Morgan Gross on Balancing Work and Life as a Grad Student

Morgan Gross is a current #bsuenglish graduate student pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition. Below, you can view a video starring Morgan and detailing “A Day in the Life of a Grad Student.”


Originally from Texas, Morgan has taken the opportunity in her new home to make many long lasting friendships, including current grad student Kelsie Walker and #bsuenglish alum Elisabeth Buck. She provides advice for students considering graduate study below.

gross.jpgGrad school is HARD. I’m going to say it again, for emphasis. Grad school is REALLY HARD. My work keeps me busy, for sure, and my life isn’t all just fun and friends. In the video, you can see me walking around campus, teaching ENG 213 Intro to Digital Literacies, and studying, studying, studying for my comprehensive exams, which I took in January 2017 and passed! You’ll often hear people talk about grad school as isolating. After you finish course work, that’s kind of true. I read something like 125 books/articles just to prepare for my exams. Now I’m working on the dissertation, which boils down to engaging in an extensive research project and then writing, essentially, a book. That’s a lot of quiet time, a lot of introspection that I’m engaged in for the final two years (let’s hope) of my degree. Of course, it’s work that I (almost always) enjoy, feel excited about, and find meaningful.

I guess I’m promoting an idea in this blog post that likely won’t be new to you. The idea is that we strive for balance in all that we do, and the grad school experience is no exception. I work hard at school and my assistantship—often long hours, in chairs that hurt my body, and occasionally with doubts about the payoff. But I also enjoy my life, and friends are such an important part of that. As often as possible, I try to find ways in which I can bring business and pleasure together. From working quietly at a café next to each other, to attending and presenting at conferences, to co-authoring a book chapter for publication, I’ve been able to merge my friendships with my academic interests and pursuits. For some, you might prefer to keep the two separate from each other, but for me, having shared interests with my grad school besties invigorates and motivates my scholarly/professional life.

Here’s my shout out moment: Elisabeth and Kelsie, you two have commiserated with me during the difficult moments, you’ve offered distractions when I really needed them (and, let’s be honest, sometimes when I didn’t), and you’ve started with me what I know will continue on as lifelong friendships. My hope for any potential grad students reading this is that you’ll find new friends in your grad program who will do these same things for you. My advice to potential grad students is that you build your own luck by putting yourself out there and taking chances. Ball State offers plenty of opportunities to get involved and meet people—via the Grad School, the English department, the Writing Program community, and so on. You might be surprised at how well it turns out.

Meet Our New Academic Advisor, Jennifer Wells

New #bsuenglish academic advisor Jennifer Wells earned her undergraduate degree from Ohio State in 1990. She was always interested in liberal arts, but started out as a film major before she chose to pursue an art history major. She has a passion for studying abroad that she hopes to share with her students. 

preview-chat-jennifer-wellsWhat are your office hours?

My office hours are Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm. Occasionally, I have meetings on Wednesdays, so Wednesday mornings usually aren’t good. A lot of students schedule appointments. But if somebody walks in and I’m free, I am happy to see them.

What are you currently reading, if anything?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. You need to read that book! It’s a real story. And it’s about a woman who, back in the 50s, had ovarian cancer and the hospital took some cells from her. She eventually passed away, but her cancer cells grew like nothing they had ever seen. So they started using her cells to do experiments on and they’ve made all this medical progress just from her cells. And it talks about her family and how they didn’t know the hospital was doing this and it gets into a real medical-ethics murky area. Lacks’s cells are still alive. Her cells are still growing from the 50s. They just keep regenerating and regenerating and growing new cells.

What is a book that you think everyone should read?

I have a book that I love. It’s fiction. It’s very small, it’s a very quick read. But it’s called Rain by Kirsty Gunn. It was something I just picked up on a fluke at a bookstore. I read it and I was drawn right in. It was just something I completely related to (even though it takes place in New Zealand and I have no experience in New Zealand). I still felt like I was right there. It was about a twelve year old girl and her family.

