Looking back on 2011-2012 school year

22 Aug

Last year went very well, though not exactly as I predicted at its outset.

I took three classes a semester last year, up from the 2-per of the previous year. This meant that I dropped my activity in my law firm from about 2/3 time to about 1/2 time. That proved not to be a problem because we hired a bright new associate attorney in April 2011 who is glad to pick up the slack (partly because he knows he’ll ‘inherit’ most of my interest in the firm in a couple years).

After the first year of classes, which focused on courses required for my major program, it was nice to have a chance to focus on topics I find personally more interesting. In fall, I took Contemporary Rhetoric and Applied Research Methods (both required courses, and great foundations) but I also did an independent study with Prof. Serguei Pakhomov to learn methods for computational analysis of text. He’s a stickler for understanding inter-rater reliability, so I’m a bit more statistically informed than I was last year at this time. I’ll be using those methods for my dissertation project (I’ll post about that later). Dr. Pakhomov has agreed to be on my exam committee.

I also spent the fall working as a research assistant for Prof. Lee-Ann Breuch. She had collected a data sample in spring 2011, and I collaborated with her on developing a coding scheme and managing the work of two graduate-student coders. The first fruit of that effort is a book chapter:

Breuch, L.-A. K., & Larson, B. N. (Forthcoming). Research and Rhetorical Purpose: A Genre Analysis of Analytical Reports. In T. Serviss & S. Jamieson (Eds.), Researching Research: Expanding the Citation Project’s Methods and Insights. (Chapter proposal accepted; chapter in review.)

I’m looking forward to continuing this work with her in the coming year. Dr. Breuch has agreed to be on my exam committee.

In the spring, I took two PhD seminars in our department. One with Mary Schuster on “The Body as Text and Context in Law, Public Policy, and Medicine” and the other with Carol Berkenkotter titled “Emergent Genres in the Internet: Innovation, Evolution, and Genre Theory.” Rhetoric and the law and genre theory both figure into my research interests, and these two women are recognized leaders in those fields. Both of them have agreed to be on my prelim committee.

I also presented at the Conference on College Composition and Communication-Research Network Forum in St. Louis in March, on the topic that will likely be my dissertation: “Gender/genre: Gender differences in professional writing.” More on that in another post.

Finally, the year ended with two great pieces of news: I got accepted to attend the Lisbon Machine Learning School in July 2012 (which I attended and enjoyed a lot; maybe it will get a post, too); and I was awarded a $5000 summer grant by the College of Liberal Arts Graduate Research Partnership Program to work on my dissertation project over the summer. I used the money to support my collection of writing samples and demographic information from 200 first-year law students at two law schools (after clearing the research proposal with the U’s Institutional Review Board, of course). I used part of my summer to “anonymize” these data and prepare them for analysis.

I’ll post about the coming year soon.
-Brian

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