Learning How We Write with Sarah Read

During a research leave this past Spring Quarter, Assistant Professor Sarah Read of Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse (WRD) has been utilizing ATLAS.ti in the SSRC’s computer lab for her ethnographic project at the facility that operates the world’s fifth largest supercomputer.  With visiting privileges from Argonne National Laboratory as a guest faculty researcher, Sarah is analyzing the technical documentation and reporting processes of the Argonne Leadership Computing Center where the cutting-edge machine is housed. She is studying technical documentation and reporting processes with a focus on the daily activities of the “knowledge workers” who operate it. Her focus is on writing, traced through documentation related to and generated by the supercomputing center.


“I think it’s fascinating to create an account of what it takes to build and operate a world-class supercomputer,” Sarah said. Through her interviews with supercomputing center staff, Sarah has been delighted to discover that they “think like researchers” themselves, tackling uncharted terrain in what is “essentially a research project in supercomputing.” Every year the staff prepares a report on operations required by their sponsoring federal agency. In this report they demonstrate how the facility has met the metrics of availability, utilization and capability supported by data that staff must work out how to generate. “It’s a big machine. It’s not easy,” she notes. Nothing is pre-formed. Staff have no manual to consult when the machine fails, no button to press to spit out the right data. Figuring out how to “write down the machine” is a complex, research-based task itself.

A theory-driven researcher and ethnographer, Sarah describes herself as “fundamentally a rhetorician, but I study it in technical environments.” The project combines her competing interests and background in writing, science and the humanities. “I consider myself a collector of qualitative data, but I don’t consider myself really a social scientist. I’m kind of in a grey area epistemologically,” she explains. Her ethnographic approach, which interests her in “the theory-driven points of view,” permits her to admit to strong biases. “I think there’s value in creating descriptive accounts of phenomenon within new theoretical frameworks that make visible previously invisible aspects of that phenomenon” she said. “It makes the strange mundane and the mundane strange again.”

As a self-taught, new fan of ATLAS.ti, Sarah too is learning as she progresses, experimenting with how to make the application work within her methodologies. This spring she worked hard with the networking view tool and is now concentrating on coding. ATLAS is “very object-oriented,” she said, treating chunks of a transcript as a whole document. She’s impressed with its analytical power and its visual capabilities that helpfully reveal networked relationships among research artifacts. “It’s a tool for analysis, but network views can also be research products” she noted.

Currently Sarah is continuing to code interview data for an article about how gathering data for the operations report structures staff work activities at the supercomputing facility. She is also writing a proposal for a book about the infrastructural function of writing and documentation for technical organizations.

Sarah offers to share what she’s learned about ATLAS.ti with other DePaul researchers. She’s found that talking through the process is mutually beneficial. If you’re interested in learning more about the application, please contact the SSRC[ssrc@depaul.edu] or Sarah [sread@depaul.edu].

Lynda: Up and Running with Public Data Sets

Are you in a research funk?

Are you at a place where you’re sick of the research you have been doing?  Maybe you’re not sick of your topic, you’ve just exhausted your data sources.  Lynda (which DePaul subscribes to) has a tutorial/video series that can help you find new data sources.  “Up and Running with Public Data Sets” by Curt Frye is a 2 hour long tutorial of videos that introduce you to some widely used datasets, including the Census and American Fact Finder, the Internal Revenue Service, the US Department of Education, the US Department of Labor Statistics.


Moreover, there a couple of sections on data tools, such as search engines (Quandl and INFORUM) and visualizing data.  As a 2 hour long introduction, “Up and Running” seems like it could be useful to many researchers without requiring a substantial buy-in in terms of resources or time.