What are the biggest mistakes that you notice students tending to make?

Probably the biggest one we see here is waiting too long to take the Writing Proficiency Exam or not even realizing that students have to take the exam. Another common mistake is that students wait too long to come see me before registration. So they’re waiting until the last minute and then they can’t get in. I think it’s a good idea just generally to check in with me. I want to know that you’re okay and things are going okay, even if it’s boring or you don’t really have anything to talk about. And it helps me to get to know the students.

Are you working on any projects at the moment?

Really, I’m still just learning. They want us to update the four year plans for students on DegreeWorks. So I’m kind of getting used to that. I have other advisors I talk to and we all help each other. I don’t really have other projects yet. I know we are going to be looking at doing some group advising  before summer and fall registration starts, so hopefully we’ll have some more information about that coming up soon.

What are some of your hobbies and interests?

I have always been interested in art. So, I do paint, I do a little bit of sculpture. And back home in Columbus, my family is involved with a scholarship at Ohio State. It involves making a gigantic cake shaped like Ohio Stadium. It’s about a 300-pound cake. My cousin started it as a dare one year. We’re still doing it 26 years later. I paint all the little figures we put in the stadium and around the stadium. It takes nine of us about a week (with people taking off work and everything). We’ve raised more the $150,000 for students and it goes straight into a scholarship fund.

What piece of advice would you offer your students?

Don’t be shy to ask for help. The one thing virtually every other former college student I ever talked to says, “I wish I would have taken advantage of the resources I had in college. Why didn’t I do that? I should in the writing center, I should have been in the math tutoring center. I should have been in all of that.”

Patrick Collier on "Everyday Life in Middletown"

In this interview, #bsuenglish professor Patrick Collier discusses his Virginia Ball Center seminar “Everyday Life in Middletown.”


What did the project entail?

These Virginia Ball seminars are semester-long projects where students get up to 15 credits for their participation, the teacher gets a fellowship, and that gets him or her out of teaching responsibility or any other responsibility on campus. The subject of the seminar was “Everyday Life in Middletown.” Middletown, I assume you know, is Muncie. There’s this history of Muncie being referred to as Middletown since the ’20s when the Lynds did their sociological study in Muncie and it became a national best-seller.

The idea of the seminar was that we would bring the theoretical tools of the study of everyday life to the study of Muncie, or Middletown. Everyday Life Studies is an interdisciplinary field that has been developing over the last couple of decades. … It studies the stuff that actually typically escapes notice in history and in other academic fields. Everyday life is the stuff that tends to go unrecorded. We do actually spend the vast majority of our waking lifetime being in everyday things but they aren’t the things that “make up our life stories.” The whole idea of Everyday Life Studies is to try to record what everyday life is like and analyze what everyday life is like. A big part of Everyday Life Studies has evolved into coming up with ways of studying it. … It’s been developing as an academic field over the last 20 years or so.

To put it in a nutshell, the Virginia Ball seminar really has three components: one is the theory of everyday life, the other is the whole Muncie/Middletown phenomenon, and the third is the products that we developed out of the seminar. One was this documentary film, and the other is this website that is kind of an archive of everyday life in Muncie as we perceived it. Roughly, we spent the first month of the class studying theory of everyday life. We spent the next four or five weeks doing a study where we recruited informants, people who live in town who were willing to record their everyday lives for us. They kept day diaries that they wrote once a week, sort of recording everything they did, and answered questionnaires that we sent them once a week asking them a bunch of questions about their everyday lives. The remainder of the semester we spent developing the website and finding ways of representing that data and finishing the film.

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Professor Mike Donnelly Publishes Book (And More December/January Good News)

Prof. Mike Donnelly‘s book, Freedom of Speech and the Function of Rhetoric in the United States, was released on December Donnelly book15.

Prof. Jill Christman recently had two essays published: “The Alligator and the Baby” in TriQuarterly and “This Story” in Phoebe: A Journal of Literature & Art Since 1971Prof. Christman is also chairing the conference committee for AWP this year and will be delivering a welcome address on the opening night of the conference.

