On Guidance

I’m having a little trouble with guidance. Because my interest are so interdisciplinary, it’s hard to find where and how I should fit into the current landscape. The thought of finding that spot in the crowd has been nerve wracking, but I met the amazing Bo Ruberg, a new professor in our department. They told me about their experience in graduate school being the only student looking at video games in their department. They gave me a great perspective. When I told Bo I was having trouble finding my spot, they said to think of it as an exciting new field and opportunity. Cling to the people that have the most similar interest and keep them in your back pocket whenever you can. Don’t be fearful about trying something that no one has tried before.

It was refreshing to get a new perspective on my issue. Over the course of the next few months, I am driving to actively find people that are most similar to my work to see if I can poke and prod them for advice, guidance, and support.

Smart Citizens, Smarter State

I finished reading Beth Novek’s book called Smart Citizen, Smarter State. Novek focuses on citizen engagement and calls for more expert-centric software to help government identify and utilize expertise outside of government to help with government decisions.

This book was a great representation of the lack of good software within government. Her examples of policies like FACA show how hard it is to use citizen engagement. Sometimes, it’s even illegal. In terms of my own research, she backs up the idea that government has limited technology and technology experts to make the systems that better the government.

The one thing that I think she needs to explore more is how that engagement would pan out, especially on a scale that she is trying to create. This is my internal conundrum with citizen communication to policymakers. Right now, it’s “broken”, but in what way? If you ask a policymaker how to fix it, the answer is probably quite different from the citizen’s answer. That’s because they embody different democratic values of engagement and influence.

Novek also focuses on citizen involvement in the knowledge collection, and not the decision making process. This goes along the lines of Churchill’s “Experts on Tap, Not on Top“.

This reflects an internal conundrum  I am exploring Ofcourse, policymakers should listen to what their citizens have to say. They have the constitutional right to do so, and their knowledge can provide assistance to those in power. But just because policymakers listen to the comments and demands of their citizens, does not mean they have to act upon them . So should novel technologies develop systems that have a goal to influence legislation?…Maybe not. Maybe the answer is as Novek suggested; to develop systems that provide quality knowledge to policymakers, so their own decisions can be based on rational evidence. (That possibility leads down a whole different rabbit hole of issues on what is ‘rational’… )

As of October 10, 2017, citizens are getting angry, and they want their policymakers to listen to them. But do they really have to? They were elected to represent, not listen. And they can choose not to listen at the risk of not being re-elected.

So as a technologist looking in, what are you suppose to do? Build something better? Is technology just in the way? It’s a hard question that I can’t answer. This doesn’t mean technology doesn’t have the positive potential to be a platform for engagement, but what’s the point of an expert management system if no one wants to engage in or use that expertise? 

At the end of the day, I have two internal tensions. First, I think Novek puts too much faith on the current state of the American people to actively participate. Citizens only get involved when they feel their government is failing, or at least that is my current perception with the state of our government today. That is why we established a government in the first place; to let someone represent us so we don’t have to make all the decisions ourselves. But second, I think she has a great point that citizens have something very valuable to offer policymakers and we should provide better access to their valuable knowledge. The question of how that knowledge will actually be used is still up in the air.

To Write About Yourself

 

“The first draft of anything is shit.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Writing and very often talking about yourself is hard. It’s even harder when it’s being evaluated by someone through the lens of a personal essay.

I am currently in the process of writing a draft for the NSF GRFP, and after reading about 20 previously accepted essays, I am still having trouble reflecting on how to make my own personal story “convincing”. I believe I have a strong statement to be made about why my research is important. But to convince the reviewers to support my work, I also need to convince them that I am a good researcher and I have the motivation and experience from my past to pursue said work.

So as a note to myself as I continue to write the first draft of this paper, here is what I should remember:

  • It’s gonna be crap the first time around
  • Just do it…not in an hour…now
  • Finish a draft on Sunday and send it to half of everyone you know
  • Finish another draft by next Sunday and send it to the other half
  • Don’t exaggerate but be BIG
  • Be confident
  • You can do it 🙂

Sam

Hello world!

Welcome to my new and improved blog!

I tried to keep a blog during my first year of my PhD, but I was overwhelmed with the immense amount of reading and writing for classes that I never got around to writing my own blog. Hopefully as I become more organized and disciplined as a grad student, I will force myself to write more often.

I’ve kept blogs in the past. My most recent blog was about my undergraduate study abroad experience in Japan. I also kept a video blog of my jaw surgery in high school, but I can no longer find it. It’s buried in the depths of all the other surgery vlogs on Youtube. 

This blog will (hopefully) focus on my experience in my PhD program. My goal is to use this blog as a way to practice my writing, explore thoughts in my mind, and develop my research ideas into print.

I’m just about to finish a summer in D.C. working with a non-profit who studies Congress during a CRAZY time in America’s political history. So I’m sure I will have a lot to talk about 🙂

Cheers –

Sam