workworkwork

Does anyone else feel like they’re experiencing the verses in “Work,” by Rihanna? Let’s be real honest, nobody knows exactly what she’s saying, but we all pretend to mumble along until she hits lyrics we can decipher.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been stuck mumbling along. Everything seems to be so fast-paced, be it in class or just in daily life, that I’m having trouble keeping up. I have brief spurts of confidence when I feel comfortable enough singing along, but those only last for a short while. The end of the semester looms, and there is so much I want like to accomplish before that time comes. Graduation hovers just behind, signifying the end of this chapter of my life, and there is so much I would like to process and understand before that change happens. After the day of graduation, I have three more days in Ann Arbor, and then I leave Michigan. I don’t know if or when I’ll be back. It’s going to be such a permanent shift that I want to make the most of the time I have here.

Before I graduate, I want to produce this capstone project, and make it amazing. I want to celebrate our hard work with my senior design team. I want to thank the professors and peers of mine that have taught, encouraged, and struggled with me through the past four years.

Before I leave, I want to finish my edible Ann Arbor bucket list. I want to watch the sun set over the Big House one last time. I want to spend rich, quality time with the people that have come to be so dear to me during my time in Ann Arbor.

I don’t want to trip over my words or myself when I do these things. I don’t want to be mumbling along—I’d much prefer the chance to sing along at the top of my lungs.

What do you want to do before you leave?

HALP.

It’s been quite a challenge to combat my climbing anxiety this semester, and the unwieldy-ness of this project isn’t helping at all. Even though I have my production plan all worked out, my biggest concern is that I’m biting off more than I can chew. Right now, I can’t help but worry that the best way to achieve the best version of my project requires much more time than two and a half months.

 

I’m very comfortable with the content I want to investigate and cover. Overall, I’m exploring the gentrification of design, or what I’m calling the “Anthropologie effect.” I want to first research Anthropologie, anthropology, socio-economic trends, and gentrification, in order to understand the pervasiveness of this effect in modern lifestyle design. Then, I want to investigate Etsy as a product and perpetuator of the effect, since it fills a gentrified niche of peer-to-peer e-commerce made possible and left open by EBay. Finally, I want to bring this research together into a website that presents my findings while mimicking the effect Anthropologie has on its customers when they walk through the door.

 

My current thought is that this content take shape as informative articles, which can then become the sections of a larger research report that encompasses the whole website. However, I’m not sure that this is the most effective format, or whether or not this is the most engaging format to go for. If I were to do something else, I really don’t know what it would be. I’m concerned that I’m taking on more research than I’m capable of achieving by project deadline.

 

I’m also concerned that hand-coding this site is going to be the only way to achieve my intended effect. I know very little about site coding, and while I’m definitely looking at Pottermore for inspiration, I’m pretty sure I’m not capable of reaching that level of awesome. This is really where I’m starting to freak out.

Post-Proposal Thoughts

Context:

Ray asked us to reflect on how our ideas for our projects have changed since their original conceptions, and to blog about it before class on Thursday.

 

Content:

My idea for my project hasn’t changed as much as my emotions about it have developed over the past couple of weeks. I’m exploring a phenomenon I’m calling the “Anthropologie effect” through the lens of Etsy’s occupation of the gentrified niche in the peer-to-peer e-commerce market left open by Ebay. Typing that out, it seems a little convoluted, but I guess that’s what happens when confounding variables get added to the mix.

 

When I first came up with this idea, it was almost a non-idea, slipped into my brainstorming list in my pre-proposal. I really came up with it because I spend way too much time on Pinterest, and I’ve been using Etsy to plan my Galentine’s Day brunch. (Yes, I’m hosting a G-day brunch. No, there won’t be waffles this year.) I also have a little to-do list pad from Anthropologie, which cost me $12, and which I treasure despite its disproportionate cost-to-value ratio. But for some reason, I love that little notepad, and Anthropologie, and Etsy, and Pinterest, despite the fact that they’re all unnecessarily expensive and irrelevant to my career.

 

That was my real problem, at first. Talking about social and economic trends and the influence of lifestyle design trends on my generation have absolutely nothing to do with chemical engineering curriculum or industry. As such, it felt incredibly irresponsible to focus an entire three-and-a-half months’ effort on a topic that didn’t directly contribute to my career development. (This is the emotional process I blogged about last week.)