Prof. Lyn Jones‘ immersive learning class explored #blacklivesmatter for Rethinking Children’s and YA Lit. Their magazine is out now! Download the BSU NOW app to read the #blacklivesmatter edition.

Prof. Pete Davis‘ fourth book of poetry, Band Names, will be published this fall.

Prof. Matt Mullins had two filmpoems (“Aubade” and “After Image”) screened at the 5th Annual International Video Poetry Festival in Athens, Greece.

Prof. Mai Kuha is serving on the steering committee of the newly formed Ecolinguistics Association.

Prof. Emily Rutter published “Contested Lineages: Fred Moten, Terrance Hayes, and the Legacy of Amiri Baraka” in the African American Review (vol. 49, no. 4).

Recent #bsuenglish graduate Lauren Birkey (December 2016) was hired at Spotted Monkey Marketing in Muncie. Go Lauren!

#bsuenglish student Elyse Lowery had three poems; “Crosshatch”, “Blood and Diamonds” and “Five Cigars;” accepted for publication by The 3288 Review. They will be published in late February 2017.

Students Brittany Mayfield, Josh Mooshian, and Julia Robben presented a project called “Mock Spanish” at the Unity Connections Conference on January 21, and they facilitated a substantial discussion on linguistic diversity and inclusion following their talk. The project was inspired by Prof. Kuha’s ENG 220 (Language and Society).

#bsuenglish MA graduate Heather Gemmen Wilson recently had two pieces, “How to Deceive Yourself” and “Divine Tantrums” published.

Adrienne Bliss on Working with Indiana Prisons

We interviewed #bsuenglish professor Adrienne Bliss about the volunteer work she has been doing with women’s prisons for the past five years.

AdrienneBliss.jpgCould you describe what you do?

I am a volunteer in … two ways: I started out with a program called Angels Wings. … They work with the nursery program, Wee Ones there at Indiana Women’s Prison. … It’s pretty innovative actually, and we do baby showers, we do baby’s first Christmas, baby’s first Easter, things like that. … And then on the education side, I both teach as a volunteer professor and I volunteer in the library.

How did you get started with this?

It’s a very convoluted story. … I was going to teach a class at the men’s prison in Michigan City and it took me a while to decide if I could do that, but I decided that I would. And then the semester that I was teaching there, my son died in a car accident. And of course the world fell apart, and I just thought oh you know just go away, but one of the things that stuck with me was the students I had. And it was just halfway through the semester they bought a sympathy card, and signed it and mailed it to me, and that’s not an easy thing to accomplish in prison, and that just stuck with me. So I kinda dropped out of life for a couple years. Then four years ago, we had a faculty member, Liz Whiteacre, whose husband is a criminal justice professor—I told you it was convoluted—who does research with Wee Ones … and that’s when I started volunteering at Indiana Women’s prison.

What are some of the challenges that you find you come across there?

They are much more inquisitive, they are very well prepared, they have a lot of questions, and they have a lot of respect for education. … The biggest challenge, honest to God, is that they have no access to computers or internet at all.

How do research and [writing] papers work then?

They have to write the papers by hand. Some of them can get computers with word processing, but mostly they have to write by hand. For instance, what I did this semester in Lit Theory is they each had to choose a novel that they were going to write about and once they had, about halfway through the semester when they had narrowed down their topic, what I did was I went to Bracken Library and found four to five research articles around their ideas. And I just printed them on my allocation and took that in to them.

What does a typical day going to one prison … look like?

Well, if I’m teaching, I usually teach in the morning. They have count five times a day, so everything is worked around count. So, I teach from 7:30-10:30 and then they go back to the dorms for count, and at 10:30 I just go ahead and go down to the library and work for about an hour and a half there by myself, and when I say work, that is a very loose word. I’m a gofer. I shelve books and go through and organize and reorganize and try to neaten things up. I try to come up with some sort of displays. … I’m only there one day a week usually. But, I seem to be better with the alphabet than some of the people who shelve books, and I want the books to look attractive, so I think that once a week sorting out the shelves is a good thing.

