Monday, May 28, 2012

A Big Girl Sociologist

When I wrote the Vanderbilt College of Arts and Science's summer research grant application I thought that there would be no way I would be selected as one of the award recipients.  I took less than 2 weeks to write the grant, had only a loose plan of action, and gave my letter writers short notice.  (Hmmm, should I be revealing this information???)  I thought that the grant would be an exercise in organizing my thoughts for a dissertation proposal that is soon to come.  I thought that this application would be something of a test of my research design abilities.

As the weeks wore on after I submitted the grant, I started to get my hopes up.  It wasn't until those weeks that followed the submission that I really start to want, to desperately want, to start the data collection in DC for this project on Deaf culture and identity.  Allowing myself to want this was hard to do.  Making this decision meant turning my back on the last 3 years of my graduate preparation.  It meant putting the SNAAP project and team that I grown to admire and appreciate dearly on the back burner. In the chair of my department's words: SNAAP would become "my side hustle." Choosing the route to study Deaf culture in DC meant not following the career path I had laid for myself starting in my first semester at Vanderbilt. It meant learning an entirely new body of literature and finding new/additional faculty support.  It meant having to come out from behind my computer screen and study real people, not lines of survey responses.  It meant putting faith in my sign abilities (or lack thereof).  It meant moving from my home in Nashville, from my friends, from my comfort zone, to a city I have only visited a handful of times.  It meant being a big girl sociologist, and it was scary.

My fears became all the more encompassing when I got the email on Friday, April 13th (yeah, that wasn't lost on me either): "It is my pleasure to inform you that the College of Arts and Science has selected you as one of the 2012 Summer Research Award recipients."  I remember screaming, shaking, and tearing up.  Moments later an overwhelming sense of doubt in myself and in my abilities as a researcher came over me:  "Am I ready to do this?  Aren't I still a baby sociologist?  Dissertation data collection?!?!?!  No! No! No!  I just got to grad school, I'm not prepared for this."  In true Carly fashion, I buried my head in the sand and all but ignored the news as I worked to wrap up the end of the semester final papers and complete my first comprehensive exam.

After the papers and exam were complete I lifted my head out of the sand and did the only thing that I know how to do: schedule meetings.   I had fantasized that in these meetings faculty would help me plan my entree into the field and develop strategies for hiding behind my sociological monocle: they would give me instructions on how to best carry stacks of  fieldnotes and analyze every action I encountered.  Surely, these mentors would help me write a interview guide that I could enact "FBI style": questioning participants who would find their ways through a dark hallway into a room lit with one hanging greenish light that would swing above my head as I asked them: "where were you the night of the DPN protest?" Oddly enough, that's not what happened in these meetings.  Thankfully, my mentors and friends (whose talents, generosity, and support will be the subject of an upcoming blog) reminded me that I am not carrying a badge. As an ethnographer entering the field for the first time they assured me I can "sit anywhere on the bus"--I can make friends and contacts with all different groups within the Deaf community without fear.  I was reminded that "everything is data" and that I can take this summer to live in the community, attend events, and have fun exploring the many avenues for research, and that would be enough.  After these meetings I decided to put my metaphorical FBI badge away and go to DC with the plan to meet Gallaudet faculty,  take two ASL refresher courses, attend Deaf festivals, plays, and other cultural events, and take photographs of everything I can fit in the frame of my camera lens.

Being in closer proximity to my beloved Sarah Jane Glynn and Ashley Archer (two departed Vanderbilt grad students and some of the best women I know),  my Aunt Lauri, and cousin Serena are just a few added benefits of the adventures in DC that I will surely encounter this summer.  I'm ready.  Bring it, DC!

Today marks 19 days until I load the Cobalt and hit the road for DC.  Today, I am excited.  Today, I am confident.  Today, I am ready to put my big girl sociologist pants on and start the biggest research adventure of my life.  Today, I am impatiently waiting for the next 19 days to pass.


  1. Carly, I am so excited for you! I cannot imagine doing something this scary and you write about it so poetically that one cannot help but feel your excitement, too! I will miss you this summer but what an amazing experience! I am always in awe of what you accomplish - not because I think you can't, but because it's so awesome to watch/hear you actually DOING it! Good luck! - Kirsten :)

    1. Thank you, Kirsten! I will be in California THIS week for a brief respite before the journey begins. Make sure I get to see you!