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Updates and Think-Alouds: Aug. 16 '22 - Aug. 19 '23 - Lara L. Schenck

Updates and Think-Alouds: Aug. 16 ’22 – Aug. 19 ’23

A whole year of notes from the, um, “Updates” page on my website, where I haphazardly write as I feel inspired to do so. This update includes notes about language learning, research updates, and think-alouds as I figure out academia.

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A starfish snake plant in a small pot in front of a window. The plant is green and spiky.

Aug. 19, 2023 – Pat on my back for persisting

I set a goal for the summer of publishing three blog posts…and now that the next semester is starting, here is my third (the first and second were more “proper” posts…I have another of those in mind I will write when the inspiration strikes). I’ve been publishing these update logs since September 2020, and there are few writing habits/projects I’ve started and continued for this long. It’s been a great way to slowly accumulate content on a page, as I feel inspired to do so, without the effort involved in polishing up a formal blog post. Then, maybe all together, the updates look like something…or maybe not?

That’s enough meta commentary for now.

Another update is that I’m pretty into house plants right now, as pictured above (starfish sansevieria…so weird right?!). I’m also reckoning with the destabilizing-but-exciting semester-based lifestyle, where your work schedule and priorities change significantly three times per year. Last week, we (a.k.a “I” – the nebulous academic “we”) submitted a paper about the DataWorks curriculum to a conference, and we finished up all of the summer projects for redoing the website (this is an authentic “we”). The summer was good, but I am also looking forward to more energy and community around the research side of things – in academia, a lot of people leave or do something totally different over the summer, very unlike a regular job where you maybe have a summer Friday, but otherwise its business as usual. I’m trying to treat the PhD as a regular job…so it was a little lonely at times.

Final update – I am keeping up with my Nepali Instagram account, and I do think it’s helping me a lot! Like, maybe I could even write updates here in Nepali*. That would be next level. Language learning is such a roller coaster (most things are, right? well, for me at least), and I’ve been consistently learning Nepali since May 2021. That alone is an accomplishment! And my in-laws* are coming to stay with us this fall, so I will get lots of practice (which may be very exhausting at times, to be struggling with Nepali and dealing with the cognitive intensity of things for school…). Otherwise, meeting weekly-ish with my amazing tutor on iTalki for the past year has been the best for keeping up my momentum.

Final, final update: Jetpack now has a nice AI assistant that gives you feedback on your post. It suggested I add headings to the update sections, and I did that. I like this feature! Well done, Jetpack team!

Aug. 4, 2023 – Ma Nepali Sikdaichu

Okay, potentially figured out a very cool language learning technique. Posting on Instagram! I have been basically off of social media for 3.5 years, and am slowly reintroducing it. I also went through a bit of a funk with language learning and staying motivated – it’s really, really hard to see progress after you get the basics down. And the culture-related things in the previous note here.

But yeah, so I created an Instagram account a while ago to follow Nepali accounts – so far BBC Nepali has been the most fruitful I’ve found, because a lot of Nepali accounts end up posting in English. I thought, what if I post on this account, and try to find my voice in Nepali and practice writing/thinking in Nepali. Only my husband was following me, so that felt safe. After a couple of days, he invited some family members, and now a friend is also following. And it’s been really good! Only like a week or less of it so far, but I feel like this is potentially a game changer for my learning; it’s fun and I can be creative, and followers (who are native speakers) give feedback on my Nepali We’ll see how long this lasts, but I’m excited about it. I post about pretty basic things, and probably the language sounds like a child, but that makes it entertaining I think. What’s more, I can look back at my “Stories Archive” and other posts and, over time, I could see my progress. I’m having a lot of fun coming up with Nepali hashtags, in particular. Here are some posts:

Next level is to write in Devanagari script instead of English characters, which I should, but need to find a helper keyboard for that because the regular keyboard is very labor intensive, and I will make so many spelling mistakes. It’s only been a few days of this and I’m very into it, we’ll see if it lasts.

July 27, 2023 – Another image about my research, other things.

