Episode 19: Outstanding Dissertation Award Winner Dr. Maureen Flint

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In this episode, Maureen Flint, recipient of the QR SIG Outstanding Dissertation Award, discusses her work with the QR SIG Dissertation Award Committee Chair Jennifer Wolgemuth. You can follow more of Dr. Flint's work on her website: www.maureenflint.com.
Below is the transcript of this interview.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to qualitative conversations, a podcast series hosted by the qualitative research special interest group of the American Educational Research Association. I'm Jennifer wolgemuth, the current chair of the qualitative research special interest group outstanding dissertation award committee. I am excited to be joined today by Dr. Maureen Flint, who is the recipient of the 2020 outstanding dissertation Award for her dissertation titled, methodological orientations, college student navigations of race and place in higher education. Dr. Flint is an assistant professor of qualitative research at the University of Georgia, where she teaches courses on qualitative research design, analysis and theory in the College of Education. The research agenda focuses on the theory, practice and pedagogy of qualitative inquiry. In particular, she's interested in artful methodologies, as well as questions of social justice, ethics and equity in higher education. Her research has been published in qualitative inquiry, cultural studies, critical methodologies, the review of higher education, Journal of college student development, and art slash research international and many other outlets. Her current work is interested in audio, visual and multimodal approaches to inquiry and representation. And some of her explorations in this area can be found on her website at www.maureen.flint.com. That's www.maureenflint.com Thank you for joining me today. Dr. Flynn.
I'm really thrilled to learn more about you and your work. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.
I think it would be helpful for our audience just to learn a little bit more about your dissertation work. So can you talk about your dissertation? What was the scope? What was its methodological focus?
Maureen 2:27
Yeah, absolutely. Um, so my dissertation explored the socio historical context of race on campus, and particularly through new materialist and critical spatial, I'm going to critical spatial lens. So maybe we'll back up a little bit, I have a background in student affairs. And then I also have a background in the arts. And so both of those things really came kind of to the fore when I started my dissertation, as I've worked as an administrator, and it kind of started from this question, this gap between what I saw between what we was doing as an administrator, and then the things that we said that we valued and things that actually happened. And so I was really interested in kind of getting at that gap, particularly around the question of belongingness. and ended up finding theory is kind of this entry point to really work that tension. So a question of focus on place, and the way that place and the histories of place mattered, and students belongingness. And so this kind of starting there, I started with kind of traditional methods of interviews and focus groups. And then kind of found they necessarily getting at getting at the complexity of place that I kind of felt on the day to day or that my, my students kind of were alluding to in their interviews and so I started thinking about what kind of throughout my dissertation there's this question of faithfulness to theory is the way that I talked about it and how, how am I continually orienting to theory and the ways in which I'm designing and writing and representing engaging with my participants and thinking, thinking about kind of engaging with the space of campus and my research questions as a whole so throughout my dissertation, I can move in and out of these various methods and analytic approaches things like walking interviews and student I had students make maps that visually represented the police of Canvas and and kind of walk them through them. And then when I moved in de analytics started, I started to think with sound as a way to kind of explore the this layered pneus of place and and then that also, that kind of question. fullness also came out. And the ways in which I wrote through my dissertation is I can continually pausing and stopping and thinking about, you know, how is theory guiding you in this moment? Or have I fallen away from theory. And so I think, you know, that that really became the guiding threads throughout at all. And it closes and closes with this kind of question of ethics and theory, and faithfulness in the way that all those things in our twine, particularly in relationships with participants and kind of questions of futurity, and who are we as methodologists, in the future to come? So, yeah.
Wow, thank you. It sounds like what one of the things that I really heard you say, and I think would be really of interest to the listeners is, you you started out with what we might call traditional or conventional qualitative inquiry. And then it was a combination of engaging theory, new materialist theory and other sorts of theories that opened up different kinds of methodological possibilities for you. So can you give some advice to doctoral students who might be on that particular path right now as we speak?