 

But, it was really the best idea I had, and the one Ray deemed most pursuable, so I kept going with it. I still didn’t feel fantastic about it, but I’d decided that something was at least interesting was better than something that was somewhat relevant. I kept feeling this way until I had the chance to talk to Alexis after class on Tuesday; she explained to me how she had realized that she has the rest of her life to write about science, while this is one of the last chances she has to write about something unrelated to science.

 

Once I realized that I’m in the same boat as Alexis, I let myself get excited about this project. While my idea for the Anthropologie effect doesn’t have direct implications for my career, it’s still incredibly relevant to my life. As a result, choosing this topic isn’t equivalent to choosing to be irresponsible with my time; thank goodness, because otherwise this project would’ve been an absolute slog through the mud. Instead, I have a feeling that it’s going to be a lot of fun. Hard, but fun. Perfect, right?

Post-Pre-Proposal Reflections

I feel like a piece of fruit, jumping up and down (on my non-existent legs), screaming at the top of my (non-existent) lungs: “PICK ME! PICK ME!” If I were parodying myself, I’d make a joke here about those old Fruit of the Loom commercials or the annoying orange. But I’m serious. I feel like an inanimate object vying for the attention of anyone who will notice, but, of course, nobody notices, because inanimate objects are inanimate.

The College of Engineering’s career fair was today and yesterday. After trudging around north campus for hours upon hours, clutching my resumes in their block-M folder, fidgeting with my name badge and blazer, and making small talk with recruiters who inevitably tell me to “Apply online, thanks,” I am exhausted. And freaking out just a little bit.

I have worked ridiculously hard (as has almost everyone else I know) over the past four years in order to make myself marketable to employers. Returning to the fruit metaphor, I’ve worked ridiculously hard to be the shiniest, brightest apple on the branch. I’m certainly here at UM to pursue something I’m passionate about. I’m also here to train for a lifelong career, and virtually every choice I make points back to that purpose.

So, as I’m picking a subject for my capstone project, I’m struggling with the fact that nothing I’m excited to work with for the next three months has anything to do with chemical engineering. Or engineering, period. I’m nervous that I could be missing an opportunity to make myself more marketable by choosing the wrong subject.

Is it responsible of me to spend all of this time and energy and creativity on something that doesn’t readily relate to what I think I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life? What defines “responsible” in this situation? Do I care whether or not I want to be “responsible” right now? Isn’t this (the last writing class I will take as an undergrad) on of my last chances to be excusably irresponsible in my life? Am I overthinking this?

Ah, the joys of overthinking: fruit metaphors and endless strings of questions.

Billy Magic

Hello, friends. (Or rather, for most of you, soon-to-be-friends.) Does anyone else feel like they’ve hit the ground running at full tilt this semester? Welcome Week lasted for a day, and then the floodgates opened to swamp me with more responsibilities than I know what to do with.

Well, I’ve procrastinated on this blog post almost as long as possible. Even in the course of writing these first few paragraphs, I’ve reorganized my desk, gotten up to get water, fussed with my hair, and made a couple of playlists on Spotify in order to avoid it. I guess I was hoping that the longer I waited, the more time I could give myself to come up with an idea that I felt had a truer spirit of originality or had a better value than the ideas I currently have. Yet, here I am (shoutout to the other citizens of the procrastiNation), sharing what I feel like isn’t the coolest idea that I have the potential of coming up with, but sharing it anyways, because I’m a fan of working with what I’ve got.

I’m an engineer, and on the brink of my job-search process. As a ChemE with a minor in writing, I think I can speak from unique position on what it’s like to be a soon-to-be-graduate, a woman, an engineer, and a hopefully-soon-to-be-employee. I also spend inordinate amounts of time with my fellow ChemEs, so I would be able to draw on not only my own experiences, but also those experiences of my friends and classmates as we navigate the post-graduation-planning process. My hope in writing about myself and my experiences would be twofold: to inspire those who follow in my footsteps as ChemEs (or engineers in general) and to enlighten those who haven’t walked the same path as I. If I’m being ambitious, and since it’s so early in the semester I feel like I might as well be, then I’m going to say this: I want to be the Billy Magic of navigating the job search as a female engineer. (Sans musical though. I can’t sing for beans.)

