I moved to Dublin, Ireland to start a PhD at Trinity College Dublin. So stay tuned for more European travel adventures and posts about how I adjust to another culture.
So a PhD in what you might ask? What a good question!
My brother was really good at summarising the topic of my proposed research because, not only is he very intelligent, but he is a teacher and knows how to distil down complex concepts and explain them to people. My supervisors are also very good at describing my research because they’re fluent in their own academic languages. Talking about what I do for a living has never been simple.
My first degree was in psychology and everyone that I spoke to asked: “So are you psychoanalysing me right now?”
When I was in communications, people asked: “So what do you exactly? Talk to people?”
Now when people ask, “What are you studying?” I debated whether I should say that I’m in the Arts & Humanities or Computing Science as a shorter answer. But then there’s always the follow up question of what my topic is.
Three months later, I’m still not sure what to say because it’s a long story.
The short answer is “Digital Humanities”, which is still developing compared to other long-established areas of research. I’ve described it as a marriage between Arts and Humanities and Computing Science, but this very simplified equation doesn’t really do it.
What is digital humanities? There are several books with compiled papers written by several academics who are still trying to define it and it’s not generally recognised as it’s own discipline yet by most communities.
When one of my three co-supervisors asked me to explain what I wanted to research in three sentences, I definitely stumbled. The problem was I knew exactly what I wanted to study, but I didn’t yet have the academic vocabulary in each discipline to describe it. I did describe it in three sentences, but it was by no means eloquent.
After spending weeks reading other scholars’ works and words, the term that best describes want I’ll be studying is: multimodal interactive digital narratives. All the qualifiers are indeed important. Rettberg (2016) actually summarised my area of focus quite nicely when he wrote:
“Electronic literature is a field that explores the effects and affordances of computational devices and the network on literary practice, while the digital humanities is a broader area primary focused on research derived from digital methods within established areas of study in literature, history, and other humanistic disciplines” (p. 128).
Essentially I am studying digital narratives within a cultural context. My work will combine Arts & Humanities and Computing Science in an area that falls into Digital Humanities. I’m not sure when I will have the perfect elevator pitch or a short answer to describe my work, but I’m still figuring it out so I feel like it’s ok that I don’t have the perfect answer at this stage in my PhD, but it will soon come.
Do you have a difficult job or area of study to describe? What’s your tactic for answering the question “so what do you do”?