Related to the previous entry here – this is a reminder to write about my new insight on this industry vs. academia collaboration conundrum. I think its also about what is the thing you are delivering and what is the process by which you get there – where I’m approaching a research paper like delivering a software product, but in reality – at least what I’m working on – doesn’t work like that. Also, this is a reminder to write more about some realization/introspection I’ve had about plans and situated actions. And a final thing to write about is some realizations about learning Nepali and, more generally, language learning as an adult. The short of it is that you aren’t just learning vocabulary and grammar. You have to learn expression in a completely different culture; learning how to build sentences isn’t going to cut it.

Also, here is a new image about my research – will write up a post about “Novice-friendly computational work” someday in the near-ish future, when the inspiration strikes.

A venn diagram with the left circle labeled "non-computing jobs" and the right circle "computing jobs". The overlapping section is labeld "Novice friendly computational work". The border between the overlap on the "computing jobs" circle is marked with a black line. On top of the venn diagram, there is a red line going through the diagram from left to right, and there is some zigzagging when the line reaches the black separator, before it goes into the computing jobs circle. The black separator is labeled "cultural gatekeeping".

July 13, 2023 – Confused About Collaboration

I think I figured something out about academia. I’ve been planning out research projects with other people, and it’s been a bit frustrating because the kind of project collaboration I know is based on my experience on software teams, where everyone is accountable to the same organization, has a vested interest in delivering the same thing, and will generally take initiative to make the thing good and to make others’ work easier so that we can all go home happy. This is not how it works in academia. It’s not that people don’t collaborate or don’t share interests or don’t want to go home happy…it’s that everyone is accountable to a different person and any give project is going to be a very different priority to each person. So, for persons A & B working on the same project, person A’s career might be hanging on the project, while person B is working on it in their spare time. Then, of course, there are power dynamics. Where person A is likely to be a graduate student with almost no power, and person B is could be a faculty member, with significantly more power. My model for teamwork was very different than this before academia. I probably like my previous model better at the moment, but I’m existing in this new model, so figuring it out. So far, what I have learned is that person A must ask person B for very, very specific things, and be ready to remind them about it. Person A should have low expectations regarding person B reading emails, attending meetings, or remembering details about the project in any given moment. Person A must be ready to “manage up”.

Also, at my old job, there was a culture of sending managers/bosses updates even when you don’t need something from them, and they would generally keep an eye on team communication to see what is happening, who needed what – academia so far, to me, is not like this. I can write a well thought-out update email, but I feel like that’s not the way to do it, or maybe I’m not updating about the things that “matter” – it’s like, if you want something, you have to figure out how to write it in less than two sentences and have the thing you want already developed to the extent that it doesn’t require any additional explanation of context. I dunno. Just figuring out the culture around communication and how/when to get feedback on my work, and realizing that the ways I did this before aren’t it.

April 6, 2023 – “You don’t need a PhD to do that”

I’m starting to understand something that I didn’t totally get before. When I was thinking about applying to PhD programs, I talked to a bunch of different researchers to get advice and figure out my path. When I would explain what I wanted to do, many people said, “You don’t need a PhD to do that”. And the work I’m doing now and really loving – community organizing and thinking about expanding the program at DataWorks – indeed, I do not need a PhD to do that. I’m really happy with what I’m doing, including the more research-y parts, like writing and reading papers. But there is some cognitive dissonance I’ll need to figure out. My goal is semi-evolving into, “seed a community of practice around data work / data science via DataWorks,” and that is not a research goal, or at least, now I don’t understand it as one. My dissonance is that, my mentors at school so far approach research in a way like, do what you want to see in the world, then the research part will come. I really like that. But then I think, if your goal is to do that thing, then, isn’t the research part as an add-on just making it much more difficult and slower to do the thing? I guess I’m not understanding the value of the research aspect right in this moment, or I’m questioning it. Will need to figure this one out…

(update Aug. 19, 2023: I am starting to figure this one out. Will update sometime later.)

March 30, 2023 – Another big thing!!

A BIG THING: I was selected for the NSF graduate research fellowship!! Big deal!!! My application for that was one of not-too-many things in my life where I can 100% say that I tried my very, absolute best and couldn’t have done anything more to it. So yeah, feeling great about this.