How Zach Freeman Works

zach freeman

Location: 990 W Fullerton
Current Gig: Director of the LAS Technology Center
One word that best describes how you work: efficient
Current mobile device: iPhone 5 (getting an iPhone 6 this week)
Current computer: Dell Optiplex 7010 (like everyone else at DePaul)

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Visual Studio, TFS, SQL Server, Buster (for public transit), Nike Running, Google Drive

What’s your workspace setup like. Dual monitors with an adjustable standing/sitting desk.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack? Do you automate something that used to be a time sink? Do you relegate email to an hour a day? I check email constantly all day long. The entire purpose of my office is to automate things that used to be time sinks – Independent Study applications, Grant applications, Late Withdrawal requests, Course proposals… anything that is done using a paper process is fair game for us to automate.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager? Oddly enough, a piece of paper and a pen.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why? My Nike Fuelband. Because I’m obsessive and it’s been tracking my activity for three years so I don’t want to stop the streak… but I will have to at some point since Nike discontinued the product last year.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret? Understanding the difference between subjectivity and objectivity. I think being embedded in both the arts and technology help me see into both. Too much technology and everything seems objective (it works or it doesn’t). Too much arts and everything seems subjective (but, like, that’s just your opinion, man). I also write theater reviews for Newcity and any kind of critique requires mixing both.

What do you listen to while you work? If I’m coding I listen to stuff that doesn’t require me to think: Marina and the Diamonds, Katy Perry, Robyn, Lily Allen. Otherwise nothing.

What do you do to stay inspired? Who are some of your favorite artists? I go running. If you run far enough it’s like meditating because your mind gets cleared. Comedians are my favorite artists: Ricky Gervais, David Cross, Louis CK.

What sort of work are you up to now? The Tech Center is working on an online form for a new grant for undergraduate LAS students, converting the Faculty Workload Worksheet to an online form, automating the process for readmitting graduate students who have been inactive for a short timeframe, putting the undergraduate enrollment override process online and getting the LAS website updated in various ways to better promote our programs, faculty and students.

What are you currently reading? Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion are Incompatible, by Jerry Coyne.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? Maybe both?  The MBTI said that I am an introvert but I think I was right on the line. I have a theater degree and a computer science degree so I guess I’m both.

What’s your sleep routine like? Not very consistent. Whenever I finish all the things I need to do for the day I go to sleep. But I usually wake up around 6.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.  Why? John Shanahan. Because he’s always busy and always getting stuff done and still maintaining a positive attitude. He seems like he’s got some good secrets on how to work.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? I don’t think anyone ever told me this but: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” is pretty solid advice. And someone told me that code doesn’t lie. That’s excellent advice to programmers because when you’re debugging a program it’s a lot easier to blame the computer or the code than to admit that if it doesn’t work it has to be something you did wrong.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans? For all people who don’t work in “IT” I’d like to add: think of a technologist like an artist. Just because someone can make a great sculpture doesn’t mean they know anything about oil painting or mixed media. Being able to write code doesn’t mean that I can help you update your Android OS or transfer all your email from one account to another… I mean, yeah, I probably can, but still.

The How I Work series featured on the re/search blog is shamelessly stolen from Life Hacker’s How I Work series.  The SSRC’s version asks DePaul’s heroes, experts, and individuals of note to share their shortcuts, workspaces, routines, and more.  Have someone you want to see featured, or questions you think we should ask?  Email Jessi Bishop-Royse at jbishopr[at]depaul.edu. 

Mess Hall: Transition to the Nurse Faculty Role, A National Perspective

On Friday June 5, GSC Fellow and Nursing DNP student Nadia Spawn presented preliminary findings from her current research project with nursing faculty members Dr. Young-Me Lee and Elizabeth Florez.  Spawn presented her findings ahead of several conference poster presentations and talks, set to happen later this summer.

TNFR Presentation (3)_Page_09

Their project investigates the factors associated with nursing faculty’s intention to leave positions in colleges and universities.

This work comes at a crucial time;  there is currently a shortage of registered nurses (RNs) and an even greater shortage of doctoral level RNs (who can teach).  The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has suggested that in order to keep pace with the growing need for nurses and nursing educators, that the US double it’s #of RNs with doctorates by 2020.

Spawn’s preliminary findings suggest that the majority of nursing professors who intend to leave report non-competitive salaries, high faculty workloads, and lack of institutional support as primary reasons for leaving.  Spawn and colleagues intend to examine how characteristics such as doctoral preparation, demographic variables, as well as job satisfaction, burn out, and competence to impact intention to leave nursing faculty positions.

Is U.S. Unemployment Lower than 2007-2009 Pre-recession Levels?