Is there any experience that stands out to you as something that’s very rewarding?

It’s not rewarding. It’s not altruistic. I’m not being good or kind or any of that kind of stuff, and I can honestly say part of it is working with the women in prison has helped me get back into the world since my son died, so my feeling is that I get a lot from this, and it keeps me going. … I’m actually quite selfish in doing it. And they always thank you, and they are very appreciative, and I just say, “You don’t have to thank me, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

What are some other ways interested parties can help?

The library needs donations, but not textbooks, no textbooks, no more anthologies. We’ve got James Patterson coming out the ears, but I am looking for current books written since 2000, you know, things like lit theory, philosophy, a little better writing besides James Patterson and Nora Roberts. We’ve got Stephen King and Dean Koontz, the kind of standard people you would think a library would have that they would read, we’ve got that. But I’m always looking for different kinds of books for the library.

Where does this lead for the women in the program as far as academics? How does this work out for them?

Well, hopefully an associate’s, possibly a bachelor’s. Bachelor’s is the long term goal if we can get enough professors. President Obama has started a very small test program of putting Pell Grants back in the prisons and Holy Cross is trying and hoping that they’ll get some of that money because providing professors and books can be expensive for a lot of people like myself that volunteer. … The ultimate goal is to have an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree because these women, to be perfectly honest, are going to have an incredibly hard time getting any kind of job at all, and the degree helps them with critical thinking skills and provides some credentials.

Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about your experiences there that you think our readers might find interesting?

There are a couple things. I’m actually going Thursday night to what’s called the ICAN graduation, and that’s the Indiana Canine Assistance Network. There is a program in the prisons, in both Pendleton and the Indiana Women’s Prison, where they train service dogs and the dogs spend about the first year of their lives at Pendleton living with one of the male prisoners, getting basic skills and growing out of some of that puppy stuff. And then they come to the women’s prison and the women train them, and they become service dogs, and they’ve done service dogs for someone who’s deaf, someone with epilepsy, physical disabilities. This time, we’ve got a vet and one of his diagnoses is PTSD, and he’s getting a service dog. … And this is opening up new lines of research for me. I’ve written two conference papers and I’ve got a third one coming up around the topic of prison, and I’m working on a research proposal now to do some readership studies and it looks pretty good. That will involve me doing surveys and interviews, kind of ethnography with the women at Indiana Women’s Prison.

And what will that allow you to do?

Nothing. What I felt like is, I didn’t want to go in there and just be a do-gooder lady liberal, which is what I am. I felt like if I was going to do research and be in there, I needed to understand what this process is. How do these people wind up here? Very deliberately, and to a couple of staff people that I see pretty regularly, I let it be known that I’m doing this and why I’m doing it, so that they realize that I respect their position too because being a correctional officer is not an easy job or a desirable job, and there are a lot of jerks out there, and yes there are a lot of major problems with that, you know, what you’d expect, but it’s not as bad as Orange is the New Black, and Orange is the New Black comes nowhere close to approximating prison.

Yeah, I imagine you have a lot of opinions on that.

I’m glad it’s out there to raise awareness, because people don’t think about women’s prisons. Women only make up, at this point, 7% [of the] prison population, but they’re also the fastest growing group, so I think Orange is the New Black does a wonderful job of raising awareness. If you want to watch a good women’s prison show: [check out] Wentworth on Netflix. It’s Australian and it’s women’s prison down there, but anything that keeps the awareness out. … These people are coming back to our towns. They might not live right next to you, but they’re coming back, and if we keep treating them as sub-human and bad, then that’s what we’re going to get back. So, I’m just trying to go in and say, “You’re my student.” I don’t go in and say “You’re my offender.” “You’re my student, so what are we doing today?”


Hold Onto Your Passion: Advice from Audra Dittlinger

Stars to Steer By presents Audra Dittlinger, a Marketing Content Manager and Client Experience Director. Ms. Dittlinger began her journey at Ball State in 2001 and officially graduated in 2014 with a degree in English Studies.   

