned.

I don’t have the book next to me right now, but I know my goals were things like getting my house in order so I could sell it, and passing my comps and proposal defense and actually beginning data collection for my dissertation. None of these things happened, and looking at that book, I felt so bad about myself.

Then I started to think about how I’ve spent the year. Because it was easy to look at that and think, “What even have I DONE this year? I HAVE ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING AND I AM A MESS AND I AM THE WORST.”

And I needed to not think that.

So here’s how I spent the year.

In January, my toddler and I started coming to Nido, which is an amazing combo Montessori school/coworking space. At the time of our tour, there was a flexible napping space, and we thought M. would be able to nap when his body was ready. (Usually around 3 pm.) I had a ton of stuff to get prepared for the first day, and we’d been out of town, so I ran around that morning buying stuff at Target and getting ready, and M. fell asleep in the car on the way to Nido, and I was super stressed, and then we came inside and the teacher was all “So everybody naps at 1 pm,” because they’d had to change the space to accommodate increasing enrollment and now there was no nap room. And of course M. cried, which everyone told me would go on for a couple of weeks but stop eventually.

For the next 7 months, basically, I exhausted myself entertaining M. all morning long, then we came to Nido, where he wanted to stay awake and work when all the other kids were asleep, and half the time he fell asleep in the car on the way there and so we only came in after he woke up, and I was getting hardly any work done, and it took me from January to May to write 20 pages of lit review – which is how much I usually can write in about three days.

It was hard, especially because EVERYONE at Nido was lovely and really liked us and wanted it to work out. Eventually, the teachers suggested switching us to mornings. (Nido is a 1/2-day program.) The only reason we hadn’t come in mornings in the first place was that I didn’t want M. to lose his morning time for W., but as we considered it, we realized this was an excellent solution. And in August we made the switch, and I have been more productive since then, and I get to work during my best and most energetic hours instead of the hours when I drag. M. gets to work hard and play hard and is very happy in his classroom. What a happy ending, right?

But for the first half+ of the year, figuring that out ate up most of my energy.

But also? One of my dearest friends moved away at the end of January, and it hit me hard.

BUT ALSO! I visited Los Angeles just a couple of weeks later and reconnected with my Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan friends, and it was delightful.

M. and I traveled to Knoxville with W., which was lovely, and visited my grandfather’s grave in Sevierville.

We rearranged the rooms in our house so that M. has a playroom now, and while we still aren’t satisfied and want to sell ever, we’re using the space much better these days.

M. got his first, and second, and third haircuts.

My sibs, my bro-in-law, M. and I drove down to Florida for my paternal grandmother’s memorial service, but there was another devastating death in the family just a couple of days before the service, and everything was emotionally so hard. On the way home, we took a pretty wide detour to Atlanta to visit with my moved-friend for a couple of hours.

IMMEDIATELY after that, my dad had surgery.

I went to the American Library Association conference in New Orleans and gothed it up so hard – well, as hard as you can when you’re making it a point to be back in your hotel room and in bed before Bourbon Street gets really wild.

We had a LOT of problems with the house, and they still aren’t all fixed, but a lot of them are, so there’s been some progress there.

And OH YEAH, also, MY MOM had surgery. So yeah. BOTH my parents had surgery within four months of each other.

W. and I saw Murder by Death and Clue: The Movie for our anniversary and got each other the same card.

W., M., and I went to Cherry Grove Beach for 10 days and we saw a mermaid show and it was lovely.

I played some D&D. W. and I went to the Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds concert. We did multiple toddler Halloween events. W. gifted me the Moonchild Tarot, for which I had been waiting for about a year. I went to Everyday Magic during their Liminal Space event.

I got pneumonia.

M. and I accompanied W. to Charleston, which was beautiful, but made my pneumonia worse.

I wrote a dissertation prospectus and recruited a dissertation committee.

We hosted a Thanksgiving meal and attended a Thanksgiving meal with new family members. I saw Wreck It Ralph 2 and I cried.