Maureen 6:23
Yeah, absolutely. Um, I think, well, I now I think about it, I teach because I teach one of the classes that I teach is our design course. And one of the things that I have the students in that class do, we have an of this traditional three interview project, that's traditionally the outcome of that course. And one of the things that I do in that class is have students have do one of those interviews as a non traditional scare quotes, non traditional interview, and it opened the door for them to do something different with it, with their their dislike of their interview, the research questions, this idea of interview itself. And I think that I see that for them really opening the door to think about how other things matter beyond just like an interview script, and sitting across from someone and asking them a series of questions help.You know, things like objects, or changing the place of the interview, or even going beyond, I've had students really challenged what an interview is, and like engage interview documents or going to go into different types of analysis, but always guided by the theories and their literature and the research questions that are guiding them. So I think maybe, I think that that is an entry point. They're thinking about advice to other students. And, yeah, I think in my own work, it was also reading interdisciplinarily. So I was reading a lot in critical geography studies. I was reading in like, literary fiction, poetic authors like Claudia Rankin, and Saidya Hartman, who write in a very, like literary poetic style, speculative fiction, like nk jemisin. And so those little really inspired mythological choices that I made in terms of like, thinking differently, or thinking otherwise about representation or methodology.
Um, so, you mentioned new materialism and new materialist theory and philosophy. So in addition to all this interdisciplinary reading that you're doing, and this sort of practicing with innovative methodologies, what recommendations might you have for new materialist readings for students?
Maureen 9:02
Who, um, yeah, I think, Rosie Brady's My, my, my girl, um, so she was really what guided my dissertation. Um, she has a new book out on post-human knowledges that I think really speaks to this present moment that we're in a precarity and exhaustion and capitalism and white supremacy and the ways that all those things are colliding all at once. And I've also, Sara Ahmed has been although she's not necessarily a new materialist writer, she's really informed my work, particularly around thinking around feminism.
And who else in a thing. work has been really important and I think she just had she has a new website out that's beautiful. That's thinking in these really layered ways about the Anthropocene. And I guess maybe more broadly, the thing that I would say about reading is that I've really been inspired by reading with other people who are working in other spaces and places. And so I end up reading things that I never would have coming out of my discipline, in educational research, but also with this background in higher education, we become, especially in higher ed become really siloed. And so thinking with people who are in math, education, or English, or geography or other spaces has been really an expansive,expanded my reading in productive ways.
This is some really great sources and great suggestions, and I appreciate the injunction right to to read widely and read across disciplines. It's It's impressive what opened up for you, your dissertation?
Maureen 10:58
Well, I guess maybe what I think I found reading, really, I have always enjoyed reading a lot. And I think reading with people has been something that has been incredible. It's one of my favorite things about being an academic or getting to be an academic of thinking with people. And so me, I think finding people who you enjoy, who bring joy to your reading, is perhaps another thing. So that's great advice, finding anyone who brings joy to anything, it's probably important.So, in addition to everything that you've said, there are lots of graduate students right now who are writing dissertations. There are lots of faculty members who are writing books.
Can you talk about your process of writing your dissertation? What was it like what helped? What got in the way?
Maureen 12:00
You know,I guess where to start. Susan, can I actually just wrote a chapter for an edited book that you and Kelly guy have put together. And we we actually were writing converting our distributions together, we met era, through the QR SIG, which, which actually to back up a little has been huge was hugely helpful for me in a variety of ways. my academic career trajectory as a grad student from doing putting together proposals for a year a,like suddenly getting descended to a senior scholar in the field and getting feedback I think I sent you in this could be like a 40 page manuscript, and she was like, Oh, you might need to cut this little bit. Um, but I just had no idea right of what to do. And so the cure was really helpful in mentoring me along in how to become a member of qual community. And so Susan, and I had met at the mentoring session at a year and ended up reconnecting and icti. And then reading together over the summer. And then both were kind of separately told their advisors to stop reading, insert writing, because we want it both on to graduate, but spring. And so I think, you know, that was hugely helpful having someone in a similar place to talk through not just and share writing, not just around like the literal parts of the dissertation, but all of that other stuff that goes along with it, like the excesses of like the hoops in the job market, and the worry and the anxiety.And so we read about in that chapter is like the swarming of like, coming together of texts, and others, other folks that were writing within our advisors and our writing is this kind of collaborative move, even as we were writing separately, we were writing together. So finding that type of community. And I also had a group of people. It was kind of a mix of faculty and other graduate students, who we would write together really early in the mornings. We had kind of this set schedule of Tuesdays and Thursdays, we're needed Starbucks or McDonald's at like seven in the morning or 630 in the morning. For me, that was really helpful because it was a time when like, there were no other distractions, or someone else who is expecting me to be somewhere there is some accountability. So that that helped a lot. And then I think starting at both the season and with the people ever with starting to think about your dissertation is like chipping away at small pieces of it, rather than thinking about it as a huge month long endeavor. I remember staring at a set, actually, my committee let me put a picture of it in my dissertation. But I stared at a stack of printed out transcripts, I think for like three weeks just staring at them not knowing what to do. So finding ways to chip away at it was helpful. And one of those things that I did, but that's how I like turned to sound, because I couldn't deal with the stack three inch stack of paper. So I started taking audio clips and layering them together to think about it differently.