I certainly don’t pursue the act of writing about myself in a public forum as a source of comfort or relaxation, so using myself and my peers as my subject material wouldn’t fail to present opportunities for learning and growing pains. I’m still hesitant about this topic, especially in light of Ray’s caution against “splashing around in creative non-fiction.”

However, if I were to pursue this idea of documenting my job search experience, I would be able to draw on the disciplines of entrepreneurship (via the UM Center for Entrepreneurship), psychology (regarding the related processes of choosing companies and candidates), and engineering (regarding how learned topics are applied to interviews and on the job). My focal objects would include myself, a few of my peers, and perhaps a recruiter or an academic advisor.

When it comes to my confounding variable though, I’m somewhat stumped. I initially was drawn to the idea of putting a twist on the topic by adding a filter that accounts for gender, and whether or not female engineers get jobs because they’re the best candidate or because they’re fulfilling a diversity quota set by their company. But I’m not sure that this is quite enough. Perhaps adding a layer that involves video-recording my experience (as I attend career fairs, as I polish my LinkedIn for the thousandth time, as I sit in interviews) might be what I need, but I’m not sure how I feel about recording certain parts of this process. I don’t really want to jeopardize my chances of getting my dream job because I strapped a GoPro to my head during the interview. So, more to come on that component.

Thanks for reading, friends.

-Rachel

PS. On another topic entirely: I’m fascinated by letters and letter-writing. If I were to create an idea that feels more “cool” than what I’ve got right now, I think it could be really interesting to dive into the culture of letters. Before the telephone and the internet, handwriting was such a pivotally important part of everyday life. I’m enchanted by memories of perusing the bookstores of Berkeley, spending time flipping through collections of letters written as personal correspondence centuries before my birth. The idea that penmanship and composition could be more important, more practiced, more valued than they are in the modern age captivates me. If anyone has any pointers or if I spark an idea, I’d love your input on this subject.

Braaaains…

Considering the fact that I am just about to finish the hardest semester of my college career thus far, it makes sense that my brain is in absolute shambles. The irony of my ePortfolio‘s theme, which I organized around how my brain works and how I use both of its hemispheres on a daily basis, is not lost on me. Somehow my exhausted little brain managed to pull through this semester and a huge part of the reason why was the escape I found in working on assignments for the Minor. Without writing, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the semester as a sane, functioning member of society.

via deviantART

My portfolio encompasses both of my chief academic pursuits: science and writing. I so enjoyed building the WordPress site and definitely plan on developing it and adding to it in the future. But for now, I’m going to enjoy my summer break. So, I guess this is it… at least until the blogging bug bites again.

I Like Big Bites & I Cannot Lie

The problem with having a small mouth is this: food always ends up all over my face and I often take a bite that’s just the slightest bit too big. As I eat, I like to wait until the end of the meal to clean up my sub-consciousness’s attempt at an edible Pollack; otherwise I’d be brushing off my face more often than putting food in it. My friends reach inner-circle status when I can trust them to check my face after such a meal without my having to ask. Not to say my mouth is so small that I haven’t been caught with my foot in it on more than one occasion, but you get the idea. Success at mealtime is solely dependent on how well I manage my petite-mouth deficiency.

ratio

Of course, this is a Minor in Writing blog post and while I’m totally serious about the difficulties that come with a small mouth, I’m not really here to discuss my eating habits. I bite off more than I can chew in every aspect of my life. Be it overbooking my social calendar or convincing myself that I can totally handle an 18-credit semester, my plate usually seems to end up more than full enough. Yet I always somehow seem to pull off that crazy last-minute scramble and everything falls into place right at the last second. As such, I keep taking on more than I should be able to handle; I’ve managed it every time before!

I had just started scheduling my courses for next semester when I decided to take a break and clean out my email inbox. While sorting through potential internship opportunity information and cTools announcement notifications, Molly Bancroft’s reminder of the Peer Writing Consultant program application deadline caught my eye. My interest piqued, I began toying with the idea of applying. Within about twelve hours and after speaking to my MiW and ChemE advisors, I decided to go for it. The application process and program seemed manageable; I was excited to give back to the writing community and aid my peers in their development.