And there’s more in the weeks ahead: movies, holiday parties, D&D, family Christmas celebrations, escape rooms, still working on comps.

Each year, I pick a one-word theme (one of the things I got from Leonie). And I picked LOVE for this year.

And looking back on the year, I see it.

It’s been a year of showing up in love for my kid. (I hope every year will be!)

It’s been a year of showing up in love for my family.

It’s been a year of being bludgeoned with health-related reminders that I need to show up in love for myself. (I didn’t mention all of them here.)

I’ll let you know when I pick the word for next year.


Dissertating in the Open: Designing a Comprehensive Literature Review

I think every doctoral program is different in what they expect from students for qualifying comprehensive examinations, but in my program, there are two components: a literature review of about 50-60 single-spaced pages that offers an overview of the student’s research interests and addresses theoretical, methodological, and topical literature related to the expected dissertation, and a brief prospectus for the dissertation.

I wrote the prospectus first. Honestly, I think everybody should. Then my advisor and I met and discussed what should be in the comprehensive literature review. We wanted to have five areas to propose to my committee, with the understanding that these might change after our first meeting with my committee. Based on the prospectus, we settled on the following five areas:

Information literacy. As my central research question is about information literacy practices, I need to have a thorough definition of information literacy as a concept and an understanding of the historical development of that concept.

Cosplay. Since the cosplay affinity space is the locus of my research, this was an obvious choice.

Theory. It’s expected that all comps packages in my department will have a theory section. I chose to focus on theories Martin (2012) used in her dissertation: earlier models of information literacy, Sonnenwald’s (2005) framework of human information behavior, James Paul Gee’s (2004) concept of affinity spaces, Levy’s (1997) concept of collective intelligence, and Jenkins’s (2009) concept of participatory culture. There are other theories that may come into play, but I haven’t identified them yet. Theories I’ve researched in the past include possible selves, situated learning and communities of practice, and cultural-historical activity theory (especially horizontal learning). None of these are necessarily going to show up in my comps, but each of them has the potential to be useful for my dissertation work, so depending on how thorough I end up being with the theories mentioned earlier, they may end up in there.

Methods and Data Analysis. This is another section that is expected by the department. My proposed methods are primarily qualitative, involving interviews and qualitative coding, so this section will focus on those. It does have one quantitative element, however: analytic description, “an analysis
method to illustrate transforming qualitative data into numbers and coupling that with qualitative description” (Martin, 2012, p. 78), so I included mixed methods in here as well.

Connected Learning. Finally, although it isn’t mentioned explicitly in my prospectus, my advisor and I decided to include Connected Learning in my comps package. Connected learning in libraries is my central research interest, and cosplay definitely has all of the characteristics of connected learning, so this is a good fit for my fifth area.

I hope this has been helpful as you think about your own qualifying exams and which areas you should be reviewing to prepare for your dissertation.

Next on Dissertating in the Open: Contacting Potential Committee Members!


Martin, C. A. (2012). Information literacy in interest-driven learning communities: Navigating the sea of information of an online affinity space. The University of Wisconsin-Madison. Retrieved from




Dissertating in the Open: Identifying a Research Question & Writing a Prospectus

First, huge thanks to Dr. Laura Gogia for the descriptive phrase “Dissertating in the Open.”

Early on in my PhD program, I decided that I wanted to be as transparent about my dissertation process as is ethically possible. Since I’m focused on studying Connected Learning, and openly-networked products are a key part of that framework, I wanted to share my own process. This blog post is the first step in that direction.

When I came into this program, several of my cohort-mates already had clear ideas not just about their area of research interest, but about their specific dissertation projects. Others took a hard turn and completely shifted their research interests. I’ve followed a middle route; while I wasn’t zeroed in enough to turn every assignment into a chapter in my dissertation (or even my literature review), everything I did was somehow focused on interest-driven learning. But I was never clear on how it all would come together in a culminating research project.

Over the past three and a half years, I’ve probably floated almost 10 different dissertation topics or themes past my very understanding advisor, but none of them quite coalesced into a question. I should have known that the question would come out of the literature. My best research always comes from someone else’s “Possibilities for future research” section.

