Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Jonathan Stone’s Statement of Academic Goals

(here is the personal statement that I included today in my scholarship app)

Part of the undergraduate experience includes a sort of intellectual flailing in the rough waters of indecision and ignorance. The foil of the equation, namely decision and intelligence (hopefully leading to action) then becomes the rescue boat which, if found, carries the student toward a clear academic agenda. Finding this life boat took some time for me, but after nearly ten years in the water, I’m secure and sailing towards my goal: a tenure-track position in the field of English at a major university.
My experience in the modern academy is extensive, having attended five institutions, taking degrees from two of them, and currently being poised for two more from ASU. Because of sheer time spent, the university has lost its intimidation factor, which has given me the opportunity to view it for what it really is: an intellectual marketplace. More importantly, I see it now as a place where I really do fit; against the odds, I actually enjoy academia. In other words, I have moved from the busy market’s sideline—I now buy and sell everyday.
As a consumer of the academy, I have developed certain tastes. These tastes have been aged and informed by the time that I have invested into the institution. And like any critic, I believe that my tastes are unique, teachable and have a context that is applicable. So, when I say I want to teach English at a major university because I love to read and write, there are a variety of richer subtexts that accompany this somewhat trite declaration.
My experience in the system has led to much more careful choices, which has also led to a more deliberate academic experience than I had in my flailing days. For example, I know that I want to teach literature at an advanced level, but, because I am not yet there, I have sought out select classes that will allow me to interact with and learn from the best intellectual minds that our English department offers. I have moved away from taking classes merely for credit, and now have ulterior motives which have lead me to seek out more rigorous courses, this semester focusing on Rhetorical theory, advanced work in Milton and literacy studies. I find the process of decoding texts to be rewarding intellectually, and the scholars with whom I have selected to study are the expert decoders and deal with some of society’s most complex theories and texts. Likewise, I see myself as an advocate and teacher of writing and its many complexities, processes and theories. Accordingly, I have positioned myself in classes where those theories are taught and in situations where I can practice applying these ideas. Furthermore, I am currently the Online Writing Lab manager for the Polytechnic campus’ writing center and work everyday in person with students both applying these theories and honing my own understanding of composition practices.
I see in academia a need for better teaching, so in addition to my formal English studies, I have begun a diligent study of pedagogy. By the time I enter graduate school, I will have accumulated hundreds of hours teaching in real English settings—something that my peers will only be beginning to do when graduate school begins.
As I mentioned, my studies and instruction have led to an interest in the decoding of texts and a fleshing out of the many writing practices. These activities provide contexts for greater social questions and concerns. In other words, my studies have given me a broader perspective of the world and my place in it. This fact then also gives perspective for what teaching these subjects can do for the students who it will one day be my responsibility to instruct. I am committed to these students’ successes—they need not flail as long as I!
Finally, as I have tried to provide some of the subtexts for my scholarly interests, and speaking to my last point, I find within each of these areas, both writing and decoding texts, very specific needs to advance the academic conversation by the production of meaningful, student relevant research in the varying fields of English. As Barry Brummett, a rhetorical theorist, explains in his article Rhetorical Theory as Heuristic and Moral, A Pedagogical Justification (1984), the first audience of our research will always be our peers in academia, but our primary audience should be our students. They are the ones who will be wandering in their masses out into the society of which we profess to be scholars.
And because I am still on this side of the podium, “they” is still me. Thus, my primary goal after graduation becomes to spend the next six or seven years of my life in a respected graduate program where I can thoroughly gird my learning. But, I am encouraged now because my sail is set; my vision has cleared, my intentions have solidified, and I have already entered the discourse.

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