Introducing Matthew Pitchford, Scholarly Commons Intern

Matthew Pitchford, Scholarly Commons Intern

This latest installment of our series of interviews with Scholarly Commons experts and affiliates features Matthew Pitchford, Scholarly Commons Intern. Matt started working at the Scholarly Commons in August 2017.


What is your background education and work experience?

I would call myself a rhetorician. I earned my Bachelor’s degree from Willamette University in Oregon before coming to U of I for my Master’s in Communication, which I received in 2014. I am currently working toward my PhD in Communication. I’ve taught introduction to public speaking and writing, argumentation, and communicating public policy. The courses I teach tend to focus on thinking about how rhetoric intersects with contemporary political discourse and how people use rhetoric to make arguments in that arena.

What led you to this field?

My interest in communication began back in high school in Washington State, where I competed in speech and debate. I also worked for a few college newspapers, where I discovered I was interested in political communications. When I entered college I originally set out to be political science major, but I quickly realized that the ways of thinking about political communication in the field of rhetoric interested me more.

What is your research agenda?

I study the rhetoric of digital spaces. I’m interested in what changes and what stays the same when we start to think about rhetorical theories in the context of new media and social media. How should our theories change when we think about rhetoric in a digital space? My research here at the Scholarly Commons is about Twitter responses to terrorist events. Some of the questions I’m asking are: How do people on Twitter talk about these events? What are the political communities they’re imagining when they speak about these events? What are the ways of articulating one’s political views in this context?

Do you have any favorite work-related duties?

My favorite work-related duty is talking to the subject specialists at Scholarly Commons. It’s fun to gain insight and new ways of seeing my research by discussing the problems I’m facing to my colleagues. They’re a great resource because their diversity helps me conceptualize my research in new ways.

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend to researchers?

Savvy Researcher Workshops. The workshops for some of the more obscure topics aren’t heavily attended, but they helped me get a gauge on how other people were working on their projects and showed me what tools I should be using.

If you could recommend only one book to beginning researchers in your field, what would you recommend?

I’m cheating and choosing two books, one for rhetoric and one for digital humanities. For rhetoric I’d recommend Still Life with Rhetoric by Laurie Gries. It’s about the digital circulation of images and represents a way of thinking about distributed rhetorical activity in digital contexts. And for digital humanities I’d recommend Reading Machines: Toward an Algorithmic Criticism by Stephen Ramsay. It makes a broader call for “algorithmic criticism” that uses computation as a productive constraint under which humanistic inquiry can take place.

Want to get in touch with Matthew? Send him an email or come visit him at the Scholarly Commons!

Meet Merinda Hensley, Digital Scholarship Liaison and Instruction Librarian

This post is part of our series profiling the expertise housed in the Scholarly Commons and our affiliate units in the University Library. Today we are featuring Merinda Hensley, Associate Professor and Digital Scholarship Liaison and Instruction Librarian.


What is your background education and work experience?

I got my BA in Political Science and Environmental Policy from the University of Arizona. I always thought I would work in DC for a non-profit or for the government but when we moved to Illinois in 1999 I decided to volunteer for AmeriCorps instead. As a volunteer, I administered a local rental assistance program. That was a really tough job, helping fill out paperwork for people that needed money to make a rent payment. I learned that while I thought I wanted to be on the front lines of social work, it was too easy for me to get attached to people’s situations. After I had my daughter, I decided to apply for a position at the Champaign Public Library. At the time I was also taking a course at the iSchool to see if librarianship was right for me. That was an easy decision! I kept my position at CPL until I was offered a graduate assistantship in the Education and Social Science Library. To round out an already very busy schedule, I was also offered a position working with the Information Literacy and Instruction Coordinator, which ended up being serendipitous because I never thought of myself as a teacher.

What led you to this field?

Since I was a child I knew I wanted to contribute to society in a way that would help make the world a better place. Until I found librarianship that always felt cliche and too big to be real for me. As an AmeriCorps volunteer, I was reminded how energetic I feel when guiding someone through a real world problem. I come from a family of teachers – my mom was a high school math teacher and my nana was a first grade reading teacher. Being a “traditional” teacher never resonated with me and in fact, I’ve sworn more than once I would never be a teacher. It turns out my view of teaching was short sighted and one dimensional. In library school I learned about information literacy and I immediately saw the potential in empowering students and faculty to learn how to use and find and create information.

What is your research agenda?

I am focused on developing effective ways to teach students critical thinking skills that translate into a lifelong ability in finding, evaluating, using, sharing, and creating information. As an instruction librarian, I investigate emerging methodologies for how librarians can extend our information literacy mission into new areas, especially the factors that influence the decisions students make as creators of new knowledge. I also work with my colleagues to design best practices that assist students at all levels in understanding scholarly communication, a process through which scholarly work is created, evaluated by the academic community, disseminated through presentations and writings, and perhaps most importantly, preserved for future use. My research contributes new discoveries to teaching and learning for librarianship, and enhancing how libraries support students as they identify as scholars including preparing academic librarians to lead this transition.