A few weeks ago, I was reading Dr. Crystle Martin‘s (2012) dissertation. She investigated the information literacy practices of players in the World of Warcraft affinity space and, based on previous prescriptive models of information literacy and her own results, generated a new, descriptive model of information literacy for digital youth.

And then in her conclusion, she said:

“The more affinity spaces which are studied, the more stable the model will become, until eventually it will be a powerful predictive model that can approximate outcomes when parameters are changed” (p. 108).

I physically actually got chills. But I wasn’t sure how I would tie this into my own work.

Then I went to the Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy concert and saw the cosplayers.

Then I re-read Dr. Martin’s dissertation.

Then I realized cosplay is an affinity space.

Then I sat down and over the course of a few hours banged out a dissertation prospectus to send to my advisor. It’s just a first draft. But I wanted to share it for those of you who are inexperienced in writing them. I’m lucky that my professor Dr. Barbara Wildemuth really walked my cohort through this process. Comments are open, so feel free to annotate it up and ask questions.

Next time, on Dissertating in the Open: building a comps package based on your prospectus!


I’m publicly committing to the 100DaysOfCode Challenge starting today!  #100DaysOfCode

I did my first coding in BASIC as a reader of 3-2-1 Contact Magazine in the late 80s and early 90s. My dad was director of IT at a law school in the early 90s and responded to every complaint I had about not having access to Prodigy or AOL by telling me that the Web was where things were happening, not there. I wasn’t sure I believed him, but in 1995 my mom bought me a book about programming HTML for Netscape and I started building websites, first for local non-profits, then as fan endeavors. Sure, I ventured into the world of WYSIWYG page editors like Geocities, Angelfire, Microsoft Publisher, Adobe Dreamweaver, and Homestead. But I always came back to hand coding. By 2001, I had a personal domain and was using HTML, CSS,  and Javascript to develop a whole suite of fansites. I installed and troubleshooted Greymatter for my blog, but all the other pages were handcoded. I learned the basics of PHP so that I could serve dynamic pages and only have to update the content within a page when I wanted to make a change, and have the header, footer, and menus all be consistent throughout a site.

And then came WordPress.

I love WordPress.

But it made me lazy. Kind of.

Using WordPress is, I realize now after helping others with it, its own set of skills; it is not without a learning curve. But it doesn’t require me to know or use much code.

And I miss code.

Plus, WordPress is so much more customizable if you can code; you can create your own themes and plug-ins. Instead of shaking my fist when I want a functionality that’s not there, I’ll be able to build it. And, obviously, getting the skills needed for front end development has many benefits beyond just customizing WordPress.

The web WAS my job until 2015, but since then, all kinds of amazing developments have occurred and become widespread. (CSS Flex! CSS Grid!) I don’t know how to use them, and I want to.

So. To that end, and because I actually find coding relaxing – I once spent several hours of a vacation working through Codecademy courses – I’m committing myself to the #100DaysofCode challenge. I’ll be going through freeCodeCamp’s Responsive Web Design certification, because I’m rusty and want to get back to basics.

If this is something you have always wanted to try, why not start now? Join me!

#AcWriMo: A declaration

Hi friends.

Here I’m declaring my intent to participate in #AcWriMo.

Here are my goals:

  1. Revise and submit an article I’ve been working on for a long time.

  2. Write the introductory overview to my comprehensive examination literature review package.

  3. Create preliminary bibliographies for my comprehensive examination literature review package to share with my committee.

I recently wrote a six-page prospectus of my dissertation study. While it grew out of all the work I’ve done so far, it means that the many words I’ve already written and the unwritten-but-outlined parts of my comps either won’t be used for this purpose or will be very much downplayed. I’m not starting from nothing, exactly, but there’s a lot of work to do and not much time to do it.

To determine my goals, I looked realistically at my time constraints.

