DailyAfirmation (dailyafirmation) wrote,

Dr. Brent Faber candidate day, an unsafe ride home on the Wolfline bus...

I worked at home today for IBM, taking a late lunch hour to attend a presentation on his research by Dr. Brent Faber of Clarkson University, who is the second (of three) candidates coming to campus this month to interview for an associate professor job opening in the Department of English.

He "read" the first 20 minutes or so of his presentation, which I found really off-putting, yet appreciated the organization of thought and succinctness that reading well-written material mediates.  Ambivalence.

The bottom line of his research is that he studied the progress of an organization dealing with a change event, by analyzing seven key e-mails sent out during the change.  He counted the ration of sentences to clauses in the communiques, and then hypothesized that where that ratio was at its highest (or lowest—one of those) was where things were most stable, and where it was at its lowest (or highest, if I have it backwards), things were the least stable. You get the gist.

He then went back and interviewed several people in the organization, and asked them at the time, that you read this e-mail, what was going on in the project.  What he found was the direct correlation he hypothesized: that when the ratio suggested stability, it was a time in the project when everyone thought it was going smoothly, progress was moving along nicely, and everyone was gung-ho. Likewise, when the ratio suggested instability, it was a time when the sh*t hit the fan on the project due to an unanticipated glitch. Interesting stuff.

I believe he talks about this research in his forthcoming book, Discourse, Technology, and Change.

During the Q&A part of his presentation, I asked him about a line in his introduction by Dr. Katz, "Dr. Faber is in the Communication & Media department, formerly the Department of Technical Communication, at Clarkson University." I asked him if he'd explain the context and purpose surrounding the name change, which he expounded on beautifully covering both the context and purpose elements of my question.

I attended a happy hour with him from 5-6 at Mitch's, where I, of course, asked him several questions, which are summarized behind the cut, along with my overall impression of this candidate, which I sent to the hiring committee.

Dr. Brent Faber: One Student’s Impressions
by John Martin, MS in Technical Communications Program

Research Presentation Comments

I was at first put off by this candidate. When he said, “I’m a writer more than an orator,” in preface to his reading of the introductory material associated with his research, my initial thought was, “I sure hope you’re not going to ‘read’ your lesson plan to us in a class.”

Though I thought what he “read” was succinct and critical to the understanding of the research he later just “talked” about, I still can’t help but wonder about that choice of style in delivering the prerequisite information.

With that said, I did find his research work fascinating, if not as compelling as the research work being done by Dr. Kim. And with that said, I believe that has to do with the fact that I am an ESFJ and not an ESTJ, and not at all to do with the quality of the research or its importance to people who value different things than I do.

Bottom line is that I think his work is more intellectually important than it is socially important, and I do feel that I understand the social implications of his work. And I realize he’s doing that "Societal impacts of nanoscale science & technology" work, too, but as he said himself at the presentation, it’s mostly because "NSF wants a social aspect to the project."

Social Hour Comments

At the social hour at Mitch’s, these were the main questions I asked Brent:

Q: During the Q&A today at your presentation, I asked you about the context and purpose of the name change of your department from “Department of Technical Communication” to “Department of Communication and Media.” The reason I asked about it was that our Master’s program is called the “Master of Science in Technical Communication.” Within that context, it was intriguing to listen to you enumerate all the things that are bad about “Technical Communication” as a name.

A: We had a little laugh about this, as he said, “Uh-oh,” but then articulated that he thought it might be more understandable around here with the large, technical companies we have in the area. I suggested that he save that backpedaling for the next social event on his agenda—dinner with the faculty. J

With that said, I did find his remarks about that choice of name interesting, and “ringing true.” I would like to see us consider renaming the Master’s program, for the same reason that we decided to create a PhD program called “Communications, Rhetoric, and Digital Media,” bringing in the Communications Department as opposed to just creating a PhD in “Technical Communications.”

Q: When you saw the ad for this job, what about it made you think, “Yes! That’s the job I want.”