That's, that's so interesting. Because you you notice something that wasn't working for you, right? Um, and it sounds like your dissertation emerged through that process you you had collected interviews to answer a question and you found them wanting in one way, shape, or form. And then you went to analyze that when you found that process that you were meant to do wanting. And so you chose something new. And that's something that comes out really loud and clear in your dissertation and in the rest of your work is that you're not just a scholar, you're not just an analyst, you are a creator, you're an artist. So can you talk about what being an artist and producing art?
Maureen 16:26
I know, I didn't send you this question in advance. Apologies for putting you on the spot. But it's so fascinating. How,yeah, how that how that plays into your work and your identity as a scholar? Yeah, Mmm hmm. Well, I when I was growing up, I always wanted to be an artist, my mom was an art teacher. And I went to school to be trained as a pattern maker. So what that means is like the construction of garments, so like a designer drugs, a sketch, and the pattern maker looks at it and tries to figure out how to make that real or possible. And that often means like, being very creative, or inventive, and the fabrics that you use, or like the ways in which it gets seams or cut or the ways in which is put together. And so when I took my first qualitative research class, there's this kind of click that I was like, oh, like design is really, there's this there's this a parallel ness between, you know, creation, art creation, through this pattern, making lens and then design, it's like this puzzle that you're figuring out how stuff fits together. And there might be multiple ways for things to go together. Or maybe along the way, as you're trying to put stuff together, something else becomes possible. That's way more exciting than your initial idea. And so I think that's always like an under that's always been an undercurrent of my work. And then there's other places or spaces where I've thought more explicitly with art making practices as I mean, I think this having this happens in research design, but I also think it happens in art making where there's this ethic of experimentation or process. Actually, I was in a talk with Anna Sing last week or the week before, and she was talking about, like this idea of the detour or of contingencies and following this thing.And I'm always found in art making that those are things like those are things you should follow that you should see what what they make possible. And I also find that true.
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So can you talk about so some scholars build off their dissertation work? And sometimes like myself, they move in different directions for a period of time. So what are you engaging with and what are you thinking now?
Maureen 19:58
Yeah, um,I? Well, one of the things that's been really exciting post graduate graduation or post dissertation has, has been getting to explore, particularly in my dissertation, like some of the lines of thought or ideas that I get to like fully fleshed out there. And so my writing right now is been doing some of that. So,for example, I, there's a footnote in my dissertation about a leaf blower, and like the way that it kept coming up in the audio of my dissertation, because I was doing these walking interviews, right, where it was asking students to take me on a tour of campus Sigmund on alternative tour of campus. And throughout it, there was like this buzz of the leaf blower and in my dissertation, I have this little footnote that was like, this is really interesting, the way it keeps coming up, like listening to this as a more than human sound like how what might this do to think about the productions of place and how it matters. And so I wrote this paper, that's an I guess, it's, it's accepted with minor revision. So it's not complete day, it's still hanging out. But anyway, I'd like it to follow this leaf blower around and like unfold these practices of like lawn maintenance and the history of leaf blowers in the way that that's entangled with low paid or unpaid or historically, enslaved labor and how like listening to them, and following that thread begins, like unravel this neutrality of place, and the ways that, you know, waste supremacy and capitalism are baked into the ongoing productions of higher education. So and that's been really fun to follow some of those threads. Um,and so I guess I'm still writing with my dissertation in some ways, like that. And I've also really enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with people. That's been I mean, the that's been really inspiring and joyful, I guess, to return to joy. Um, so as soon as like Susan cannon, I can and I kept writing together, reading together and then we've been really thinking about feminist materialists theories and in conjunction with like counting practices, and metrics and how that produces academic subjects and how you might methodologically intervene and practices of counting. And then I've been writing a little bit with my friend, Carlson, Kugler at Alabama, and we've been thinking, choose a beautiful art practice around embroidery. And she's been thinking about artful ways to engage with and respond to theory.So those are a few of the collaborations, but I think that's been super cool to get to really, like lean into collaborative work and thinking postgraduation.