I have childcare five days a week for four hours a day. The first 30 minutes of that is usually settling in and the last is settling out, so really it’s three hours a day. I have a standing weekly meeting for the grant project that employs me, and writing isn’t the only work I need to get done in my childcare time. Because of travel, Thanksgiving, and meetings, I’ve only got 15 guaranteed writing days in November. (Other writing days are catch-as-catch-can; occasionally a grandma will offer a few hours of childcare or W. will take a long weekend stretch to solo parent, but those times aren’t predictable.) So aside from my task-related goals, I’m setting a goal for 15 hours of writing time this month. I’m not sure how long this overview needs to be, which is why I don’t have a word or page count goal.

Anyway, you heard it here: I’m doing #AcWriMo, but on my terms.

What do I want to do with my life? Resources to help you find the answer.

I was talking with some fellow co-working moms about matrescence and how it kind of shakes up everything you thought you wanted to do and how to figure out what to do next. I mentioned that I know a lot of books to help with this. (I didn’t mention that I’ve never finished reading any of them… which is kind of symptomatic of the problem they’re designed to address!)

But ANYWAY. I thought a blog post full of them might be helpful to more people than just other parents acting as primary caregivers trying to figure out their next steps, so here they are.

How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up by Emilie Wapnick. Also check out her website, Puttylike.

Refuse to Choose! Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams by Barbara Sher

The Firestarter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms and The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte

The Renaissance Soul: How to Make Your Passions Your Life–a Creative and Practical Guide by Margaret Lobenstine

Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans

Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One by Jenny Blake – this one’s got a tie-in podcast!

On living a fragmented life

Saturday night, W. and I went to the tour of Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy. If you like Final Fantasy, and it’s coming somewhere near you, you should definitely go. It was a magical evening. It’s a philharmonic with orchestra and choir on stage, and then three giant screens projecting scenes from the games. Arnie Roth conducted and bantered between sets; I think he’s delightful.

And the fans came out. There was that feeling of being among your people that happens at this sort of interest-based gathering. I have never seen so many cool t-shirts and gorgeous hair colors in one place before.

And then there were the cosplayers:

Nico Castillo on Instagram: ?Oh Celes… That is so… you! Traitor and trollop! @utopian_pigeon #distantworlds #finalfantasy #finalfantasyvi #kefka #celeschere??

Which reminded me that, oh yeah, about a year ago I said I was going to get into cosplay…


This summer, we went to North Myrtle Beach as a family. We stopped by Ripley’s Aquarium and saw their mermaid show. Leaving it, I thought, “Oh right! I wanted to take up mermaiding.”


My ambitions that aren’t obligations escape me, and I need to be able to achieve my obligations in fragments. This is life as a primary caregiving parent: any activity needs to be achievable in small bits of time, and preferably it shouldn’t be a problem if the activity is interrupted.

And let’s be honest: if the activity is interrupted, it might never get finished.


I left lemon juice on the counter overnight. I was using it to preserve apples for M.’s snack and lunch today, and I put the apples in the fridge. And my brain was like, “Okay! Done with this task!” I did the same thing with some almond milk last week after making a smoothie.


It might sound like I’m complaining. I’m not. I’m obsessed with my kid. I just was in the bathroom at our combo co-working space/Montessori, and the bathroom window looks out onto the play area, and I just watched him chase and pick up balls for a little while.

I love being with him. And in many ways, I’m most myself with him, more than I ever was before.

And in other ways, it’s really important to me to remember all the parts of me that are from before, because they’re all still here, and they need attending to, now and again.

I keep coming back to the idea that matrescence is like kintsugi, the Japanese art of using gold to repair ceramics.

Rural cooking pot repaired with Kintsugi technique, Georgia, 19th century. Photo by Guggger. CC-BY-SA

Having a kid shattered me. I still haven’t processed my birth story, and it’s been two years. I will. When I’m ready. I spent so many hours searching for resources on identity crises in the immediate post-partum period. But having a kid made me like this cooking pot. All the old parts of me are around. And I’m piecing them back together, slowly, with the new parts of me and the new parts of my life making everything more beautiful.

There are new pieces to come, too. I think the simile breaks down here.


This is life now. It will be different later.


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