The Graduate Research Network is composed of two primary components: facilitated roundtable discussions of works in progress and a professionalization presentation and workshop focused on academic and alt-ac job markets. This was the third consecutive time I’ve participated in the GRN, and I’ve found each iteration increasingly useful. While the absence of Dickie and Cindy Selfe from the professionalization roundtables was palpable, a host of mentors and roundtable facilitators (along with our fearless leaders, Janice Walker and Angela Haas) effectively led conversations and sessions with wisdom and encouragement.
If you’ve never attended a GRN, whether you’re a graduate student or a newly minted PhD, consider trying the roundtable works-in-progress discussions. There are few places where your work takes center stage in a conversation among scholars who are there for the primary purpose of trying to help you improve that work. Scholar facilitators (generally one or two) contribute their knowledge and expertise to discussions about individual roundtable member projects. Roundtable facilitators provide an opportunity for each participant to share a project summary, often accompanied by a one-page written overview, for about five minutes, and then presenters receive 10-15 minutes of concentrated attention to their project from both facilitators and other roundtable participants. Suggestions for sharper focus, potential areas for exploration, readings to consider, parallel or related projects, and recommended methods for study are among the types of feedback offered to help presenters hone, improve, and develop their research. For participants, it’s a cascade of feedback. And for facilitators, it’s an opportunity to see what the upcoming generation of scholars in computers and writing is working on.
What makes GRN worthwhile, in my view, is the number and quality of facilitators willing to lead discussions and provide feedback. At my roundtable this year, which was focused on methods, Derek Van Ittersum and Crystal VanKooten led our discussions. These are scholars whose work I’ve read, whose methods I’ve admired, and whose research is compelling and thorough. Last year my table facilitators were Patrick Berry and Quinn Warnick, both of whom also provided useful and sound advice. GRN facilitators and leaders are genuinely interested in the scholarship of graduate students because that scholarship represents the future direction of research in the field. Janice and Angela, and the rest of the leaders of GRN, work intentionally to construct this ethos of engagement in the future as a method for maintaining and advancing the field. This seems healthy, and makes GRN a place where the field as a whole, and not only individual projects, is the focus.
What I’ve received each year from the GRN is validation that the scholarship I’m doing is worthwhile and valued in the field. This year was no exception: I received valuable suggestions about methods in my dissertation, suggestions that I immediately applied to my C&W presentation later during the conference and that I incorporated into my prospectus draft. Receiving this kind of practical, focused feedback is the hallmark of GRN work-in-progress roundtables and is largely the reason I return each year. The ethos of engagement in the future is the reason that I expect I’ll return with new projects to discuss — and perhaps to facilitate my own roundtable conversations one day.