Jennifer 23:10
Yeah. And the the viewers can't see it, but you have this big smile on your face. That clearly shows. Yeah, the joy that that collaborative work. Like, like thinking with other people is such a creative process. Because you end up in these like unexpected spaces and places because of, like, the publicity of your ideas. That's just so cool. And, yeah,yeah, you can. Yeah. Um, can you talk about speaking of joy, the ethical aims, or ethical tensions in your work? Sort of from an axiological perspective? What do you hope that your work accomplishes or moves or shifts within the field of qualitative researcher or the other fields that you work in?
Maureen 24:07
Yeah.You know, um, interestingly, I will not ever up. It's interesting. It's interesting to me.I think that in a lot of ways, my work started off really interested in speaking to the field of higher education. great ideas, has this quote about seeking modes of representation and forms of accountability that are adequate to the complexities of the world we're living in may have mangled that a little bit but and I think that was really like an ethical move that I wanted.
As a person who came out of higher education, I have a master's degree in higher ed administration that I really wanted. I saw You know, this intersection of theory and methodology, particularly new materialist and feminist new materialist theories as this ethical move in higher education to think more complicatedly about the space of college campuses and the way that they produce in are produced by students, and faculty, etc, etc. Um, and, you know, I've been talking with when I've read with my friends, Laura Smithers and Apple Ian, and we've been reading together over the summer following, you know, we're in the middle of a pandemic, and the always kind of this resurgence of racial justice movements and this anger around the ongoing violence towards black people. And all of it in this moment in the election, that's in a week. Like, I think about writing and methodology is, like a response to that, that is, like I think about it is. So we talked about, like, I feel, in some ways, like I'm writing, like, writing my way out of this moment, in some ways or way through. And I think that's actually misquoting Hamilton. But, um, but like, I like I think about methodology is this ethical responsiveness to the moment that we're in? And particularly like, as a white woman in this moment? Like, what how do I respond? And what's my place? And how do I do this in an ethical way? Like, I think about my researches, picking needing to pick up and engage with all of that, be responsive to it. And I never quite know what that's going to look like. In the moment, I guess, um, yeah, I actually, I think about a paper that a graduate student. And I wrote over the summer, that ended up in a totally different place than we expected. He proposed it last fall thinking with john lewis's good trouble. And then. And then we started reading in May, and you know, reading about good trouble, john lewis, in May of 2020, is totally different than writing with it in September of 2019. And so we really struggled through that paper with how to how to respond to this moment, in a complicated way is, and I think that's still ongoing. So, yeah.
So shifting gears a little bit back to advice given for graduate students. A lot of doctoral students that I work with, and I know others in our community work with, are very interested in doing critical and post informed and artistic sorts of work on and the come up against expectations for formats for what proposals like and, and so I'm just curious, from, from your experience and your perspective as the assistant professor Now, what does a proposal look like? And how did you communicate what you wanted to do to your committee? And what were their sort of questions and concerns?
Maureen 29:13
Yeah, that's a great, that's actually a question that I've had any particularly in my I'm teaching in our analysis class right now that I'm, I've gotten from a lot of my students, there's I'm sharing articles from qualitative inquiry and stuff that moves beyond traditional formats. And they always ask like, oh, like, How did this get published? How are these people taken seriously? And one of the things is, well, this isn't necessarily responding to your question. One of the things that we do in that is, look at like, we take all those like traditional things that are in paper, and then I asked them to, like, think through this non traditional paper and think about one what's the purpose of it? What's it doing? And then, you know, sometimes they'll find that Oh, like all of these pieces are here, they're just presented in a way. That's different because and then we talk about, like, why that is like how presenting this non traditional format is actually pushing you to think differently about, you know, what research could be your purpose of it all. But going back to my dissertation, I was really lucky in that. I, Kelly guyot, who was my advisor, we talked about really early on the fact that I was probably going to do something that moves beyond traditional, the traditional five chapter format.And she actually really pushed me to do that. So I remember sitting down with her after my proposal, which actually looked fairly traditional, in that it had an introduction, a statement, like statement of the problem. This is what I, this is what this is, what the literature is, this is what I plan to do the slide. Here's my theory.And she really pushed me to move beyond that and think, otherwise, if she pushed me to think about what my represents, like, how is the way that you're representing your district dissertation aligned with your theory, like you keep talking about this in your methodological section, so how like your representation should also think about that so. And as I finished my dissertation, we have continually talked about like a more than representation like art, for instance, installation or something. And so that was something I ended, I did a pop up our installation for my dissertation defense itself, where I invited my participants and one student