Using Pinterest for Thesis Inspiration

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Social media is usually a productivity deathtrap. This is especially true when we’re trying to write.

Too often I have to turn off the Internet as a safeguard against checking Facebook for the 17th time, that day. When I was prepping for my qualifying exams I deactivated my account.

But social media isn’t the enemy of our productivity. How we use it really matters.

Our relationship to social media is both parasitic and symbiotic. I’m sure you can come up with a decent list of how Facebook ruins your writing routine, so I’ll leave the loathing up to you. However, I do want to tell you about my new fascination with Pinterest. More about Pinterest here.

I’ve been using it to inspire ideas for my chapter on body politics and sport migration. There are several online articles about athletes who represent nations other than the ones they call “home.” I’ve started pinning ones about women who fit this bill (especially American women) on a private Pinterest board titled “Migrant Athletes.”

Am I going to use these articles in a chapter? Probably not. But collecting these stories are helping me on my dissertation writing journey in several ways.

  1. It reminds me that people outside of academia are also interested in migrant athletes in global sports competitions.
  2. I get to see the kinds of issues and debates that concern spectators about these athletes.
  3. I learn more about the way these athletes negotiate their public identities as ambassadors of a given nation.
  4. It grounds my research by showing me the lived manifestations of my theoretical thinking.
  5. It keeps me motivated and inspired to be part of this conversation in both the public and academic spheres.
  6. It’s helping me figure out my “so what?” for the chapter.

Pinterest is also a practical tool. Up until recently, I’ve been using bookmarks on my browser or Pocket to collect internet articles and videos. The problem is that I’m a visual learner and organizer.

I like the way most media on the web is set up to be pinned. Once pinned, I have my articles and videos in one aesthetically pleasing space, which I’m more likely to return to and update.

I know there are other tools to help with research organization like Evernote and OneNote. They’re useful for other aspects of my research. But for collecting online content, going back to read them, and getting inspiration from them, I like the simplicity and aesthetics of Pinterest.

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Nominated for Something I Wrote?

best dundies ever pam coverWhen people say, “I’m just happy to have been nominated” for a particular award nomination, I tend to roll my eyes. Really? That statement often seems disingenuous.

And yet here I am feeling genuinely happy to be nominated for the 2015 Biography Prize for student work at the University of Hawai`i. In the mix are several life writing focused M.A. theses, PhD dissertations, and course work.

Craig Howes, an English professor and the director of the Center for Biographical Research at the university nominated the IVF story I wrote a few semesters ago. It’s the same one I presented and discussed at the Medical Humanities conference in Iowa last April.

I intended to submit this story for publication, but that priority fell to the side as I geared up for my qualifying exams. This nomination (while unlikely that I’ll win) is just the motivation and reminder I need to fix up the story and submit it somewhere already.

My writing isn’t perfect, and at times I let this goal of perfection hold me back from working on my next story, or from trying to get anything I’ve written published. I read over the most recent draft of the IVF story and was reminded that while my writing could use some work, the story itself is there along with the narrative arc, scene development, and emotional impact.

I wrote this IVF story to cope with and process the experience, offer some insight to others going through fertility challenges (and medical professionals in this field), and show how fertility (while deeply personal) can also be political.

Writing is my outlet. Many stories I write are for my eyes only, but once in a while I feel compelled to share. When I do, I feel vulnerable and shy. Strangely enough, it’s usually about the craft, not the content. I need to get over this self-consciousness and just work through (and on) the ill-placed punctuations, clunky transitions, poor grammar, and awkward word choices.

I wish I could muster my writing confidence from within. Perhaps that’ll come later. For the time being this writing nomination (my first ever) is just the boost in confidence I need to get this story out and into potential publishers’ in-boxes.

For that reason, among others, I’m so very happy just to have been nominated.

Writing About My Friend, the Olympian

UntitledThere’s nothing like signing up for a writing course to kick my ass into writing gear. Some people are self-motivated and determined to pump out pages without externally imposed deadlines and accountability.

I’m not that type of person.

I respond well to external pressure and deadlines, especially from an authority figure or someone scores smarter than me.

Before I get to write my book (dissertation), I need to write a proposal and my committee need to approve it. This is a significant milestone in my PhD journey not only because I’ll be that much closer to the end goal, but because I’ll have permission to start my research for a book I’ve been conceptualizing in my head for the past two years. As much as I love(d) taking courses and acquiring knowledge, I’m looking forward to contributing to an intellectual community. (The actually contributing part may still be a few years from now.)

I’m about 95% certain that I want to write a biography about my childhood friend Elodie Li Yuk Lo who is one of the first beach volleyball Olympians to represent Mauritius—a small African island nation. I feel so fortunate to be in an academic setting where I’m encouraged to use my personal experiences, knowledge, and connections to inform my research and writing. It still feels strange to think that personal topics can have a legitimate space in academia. Coming from a science and social science background, I’m still working on rethinking what constitutes “valid” or “authentic” scholarship.

Untitled1As I move forward with this class and program, I hope to use this blog to share my progress with the biography. To give you a little snippet of the vision, below is what I wrote for an in-class writing exercise attempting to explain (in plain language) what my project is about. Here’s an initial stab at describing the grand vision (which will most definitely change and evolve):

About fifty years ago during the Cold War, the International Olympic Committee started making a concerted effort to include and encourage newly independent African nations to participate in the world’s largest sporting event. Several sports governing bodies began introducing new rules to accommodate and encourage diverse entry of athletes from these less developed nations. About half a century later an ethnically Chinese beach volleyball player (Elodie Li Yuk Lo) took advantage of what is now known as the African Continental Trials to represent a tiny African island nation, called Mauritius, in beach volleyball. The book I’m writing examines Elodie’s journey to and participation in the London 2012 Olympics. Through Elodie’s story I explore how some athletes from developing nations struggle to compete and participate in the most elite sporting arena, demonstrating how the Olympics is an inherently unequal playing field. But Elodie’s story is more than her Olympic journey. As an ethnically Chinese woman, a fourth generation Mauritian, and a first generation Canadian, Elodie’s story is also about Asian and African migration in the 20th and 21st centuries, shattering many ideas of what we think we know about Asian or African immigrants in North America. Her story also shows us the politics of representing a nation and continent (where she is a racial minority), and how she navigates her multiple identities on a very public Olympic stage. But at the story’s core, this biography is about an athlete’s arduous journey to the Olympics fraught with roadblocks, close calls, pushing through self-doubt and injuries, media scrutiny, racial politics, lack of resources, and long training hours all culminating into one women’s experience of a lifetime.

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