A: Hmmm. I’d have to say one of the main drivers was that Carolyn Miller was involved in the program. I’d met her at a conference a while back, found her research topics fascinating, and after her presentation went up to her and told her that if there was ever an opening where she was teaching, I’d be interested in it. I also have a lot of respect for Jason Swarts, and working in the same school with him is attractive to me.

Discussion: We had lots of other discussion during the session, including but not limited to such topics as:

  • What celebrity he looks like
  • Does he think he’d experience “culture shock” moving here
  • What about his wife’s career
  • Our very active STC student chapter
  • The importance of being earnest (just kidding, that’s Oscar Wilde’s shtick)
He asked us a lot of questions, including but not limited to:

  • How do you guys like the program?
  • What brought you to the program, and how are you “going through it” (i.e., part-time, full-time, working in addition to going to school, etc.)?
  • What courses would you like to see added to the program?
  • Do you have a lot of interaction with other Master’s programs’ students?
  • Do the PhD and the Master’s students interact a lot?
  • Are there a lot of connections/interactions between the programs and the business community in the area?
To answer the “suggested” questions:

Q: My impressions of Brent as a teacher: In what ways would future students benefit from having classes with this person, both in terms of the content of courses he or she might teach and in terms of teaching style and strategies?

A: I thought the class he devised to look at technical industry-related genre was fascinating, and it gave me confidence that he could devise interesting and challenging courses.

Bottom line: I think he’s one of those professors whose class would be “a pain in the *ss” while in it, but in the end, one you’d feel very good about haven taken and done well in. (Not unlike a couple of our current professors’ classes. ***You did want us to be honest here, didn’t you?***)

Q: My impressions of Brent as a researcher: What contributions would he or she make to our graduate programs by directing student research and making connections to employers and other researchers?

A: I think his interest in linguistics might help to integrate that aspect of English into the Technical Communications program. I had the most frustrating experience in linguistics this semester, and in fact, gave my first totally negative feedback of a course since beginning the program—without a doubt, it was the worst course I’ve taken in my post-high school academic “career.”

As well, I think Brent’s interest in the area of nanotechnology is a very nice fit with the industry in this area.

My final comment about research is this: I’ll share a comment I made to Brent at Happy Hour. After having listened to both his research and Loel’s last week, it occurs to me that I have no idea what our own professors are doing in terms of research. I know we can read their Web sites, but that’s a “pull.”

I’d really like to see our MS faculty do a “poster session,” where they highlight one or two of their current research projects.

It seems to me that the rhetorical purpose of this might be tri-fold:

  1. The students would have more of an appreciation of how “busy” the professors are, in terms of the pressure on them to continue to do research.
  2. The students might find one (or more) professor’s research topics interesting enough to try and work with them in some way for independent study.
  3. The professors could get some feedback from the students in terms of whether or not the research they’re doing contributes toward “directing student research or making connections to employers and other researchers,” which is obviously something important to our program, since you’re asking us about it with regards to these candidates.

I rode the bus Wolfline bus home tonight, which resulted in my using the Wolfline Feedback Form to provide this "feedback":

Dear Sir or Madam:

I just rode the "Wolfline A" bus from the stop at Hillsborough St and Enterprise to the stop at the corners of Gorman and Avent Ferry (approximately 20 minutes, from about 8:40 until 9:00PM), and that entire ride the bus driver was speaking on the phone. I believe he had a Bluetooth device in his ear, as he was just "talking into the air."

He was an "animated" speaker, and several times he raised at least one hand in the air to gesture as he spoke, and one time, I believe he actually raised both hands to "make a point to his caller."

I realize there aren't laws against being on the cell phone while driving, but I can't help but think that NCSU would have some of its own guidelines, particularly when a driver is responsible for multiple lives on a bus. There were approximately 30 riders on the bus this evening.

I just didn't feel safe on that ride. I questioned the driver's attention to his main task at hand, and I questioned his ability to respond quickly should an emergency situation had arisen.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this observation.

John Martin
Tags: anecdotes, grad school, ibm

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