affairs and community members. And the room where my dissertation where I defended, had, I had created these, like fabric panels with quotes from participants.There was like sheer fabric, with their quotes on it, and some, like big pieces of theory, weaving them all together. And then the sound is compilations that I've made, we're playing in different parts of the room. So as you walked around, you heard different voices and different stories being told about place. And so that was really neat. I mean, so I think I was fortunate that she really pushed me to, like, push me to do that push me to think that so I think,and I, also, um, you know, I had, I think, 26 chapters and my final dissertation. And the graduate school didn't blink an eye about that, like they, I it's like it's interwoven with images and pictures, I have, like these layered maps that show up in between chapters. And so long as it had one inch margins, and like, APA was, right, they were pretty cool with it. So I think that really taught me and that's been my experience submitting to journals, too, is that one minute, so long as you're fitting in, do follow some of these rules. There's some space there and like creating like hypertext spaces where your work can be otherwise, like that hump of installation, or I had links throughout that link to my website. So I created a website. So yeah, I think so I think and talking with your advisor about what you plan to do, along the way, in fact, finding folks, I mean, I had a five person committee that was really, really supportive of me. And we talked about that all along the way of our stuff was, might look different than they were used to. So that was, yeah. And all of that. It's hard advice to give, because, you know, I also didn't know I did, so some of the stuff that ended up in my dissertation was actually stuff that I've experimented with, in classes or experimented with. I guess it was my prospectus that was fairly nor traditional. And my proposal started to move beyond that. And I started to play with that. So I almost like showed them like these are some things that this might look like, but here's ways that I'm thinking About experimentation. And so we got to have these really cool conversations about theory. And what that could mean for a referee, or how that might inform representation or inform, or, I mean, we also talked about, like, should I be representing anything anyway? Because I was using non representational theories.But, you know, we got to have these really cool questions about a theory, and the way that that might inform my work in multiple ways. So yeah.
So I'm hearing if I were to summarize your main point. I'm hearing that having mentors and committee members who are supportive is really important. I hear that having examples of other people who have done this kind of work, whether it's in journals, or your dissertation for, for example, is important. I hear that even though we think journals and grad schools are very rigid in their requirements, they actually may be a lot less rigid than we think they are.And I hear that being open to thinking about alternative ways to engage your dissertation, like the hyperlinks that you were talking about.are all ways in which we can open up the idea of what a good proposal and a good dissertation looks like.
Maureen 36:32
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for summarizing all that. I tend to ramble.Oh, no, no, no, I'm the I was the last thing. One of the things you said reminded me some of the best advice I got, especially when I was in my perspective, sir proposal stage was Kelly guyot told me to go and look at ICQI, experimental dissertations, who had won over several years. And that works, who won and the arts based research thing. And that was really helpful for me, I remember reading a David Bright's dissertation where he really plays with footnotes. And like, it was just, you It's beautiful. And like this, like kind of happening in my brain where it just was like, oh, like, you can really play with the format of this and neat ways. So that's some more concrete place, perhaps you're the best. Because you're so good at giving concrete advice.
And because you're in a fabulous position at the University of Georgia. So you're now an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, just in case fabulous didn't communicate. Um, so can you talk about your experience being on the academic job market? And do you have any tips for those who were starting to get that right now? Or soon?
Maureen 38:06
Yes, I was trying to think I think, um, you know, the the way, as someone who is now working in the field as a new professor, I've been asked to be on like, all these panels of like, how do you get an academic job? And I never, even though I can, like, I think there are multiple levels of tips like there's like, the logistical, like, when should you like having conversations with having lots of people look at your CV and give you advice on it was really helpful to me talking really early in your academic career with your advisor about like, what you want to do, like I remember my first or second year talking with Kelly, about like that I wanted to actually have the time I was on the fence between the illustrator and going the academic route. But that chief after,after I had a middle manager job as an administrator and realize that no world I wanted to live in. Um, but anyway, we sat down and like, recognized that one area, like one gap area that I had was I didn't have a lot of experience teaching. And so she and I co taught a class with her and then also ended up reaching out to a faculty member in the higher ed program to co teach a class and Student Affairs because when I went on the market, I was actually doing a double search of methodology positions and higher ed position. So having experienced teaching in both of those was helpful.
Maureen 39:46
So, I mean, there's like that logistical advice. And I think, I mean, some of the best advice that I got was about not not taking it personally. That the job mark is like this weird...
Transcript over.

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