Do you have any favorite work-related duties?

My favorite part of my job is when a student has an a-ha moment while I am teaching. Students have a hard time hiding when they are excited and that makes me extraordinarily fulfilled.

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend to researchers?

I think it’s really important for undergraduate students to learn about the value of institutional repositories. Ours is called IDEALS and anyone affiliated with the university can submit their research (including conference posters or PowerPoint slides!) for archiving and a permanent URL for their resume. For the past year, I’ve been working on a project that will collect undergraduate theses and capstone projects into IDEALS from across all disciplines. In addition to keeping a record of the research students have engaged in at Illinois, it also provides future students the opportunity to pick up research questions where previous research left off.

If you could recommend only one book to beginning researchers in your field, what would you recommend?

The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer.

Interested in contacting Merinda? You can email her at mhensle1@illinois.edu, or set up a consultation request through the Scholarly Commons website.

Meet Eleanor Dickson, the Visiting HathiTrust Digital Humanities Specialist

Photo of Eleanor Dickson

This latest installment in our series of interviews with Scholarly Commons experts and affiliates features Eleanor Dickson, the Visiting HathiTrust Research Center Digital Humanities Specialist.


What is your background education and work experience? What led you to this field?

I have a B.A. in English and History with a minor in Italian studies. As an undergraduate I worked at a library which was a really fun experience. I also took an archival research trip to Florida for my undergraduate thesis research and realized I wanted to do what the archivist was doing. I have a Masters in Science in Information Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, and completed a postgraduate fellowship at the university archives / Emory Center for Digital Scholarship. And now I’m here!

What is your research agenda?

I research scholarly practice in humanities and digital scholarship, specifically digital humanities with a focus on the needs and practices in large scale text analysis.I also sometimes help with the development of train the trainer curriculum for librarians so librarians can be better equipped with the skills needed to teach patrons about their options when it comes to digital scholarship.

Do you have any favorite work-related duties?

My favorite work-related duties are talking to researchers and hearing about what they are up to. I am fascinated by the different processes, methods, and resources they’re using. With HathiTrust I get to talk to researchers across the country about text analysis projects.

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend to researchers?

I wish more people came to the Digital Humanities Savvy Researcher workshops. If people have suggestions for what they want to see PLEASE LET US KNOW.

(To see what Savvy Researcher workshops might tickle your fancy click here to check out our complete workshop calendar.)

If you could recommend only one book to beginning researchers in your field, what would you recommend?

Debates in Digital Humanities, which is an open access book available free online!

Need assistance with a Digital Humanities project? E-mail Eleanor Dickson or the Scholarly Commons.

Meet Elizabeth Wickes, Data Curation Specialist

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Elizabeth with a rebuilt and functional Colossus computer at the British National Museum of Computing.

This post is the third in our series profiling the expertise housed in the Scholarly Commons and our affiliate units in the University Library. Today we are featuring Elizabeth Wickes, Data Curation Specialist.


What is your background education and work experience?

I started in psychology and then moved to sociology. I also have a secretarial certificate and I use that training a lot! I worked at Wolfram Research as a Project Manager and then Curation Manager before I started library school.

What led you to this field?

Data curation just finds you. It’s a path where people with certain interests find themselves in.

What is your research agenda?

I’m exploring new and innovative ways to teach data management skills, especially computational research skills that normalize and practice defensive data management skills.

Do you have any favorite work-related duties?

My favorite thing to do is leading workshops and teaching. I really love listening to people’s research and helping them do it better. It’s great hearing about lots of different fields of research. It’s really important to me that I’m not stuck in a single college or field, that we’re a resource for the whole university.

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend to researchers?

I think consultation services in library are underutilized, including consultation for personalized data management.

If you could recommend only one book to beginning researchers in your field, what would you recommend?

Where Wizards Stay Up Late by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon. It’s a book all librarians should read, and it would be great for undergraduate reading, too. It’s the history of how the internet was born, explained through biographies of the key players. The book also covers the social and political situation at the time which was really interesting. It’s fascinating that this part of the world (the internet, data curation, etc.) was developed by people who were in college before this was a major or a field of study.

There are a lot of statistics out there about how much data we are producing now: For example: “Data production will be 44 times greater in 2020 than it was in 2009” and “More data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race”… How do you feel about the increase in big data?

Excited. When people ask me “What is big data?” I tell them that there’s a technological answer and a philosophical answer. The philosophical answer is that we no longer have to have a sampling strategy because we can get it all. We can just look at everything. From a data curation and organizational perspective it’s terrifying because there’s so much of it, but exciting.


To learn more about Research Data Service, you can visit their website. Elizabeth also holds Data Help Desk Drop-In Hours in the Scholarly Commons, every Tuesday from about 3:15-5 pm. To get in touch with Elizabeth, you can reach her by email.