COMM 602, Research Proseminar / by David Owens-Hill

Research Proseminar
Comm 602, Dr. Kimberly Weller Gregory, Fall 2009

Research Proseminar is a necessary evil. I have a hard time believing that any of my cohorts and fellow students would say that they enjoyed the course, but we needed it. Any student embarking on master’s coursework is going to be a bit rusty when it comes to being back in school, and I was no exception.

There were several times during the course when I thought to myself “self, what have you done? You don’t belong here, you belong in a MFA program. The social sciences are just too foreign.” I’m very, very pleased that I didn’t listen to myself during those times. The voice inside my head was speaking from a place of fear and uncertainty. While it was true that I had absolutely no exposure to social sciences before my time at the Knight School, the faculty made sure that I was well-prepared to pursue the coursework at the level I expected from myself.

I can still remember one of the earlier assignments—I believe it was titled “comma worksheet.” The entirety of the assignment was to determine, in example sentences, where commas should and should not go. Laughable, I thought. How could you get into graduate school without understanding the most utilitarian of all punctuation marks?! As it turns out you can, and I did. A professional career that privileged AP style over APA, and who-knows-how-many emails with questionable—but accepted—grammar had eroded my ability to write in a way that would be respected by the academic masses and I needed an entire semester to understand how to write, how to think academically, how to research, and how to be a student all over again.

It was in Research Proseminar that I inadvertently coined a phrase that I would repeat over and over again during my time in the program. In fact, many of my classmates have learned to anticipate when it’s coming and give me a fair amount of good-natured ribbing when I let it slip. That phrase is this:

I went to art school.

My entire course of study has been influenced by these five words, and I realized in Research Proseminar, albeit at the end of the course, that these five words and a life of academic inquiry in social sciences need not repel one another. The first research samples that I pulled to analyze were about art-centric nonprofit organizations and this theme has arched through my coursework. Initially I looked for ways to apply the practical learnings from each course into my art-filled life (as a practicing creative director and graphic designer I still consider myself an artist), later, as I matured in the program, I looked for ways to apply theory to the very notion of a creative life. I pondered questions about visual communication as interrelated to prominent social theorists and embraced postmodernity as a truth in the way I was trained to communicate visually. In fact, my cumulative capstone project is rooted entirely in web memetics—which I consider to be the termination of theory as it relates to a creative understanding of the world. All of this started with a worksheet on commas. I had no idea how far it would take me.