I Wish I Had Participated in the Digital Research Institute Sooner

This is a guest post by Ayşenur Benevento, a Ph.D candidate in the Human Development program at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and adjunct lecturer in College of Staten Island. Her research interests concern civic engagement and political participation of children and young people with an emphasis on how their development is influenced by their social interactions through different activities within different sociocultural contexts.

January has always been a month when I let my mind hibernate a little bit. In all the winter breaks in the last 6 six years of Ph.D. training, I traveled back home to Turkey to see my family. I let familiar faces and delicious food cooked by my mother comfort me so I can return to my difficult routine in the grimy New York in the end of January. Could political turmoil and shortage of money bring about something fortuitous?”

Well, this past January they did. My healthy routine did not repeat itself because I simply could not purchase flight tickets to go back home. The prices had been skyrocketing since the temporary visa crisis between the USA and Turkey and the notorious Iran sanctions trial that severely damaged diplomatic relations between the two countries. I had to stay in New York and make the best of my time here.

Soon after I decided to stay in New York during the winter break, I saw the calls for The Graduate Center’s Digital Research Institute. Over the years of my studies, I have always wanted to participate in these trainings and was never able to. Perhaps a better way to word it is that I chose not to. I do research on digital technology and the internet, but I had not prioritized learning about ways of using digital technology and the internet in the last six years. Maintaining my international status by teaching, taking part in various research projects, and of course, conducting my own research led me to think that I could learn about all that fancy stuff about programming, using GitHub, creating databases, and analyzing data without relying on expensive software like SPSS after I graduate and get a job.

Little did I know that I have been thinking wrongly all these years. After attending the four-day intensive workshop, not only did I realize that I could have used all the available resources available to me as a graduate student, but also could have developed these skills further, step by step over the last five years. When I look back on the past five years, I cannot help but have deep regret for not realizing the very first thing I convey in my teaching: Learning is a process.

Almost all graduate students, perhaps even academics with secure positions in universities, suffer from the endless list of academic responsibilities. For many of us, watching a movie, meeting with friends, reading fiction, playing with a child, or going to the gym may trigger guilt for not writing a manuscript, proofreading an abstract, grading student papers, emailing research participants, or analyzing data instead. We are all trying to be protective of our time to finish our academic tasks. The four-day commitment may seem excessive to some. Some may ask the very necessary question of whether spending time in these introductory workshops would have immediate impact in your career or not. Yet, once you learn how to access all the necessary tools where you have firsthand experience practicing basic skills taught in these workshops, you will never want to go back to relying on expensive software and stress over restrictions.

During the four-day workshops, every time I asked a question that was related to my research, the instructors responded in a friendly manner, which motivated me to attend further trainings and meetings organized by the digital fellows. Although I regret not starting earlier, I am very happy that I am getting closer to finishing my time at the Graduate Center while thinking of possibilities that were laid out in front of me. My time at the Institute was definitely worth the excitement I am experiencing for the later steps ahead of me in my career.