Just so we’re clear, Joycelyn Moody is one of the greatest interlocutors you’ll ever encounter. Every year, one of the highlights of our summer Institute is the mid-point of the program when Fellows meet with us, individually to discuss their abstracts.
The sessions last 20 minutes, not really enough time, but it’s perhaps too long for what many of the undergraduates can endure in one sitting. After all, they rarely have such concentrated attention on their work. Professors are often too busy or overworked to engage individual students at such a high level.
Moody reads the abstracts and then poses these really thoughtful questions to the Fellows. She asks for clarification about statements; wonders how the work connects to past projects, courses, and future plans; identifies contradictions and inaccuracies in the write-ups; and offers encouragement and compliments.
On some occasions, she opens her a swift series of opening clarifying questions. In that sequence, she is only looking for “yes” or “no” responses to about a dozen questions about the context of the abstract and potential project. The Fellows are often unsettled by the pace and volume of questions that Moody poses.
She then readjusts and poses a series of slow-down questions, like:
What am I going to know as a result of reading your proposed article?Solid questions, nothing unusual, right? Yet, the respondents are still catching their breaths from the rapid-fire questions and wondering about the meaning of this new change in pace.
How do you make this project more enticing?
What do you think you would get out of a graduate program?
When we know that [the outcome of your project] what do we know? Does our world get bigger or smaller?
What do you plan to get out of this line of research?
Next up, Moody is a ghost-hunter. She’s searching the page for those invisible, phantom ideas that haunt the students’ sentences, nearly imperceptible to the untrained eye. It’s usually at this moment that things really become fascinating.
For me, I’m wondering how Moody caught so much that the Fellow and I had somehow overlooked in our readings of the abstract. Sometimes Fellows feel obligated to explain how this just-revealed-ghost sneaked into a research project. The process of explaining can become emotional:
What if your research project is really about some painful place for you? What if, after all this time, you really are unsure about what you want to do? What if this research project is in fact the lingering effects of an encounter from a particular incident from middle school that you thought you had forgotten? Where did this ghost come from; how did it sneak in without me noticing? If they noticed it in my abstract, who else did?Just as I’m about to intervene to calm things by switching the subject, the great interlocutor speaks up. She interrupts the narrative about the ghosts. She reminds the Fellow how wonderful he or she is. She mentions how she can’t wait to read the finished product and then watch and celebrate the blossoming of a brilliant career.
The Fellow prepares to leave, but not before sincerely thanking the ghost hunter for all her help. And for the assistance on the abstract too.
Moody then turns to me: “That was great. Who’s up next?”
• AALCI 2015