The Goals (or so I thought…)
I came to the UVa Scholars’ Lab to learn about the digital humanities and leave with a new set of tools under my academic belt, ready to implement my own digital project, and apply for a competitive position. I have to confess; I had a short-term goal: develop a new tool and done. In-and-out. I’d build my technological capabilities and be able to participate in the digital world I had always been intimidated by. Thanks to the leaders and participants of the Lab, the shadowing experience made me want to learn more. I did not realize I’d be hooked, instead, on trying to answer the complex questions that surround the creation of responsible digital projects: Are these projects including or excluding voices? How can we de-colonize the digital landscape? As a Latina scholar, what could be my role in this digital world?.
The Job Post (and Stressaline!)
Another confession: I had wanted to come to the Scholars’ Lab in the past but did not due to various reasons such as teaching and classes and comprehensive exams, ya da, ya da. In candor, what brought me to the Scholars’ Lab was the approaching imminent job market. One morning, the perfect job post popped into my inbox. It ticked all the boxes: the goals of the program, the community focus, their projects, and the city in which it was located. Imposter syndrome and stress now transformed into lasers of adrenaline (Stressaline!) and I envisioned myself already there.
I got excited. I re-read the description. I got even more excited. And then, I panicked. I saw an area in which I had no expertise in: the vast world of DH.
As a graduate student, I am used to feelings of imposter syndrome fear of rejection, and general inadequacy. I have learned in conversations with incredibly successful academics, friends, and colleagues that these feelings come with the territory. I am also aware that, as a woman, I probably tend to not take as many chances as men do. I tore away at each reason that was keeping me from applying: PhD by the start date? Check. Area of Specialization? Check. But Stressaline knocked away the pillars of confidence trembled into a cranial earthquake. Once the tectonic plates of my mind subdued, a voice in my brain yelled, triumphantly, “To the Scholars’ Lab.”
To the Scholars’ Lab!
I had heard about the Scholars’ Lab focus on students’ professional development. A quick visit to their website and I saw free, shadowing opportunities. “Ok,” I thought, “let’s try this, I’ll have a one-time meeting with someone who will point me in the right direction.” after all, it was almost winter break so who would be able to (or even want) to have a long meeting with a random graduate student they don’t know? Correct Answer: “The Scholars’ Lab?”
I sent an introductory email on a Saturday and by the end of the week, Dr. Brandon Walsh, the Head of the Student Program at the Lab, had
- already met with me and written many back and forth emails,
- shared a list of helpful digital projects to look at,
- sent me funding application opportunities to attend the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI), and
- set up a two-day schedule for my first DH shadowing experience the following week.
I was taken aback by Brandon and Dr. Amanda Visconti’s (Managing Director of the Lab) willingness to take a walk-in stranger. I could be a slacker! I could be wasting their time! But I had not taken to heart what the Lab’s Charter states: “We Welcome Everyone” and “We Encourage Tinkering and Experimentation.” And they mean it.
My DH Shadowing Experience
Brandon tailored the schedule and the subjects to my interests and professional goals. Firstly, to help me understand DH, he provided a crash course in several one-on-one meetings and foregrounded these with a list of existing projects. For example, given my interest in Latinx and Cultural Studies, Brandon pointed me to Postcolonial Digital Humanities. Since I am a teacher, he showed me projects such as Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities that would showcase how I can responsibly include DH in my own classroom. Through Brandon’s take on DH – which includes the public humanities – it dawned on me that I actually had previous experience with DH. I had been developing a podcast as a member of the Religion, Race, and Democracy Lab at UVa and realized that public facing work was one of the many aspects that DH has to offer and that I loved. I had some experience in the DH all along. Stressaline, you almost had me!
Furthermore, theory, Brandon said, is great but you should also know what the days are like in the Lab workplace. He made sure I understood what his daily schedule is like: a viewing of his calendar showed me his daily meetings, blocked out time to email, and other events he attended. Aside from understanding the day-to-day work, the Lab provided me with hands-on opportunities to learn about digital languages.
- I was able to sit in on an HTML/CSS workshop.
- I attended a meeting of this year’s Praxis cohort to see them in action (thank you again, Praxis group!) and how the group developed the mission statement of their current project.
- I learned what Brandon’s role is as supervisors of the Praxis group.
- I observed how Brandon and Amanda tackled any logistical or organizational matters in developing a project for the next Praxis group and the to-do’s of the week.
The last event of the shadowing experience was an overview of the Lab’s blogging activities, “A year of blogging,” with several members of the Lab staff: Professor Alison Booth, Academic Director; Ammon Shepherd, Manager of the Scholars’ Lab Makerspace and Lead Research Technologist, Drew MacQueen, GIS Specialist, Amanda, and Brandon. Alderman 423 was filled with a balance of seriousness and laughter. I could not help but notice the Lab’s staff own sense of community, accountability, and intention on centering their projects around the Charlottesville community. Post-winter break, Brandon and I met again and he walked me through the resources to continue accessing the diverse DH public workshops available throughout this semester.
I never thought I would get the extensive time, honesty, and personalized efforts that the Scholars’ Lab has provided. Even if I do not get the job (fingers crossed! And my fingers are crossed for all you-imposter-syndrome ridden early career academics out there!), the perfect job posting has already provided me with the perfect opportunity to
- engage with the Lab’s dedicated group of people,
- start developing a necessary long-term skillset,
- uncover an existing interest in the digital humanities, and
- understand the necessary community-focus of DH.
Although my professional shadowing is technically over, the Scholars’ Lab’s range of open events and workshops will continue to develop my expertise in DH. And maybe, even help conquer Stressaline.
A special thanks to the Scholars’ Lab for this opportunity and to all of the people who not only let a stranger come in observe them but engaged in conversations with me about DH.