But now I’m feeling swamped. The left side of my brain, the exhausted little ChemE part of me, is not looking forward to pounding out an application this weekend, nor is it excited about an 8:30 a.m. class next semester. But the right side of my brain, the relentless word nerd part of me, insists that the lost sleep and extra credit hours will be worthwhile. My decision making process depends on finding a balance between my two passions: science and written word. I am only afraid of one outweighing the other. At this point, I know I would enjoy becoming a member of the Peer Writing Consultant program. The last hurdle is talking myself into the time and mental commitments against the knowledge that my plate will most probably be too full next year.

I just have to hope that everyone can excuse me next year; it looks as if, more often than not, I’ll be running around with too much food in my mouth.

Purposing my ePortfolio

via elephantjournal
via elephantjournal

I write for myself. Sure, a particular piece might have an imaginary target audience, but at the end of the day the purpose of every piece I write is inherently selfish. The idea of practicing such an unashamedly selfish act on a regular basis is something I’m exploring in my Why I Write piece, so I don’t want to spend too much time on it here. But the point remains that writing is my favorite way of making sense of the world, and this sense is mine alone. Now of course the beauty of written word is that it allows us to share my ideas with other people, and for them to share with me, but these ideas are inherently personal ideas. Since I write for myself, the sense I make is, at its core, for me.

As a result of my self-seeking orientation in writing, I like to pretend I don’t care about how I present myself as a writer or who my audience might be. But as much as I enjoy pretending, when I catch myself in a moment of pure honesty I can admit the importance with which I consider the image I present. I want my reader to connect with this image and find a piece of it in him or herself. I want my reader to question the world as I question the world, to be honest and sarcastic as I am honest and sarcastic, to reflect as I reflect. In order to establish this connection, I need to present myself as a writer in the most honest way I can: through brutally transparent reflection. In being honest, I have to acknowledge every part of who I am. I cannot hide the engineer, the Californian, the skeptic, the writer, the Christian, the sassy, loving, be-there-at-four-in-the-morning friend and be honest at the same time. By being honest, I can make sense of my world. By being honest, I can help my reader who might not be able to sympathize to at least empathize. By being honest, I can reach an audience of people willing to listen. Because I write for myself, my initial audience is just me. But when I expand that audience, it can include my peers, my family, or even people I haven’t met (and will never meet).

But I feel like all of this is more of a mission statement for my work as a whole. (I do tend to have a penchant for the melodramatic.) These are all ideas that I want to tie into all of my work, my ePortfolio included. I want my work to be distinctive, not falling over itself in an attempt to be cool and unique, but bearing the distinctive mark of my personality. A friend once described my style as “casual grace,” and this is the style I want to emulate in my ePortfolio. The look and feel I’m going for with this collection of work is a little bit Pacific Northwest hipster along with a taste of East Coast prep and a dash of California gurl. I want the ePortfolio to be accessible and interactive, since the best way to connect to reflection is also reflection. I definitely want the space to be a multimedia space, so my reader gets the chance to experience a taste of how my brain works: reading a phrase and thinking of song lyrics, conceiving an idea and tying it to movie scenes or memes, making connections right and left. If you haven’t gotten it yet, I’ll make it obnoxiously clear: I want to use my ePortfolio to make connections. At the end, that’s what it’s all about for me, and what I want to make it about for my audience.

Limited Options Make for Easy Choices

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Engineers hate writing. Well, most of us. Somehow I’m the odd one out when it comes to the generic engineer’s opinion of written word, which is what landed me in the Minor in Writing program in the first place. Unlike most of my peers, my options for this repurposing project are pretty limited. As an engineer, I’ve only taken one class in the University’s English department. As an engineer, most of my assignments have nothing to do with reading, writing, or editing and everything to do with process design, thermodynamics, or fluid flow. As an engineer, I panicked once I realized how limited my options are.

