I'd like to interview grad students in ATX. Help me get started.
February 8, 2017 5:40 PM   Subscribe

I've always liked reading journalism, and specifically human interest stories. I really liked reading Gig when I was a kid, and back when Paul Campos had his law school scam blog running I loved reading the stories people would submit. I've also enjoyed reading Andrew Sullivan’s and Rod Dreher's correspondence with their readers as well as Humans of New York. I might've studied journalism or history in college but I wasn't confident enough in my ability to support myself afterwards. However, this passion in me has never died and I'd like to put it to productive use.

The problem is that i don't know any graduate students in the area and am unsure how I would find a number of them to interview, and I'm not totally sure what the questions would be that I would ask them either. I'd like to interview people in the humanities and social sciences because that's what I'm most interested in and also what I have the least exposure to. I'd like to ask them about the process behind how they decided to go to graduate school and what for, how they feel they're developing as a person and intellectual, and last but not least what they're planning to do after. Perhaps we'd also talk about trends in their corner of academia as well as the general social and political atmosphere if they're willing to discuss that. This last point in particular would make it important that I try and find as diverse a group of backgrounds, perspectives, and identities as possible.

Is this a Quixotic idea that's better left alone, or do you think there's a chance this could turn into something interesting? I'll admit that this is partly driven by a desire to explore as much as possible the lives of people doing something I either had too little in the way of balls and/or too much in the way of sense to do. I'd like to record the conversations and eventually publish them online with both a transcription and a recording (anyone journalists out there who'd like to give me some tips on the logistics of this are certainly welcome to do so). Of course the first challenge would be how to find sources and getting people to talk to me in the first place given that it's not like I have a pre-existing platform with an audience. If the whole record and publish idea turns out to be scaring away more people than I would otherwise be able to talk to then I could just drop that and have this be solely for my own edification. I'd like to hear the hivemind's thoughts on this.
posted by bookman117 to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
bookman117: "Of course the first challenge would be how to find sources and getting people to talk to me in the first place "

Yeah, I think this is a legitimate concern. Step 1 is reframing the situation and looking at it from your prospective grad student's point of view: what's in it for them? Why are they going to want to take an hour or two out of their busy days to talk to some rando who has a somewhat vague but voyeuristic interest in their life?

You could offer money or other material compensation (a free lunch somewhere relatively nice, for example), but I think the big thing is to sharpen your pitch. If there is any hint that the conversation is mostly going to revolve around 'why did you make the idiotic decision to go to grad school in the humanities, you'll never get a job' (as your description kinda suggests), I don't think you're going to get many takers. Instead, I think you should consider in more detail what is the reason you want to talk to these people, and how you can make that sound fun and interesting to them.
posted by crazy with stars at 6:56 PM on February 8, 2017

Response by poster: I pretty much agree with your response. I think instead of conceiving this as an interview I should probably just figure out a way to meet people in grad school and just talk to them to hear their stories. I'll go ahead and check out some of the places in the below link which luckily is about Austin. If anyone has anything to add or update to that 2009 list that'd be good.

posted by bookman117 at 10:58 PM on February 8, 2017

Very much agreed with the above, and I'll add that (though this doesn't answer your original question), you might enjoy listening to the PhDivas Podcast.
posted by dizziest at 7:47 AM on February 9, 2017

Eh, yeah, seems a little weird. I've done tons of one-off interviews for social science grad students, and for the actual media, but what you are proposing is different. So, a few things to consider:

Consider starting an amateur journalistic blog by interviewing any rando on the street. Hang out near the drag, or in a park, or at Central Market, really anywhere people congregate. My impression is folks are fairly talkative and friendly in public areas here in Austin, so you'll get some hits, and then your targeting of grad students won't seem so strange, not if you already have something started.

Also: have you considered just trying to hang out with academics socially? If you're so interested that you'd compile these interviews and never publish them, maybe you'd enjoy just chatting over a coffee or beer? Because grad students do a lot of that naturally.
I'm not in the humanities, but I am a career academic, and every place I've lived, it's not too hard to find the places grad students hang out. So with a little sleuthing you can find those and be there and naturally chat people up. Often it will be the coffee shop nearest the building that houses department X. Sometimes it's a bar that's just a little too clean and expensive for the undergrad hordes, or the same bar, but much earlier in the day.

Another tack: most departments have a visiting speaker series. Sometimes these are officially open to the public, usually they are implicitly open to the public. If you show up looking respectable and show polite interest, you'll most likely not be turned away. You can pick a department an look at their schedules to find things that might interest you.

(Finally: I spent a rather long time as a grad student in math and biology, though I finished that a while ago. If you want to talk to me, drop me a memail, I'd be happy to meet at a coffee shop and chat for a bit :)
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:55 AM on February 9, 2017

« Older Is it too late to send a post-interview thank you...   |   A visual catalogue of the human form? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.