Sunday, March 3, 2013

On research questions

In my prospectus, I wrote
this dissertation seeks to (1) describe my reading and writing practices in order to illustrate the intertextuality and multimodality of my texts and writing practices and to explore the interaction between reading and writing, (2) examine the ways I situate myself in my graduate program in relation to my fellow graduate students and professors--in light of my past experiences, current situation, and future plans, and, finally, (3) investigate how my reading, writing, and professional identity change over time.
Looking back, I think I have a better idea about what I want to do now. A year after my defense, I have the following research questions

1.     What kind of identity work does becoming a multilingual academic writer entail in the context of graduate school?
2.     What are the academic literacy practices an international graduate student is exposed to, use, recognize, perpetuate, and resist?
3.     How do the identities and literary practices of an international graduate student change contextually, over time and across space? 

It seems to me like in some respects these questions cast a wider net but in some ways they are more focused compared to the previous ones. Of course, the sources I read was a big influence. Unfortunately, I don't have anyone to talk to about these at all now that I'm in a far away land, which makes me wonder if I have ever had anyone to talk to. The funny thing is it does not matter anymore. Solitude either makes or breaks a person. Enough philosophizing already, now it all seems like a dream anyway. But I'm straying away, what I learned from the sources was not just the content knowledge, like new concepts for example identity work (new to me that is) but also preferred ways of speaking like writing multilingual writer rather than non-native speaker/writer or thinking academic literacy practices as things, people, processes used, recognized, perpetuated and resisted. My focus changed from being to becoming from doing to practice since my prospectus defense. I just looked at the bibliography of my prospectus and saw that I had only two sources directly related to literacy. At the time I was thinking more in terms of reading and writing so that was the literature I cited. Now it sounds pretty stupid that I didn't think about literacy at all. I guess it was a gestalt shift.
I find it quite interesting that I feel guilty about this change of focus. Why do I feel guilty? First I could not figure it out and thought maybe I was feeling uneasy because in my prospectus I had promised to do something and now I was changing it without knowing what my committee members might think about this change. After all my prospectus was strictly a second language writing project. It is possible that this had a bearing on how I feel but I realized that it was more than that. I feel like I'm betraying my roots by going from second language writing to literacy. It sounds ridiculous right? Well, emotions have their own "rationale" I'm a graduate student in a second language studies program which is very strong in second language writing (Purdue University). I know the history of the field with all that struggle to justify second language writing studies, I even know some professors who fought this war personally. I only admire them and I believe I will always be a second language writing person at heart because of the wonderful people in the field. Still focusing on literacy (writing and reading) not second language writing means one less SLW dissertation even though academic literacy and SLW are not mutually exclusive. Remember all the discussion on whether SLW was dying or not and one of the criterion spoken of was the number of dissertations. Am I betraying my roots? Such an interesting conundrum for me. But I think I will go where my research questions take me in the end, even though I kind of felt uneasy about my decision and although I had to learn a lot about literacy studies from scratch. There was not anything in my course work related to literacy. Despite the difficulties I think I made the right decision. Besides I am a free spirit and I don't think any one discipline can contain me :-) I think this is going to be a dissertation more informed by second language acquisition, applied linguistics, and literacy studies than I had anticipated a truly Second Language Studies project. I wonder if writing something interdisciplinary is better or worse. Maybe it will be perceived as a positive attribute and maybe I will have more options when I apply for jobs. Or maybe I will be considered not quite enough something/someone because of my choice. Do I care? Would I change my decision based on others' opinions. Not really as long as I think I'm doing the right thing, and I do. Well, let's talk about this when I hear back from my adviser :-P

PS. By the way, I have absolutely no idea why I decided to focus on identity and reading in the first place. I have never even written a course paper on any of this. I have to admit that I have never been particularly interested in identity or reading and as I was writing the literature review there were more than one occasion where I was banging my head on the table saying what was I thinking. Writing your dissertation on something you do not have some background is a very very bad idea. Don't do what I have done.

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