Spotlight on Undergraduate Authors: Mary Baker

Mary Baker is a first year graduate student studying Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois. As an undergraduate, Mary published an article in Re:Search: the Undergraduate Literary Criticism Journal at the University of Illinois. Mary recently talked to the Scholarly Commons about her experience during the research and publication process and how publishing her work has helped her after graduation.

Mary at work in the Social Sciences, Health, and Education Library

Mary at work in the Social Sciences, Health, and                             Education Library

What was your undergraduate area of study? What are you doing now?

I was an English major and Business minor at UIUC. I was an English Honors student which meant that I took some advanced level English classes and wrote an Honors Thesis. My experience as an honors student actually led to me library science in a roundabout way—I was writing 20 page + papers each semester and using library resources more and more and I realized that my favorite part of the writing process was researching and interacting with librarians. I am now a first-semester GSLIS (Graduate School of Library and Information Science) student! I like it a lot so far although I’m still trying my best to manage my time effectively—I think I underestimated the transition I was making from undergrad to grad school since I went here for undergrad. I am a GA at the Social, Sciences, Health and Education library—I work at the info desk and enter reference statistics online.

What was the process of researching and writing this paper like?

I have a long academic history with the article I published. My original idea was prompted by an English class called “Narratives of Passing” taught by Professor Siobhan Somerville. This course was about the history of passing in the United States (passing as in hiding or covering a racial, sexual, or gender identity to avoid discrimination) and passing narratives in books and film. I wrote a paper about passing in Mad Men for this class my junior year, but I found that I had so much more I wanted to explore by the time I was finished with it. When it came time to submit a proposal for my thesis I used my initial paper as a jumping off point but also added more questions/perspectives I wanted to explore. This was also around the time when Re:Search was starting so I submitted my thesis proposal to the journal as well.

I definitely used library resources a lot for this paper. The most important resource by far was Mad men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style, and the 1960s a book of Mad Men criticism edited by UIUC faculty. It was really cool that I got to join in this dialog with my paper and I was lucky enough to have the editors (Lauren Goodlad and Lilya Kaganovsky) on the reading committee for my thesis. I also used online library catalog a lot to find articles and books that were cited in essays that I found especially helpful.

What kind of feedback did you receive during the peer review or editing process? Do you feel that helped your writing?

I had a really great experience writing the paper because I had a thorough peer- editing process. I met with my faculty advisor nearly once a week (my advisor was Siobhan Somerville) and she was such a helpful and supportive source for me—we made a detailed timeline and I had a new draft for her feedback once every two weeks. I also took advantage of some of the peer-editing roundtables held by Re:Search, where the authors and board members updated each other on their writing and editing processes and we were able to give each other feedback and suggestions.

Has publishing your paper helped you in your coursework? What about in other areas?

Publishing my paper definitely gave me thicker skin as a writer and made me realize how much work goes into publishing an article. Even though my paper was about 20 pages I honestly think I wrote and reworked around 50+ pages of initial material. The hardest part was letting go of the pages that didn’t work anymore because it felt like I was back at square one a lot of the times but in the long-run this editing made the final product so much more cohesive. I have a way easier time drafting because I know how much time and effort goes into a final draft—I’m more likely to take my time with an assignment or paper now then I was a few years ago.

Do you have any advice for students who may be interested in publishing their work but not know where start?

Don’t be afraid to research and write about your passions even if they don’t seem to be the most “scholarly”. I would never write an article about Chaucer or Shakespeare (no offense to those scholars) because that’s not for me but I could write dozens of pages about my favorite television shows. In undergrad I found a way to write about Homeland, The Newsroom, Mad Men, and The Daily Show and more. My professors were all very receptive to my ideas because I was passionate about them.

Read Mary’s paper “Indecent Proposals: A Historical Reading of Sexual Politics in Mad Men in the Spring 2014 issue of Re:Search.