Alumni Spotlight: Interview with Gavin Mueller

GMU Cultural Studies alumnus, Gavin Mueller, recently took up a position as Visiting Assistant Professor at the Emerging Media and Communication program at the University of Texas, Dallas. Adam Proctor conducted a short interview with Gavin to learn more about this new position. Gavin also provided some important insights on his time in the program, as well as his experiences in the job market.


1. Your new position at UT-Dallas is located in a relatively new and dynamic department. Could you tell us a little bit about the program, how it is distinctive from other traditional communications departments, and what your role will be in terms of that wider project?

The Emerging Media and Communication program at UT Dallas approaches the digital world in a truly multidisciplinary way: faculty come from the arts, humanities, social sciences and places in between. I have limited experience with traditional communication departments -- none of my degrees are in communication -- but my sense is that the discipline as a whole is fairly intellectually diverse, with lots of variation among programs at different institutions. Cultural and critical approaches to communication are well represented here at EMAC. As a Visiting Assistant Professor, my role is to teach the burgeoning numbers of EMAC undergraduate and master's students, and so far the program has been a great fit for my teaching.


2. Could you tell us about your research program for the near future?

A large part of my dissertation research situated more contemporary online social phenomena, such as remixing and file sharing, within longer histories of social movements and trajectories of political and economic thought. Many writers on digital technology have a tendency to treat their objects as so completely new that old concepts and categories no longer apply. The work I do pushes against that, to better ground the digital in a wider web of social relations, in order to understand its political implications. Currently I am working on an article that thinks about debates over digital work in terms of the debate between Marx and Proudhon over the nature of capitalism. I'm also preparing a book proposal on Luddites and struggles over technology and work. While the Luddites have become synonymous with knee-jerk anti-technology views, I want to demonstrate that they had a more sophisticated, albeit militant, perspective. I present a counterintuitive argument that, in this light, many current-day high-tech cultures have strongly Luddite tendencies.


3.What are some reflections you have on the academic job market? Could you offer any advice or things that you wish you knew several years ago?  Finally, how would you position yourself in the field if you had to start all over knowing what you know now?

I'm sure most people have heard that the job market is challenging, and I won't tell you otherwise. However, I think that job candidates coming out of Mason's Cultural Studies Ph.D. program are very competitive, for reasons I'll get to in a moment. My number one piece of advice is to go in with confidence, and avoid ending up in a cul-de-sac of gloom-and-doom Chronicle op-eds. Apply widely. I applied for over 60 positions the year I landed the job I have now, and that is a typical number. Start early, the summer before you'll go on the market: your letters get better the more you work on them.

You should start thinking early, as early as your dissertation proposal, as to what kind of programs you might end up in, so that you can represent that well through your research. But research is only part of the job of being a professor. Teaching is not only important, but a great way to signal to search committees what kind of academic you are. We are fortunate at Mason to have many opportunities to build a diverse teaching portfolio, and it helps to be strategic about this. When I went on the market, I had taught several different courses on digital topics, as well as courses in the Communication department, which helped make me more legible to search committees who are thinking about what their new hire will teach. If you think you will apply to English departments, having a few introductory composition courses in your portfolio may help you more than your third or fourth section of GLOA 101.

It's also extremely important to develop a network of scholars beyond your home university. I went about this in a somewhat idiosyncratic way, through political work and magazine writing, which was enjoyable but probably not especially well oriented to the academic profession. I think a better way to do this is to find a conference that fits you and go every year. At the very least, you should present a paper somewhere once a year. At Mason we are given limited travel budgets, but we also have a geographical advantage of being on the East Coast, with plenty of places a few hours drive or bus ride away.

One thing I could have done better: ask for help from peers, and also give it! The job market can be isolating in what is already an isolating profession.


4. What is the biggest difference between being a young professor versus a PhD Candidate/Instructor, and how have you enjoyed that experience so far?

Not to be crass, but the biggest difference is the pay. My current position feels like a natural extension of the work I was already doing at Mason, without the burden of constantly thinking about what kind of side jobs I would need to do to meet my basic needs, or what kinds of economic sacrifices I would need to make. It's a tremendous relief, and I feel like I have more energy to devote to my writing and to my students.


I'm teaching graduate students, which is different in an enjoyable way. As inter- and transdisciplinary scholars our theoretical methodological approaches aren't assumed, but are carefully considered and earned through reflexive scholarship. Working through these questions by guiding student research has been a rewarding way to reflect on my dissertation work.

Thanks, Gavin.

*Check out Gavin Mueller’s latest article, "Piracy as Labour Struggle,” published in tripleC.