Methodology and Bootstrapping Intellectual Practice

Continuing from the discussion regarding intellectual practice, I've been talking with a number of people (my father in particular) about graduate school and the prospect of "bootstrapping" a scholarly practice using "new media," like blogging, and wiki making. I want to explore both my thoughts graduate school and bootstrapping with new media, and as you'd expect both of these ideas are rather intertwined. My initial gloss follows:

Bootstrapping for Success

The "new media," even 10 or more years on, is still quite new. The media shift and technological changes have had a pretty clear impact on economic and industry practices. At the same time, reading, participation, and writing are still in flux. People say, "oh look, blogging and wikis; we can use this as a teaching and learning tool!" and then there are classes, tools, and software to integrate blogging into courses and learning management systems, but the media itself is still in flux and I'm not sure that anyone has blogging and wikis (as an example) figured out.

While the changes in new media are important, the changes to education itself is probably more important. Educators of all kinds have begun to take this we begin to think about the was that traditional education has changed and will change. Given new media, a changing job market, and the shifting economics of education it's hard to think that education isn't changing.

I'm not sure it's changing that much.

There are cases of successful auto-didacts, and people who've been able acheive success

I'd love to be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure that the only people who blog/wiki and have found real success in fields are people with some other more conventional route to success: people who are already successful and figure out how to use new media, people who have conventional training or have achieved success in traditional media and then moved to using blogs:

Some examples: Cory Doctorow began publishing fiction conventionally and doing freelance work for Weird magazine, and became a blogger and used that to multiply existing success. John Scalzi (and Tobias Buckell) published non-fiction and had successful professional writing careers before beginning to blog and write and publish fiction. The Valve is a successful academic blog/publication/forum, but as near as I can tell all of the contributors have traditional literary training, and all/most have academic postings. Bitch, Ph.D. has/had a formal background.

Samuel Delany doesn't have formal training but has had a scholarly career, and while his is an inspiring story there's not much that's reproducible from it given some historical constraints: he started publishing before the demise of SF pulp magazines and Ace Double, because creative writing hadn't been established when he entered the academy, etc.

I'm certainly willing to believe that my sample is skewed, and that people have been able to move in the other direction (from online success to conventional success, or been able to bootstrap their own success online,) but I can't think of a single anecdote. I'd love to be proved wrong here.

Disciplining and Formal Education

I think that working as a technical writer is something to which I am very suited, something that provides a great deal of value, gives me access to the kinds of people that I'm interested in talking with (software developers, admins.) And writing experience and skill is largely fungible, so the skill I'm honing and developing is very transferable.

So, while I'm not opposed to doing academic work eventually, I'm pretty sure that no matter what kind of industry work I end up doing (product management, community management/organization, training, etc.) I'll sill basically be a technical writer. And here's the thing, if graduate school has no effect on my career except dominating my time and earning potential for a few years? It becomes very difficult to justify.

The equation that keeps going through my head is: two job searches within a few years years [1] and a hundred thousand dollars or more, [2] for what amounts to a personal betterment project. It's not getting any easier to justify.

Here's the catch: I'm a decent writer and I'm getting better all the time can I write or help people write books, articles, essays, stories, and a whole host of more specific forms. I'm not really sure that I could write a quality academic paper without an unreasonable amount of effort. I don't know the process, I don't know how to start, which literature to look at for resources, or for models, I'm not sure where the line between concision and complexity is in academic prose, and so forth. That's the kind of knowledge that I'm certain I could get out of graduate education. And perhaps I've been a technical writer for too long, but I think not being able to "write like a scholar" makes it hard to participate in scholarly discussions.

The Remains of the Practice

I'm not sure where this leaves me. I'm thinking about seeing if I can take a seminar and a methods class at CUNY in the next year I might be able to get what I need. The right collaborative project might be a good way to build the required skills, but that's even more complicated. As far as using the blog/wiki to build and participate in a conversation about new media practices, collaboration, and digital labor practices... there is much work left to be done.

[1]i.e. getting into graduate school, getting a post-graduate school job.
[2]the 100k number is mostly opportunity costs, and assumes a funded/cheap 2 year masters program.
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