How would you describe your job?Audra Dittlinger

I would describe my job as fast paced, exciting, and unpredictable. It’s a mixture of editing, brainstorming, and creating some amazing content for a start-up company that is growing quicker than we ever thought possible!

What does a typical work day look like for you?

A “typical” work day depends on the day. I am able to work about 75% remotely, with the other 25% happening onsite, usually at our office headquarters. On my work-from-home days, I get up, check in with my team, and work through daily tasks. Since our company is still relatively small, all team members are able to take on multiple positions at the same time. My day may consist of mostly writing and editing, or I may find myself conducting interviews with prospective customers. It’s never the same and it’s certainly never boring. The days that I am able to spend in the office are often charged with enthusiastic co-workers and inspirational leadership. Team meetings are perfect opportunities for us to collaborate and afterwards we all leave the office feeling recharged. It’s a relief, really. A lot of times, meetings can get a bad reputation in the corporate world. In our company, we’re constantly innovating and creating so we all get jazzed about coming together for a meeting of the minds.

How did having an English major affect your career path?

My English major heavily affected my career path. I graduated as a married adult with a 2 year old toddler at home. I was not a traditional student. At the time that I graduated, I was actually going into my 9th year of being an insurance agent. I had known for years that my true love is writing and editing, and that is what I wanted in my life. I wasn’t going to stop until I found it. After multiple freelance gigs, I finally landed my “dream job,” if you will.

What skills did you pick up in your major that have proved useful in your job?

I picked up a lot of useful skills in my major, but I think the most useful was that it really honed my craft as an editor and it allowed me to be more patient than I would have otherwise been. I now have a distinct process when editing, something I could have only learned through my classes as an English major. I now slow down and I perfect my work. I am not naturally patient, but as a writer, I can block out the world and take my time.

Is there a particular class or professional opportunity that you remember having a big impact on you?

I was in a few classes led by Dr. Rai Peterson (Rai, as most English majors know her) and she definitely had an impact on me. I took two classes with her on campus and one online course. She really boosted my confidence and I’ll never forget the first time she wrote “You’re a writer!” at the top of one of my papers. It was one of the first times in my adult life that I really felt that I was moving in the right direction.

What advice would you give current English majors?

My advice would absolutely be this: hold on to what you love. If you really love Sci-Fi lit, hold onto that. If you really love Vonnegut, keep studying him. If you really love to edit, keep finding ways to do it. I let go of something that I loved to do and I spent 10 years of my life running in place and not living up to my potential. As soon as I found my passion again, I never let myself forget that feeling. That feeling is what drove me and what really helped me land my dream job. Don’t let people tell you English majors “have to be teachers.” Prove them wrong. It’s in you.

Bethany Stayer Recommends "Supernatural"

In this post, English MA student Bethany Stayer recommends something a little off the beaten path as far as “reads” go. She recommends spending cold winter nights watching the television series, Supernatural.

Why should we watch this, Bethany?

If you haven’t already delved into the cultural phenomenon that is Supernatural, the seemingly endless summer hours offer you the perfect chance. Supernatural follows the adventures of Sam and Dean Winchester, two brothers who travel the country hunting demons, spooks, and anything that goes “bump” in the night (or any other time of day really). A perfect mix of horror, humor, supernatural-season-and intertextual elements that draw on myths, folktales, and superstitions from around the world, Supernatural will have you hitting “Keep Watching” again and again. There really is something for everyone here.

I’ll admit, the first season can be a little rough to sift through; it is kind of like a watching a toddler try to fit those little shape blocks into the correct holes. You know they’re going to get it right, you just have to be patient, and your patience is well worth the wait. In the beginning episodes they are finding themselves, but once you make it to season two you’ll be glad you did.  By the time season three rolls around, you’ll be hooked. The characters really develop, the writing dramatically improves, and you become unwittingly engrossed in the story of the Winchesters. Watching the actors, writers, and characters improve and learn before your eyes really is part of the fun of the series. Once things start firing on all cylinders the theme of brotherly love and self sacrifice permeates the plot lines, while the humor and occasionally ridiculous situations keep the story from becoming melodramatic.

