Marc Muschler on being an INKE GRA

Posted by on Apr 24, 2014 in Blog, Modeling/Prototyping

[Submitted by Marc Muschler]

Over the course of the 2013-14 academic year, I have had the opportunity to participate in two multi participant voice chat via Skype with the other INKE Modeling & Prototyping team Graduate Research Assistants who are working on various projects across the country. Not only did these meetings provideRA’s with a unique opportunity to share their ongoing research with peers in a related field, they also highlighted one of the most challenging aspects of working in a field that relies on the convenience of the internet to function: communication.

INKE Meetings such as Whistler 2014 and major conferences like Congress aside, there are very few opportunities for INKE GRAs to meet other research assistants who are working on projects within INKE. Within the modeling and prototyping team alone there are upwards of a dozen GRA’s working with different professors from across the country. From the University of Victoria to University of Saskatchewan, all the way to Acadia University where I am located, there are Graduate Research Assistants workingnterrelated projects that I would not have known the details of without the benefit of Skype meetings. While this stands in testament to the power of the Internet as a method of communication and collaboration, it also raises questions regarding the necessity of maintaining these streams of communication between the various Modeling & Prototyping Teams. Is this communication at all necessary, or just an interesting way of uniting members of INKE? What are the benefits of maintaining channels of discourse between humanities graduate students, not only within the context of INKE, but also within the greater context of Canadian academia?

While Skype meetings are not the only way to communicate, they are certainly one of the most effective. By situating INKE GRAs within a conference call context, these kinds of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services add a degree of formality to the meeting which social media services such as Twitter and Facebook simply cannot offer. In doing so, the meetings are treated as such and thus offer very productive discourse relating to INKE’s current work. However, these virtual meetings are one of the most complicated events to set up, particularly because of the major fluctuations not only in the academic lives of GRAs, but in the time zone differences between the various universities. For instance, scheduling a meeting at 1:30pm EST really means that the meeting will be held at anywhere from 10:30am – 2:30pm depending on your location. This has a significant impact on planning because of various class schedules, internal group meetings, etc. which already take up a substantial amount of time. While this might seem like general information for anyone working within a nationally oriented structure, these scheduling complications were all new for me and several other GRAs. At the undergraduate level of scholarship which I’m most familiar with, the vast majority of meetings occur on an internal level within the respective institutions of the student: whether they are for an athletics association or an academic society, complications regarding time zones rarely surface in the planning of meetings as there is very little exchange between various universities departments outside of the occasional conference.

The reason I highlight this problem is because of the yearly turnover rate amongst Graduate Research Assistants. Ultimately, most graduate students (at the Master’s level) are working within a one or two-year program and even graduate and postgraduate researchers have not been consistent through INKE’s nearly-five years of operation. This means that if any channels of communication are established, they are inherently temporary situations because the people that established them are gone within a short timespan. Of course there exist methods of communication within the INKE infrastructure such as blog posts, the official twitter account, and the various meet ups every year which productively maintain some sense of community amongst the various teams throughout the country, but it is difficult to convey or elaborate upon the details of project updates solely through these channels.

The short timespan for which GRAs are employed by INKE raises another necessary question: is it even worth establishing a method of stable, relatively constant communication when GRAs work in such a temporary situation? Ultimately, I believe that the answer is, yes. Over the course of the two meetings I have attended in the past several months I have learned quite a bit about the other projects within the INKE Modeling & Prototyping team. Equally important, I learned more about the people behind the projects, which helps establish a community framework for the various GRAs that can be taken advantage of in future years. For instance, based on the information I have received about the various INKE projects at other universities, I think it would be incredibly productive to collaborate on a paper outlining the links that exist between these projects and how they contribute to INKE’s goals regarding digitized scholarly communication and the affordances and constraints of the electronic text. Many of the Graduate Research Assistants currently working for INKE are pursuing jobs and careers in the Digital Humanities field; INKE is the perfect opportunity for these students to network and form academic links which can contribute to the perpetuation and development of the Digital Humanities field at large. Establishing and maintaining channels of regular communication and exchange at the GRA level is the first step in creating a productive and long-lasting discourse between individuals in INKE and between INKE and the larger DH groups in Canada.

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