Featured PhD Student: Jason Tham
Where are you from?
I am from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Malaysia is known for its multiracial society and the once-tallest building in the world (1998-2004)––Petronas Twin Towers.
Where did you previously attend school? What was your degree in?
I received my master’s degrees in English (MA) and mass communication (MS) from St. Cloud State University, Minnesota. For my undergraduate degree, I majored in advertising and minored in psychology and communication studies.
Why did you choose Writing Studies at the University of Minnesota?
When I attended the 2013 Great Plains Alliance for Computers and Writing Conference at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Ann Hill Duin was one of the keynote speakers. Her presentation on the future of digital learning really attracted me and was well-aligned with my research interest (I was writing a thesis on the rhetoric and ideology of massive online open courses, or MOOCs). So, I applied to this program so I could work with her. Thankfully, I got in! I also admire the faculty in this department, who are known for their unique expertise and presence in our field.
What is your research area?
My research interests are found in the intersections of design, emerging technologies, social learning theories, and technical communication practices. Right now, I am working out a framework to integrate design thinking, team- and project-based learning with multimodal writing pedagogy. As a researcher affiliated with the Wearables Research Collaboratory, I am also working on projects that investigate the impact of immersive technologies on our writing and communicative practices.
What do you find most interesting about your research area?
I think the most interesting part of my current research is collaborating with faculty and experts from around the university to design courses and learning activities that would help students to practice design thinking, teamwork, and multimodal communication. I am always fascinated by the resources that are made available through various units across the campus, and how willing people are in bouncing off ideas and co-designing new approaches to teaching and learning.
Would you tell us about a project or course that was particularly meaningful to your professional development?
One of my current projects, the Agile Writing Project, is particularly meaningful to my own development. Dr. Joe Moses and I are studying how a project management approach to team-based learning can give students better experience in a writing course and help them perform more optimally in cross-functional writing teams. We are also making industry connections through our collaboration with a technology solutions team in a health services company. I appreciate the crossover between the academy and industry, and the Agile Writing Project gives me the opportunity to bring industry perspectives into the classroom. This project also puts me in touch with researchers from the Writing Enriched Curriculum program and Center for Educational Innovation, and I have learned so much about mixed methods research from them.
What class are you teaching and what is your favorite thing about teaching it?
I have taught four courses through this department: 1) University Writing; 2) Technical and Professional Writing; 3) Rhetoric, Technology, and the Internet; and 4) Business and Professional Writing. Current, I am teaching Business and Professional Writing, and my most favorite thing about teaching this course is the collaboration with Design U and faculty from Mechanical Engineering to expose my students to specific writing situations through project-based learning. My students are tinkering with digital fabrication tools and helping engineering students to communicate their design ideas to multiple audiences.
What would you like to do in the future?
I would like to continue teaching and contributing to research in writing studies at large. I enjoy working with students and helping them solve problems that matter to them. As an early adopter of most emerging technologies, I am also interested in investigating their uses and impacts on our personal, social, and professional lives.
What are your interests / hobbies outside of academia?
I enjoy running and reading, but I am most excited about music. I am a vocalist on my church’s music team and a big fan of musicals. I have also been a part of a chorus group that performed in the Twin Cities region last year.
What advice would you give to someone considering pursuing their PhD with Writing Studies?
I recommend keeping an open mind about the field’s growing knowledge, practices, and pedagogies––the field is relatively young and is constantly experimenting with new approaches. I also think it can be rewarding to collaborate with those outside the field. A lot of “writing” problems can benefit from the perspectives of those adjacent to our field, such as media studies, design, law, education, psychology, sociology, and business administration. Of course, it goes without saying, pursuing a PhD can feel like a long-term commitment, so always take good care of yourself and surround yourself with good company.