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But I really want to pull on something from the science-oriented part of my world and bring it into the writing-oriented part of my world for this project, which narrows those already-slim options down to only one option: my Introduction to Engineering freshman project. (I presented a few other weak ideas to my group, but more than anything I think the recommendation that I pursue this idea was a direct result of my disproportionate enthusiasm about it.) A course specifically targeted towards engineers deciding between Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, this introduction to the profession covered relevant material to these two fields and provided a comprehensive understanding of the engineering community’s culture and standards. Basically, the particular introductory course I chose to take taught me how to be an engineer and that I wanted to be a chemical one. (Over half of the class declared as Chemical Engineers the following semester. The reason? Our professor made the biomedical field seem so intimidating that we were all scared away. Now, when we’re bonding over the torture of thermodynamics, we reminisce about how silly we were to think the chemical path would be easier. But I digress.) The course centered on a team project focused on developing a presymptomatic diagnostic test for a particular disease. In my case, my dream team of four overachievers developed a nasopharyngeal swab test for pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough. The test was designed to target outbreaks in third world countries in order to protect infants, as they are most susceptible to deadly infections.

The piece I am going to repurpose is the crowning jewel of this team project: the final report detailing our research and presymptomatic test design. The report is a classic engineering report, thirty-two pages long, formatted extensively, and chock full of jargon, data, and references. Intended as a proposal for an imaginary biomedical company, the report’s target audience is the CEO, CTO, and manager of this company. I’d like to change the mode of this report to target a new audience: the decision-makers in organizations like Doctors Without Borders. While this is still a highly educated audience that would comprehend the nitty gritty jargon of the current report, I want to alter the focus of the piece by shifting the focus more on the target population of the diagnostic test, rather than the specific scientific details of the diagnostic test. This shift will appeal to my new audience’s mission: to bring medical aid to impoverished communities in third world countries. Essentially, I want to change the piece to focus on the humanitarian’s cause in challenging the recent upswing in outbreaks of whooping cough in underdeveloped areas of the world; if a few heartstrings are played in the process, I’ll be happy at the end of the day.

I Am Definitely A Reader

Throughout the development of my relationship with written word, reading and writing have always been inseparably linked. Growing up as an avid reader, every adult I encountered told me I would one day be a great writer. For the longest time, I only considered myself a reader and never imagined myself as a writer. That thought process shifted once I learned how to write for myself; nowadays I consider myself both a reader and a writer.  Yet despite the importance with which I now regard each action, my relationship with written is noticeably uneven, especially in the level of importance I give to and my emotional responses to either reading or writing. “Reading” is always the first on my list when a questionnaire asks for my hobbies, fondly looked on as a source of learning and growth. While I think of myself as a reader, I still have a much harder time considering myself a writer.

I think this has a lot to do with the idea Deborah Brandt presents in the seventh chapter of her book, Literacy and Learning: that reading is purposed with “being good” while writing is historically “a good.” I notice that in my relationship with written word, reading is consistently a cathartic process while writing is, more often than not, a chore. Only recently am I coming to understand the cathartic usefulness of writing, an understanding that is a direct result of being instructed in the subject.

Brandt notes the importance and benefits of writing instruction; one of her interviewees explains that writing “crystallizes you. It crystallizes your thought” (170). Receiving instruction in writing-specific classes is helping me consider myself as a writer. Brandt also notes the changing effects of writing, specifically in the workplace, and how writing can also be used for the purpose of “being good.” I notice that over the course of the development of my writing career, writing was usually a “good” to be exchanged with my professors for a grade. However, when writing is used as a method to bring moral good to a student rather than to require a good from him or her, writing becomes something I enjoy doing. The only way I can see this happening is if the grade exchange becomes unimportant to the writing process. As a result, I really enjoy the gamified structure of the writing minor program.

I think another reason I have a hard time considering myself a writer has to do with the fact that I don’t feel confident in writing on any subject other than myself. Ann M. Penrose and Cheryl Giesler raise this issue in their article “Reading and Writing without Authority;” they “argue for the role of rhetorical knowledge in the development of authority” (517). I identify with Janet’s struggle to “take authority” and in order to write with authority, I need to understand that “there is authority to spare” (517) in the literary conversations on every topic under the sun. Realizing that my voice is a part of these conversations will allow me to write with confidence and self-asserted authority on topics other than myself.