March 24, 2023 – Big thing!!

Submitted my first journal article! Amazing! If I can figure out how to prioritize it, maybe I’ll write up a hasty blog post with some of the content (update Aug 2023: I did that here). We’ll see. Also, I probably won’t hear back for at least 3-4 months about a verdict on the submission, and it is very likely that it will be “revise and re-submit,” which is a sort-of rejection. There’s also a chance the article is out of scope for the journal, but hopefully, that’s not the case. There’s also a chance it will be accepted with revisions, but that is highly unlikely, to my knowledge. Time will tell! In any event, it’s a huge accomplishment, and I learned a ton in the process.

March 17, 2023 – Autobiographical image about my research

Okay, still working hard on my journal article…and it’s “done” but I have a few not-too-cognitively challenging things to finish up. I will share one preview, which is an image I am feeling GREAT about right now, but that I will likely question at some point in the future:

Image with a stick figure thinking "maybe I could turn my HTML skills into a career", the figure is looking towards a road and there are gates along the road with people sitting on them. The image is titled "How 'Real' Programming Is Gatekeeping That Restricts Career Growth in Computing of Adults Who Follow Non-Traditional Pathways"

Yes, this is what all of that “is CSS a programming language” has amounted to! Hard to believe it.

March 9, 2023 – Random.

Omigosh working so hard on my journal article. Learning some lessons about writing, and learning to de-prioritize class assignments when compared to research. Keeping up with Nepali classes. The other day I wrote a small and sloppy node.js script to replace some text with a regular expression, and I did miss my previous software developer life for a moment. I really loved coding/programming/developing whatever you want to call it.

Otherwise, all is well!

January 29, 2023 – Wow, time, huh.

Holy moly is it really almost February? I have been totally neglecting keeping my website up to date in my usual ways… and that’s just fine because I just have to prioritize, you know?

I granted myself permission not to write a 2022 Year in Review/Whatever post…but then I started writing it, you know, just to do it. I wanted to share some photos but they are all in .HEIC format and so huge and my usual imagemagick command wasn’t working. Then, I made breakfast and started thinking about why am I writing this darn post anyway…I’m not into it, and I honestly feel uncomfortable putting pictures and personal information publicly online nowadays. This is a switch, and likely because I’ve been reading about all of the many ethical issues with AI and tech companies, and I’m picturing what ChatGPT will know about be based on my blog posts. So, all that said, I think 2021 was the last year of year in review posts, and maybe 2022 was the last year I’ll share personal details about trips or life events in these updates. Sad.

October 31, 2022 – Career Development (mine and others’)

Holy moly is it really almost November? I have been totally neglecting keeping my website up to date in my usual ways. In hindsight it maybe wasn’t a great idea to change up the site structure so much right before a big life change, but oh well!

So, what’s been going on? Well, I am almost through my first semester of the Human-Centered Computing PhD at Georgia Tech and it’s awesome. It’s hard for sure, and it definitely took a couple of months to adjust to so much change, and I’ve had continuing problems with insomnia, but overall, I am so excited at how things are going. It’s everything I wanted it to be.

I’ve also been continuing my Nepali classes in a bit of a start/stop fashion, but I’ve been doing it! I started to meet with a different teacher using the platform italki, and I am very lucky to have found a very talented teacher who makes the classes really fun. We leave for Nepal in one month, again, holy moly!

Today I will do the first session of a curriculum I designed about job finding and professional networking for the DataWorks team. The modules I added are as follows:

  • Career visioning, your strengths, and your story (today)
  • Informational interviewing and meeting people online
  • Resumes, interviews, and dealing with rejection
  • Practice interviews

It will be four weeks long. This is an initial version that we will improve upon to run again sometime next year. I’m not entirely sure what the research questions are here yet, but it’s not necessary to know at this point. With this kind of research, the questions and the research direction often emerge after the project during data analysis. It really seems like research can be whatever you want it to be; it is certainly much broader than designing controlled experiments.

August 16, 2022

Just published an update!

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