I met Amber Klee almost a decade ago when we were both teenagers slinging lattes at the Barnes and Noble café on US 19 in Clearwater. We bonded early on, because we were both experiencing eating disorders at the time, and I lost touch with her for many years. I had the pleasure of reconnecting with her over coffee while I was working at Starbucks in 2011, and she blew me away with her candor and honesty. We had both grown, and were utilizing our life experience to finally submerge ourselves in education. She has inspired me in recent years with her tenacity for education, and her willingness to share her knowledge. She is currently a Graduate Assistant in the Communication Department here at USF.
Thank you for taking time out of your chaotic schedule to speak with our readers today, can you run me through a typical day in the life of a Communication Department Graduate Assistant (GA)?
Sure! The department offers several different types of assistantships depending on your research and experience. This being my first year, I have the opportunity to help teach an online class on Introduction to Communication. That entails primarily grading and office hours. What I enjoy most about the grading is reading their personal experiences in their papers. We value reflexivity in communication, and it is highly encouraged. I also greatly enjoy when students come to my office hours. Not only because I get the opportunity to teach what I love, but also because I genuinely enjoy meeting and getting to know them.
What inspired you to enter the field of Communication?
I think it was a number of things. I had worked for an organization that valued and taught the importance of dialogue. Though I had been with them for 10 years, I felt like there was something missing. I felt like I needed to know more, and to understand the reasons why communication has such an impact on our lives and identities. I then took a class with my now advisor, who taught me the art of autoethnography, and now I am hooked.
I know mental health is a cause that is near to your heart, can you tell me a little about the struggles you’ve endured during your educational journey?
It took me ten years to get my bachelor’s degree because I lived with an eating disorder, and later was diagnosed with Bipolar Type I disorder. These had me in and out of the hospital and unable to achieve any successes. I hit rock bottom (twice) and decided to do something about it. For me, the decision to seek treatment (medical or therapeutic; either way professional) was the reason I was able to walk away from the eating disorder and get the bipolar disorder under control. As soon as I did that, I was able to focus on my education– two years later I graduated with my BA in Communication and am currently in my first year of graduate school.
We are speaking via Facebook right now, because you are at an Autoethnography conference in Texas. Your work with this medium is cutting edge, can you help our readers understand what Autoethnographic writing is all about?
Yes! The conference is called Doing Autoethnography; autoethnography is a way of using one’s own experiences as ‘evidence’ for a larger cultural issue. Unlike traditional ethnography, where the writer gets their evidence from people outside of themselves, in autoethnography the writer IS the proof. It is a highly contested way of conducting research; however, so was all qualitative research not too long ago. The goal with autoethnography is to evocatively show the reader the implications of communication. In my opinion personal storytelling is the only way to do that.
I know you write Autoethnography for Communication, and I am currently working on one for Sociology, do you think more classes should include this medium as an option; if so, why?
I do think there are several human sciences (sociology being one of them) where autoethnography has its place and will add much to the research. I do not think it fits in everywhere; however, we cannot discredit quantitative research and what it brings to us. That is why I think autoethnography has a place (and should always be) in all the human/social sciences; however, if we valued personal stories more in STEM departments I wonder how that would impact the diversity of their programs?
Do you have any other droplets of wisdom to impart upon those of us who are aspiring to enter grad school soon?
In my opinion, if you want it, and you go through the process of getting it, then you are right for it and you will succeed– but it will be hard.