[Air-L] Graduate programs for "internet studies"?

David Golumbia dgolumbia at gmail.com
Thu Sep 30 17:15:19 PDT 2010

danah asks good questions ("who do you admire? who do you want to work
with"?) While I agree that the answers she gives can and sometimes do work
in ideal circumstances, when I work with BA and MA students applying to PhD
programs in either English or digital studies I generally counsel against
this approach, always leaving room for exceptions.

The problem is that it is so usual for professors, especially "hot"
professors, to switch schools, often several times. I know very few PhD
students, in fact, who made it through a 5 or 6 or 7 year program ending up
with the same committee they thought they'd start out with, in part because
the 3 faculty they started out with are no longer all there.

If your advisor leaves, then what? At a school like Berkeley or Yale or
Columbia there are likely to be quite a few other professors you can work
with. But it too often happens that people go to a small unviersity to work
with one person, who leaves, resulting in a student being stranded in a
program for which they have no investment. Also, there is no guarantee that
the faculty member you've chosen will agree to work with you, despite your
having "gone there to work with them"; among other things, faculty are quite
limited in the number of PhDs they can directly supervise. Your academic
hero refuses you: what then

I'm not saying advisors don't matter; I'm saying everything matters. What I
tell PhD students is that they need to try to be clear, in a very iterative
fashion (thinking about the future again and again as it gets closer, &
realizing you can't solve all the problems all at once, or know who or what
you will want to be), about what they hope the degree will do for them. In
my home discipline, English, it is fairly clear that the goal is to become a
tenure-track English professor, and even within that goal there are many
subdivisions it's critical to consider (19c American? poetry? novel? etc.),
but that goal is absolutely critical to keep in mind throughout the process
of choosing a school if that's what you want. At the top of English, for
example, if you were choosing between Berkeley and Oregon or Michigan
(picking names out of hat), there is just the raw fact a Berkeley PhD looks
better on your cv *from the elitist perspectve of the top schools* for
hiring purposes. If that's what you want, you have to pick Berkeley. I'm not
saying it needs to be what you want--I'm saying it's good to be as clear as
possible about what you want.

Then there are definitely places that earn their kudos a little regardless
of personalities; MIT's Media Lab would stand out, where it can be pretty
clear whether that's a place you'd like to try to go, somewhat without
regard to which people you want to work with.

But In this sense it is at least critical to ask the question: what do I
like about the program, other than the advisor? if my advisor leaves, will i
still be happy? who will i work with? usually, a better answer to these
questions than "one person I want to work with" is "a strong faculty with
multiple members whose interests intersect with mine."

As to subject matter, I think there is conceptual reason why there may
always be, with some exceptions, an advantage to doing internet + something
else. Think of it this way: many good History PhDs talk about digital and
internet phenomena in great detail. A History PhD with a specialization in
internet technology or something can go very far *within the academy* --
since that is the administrative reason PhD programs exist and can be
brought into being, which is not to say they don't have other uses--whereas
a PhD in Internet Studies ends up being more constrained. The History PhD
who knows a ton about microcomputer development will be a real competitor
for a professor job in an Internet program. The Internet Studies PhD who
knows a lot about the history of microcomputers will have a very tough time
in History Departments. So the History PhD has two sandboxes to play in
while Internet Studies has only one. The intellectual version of this is:
the very strength of the argument for the internet's influence is its
pervasiveness in every aspect of our lives. That being the case, "Internet
Studies" risks tasking "every aspect of our lives" as its subject matter;
and while that is always an important thing to keep in mind, it is also not
something one regular reads in job descriptions.

Just my .02 from longer in more trenches than I could ever have imagined...


On Thu, Sep 30, 2010 at 12:32 AM, danah boyd <aoir.z3z at danah.org> wrote:

> Who do you admire?  Who do you want to work with?  PhD programs especially
> (less so for Master's) are all about your advisor and your committee, your
> ability to connect with your peers, and your ability go get a solid
> foundation in various intellectual traditions that you can bring to the
> table when talking about Internet dynamics.  My advice to all potential grad
> students is to start by making a list of the scholars that you respect.  Go
> to conferences in fields that you want to engage with (like AOIR) and meet
> people.  Figure out who you think you could get along with.  And then build
> out from there.  Programs are important but less so than individual mentors
> that can help you through your intellectual inquiry.
> If it helps at all, I wrote this long post for folks interested in going to
> grad school: http://www.danah.org/GradSchoolAdvice.html
> Personally, I didn't know what an information school was when I applied to
> Berkeley.  (Heck, I still don't.)  But as soon as I met Peter, my beloved
> advisor, I knew that it was the perfect place for me.  And I never would've
> imagined that learning about how information is organized by librarians
> would be at all relevant to my studies, but OMG has it been surprisingly
> useful.  I should also note that what I admired about Peter had nothing to
> do with Internet studies.  I admired his ability to think critically and
> turn any idea upside down to see it from a different direction.  We talked
> Gramsci and the role of activism in scholarship.  I taught him about the
> Internet; he taught me how to look at it critically.  And he taught me the
> value of playing good cop/bad cop in academia.   (May he RIP.)
> When I went to grad school, I didn't need someone to teach me about the
> Internet; I needed someone to give me the room to study the Internet.  It
> wasn't about the classes or the reading. It was about the critical thinking
> apparatus.  And it was about having an advisor and a committee who provided
> the intellectual backbone to do new research.
> So while there are great internet studies programs out there - and I
> encourage you to investigate them - don't limit yourself by topic.  Focus on
> who you want to work with, who you want to learn from.
> Good luck!
> danah
> On Sep 29, 2010, at 12:52 PM, Devin Gaffney wrote:
> > Hey all,
> >
> > I just finished an exhilarating undergraduate program that gave me enough
> flexibility in order to study the impact/efficacy of Twitter during the Iran
> Election(
> http://www.devingaffney.com/-iranelection-quantifying-online-activism),
> but in order to pull it off, I had to really bend some of the institutions
> rules, and just barely got the necessary advisorship in order to study it in
> a reasonable way. I am looking to jump right back into school for the
> following academic year, and am trying to figure out which schools have
> which programs - it seems that the information/websites for all the programs
> that do exist are well ensconced within their respective institutions
> websites, which tend towards labyrinthine. Does anyone have a good list of
> institutions (US/elsewhere) where a Masters/PhD in fields either directly or
> otherwise closely related to "internet studies" (or "web science," or
> whatever term you use, as this even seems to be up in the air, as far as I
> can tell)? Obvious
>  ly, there are places like Citizenlab, Berkman, and OII, which all seem to
> at least offer classes in some capacity, but are there any others i just
> haven't found?
> >
> > Thanks much,
> >
> > Devin Gaffney
> > http://www.devingaffney.com
> > _______________________________________________
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> ------
> "taken out of context, i must seem so strange" -- ani
> http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/
> http://www.danah.org/
> @zephoria
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David Golumbia
dgolumbia at gmail.com

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