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  • Spencer Bennington

Dissertating VS. Educating: How to Balance Academic Research with Community Engagement

Welcome back to the Rhetorical Roundhouse blog! Last week I shared a research update which served to explain the Rhet/Comp PhD process as I've experienced it and give you an inside look at the beginning stages of my dissertation writing process. I'm happy to say that (somehow?!) I've gone from a whiteboard brainstorming session to a rough draft of my first chapter in a week! Maybe it's all garbage that I'll have to rewrite but, hey, that's the nature of the beast.


And that's kind of what I want to segue to for today's discussion...this so-called beast. I'm referring, of course, to the process of academic writing, revising, and publishing. By almost all accounts, this is a long and tortuous process, one which bears only the smallest amount of fruit? So why do academics spend an average of two YEARS to write, revise, and publish an article in a venue (academic journals) with significantly lower readership than more public writing spaces or popular sources? Part of the answer is that this kind of publishing is intertwined with collegiate hiring and promotion practices, tenure eligibility, and monetary compensation. A more idealistic view contends that to publish your work in these more esoteric spaces distinguishes your writing as methodologically rigorous and useful for the field at large, something that will, if important enough, gain traction via citation practices in those more popular outlets.


Both the practical reasons for academic publishing and the desire to subject work to expert scrutiny and criticism are valid and worth considering. That said, they don't adequately address a major concern of mine: engaging and educating non-academic readerships. The whole reason I ever wanted to pursue a PhD in the first place was to teach. I'm lucky to have had so many diverse classroom and administrative opportunities to do this as a graduate student, but these positions still only reach those students who have already committed to attending college. What about children who grow up without a wealth of positive role models or adequate public education? What about those who grow up thinking that college isn't the right fit for them or that it simply isn't worth the cost (see Matt Damon's argument about libraries in Good Will Hunting)? And what about adults who wish to continue their education on limited schedules or with limited access to quality materials?


My point is this--everyone should have equal opportunity to be wicked smart. That said, since the time I decided to focus on Tae Kwon Do as the object of study for my dissertation, I made a promise to not turn it into some stuffy elbow-patch argument without real ramifications for real people. That's why Rhetorical Roundhouse exists and it's why I write blogs like these.


In addition, I want to make sure that when I speak at academic conferences like the upcoming Martial Arts Studies Conference in Orange, CA, that I'm not just speaking for a collection of my peers. To that end, I have decided that for every major conference presentation I give, I will record an informational video to share. I began this process by simply recording my presentation talks, but I realized that this isn't actually changing the content for a different audience. So while I'm happy that I have my talks recorded, I aim to revise them and create a more user-friendly representation of their content for more audiences in the future. You can expect to see a revision of both the ATTW and CCCC presentation videos as well as one for the MA Studies Conference.


This process of adapting some of my academic research for more diverse practitioner audiences is a useful one for sure, but it doesn't accomplish all of my goals in terms of public engagement. In the next couple of weeks I will debut video content specifically designed for non-academic audiences. I'm affectionately calling this the Tiny Tiger Lecture Series and it will feature condensed (5-ish minute) videos explaining some of the core concepts related to a rhetorical study of martial arts.


Look for "Episode 1: Martial Arts are Rhetorical Practices" to be released in the next two weeks!

This project is an important one to me because its designed with a specific audience in mind--the people who would read my dissertation as LONG and BORING! You know, most people. And while I'm excited to debut these videos, they still are only one component of community engagement. Tae Kwon Do and Martial Arts Studies is, at the end of the day, rooted in physical practice. That being the case, it's important to me that I continue to physically embody my research and present it in person to practitioner audiences like the Tri Sigma Chapter at St. Leo University. I aim to continue spreading the mission of Tae Kwon Do through various educational events involving physical practice, sharing research, and mindfulness. That said, I hope to begin contributing my research to the various Tae Kwon Do schools that I am affiliated with in order to enrich the practice of pumsae as contemplative, meditative, exercise.


Having said all that, I do plan on writing job materials this summer, continuing to work on the dissertation, and move some of my prose more toward the academic publication stage. Why? Because in order to continue to grow my platform and accrue more valuable insight into my research of rhetoric, writing, and martial arts, I need to effectively balance my involvement with multiple communities of expertise. Like most challenges--this one excites me and I can't wait to update you all with every step!


Tune in next week for a preview of my MA Studies Presentation for May 22nd.


As always, thanks for reading :)


Kamsahamnida!