The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research dates the last U.S. recession from December 2007 to June 2009, marking this 18-month period the longest and worst recession since the Great Depression and World War II. During that time, the U.S. lost an estimated 8.7 million jobs, household wealth fell roughly $16.4 trillion, and real GDP contracted by an annual rate of 3.5%.

Unemployment Rate Over Time


The above animation shows the increases and decreases in unemployment rates over time for each state since 1976, the last year of statistics available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics at the state level. West Virginia consistently experienced the worst unemployment rates over time, recording a high of 17.8% in 1983, the year following the previous worst U.S. recession, while the Dakotas and Nebraska tended to have the lowest rates, of 5.6% or less, over the last 39 years.

During the 2007-2009 recession, 18 states (Nevada, Michigan, California, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon, Alabama, Georgia, Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Kentucky, Washington, and Tennessee) had unemployment rates above 10% for one or more years while the Dakotas and Nebraska faced only 5% or less, due primarily to booming oil production.

In the first quarter of 2015, 18 states had unemployment rates  lower than the 2007-2009 pre-recession levels (Michigan, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Kansas, Vermont, Oklahoma, Texas, North Dakota, Alaska, Massachusetts, Oregon, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Missouri) and 15 states and the District of Columbia (Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Georgia, Virginia, Maine, Connecticut, Maryland, West Virginia, Iowa, District of Columbia, New Jersey, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada) had rates 1.6-2.6% above pre-recession rates. The remaining 17 states showed marginal increases of 0.6-1.3%.

Regionally, the Midwest inched up with a 5% unemployment rate, followed by the South (5.3%), the Northeast (5.6%), and the West (5.9%) in the first quarter of 2015. The Midwest and the South had lower rates than the national average of 5.5% during the first quarter of 2015.

Illinois Unemployment Rate Over Time


The overall U.S. unemployment rate experienced four major spikes and dips between 1976 and 2014. During this 39 year period, the highest peak, 10.8%, was seen during the global recession during Regan’s presidency in November-/December 1982, which was considered the worst U.S. recession since the Great Depression up to that point. In April 2000, the national unemployment average reached a 30-year low of 3.8%, mainly due to job growth during Clinton’s administration.

Similar to the national trend, Illinois saw a high rate of 13.1% in early 1983, almost 2.25 percentage points higher than the national historic high since 1976. The lowest rate of 4.1% was seen at the end of 1999. Click here to view state-by-state historic highs and lows.

Few years prior to the 2007-2009 recession, Illinois’ unemployment rate hovered around 5%. It increased to 10.4% in 2010, but has ticked downward since then. The rate in the first quarter of 2015 was 6%, one whole percentage point above pre-recession levels, and almost the same as the national rate of 5.5% for that period.

Unemployment Rates by Race and Gender


Looking at race in the first quarter of 2015, Blacks had the highest unemployment rates, followed by Hispanics. Asians and Whites had lower rates due to higher educational levels. The article published by Pew Research found that since 1954, Black workers’ unemployment rates have consistently been double that of Whites.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor and Statistics, in January 2007, 11 months before the recession began, Black unemployment was 8.3% and Hispanic 5.6%. Almost one year after the recession ended, Black and Hispanic unemployment doubled; to reach the pre-recession level, the Black workforce unemployment rate must reduce by another 2.1% and Hispanic by 1.7%.

In March 2015, the black unemployment rate was almost twice that of the national rate. Among the major racial groups, the two dominant minority groups (Blacks and Hispanics) collectively had an 18% unemployment rate at the end of the first quarter of 2015. Juxtaposing this with the current rate of unemployment for Asian and White workers, that is below the national average (5.8%). Their unemployment rates have edged down to almost the pre-recession levels, with Asians only 0.6% and Whites 1% higher than their January 2007 rates.

In the race-gender category, the Black male workforce seems to be in a constant state of recession, with the worst unemployment rate (11.6%) compared to their Hispanic, White and Asian counterparts in the first quarter of 2015. Their unemployment is twice the national rate and at least 2.2% higher than the White unemployment rate during the peak of the recession. This is mainly due to higher incarceration rates (6 times that of White males) and lower levels of education, training, skills, and social capital.

During first quarter of 2015, female unemployment was at least 1%-2% lower than male unemployment rates irrespective of the racial group. This could be attributed to wage inequality between the genders.