SAA @ UCLA presents “UCLA Information Studies: Fields of Endeavor.” The Fields of Endeavor series introduces UCLA Library and Information Studies program graduates and current interns who are out in the field taking knowledge learned in the program and putting it to use! We are pleased to feature UCLA IS PhD candidate, Roderic Crooks.
Name: Roderic Crooks
Graduation Year: 2011
MLIS Focus: Informatics
PhD Anticipated Graduation Year: 2015
Area of Research: I study with Professor Blanchette. I’ve been working mainly on ideas around social media and mobile computing. I also look at privacy, participation, record-keeping personal digital archiving, and community archives. Like most of the doctoral students in IS, I have a main focus that I’m working through and then a few other projects that may or may not turn out to be related.
What led you to pursue a higher degree with the UCLA IS Department?
I taught English for a few years, mostly in community colleges, mostly in New York City. I loved teaching, but being relatively low on the academic totem pole, I didn’t feel like I had much control over what I was teaching. I often felt I was being helpful to students in spite of the curriculum, when I was helpful at all. I met a few really active librarians who showed me ways to encourage intellectual independence and curiosity in students and I realized I wanted to put my efforts into research and into institutions like the library. The thing that drew me to UCLA was the explicit commitment to social justice.
Describe your daily schedule:
It varies wildly. The hardest part of being a doctoral student is that your time, energy, and concentration are pulled in many incommensurable directions at once. In a given week I go to classes, read, work on publications, prepare for qualifying exams (mostly by reading), work at my job on campus, maybe grade papers if I’m a reader that quarter, meet with my advisor, meet with other people for research projects, do desk research, and try to complete administrative work related to the department. Also, go back through that sentence and insert the word “read” in between each list item. We do a lot of reading in this program.
What projects/job are you currently involved with?
I do research with Professor Chris Kelty’s Participation Lab, a.k.a. Part.Public.Part.Lab (http://recursivepublic.net/). We’re looking at participation on the Internet, open source culture, and social theory. The main idea is that participation has become a huge buzzword and has taken on a lot of meanings, most all of which carry some kind of democratic or positive valence. Commercial, open source, and citizen science organizations all make claims about why participating in them is a good thing, but participation in each presents radically different demands and rewards. We’re trying to figure out how we might meaningfully differentiate among the different claims about the value of participation and come up with ways to think about the conditions under which participation is desirable.
I also work for the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. They do empirical research on segregation and education policy. My job mostly involves working out the life of the research documents after the researchers complete their final drafts. There are also some projects in the works to create visualizations of research and government data so that community stakeholders can determine if their civil rights are being violated by, for example, discriminatory school discipline policies. The idea in all of this is to get empirical data about civil rights to the citizens and policy makers who can make use of it in meaningful ways.
How do these projects connect to your PhD research?
At present, everything I’m involved in involves informatics, which I take to mean the social and cultural aspects of information technology. I’m fortunate to be involved in a few different parts of the field. Our field is diverse and that’s meant I’ve been fortunate to get involved in a lot of great projects. I do hope to return to teaching at some point, sooner rather than later.
How does the doctoral student experience differ from that of the MLIS student?
Overall, being a doctoral student is a more individualistic experience. There are many dimensions of the experience and it rests on each doctoral student to develop his or her research, teaching, and service as he or she sees fit, in cooperation with and to the satisfaction of the faculty advisor. You have to manage your own progress and determine how you want to develop as a scholar in both the short and long term. It’s pretty different for each person. It’s like The Empire Strikes Back: everyone sees something different in Master Yoda’s Cave of Evil.
Greatest experience so far as a doctoral student:
Special reader for IS 200, by far. Working with the first-year students was really fun and helped me contextualize my own intellectual path since I started the MLIS program a few years ago. I learned so much from the student presentations. And of course it’s an honor to work with Professor Lievrouw: she helped me with my masters thesis and has been a really generous mentor. I also got to make a ‘zine; like all IS students, I am — in my heart — a crafter.
Most challenging aspect:
Time! You’re always running from place to place. It’s quite disorienting and no matter how well one manages time, the volume of work to be done will always exceed available time. A single person is finite, but the world of ideas is not. I have developed elaborate systems to remind me what day it is, where I’m supposed to be going and where my keys are because my brain is always functioning slightly beyond its capacity.
Most frequent response when you tell people what you do:
“What is information studies?” followed by “Why have you thrown your life away?” followed closely by “Will you write something for me?”
Recommendation(s) for students who’d like to apply to the PhD program:
In a doctoral program, it’s all about your research interests. Find a person in the field whose work speaks to you and read up on them. All of our faculty are teachers: they are passionate about their work and happy to talk about it with students and just as happy to point them in the direction of work in other areas. That said, our field is broad and not every aspect of it is represented by our faculty. You have to follow your interests since you will be working so intensely and for such a long time with those ideas.
Favorite archive to visit:
ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives (http://www.onearchives.org/). I had seen parts of the collection, but I went on the UCLA SAA tour recently and almost lost my mind: so much cool stuff with such a complex history of oppression and resistance. Seeing the letters and carefully tended ephemera of people who chose to love and express themselves despite state oppression is riveting.
I also love the Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library (http://www.metro.net/about/library/). The maps of failed and fantastical transit systems in LA are marvelous. The have system maps of the old electric cars, elevations of monorail stations on Sunset, and all kinds of transit marketing materials.
Favorite/Most memorable course from UCLA IS Department:
Too many to list, but in the archives track, I’d have to say Community Archives with Professor Gilliland. I took it as a masters student in a class made up of half doctoral students, half MLIS students. Each person in the class picked a different community archive to work with and brought in drastically different materials as a final project. It was really impressive to see the great diversity and complexity of so many projects. I worked with the campus LGBTQ Resource Center to get documents relating to gay student groups on campus into the University Archives. I ended up working on that project after class ended and I think a lot of the other students continued in their projects as well.