It is a truly unique experience that I can’t recommend enough. I do not think there is a television show (or book or movie) that provides such a fun take on the horror genre while developing characters and relationships we really care about, and mixing in actual folklore. I’ve learned a ton about myths and myth creation from this show. Basically, if you enjoy the supernatural/horror genre with a healthy dose of comedy then Supernatural is for you. And even if you don’t think you like this stuff, watch it anyway, there is plenty here to love for pretty much anyone.

Stars to Steer By: TESOL Information and Next Semester's Events!

panelThe panel for this event included Nuha Alsalem, Tiffany Ellis, Leslie Erlenbaugh, Shane Lanning, and Matthias Raess. Each speaker had valuable information regarding their experience with teaching abroad and also teaching English as a second language. Students interested in teaching English to non-native speakers should check out the TESOL minor. The minor in TESOL offers the skills and knowledge necessary for teaching English to non-native speakers of English both domestically and internationally. If you are looking to teach abroad, you should look at the Fulbright Scholarship.

If you missed out on the last Stars to Steer By event this semester, have no fear! We’ve got a whole lot more coming to you in the spring semester! Our first event entitled “English Majors Can Make Millions (for Good Causes) with speakers Cheri O’Neill and Bruce Hetrick is scheduled for Tuesday, January 31 at 5 pm in Bracken 104.

Profs. Scalzo and Manery Publish Poetry Books (And More November Good News)

Prof. Emily Scalzo had four poems accepted to Scarlet Leaf Review, including “To My Father,” “If the Human Race is the Only Race, Why Does this Shit Still Happen,” “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and “The Reason I Blocked You on Facebook.” They are due to be published in December. Also, her poetry chapbook, The Politics of Division, was accepted by Five Oaks Press for publication in 2017.

Prof. Rebecca Manery’s book of poems, View from the Hôtel de l’Étoile, is just out from Finishing Line Press. Individual poems from this collection have been published in Rhino, Bennington Review, and The Body Politic. Becca is a new faculty member at Ball State. Learn more about her here

Elizabeth Dalton, Academic ResearchAimee Taylor- Instructor at BSUProf. Aimee Taylor successfully defended her dissertation, titled “Fat Cyborgs: Body-Positive Activism, Shifting Rhetorics and Body Politics in the Fatosphere.” Prof. Elizabeth Dalton graduated from Spalding University with an MFA in Creative Fiction Writing. Congrats to you both!

Prof. Emily Rutter received an Immersive Learning Micro-Grant for her Fall 2017 course “Storytelling and Social Justice.” The course will facilitate a reciprocal relationship between Ball State undergraduate students and Teamwork for Quality Living, a local nonprofit focused on decreasing poverty in our community. Students will use acquired knowledge to assist Teamwork members in documenting their personal journeys from poverty toward self-sufficiency. These stories will then become part of a short documentary film and an electronic book.

Prof. Susanna Benko and her colleagues, Emily Hodge (Montclair State University) and Serena Salloum (Ball State University) recently had an article published!  The article, “(Un)Commonly Connected: A Social Network Analysis of State Standards Resources for English Language Arts” was just released in AERA Open, an open-access journal sponsored by the American Educational Research Association.   This article is the first publication from their two-year research project.

Prof. Rory Lee’s audio-video project, “Ways of Knowing and Doing in Digital Rhetoric: A Primer,” was published in the most recent issue of enculturation. Professor Lee completed the project with Matthew Davis from the University of Massachusetts Boston and Stephen J. McElroy from Florida State University.

Prof. Michael Begnal published four poems in Empty Mirror. They are titled “Homage to Yoko Ono,” “Elegy for Lou Reed,” “Elegy for Scott Asheton,” and “Homage to André Breton.” Read them here!

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