Summer Update: Adulting isn’t terrible

I had meant to write this yesterday on the first of July because #symbolism but I should have known that I wouldn’t actually get around to it exactly when I had planned to, which has become a theme of this summer. I’ve been learning that sometimes (often? always?) things don’t quite turn out like I had imagined them. I wanted to write about how my summer has been going, as I tend to work through things when I get a chance to just free-write about them but also for the dozens of people that have asked how I’m doing and received a “Good! Things are really busy but like good overall ya know!!” text. Sorry for being The Worst at actually getting back to you with a lengthy response. Please accept this mid-afternoon stream of consciousness mess as a token of how much I love each and every one of you who has checked in on me.

As you might already know, I am spending another summer at Harvard doing research. That is pretty vague though, so I wanted to actually explain a bit what I’m working on. I got matched up with Professor Rebecca Lemov in the History of Science department this year, due to our shared interests in the history and social dimensions of data. More specifically, I am working on an independent project that has two major components – or maybe three but for now I’m pretending it’s just two. I am examining the Hawthorne Works project (which was a massive mid-20th century social science research study on the female workers of the Hawthorne Works factory located just outside Chicago). I’m interested in this study because it is one of the earliest and most robust examples of what Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier refer to as “datafication” or the process of quantifying phenomena so that it can be analyzed and tabulated. What does it mean to turn subjective experiences into data? How does that process actually happen? What implications does this moment in history have for “big data” today? Hopefully I’ll have some answers to these questions by the end of the summer. My day-to-day consists of me spending the morning in the archives at the Harvard Business School where they have the original interview transcripts and other materials from this study as it was conducted by Harvard researchers in the 1930s-1940s. When I’m not in the archives, I can usually be found eating snacks and paging through all my notes that I took trying to figure out what the “Relay Room Girls” were thinking during this whole experience. The other portion of my project involves me reading the aforementioned historical work against a much more recent example of an interaction between big data and gender, namely Facebook’s dealings with gender and authentic identity. I’m really interested in the process of gender becoming data, and how that data is then used. This project is a lot of fun for me as I get to combine different aspects of my academic background (queer theory, history/sociology of technology, and media studies to name a few) and pretty much just see what I end up writing. I don’t make much of a delineation between scholarly work and creative writing, I feel like they tug at the same intellectual muscles ya know?

I am also applying for a Fulbright student research grant! Or at least, I’ve made an account on the website and started writing a skeleton of a Statement of Purpose. To be honest, it has been really difficult to work through some pretty strong bouts of Imposter Syndrome, but I think I’ve gotten through the worst of it. I just try to let myself write non-judgmentally and I’ll worry about editing it later. In some ways, I think it’s good that I care so much about it, hopefully that comes through in my application when I’m all done. The current post-grad plan is to do research on the internet and video games in Montréal via the Fulbright for a year or so, and then apply to PhD programs in the nearish future. But of course, ten-thousand other things could also happen, I’m not worrying about it too much.

Outside of research work, I’ve been enjoying summer in Boston! I have a few friends here and my research cohort are all fun people to hang out with. I want to make a trip (or three) to the Museum of Fine Arts soon, and probably also the Museum of Science downtown. Oh and I want to eat more Italian food in North End. And try some seafood things too. And eat more baked goods. Basically I just want to try all the things. But that’s kind of my default state, isn’t it?

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