Ryan  Burns, phd
January 30, 2013

taking a moment to reflect

Every now and then I need to consciously and deliberately sit back and reflect on how far I’ve come in the last few years. Academic work, for all of its deep, beautiful rewards, can at times be excruciatingly unrewarding. Especially as graduate students, we can be very hard on ourselves, feeling like we’re not moving anywhere, being displeased with our status, and facing an unknown (perhaps bleak?) future.

So, I think it’s extremely important to not fight our feelings of pride and to relish in our accomplishments. For me that takes deliberate effort, and that’s what this blog post is meant for. It’s also keeping in the spirit of using this space to update my friends and family on my status in the program, my achievements, and to take a moment to be optimistic. So, here are a few things I’ve done in the last couple months that I’m proud of:

  1. 5 minutes ago I got off the phone with a group of some of the top crisis mappers in our field. We’re developing an evaluation framework that will guide the entire field as it moves forward. Through at least part of this process I hope to be sponsored by a UN agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and hopefully (hopefully!) the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. We’re going to pitch the idea to both these organizations and see what they think, but I’m pretty confident since it addresses a crucial need.
  2. Last Thursday I defended my dissertation research proposal, which means I am now “All But Dissertation” (ABD).
  3. Yesterday I took on an alternative media (social media, interactive web design, video) project that will plug in to my dissertation, my work with the Wilson Center, and hopefully an After-action Review of Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. The latter meeting will consist of federal agencies and disaster responders who will (hopefully) use my project to understand the impacts of their work in New York City.
  4. I’m developing a French film festival to be hosted at Monterey Institute of International Studies next year. I can’t express how nice it will be to do something non-academic and that doesn’t build on my career for a change.
  5. I recently had a publication accepted by Cartographica after a few edits.
  6. I have another publication in the works through the Wilson Center. This one will provide input to federal agencies, disaster responders, and academic researchers on the state of crisis mapping and what needs to change in the future.
  7. With Ana Brandusescu I’m working on a project that will map out successful Ushahidi deployments around the world. I think this will be helpful for crisis mappers, but certainly for my own research.
  8. A couple weeks ago I attended CrisisCamp Boston (more on that in my next post!), where I helped, ever so slightly, work toward developing a smartphone app that will allow health practitioners to report diseases quickly and see outbreaks nearby.
  9. I still haven’t properly patted myself on the back for developing a really good review of the crisis mapping field last summer. The report got a lot of attention and I received quite a bit of positive feedback on it.
  10. With Monica Stephens I organized an Association of American Geographers panel on “Gender and the Geoweb”, and with Jim Thatcher a panel on critical perspectives on “big data”.
  11. Over the last year I was the student representative for the Geographic Information Systems and Science specialty group of the AAG. It was easy enough and fun enough that I’m going to go for the Secretary/Treasurer this year if it’s available. And the VP the next year.
  12. I contributed a little to the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team‘s mapping efforts in Samoa last December. It was great to see the group work in real-time as a participant.
  13. It’s still in the early stages of planning/discussion, but I’m talking with a few geoweb scholars about applying for a GeoForum workshop, out of which will come a special issue of the journal. I’m hopeful for both these outcomes.
  14. In order to fully immerse myself in the field I am studying, I am taking a few training courses online that will certify me in incident management (or, “emergency management”, or “disaster management”, etc., etc.) and in Incident Command System. Learning to speak the language.
  15. I still have the special issue of ACME in the works. That’s a long story and one that’s becoming increasingly frustrating, but when it finally does come out it will be the fruit of a long and laborious process. And something to be proud of.

There’s more to that, and of course I’m leaving out some of the monumental challenges I’ve faced while doing these things, but that gives kind of a general “lay of the land” of where I’m at, and what I have to be proud of. Besides all this professional stuff I’ve also grown as a person in many ways, and learned a lot about myself.

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